There have been a few different topics floating around in my head about what to write about this week—life, social media, books, etc.
That is, if I even wrote about any of those and actually pushed “publish.”
Then I ran across this video and that sent me off on this tangent.
If you’ve been following this blog this winter, you know that Goddess and I have been doing a fair bit of snowboarding.
One common theme that we’ve run across, regardless of the mountain, the state, or the country in which we’ve ridden this winter is that the mountains are full of young retired folk. The gentleman in the video is a spry 62 year old. This winter I’ve been schooled in the deeps, down the steeps, and through the trees by an even more spry gentleman in his 70’s; he said that he’d get in over 100 days of skiing this season, which means he’s on a mountain almost every day.
And, as Goddess exclaimed on a recent glorious powder day as a group was chasing each other through the trees and down the steeps—”Listen to them! They all sound like a bunch of teenagers!”
That’s the goal.
We’ve got a few weeks left yet to enjoy the slopes and try to keep up with them.
After the lifts close next month, we’ll head into the backcountry and chase the dwindling runs. But that means more effort and knowledge than is required at a resort. Here’s Goddess checking the snowpack stability last week:
That was her first time in a pit, putting finger and thoughts to what we’ve been discussing this winter. It’s amazing how fast a season’s worth of talk and reading can be solidified in just an hour or two.
She found that with the spring conditions that we’ve had over the past 10 days or so, the snow pack had stabilized quite nicely. It took a lot of effort to finally get an isolated column of snow to break loose and slide into the pit.
But that was last Wednesday.
With 20″+ of new snow over the weekend, that stable base is now covered with fresh, loose snow, perhaps unstable. So that means we’ll stick to the inbound runs this week.
Hopefully you can find the time to put a smile on your face this week, too.
Perhaps even act like a teenager (if you aren’t one).
After the previous week of boarding with friends in Utah, I couldn’t let the momentum die. But I was surprised by week’s end how much it would catch up with me in this gap between the beginning of meteorological Spring and astronomical Spring.
Returning home Sunday evening, Goddess and I made Tuesday plans to board together at Silver Mountain in Idaho. We had never been. As we were getting things together Monday evening, I looked at conditions in the region. Conditions in Idaho looked pretty good with spring conditions, but the full-fledged winter conditions in British Columbia looked even better.
We had never been boarding up there, so we punted. What a great decision!
Especially as the drive there was but 45 minutes longer than our planned drive into Idaho.
The image at the top of the post is also from Red Mountain. After a week of looking forward to the powder dump in Utah that did not arrive until the morning we headed to the airport, these conditions were exactly what I was looking for.
Returning home, I started making plans to get to Silver Mountain on Thursday. Unfortunately, Goddess wouldn’t be joining, but that would give me the opportunity to explore and report back.
But that morning, I punted. Again.
Once I got to Silver Mountain, the temperature was well above freezing and it was raining fairly steadily. So I kept driving.
That’s one of the best things about living here. The mountains are close enough together that if one’s not quite right, keep driving a bit. Another might be better.
Once again, I chose well, as Lookout Pass was snowing lightly on top of the snow that they had received over the previous two days that they were closed. The runs would be soft and untracked.
The conditions did not disappoint. But I was surprised at how fast those conditions changed as the snow stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds. It warmed up and the snow, even in the protected areas, started getting a bit wonky.
Snow started falling from the trees and created pinwheels down the steeper slopes (although nowhere near as big as in the linked pic). Inbounds, that’s not much of a worry, but a sure sign to stay out of the backcountry. Snow doesn’t like a rapid change in temperature, which weakens it. In the backcountry, they’re a natural avalanche warning.
The small cohesive balls of snow started rolling as soon as I sat down on the edge of the groomed run. I was trying to decide which line I wanted to take through the trees, thinking that the powder in the shade would be great. Those cohesive balls told me that it wouldn’t be as light and fluffy as I hoped. I enjoyed watching them, understanding what they were telling me, but I wasn’t too concerned, being inbounds (although that is never a guarantee).
But did that stop me?
Seriously? Is that a question?
The snow was good, but after a few turns through the trees, as I slowed to pick my next line, I looked around at all of the tree wells around me. With the snow becoming cohesive, they are less of a danger, but still a danger, especially as I was by myself. Goddess’ voice sprung into my head with her usual admonition when I head off into the trees by myself on a deep powder day —
The conditions weren’t good enough to play there, so I worked my way over to an ungroomed run, creating pinwheels with each turn and dodging them as they chased me all the way down the run.
But by lunchtime, I was cooked. Sitting there thinking about where I wanted to explore next, I realized that I was in the middle of the seventh day of boarding out of eleven. It was catching up with me, so I got a few more runs in, then headed home early.
A couple of days later, as I write this, I am almost recovered and thinking about what a fantastic couple of weeks I was able to enjoy with brothers and Goddess. It is these weeks that make me extremely thankful for what I have and where we are.
Hopefully you are in a similar place, now matter how you are doing it.
