Tree Skiing

Bros in the blowdown

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many memorable misadventures among the vast and near-incomprehensible network of white-knuckle logging roads above Baker Lake, it’s that no matter what time of year I come to visit—whether it’s deep winter or early spring—I can rest assured that somewhere among those endless, twisting miles of remote deep forest thoroughfares there will come a moment when I find myself stopped in my tracks by a monumental, earth-shattering surprise. 

Flooded roads and collapsed bridges. Dozens of impassable rock slides and blown-out culverts. A lightening-quick black bear that once came bounding downhill so fast it leapt over the hood of my vehicle like a 500-pound flying squirrel. 

So it was hardly a surprise when my old ski-bum buddy Stauffer and I were recently vexed to find one of our favorite back road ski routes nearly cleared off the map by more than 120 wind-fallen trees. 

If it had been left up to me, I would have packed it in early and never bothered skiing the road in the first place. But looking back on it now, I’m glad I followed Stauffer’s lead when he finally started up the trail without me.  

The first dozen behemoths blocking our path were pretty much just your garden-variety 3-5-foot-round silver firs. Lying flat on the ground with smooth elephant-skin-like bark and minimal branches, they weren’t hard to deal with at all. We either just side-stepped right over those telephone poles or pointed our ski tips straight ahead and scraped our way directly over them as respectfully as we could.     

However, the farther we negotiated our way into the wind-ravaged forest, the thicker and more substantial the windfall became. The first really nasty piece of wreckage that forced us to take our skis off and crawl beneath it like insects was a completely uprooted 10-foot-round douglas fir resting about three feet off the ground on its own branches.

It took each of us about five minutes of heavy bashing and crashing to just barely squeeze, slide and shimmy our bodies and our skis through that dank, mossy passage. And once we popped up on the other side, we came face to face with a monstrously mangled and downright dangerous-looking canopy of a half-shredded-apart big-leaf maple whose hulking, whale-sized trunk proved so impedimentary to our forward progress we wound up taking our skis off and avoiding the whole mess altogether.     

It was then—after enduring the sour taste of defeat at the hands of that gargantuan maple—that Prussian pride took hold of my old friend and he issued forth a vow of solidarity the likes of which I hadn’t heard since we were forced to poach lift tickets and raid ski resort dumpsters for brie and baguettes during a serious lean stretch in the Spanish Pyrenees during the early 1990s.

“Are we men or are we less than men?” Stauffer asked, gesturing keenly at the blowdown-laden ski track that seemed about to get the best of us.

“Abso-freakin-lutely, we are men,” I retorted.

“Good,” Stauffer said, studying my facial expression closely. “So no more pussyfooting around these big trees then, eh? From here on, we climb and cram and grovel around—whatever it takes to ski straight through them.”

Although the multifold scrapes, cuts, bruises and repeated humiliation we subsequently endured over the next few hours helped make this little episode one of the single most discomforting bouts of “tree skiing” I’ve ever undertaken, I remain steadfast in my opinion that I have indeed become a far more versatile, confident and well-balanced skier for it.

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