[Ed's note: ESPN Freeskiing contributer Seth Morrison regularly files dispatches from the front lines.]
Was it just another season? Lots happened once again, and maybe not the positive kinds of things at times. Once the first ski mag comes out, August perhaps (or the most recent June issue of The Ski Journal), we get the bugbut it's still so far away 'til our Northern Hemisphere starts off. The Southern Hemisphere is just gearing up as we speak, but their season is much different and shorter it seems.
Skiing for fun at the resorts in Colorado or cat skiing in Retallack, British Columbia, is one thingno worries. But being a professional you expect a lot out of the conditions at places utilizing helicopters. Why? Because you're spending beaucoup d'argent for prime conditions; hopefully prime. Those of you who've gone heli-skiing and have not had good weather or snow know how frustrating it can be.
Filming with TGR we returned to North Cascade Heli Skiing, experienced new terrain at Bell 2 Lodge, and returned to Haines, AK for some pinnacle-of-the-sport riding. The snow conditions built up from place to place.
• North Cascades showed less than half the base as last year; our trip fell into a drought period.
• Bell 2 had base of over eight feet in the valley floor, but less-than-powdery conditions in the field.
• Haines, AK: this was the 6th season theredifferent every time I've been. This season brought much drier snow than past seasons, so lines were a bit bony. Spine faces looked less spiney, but the guts of the runs were filled-in nicely from all the snow sloughing off the high points and faces. Adapting to this different style took time. (And weird considering it snowed 25 feet in the six weeks I was there, and got noticeably better toward the end, more like how it needed to start.)
So with a brief description of conditions, time to adapt. Each run and each day is different. Having a plan of attack before heading out to where you're going to ski becomes crucial. Nothing is set in stoneplans change constantly. And having the earlier trips not pan out like we hoped for, snow-wise, puts your mental state into a different mode. You get more stoked for the next trip in hopes that conditions will be better for what you're trying to accomplish.
So clipping a rock, or taking an air and crashing from hardpack, or clipping a rock off a small cliff and having a bit of a tomahawkthis is the kind of stuff that plays with your head. Plus, being in the same place for six weeks with nothing else to do but skiand be skiingmakes for an interesting way to spend some down time.
Alaska this year was to be broken up into three trips, and heading over to the Anchorage area was going to be a nice change from the Haines show. And while it would've been really nice to see some new and old country to stay fresh, with nearby Mt. Redoubt erupting and then idling we chose the safe bet of sticking in Haines.
Then add in the death of a friend and ski hero to fans all around the world while you're trying to push it and stay focused for the super bowl of your ski seasonthis makes you think about the consequences of what you're doing and overall happiness.
At one point in AK, we hadn't had many ski days in a row; clouds toying with us everyday. So you've had five days off, then you're right back at a run that the clouds chased you off of last time you were therenot once, but twice in the same attempt. But now you're ready to drop into this spiney, featured face. And some of the spine aspects are suspect to sliding. And the snow below your tips doesn't look like powder for some ways down the line.
You think, 'What am I doing up here?' Helicopter's flying around for aerial shots and even a small plane flies through our valley, too, in order to drop off Jeremy Jones and his crew at their basecamp deep in the park. The call comes through on your radio mic.
"Seth, are you ready?"
"Yes, I'm ready."
"Barbie cameras ready?"
"One hundred percent."
"OK, heli cameras are ready!"
Pause. This affords a small amount of time for anyone to call in that they need more time.
Pause... 'til five seconds for anyone to call in to stop for any reason.
"Five, four, three, two, one, GO!"
If you can't hear you're looking for a foot-kick from the heli cinematographer to go. And at this point you forget all the bullsh--; you're in the run.
First turn blinded, next turn blinded, small air land, head hard-right and hope to miss the slough you sent that way from your first turn so you're pinning it hard. Flying across deep, narrow spinesblinded each time you hit onethen onto the big spine to ski the rest of the way to the bottom, small drop at the end, then a small 'schrund.
Before you get there though, the left side of the spine cracks and slides away. You're out of the danger as long as you stay right. Then you hear "STAY RIGHT!" over the mic. Look right and see a fast-moving slough start to rush innow you have moving snow on both sides of you. Did I mention blinding turns still?
Land off small air and straight-line to the others who've done their lines already. Some filmers offer words of encouragement as you cruise to the boys, but you can't hear them since the wind is blowing in your ears from going so fast. Then it's back up for anotherif you have a line picked out already. Sucks to be the last guy down.