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Endless Winter

Jeannette Kennedy and Dan Bartlett have skied every month since 1991
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In 1991, the first George Bush was president and Justin what’s-his-name wouldn’t be born for another three years. Tahoe City’s “Big Tree” still had three more years before it would meet its demise, and The Bridgetender still had just over a decade before the institution moved across the street. On Halloween of 1991, Tahoma resident Dan Bartlett went for a ski at Boreal Mountain Resort and hasn’t stopped. Along with his friend Jeannette Kennedy, who joined him in ’92, Bartlett has continued to ski every month ever since — a feat that will reach 300 months in September.

Bartlett, a ski patroller at Homewood Mountain Resort, and Kennedy, who works at the PDQ Market and Deli in Tahoma, hold season passes for Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, but once the lifts close, they head into the backcountry. What makes the skiing streak so impressive is that Kennedy and Bartlett are not jet-setters who head south every summer in search of snow; rather, the duo keeps their efforts confined to the West Coast, mostly the Sierra.

In early summer the pair usually heads to Blackwood Canyon to hit the Fourth of July chutes. Then by late August and fall, they go farther afield to find snow — Carson Pass, Sonora Pass, Mount Dana, and Virginia Lakes are high altitude and High Sierra favorites. During the lean years, the fall trips become longer: Mount Shasta, Mount Lassen, and if everything else is melted, Mount Hood. In the fall of 2015, they headed up to Hood for the last few days of September and first few days of October, bagging two months in one trip.

The years of drought were hard. “The glaciers don’t exist like they used to,” Kennedy said. “It is sad. Climate change is so visible. If you don’t have the glaciers, it makes it hard to find it [snow]. Ten years ago Carson Pass would be fat. Now, the snowpack doesn’t stay.” Kennedy fondly remembers the big winters when they could ski in Blackwood Canyon all summer long, and hopes we will see winters like that again soon.

“The best way to scout spots is to get a dog and go for a walk. The snowfields are usually above 9,000 feet,” Kennedy said. When they find it, it is usually consolidated snow with one to two inches of corn on top of firm pack, no wax required. They dress for the weather, which usually means shorts and T-shirts, carrying layers just in case.

In the fall, they often run into other skiers who are also trying to find the few remaining small sections still holding snow.

“If you see someone skiing patches in October, you know they are on a streak. We’ve seen some [skiers] with 110 months or more,” Bartlett said. Sometimes it takes a lot of ingenuity to keep the stretch going without traveling across the world. Bartlett remembers a tiny patch at Sonora Pass in 1999 that was sheer thin ice with lots of rocks and the ground beneath clearly visible. “It was extremely difficult; I will never do that again,” he said.

Aside from finding snow, the other challenge is staying healthy and uninjured for such a long period of time. The closest Bartlett came to missing a month was in March 2012, when he blew out a knee while patrolling at Homewood. Thankfully, he was back out skiing 10 days after surgery, making a few turns at the bottom of the Alpine Meadow’s Hot Wheels chair in April.

With all that skiing in the backcountry they have had a few close calls. One time, lightning struck within 200 feet on Mt. Shasta. Bartlett has also been caught in a small avalanche at Alpine Meadows, requiring his friends to dig him out. Bartlett’s avalanche knowledge and emergency medical training has been key to helping
the two feel safe.

While the streak is a motivator to get outside when the ski season is over, Bartlett says he really sees this as something to do with the dogs and has taken a stream of canines into the mountains with him. There was Emily, the golden retriever, and another golden named Whitney, an avalanche dog who joined Bartlett for nine years of the streak. Then there was little white Molly, and the newest addition, the energetic Luna.

“It’s not for me, it’s for the dogs.” Bartlett said, there is nothing more fun than finding a nice run and getting the dogs to come along. “They [the dogs] are telling me, ‘It’s 90 degrees in the summer and we are here in the snow. Dad, you are all right.’”

 
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August 10, 2017