It was February, 1997 and the weather had finally cooperated. For the final week of January and the first two weeks of February there had been little new snow and skier traffic had been heavy, leaving our normal tubbing routes in battered condition. Old man winter had finally come through and a couple feet of new stuff lay await. Mike West and I made the jaunt up Scotty's Bowl with a bubbly excitement and content demeanor. It had been 3 weeks since our last outing and we were pleased as punch to be out. I could tell that my trusty tub, Mr. Go was unhappy with the three-week layoff in the middle of the season and was a little bitter about it. I had no idea how bitter until . . .
It was cloudy and snow flurries blew around us as we sat above the cirque and eagerly prepared our tubs for the ride down. The snowpack was very good. Early season storms had left a deep base and the new snow was dry and moderately dense. We like it like that.
The habits of each of us should at this point be mentioned. Mike West, like many tubbers, typically leaves his tow rope attached to himself and his tub on the descent. I, on the other hand, opt for the 'free spirit' approach and remove it before going down so as to have so loose ropes hanging about. I had never had a problem not having it tied to me on the way down. Even in some pretty rowdy wipeouts, I had never had it come off of me. Servants of habit, we did the usual and pushed off.
Our favorite route drops off the rounded summit above Scotty's Bowl onto a steep, corniced ridge with a chute beneath it on the leeward (right) side. The cornice makes for a great jump and has several different heights and landings. We turned off the cornice into the chute early, where the drop is about 12-15 feet. Mike was just above me.
It was just after leaving the cornice and becoming airborne that I first noticed that this wouldn't be a pretty sight. I was leaning forward and to the side and didn't like it. Landing from the cornice into the chute normally occurs perpendicularly to the fall line so leaning downhill tends to keep a tubber moving in that direction. I landed on my side and bounced, twisting backwards and to the right. The point of the matter is that when I landed from the bounce, I landed faced straight up in the air, my tub pointing to the dark gray sky. My tub can only come off in one direction relative to me. That direction happens to be forward. When I landed on my back, the tub was pushed forward as I fell backward into the snow and it popped straight up into the air. The realization that my tub was not attached to me in a very steep chute was sickening. I jumped up and saw Mr. Go about 10 feet uphill and to the side from me, pointed straight downhill. For a second we paused. Like a showdown at high noon, we glared at each through squinting eyes and tense nerves. After what seemed like an hour in a statistics lecture, he made the first move. He jumped straight down the chute and I dived to the side to try and catch him. Gravity prevailed.
The rate of acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s2. Mr. Go accelerated at 9.9 m/s2 and sped inches past my outstretched fingertips. I felt the pain and anguish of a snowshoer on a 10000 foot peak. I would have to walk down.
Pulling myself up from the snow, I watched Mr. Go go. He is fast and had no intentions of not doing just that. A lighter tub might have caught air underneath and flipped, but not Mr. Go. According to the laws of physics, velocity depends on acceleration and time. By the time Mr. Go had reached the bottom of the bowl where the slope steepens and the trees begin, he had had enough of both to be going ridiculously fast.
I didn't really expect it but wasn't really surprised when it happened. At the slight change of slope just above the trees Mr. Go became airborne. He really became airborne. It looked a like a jet taking off from an aircraft carrier or a hang glider running down a hill and taking off. It looked like he actually went higher. From my unfortunate vantage point far above, all I saw was a little green sled flying over a forest. Mr. Go looked so casual up there. He glanced from side to side and appeared quite content. I turned my head in anticipation of what would happen when gravity caught up with him.
There is a sound when a tree is cut down and the branches crash against other trees and into the ground. Anyone who has cut down a tree before knows the sound. It is a sound of splitting, cracking wood, thrashing branches and solid objects colliding. It is similar to the sound of a sled traveling at 60 mph crashing into a forest of subalpine fir and englemann spruce. To me it is not a good sound.
I turned to Mike. "That sucks", he said comprehensively. He tubbed and I walked down to the last known point of contact. Mr. Go's track in the snow was faint and it skipped a couple of times before it finally disappeared. I followed its direction straight downhill in search of the carnage. I eventually found him, lying on his side in the snow under a thick canopy of trees. To my surprise he was intact and usable, having suffered only a minor extension to an existing crack as a result of his escapade.
I insist to this day that it was not a matter of having my tow rope still attached, it was a matter of neglecting my trusty companion in the height of the season. In the winter tubs are to be used, not stored. Do not, my friends, make the same mistake.