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Big Dumps, Big Days, Big Skis and Big Goddamn Feet - Ski Mag

Big Dumps, Big Days, Big Skis and Big Goddamn Feet

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Bigfoot 1003

At first light on a stormy March morning, we are driving east along the broad reach of the Fraser River on British Columbia's dank south coast. It's murky, with smoky tendrils of mist angling off mountainsides and fog pooling in the valley. When the sky clamps down here, the clouds swallow peaks whole and roadways become eerie enclosures. The spookiness is only heightened as we nose off the highway toward Harrison Hot Springs.

As you enter town, the sign reads Sasquatch Country, and whether the legendary creature exists or not, the claim is legit. Harrison is where, in the 1920s, John W. Burns first alerted the world to what local Chehalis Indians were telling him about hairy giants; "Sasquatch was his spelling of the native name. Eighty years and an avalanche of alleged sightings later, Harrison remains the capital of Sasquatch. I've come here with a few friends hoping to understand why so many Pac-Norwesterners believe so strongly in the beast.

Don't fret, I'm no fanatical footo-phile—and this is a twofold mission. Just 45 minutes up the road sits Hem-lock Valley Resort, a small ski area with the motto: Discover the secret. Hem- lock is one of a handful of moderate-sized Pacific Northwest resorts—Mount Baker, Alpental, Stevens Pass—tucked into prime Sasquatch-believer country. Little known beyond a cadre of dedicated regional skiers, the four resorts constitute one of the best road-trip circuits for skiers in North America. Legend has it these places offer empty slopes, a surprising amount of tough terrain, and—if the stars align, female Sasquatches enter rut, whatever—crystal-clear powder days in one of the wettest regions on earth.

This weather fantasy was never one I entertained. The idea of pillowy, sunlit turns in a region notorious for relentless cloud cover and snow known as Cascade concrete sounded like a desperate marketing pitch. Still, there are plenty of folks who insist on the existence of an eight-foot-tall monster living undocumented in the forest. Was dry powder and sunshine any less ridiculous?

[""]As we pull into Harrison, we pass by Sasquatch Provincial Park, Sasquatch Springs RV Resort, and Bigfoot Camp-ground where a 30-foot-tall Bigfoot statue with a giant, erect penis welcomes visitors from across the street. (The department of transportation forced its owner to turn it around a few years ago because its member pointed directly at tourists entering town.) Stopping at a souvenir shop we're bombarded by another round of Bigfoot paraphernalia: T-shirts, mugs, key fobs, fridge magnets, letter openers, teaspoons, pins, books, and, predictably, Sasquatch Crossing signs. Bigfoot is clearly more cash cow than hominid around here, one that the locals protect with frightening determination. When I mention to the shop girl that we're "hunting Bigfoot, she looks up with straight-faced concern.

"You guys know there's a law here that says you can't kill a Bigfoot, don't you?Sasquatch Sells Out

On the short drive to Hemlock the next morning, we stop at the confluence of Highway 7 and the Hemlock road for breakfast at the Sasquatch Inn. The joint serves Sasquatch burgers and showcases yet another, almost comic Bigfoot carving. Most Bigfoot representations in the region depict the critter wielding caveman-style clubs; this one has a rock attached to its weapon in an advanced Neolithic overture. Reaching our Bigfoot saturation point, we take our food to go.

By the time we reach Hemlock, the fog is horror-movie thick. There's new snow, however, and we waste no time charging the socked-in pistes. Hemlock offers three chairs that service mostly intermediate and expert terrain made up of 35 runs and a wide, wraparound bowl with open powder fields up top, natural halfpipes down the middle, and several hiking options that access classic Cascade couloirs. During the region's frequent big-snow years, the area provides plenty of powder for the dedicated Fraser Valley clientele who often help dig out the lts.

[""]There's plenty of Sasquatch habitat here—the Sasquatch Triple, the Bigfoot Lodge, runs with names like Abominable and Yeti—but as for the clear-sky powder myth, we fail to make a hookup. The wind howls and graupel stings our faces as we make several runs in uncertain conditions with near zero visibility. Before long, we give up the chase and head for the bar. Inside, a DJ booth is set into the discarded cab of a '70s-era groomer, and the walls are adorned with the usual ski kitsch. We marvel at a 20-year-old poster of helmeted and goggled, parent-and-child Sasquatches with skis slung over their shoulders. Promotions manager John Ens, who's skied Hemlock since 1976 and worked here for 25 years, tells us he wants to continue to put his resort on the forefront of Sasquatch marketing.

