Friday, April 14, 2006

Spring skiing

I love skiing. This is Jess's photo, on the summit snowfields of Agiocochook.


The winter caretaking season is over, and Jess and I have started working for the AMC's construction crew. These past two weeks, that's meant a lot of hanging around at Pinkham Notch Visitors' Center, painting the lodge and repairing the cargo nets we use for the annual springtime helicopter trips. Not quite as glamorous as caretaking, but it does let us spend more time with friends at work and elsewhere in the valley.

Last Friday we received a tip that there were several cancellations for the Mount Washington Observatory's weekend "Edutrip," and that we were welcomed to join buddy Tom (2005 Carter winter caretaker and currently a scientist in the Observatory's valley office) on a snowcat ride to and overnight stay at the summit.

We have several buddies working for the observatory right now, and we'd intended to pay a visit all winter. The chance to ride in a snowcat, along with all of our winter gear (including skis!) was not one that we would pass up. Plus, now that it was April, we could experience a slightly milder version of Agiocochook's winter weather, with long daylit evenings and temperatures up in the positive single digits of the Fahrenheit scale.

We spent a strange and wonderful evening in the cavernous, well-heated summit building with the summit crew, two Observatory volunteers, and the other Edutrip people. I stepped outside a couple of times that night to take in a brilliant moonlit view from the lights of Portland to the pale outline of Mount Mansfield. Close by on the other side of Pinkham Notch, Carter Dome, that big mountain that had loomed over me all winter, was over one thousand feet beneath us. The low temperatures and steady north winds kept me from spending much time outside, though, and between our isolated and beautiful surroundings and the lively company indoors, I had to agree with our volunteer chef Anthony when he compared living at the Observatory to living on a big ship at sea.

I made several excursions with Tom and weather observer Neil to enjoy the skiing on the east snowfields, a 700 foot drop from the summit complex to the Alpine Garden in the Observatory's backyard. We made four laps our first evening there, skiing until the sun dipped underneath the overcast clouds and shone on everything horizontally. It was spectacular light, and one of the photographs I took wound up next to Neil's weather column in the local "Mountain Ear" newspaper. My first published photograph - and in the Mount Washington Valley's second-finest newspaper!

The next morning, Tom and I skied down the snowfields and Tuckerman's Ravine while Jess, still recovering from a knee injury, slid down in a series of long, controlled self-arrests. Sunday was a paragon of spring days, with sunshine and mild temperatures, and a beach party scene at the lunch rocks on the bottom of the ravine. A fine descent from a fine weekend. We're looking forward to returning to the rockpile when the construction crew begins renovations at Lakes of the Clouds Hut next week. Stay tuned for more ski pictures and (hopefully) a chronicle of our helicopter rides.