Category Archives: Elk Hill Winter

Text and images from the most time spent in Winter on Elk


windshield“Everything slows down during winter” someone said recently. You can’t just walk over to the auto and go; often you have to shovel to the driveway, and once there, the auto windows need to be scraped and defrosted.

Prudence dictates that “Bridge freezes before road surface” signs, safely ignorable during the summer, be recognized and heeded.

In Summer you can just walk into the backyard in boxer shorts and bare feet to put the dog in her pen; these days, it’s best to don big boots and down coat to insulate against the cold, rather than suffering goose bumps and shivering that could turn into a cold or flu.

On a hot August day, it’s difficult to think what could possibly motivate one to endure the inconveniences presented by Winter. The heating fuel truck comes often, windows must be kept closed against cold winds; bellies require larger volumes of food to feel satisfied.

Not only stomachs, but stoves need to be kept stoked, wood needs to be moved continuously from the shed to the home. All these extra activities must be accomplished during the shortest days of the year, often in cold and darkness.

The first cold snaps of the season seem to pierce clothing and flesh easily, chilling marrow. There is a big difference between a cool 60 degree day in September, and a cold zero degree day in January. But, after enduring single degree or below zero temperatures, 20 degrees can feel downright balmy.

As Winter wears on, extra layers of clothing start to feel more familiar than bare skin. Starting the day in darkness and then greeting the pinks and gold of a Winter sunrise can take one’s breath away as much as inhaling frigid air. Going to bed early in the evening, burrowed under a pile of comforters feels more luxurious and comforting than sleeping naked under a ceiling fan on a sultry evening.

As one acclimates to the dead of Winter, at once performing more chores, but performing them more slowly, it’s a great time to revel in the stillness imposed by this time of year. Enjoy the moments that individual snowflakes exhibit symmetrical perfection on your coat sleeve before abandoning their form and melting.

And before scraping the frost from a windshield, take a moment to enjoy the random patterns provoked by moisture and cold, it just might remind you of delicate fern fronds, unraveling soon after dawn, under a warm Summer morning.
This Wanderlist was handcrafted above 2670 feet.

Courtesy Patrol Ron

cp_ronRon is one of the many, many folks who help us enjoy ourselves when visiting The Big and Friendly.

Though most of us only see the courtesy patrol while waiting to get on the lift, their day starts much earlier. Sidewalks need to be cleared of snow, lift lines need to be set-up, guests need to be greeted.

Through the night, Nick and his crew tend to the snowguns, Walt and his crew groom everything out to the tasty corduroy textured snow covering the slopes we enjoy first thing in the morning. Dave and the compressor engineers make sure there’s plenty of air and water pressure to power the snowguns.

Howie, Bob, Jack and the rest of the ski patrollers ski all the terrain before the mountain opens, making sure the slopes are clear of any obstacles, fencing and padding are in place, and the mountain is ready to receive guests.

Jess and the office crew take care of getting us our tickets, and the folks in the cafeteria prepare snacks and meals to keep “coal in the furnace” – especially welcome on cold days. Forgot your goggles or need to brush up on your technique? The ski school, and ski shop and rental/repair staffs will help you replace items you may have forgotten, give you tips on how to turn better, tune up the rig you already have, or help you try out a new one.

The lift operators not only help us on the lifts, but also clear the chairs of any snow that may have accumulated overnight, and keep the loading and top ramps clear to make getting on and off the lift easier and safe.

Often when skiing, we lose site of just how many people coordinate so we can enjoy our time on the mountain. Think of how many situations during your day are made easier, more pleasant, or even possible by the work and effort of others. When you get down to it, we really do rely on each other for just about everything.

On or off The Hill, it’s always good to wear a smile, and remember “please and thank you” – you’ll probably get an even bigger smile in return!

This Wanderlist was handcrafted above 2670 feet.

Carl Breese

carl_breeseTonight, Carl Breese and Friends will heat up Chet’s Place just like old times! If you’ve ever enjoyed music by “Lost Weekend” or “Mace in Dickson”, you’ve heard the power of Carl’s flawless lead guitar.

Some, who’ve played along with Carl for decades, have said that they’ve never heard him miss a note. A musical perfectionist, many don’t realize that Carl was a distinguished athlete having set the basketball scoring record at Mountain View High School which stood for many years.

He was also fluent in French. On a French Class Trip to Quebec we sat in the third story open window of our hotel in the Old City, he on guitar, Eddie beatin’ out base on the guitar case, me on harmonica; we drew a crowd, and kept them for quite a while. A warm, unforgettable evening of young girls in sun dresses, our first sips of wine, and American acoustic rock music floating across the cobblestone streets.

We are lucky that Carl chose to raise a family rather than “riding a bus, gig to gig to gig” for the rest of his life. After rocking us locally for decades, Carl and family chose to settle out west – he’s greatly missed on The Hill – we are so happy he’s back for a visit, and can’t wait to hear his wailing blue Fender!!!

Elk Hill Winter

elk_hill_winterWinter began early, with vigor and enthusiasm. Still a couple of days away from the solstice, the snowpack is nearly a foot deep here on The Hill. It remains to be seen how much the predicted warm weekend weather will reduce it. My bet is that we will have a White Christmas here on The Hill.