"We want to update the story a bit, modernize it, you know? We're thinking about a race of snowboarders that result from crossing a Sasquatch with a human. What do you think?

The Biggest Arm You've Never Seen

The notion of Sasquatch-human halfbreeds seems remote until we drive across the U.S. border and through the back roads of Whatcom County, Washington. Bigfoot signs are few and far between, but the hulking, bearded real-life primates lurking around the tar-paper shacks of Glacier—gateway to Mt. Baker ski area—make up for their absence. Just two hours from Seattle, this is the still the most backwater "ski town in the lower 48.

According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization's web site—a clearinghouse for Sasquatch footage, field reports, and fanatics' chatter—the dense wilderness around 10,778-foot Mount Baker has been the location of dozens of Bigfoot encounters. Which isn't surprising. If Sasquatch exists, then the moss-choked understory of this claustrophobic landscape is just the place you'd expect the big fella to dwell. Approaching the ski area, I catch my friends in the rearview scanning the thickly forested roadsides hoping for a glimpse.

[""]By the time we arrive at the parking lot, however, 40 new inches of snow awaits us and Sasquatch is a distant memory. The clouds have disappeared too, and the glacier on neighboring 9,125-foot Mount Shuksan hangs over Baker like a chandelier, offering one of the most dramatic skiing backdrops on the continent. Not that many people get to see it. In a recent four-year span, Baker averaged 784 inches of annual snowfall, and 94 days of fresh snow per winter. (During the 1998—99 season, the area set a world record of 1,140 inches.) Base coverage is never an issue, but with precious few sunny days, visibility is a rare blessing.

Cresting the top of Chair 8, we discover the ski patrol opening Shuksan Arm, a two-mile long ridgeline extending toward its namesake peak that is Baker's out-of-bounds showcase. We off-load, the rope drops, and we join a steady stream of skiers boot-packing up the spine. Ten minutes later we launch off the left side of the ridge, making tracks down a flawless fall line that's one of the Northwest's best-kept OB secrets. Catching the low traverse back to Daytona—one of many impeccable cruisers—then bombing that back to the C-8 chair, we rip several laps. It's a glorious yin morning, followed by a yang afternoon making turns in heat-weighted snow. The yang means its time to leave.Bigfoot Carries aGiant Shovel

Two days later, a slow-moving Pacific front drags in a long night of precipitation before we head to Alpental, an 825-acre resort forty minutes from Seattle up I-90 on Snoqualmie Pass. With two thirds of Alpental's acreage located out of bounds, the place offers a hodge-podge of secrets—rock gardens, cliff hucks, back bowls, and glades. And if you know where to go, the terrain can feel like a smaller, less crowded Squaw Valley.

An hour into the day, we find deep but dense snow in the higher reaches of the resort. When the scary high traverse to Alpental's backcountry opens, we file out under nasty, loaded chutes, crossing heinous ribs of avalanche debris—earlier in the day, the patrol had uncorked 150 pounds of bombs in the area. On the descent, we get two grand of vertical; the first 1,500 feet was deep untracked pow, the last 500 scary pig snot. An acceptable trade-off by local standards, although short-lived: Yo-yoing freezing levels quickly create a soggy day, and we take an early après. In the car we consult my Bigfoot file and opt for a lengthy detour to Roslyn before returning to Seattle.

A tiny coal-mining community on the eastern slope of the Cascades, Roslyn is a patchwork of pastel roofs adrift in a sea of pine. This was the real-life set for the filming of the television series Northern Exposure. More important, it rivals Harrison as a hotbed for Bigfoot believers. We're in the local pizza parlor only five minutes before we're tipped off that a woman named Sarah—who claims a recent Sasquatch sighting—is drinking at Marko's Place, a bar down the street.

[""]Young, hippieish, and rolling a cigarette with methodical precision, Sarah is only too happy to talk: "Dad and I were watching some goats across the valley feeding on the hillside and something huge starts running up the hill, just booking it. All of a sudden, it turns and looks at us. It was big and white—like a Yeti. Weird. Dad wanted to report it to town council.