It has been a great couple of weeks on the slopes, not just here in Washington, but Idaho, Montana, and Utah. We’ve been getting our fill of groomers, powder, bottomless powder, and crust.
But we’re always anxious for more, as spring is rapidly approaching. That brings the end of snowboarding in the resorts.
Honestly, not a lot of pictures to cover the past couple of weeks. That’s because conditions have been so ridiculously good that I didn’t want to slow down long enough to take a picture, or that conditions were good enough that I was going too fast to take pictures.
But the best part was spending the last week in Park City, Utah, boarding hard with brothers, breathlessly anticipating the forecast powder dump that didn’t happen until the morning we headed to the airport.
After an almost month-long hiatus, winter has returned to the Inland Pacific Northwest. The spring-like weather just needs to wait its turn.
After a fun evening at a fundraiser for one of the local avalanche forecast crews, Goddess and I got the car packed and headed east. We knew a storm was coming and instead of fighting Spokane’s morning rush hour complicated by several inches of snow, we skipped town the afternoon before and landed in the Center of the Universe – Wallace, Idaho.
If you don’t believe me, just ask them. They have even marked it.
After the proclamation in 2004, their stance is “Why not?” And “Prove that it isn’t!”
Gotta love the chutzpah.
Our decision to skip town early was rewarded when we woke up. The Center of the Universe marker was buried.
The car had about 5″ of light fluffy snow piled on it and it was still coming down heavily. Also, the morning news confirmed our suspicion about the morning commute; you would have thought that it was the first time that it had ever snowed in Spokane. But then again, it seems like that every time it snows, much like every time that it rains in Florida or Southern California. Which is why we avoid those commutes.
Instead, we had a 15 minute drive to the mountain, where it kept snowing all day, adding layer upon layer of ridiculously light cold smoke on the runs.
I won’t bore you with all of the details, but it was a glorious day of floating and face shots. That and hoots and hollers by everyone. Goddess even commented that all of the 60-70 year olds were giddy like teenagers. It was that good.
One of those “teenagers,” a retired heli-ski guide, schooled me as he showed me the way through the trees and steeps to get to a wonderful out-of-bounds area that was completely untracked. After that, he then guided me through a few hidden tree runs right at the front of the mountain, untouched even though they were within sight of the lodge and right alongside the front lift.
Not that tracks were a problem, with the snow continuing and the spread crowd. We were still finding untracked lines at the end of the day on the slopes right in front of the lodge.
But the title has nothing to do with the lines that the almost 70 year-old guided me through. If it did, the tile would be something like “Retired School Boy Grins All Day Long.”
Instead, it was early afternoon and Goddess and I were floating on Cloud 9.
Seriously, that’s the name of the run.
I take off through the trees, hooting and hollering, having a great time. After a few dozen turns, ducks, and jibes, I pop out onto the run to check on Goddess (and to let her know that I’m OK). She is nowhere to be seen, which is confusing, as I can see to the top of the run. That’s when I hear her shout “I’m in the trees!”
I don’t know who was grinning more when she popped out.
She’ll tell you that she didn’t like it that much, but the look on her face told a different story.
By the end of the day, the mountain reported that they had received 9″+ that day of fluff. Here it is 4 days later and they reported this afternoon that since then they have received 48″+ of cold smoke that will stay nice and fluffy this week as the Arctic airmass settles in.
Winter is really here and we’re going to make the most of it.
Yep, more snowboarding stories and pictures on this Monday. Hey, it’s what we do this time of year.
Last week saw us take a day trip over to Lookout Pass Ski, a small resort that sits right on the Idaho/Montana state line. That makes it sound far, but it’s really only an extra 45 minutes of driving each way, compared to our normal drive.
We had never been to Lookout. Our nearcay to Schweitzer the previous week kicked our exploration gears into drive. Plus, it helps to know when and where the deals are, something we weren’t quite up to speed on last winter.
This winter, I am definitely more dialed in on local conditions, which keyed us into Lookout during a weekday after they had received 5″+ of fresh powder, and more forecast during the day. The conditions were great, both on- and off-piste (trail). That’s important, as Goddess can enjoy good conditions on trail while I tear off through the trees or the steeps and we can meet up again further down the mountain.
Here’s a great example, with Goddess in the run. I head off into the trees to the left, keeping pace with her, or, if I get ahead, I can pop out, see how she’s doing, then pop back in. The best part is that we get to share the lift rides back up together.
Another bonus is that she can hear my hoots and hollers and know that I am safe. Unfortunately, that also means that she can hear the “Ow!” when I find myself in a tighter-than-expected spot and smack a hand against a tree.
Yes mom, I wear a helmet.
Goddess does shake her head, especially when I look down at this and get excited. I love chasing the spaces, especially as they come fast and I have to see and think 2-3 turns ahead. It’s a great mental and physical exercise. I mean, just look at all of those potential spaces and lines!
So much fun!
Plus, with the softer powder, it’s safer to nudge Goddess out of her comfort zone, watching her link turns down steeper runs than she would normally do. And it’s that powder that gives this post its name-cold smoke.
