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Airborne at Hatcher Pass

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AMDS Outdoor Adventures - 1/22/00
by Andy Storer

Andy goes airborne

My friend Doug and I pulled into the Church Road parking lot at Hatcher Pass at about 8:15 with my Summit X and his modified MXZ in tow. We met up with Don sitting on his Arctic Cat and Chris, our man-on-the-scene-with-digital-camera astride an Indy 500 SKS with a track resembling a used piece of bologna. The " lugs on his track were designed for speed. They make you go fast and get stuck often. It was snowing lightly, there was no breeze and temperatures hung around 25 degrees. It looked like a good day to ride.

The beginning of the trail had adequate snow-cover, but was nothing to get excited about. Once we started to climb into the hills, however, the snow depth grew exponentially. With each foot of snow the excitement factor doubled. Chris rounded a corner and blurted out the word "awesome." Don said something about "awesome" having to do with Shania Twain naked, but what's that got to do with snowmachining. Other than that, the word awesome is entirely overrated. We will get back to this later.

We continued our climb to the top where we decided to cross to the ridgelines to our friend Randy's cabin, good idea, bad execution. We weren't a mile into this attempt when Mother Nature gave us a lesson in humility. It's called "white-out". We couldn't see 10 feet in front of us, so the unanimous decision was made to follow our own tracks back to the tree line. We didn't want to lose the trail and end up lost. It took about 30 minutes to get back to our starting point on top of the ridgeline. The snow and freezing rain would take about 1 second to coat our glasses with instant ice. Doug and I could actually see better without our glasses. Now, when you consider that Doug is blind without glasses, which should tell you how limited the visibility was. At this point, we were thinking this day could be a bust.... but noooooooo.

Don followed the little boy inside him and found a series of excellent draws, drainage's, and miniature canyons right at tree line. We proceeded to play jump the walls. There was so much snow that a soft landing was guaranteed whether you landed right side up or not. Doug started a trend by launching up the side of a 25-foot draw that turned out to have a firm, vertical, if not stiff upper lip. His flight arc was perfect had he been the space shuttle. As a snowmachiner it left something to be desired. At the top of this flight, he hit his ejection button and launched himself back down the hill, whilst his sled wedged itself into the lip of the snowdrift. A light tug on the sled and it skidded down the draw. We turned it around so he could try it again.

I tried a new plan. Step one would be a high-speed vertical climb up the hill. When I cleared the top of the hill, I would sail above the lip. At just the right moment, a slight goose of the throttle, a simultaneous kick away from the sled, followed by hard braking action would push the nose over and land the sled and me on top of the hill. It half worked. The sled made the top but I didn't and landed at the bottom of the hill. We had a ball, climbing, falling, getting unstuck and doing it all again. Chris, realizing the limitations of his inch bologna track, chose to set-up for taking pictures of the 3 amigos. I do have to give him credit. Although he had the wrong track for this day, he rode 2 feet of fresh powder like a seasoned backcountry woodsman. He rode smart. Whenever he would start bogging down, he found a place where we had broken trail got into our tracks and kept moving.

About that time, the cloud cover started to move in again, the light got flat, and we were tired. Bushman Don found a spruce-beetle killed tree, broke off some branches and got a fire going. There was enough coverage from a neighboring tree that we created a handy little natural warming hut. We figured that the fog would pass, so we used the time to warm up and dry out or snow laden gloves. After an hour or so, it was like somebody flipped a switch. The fog dissipated and the sky cleared instantly. With light to see by, we learned that we were on a hill with over 4 feet of new snow and NO TRACKS. It was time to play again.

Now that the weather was clear again, we decided to venture further along the treeline. We played a little, and then Don looked over at us and said with an almost evil look, "Do you want to go DOWN THERE?" I gave him the 2 thumbs up, so over the edge of the hill we went. It was a 750 foot vertical drop that had just enough angle to keep you from free falling. We had fun going down, but spent the next 2 hours trying to find a route back up the hill. It was the kind of hill you see on product videos. It flared from a practically flat ledge up to about a 45-degree slope. It was speckled with large spruce, wind blown snow drifts next to the spruce (we call them jumps) and nothing but snow, deep snow, and more deep snow. We all got stuck on a flat part of the hill trying to go across. The snow was deeper than we were tall, and we still couldn't feel the bottom. We modified our riding techniques to deal with it. We had to trample down launch-pad runways in front of the stuck sleds and hope to get enough speed to launch back on top of the luscious fluffy white stuff. There was a time we were all stuck in different positions, and all we could see of each other was the top everyone's head. You couldn't see the sleds.

Finally, Chris said, "It's time to go home." You guys break a trail and I'll work my voodoo and whip this bologna beater outa here." Before we had a chance to think about it, Don was on the throttle and charging the hill with his powder special. He got about a third of the way up but then buried his sled. He made a nice 4 foot deep trench though. We gave him a 9 for effort on that one. Seeing an opportunity to help (read show off the Summit X), I dropped the hammer.

I blew by Don but then started to run out of steam, even though I was at full throttle, the deep snow started to bleed off energy. Even the X was about to stick. I maneuvered the sled into a side hill for about 50 feet. That gave me enough speed to turn back uphill and get up and out. Now we had to work on establishing a trail straight up and down for Chris and Doug. Doug pushed his MXZ670 short track into the grooves Andy and Don had cut. Even with a partially broken trail, Doug danced on his tail the whole way up the hill, pretty impressive. Now there were three solid tracks cut in the hill. Chris took a run at it, and made it to the top.

The ride had been phenomenal. Don had impressed the world with his sidehilling finesse. He was cutting across 50-degree powder slopes. This was NOT avalanche country. We were riding in a drainage amongst trees. Andy had demonstrated the raw climbing ability of the X by cutting through these side hills and launching up over the top. Chris demonstrated his solid reasoning and rode his machine to its design limits without getting stuck very much. Doug demonstrated that the skis are optional on his sled in conditions like this. A short track with paddles can run the deep snow if you "wheelee"all day long. It was about 2:30 and we were spent. At this point, Chris, Doug, Don and I all agreed that this hill had been awesome even without Shania. I was tired but was also looking forward to rubbing it in, when I told Ken Baehr about the ride he had missed.

~ Andy Storer

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