Thursday, November 11, 2010

Putting Up the Rope: Ohlson Mountain Rope Tow

We got dumped with nearly three feet of snow this past weekend in the Homer area, so downhill skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts were itching to get the Ohlson Mountain Rope tow up and running to take advantage of the unseasonably early snowfall. We are friends with people who are friends with some of the Ohlson Mountain organizers (sounds like a small town thing) so we got a call Sunday that the rope tow was going to go operational. It sounded like an interesting Sunday afternoon expedition, so despite the snowstorm we packed up our vehicle with snowshoes, sleds, snowboards, downhill and cross-country skis, warm clothes and snacks and headed out to Ohlson Mountain.

Luckily the plow had just come through on Ohlson Mountain Road, otherwise it would have been a treacherous drive. As it was, even the parking area for the rope tow had been plowed out (with snowbanks about 4 feet high--as deep as they were much of last winter!). We unloaded our equipment of choice: snowshoes, sleds and snowboards were on our list for the first foray. We dumped all our things in the warming hut and left the kids there to haul firewood into the warming hut and to play.

The adults, about 7 of us plus a couple who had been planning on skiing, grabbed the thick pads that are attached to the rope tow poles. We got those snapped on and headed up the slope on snowshoes. The snow was mid-thigh to nearly waist deep in places and the incline near the top is steep, making for a tricky climb. I was gasping for breath and sweating most of the way and was immensely relieved to get to the top.

There we were met with a huge pile of rope that needed to be dragged down the mountain and then threaded onto the rope tow machinery. After figuring out which was the top rope and which was the bottom, each person grabbed a section of the rope and started dragging it down the mountain. Ladders were found to climb the poles. Luckily we had a couple young guys who were willing to climb them with the heavy, frozen rope over their shoulders and heave them onto the wheels. Each time they climbed, the rest of us would pull the rope to give them enough slack to get the rope up, with at least one of us holding the ladder to stabilize it for the climber.

It was a messy process carrying the ladders through the deep snow from pole to pole, setting them up, getting enough slack for the person to carry the rope up the pole and then moving on to the next one. We got into the rhythm of it, though, and the project was completed in a little over two hours.

Much to the kids' disappointment, the snow was too deep to snowboard well. The couple on skis were able to get to the top of the hill where it was steeper, but they were having a hard time turning in thick, waist-deep snow. They looked like they were swimming. The kids weren't able to make it very high on the slope (it takes considerable strength to hold onto the rope tow, and it seems to take specific muscles, as attested by our upper body soreness at the beginning of every rope tow season) so they ended up boarding down on the rope area where they came up.

After a week of compacting, we're hoping that the snow conditions will be better this weekend! One of my friends posted pictures (better than mine!) on his Facebook. I will include the link here (not sure if it is public or private; you'll find out!):!/album.php?aid=2101590&id=1210874850&fbid=1722964833205

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