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El Niņo has put a very obvious hangover on mountain participation in the Northwest.
Halfway through November, shredder disgruntlement over the forecasted El Niņo cycle to come and the likelihood that it would be a warm and dry winter was overridden by faceshots down lines normally left alone for another month or more. People bought new gear, and if they hadn't already, season passes. Significant others were left in the cities and jobs were quit.
So when the rain came, the shredder barely flinched. But the unprecedented cold snap that followed froze every mountain and ounce of motivation in the Northwest for weeks. People wallowed back into their holes, and some still have yet to surface.
Regardless of our less than average snowpack this season, the Cascades have slowly been reloading, and at the moment, they are better than I should mention -- especially at higher elevations and under the premise that you don't mind a walkabout.
Think Thank mastermind Jesse Burtner sounded skeptical about the report of soft and knee deep at Crystal Mountain, a tone I have become used to after filming with Think Thank over the past four years. He knows I have no secret inflatable red cone, plaster bird or Gus Engle stashed in the woods to weird out with, that Matt Edgers and I want to go film lines and will most likely not build a damn thing and possibly forget that filming was even the objective, depending on how much snow falls. But with a little persuasion (I told him we had a few jumps to hit at Crystal, which could have been true), our plan sprouted. Along with Tim Eddie, Austin Hironaka and rotating photographers Mike Yoshida and Trevor Phillips, we booted up and into zones Edgers and I cataloged as having potential the week before. We branched off to both the north and south of Crystal's boundary lines after tracking out a few inbound stashes.
No one spent more than 10 minutes building anything, which kept the pace fast for discrete pillaging. After a horrible illness, Hironaka discovered that drinking water could be beneficial to his recovery and possibly to his health in general. After two weeks of flu-heavy skin and a pounding sinus-pressure induced headache, he had started drinking water as an experiment/last ditch effort to heal himself, and it seemed to be working. He seemed truly amazed, which I suppose would be the normal response for someone who, when 'healthy,' drinks a six-pack of soda everyday.
Our final push for a teaser shot, Burtner wanted to hit a wind-lip we spied in flat light the previous day. Retracing our steps under better light, however, revealed the need for more snow to fill in a quick dip at the bottom of the landing. No one cared. Lines above that had also lacked definition popped more vividly than I had ever witnessed and were untouched except for a single anonymous track and its accompanying boot pack up the gut of the bowl. This was the silver lining over the bony shoulders of the Pacific Northwest this season: terrain features normally flattened by the middle of January are still kicking because of the early melt, and the snowfall that's followed has been just enough to make almost everything a go. Almost.
For more visuals of what when down at Crystal, Check out Think Thank's new teaser for the upcoming double feature, "Right Brain, Left Brain."
Also, February is the month contests in Washington. The Legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom is going down this weekend, the North Face Masters comes to Crystal Feb. 9-12, Volcom's Peanut Butter and Rail Jam at the Summit at Snoqualmie Feb. 13 and the Holy Oly Revival, also at the Summit, Feb. 20.
Or you could just go to whatever resort is not having a contest and ride by yourself.