154″+5″=159″ at Wolf Creek

Since a lot of terrain hadn’t opened over the weekend, we came back to Wolf Creek today.  They had received another 9″ in the last 24 hours, so we knew it would be worth the drive.

We met up with our buddy, Pat Romportl, and skied lift line on our first lap to warm up our legs.  It was still deep, even after a weekend full of skiers.  After that, it was time to hike.  We skated, push kicked and walked out to one of Jon’s favorite spots on the mountain.  It is a bowl that gets wind loaded and stays consistently deep, even early season.  Ski Patrol had thrown shots all around the area, tinting the snow black with gun powder.  We each took turns slashing trenches across the gray face.  It was so fun, we had to do it again.  And again.  On another lap in the same area, we watched as ski patrol dropped the rope for the peak.  The patroller tossed out warnings that a lot of the area below the summit had slid to the ground, so it would be wise to pick your line carefully, unless you wanted to down climb.  We boot packed up to the top, the wind ripping across the ridge, biting our cheeks.  When we got to the top, we didn’t even take a moment to catch our breaths, we just buckled in and dropped, one by one.  We hugged skiers right of the peak, hoping to avoid rocks and bare ground, but even in the trees below the peak, avalanches had stripped the mountain naked.  It was nerve racking, cutting across the slide paths to reach a ridge deep enough to ski down and out of harms way.  Once we had all gathered together again, we dropped to Alberta Lift and got to hike up to one of my favorite spots at Wolf Creek.  It is commonly called the shoulder, because it is the ridge that leads up to the peak.  Nobody had been up there yet after this storm cycle, so it was filled with 52″ of glory.  We boot packed up mid way, then dropped our skies and buckled in.  We let Pat go first, since he hadn’t skied 159″ of storm snow yet this season.  This was actually only his second day this year on skies.  He disappeared in the white smoke his turns kicked up.  Next was my turn, and I took a line to the right, picking up speed at first and then digging in deep turns through the trees, snow splashing up around my shoulders.  When I reached the bottom of the pitch, I glanced behind me and saw Jon doing tele turns, disappearing, then reappearing, a huge grin spread across his face.  We had to do that again.  And again.  And again.

By mid afternoon the last three days of lift accessed, storm snow skiing had taken a toll on our legs, so we decided to cut out early, leaving Pat on his own.  Skiing everyday is hard work. : )

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138″+16″=154″ at Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek is our favorite mountain for two reasons.  For one, they can get 46″ in 48 hours of the most perfect snow.  And for two, there will be hardly anyone there, even on a Sunday.

We arrived early, expecting crowds, but we found we could just ski right onto the lift at 9:15am.  They had received 16″ overnight, covering up more rocks and trees, and filling in all the tracks from the day before.  And it continued to snow.  For the last three days it had been snowing so much, so quickly, that the stability of the snowpack was weak and ski patrol was having trouble opening the hike-to terrain.  You would think that could have been frustrating, but it worked out really well for us, because we could ski what was open until we got tired of it, and then they would drop and rope and we’d go get fresh tracks on new terrain.

About three laps into the day, we ran into a guy from Summit County.  We had met him the day before, and we ended up riding the lift up together.  And then seeing each other on top of a run.  And then riding the lift up together again.  So we felt like it was a good time to just decide to ski together.  His name was Jared and his home mountain is A-Basin.  We showed him some of our favorite runs on the side hill terrain, and then when Alberta Lift opened, he showed us some small stashes he’d discovered yesterday.  Ski patrol was unable to open anything very high up, so we kept lapping the short pitch trees below knife ridge.  Many times we were the first time in the woods, hiking tracks through the flat areas, but getting clean pitches on the steeps.  Lap after lap.  The snow was so deep.  At one point I stopped to gather our group, and the snow was literally up to my waist while I stood on my skies.  I have only had a handful of days like this in my whole life.  They are rare and that is what makes them so valuable.  It is going to be hard to top this storm for the rest of the season.

108″+30″=138″ at Wolf Creek

Some people may call our obsession with powder skiing crazy.  Insane.  Childish.  These people will never be able to understand why, for instance, we drove 900 miles south to be present for a storm at our home mountain, Wolf Creek.  They would call us ridiculous for getting to bed at 2:15am, just to rise again at 6am to finish the drive to the mountain.  But those people have no idea what it feels like to have a wide open, untracked 30″ pure weightless snow run, all to themselves.  They would probably agree with us, and maybe find themselves doing similar things, if they had ever surfed the face of Alberta, having snow wash over them on every turn, not being able to take a breath, and literally choking on snowflakes.  For that serene thirty seconds, it is worth 18 hours and 1,000 miles in the truck.  And it doesn’t have to end there.  We had an entire day to find as many bottomless runs as we could.  It proved a bit tricky.  We had to keep reminding ourselves that although we had already skied over 100″ of storm snow this year, this was the first significant snowfall for the San Juans.  This weightless 30″ was sitting on the ground; there was no solid base of snow to ski on.  So we had to pick runs where we could keep our tips up and avoid rocks, stumps and downed trees.

