The Christmas break

When I was in University we would always take advantage of the Christmas break to get out there and do some backcountry skiing. We were poor; we had unreliable vehicles, lots of us either had used equipment, or we rented. This resulted in epic trips where we would spend hours dragging cars out of ditches, suffer the blisters from cold, stiff, badly fitting boots, and have massive equipment failures from completely blown bindings, stripped screws, and skins that would never stick. It was awesome and we enjoyed every minute of it.

I still remember the tale of my friend Jeff on a trip to the Sphinx hut when he lost two screws on one of his bindings. He thought he was being smart when he pirated a screw from the other side to fix it. He write a little story about it titled “The Riddle of the Sphinx”, that started with the line “What skis on two skis in the morning, one ski in the afternoon, and no skis in the evening?” That’s a long, cold walk out.

Of course, now that I’m not in university any more I know that this time of year is often the worst for skiing. The time around Christmas is the darkest time of the year, and often has the worst weather. But being in university, we chose destinations and made our plans, and because our time was limited we felt that we had to stick with those plans — this meant that we went out in bad weather and bad conditions regularly because we felt we had to make the best of things. On one occasion I suffered frost nip, and lost the feeling in my fingers for a year and also lost a few toenails from freezing.

Over this Christmas break, choose your destinations wisely. Pay attention to the avalanche bulletin and choose simpler terrain when the hazard is high. Remember that SAR Volunteers are also enjoying the holidays, and while we still respond, there are less of us around this time of year.

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