April Fool’s Day at the Tyax lodge started out like a big joke, with tons of snow falling outside. It was near blizzard conditions, with terrible visibility. This began a morning of “hurry up and wait.” We all had to hurry to breakfast, and get ready to fly, but then wait for the weather conditions to clear. There’s nothing like being ready, but having nowhere to go.
Since it was supposed to be the first day of flying, everyone was broken into the different groups they’d be in when riding during the day. After breakfast, each group went outside and took a short orientation class. This included getting acquainted with the helicopter, learning where to sit when it lands, what handles to use when opening and closing the doors, and what parts of the heli not to touch under any circumstances. (Those would be the two little antennas in the front of the helicopter, which after being told not to touch, you really want to.)
After that, we took a short Avalanche transceiver orientation. Transceivers are little electronic devices about the size of a Walkman that transmit a homing signal. If you get buried in an avalanche, it’s pretty much the only way others can find you. If others in the group get buried, the transceiver will help you find them as well.
The transceiver orientation was a heavy moment, as our guide Ty Trand, told us about how sketchy the current snow conditions were. In fact, he said almost 30 people had died in avalanches in British Columbia this season, including the well-publicized death of Craig Kelly. He tried to make us feel better by saying that only one of the 30 deaths was related to a helicopter operation. But then told us that he’d been caught in a small slide himself just last week.
Needless to say, everyone practiced a little longer than usual trying to find the buried transceivers during the morning drill. I would have been dead for sure if my drill partner (who shall remain nameless) was really trying to find me. We got a good laugh out of it, but I was glad there’d be others in my group who could work the transceivers better.
By the end of the morning orientation, it was still snowing. We were grounded. No flying. At this point, everyone just sat around waiting. Soon, an impromptu poker game started with Alibaba, Jamie Lynn, Casey Sutherland, and others throwing around the big bucks early on. Some played dominos, ping pong, or just went back to sleep. Todd Richards ruled the Trivial Pursuit game, saying he couldn’t understand how his mind could retain such huge amounts of useless information, but he couldn’t remember people’s names two minutes after he met them. The crew all laughed, and understood his delimma.
The Tyax staff gave us a briefing at 10:30 a.m: Snow. No flying. The next update at 11:30–same again. Then came lunch around noon. At the end of lunch, another announcement: The skies had cleared a little to the west, and the first group would fly at 1:30, others were to go right after.
My group the first day included Bob McKnight, Jamie Lynn, Volcom Owner Rich Woolcott, Mervin Mfg. Marketing VP Pete Saari, Alibaba, Taylor Whisenand, Katrina Long, Gary and Morgan Hill, and Veronica Kay. The riding was great. The snow was wonderful. Not too steep, but deep, fresh, and light powder that was perfect for just ripping. We started on a fun tree run, but then moved on to bigger, longer, more open runs above tree line. The crew was pumped, looking for rocks, small jumps, and big powder slashes to crank away on.
Usually, McKnight goes first on most of the runs. He’s the one who put together the trip, so it only seems fitting. But this year he hung back every run–maybe it was the talk of avalanches…
Later in the afternoon, the clouds lifted, and we rode until about 5:00 p.m. During the last runs, it got really sunny with that vivid evening light. Everyone was sporting big smiles and exchanging high fives all around—people were stoked. It turned out to be a good day after all.
Ovverall, we took seven runs and logged 13,000 vertical feet of fresh powder. It was a great warm up for the first day. Some actually speculated that the whole thing was planned as a warm-up day for those who hadn’t ridden in a while, and for others that were just hung over from the night before.
The only major mishap was when Alibaba ended up in a tree well and slightly dislocated his shoulder, but popped it back on his own. I’m guessing he did it for the ladies’ sympathy.
The evening went kind of like this: 5:30 p.m. for a quick half-hour massage, a hot-tub session with beers, then food. Over dinner, Jamie Lynn proposed a toast to the fallen Craig Kelly, who would have been celebrating his birthday today. It was a heavy, sobering moment. Everyone toasted, then spent a minute or so in quiet recollection.
This year, the evening entertainment at the lodge was notched up to a whole new level. In year’s past, it was just the crew hanging out, drinking and BSing late into the night. But this year there was a girl taking requests and rocking out on her guitar, plus a magician working the room. Nothing like performing magic tricks on a bunch of tired, drunk guys. Everyone enjoyed the evening.
In the end, the big April Fool’s joke ended up being the expectation that we wouldn’t fly, but then flying afterall. It was a great day. People quickly snuck off to their rooms for a good night’s sleep, knowing that there were clear skies and a full day of riding waiting tomorrow.
Tune in to www.transworldsnowboarding.com for daily updates from the Quiksilver Tyax heliboarding trip.