MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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January 23, 2014

Education and Epic Corn Skiing on Rainier

This past weekend's Avalanche Level 1 course started out with two very fun, lively lectures at Evo in Seattle. Once it was time to head out to the field to practice our lessons, we head out to Mt. Rainier National Park. Three of our five students had never been to Paradise on the south side of Mt. Rainier before and what an absolutely amazing first day to visit. With perfectly clear skies and a 11,000 foot day time freezing level, Mt. Rainier rose unobstructed over 9,000 feet above us to its 14,411 foot summit.  We left the busy parking lot full of children sledding and other ski-tourers skinning up. Before heading into the backcountry, we went over the basics regarding beacon care and how to preform a function check. Once that was completed, we started our tour, covering basic skinning technique and fundamental touring tips. Our group toured up Edith Creek Basin, stopping in a flat open area with fantastic views of Mt. Rainier, Mazama ridge and the nearby Tatoosh Range.

Getting ready to head out! Ian Nicholson photo

Over the next few hours we further refined beacon, probing and strategic shoveling skills. From there we continued our tour up to the northern end of Mazama Ridge, working on our “on-the-fly” observations like hand-shears and feeling the different layers in the snow with our poles while relating our observations to the bulletin. After touring up to the elbow in Mazama Ridge, we found a perfect spot to work on snow pit skills. After digging our pits we made a sensational run down nearly 1,000 feet to a snow-covered road where we skinned back up to the parking lot.

Getting to work with great slopes in the background. Ian Nicholson photo

Starting the search. Ian Nicholson photo

The next day at Paradise was quiet. With the Seahawk-49er game looming later that afternoon, there were less than 10% of the people from the previous day in attendance. While maybe a couple degrees colder, the day was no less perfect, with little-to-no wind and a mostly cloudless sky.  Mt. Rainier again rose above us proudly and powerfully. The students used their new skills and chose to start off the tour up Edith Creek Basin toward the ridge hoping the snow would be softened the most quickly by the morning sun. The views from the top were spectacular with Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams peaking out in the distance. The group was poised with some challenging decision making as to where along the ridge to drop in, which they handled flawlessly. After our adjusted entrance point, we dropped in and enjoyed some of the better corn skiing I have ever experienced. Students worked their way down the terrain hooting and hollering as we went.  The corn wasn’t just good, it was epic good.

Ian Nicholson photo

After nearly 700 feet of perfectly creamy and carveable snow. We put the skins back on and headed back up, continuing to dial in the group's skills.  After our first run, we skinned back up below two side-by-side bowls that looked similar to the Golden Gate Bridge, and are appropriately named the "Golden Gate Bowls".  On a bench below the bowls we preformed a larger group rescue where the 5 students have to find 4 buried backpacks, 1 without a beacon, and only small visual clue for aid.  The group nailed it and combined their recently learned rescue skills from the previous day perfectly.  After completing our scenario we skinned up the right side of the Golden Gate and ripped skins near the top.  Just when we thought the skiing couldn't get any better, it did. Dropping into the perfectly shaped bowls on somehow even better corn snow, we carved while listening to the rest of the group cheering and hollering all the while as we watched each other ski the final run of the course. Thanks to everyone for a great course and tour!

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson

A great day for the slopes! Ian Nicholson photo