Once we get over towards Montana, the snowfall is more influenced by the cold, dry Arctic air out of Canada. Here in Washington, our snow is heavier and wetter, as the storms come off the northeast Pacific Ocean. Even though Lookout isn’t that far away, the differences are significant. Locally, the snow is good for building snowmen or snowballs, while at Lookout it would pour through the fingers like sand.
So with just 5″+ of much lighter snow, it was easy to lose visibility with a hard turn as the displaced snow—the cold smoke—flew up in my face. So there aren’t any other pictures from that day. We were having too much fun!
But the next day, I got some evening boarding in, back local in the heavier snow, which is still a heck of a lot of fun.
I do love the twilight view up there, especially as more snow was falling.
Hopefully you’re able to get out enjoy this rapidly retreating winter. We’re having a warm-up here, so we won’t be boarding this week, hoping for some fresh fluff with next weekend’s cool-down.
That means that next Monday won’t be a snowboarding post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hopefully you’re making the most of your winter, wherever you are.
“Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face.” — Dave Barry
Well, that is one way to look at it.
Of course, my goal is to not beat trees with my face, but to each their own.
When the fresh powder gets deep, that’s the time to head to the steeps, the trees, or a combination thereof.
For those of you not up on your ski resort trail markings, a double black diamond is “for experts only.” Well, that’s not me, but doesn’t mean that I can’t stretch myself.
And hopefully not beat a tree or two with my face.
Before pushing over the edge, I like to stop and enjoy the view. Mainly because once I push over the edge, there won’t be much of a chance to enjoy the view, as I’m too focused on making it through the spaces.
Never, never, never look at the trees while you are flying through them. Look at the spaces. Otherwise, you will hit the tree that you are looking at.
Today’s survival tip for you.
Luckily, this slope isn’t too densely populated by solid objects.
But it sure is steep at the beginning, sloped somewhere around 45° for the first several turns. And my preferred lines were between those clumps of trees to the left and to the right.
Steep, deep, and tight. A great day on the slopes.
A couple of days later, another dump of fresh snow. A different mountain, different runs, and a fun way to ratchet up the challenge—after dark.
Aim for the bright spots!
Well, not the bright, bright spots, as that’s the light bouncing off the trees. How about “aim for the not so bright, and definitely not the dark, spots”?
Most importantly, a good tree run requires a moment of reflection somewhere among them.
They do have a lot to say.
Hopefully you aren’t letting the winter weather (for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere) keep you from hearing what they have to say.
A trek like this isn’t possible without permits. We cross a lot of public land that is protected for one reason or another, not to mention several National Forests and National Parks. Each requires a permit.
PCT: For the purposes of a long-distance hike on the PCT that is longer than 500 miles, the PCTA manages an interagency permit system that covers the myriad permits along the way. That’s much easier and more efficient than trying to coordinate with all of the different agencies.
Especially to summit Mount Whitney.
Due to the increasing popularity of the trail, they’ve had to institute a 50-hiker/day start schedule. That move caused a lot of consternation amongst many hikers, folks who by their very nature are easy-going and just go with the flow. The new quota meant that we hikers had to pick a date and stick to it. For those that didn’t jump on the registration site right after it opened, their preferred date might not have been available.
That’s a bit problematic for folks that had already bought airline tickets. The system is even getting press in The Smithsonian.
But it’s working out. After the initial consternation, most folks are realizing that the system is the only way to minimize impact on the trail. Our start date is already full, at the beginning of a stretch of two weeks where every day is fully permitted. So we’ll see a lot of folks on the trail in those first few weeks.
Campfire: Since we’ll be camping mostly outside of established campgrounds in California, we are required to obtain a campfire permit. It’s a simple system consisting of watching/reading a short fire prevention presentation, then taking a test. A successful test completion means a permit. Done.
Canada: Yep, we need a permit for Canada. Why? The final 9-mile stretch of the trail is in British Columbia, finishing in Manning Park. But there isn’t an official border crossing there, so they need to know we are coming. Plus, we need the official stamps to show that we aren’t in Canada illegally.
That makes sense. Otherwise, I might take away someone else’s job at a Tim Hortons.*
Mind you, we don’t have to go into Canada to complete the PCT. We could stop at the monument right at the US/Canadian border, take our pics and not enter Canada. But that means a 30-mile hike back to the first US town south.
Since we don’t have anything keeping us from entering Canada (e.g., criminal record), we’re going to keep walking.
The added advantage of going into Canada is that a very good friend lives nearby. It will be good to finally meet him on his home turf, as we’ve only been able to get together in Germany and here in the US.
That’s it for permits. It doesn’t seem like much, but the PCT and Canada permits add a bit of stress to the process, as they don’t open for application until so late in the planning. But it has worked out. We’re fully permitted.
*Tim Hortons – my only experience with a Tim Hortons has been their furthest east franchise, a lovely garden spot known as Kandahar, Afghanistan. I must say that they make a fine doughnut. Hopefully I can get another one at the end of the hike and see if it tastes just as good.