Two planks and a baby bear: My first time XC skiing
April 3, 1997

The transition from snowboard to skis (especially the skinny XC kind) must be like going from Dune buggy to motorcycle. Speed on skis seems more scary, even if the falls are more genteel.

We had decided to take a day off from the Big Mountain and try XC skiing in Glacier National Park. Going to the Sun Road, specifically. A seven mile round trip to a picnic area on the 7 foot of snowpack. Pretty straightforward.

Except only one of us had ever been XC skiing before. And, better than that, I was the only person who'd never been on skis of any kind before. I was banking on the easy road for my virginal two-plank experience.

Well, the bear awareness briefing by the ranger didn't unnerve me, but getting to the start did. We thought we'd just hop on the road and glide off. Problem was there were huge machines turning the road's snowpack back into snow. Here at the beginning of April they assume there will be no more big dumps, so they hasten to open the most important driving road in the park for early season visitors. This means they have huge machines excavating the snow, throwing it off to the side. Beats me why anyone would drive here this early anyway. You wouldn't see anything but 10 ft walls of snow on either side of your car.

The immediate problem was the sign that warned of fines if you approached the machines. We didn't have any intested in the machines, but couldn't see anyway to get on the road without coming near them. That is, until someone suggested we simply dart through the woods.

The road turned sharply to the right, so we figured we would skirt the machines and emerge on the other side in just a couple hundred yards. Easy.

So, my first time on skis was in the backcountry woods on track XC skis.

Even so, I was the last to fall. It was quite a bit later we noticed the road hadn't appeared as expected.

Not a problem. We'd just veer left to get there quicker. Piece of cake.

Except that the road still was nowhere to be found, and we'd been in the woods for almost 45 minutes. We weren't lost, or in any danger, but we were working way too hard and pretty pissed off.

Eventually we turn about 110 degrees to the left. The road, meanwhile, had turned sharply left just after turning right (our initial view). We ended up slogging a couple miles, postholing where we couldn't work the skis. At the end it seemed the machines were about to catch up to us at the road. We could see the road through the trees, but it was taking a long time to reach it. We really didn't want to deal with the machines, so we hurried up. Some of us more efficiently than others. I ended up swimming in snow, stopping occasionally to toss my poles and skis ahead of me. Yes, it was funny and pathetic

Finally on the road, the roar of the machines' breath on our necks, we took off, quickly sussing out the kick and glide technique. After a while everyone else (the 2 couples) were way to focused on getting to the picnic spot. I wanted to admire the scenery. What's the point of rushing and not seeing anything?

I sent them on and continued at a more leisurely pace. After about 90 minutes I stopped by the bank of a thawed stream to eat a powerbar. A deer was nibbling berries newly-exposed by the melting snowpack across on the other bank. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large black object move quite nearby.

Shit. The mind works at superspeed. I remembered that Scott had been our designated bear-yeller, and that he had been gone for more than an hour and a half. Better still, his noise had probably chased some bears back this way. Even better, in early April the bears come out of hibernation. Hungry. Best, the mothers have cubs with them. This black object wasn't huge. It was probably a baby bear.

I prepared to kiss my ass goodbye.

In almost no time, I rolled over and assumed the h'ordeurve position. On my knees, bent way over, hands covering neck, elbows shielding face. Like this will matter!

I waited for the first (and most likely last) sound. Breathing, crunching snow. None came. I waited for a while longer in case the bear was playing games with me. Then it occured to me that maybe, just maybe this baby didn't have a nearby mama. It seemed too lucky to entertain even as a fantasy, but I indulged as this might be my last one.

After a bit more I became impatient. Let's get on with the mauling, if it's a mauling it's going to be!

I moved my head to the side where the baby was and tried to see through my arms. I saw a marmot. A freaking marmot. The first thing I did was announce to the forest that I was there. "Heeeeeellllooo Bear!" I had a running soliloquy with the bear until my friends returned.

It sure took my mind off the carnage of learning to snowboard.

Now I've even taught someone else how to kick and glide:
April 2000: my friend RJ