June Mountain Mid-Winter Clinic , January 2018
Submitted by David Moore
APP Board Member
There is something different about the Mammoth/June Lake area of the Sierras. As the story goes, a young man named Dave McCoy was hiking the Eastern Sierra on water surveys and found that the area just north of Bishop consistently held more snow than anywhere else in the range. He and his wife Roma set up a small rope tow, and the rest is history. It sounds like something a marketing department would come up with. After all, there are a lot of places in the Sierra which rarely have problems with snow depth, at least until this year. I was thinking about the story as I climbed the grade outside of Bishop and stared up at the almost bald peaks of the Eastern Sierra. If McCoy had been doing his surveys in a year like this, would Mammoth and June exist? Eric Diem, Patrol Director at June, and our clinic lead, had assured me the week before that there was plenty of snow for the event. He even texted pictures of the snow-covered runs. I was skeptical. Had my friend crossed over to the marketing department?
I awoke the next morning in June Lake to half a foot of snow on my car. It was the first significant accumulation of snow that I had seen this year, and it was still snowing. Eric texted me asking to delay the clinic by an hour because his people were out doing control work. “Seriously?” I almost asked him. By the time the clinic attendees had gathered, eaten breakfast, and taken all of their written tests, there was another half foot of snow on the ground, and it wasn't Sierra cement. It was the kind of powder we don't often see in California. An executive decision was made to change the educational component of our clinic to powder skiing 101. Eric then lead our group on a grand tour of his mountain. The powder made even the easiest intermediate run unbelievably fun. I am not sure I have ever heard hard-core patrollers let out hoots and yells while skiing, but I witnessed it that day. Maybe it was just a release long overdue during the worst season in memory, but it was amazing, and it set the tone for our clinic.
Snow was falling the next morning. This was unexpected. We had been standing outside June Lake Brewing the night before when the snow had finally stopped. “A bluebird day tomorrow!” we all had said. But that morning as we arrived at the mountain all was not well. A once-a-season phenomenon had covered the mountain in heavy rime ice. The lift crews were frantically working to get things moving, but success was elusive. The top terminal of the lift serving the advanced terrain was in shambles, and so it seemed, was our clinic. With only a few lifts running and no path to the top, our hopes of any on-snow related modules were fading fast. Of course, I had forgotten that even though June is owned by one of the largest ski corporations in the world, it is still a mom-and-pop resort at heart. “This is no problem,” Eric said, as he threw out a long rope from the back of his snowmobile. “Grab on, the next stop is the top of mountain!” As he did rounders shuttling our people to the top to take their tests, I couldn't help but think that Eric was teaching them more going uphill about what it means to be certified than they would ever learn on their way back down. When faced with an obstacle, there is a way to overcome it, you just have to get creative. It's pretty good advice for regular life too.
The final day of the clinic gave us the blue sky we had been anticipating. Between the chopped up powder, rime, and temperatures that were hovering in the single digits, the snow provided plenty of challenges for the test takers. With all of the lifts repaired and open, the mountain was a hive of activity. Our testing continued at full bore, with our judges doing everything they could to fit in all of the requested tests. Lunch, for the most part, was not eaten. In the end, I’d like to think that when the last test of the day is considered sweep, and everyone got to take the tests they wanted, we can mark the clinic a success.
As I drove past Bishop on my way home, I thought about a recent visit Eric had made to Dave and Roma that he related to me (Yes, they are both still alive at 102 and 97!) He told Dave that the McCoy name would forever be remembered in the Eastern Sierra because of everything they had done, not only for the mountain, but for the people. A little further along in Lone Pine, I stopped for gas. I could see the outline of Mount Whitney and the snow level was still uncharacteristically high. I looked down at some snow still clinging to the roof of my car. Oh yeah, it wouldn't have mattered what the snow was like when Dave was doing his surveys. Mammoth and June would have still had the most of it in the Sierra, and he would've found a way to make it all happen, exactly like one of his disciples had done for us over the weekend.