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A Skiing Triple Play

Triple play, three act play, Holy Trinity, we three kings, Triple Crown, treble hook, triumvirate…. It’s a reality of life that it often takes three to give a notion magic or weight. Three stooges, three blind Mice, Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld… Here’s a another reality of life: Three can also be the harbinger of disaster, a colossal mistake, or stupidity of the most memorable kind.

I’m thinking more along the lines of memorable stupidity when I design my mid-February Triple Play ski day: Nordic skiing in the wee hours, downhill skiing during the working day, and backcountry skiing during the after-work hours.

Act 1

I’m driving to Leavenworth by 5:45 a.m. and am skating on the Icicle River trails by 6:30. Over the next 15 minutes, fire lights up the ridges of Wedge Mountain and the Sleeping Lady massif before me. The east-facing slopes behind me also bask in golden light—the early rise and the black drive are repaid in these moments.

I had come planning to complete three loops of the trails alongside the Icicle River (sticking with the three theme, you know) but, a kilometer into the first loop, the notion of skiing all three of Leavenworth’s trail pods seeds itself--it sticks to the three theme in a more interesting way. I complete the 8 kilometers of trails at the Icicle River and then roll down to the golf course. 

While three skaters had beaten me to the fresh corduroy at the Icicle River, I’m the first skier of the day out of the gates at the golf course--nothing but fresh corduroy here, though deer prints and pellets of brown klister pepper the snow. With one loop of Lazy River and another of Tumwater complete, I roll over to the Ski Hill where the hillier terrain is much more telling of flaws in my technique and weaknesses in my fitness.

Act 2

By 9 a.m.  I’m back in Wenatchee enjoying a relaxed breakfast with my wife, who found her own late rising quite delicious and my early morning rounds slightly crazed. After an extra cup of coffee, we head up to Mission Ridge. The temperatures have been warm down in town over the past week, but the skiing is neither glazed nor gloppy. An inch of fresh snow coats a firm base and the skiing on- and off-piste is way fun…and way better than anticipated.  By early afternoon, the new topping of snow is saturated and it slows the skis down as effectively as skiing over sandpaper. This proves to be very fun in the bumps where we can wiggle twice as many turns as normal and feel like mogul masters. I also head over the Bomber Chutes and use the slow snow to stay in the fall line of one of the slender white ribbons threading the basalt cliffs. Slow snow makes an average skier look good—what’s not to like about that?


Act 3

I’m back home and stuffing the overnight pack by 4 p.m. with the normal backcountry ski kit and a few overnight accessories-- a sleeping pad, light sleeping bag, light shelter (Megalite), some extra food, and two quarts of water. The weather is spitting rain and my wife is lobbying that I call Matt to arrange a rain check. “And ruin the fun of skiing in the rain and camping on wet snow,” I tell her, “are you crazy?”

Matt is running a little late, as is his style, but it matters not whether 90 percent or all of our evening foray is curtained by darkness.  By 6 p.m., we’ve driven to King Creek (12 miles south of Highway 2 along the Blewett Pass Highway) and are using headlamps to skin up a ridge leading to a 5,200-foot peak we’ll ski off in the morning. The rain continues, but thanks to the escalator of our skins it gradually turns to wet snow. A little more climbing and the snow has dried enough that it blows off the frozen rain coating our storm wear. 

Around 9 p.m. we slide into a protected grove of connifers below the crest of the ridge. It’s well sheltered from the wind that waves trees on the ridge itself. We stomp out a platform for our tarp tent. Stellar snow crystals float through the headlight beams while moonlight penetrates the thinning clouds overhead.  Our departure seemed moronic to my wife as we left in the rain, but tomorrow promises powder and sunshine. That’s two good rewards for perseverance. Throw in the skiing and tomorrow could be another triple play.