I slid into the Sheer Bliss corral, turned around, and saw Cheryl right behind me. We edged forward, merging with the small clot of skiers heading towards the lift. A younger couple was moving up on our left. The guy said with a smile, “It’s starting to get crowded, why don’t we go up together?”
They looked pretty fit, and geared for serious skiing. After we were on the chair, with the foot rest down, I took a guess and asked, “Do you live around here?”
“No, we’re from Portland, Oregon.”
With a grin on my breath, I returned, “Oh, our neck of the woods. We’re from up in the Puget Sound – Gig Harbor, when we’re not here.” I quickly gave him the run down on our second generation second homeowner status, fiftieth year skiing here, etc.
“So you’re here on a vacation?”
“Well, sort of; I’ve got a few months off, so we came out to try the skiing in Colorado.” Which lead to a few moments of commiserating on the vagaries of Cascade Concrete, and the great terrain/iffy snow we get in the Pacific NW. “We’ve been to Vail and Steamboat, maybe try Telluride. But we’ve got to get through the mountains here – Ajax, Highlands.”
“So a real road trip, huh? Do you have a vehicle for that?”
“Yeah, we rented a car – “
“No, I thought maybe you had a van, were sleeping in parking lots, cooking your own meals, that kinda thing.”
“Well, that would be cool. But we do have friends we’re staying with, so that makes it easy.”
Cheryl’s curiosity overwhelmed her: “So what do you do that you have a few months off in the winter?”
A bit proudly, he said, “I’m a Captain on an oil tanker in the Gulf.” I assumed he meant Mexico, not Persian, but I didn’t ask.
“Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever met a tanker captain before.”
His partner now couldn’t contain *her*self. “And I run tugboats on the Columbia.”
I was floored. these guys didn’t look over 32-35.
“Those are serious jobs. I mean, do you pilot the big ships in from the ocean upriver to the ports.”
“That’s my goal,” she answered. For now, I’m part of the crew on a tugboat team which takes barges up and down the Columbia, grain from the Snake River, going to Longview. Sometimes we have 4 boats and a whole train of barges.”
“That’s really a tricky job, right? I mean, you have to know the shoals and the currents and everything, right?” I was trying to express some respect for their work. These guys were serious, as well as young, in love, and outdoor adventurers. I turned to the guy, trying to exude a smile through my face mask and goggles. “I guess those jobs are pretty safe for your lifetimes. No robots yet can capture the experience and knowledge it takes to move those ships around?”
He laughed, agreeing. Quiet for a moment, they looked at the map, puzzling their next move.
“You know where you’re going?” I ventured.
“What do you suggest?”
I figured them as willing to take a chance, and with a month or more of skiing already behind them this season, ready for anything this mountain had on offer.
We were about two-thirds of the way up. We could start to see the top of the mountain, which rose another 1200 vertical feet above the chair lift terminus. Past the lift, the terrain was all smooth, treeless, broad open tundra now evenly covered with wind-striated hardpack. To the left, the ground dropped into the bowl of the Cirque.
“Well, over there, you can find just about anything you’d like. No runs, just lines into the trees and gullies. It’s called the Cirque. You get there from the Poma lift which starts just to the left when we get off. Ride it up, you can drop down the Headwall to get in. There’s steeper approaches, like AMF. You’ll see the orange ‘lollipops’ pointing the way. But first time up, I’d head all the way to the Headwall, for the longest run. Come back up this lift, then try AMF if that was too tame.”
“We’ve heard about Hanging Valley, The Wall, that you’ve got to walk up to it.”
“Yeah, well, you can actually ski *down* into it from the top of the Poma. Just take the traverse all the way over, follow the signs and you can skip the hike.”
We were jiggling our skis, shaking our our clothes a bit, preparing to unload. “You guys have fun. And strong work there out on the water.”