Connecting seasons — Silverdale skier hits 48-month streak on the slopes

Mack Johnson ended his summer the best possible way –  skiing in Paradise.

The Silverdale resident and North Mason teacher made turns down the Paradise Glacier on Mt. Rainier’s southern exposure Sept. 2. In doing so, Johnson kept alive a streak of skiing for 48 consecutive months.

“A baby streak compared to some, but it’s all mine,” Johnson wrote in a trip report.

“He’s a solid addict now,” said Silas Wild, a Seattle skier who has not a let month pass without skiing since Bill Clinton was in his second term as president – a feat that only a few in the nation can top.

Johnson and Wild are part of a smallish crew of die-hard skiers that make turns on snow all year long, year after year.

The basic premise is that a skier must hike, climb or skin up hill and then slide down on snow. It’s a self-regulated endeavor that friends and families of the afflicted often find strange when the shorts come out for the year.

Though the basic requirement is one day in every month for 12 consecutive months, there is no limit on the amount of days beyond that. Many 80-day-a-year skiers slow their pace to one day a month when summer arrives.

Easier done in some years than others, skiing year round in Washington state is made possible by the insanely large snow falls – 30 feet fell in March alone this year – in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, particularly on the volcanoes.

The parking lot at Paradise situated at about 5,400 feet above sea level in Mt. Rainier National Park sees between 500 and 900 inches of snow annually.

It’s generally the place to go in a pinch if you need snow late in the season. Otherwise, Timberline at Mount Hood keeps a patch groomed and salted for international ski racers to train on. Anyone desperate enough, can walk up and slide down that snow as well.

“We’re probably the best situated to do year round skiing,” Wild said of the Washington state Cascades.

It was from the lot at Paradise that Johnson and Wild started out last Friday on a day trip to ski a few thousand feet up the Paradise Glacier for the four-year anniversary of Johnson’s streak.

It’s a wonderful year to be a skier, Johnson said. Going into September, the snow pack is equal to an average June.

“There is so much snow still,” he said.

“Mack was tickled to get one more year under his belt,” said Wild.

With decades of traditional alpine and telemark skiing during the winter months behind him, Johnson first made summer turns a decade ago. Skiing in shorts left it’s mark on him.

Washington has some of the best summer skiing in the world; big mountains and volcanoes with great access, Johnson said.

It’s a fact that many have traveled far to verify. Year rounders from the Pacific Northwest can be found in any Southern Hemisphere mountain town during August and September trying to keep a streak alive during the years with a lesser local snowpack than currently in the mountains.

While most of the state’s skiers have gone on to more traditional summer pursuits of rock climbing, mountaineering, sailing, fishing or mountain biking, the die hards chase a shrinking snowpack until the early season snows fall and begin to rebuild into winter.

“I became more interested in skiing than climbing,” Johnson said.

Summer is often the safest time to ski some of the big mountains without worrying about freezing to death, Johnson said. It’s also a chance to go with lighter and less gear than in winter.

“The worst of it is when you carry skis and boots on your back with everything else,” Johnson said.

Across the snowpack

Those boots and skis are preferably on the skier’s feet and used with skins to travel up hill and across the snowpack to the sought skiing location.

With huge late season snowfalls throughout spring and a cloudy cool beginning of summer, Johnson got the chance to ski most of the 3,000 feet up to his anniversary ski descent.

Most people would think otherwise of a long wintery spring and cloudy summer, but it was the perfect storm for summer skiing this year, said Wild with the bias of a 63-year-old man that climbed and skied 130,000 vertical feet during 42 days of skiing between June 3 and Aug. 16.

Most don’t manage those numbers during an entire traditional ski season.

“I’ll never have a summer like that again,” Wild said. “It’s the best I’ve seen.”

Last summer, during a much leaner snow-year, Johnson skied all five Washington state volcanoes from their summits as part of a project that has expanded into a goal of hitting every Cascade volcano from California to British Columbia.

“I’m working on becoming a ski mountaineer,” Johnson said.

Once a skier reaches that first 12 month mark that ties one ski season into the next the year-round pursuit gets easier. Wild said that in his experience most streaks that end after the first year do so form injury or life takes the skier away from the snow for some reason or another.

“After your second year, you’re probably into it,”  Wild said.

Johnson’s streak almost ended last May when he found Memorial Day approaching fast without his required day sliding on snow having passed. A trip to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park gave him fresh snow to keep it alive.

“You have to make the time,” Johnson said of keeping a year-round streak alive. Training leads to the dedication, otherwise you won’t make it. he said.

It’s a truism in the local ski community that most don’t make it past month nine or 10. As July spreads into August and the snow retreats farther from the car and higher up the mountainside toward the peaks, most skiers fall off or sleep in.

Wild, who’s own 14-year streak almost ended in Sept. 2000 after waiting too late into the month, said it’s best to get the monthly turns out of the way early in the month when the snow is lean and it takes obsession to keep the streak alive.

“Otherwise you might regret it,” Wild said.

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