VIDEO: BD athlete Zack Giffin scores primo pow in May!
Black Diamond athlete Zack Giffin scored some of the best powder of the season—after the season should have been over. Below is Zack’s report, photos and video about his amazing May on the slopes of Mount Baker.
I once heard Duncan Howatt (Mt. Baker’s mountain manager for the past 40 years) mention that he had never seen it snow more than 10 inches at Baker after the middle of April. That was in 2005. Every year since then I have seen that statement disproved. Was it an exaggeration? Or, has the changing climate shifted the borders of when winter begins and ends?
What I do know is that this season in Washington was very peculiar. It started on November 11 with over 200 inches falling in that month alone. Then the majority of the winter (December, January and February) was relatively warm and dry. In mid-March, just as the trees on the coast had declared it spring and started to bloom, winter decided to show up, as a series of unseasonably cold storms hit the Pacific Northwest, snowing all the way through April.
The last day of Mount Baker’s season, April 25, seemed to be the final powder day, but this year the Alaskan storm machine was not finished. Far more than 10 inches fell during the first few days of May and on the third day the temperature dropped. I found myself at an empty home mountain without a track to compete with and closer to 30 inches of perfectly bonded powder. Most days I revel in the satisfaction of hitting one or two of the lines under Chair 1, but even when I manage to get in front of the mad dash, I have the bomb holes and ski cuts from the patrollers to contend with. On this May 3, not only were the lines all fresh, but also the pressure was absent and the only patroller bomb holes were from the cliff landings of my ski partners (and Baker patrollers) Paul and Dustin.
After my first run I knew that this kind of storm, this late in the year, was something special and needed to be fully utilized. I spent the rest of the week trying to do just that. After two days the temps began to rise and the only thing to do was move to higher elevation, where the snow was still light and dry. On May 6, we made our first attempt for the summit of Mt. Baker, but when we got up to the top of Heliotrope Ridge the lure of the fall line and the promise of high speed, blower pow turns seduced us. We all agreed that the risk of this perfect snow being ruined by the coming sunshine outweighed the need to reach the top. So we all dropped together, charging down the face that had taken nearly three hours to ascend, in about five glorious minutes.
Two days later we were back. This time the summit was the goal and the thousands of feet of pow turns, just a bonus. It was a perfect way to round out the winter and usher in a new season; a season of predawn ascents, ice axes, and corn snow. Where the action stays the same, but for some reason the objective changes. It’s not about going down, but reaching the top. On this day in early May I couldn’t tell you what season we were in or whether we were there for the summit or for the late-season powder. I couldn’t say and would rather not choose. Fortunately, on this day we didn’t have to.
— Zach Giffin