As Sarah finishes her tale, a wild-eyed character named Aaron who's been listening next to me at the bar leans over. "I think they can materialize and dematerialize, he says in a hushed tone. "You know, appear and disappear whenever they want. Satisfied that he's got everyone's attention, he continues: "They're of higher intelligence, like humans, but they just decided to go a different, kinda spiritual route. They're watching us and thinking 'whoa, don't want to be like that,' so they just evaporate whenever we get too close. That's why there are so many sightings but no actual proof.

Having covered all the bases, Aaron sips his beer and moves on to more important concerns. "Hey, nice jacket… Do you ski?Close Encounters

On the last day of the trip, we ascend a grimly dark expanse to Stevens Pass, privately hoping that we might finally see Bigfoot for ourselves. With the jagged-glass massif of 5,979-foot Mount Index rising from the forest above, our hopes rise as we round a corner and pull into the Espresso Chalet.

The Espresso Chalet is surrounded by signs announcing Welcome to the Cascade Mountains Bigfoot Park and Bigfoot Crossing next 4 mi., making it the perfect filming location for the Bigfoot Museum in Harry and the Hendersons—the John Lithgow vehicle about a Seattle-area family that adopts a Sasquatch named Harry after they hit him with their car. The Sasquatch suit worn in the movie now sits on display, ratty and sun-damaged, behind a cracked pane of glass illuminated by bare bulbs.

Proprietor Mark Klein relates his own Bigfoot history while pulling espresso shots. "First time I came across Sasquatch, I was 25 miles up Chiwawa Creek with my sled dogs, he says. "There were tracks coming over a hill and down to the river. They couldn't have been made by anything else, and there was no one else around because I broke trail all the way in. The dogs weren't happy.

As if to emphasize the point, a spine-tingling howl erupts from the valley. Spooked, we stare into the forest, shifting feet.

"My dogs, says Klein, prying our minds from werewolves, but keeping them firmly submerged in freakishness. "They probably know we're talking about them.

[""]Half an hour later, resolved to the fact that a Hollywood Sasquatch suit is as close to Bigfoot as we can hope to get this week, we make our own footprints at Stevens Pass, where it's positively blizzarding. Up high, it's blowing a gale, and deposition in lee areas is over the knee, ramping up the already considerable avalanche hazard above 4,500 feet.

The terrain at Stevens—1,800 vertical on two separate mountains—is a wicked maze of drops and hidden libs of avalanche debris—earlier in the day, the patrol had uncorked 150 pounds of bombs in the area. On the descent, we get two grand of vertical; the first 1,500 feet was deep untracked pow, the last 500 scary pig snot. An acceptable trade-off by local standards, although short-lived: Yo-yoing freezing levels quickly create a soggy day, and we take an early après. In the car we consult my Bigfoot file and opt for a lengthy detour to Roslyn before returning to Seattle.

A tiny coal-mining community on the eastern slope of the Cascades, Roslyn is a patchwork of pastel roofs adrift in a sea of pine. This was the real-life set for the filming of the television series Northern Exposure. More important, it rivals Harrison as a hotbed for Bigfoot believers. We're in the local pizza parlor only five minutes before we're tipped off that a woman named Sarah—who claims a recent Sasquatch sighting—is drinking at Marko's Place, a bar down the street.

[""]Young, hippieish, and rolling a cigarette with methodical precision, Sarah is only too happy to talk: "Dad and I were watching some goats across the valley feeding on the hillside and something huge starts running up the hill, just booking it. All of a sudden, it turns and looks at us. It was big and white—like a Yeti. Weird. Dad wanted to report it to town council.

As Sarah finishes her tale, a wild-eyed character named Aaron who's been listening next to me at the bar leans over. "I think they can materialize and dematerialize, he says in a hushed tone. "You know, appear and disappear whenever they want. Satisfied that he's got everyone's attention, he continues: "They're of higher intelligence, like humans, but they just decided to go a different, kinda spiritual route. They're watching us and thinking 'whoa, don't want to be like that,' so they just evaporate whenever we get too close. That's why there are so many sightings but no actual proof.