It continued to snow all day long.  We were surrounded by like-minded people, and on the lift we met many who understood our addiction.  We met folks from Villa Grove, Del Norte, A-Basin and Pagosa Springs.  Everyone was appreciating this day, this moment, when the worries of everyday life slip from your mind and the only thing that matters is the joy feeding your spirit.  Everyone felt so lucky, sharing this blizzard-like day together.  By the time we got back to the truck, there were nine more inches of snow on the tailgate, and it was still stacking up.  Looks like tomorrow should be another day to live in the moment.

99″+9″=108″ at Lost Trail Pass

IMG_3160Last night we checked snow reports and Jon saw that Lost Trail had received 9″ out of the latest storm, so we hopped into the truck and drove to Missoula.  We met up with our buddy, Dan Quinn.  When he heard our plans, and that Lost Trail was planning on opening the rest of the mountain for the first time this season, he decided to join us.

This time we already knew a little bit about where we were, so on our first lap we skied an open, untracked run to Lift 2.  We took a couple laps over there, waiting to hear when Lift 4 would open.  It would be the first time it turned this season, so everything on that side of the mountain would be completely and utterly bottomless.  Everyone was biting at the bit.  On one of our rides up Lift 2, the same patroller that had given a guy first tracks last weekend, yelled out to the chairs that 4 had just opened!  It was like someone had opened the flood gates.  As soon as anyone got to the top, they were flying down the windy, fast groomer to try to get first chair, us among them.  By the time we got there, our cheeks pink with windburn, there was a little bit of a line.  They hadn’t quite dropped the rope.  After anxiously waiting for about 10 minutes, they started boarding the lift and everyone in line gave out a cheer.  It was a long, slow, cold ride and as we neared the top, we saw the people that were ahead of us shoot off the lift and rush to the same open face.  Excitement bubbled up inside me and I was already lining up my shot from my perch high above.  Jon said to me, “Let’s just buckle and go”.  No time to take in the view.  We got to the top, strapped down and dropped in.  I cut skiers right, all the way to the edge of the face.  The sun was bouncing off each individual snowflake, making it seem like God had sprinkled glitter across the mountainside.  I drove my skies forward, and cut through the powder, taking in the hollers from the lift, the vast landscape and the weightlessness of each turn.  I met up with Dan and Jon at the bottom, and we cut into perfectly spaced trees, floating through the woods like magicians.  On our next lift ride up, the lift kept stopping, and by the time we got to the summit, they had closed the backside and were herding people to the front.  Something about technical difficulties.  We were disappointed, but glad we had gotten at least that one run.

By the time we got back to the front and had lunch, Lift 4 had reopened, so we went back to explore some more.  Dan led us to an area called Hollywood Bowl.  It’s a large, wide face cluttered with boulders and cliff bands.  The coverage was still a little thin in places, so we aimed for wind blown notches and tried not to hit too many rocks.  We played around on some smaller cliff bands and took a few small airs.  On our third and last run in Hollywood Bowl, we came upon a taller cliff with a nice steep transition.  I wasn’t sure if I should jump it.  Dan went off to skiers left, Jon to skiers right.  I stood on top and studied the possibilities.  This was different than Grand Targhee, when it was mandatory.  Here, I had a choice.  I could go around.  But I was already standing on top of it and I had picked a line, with a nice soft turn into it.  Could I do it?  Now I had thought too much about it.  I was getting butterflies in my stomach and my knees started to knock.  Maybe I should just go around.  Maybe I should stop thinking about it.  So I shut my mind up, and executed what my imagination had already played over many times.  I did a quick turn, then popped into the air, free falling for a second, while my stomach flipped over and adrenaline pumped into my veins.  The landing was perfect, filled with soft snow and just like that it was over.  It felt like I had done it a million times before, not just that once, and I couldn’t help the instant smile that was plastered to my face.  Best run of the day.  We skied for a little while longer, and then called it a day.  Another bottomless day.  We are some spoiled San Juan powder hounds!IMG_3162IMG_3166IMG_3167IMG_3171

84″+ a Montana 6″=99″

IMG_3158It was fun going to Bend and hanging out with McBride, but it was time to get serious again.  Jon looked at NOAA and found the spot of red we had been hoping for.  There was a Winter Storm Warning in effect for northern Idaho and Montana.  We packed up our things, and drove back to the great white north.  It was smooth sailing until Lookout Pass, on the border of Idaho and Montana, when the storm hit and the interstate got sloppy.  There was wet slush all over the road and Semi trucks were flying by us, shaking the truck and causing us to turn our windshield wipers to full blast just to hope to see where we were going.  We decided to pull over for a moment, and get our bearings.  It was three and half more hours to Whitefish, which was our original plan, but we were nervous about the roads, and it was snowing here, right now.  Why drive further?  But we didn’t know this area, and if we stayed we would have to skin because Lookout Ski Area is only open Thursday through Sunday.  In the middle of our decision making, we watched as four snowplows came around the corner and created a convoy to clear the interstate.  That was all the incentive Jon needed, and he pulled in behind them so we got clear roads until we had dropped in elevation enough for the storm to turn to rain.

