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When The Snow Is Absolute Garbage, Ski It Anyway

If you can get unstuck from the suck, it could be the best worst day ever.

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It was our second day at Blanket Glacier Chalet, a remote backcountry ski lodge in B.C.’s Monashee Mountains, and the snow was trash. Overnight rain had created zipper crust, a breakable three-inch layer of soul-crushing sno-cone veneer that sends skis in every direction but the one you want. If I were back home in Colorado, I’d have walked down the skin track, driven back to my couch, and watched Kevin Costner films instead. But I had already trudged uphill for hours, none of my buddies were retreating and, well, I’d paid to be there. I was going skiing.

My first thought when we started down the crusty slope: I should have stayed home. It was like a scene from “Platoon” with bodies trashed about, limbs flying everywhere, my pals squirming like turtles on their backs, moaning in agony and defeat. After my fifth ass-over-teakettle fall, returning to the chalet’s sauna and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls seemed like the only call.

But our guide, Shane Robinson, the only one among us cutting the crust like a warm knife gliding through butter (the athletic jerk!), wouldn’t have it. He assured us the temps were warming and soon the crust would transform into schmoo.

Like most skiers, I can be talked out of stone-cold facts by the allure of what could be: The Blanket boasts 720 inches of annual snowfall on 18,000 acres of jaw-dropping terrain. There had to be good snow somewhere, right?!

But what the hell is schmoo? It’s a Pacific Northwest delicacy, a maritime snowpack staple of warmed powder snow thicker than Vaseline. When Ullr created the hot pow spectrum, the god of snow placed toenail-deep cream cheese on one end and thigh-deep mashed taters on the other. Schmoo breaks that meter. When it’s good, as I’d come to find out, it’s supported, springy, and schmeary, like skiing on a surfy pogo stick. And when the schmoo is, ahem, challenging, it’s like trying to ski in Quikrete pancake batter inside a terrarium. Schmoo is a tasty side of mashed potatoes served in a kiddie pool, making a friendly spud seem less than appetizing.

Related: How to choose the best ski for “Sierra Cement” and “Cascade Concrete”

After we flailed down the zipper crust hellscape, our group skied an area called the West Trees, well-spaced mossy giants rising out of steep pillow fields and drainages. For my Washingtonian buddies, already schmoo-certified, it was a dream scenario. For me, a Midwesterner spoiled by the featherlight snow of the mountain west, it made me feel as if I’d never skied before.

powder crash
Sometimes, gravity and crappy snow conditions win, and there’s just nothing you can do about it. (Photo: Stephen Shannon)

Slarving in schmoo will rocket you over the handlebars into Tomahawk City, population my dumb ass. Hip-dragging arcs are out of the question. Hop turns work, in so much that I was allowed a brief aerial reprieve before sinking deeper and deeper into snot. Straightlining was a good option… until I had to turn. Having exhausted every technique and trick in my book, I decided to throw haymaker left and right hooks, hoping my lower body would follow my fists.

Related: 4 tips to maximize float and fun in powder

I was at least able to link some turns, but all that effort created an overheating nightmare. The inside of my jacket was the unholy love child of a rainforest and Turkish bath house. At least I now know that I can bake a frittata simply by placing the dish inside my jacket while navigating schmoo.

By midday, I was stuck in the suck. But the thing about skiing is that even when it’s terrible, it’s still great. Everyone was laughing, the high-fives were plentiful, and if the point of the entire trip was to have a silly good time—we were nailing it. After I realized that, the schmoo got damn fun to ski. We skinned 40 miles and skied 20,000 vertical feet in four days at Blanket Glacier Chalet, more than enough to indulge in fourth helpings of après nachos. It was one of the best ski experiences of my life.

Often, it’s the brutal misadventures that turn into extraordinary events given a little perspective. I’ve never regretted skiing, even when the wind blows my mustache sideways, the skin track is slipperier than a wet fart, or when the snow conditions are more challenging than long division. I am always happier that I went than if I’d called it a no-go. “Let’s make the best of it and see what we find,” is the skier’s road map that has never disappointed, even when what we find totally sucks. “Sliding downhill is fun, even in the weirdest snow,” said our guide. “Worst-case scenario, it’s going to maybe not be fun but it will definitely be funny, and that’s a great day of skiing.”


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