Having covered all the bases, Aaron sips his beer and moves on to more important concerns. "Hey, nice jacket… Do you ski?Close Encounters

On the last day of the trip, we ascend a grimly dark expanse to Stevens Pass, privately hoping that we might finally see Bigfoot for ourselves. With the jagged-glass massif of 5,979-foot Mount Index rising from the forest above, our hopes rise as we round a corner and pull into the Espresso Chalet.

The Espresso Chalet is surrounded by signs announcing Welcome to the Cascade Mountains Bigfoot Park and Bigfoot Crossing next 4 mi., making it the perfect filming location for the Bigfoot Museum in Harry and the Hendersons—the John Lithgow vehicle about a Seattle-area family that adopts a Sasquatch named Harry after they hit him with their car. The Sasquatch suit worn in the movie now sits on display, ratty and sun-damaged, behind a cracked pane of glass illuminated by bare bulbs.

Proprietor Mark Klein relates his own Bigfoot history while pulling espresso shots. "First time I came across Sasquatch, I was 25 miles up Chiwawa Creek with my sled dogs, he says. "There were tracks coming over a hill and down to the river. They couldn't have been made by anything else, and there was no one else around because I broke trail all the way in. The dogs weren't happy.

As if to emphasize the point, a spine-tingling howl erupts from the valley. Spooked, we stare into the forest, shifting feet.

"My dogs, says Klein, prying our minds from werewolves, but keeping them firmly submerged in freakishness. "They probably know we're talking about them.

[""]Half an hour later, resolved to the fact that a Hollywood Sasquatch suit is as close to Bigfoot as we can hope to get this week, we make our own footprints at Stevens Pass, where it's positively blizzarding. Up high, it's blowing a gale, and deposition in lee areas is over the knee, ramping up the already considerable avalanche hazard above 4,500 feet.

The terrain at Stevens—1,800 vertical on two separate mountains—is a wicked maze of drops and hidden lines, and the snow quality is the best we've experienced in five days. A short stroll from the top of the Double Diamond chair, we enter the steep chutes of Big Chief Bowl to find a mach-3 pow-fest, while on the Mill Valley side's Orion powder fields, there are still more deep and empty lines. Late in the day, Zach Getsinger, who's been here three winters, leads us on a long tramp across ridges to a little-known cabin. By sundown it's dumping several inches an hour and we spend the night at Zach's cabin buried deep in the pass.

Over two feet of new snow falls overnight, kept cold by January temperatures. It's a blue-sky powder morning in the wettest place on earth. We book it back to the Pass, and by 9:30 we've altready floated through two runs down the renowned fall-line tree-run Wild Katz.

That afternoon, the conditions unwavering, we join a line of skiers waiting at the 7th Heaven lift—a chair that's been closed for days. Several people give up and leave after a half hour; others, even in the complete absence of evidence that the lift will open, hang on with grim determination. The diehards understand what it has taken me a week to learn. In the Northwest, encounters with powder and Bigfoot are far-fetched, but sighting the eight-foot beast or finding deep snow and blue skies is as simple as this: You've got to believe.ven lines, and the snow quality is the best we've experienced in five days. A short stroll from the top of the Double Diamond chair, we enter the steep chutes of Big Chief Bowl to find a mach-3 pow-fest, while on the Mill Valley side's Orion powder fields, there are still more deep and empty lines. Late in the day, Zach Getsinger, who's been here three winters, leads us on a long tramp across ridges to a little-known cabin. By sundown it's dumping several inches an hour and we spend the night at Zach's cabin buried deep in the pass.

Over two feet of new snow falls overnight, kept cold by January temperatures. It's a blue-sky powder morning in the wettest place on earth. We book it back to the Pass, and by 9:30 we've altready floated through two runs down the renowned fall-line tree-run Wild Katz.

That afternoon, the conditions unwavering, we join a line of skiers waiting at the 7th Heaven lift—a chair that's been closed for days. Several people give up and leave after a half hour; others, even in the complete absence of evidence that the lift will open, hang on with grim determination. The diehards understand what it has taken me a week to learn. In the Northwest, encounters with powder and Bigfoot are far-fetched, but sighting the eight-foot beast or finding deep snow and blue skies is as simple as this: You've got to believe.v

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