Friday, November 16, 2012


One winter when I was teaching skiing at China Peak Ski Area I was car-pooling with a member of the ski patrol.  The patrolmen have to get to the resort a lot earlier than instructors, so I would almost always be the first instructor to arrive.  I’d have time for a cup of coffee and to chat with the lodge staff and other early arrivers, then I’d get into my ski clothes and be one of the first skiers up the lift, with time for several runs before lessons started.

One morning I was eager to get out on the hill.  It was a brilliant, cold morning.  It felt like you could see for miles, not a cloud anywhere and the sky was incredibly sharp blue, it seemed like you could touch it.  A fresh, light dusting of powder snow, probably less than an inch, had fallen over night - the first new snow in quite a while. 

When there isn’t any new snow for a long time all the snow in the ungroomed areas settles and compacts.  It can get relatively hard, but not icy.  The snow “off-piste” (the areas not normally skied) becomes firm and smooth, making for excellent “tree skiing.”  Those were the conditions we had and I knew that this dusting of snow would make for excellent skiing just about anywhere on the mountain.

As soon as the lift crew would let me, I got onto Chair 3, which was the closest to the instructors’ room.  I was by myself and eager with anticipation to make some turns.

The light dusting of snow allowed you to see the tracks animals had left overnight.  There were a lot of these tracks, mostly mice or other small rodents, rabbits, weasels, some bigger ones that I thought were left by a raccoon.

Chair 3 climbs pretty steeply until it tops Waterfall run, then it passes over a long, open flat before getting to Academy run.  From high up in the chair I could see the entire expanse of this flat.  I saw a rabbit’s track going upslope, but the tracks just ended out in the middle of this open area.  This looked odd to me, as I could not understand why the tracks ended there.  There were no nearby trees or bushes that the rabbit could have ducked under.

I wondered if maybe there was hole leading to a den, but that didn’t seem possible as I’d passed over this very spot hundreds of times and never seen anything like that.  Finally the chair took me close enough to see the end of the track.

As I looked down from my lofty perch, here’s what I saw:

What do you think happened here?

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