Every fall in the NW the weather cools down, the precipitation picks up and the skis come out of thecloset ready for another season of adventure! Goals and dreams become plans for tours and climbs in my backyard and more exotic locales, partners sit down with beers and schedules made, plane tickets purchased. What happens when Mother Nature does not show up? Lean snowpacks, warm temperatures, shrinking glaciers can alter the best laid plans. Andrew McLean recently wrote about Redefining Challengein his blog as part of his personal avalanche avoidance practices. After counting 39 avalanche fatalities in North America I feel this topic needs a bit more detail to help us find options in face of less than optimal conditions.
I see redefining challenges falling under 4 distinct conditions/situations:
• Low Snow;
• High Hazard;
• Low Fitness;
• Post injury.
Ways to approach each situation requires us to look for:
• New Zones;
• New Risk;
• New Skills.
High Avalanche Hazard might present the easiest solution; just avoid avalanche terrain. You can ride at the resort, go nordic skiing, play with your kids or discover a new area. Find a New Zone that you have not been to before that offers sheltered riding. Take an Advanced Touring or Level 2 Avalanche course to understand how to tour plan and evaluate terrain and snowpack with greater depth of understanding and use these skills to discover great tree skiing. This season I did this at Roaring Ridge on the East end of Snoqualmie Pass and enjoyed 2 dozen great powder days without another soul crossing my tracks or stressing about dangerous terrain since most of my runs were under 30 degrees and moderately timbered with new and old growth forests for 2,000+ vertical feet.
Low Snow can present High Hazard and just as likely as to leave hazards on the ground unburied. This falls under New Risks and requires one to develop a light touch to their riding. Your favorite spots may be un-skiable with only 2-4 feet of snow. Ground level risks take a more subtle appreciation of possibly injury due to a run in with a stump , log or boulder barely covered.
Low Fitness/Post Injury require a similar approach since poor fitness may result in an injury just as likely as re-injuring by trying to comeback before a full recovery. New Skills often come from a new tack on reclaiming your fitness, such as yoga, crossfit and cycling. Patience, planning and discipline will facilitate long-term gains and recovery. I spent the last 2 years rebuilding my left shoulder from two separate incidents that erased two years of rock climbing. Athletes such as Beth Rodden , Steve House and Kelly Cordes have suffered from major injuries and each one has provided great insight into how they over came them through persistence and training.
I find the day to day challenge of progressing in my chosen path is not linear, number based or ranked on any list. It requires meeting the conditions on any given day and pushing the appropriate limit that the hazards permit, which means laps of vertical in the trees when persistent weak layers keep me off steep terrain or climbing 5.7s til my shoulders allow me to pull harder.