I don’t remember how I got in to a conversation with Pepper John. That isn’t really his name. I never found out what his last name was, but John was his first name. He happened to be at The Back Country shop in Truckee at the same time when I dropped by to meet my friend Sigward before heading out for a ski tour. Somehow we got in a conversation and ended up inviting him with us to Pepper’s run. Hence I call him Pepper John.
He was deaf so communicating was a bit difficult, but not impossible. He was good at reading lips and when he spoke he didn’t pronounce everything perfectly, but he was understandable and understood.
It was the second warm day in a row so dry powder would be unlikely, but soft like whipped cream would be easy to find. We ended up spreading out as a group, Pepper John and I, then Sigward and Brittany. Sigward was having pain with his boots on the climb again so he lagged behind. Since Pepper John couldn’t read my lips through the back of my head, conversation on the skin track was near impossible so I enjoyed setting track guilt free to the rhythm of my Zen player.
We weren’t the first people to reach the top of the ridge recently, so we opted to move west to untracked terrain. As we began turning back to town, pinwheels followed our serpentine tracks, rolling past us when we stopped, and in a few spots threatening to knock us over.
Pinwheels are classic signs of a snowpack that could avalanche, but these slopes weren’t quite that steep and we were in a forest of 100 year old trees who held the slope fast. This was an excellent example of the paradoxical reason you want to take an avalanche course. Yes, to know how to avoid avalanches, but more importantly, to be able to predict not only when they will, but also when they will not go, so you can ride slopes that are steep enough to avalanche, therefore steep enough to be great skiing, but without the risk of being eaten by one. It was excellent untracked chowder.
Whatever John lacked in hearing, he sure made up for when laying down his telemark track. It was great to see we didn’t need to worry about this stranger we had picked up at the trailhead, a gypsy moving through town who we were lucky enough to spend some time with for a day.