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Dolomites with Mountain Madness

Education and Epic Corn Skiing on Rainier

This past week­end’s Avalanche Lev­el 1 course start­ed out with two very fun, live­ly lec­tures at Evo in Seat­tle. Once it was time to head out to the field to prac­tice our lessons, we head out to Mt. Rainier Nation­al Park. Three of our five stu­dents had nev­er been to Par­adise on the south side of Mt. Rainier before and what an absolute­ly amaz­ing first day to vis­it. With per­fect­ly clear skies and a 11,000 foot day time freez­ing lev­el, Mt. Rainier rose unob­struct­ed over 9,000 feet above us to its 14,411 foot sum­mit. We left the busy park­ing lot full of chil­dren sled­ding and oth­er ski-tour­ers skin­ning up. Before head­ing into the back­coun­try, we went over the basics regard­ing bea­con care and how to pre­form a func­tion check. Once that was com­plet­ed, we start­ed our tour, cov­er­ing basic skin­ning tech­nique and fun­da­men­tal tour­ing tips. Our group toured up Edith Creek Basin, stop­ping in a flat open area with fan­tas­tic views of Mt. Rainier, Maza­ma ridge and the near­by Tatoosh Range.

Get­ting ready to head out! Ian Nichol­son photo

Over the next few hours we fur­ther refined bea­con, prob­ing and strate­gic shov­el­ing skills. From there we con­tin­ued our tour up to the north­ern end of Maza­ma Ridge, work­ing on our on-the-fly” obser­va­tions like hand-shears and feel­ing the dif­fer­ent lay­ers in the snow with our poles while relat­ing our obser­va­tions to the bul­letin. After tour­ing up to the elbow in Maza­ma Ridge, we found a per­fect spot to work on snow pit skills. After dig­ging our pits we made a sen­sa­tion­al run down near­ly 1,000 feet to a snow-cov­ered road where we skinned back up to the park­ing lot.

Get­ting to work with great slopes in the back­ground. Ian Nichol­son photo

Start­ing the search. Ian Nichol­son photo

The next day at Par­adise was qui­et. With the Sea­hawk-49er game loom­ing lat­er that after­noon, there were less than 10% of the peo­ple from the pre­vi­ous day in atten­dance. While maybe a cou­ple degrees cold­er, the day was no less per­fect, with lit­tle-to-no wind and a most­ly cloud­less sky. Mt. Rainier again rose above us proud­ly and pow­er­ful­ly. The stu­dents used their new skills and chose to start off the tour up Edith Creek Basin toward the ridge hop­ing the snow would be soft­ened the most quick­ly by the morn­ing sun. The views from the top were spec­tac­u­lar with Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams peak­ing out in the dis­tance. The group was poised with some chal­leng­ing deci­sion mak­ing as to where along the ridge to drop in, which they han­dled flaw­less­ly. After our adjust­ed entrance point, we dropped in and enjoyed some of the bet­ter corn ski­ing I have ever expe­ri­enced. Stu­dents worked their way down the ter­rain hoot­ing and hol­ler­ing as we went. The corn wasn’t just good, it was epic good.

Ian Nichol­son photo

After near­ly 700 feet of per­fect­ly creamy and carve­able snow. We put the skins back on and head­ed back up, con­tin­u­ing to dial in the group’s skills. After our first run, we skinned back up below two side-by-side bowls that looked sim­i­lar to the Gold­en Gate Bridge, and are appro­pri­ate­ly named the Gold­en Gate Bowls”. On a bench below the bowls we pre­formed a larg­er group res­cue where the 5 stu­dents have to find 4 buried back­packs, 1 with­out a bea­con, and only small visu­al clue for aid. The group nailed it and com­bined their recent­ly learned res­cue skills from the pre­vi­ous day per­fect­ly. After com­plet­ing our sce­nario we skinned up the right side of the Gold­en Gate and ripped skins near the top. Just when we thought the ski­ing could­n’t get any bet­ter, it did. Drop­ping into the per­fect­ly shaped bowls on some­how even bet­ter corn snow, we carved while lis­ten­ing to the rest of the group cheer­ing and hol­ler­ing all the while as we watched each oth­er ski the final run of the course. Thanks to every­one for a great course and tour!

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson

A great day for the slopes! Ian Nichol­son photo