When the Christmas rush is over and the ski resorts return to the January doldrums, there are almost no customers and no lift lines because everyone thinks it’s too cold. With as many different kinds of temperature-defeating inventions on the market today, there is no need to be cold. Think: Layering, foam rubber face masks and boot covers. An extra pair of mittens and no lift lines are where it’s at for anyone who knows where creature comforts can be bought and their way around a ski resort.
January is the time when you don’t have to give your credit card to the restaurant to make a reservation and get billed if you are a no show.
It is the time of the year when those big storms swirl out of the Aleutian Islands and dump two feet of snow. January is when you don’t have to mow the lawn, wash the car or go to your kid’s soccer games, so why not ski?
One of the better things about January skiing is that you don’t have to park a mile and a half away from the ski lift and ride to them in a converted hay wagon while it is raining. Instead, you can drive right up to the lodge and park within walking distance of the lifts.
In January of 1946, when rope tow tickets cost $2.50 a day, I was on leave from the U.S. Navy and learning to ski in Yosemite when a big blizzard showed up and dropped almost four feet of wet snow overnight on Badger Pass. It was the next afternoon before the rotary snowplows had the road cleared so we could finally get up to the lifts. Trying to learn to ski in four feet of powder snow on a flat rope tow hill using a brand new pair of 7-foot-6-inch, stiff, Swiss Attenhofer, hickory skis proved to be impossible, so I went back to my pair of soft $7 army surplus skis.
Early the next morning, when I got back up to Badger Pass, the resort was abuzz with a rumor that a skier hadn’t returned the night before and was presumed lost, but hopefully still alive somewhere.
Being very young, heroic and dumb, I volunteered to go with two forest rangers on their rescue effort. We didn’t find the lost man, but instead got ourselves lost and had to spend the night sleeping in a snow bank. That freezing night would take an hour to describe, so I will fast-forward a few days when someone came trudging back from an eight-mile ski trip to Ostrander Lake. While still four miles out on the trail, he had come across the missing skier. He was still alive, but very weak. The missing man had found a Forest Service rescue toboggan strapped to a tree, took it down and holed up in the blankets, slept on the toboggan and subsisted on Lichens for the next several days.
A rescue party was immediately assembled to go out and haul him in. We drove four more miles up toward Glacier Point, where a half-dozen ski instructors had strapped on sealskin climbers to find the missing man. Another skier and myself were told, “Look, the last mile back here to the ambulance is all uphill and we’ll need some guys on snowshoes to haul the guy up that hill. That’s for the two of you to do.”
So we snowshoed in to meet the rescue party and the victim at the bottom of a fairly steep canyon. We were able to haul him up the trail at the end of a very long tow rope; we smelled like a six-pack of pigs that hadn’t been cleaned since the Fourth of July.
We were exhausted after hauling him up the hill, so the ski instructors immediately took over the toboggan and brought him to the waiting ambulance and the press photographers. By the time my pal and I had awkwardly snowshoed back down to the ambulance, the press pictures had been taken and all of the ski instructors and the ambulance with the victim had driven away.
The two of us got to snowshoe back down to the Badger Pass Lodge, break a window to get in and spend the night sleeping on the floor in front of the fireplace.