mother nature is friggin awesome


(view of Mt. Hood from Heather Canyon.. near the lift)

Mother friggin Nature is awesome.

However, it is also terrifying and dangerous all at the same time. Sometimes i'm just left in awe at the amazingness that it produces. Take for example, Sunday evening at approximately 7pm, a massive avalanche roared down the Wy'east face of Mt. Hood through Heather Canyon and stopped it's path of destruction roughly 100ft from the Heather Canyon chairlift. Ski Patrol had attempted to blast the face earlier on Sunday, but visibility was low so they couldn't (logic: you can't shoot what you can't see). Luckily, the avalanche happened when Mt. Hood Meadows wasn't open in that area to the public but if it had happened a few hours earlier, I'd hate to think of the causalities we would have lost under a heavy crushing wave of concrete like snow and ice.

(view of Heather Canyon after the avalanche looking towards the lift)

Heather Canyon is a popular and elusive run for many skiers/snowboarders at Meadows who prefer to get in more "backcountry" style runs. However, due to the risk of avalanches, it's not open that often. In my two prior years of boarding, I'd never had the opportunity to board Heather Canyon due to my skill and comfort level, but in the past year I've progressed exponentially as a boarder and I've been salivating over the opportunity to ride there. That opportunity came for the first time this past Saturday when I ran into some friends of mine who are on ski patrol. Figuring that if I were to run into "shit happening in heather", that my ski patrol friends would be pretty good company to ride with, I followed them down into the wet thick and heavy pacific northwest snow. Visibility was low that day and we were unable to see across the canyon, but I enjoyed the soft turns into the damp snow and the run that for so long... had been out of reach.

(view of the avalanche looking up the mountain from the floor of Heather. photo: B.Barker)

On Monday, I returned to the mountain for a little more snowboarding. However, instead of the heavy wet damp snow that had covered the ground on Saturday, this time a soft light powder blanketed the ground. I was looking forward to doing some more runs down Heather Canyon, but I was disappointed to hear that it was temporarily closed due to the avalanche. So, my friend and I continued to hit up other parts of the mountain until we ran into our Ski Patrol friends again. We did a few runs with them until we heard through the grapevine that they were getting ready to open up Heather Canyon. Needless to say, we made fast tracks from Cascade down to Heather just in time to be let through the gates. We stood at the top of the run with about twenty other people looking down into the untracked fresh powder that lay below. When they unleashed us... all you could hear was whoops of joy from everyone plowing down the slopes and spray of powder following everyone's turns. I have to say, it was pretty friggin amazing snow... the type that if you take a tumble or two, all you can do is sit there and laugh at your good fortune. Otherwise known as Epic. Epic light.

We all made our way down the slope, hootin and hollering, sweet powdery turn after sweet powdery turn till we got to the section where the avalanche came through. At this point normally, one would want to build up a lot of speed to carry yourself through to the lift (otherwise it would be a long walk)... but the avalanche plowed through this whole area, carving massive rifts in the hillside and filling in the entire bottom run with snow and chunks of ice. The best way to describe the scene is imagine standing on a football field, and suddenly having the entire width of the field covered with snow, 15 feet deep. And... we're talking heavy snow. Concrete like. Standing there... right next to the mass, the reality of the situation sunk in. Had you been here when the wall of snow came towards you... there would be no where to go. Any attempt at getting out of the way or "swimming" would be pointless. And having someone "find you" and dig you out. Yeah, that would pointless as well. Pretty much being buried in snow of this amplitude and mass would be the equivalent of having a building collapse upon you.

(my friend Julie with the sea of snow debri behind her. photo: B.Barker)

Because the run out was filled in, everyone had to creatively find their way to the lift through the trees and small paths along side the river and the waterfall. Normally, the tight and technical course would be challenging enough, but add in about thirty people all trying to go through at the same time... and it pretty much turned into a log jam... or, as I like to call it... cluster fuck. There were more skiers than boarders, but everyone was caught in the same mess. You'd build up a little bit of speed and then almost run into someone who stopped suddenly in front of you to avoid hitting the person who suddenly stopped in front of you. If you slowed down to allow the people ahead of you to thin out... someone shot in front of you and then would suddenly stop. Thereby repeating the cycle. The best thing to do was just try to find the best route with minimal usage. This plan got me through the CF decently but also found me laying belly up in a small pine tree that I launched atop of, climbing up a slope that led into the avalanche debri, and successfully running the sweetest banked slalom course ever (it was either stick all of my landings and tight turns or have a few skiers and boarders run into me and get pissy at me for ruining their clean run). The CF took us right along the side of the avalanche route and at several points it was all you could do to just stop and look at the mass of snow and really, be in awe of the amazingness and the danger of it all. As well, it was really really cool to see this kind of thing first hand, up close and personal.

(from the floor of Heather, looking down the path of the debri towards the lift)

Nice Video of the slopes of Heather on a perfect powder day.

Video the tree run (aka: Jack's Woods) in Heather Canyon in which the bottom run out can be seen... this part was covered by snow.

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