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April 30, 2013

Outdoors: Mammoth spring skiing

Spring skiing is one of the little gifts of Nature. I like to think of it as a celebration on receding snow, a warm exhalation after a long, cold winter. Last week we jumped on a plane and flew out to Mammoth Mountain in eastern California for the annual meeting of the North American Ski Journalists’ Association. Here we stripped down to shirts and wind pants and pounded this big, brawling powerhouse of a mountain.

Dave Fonda, a skiing buddy from Quebec, and I decided to tackle the steeps on Wednesday. Whenever skiing difficult terrain you should always ski with someone in case of a fall or avalanche. Dave is one of those fellows who can ski anything and make it look easy. Me ... well lets say I can ski anything, but I look more like a linebacker tackling a mogul rather than a gifted receiver gliding down field.

Chair 23 is the locomotion to action on Mammoth. It takes you up the face of a bowl that is as steep as it gets. The day before I had glided along the top ridge to the entrance of a drop called Wipeout Chutes. It is a narrow twisting opening that falls down through some huge rock pinnacles. it is an extreme double diamond that demands perfection.

The fellows I was skiing with were going to slide along the top of the mountain a short ways and ski down a steep but more benign groomed run called Scotty’s. I asked them if they would take a picture of me dropping through the chute before they moved on. They agreed.

I took a last look over the cornice, but I couldn’t really see the slope below because of the overhang. I sucked in some gas and jumped over the edge into hard snow slabbed into the gap by the incessant wind. The snow was moderately deep but crusty. Two quick power turns and I was into the rocks. A jump turn, a hard left jab, and then a quick move to the right to get around a couple of rock gates that would hurt if I hit them.

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