When it's 80 degrees and sunny, skiing is probably the last thing you're thinking of. But some Northwesterners just can't get snow off the brain.
Among them are some die-hards who tally impressive streaks of year-round skiing without leaving the Northwest. Correspondent Tom Banse grabbed his ski poles to meet the people who carve turns all year round.
We're at a backcountry snowfield in Mount Rainier National Park for the Slush Cup 2007.
Never heard of it? Neither had I 'til last month. It's a highlight on the calendar of a small, but growing cohort of year-round skiers. The Slush Cup takes place when a pond at the foot of Pinnacle Glacier is about half melted out. The object is to ski down the hill and skim across the surface of pond to the opposite shore.
Go too fast and you crash up onto a rocky beach. But with too little momentum, you take a dip in ice-cold water.
This is the fifth annual Slush Cup for Jeannette Morrison of Puyallup, Washington. She stays dry, so it's hard to argue with her rationale for skiing through the warm season.
Jeannette Morrison: “Omigosh, the best time of the year to ski is in the spring and summer because you've got warm conditions. You don't have to worry about being cold. You don't have to pack as much stuff. It's not as hard.”
There is the hike in. This one's a mile-and-a-half. Morrison says the cruelest months for the year-round skier come later.
Jeannette Morrison: “September-October when there's no new snow and then we really have to hunt. But we do have our secret stashes, someplace that we know where to go to find snow that we keep secret and then we go there.”
Morrison took up backcountry skiing in midlife. The 57-year-old homemaker appears to be making up for lost time. Morrison has gone on at least one ski trip every month for the last 12-and-a-half years. That has her tied for the
second longest skiing streak in the Northwest according to the unofficial tally kept by Turns-All-Year.com. Charles Eldridge is the webmaster.
Charles Eldridge: “Everybody has their own specific criteria for what counts as skiing in a particular month, is it a countable ski trip or not. The most widespread standard would probably be: a minimum of 1000 vertical feet of
Timberline Ski Area on Mount Hood has that and operates year-round. But Eldridge says that's too easy for some backcountry skiers. On occasion, they go to great lengths to keep a streak going.
Charles Eldridge: “People skiing — say in August or September — skiing sand dunes in Eastern Washington, for example. You know, if they're going to go to the effort of hiking up these sand dunes and skiing down, I give them credit for getting their turns in that way.”
The current co-leader in the standings hasn't done anything like that.
Danny Miller did barely escape a howling blizzard on Mount Rainier once. He's a friendly redhead, a stage actor living in Carnation, Washington.
Danny Miller: “Of the few things I most identify what I love to do in life, skiing is of course way up there. It would have to be or I wouldn't be obsessed enough to do this.”
Miller's streak is at 165 months in a row of skiing without leaving the West.
Danny Miller: “At first, it was just let's see if I can do it year-round. Then the bigger it gets, the more you feel the weight of doing it and how big a decision it would be to stop.”
Miller started skiing in his twenties. It took a few years to get good at it and then he says “something snapped.”
Danny Miller: “I wonder if it's because it's kinda the closest to flying that I think you can get. You don't have any equipment. You're not in a plane or a motorcycle or a car or anything. You can almost not even notice you have two
little sticks on your feet.”
Miller says he gets asked a lot how long can he keep the streak going? First he says he has no idea, and then says he'll keep going until it stops being fun and starts being “a chore.”