Elk Mountain Ski Resort has nearly all their trails open – quite unusual this early in the season. The snow, natural collaborating with man-made, has had some describing the sensation of skiing this week as “crushing velvet with your skis.” Though cold weather would be more desirable, rest assured, the skiing will continue to be outstanding, record warmth notwithstanding.

Faithful buddy black labrador has been enjoying night cross-country skiing in the woods the past few evenings, my headlamp illuminating our way, our ski and paw tracks crossing deer, fox, and coyote tracks as we make our way through the woods and meadows.

The lights of Elk Mountain and the full moon illuminate the snow, sparkling and squeaking under ski and paw; other than our breathing, the only sound.

Trusting each other to protect each other, me having the opposing thumbs, she having the sharp teeth, the deep night beyond the range of my headlamp reminds us that our neighbor recently captured an image of a mountain lion on their trail camera in the valley just below the meadow through which we ski.

Vigorous exercise in 10 degree weather is the perfect antidote for my buddy’s boredom, easing her, bringing sleep to her more readily, letting her rest till dawn.

“My apples, my apples, MY APPLES!!!” is a fairly accurate Labrador/English translation of her sharp alert bark that startled me awake at 4 AM this morning. The provocation revealed as I peered out the window to see three doe scratching snow from the last of the fruit that had fallen around the apple tree weeks ago.

I went downstairs to console her, to tell her to stop barking, and to feel good about sharing her apples. Those girls, I explained to my buddy, have been having a tough go of it lately. My buddy, somewhat reluctantly, relented, and quietly let the doe eat their fill as dawn began to break.

An early morning treat of sweet apples must be a delightful respite from having to keep constant vigilance, avoiding the hunters in the woods, who for the past several days, for sport or sustenance, have been tracking and hunting these girls, their friends, and families.

By default it seems, us humans tend to forget that we too are animals. Just like our woodland creature neighbors, all our motivations distill to the desire to eat, mate, and avoid fear.

In the woodland world, some are prey, some are predators, some both. This truth can make the distinction between good and bad, evil or good blurry at best. To the deer, the hunter is evil – an instrument of death. To the hunter’s family, he is good, a hero, provider of food. Had the lioness pounced on me and took me back to feed me to her brood, this perspective, though accurate, would probably not be so easy to assume.

Unlike the beings in the woods who must maintain vigilance against predators, or be in constant search of food or mates, our human community has the capacity for calm, joy, and bliss.

It’s not so hard really to have these positive feelings almost all the time; it takes just a little mental effort. As we near the shortest day of the year, we remember that all the celebrations at this time of year started with our ancient family, who’s understanding of the sun, moon, and stars defined their lifestyle. They too traveled dark woods filled with tracks of animals.

Our ancestors huddled facing a common fire, backs to the dark, and celebrated light, celebrated each other, as they waited together for dawn to overwhelm the longest night of the year.

The trust my best buddy and I have in each other gives us the confidence to venture together into the darkness of the woodland community; we both find comfort in the realization that as long as we stay together, we’ll be safe.

If, in our human community, we realize that all of us are facing challenges unique to our individual lives and, no matter the strength of one’s character, our paths are made easier by cooperation.

If we simply cherish each other as if our life depends on it, if we simply honor the common light of divinity that animates all of us, fear and uncertainty can’t help but be overcome by comfort, calm, joy, and bliss.

And always, always, share your apples, and let yourself feel good about it.

Hoar Frost

hoar_frostWikipedia reports that “If a solid surface is chilled below the dew point of the surrounding air and the surface itself is colder than freezing, frost will form on the surface. Frost consists of spicules of ice which grow out from the solid surface. The size of the crystals depends on time, temperature, and the amount of water vapor available.

The name hoar comes from an Old English adjective for showing signs of old age…, in reference to the frost which makes trees and bushes look like white hair.

Opening Day

opening_dayFor the last couple of hundred days or so, many of us have been waiting for opening day at Elk Mountain. This year our wait ended on the 4th of December.

The compressor technicians, snow making crew, grooming tractor operators, and the rest of the mountain staff made the most of the recent weather, and worked up a deep base of snow with a beautiful man-made surface. Mother nature cooperated with a bright blue sky, and moderate temperatures for the first day of skiing.

It’s uncertain if this is the earliest opening ever, but according to The Ski King, it’s the earliest opening he can remember.

He and me and the rest of the crew started just after dawn, spending the morning hiking up and down the slopes, adjusting orange ribbons on fence poles, padding sign posts, ferrying supplies to the top of the mountain, and accomplishing final preparations so that The Big and Friendly would look her best to greet the first guests of the season – most of whom we recognized and knew by name.

Even before all of the chores were done, we could wait no longer; it was time. Sliding off the top of the lift, we glided over to the steepest pitch, pointed ’em down, and let ’em rip – wind rushing past us, the familiar, cherished pull of gravity forcing big smiles on our faces.

Though impossible, it would be interesting to compare our smiles from yesterday with the smiles that we undoubtedly wore nearly half a century ago when The Ski King’s father took him and me to the top of the mountain for the very first time. That day, we took our first run from the top of the mountain together down the Delaware trail, only weeks after the cows that had pastured there all Summer were led down to their Winter meadows.

We rode the lift to the top of the mountain as kids; when we got back to the bottom of the mountain, we were skiers.

Yup, one would think that after seeing nearly fifty opening days, one’s anticipation and subsequent enthusiasm for the ski season would be tempered by maturity, and diminish with age.

Yup, one would think that….