Snow Vacay

Lots of snow last week, with more coming.

If you aren’t a fan of winter and the snow, stick around for Thursdays. I’ll be posting pics from last summer that I never posted here. Unfortunately, I missed posting last Thursday. Because we were playing in the snow.

A few months back, we had blocked last week on our calendar as framily had plans to come out for a week of snowboarding. As happens, life and priorities came into play that postponed that visit, but Goddess and I kept the week blocked for us.

Our “nearcation” saw us staying a few days near one of the local ski resorts, Schweitzer Mountain Resort, situated right at two hours away from our house. Our stay there let us explore the mountain while avoiding the four+ hours of round trip driving. The plan was for two days, but once a winter storm warning was issued, we extended another day to jump into the deep powder.

Here’s Goddess, stretching her comfort zone a bit with this little run, as she willingly followed me dropping into a short, steep bit. It’s steeper than it appears in the image, as you cannot see the entirety of the drop as you stand at the top. She showed quite a bit of faith in me when I told her that she would be fine.

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When we arrived Monday morning, they had already received several inches of fresh powder. That day, the weather service issued the winter storm warning for Tuesday through Thursday. Fresh on the heels of that announcement, the local avalanche crews issued alerts for everyone to stay out of the back country and enjoy the snow in the relative safety of the ski resorts.

The view below was the top of a tree run taken Tuesday afternoon, mostly untracked thanks to the weekday “crowds”. By this point, we had decided to stay on an extra day to take advantage of the deep powder that was forecast to fall. That forecast came through, as the next morning this spot would have an additional 20″+, or about half the height of that short tree in the foreground (which is the top of a tree several years old). This run, among others, would also end up closed, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

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By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the snow really started to accumulate rapidly. Goddess stuck to the slopes, doing a great job of really stretching her comfort zone on steeper, more technical terrain. Meanwhile, I’d pop off through the trees, chasing great lines of powder while dropping through the glades, being surprised by drops and jumps. I looked forward to exploring those runs more the next day, in deeper snow.

The bottom of one of the lifts is inside an old barn, which makes for fun ambiance.

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The next morning did not disappoint. The mountain opened with 12″ at the lodge at bottom of the mountain. They do not measure at the top of the several ridge lines that are in-bounds, but there was no doubt that a lot more than 12″ had fallen. Soon after we arrived in the parking lot, we were greeted by the sound of the avalanche control team dropping explosives in the chutes above the resort to trigger any avalanches before they opened the lifts.

The snow ended up denser than we had expected, which really wore on our legs, tired from the previous two solid days of boarding. I had hoped to explore some of the back bowls and steeper terrain, but with the way my legs felt, I knew it wouldn’t be safe for me to wander back there alone. Instead, Goddess and I stayed close to the front of the mountain, where we could play on the slopes, in the powder, and among the trees.

I took the pic of Goddess below as I sat resting in the powder. I had just made a quick dash down a run of knee- to mid-thigh deep snow and had buried a hard turn a bit too much, which brought me to a dead stop, but gave me this vantage.

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A few runs after this, we got word through the lift operators that two skiers were buried in the chutes that the control team had set off explosives earlier. We found that news odd, considering the clearing work, but not surprising. I had traversed an area just above the area where I took the picture immediately above, saw some debris, looked up and saw the crown where a small avalanche had been trigger by a skier; luckily it had just a short run with no consequence, but I’m sure it surprised whoever set it off. Meanwhile, the team quickly closed off the steep sections of the mountain to keep everyone safe, including the run in the second picture above. As we were quite tired from the previous two days, those closures didn’t impact the rest of our day.

It turns out that the skiers had not been caught in an avalanche, the sudden release of snow, but in slough (sluff), the snow knocked loose as they skied the steep slope. It’s semantics, especially when someone is buried, but the outcomes are typically quite different. Avalanches are scary as hell while sluff can be fun. With this being only our second snow season here, I already know a few runs where I can go play with the sluff, chasing and being chased by it as I make my way down steeper faces. But those runs are much shorter, with multiple escape routes, than the run on which the two skiers were caught.

Remember how I mentioned above that the avalanche forecasters warned everyone to stay out of the back country and in the ski resorts? That same day they issued an advisory recommending that those skiing the inbound steeps carry their avalanche gear—beacons, probes, shovels, and, if available, avalanche airbags—as if they were in the back country.

We found out the next day that the two skiers were extricated quickly. Lucky for them.

The next morning, the Schweitzer avalanche control team set off an explosive charge at the top of the bowl where I had initially planned boarding the deep powder on Wednesday. With that one charge, they managed to set off a slab 12′ deep that scoured the mountainside of all of the snow that had fallen since late November, displacing ice from the lake below.

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Schweitzer Bowl Crown. Image © Sean Mirus.

The lodge at the top of the image is where Goddess and I had lunch on Tuesday, discussing staying the extra day to enjoy the fresh powder while I pondered runs in that bowl.

Returning home, we rested for a couple of days, then went to our local mountain to see what it was like on a weekend. Quite a bit crazier than we are used to there, as we typically only go on the weekdays. But they also had a snowboard competition and collegiate ski racing going on that day, so it might have been a bit crazier than usual.

Even with the crowds, we were able to find some beautiful powder wherever we went, some even untouched in the middle of the runs, in the middle of the afternoon.

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Hopefully you’re making the most of your winter, wherever you are.

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3 thoughts on “Snow Vacay”

    1. It was a lot of fun. It’s nice to get away, even though we have nothing here that we feel we need to get away from. We even splurged and got the honeymoon suite, just because we knew that it had a tub that I could actually fit in. Apparently no one over 5’6″ actually wants to fit in a tub anymore. Odd.

      The snow was soft, but also dense. We’re warmer this winter than last, so what is falling has a lot of water content. Plus, that means that most days on the mountain are in the clouds. There have been a lot of runs that we have passed thanks to almost zero visibility.

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