January 23, 2005

Wind chill

Here's the advantage to skiing in bitterly cold temperatures on windy days: you never have to wait in line at the chairlift. And you get your choice of parking spots in the lot, too.

Last night's snowstorm dumped more than a foot of fresh snow on the slopes, and we got there when the chairlift began running, so we were the first ones up the mountain. It's so wonderful to ski into untouched snow. I can see why they call it powder; the foot of loose snow that whirled all around me as I skied was very much the consistency of talcum powder. I thought the slopes would get crowded as the day went on, but apparently the subzero weather, high winds, and poor driving conditions kept people away.

So just a handful of us had the mountain to ourselves.

In this part of the country, meteorologists make a big deal out of something they call the wind chill factor. This weekend they kept saying that it was in the -40s. Sitting on the chairlift, I could well believe it. The problem with the chairlift is that you are dangling high above the ground, nothing shields you from the wind, the seats are cold metal, and you can't really move much to get warm. Most days I enjoy the scenery from the chairlift, but today it felt a bit like some kind of torture. Worth it though. I love skiing when there is so much powder. I will attempt all sorts of things because if I fall, the landing is soft. Last week was icy, and I have a whole collection of bruises just turned yellow on my hips and legs, but today I fell several times and it was like tumbling into a pile of pillows. Oh, it's so much fun. I even tried some jumps and landed a couple of them.

On the last run of the day (we stayed until the chairlift stopped running - I am a big believer in getting my money's worth), I went up the chairlift with Blonde Niece. When we reached the top of the mountain, the wind was gusting so strong that we could hardly see. The swirling snow had erased the tracks of the other skiers, and it was as if we were the only people who had ever been there. I wanted to stand there and just gaze at the scene in awe - the desolate mountaintop, pines shifting in the wind, snow spilling from trees, the wind carving wave-like patterns in the snow - but it was just too damn cold. No matter how well you dress, the icy wind will find some bit - a finger that you didn't ball into your fist inside the mitten, a toe that you forgot to keep wiggling inside the ski boot, or the tip of your nose that got exposed when you pulled down your face mask because your breath was making it wet.

It dusk when we started home. Thankfully the snowplows had been busy while we were playing, and I was able drive more than 15 mph. We passed cosy farmhouses with lamplit windows, a deer that bounded off across a snow-covered field, stands of pine trees still holding up snow, and stretches of dark road lit only by the almost full moon. The kids fell asleep in the car; we'd been up shovelling the driveway at 6 am to leave on time. It felt wonderful to pull into my own driveway and come into the warm house. Spouse (who doesn't ski) had cleaned the kitchen and heated up the lentil stew. The painful sensations in my feet began at last to subside. My youngest son, With-a-Why, and I settled into the big comfy chair in front of the fire; few things in life are as relaxing as sitting in front of a fire with a warm child who is nodding off to sleep.


Dr.K said...

I've never believed in the wind-chill factor. I think it was made up by TV station weather departments to improve ratings--makes things seem worse than they are. I like what I heard a Californian from San Diego say once: "Below 32 degrees it's all the same anyway."

wolfa said...

They recently (4? years ago) redid the windchill factor -- but at chairlift level, the old ones were good. But there is a *huge* difference between -15C with and without wind. Huge. Miserable. Stupid. Wind.

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

Great images in this post. For me, you brought back a whole set of somatic memories associated with what happens at the intersection of knit facemask, hot breath, and freezing wind. I can feel it, smell it, and taste it. I can feel the aching muscles that only get used doing snow activities, too.

It's so weird to be living way down south. Last night there were frantic newscasts about the possibility of the temperature getting down to freezing over night. With all seriousness, the reporters explained how people should wear hats when it gets like this, because we lose heat from our heads. Hee hee. Really.

jo(e) said...

Dr. K: You don't believe in the wind chill factor? Is that like not believing in fairies? (Okay, clap everyone if you believe in wind chill. Clap harder ....)

Yeah, I too think it's funny how the media gets so dramatic about the weather these days. If anything, the climate here has gotten warmer since I was a kid, but you wouldn't know if from the reports in the newspaper. Weather often makes the front page news here, which is a bit ridiculous since we get storms every single winter. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. But then again, a good winter storm is better news than almost anything else I've read on the front pages lately.

Dr.K said...

Actually, I totally believe in fairies. Once, when I was a kid, I was out in the woods catching butterflies, and I caught one by accident in my net, thinking it was a Clouded Sulphur, but it wasn't, and she turned me into a toad for awhile, so now I believe. But whoever made up the wind chill "factor" was just trying to get attention.