Mountaintop Experience

Field Report No. 20161218RC

Topic: Hot Lap Sunday
Conditions: Inclement

COMMENTS: When you're at a Christmas party and, just before the White Elephant gift exchange, someone suggests hitting the mountain the next morning at 5:30am, make your decision wisely. 

"I've got an extra setup all ready for you," your friend says, referring to skis outfitted with touring bindings and skins for uphill hiking. Tomorrow is Sunday, and you remember a winter custom that has been instigated within the friend group. It's a hard-core-weekend-warrior tactic your friend has nicknamed Hot Lap Sunday: a standing appointment to meet stupid-early, get a couple touring laps in at the local ski hill, and be back into town by 9am.

You've got to admit: it is satisfying to know you've already checked a mountaintop outdoors experience with friends off your list as the rest of the world is just rising. Your day is still there waiting for you: you can cook a leisurely brunch, hit up church, or do whatever the spouses and kids have planned for the day. But when you put the littlest ones down for a nap, you might need one too. 

You take the bait. Why not?

The 4:45 alarm comes early, but it's good to catch up with old friends over hot coffee in the car (today your travel mug is graced with DOMA Ethiopia organic). Talk continues as you begin the brisk, dark hike up the mountain together. There have been days like this when a gorgeous sunrise view was part of the reward. Today, it's fog and snow, with considerable wind. These features and the 5-degree-Farenheit temps transform the group into abominable snowmen by the time you reach the top, capable only of grunts as you layer up, reconnect the heels of your bindings, and de-skin your skis.

Then, you choose to follow that friend who seems to always have a nose for the powder. It's early season, so lean back when you're in the trees; best to keep those tips above the perpendicular logs you can still see shaped at the surface. Hoot and holler when you feel that familiar sensation, floating fast through the untouched snow stashes in the woods. It's worth a shout when you realize that even the coldest climb you've ever had didn't fail to be worth it.

KEY FEATURES: Ski touring is a workout with bonus benefits, so it's best to manage expectations. Today there aren't any sunrise photos to post, but the soft snow, the shared experience with the fellas, and even the basic task of survival are all part of the payoff. Your faces thaw out in the warm truck on the way down.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Don't fight with fogged and frozen goggles. Sometimes it's best to pop 'em off and let the tree-cover and your eyelashes do the job; you need to fully see obstacles in order to slalom around them, especially those tricky little nubs that still stick above the surface in mid-December.

-Ross Carper
(photos: Landon Crecelius)