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.
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 couple of snaps from a long day working on and hiking trail. Longer than anyone expected, as the 7.5′ maps didn’t show quite a bit of trail detail (e.g., switchbacks) that we needed to know.
Once the fires started, the trail we were sent to work on, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), was closed to the public so that firefighters could move freely on it. Not to mention, parts of the trail passed close to the rapidly growing fires. Since that trail was closed, we shifted gears and tackled a few local trails that had been sorely neglected for quite a few years.
The first was the Long Gulch Trail. Quite a bit of clearing brush and rebuilding trail that morning, but we were lucky enough to make it to Long Gulch Lake for lunch. A few folks jumped into the water while most of us just enjoyed the scenery. Those that swam regretted it later as the chafing set in on a long loop hike back to camp.
This is the view of the lake a couple of hours later as we worked the trail up to the ridge line.
Here is a map that some folks built of their three day hike of the same loop that we worked and covered in 10 hours. But to be fair, we only worked the uphill portion of the Long Gulch Trail, then moved quickly through the rest of the loop to get back down into the valley.
We moved quickly through the hike portion once we reached the top of the Long Gulch Trail. We received word from the Forest Service that we were not to dilly dally, as the Coffee Fire was just a few miles away and blowing up in the dry, hot, windy afternoon conditions. We could see a bit of the smoke plume from the top of the summit, but had a chance to really get a look at it less than 1/2 mile later as we hiked under the south side of the ridge line.
The picture makes it look quite a bit further than it really was.
As we dropped down the switchbacks towards Trail Gulch Lake, we had a front row view of the helicopters dropping down over the lake and scooping up water to drop on the surrounding fires. That made for a complete experience.
Over a week later, the Coffee Fire is still going, having burnt over 6,000 acres, but is 60% contained this morning. However, our entire area is in a Red Flag Warning for the next 48 hours as another round of thunderstorms, with little rain, spread over the forests.
It’s not too often that I talk about companies or products here. I have talked about some cycling, running and triathlon related products over the years, especially once I’m confident that it’s something that I like.
This is one of those times.
Actually, a moment to rave about some phenomenal customer support from one of the companies.
The company is Light & Motion, creators of personal lighting systems for pretty much any activity you want to engage in, on ground, in the air or in the water.
I bought a set of Stella 300 Dual headlights back in autumn of 2009. I needed them for my bicycle commute to/from work in Germany. If you’ve lived in Germany, the winters are cold and dark. Very dark. Especially if you spend a large amount of time riding through the forest, hoping to dodge any deer or boar that want to cross the trail.
They treated me extremely well through 3.5 brutal German winters, including two in a row that the German weather service declared “the worst in 40 years”, followed by “the worst in 41 years”.
Days like this:
Except when I was commuting, it was pitch black except for what the Stella would illuminate. Which on a snowy ride like this, pretty much everything was illuminated for a good 30-40 yards ahead.
Like I said, brilliant riding.
Here in Oregon, I don’t need them for daily commutes, instead breaking them out on occasion, like every Monday to get home from the bike polo game. A couple of months ago I realized they were not working as they had, or should. So I contacted Light & Motion.
A bit of talking back and forth and they suggested that I send it in for a look. Which I did.
They arrived back at my front door today, an almost completely brand new set.
Looking at the work order, it mentions that they replaced the cable (that runs between the battery and the lights) as well as changed out the lights. In other words, they rebuilt a new set, which is great since they no longer make this model.
So the lights are almost five years old and completely rebuilt.
They covered it under warranty work!
The quote that they gave me prior to the work was extremely reasonable, coming in at around 1/10 the cost of buying a new light kit. I was pleased with that, knowing that their standard warranty length is two years. But three years after that point, they still covered it.
Amazing service that was completely unexpected. Unexpected, but greatly appreciated.
Broadcasting their excellence to the world is the least I can do.
So if you’re in the market for headlamps or headlights or dive lights, buy from Light & Motion.
I know any lights I buy in the future will be from them.
The first two days were over the weekend as part of the Pacific Crest Trails Association (PCTA) Trail Skills College that I mentioned in my last post. We did quite a bit of work on this stretch of the PCT and were rewarded with this view to sit and enjoy as we ate our lunches.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, I had to go back this week. I was taking pictures of the work in progress, but forgot to get pictures of the finished product on Sunday afternoon. Luckily this spot is only a 20 mile drive away, then a mile or so down the trail.
Goddess and I headed there today so I could get my pictures and she could see a bit of our work.
So what did we do?
On Friday, we spent the day clearing quite a few fallen trees, learning how to use a one- and two-person crosscut saws and a few other tools. A couple of the logs were quite large and took all five of us to move them off the path. It was tiring, but rewarding, work.
On Saturday and Sunday, we learned different trail rehabilitation methods. While the sawing has specific techniques that are pretty straightforward to understand, trail rehabilitation requires a bit more imagination, being able to envision how water would flow on, over and across the trail, then control that flow so the trail isn’t damaged. It’s not only a physical task, but mental as well. One that I quite enjoy.
Now that the schooling is over, I’ll have to start looking for teams to get out and work with.
Especially if it’s with the great people that I got to meet and work with this past weekend.