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.
For those of you who have kept track, it has been used and abused for well over 200 nights, packed for close to 3,000 miles.
One of these days, we’ll be sad to see it go. But it will be replaced with another of Gen Shimizu’s hand-crafted ultralight tents.
I was glad to capture the sun setting behind the tent this particular evening. A few days later, I would be diving into it quickly after dinner, glad for the protection from Oregon’s Air Force, the gazillion mosquitoes that would be plastered against the screen, hoping for a meal.
And while we are enjoying everything that this winter has to offer, looking at these pics has me looking forward to summer. But just a little bit. There’s still plenty of winter to enjoy.
* full disclosure for those relatively new here – Yama Mountain Gear sponsored us during our PCT thru-hike, providing not only the tent pictured, but arranging for other gear and mentoring to help us succeed. We did. We have been under no obligation to continue discussing the products after 2015, but continue to do so because we truly believe that Gen crafts truly great lightweight and ultralight tents, as well as other gear..
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.
TBT*, something I typically don’t do, but I have a lot of catching up to do with pics that haven’t been posted here.
One of my favorite sunsets from last summer, sitting with Goddess on a big pile of lava, looking north towards Mount Jefferson just a few days before the big fire that roared through its wilderness area.
*TBT=throwback Thursday, for those of you not hep to the lingo.
“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.
But not so busy that I couldn’t chisel out some time to catch opening day, a powder day, at one of the local ski resorts. Less than an hour, door to door. A brilliant day of rediscovering my boarding legs for the season.
This isn’t a picture of that day.
Moonset, White Sands National Monument
Hopefully the last weeks of autumn (for those of us here in the Northern Hemisphere) are treating you well.
A fantastic tree farm full of beautiful Pacific Albus, easily accessible off of the highway, which also makes it very popular for photographers, regardless of the season.
Unfortunately, it was recently sold and is already being turned into plots for potatoes, like the field in the foreground.
So if you are in the Pacific Northwest and want to catch a glimpse of its beauty, you better hurry. The news reports state that it will take years to clear the trees, as each plot will be allowed to grow to commercial viability. But once they are gone, they are gone.