Willamette Pass Backcountry, March 30, 2014

Sunday March 30th was to be the last day of operations at Willamette Pass, and with a recent storm that dropped a couple feet of snow above 6000 feet, my decision to head out for some turns came easily.  After talking with Dan & John who’d skied the area on Saturday, it sounded like the best plan for Sunday would be to utilize the lifts to access the backcountry beyond the resort.

The plan was to meet Dan, Joe and John at the patrol shack at 8:30 in time to catch the 9:00 chair.  I woke extra early in the morning, hoping to get out with the camera and snap a few shots somewhere along the way to the Pass before making turns.  There was lots of water in the side creeks along Highway 58 due to the recent rainfall, but I decided to try to get a decent picture of Salt Creek Falls.  Arriving at the snow park to find the road still gated, I walked down the snow covered road for about 15 minutes to the falls, found a suitable overlook that offered the best vantage point for a picture, setup up the tripod, and snapped some photos.  There was a variable wind that, along with the falling snow made it challenging to get a good exposure around 2 seconds, but the below picture turned out well I think.

Salt Creek Falls

Salt Creek Falls

I was hoping to hike to the base of the 286 foot falls, but given the road closure I didn’t have enough time to do that and still make it to the Pass by 8:30 am.  Oh well, next time.  After the photo shoot, I hiked back to my car and was sitting at the Patrol shack by 8:30 am when Dan, Joe and John showed up.  We caught the chair at five till nine, and made a couple of laps in the area before venturing out of bounds.  West Peak was our first objective, and after a short bootpack, we found ourselves standing on top of the peak contemplating options…..

Looking back at the Pass

Looking back at the Pass from West Peak

After testing the stability with a cornice cut and a few other tests, we elected to drop into the steep treed north side.  Dan dropped in first, followed by John, Joe and I.  The snow was soft and nice, but in the thick trees we did find a crust below the surface.  Lower down, in a nice opening, the snow was perfect.  I made several turns after John, with each slash providing a nice face shot.  Dan followed me, and I was able to capture a few photos as he enjoyed the nice pow…..

Dan enjoying the pow

Dan enjoying a nice turn

Turns through the meadow

Turns through the meadow

We continued to make turns down to the flats below, and eventually made our way back to the resort for an early lunch.  After lunch, it was time to head back out to West Peak for another lap, prior to exploring some other areas in the vicinity.  Our second run was equally as nice as the first, providing light, stable powder and great turns.

A shot from the top

Matt on top of West Peak

After West Peak, we decided to venture in the other direction and check out the conditions.  Our objective were the nice north facing glades that offer short 300 foot shots where we could utilize a well placed boot pack.  The conditions didn’t disappoint.  Joe and John dropped in first, and I followed, enjoying each turn.  At the bottom, we loaded our packs with skis and Joe put in the boot pack up the steep slope, punching in two feet or better with each step.  It was worth it however, as we utilized the track several more times over the course of the afternoon.

Late March turns

Matt riding through the glades

 

Joe ripping it up

Joe ripping it up

On the third or fourth lap, I pulled out the camera and snapped a few pictures of Joe and John booting up the slope with my wide angle lens set at 17mm.  At this focal length, the trees really dominate the scene, which was my intention.  At home later, I converted my favorite shot to black and white (shown below), which I feel is a great medium for winter photos……

Heading back for another lap

Heading back for another lap

A few more powder laps followed, with each one nearly as good as the last, though the temperature was starting to climb to just above freezing.  I snapped the below photo John ripping by me just before he sprayed my lens with a bunch of snow.  The second shot below is a shot of me taken by Joe….

John getting some action

John getting some action

 

Matt getting another pow turn

Another pow turn

Around 3:00 pm, we decided to make one more lap before heading back to the area to help with closing the resort.  Before heading down, John had an idea he wanted to try.  A year ago or so, I snapped a picture of a fellow patroller which ended up on the cover of Ski Patrol Magazine.  The powder shot was really nice, however Raleigh had the pole in his rear hand angled upward in a way that I think showed some nice style.  John, however, has always given Raleigh crap about it, and now he wanted to try a picture with him, Dan and Joe all skiing with the new “style.”  If it turned out, he wanted to print it, put it on the cover of a Black Diamond catalog, and give it to Raleigh and let him know several of his friends had a cover shot as well.  So, we decided to give it a go.  As the three skiers skied by me, I snapped several photos and the photo below makes me laugh.  For some reason it reminds me of the Three Bears.

The three bears

The three bears

After the our last lap, we skinned back out to the area, in time to catch the last chair.  I had a binding issue so the others went ahead once we were back at the area.  I was able to fix my binding with a spare part from my repair kit, and made it back to the lift in time for one last trip up.  I loaded the last chair at 4:01, and due to a late injury on one of the runs, a sled needed to go back to the top of EPA, so I grabbed a Cascade 100 and it accompanied me on my last lift ride of the season at the Pass.  As I prefer to do, I made turns down RTS for the last run of the season, before helping to close the lower mountain.  As usual, saying goodbye to the ski season at the Pass was bittersweet.  I’ll miss the fun and camraderie of patrolling during the winter, but am definitely looking forward to corn runs and the spring climbing season.  Below is a parting shot of Joe riding some nice powder from our day….

A parting pow shot

A parting pow shot

 

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