Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Excursion Article Series 01.17.09: Cache Creek backcountry skiing: How to photograph oneself skiing on a 10-second timer

Caption: Ever tried to take a picture of yourself skiing without a remote for your camera? Not easy. But I still managed to get this great pic.

Excursion: Backcountry skiing
Where: Cache Creek off Hagen Trail
Difficulty: Moderate to expert

All Jacksonites know that Snow King is not in fact the King of Snow. In fact, it often seems like the resort’s efforts to clone snow early in the year anger the snow clouds who go and haughtily dump their snow elsewhere. That’s why apart from a few runs of night skiing, locals mostly get their skiing elsewhere.

Fortunately, just about anywhere else in the valley will do. Just up Cache Creek on the same hill that hosts Snow King, people willing to hike for a few turns can and will find them. I don’t know whether it’s the proximity to traffic, town or what, but Snow King really does seem to be in a perpetual drought compared to the hills just outside of the town boundaries.

On Friday, even though it’s been pretty sunny for well over a week, I found eight inches of powder underneath just a mild layer of crust just off the Hagen Trail. Because of the crust, I was slightly less inclined to really explore the backcountry than I would have been otherwise.

About a mile up Cache Creek Road from the main parking lot, I took off on the satellite Hagen Trail which heads gradually up the north-facing hills. It’s a neat little trail that’s not as frequently used (especially by dogs) as the main trail. It’s nice to find respite from the incessant signs warning to “do your duty and pick up your dog doo-ty,” not to mention the sign left behind in little plastic baggies by inconsiderate hoards of dog owners. I’m sure they promise themselves to pick it up on their way back, but “Oops,” forget about it on the way down.

Anyway, when I had gone up the trail half a mile or so, I found my little Shangri-La. Just as I rounded a steep bend in the trail, the sun flared through gaps in the trees, illuminating swathes of untouched golden snow on a relatively treeless hillside.

Caption: Here's the hill I skied on prior to tracking it up. Yummy snow...

Mmmmmmmm, I thought.

The only good thing about the crust was that it made it really easy to kick steps off trail. Being a good Boy Scout, I came prepared. Snowshoes strapped to my back in case I really found deep snow, skis and ski boots, a tripod, one perfectly-sized mitten, one undersized glove, an extra coat, water and dangit! Forgot my beanie. Luckily the 20-degree weather felt equatorial after hauling myself and 50 pounds of gear all over the hills.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find anyone to help me enforce the buddy system that day, which is partly why I had chosen Cache Creek for my outing. There’s little to no avalanche danger, decent cell reception and it’s close to home and/or St. John’s in case anything does go wrong. Because of my lack of a buddy, I had to figure out a way to take pictures of myself skiing on a ten-second timer.

This is no easy feat. Scout’s honor.

What I wound up doing was setting up the tripod, hitting the shutter release and sidestepping uphill as fast as I could before the timer released. Scampering 20 feet up a hill through crusty powder on 207 skis in 8 seconds then flying down the hill to hit your 10-second mark at the perfect compositional point sounds about as easy as it is. Too many times the shutter would click just soon enough that I missed the shot but couldn’t stop myself before I reached the camera. So I had to halt, wearily ascend the hill to the camera and repeat. After a half dozen tries, I got frustrated and planted my skis in the snow and took a still shot. I knew that would work.

After that I was able to climb the rest of the hill to get to do one real run before I had to go home. If it weren’t for the chill sounds of “Aqueous Transmission” by Incubus playing on my MP3 player, I don’t know how far up the hill I would have made it. I passed several moose and deer beds on my way up the hill, so take care to watch for wildlife, and please give it space if you do have any encounters. They were there first; plus they’re bigger than you. It’s also always good to check avalanche conditions (http://www.jhavalanche.org/advisories.html) before you go, travel with a buddy, make sure people know where you’ve gone and if possible, have functional avalanche transceivers on hand.

Remember that 90 minutes of hiking for a glorious 90-second run is worth your while. Just don’t forget your beanie.

Caption: This is the picture I took when I wasn't sure any of the action shots were working like I wanted them to. Not bad, just not great.

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