(quote from winston Churchill, Alternate title for this was “How Not to Ski”)
Matt and I decided we’d head up to Kirkwood on Friday the 13th (yes, yes, I know, I know) to get some good Downhill skiing in. We ended up heading up with Matt’s soccer buddy, Sep (who has a Subaru Forrest All-Wheel Drive.
Even before we got to any level of elevation, traffic went to stop-and-go for 30 minutes, and when we got to the front of it all, a CHP Officer was stopping and talking to every vehicle.
“Chains or All wheel drive?” he said.
Sep: “Yeah, the forrester is All wheel Drive”
“Okay, you can go ahead, but be careful, bad roads at elevation…” said the officer.
(he was not kidding)
2000 feet: When Trees Attack
Another slowdown and crawl as the road curved up ahead. As we neared the front of the line, we saw something on the road. Capable cars (even with AWD/Chains) were turning around. It turned out that a large tree had JUST fallen onto and completely accross the road. Arrrrrgh…… We ended up being the first car in line, sitting there…., waiting, wondering…”Do we call it? Wait it out a bit? See how quickly they can move it?” Sep got out of the car and carefuly tip-toed to where the tree was blocking the road. He hadn’t planned on walking around in the snow, so he was wearing sandals. He looked around, but after a short while tip-toed back to the car and got back in.
“There’s no one up there. On both sides of the tree, cars are backing up, but there aren’t any emergency vehicles or personnel” he said in frustration. Approximiately 15-20 minutes later, a large tow-truck and an AT&T Service truck pulled out on the left. One man got out of each vehicle and starting looking over the fallen tree. After around 15 minutes, they had the tree carefully hooked up to the tow truck. He started to pull the tree, but due to the direction he had chosen to move the tree, his rear tires ended up starting to spin as they began moving into deeper unpacked snow. Shortly there after, a police woman knocked on our driver’s window.
The officer said “Hey there, if you turn around, and go back down a few hundred yards, there’s a street that is in good condition, and you can get around this mess”.
We followed her instructions, and we were again on our way. Due to the tree, we didn’t see any other cars for quite some time.
As we began to start gaining in elevation, the road conditions very quickly worsened. The snow was falling harder now, and the layers of packed snow and ice were not consistent. This lead to constantly changing conditions. Sep did his best to keep the car moving at appropriate speeds, but at one point, his front left tire started to grab in some of the deeper unpacked snow. The Forrester started to quickly turn to the left. Sep tried to countersteer but it wasn’t enough. He got off throttle (lifted) and then hit the brakes, but this just worsened the loss of control. The car continued to spin counterclockwise, and slide to the other side of the road. We came so very close to hitting the driver’s side snow back on the other side of the road, but Sep managed to keep on very very very light throttle, and spun it around enough that we ended slowing enough, to end up pointing the wrong way and not in the snow bank. Sep kept on throttle as none of us wanted to end up outside pushing the car out of thick heavy snow on the side of the road. It was at this point that we saw the white SUV behind us who had slowly stopped and whose occupants were probably inside either laughing at us, shaking their heads or cursing…most likely some combination.
Sep continued to swing the car around in front of the white SUV, but ended up on the passenger side shoulder (there was no shoulder) in fairly deep unpacked snow, but fortunately, keeping a slight amount of throttle engaged, he managed to get it back on the road in the right direction. It was a…scary..experience to say the least.
We continued up, but the conditions worsened even more. At around 6800 feet, there was only one and a half lanes of actualy drivable road. The Downhill Half of that space had already started to accumulate several inches of fresh unpacked snow and looked quite treacherous.
7400 Feet: Point of No Return
At around 7400 feet, now fairly close to the resort, a CHP officer in a white suv caught up to us and told us that they had just closed the pass (meaining, the phsical gates up beffore the resort were now closed).
So, we now had to turn around, and head back down….
To say the least, we were all pretty heart-broken. We all pondered whether we should believe the CHP officer, give it a go anyways, but in the end, we decided that even though it was regretful, that we should still head back down. Shortly after we had decided to head back down, I noticed that Sep was driving extremely slowly, even more slowly than he had to. Turned out he was hoping that one of us would make the stronger case that we should go up the mountain anyway. Meanwhile, Matt was working to guilt Sep into going up. When I was asked, I told the two of them that even though I really wanted to ski, there were too many negatives to going up the mountain, and too many signs on the way up to ignore. I did however say, that even with my concerns, if the two of them wanted to try, I would support the idea (with some concern).
Long after we had mostly come to terms with the decision to retreat, Sep finally got a call from the other car with his other friends in it. Turns out, right around where we had been, there had been an avalanche and three cars were at least partially submerged in the snow. That easily could have been us. After that, there were no doubts from anyone in our car that we had made the right decision. Just time to grieve over the loss of the day (sigh). In all, we started driving around 630am. We turned back around 11am. Stopped for lunch on the way back, but it was like 9 hours of driving for NOTHING (argh).
I still have the two lift tickets I purchased from Costco since they can be used any day of this season, we just didn’t get to use them. Hopefully we can work out another day to get back up there (since we still have those tickets).
Mannnnn, ….what a drag.