Thursday, April 20, 2006

Slide Into Retirement

This is the inaugural entry for Go See Do. Thanks for stopping by...your comments to this and future posts are appreciated! –DR

Sixteen days have passed since we left our friends and colleagues at our jobs and started this adventure of semi-retirement. We managed to pack our possessions into boxes and moved them to Hemet for summer storage in a 10’ x 15’ storage unit. Each box is numbered and inventoried – a total of 99 boxes in all. We tried to downsize significantly, getting rid of extra things as much as possible – really, do we need two toilet brushes?

The truck is packed with ski and camping gear for our initial month-long trip of skiing in the Eastern Sierra. After a few days staying with my parents in Hemet, we hit the road on April 13th to head up to June Mtn for the closing weekend of the ski area. This is our fourth year working as volunteer ski patrollers at June Mtn. We arrived just in time for another of the frequent storms the area has experienced this spring. Friday we skied Mammoth in a storm that yielded wet, heavy snow. Our ski patrol days on Saturday and Sunday had unsettled weather, too – Saturday was windy but the sun appeared in the afternoon. Sunday was windy and snowing all day and into the night.

We helped during the weekend with the duties of removing ropes and lift tower pads to close the area for the season. In our past working life we would leave the area late Sunday afternoon for the 6+ hours drive back to Orange County. But Monday was the June Mtn Employee Party, where management opens the ski are to only the employees for skiing and a bar-b-que. Monday was clear and sunny, with a foot of fresh snow. We joined the patrol for some first runs – me trying to keep up with men of much better skill and strength. Despite a few tumbles in the powder, I did manage to follow John’s example and placed some exceptional tracks before the mountain was opened to everyone else.

We helped with some work on the mountain, but Eric (our patrol director) said go ahead and ski the mountain and help anyone that might get hurt. We had one of our most glorious powder skiing days in years, skiing run after run of untracked snow. There were probably less than 50 employees, and most on snowboards unwilling to traverse through the new snow to the far runs, leaving those lines for us.

We called it quits at about 3:00 PM, and stopped in the patrol room. At that point we learned that Mammoth Mtn ski area reported a large avalanche within the ski area in an area that was open to skiers. One of the patrollers went to the top of June Mtn and looked with binoculars, and said he could see a fracture from Dave’s Run to Climax, a huge area. The conditions were ripe for this type of event – a hard surface from the wet snow of Friday followed by over a foot of new snow on Sunday. There was a general call for people willing to help with the search for possible victims. We collected our gear and headed for Mammoth.

Our first full view of Mammoth from Hwy 395 showed the crown stretching across the mountain. As we drove closer, we could see dark lines like caterpillars staggered across the debris slope – these were the lines of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder probing for buried victims as they moved up the slope. With our patrol vests identifying us as June Mtn patrollers, we were quickly shuttled up to the top of the mountain on the gondola. There we joined the rest of the June patrol. We were outfitted with probes, and one-by-one we were skied over the cornice, across the fracture, along the slide surface, and down to the debris slope where we were to begin probing. It was a surreal view looking down from the top, seeing the apron of snow that let loose below, and the groups and lines of volunteers, many employees and local citizens who joined in for the search.

Our team of 14 probed a swath halfway down the slope on the eastern portion of the slide. We learned that a few people were caught in the slide, but were rescued with minor injuries. A coarse search had already been done, and we were helping with a finer search to make sure nothing was missed. Avalanche dogs and their handlers criss-crossed the area, too. We skied back down to the mid-mountain lodge to wait for further instructions. Apparently all missing persons were accounted for, and after a final sweep with the dogs, the operation ended as light faded.

We were very impressed with the scale and the tight organization of the search effort – we train for these types of events, but to see it put into practice so professionally is a rare opportunity. We were thanked many times by the organizers moving amongst the volunteers. The management opened the restaurant and offered food to all the volunteers – water was handed out wherever you went, candy bars were strewn on the tables, and boxes of hamburgers and chips were stacked and ready for consumption. Obviously they were anticipating a long search into the night – with the size of the slide in an open run, it is amazing that no one was killed in an already difficult year for the ski area.

We skied Mammoth on Tuesday, the day after the slide. The top of the mountain was closed all day – the photo shown here was taken from the top of Chair 3 looking at the slide. At the end of the day we saw patrollers at the top of the mountain releasing hand charges trying to get the remaining slopes to slide so they could assure the mountain was safe for skiing from the top the next day.

Mammoth is a big mountain that we ski with great respect.
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Anonymous said...

Nice Blog.....It sounds like retirement is starting out with some excitement. All is fine at OCWD....WE MISS YOU BOTH!

Anonymous said...

Sounds great! Take some pictures of yourselves so we can tell if you are gaining wait or not! We are still cranking code here. Almost done! Really!


Anonymous said...

You are my heroes!!!!Have lots of fun for all of us, who left behind :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Doris & John,

I really wouldn't call the private investigator's existence anything near James Bond's thrill a minute lifestyle. I work with these guys and most of the time they are sitting in their vehicle with the windows rolled up for ten hours at a stretch and having to pee into a bottle. "Shaken not stirred"!

Your brother in law, Mike, having seen your wonderful pictures and stories has gone out to the garage to begin a life of discipline, commitment and searching for good fortune because you have made him one highly jealous tree hugging powder hound.

Joan & Mike

Anonymous said...

Linda K. forwarded your blogdress. I've enjoyed reading about your antics and activities. You are two of my technoheros. John B. moved into your office, John; hoping that some of your middle-age retirement rubs off on him, no doubt. Before that, I noticed small tokens and epherma left in both offices nightly.

Anonymous said...

John and Doris,

I was cleaning out my SPAM file, and found your email (please don't be insulted. It's just AOL keeping me safe in the Cybersphere, I guess). I'll make sure the rest of the Ledyard Reillys get this blog!

So, you're "livin' the dream"! Have great fun, good health, and safe travel!

Your cuz,

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