At around midnight, we pulled into the Walmart Supercenter in Kalispell next to the other creepy campers in the corner of the parking lot, and slept for a few hours.  In the morning, we finished our push up to the mountain and were some of the first people to arrive.  By the time they dropped the rope, there was a pretty big lift line, but we were on one of the first chairs.  Again we were inexperienced, never having seen this mountain, and not being able to see it very well now.  It was foggy and snowing which left us guessing where the good ski runs would be.  Jon led me down the first cat track at the top of the lift, and then he just bailed off the side.  I followed him and we were suddenly on an open, completely untracked fall line filled with ghost white trees and bottomless powder.  It is such a crazy moment, when you realize how incredible this one time in your life will be and how much had to come together to make this instant possible.  The 6″ they had reported was easily 15″, if not deeper.  Every turn was a face shot, and somehow we had gotten here, before anyone else, and had this one run all to ourselves.  Once we got back to the lift, that run would never look the same, at least not today, while we were here.  But for those ten or fifteen seconds, we got to free fall, weightlessly, while cold white smoke covered our smiles.  When we got to the bottom we traversed left, and hit another open, untracked slope.  Then we had to hit a very long cat track that everyone was following back to the lift.  Up to do it again, to try to find more open, untracked runs before fellow skiers and snowboarders could get there in front of us.  Whitefish Ski Resort was only partially open, like many of the places we had been to already, because it is still early season and the skiing is just beginning.  We thought the entire mountain would get tracked out quickly, but we kept ducking into tight trees and finding little open stashes for ourselves.  We were able to ski fresh lines until last chair, all the time underneath snowy skies.

Day 10: Bend, OR

ImageWe arrived here at 3am this morning.  The roads had been icy, and we had taken a fairly slow, scenic route, which led to a long drive.  Luckily for us, our friends our good, and Justin let us in so we could get some sleep.  After a few hours, we went into town to find some breakfast.  We found a delicious, Portuguese cafe, and while we ate, McBride told us about a spot we could check out to ski.

It’s amazing how different one area can be from the next.  Yesterday everything had been white, frozen and cold.  I was wearing long underwear underneath my clothes and down jackets everywhere I went.  Today there was green grass and the sun was shining.  Since it was such a beautiful day, we decided to do some exploring and headed towards Mt. Bachelor.  There was a distinct snow line as there commonly is on coastal mountains, and the snow was deeper and deeper the higher we climbed.  Mt. Bachelor looked like a beastly mountain, although it looked like a large portion of it was closed.  When we got to the spot we had been told about, we pulled over to check things out.  There were two big problems.  The first one was that even though there was a lot of snow, it was obvious it had been rained on.  The top was shining in the sun, reflecting the sun beams back like a mirror.  It was unbreakable, rock hard snow.  The second was this area did not allow dogs.  We had just driven a sixth of the way across the country in the wrong direction, and we needed to get Moiwa some exercise.  After observing another guy bring his dog on a leash, we sneaked Moi into the woods with us, not knowing that if we got caught it would be a $240 fine.  As we explored, we hoped that as we gained elevation the snow would soften up.  As we climbed, one of my skinned up skies slipped out from underneath me and I fell face first uphill.  Then we watched as Moiwa stopped to take a poop and it rolled downhill, like the snow was concrete.  We were starting to get discouraged, but we kept climbing.  We ran into a snowboarder coming down who had paused to take a break, her legs were tired from maneuvering through the tough snow.  “Does it soften up at all up top?” I asked.  “There are some ok spots, but it is mostly crunchy.”  That is all we needed to know.  We took our skins off and began our survival skiing back to the truck.  In places where the sun had poked through, the snow was slushy, but mostly it was an icy free fall.

Days like today aren’t the ski days that will stick into our memories when we recall this trip years down the road.  But days like today make those deep, bottomless days that much sweeter.Image

72″+12″=84″ on Lolo Pass

ImageWe are back in Missoula, and before we move on, we decide to check out a spot the locals like to tour.  Lolo Pass is at 5,233ft in the Bitterroot Range, along the border between Montana and Idaho.  There is a lot of wildlife in this area, and we watch carefully for moose, hoping to see something we don’t normally run into at home.  As we reached the top of the pass, I was surprised to see a large visitors center at the top, with bathrooms and a parking attendant.  It almost felt like a ski resort, although most people were there to snowmobile or take their family sledding.  Never having been to the area, we had no idea where to go, but we tried to read the mountains and pick the best places to ski.  We followed a skin track up a ridge to some mellow, yet open, north facing trees.  There was a lot of evidence of logging in the area, so we skied lightly, hoping not to undercover a stump lurking below in the snow.  After the first pitch, we came to an old narrow road, but other tracks kept leading downhill so we followed.  The snow was light and deep.  After the second pitch, we crossed the abandoned road again.  It was obvious if we followed it, it would lead back to where we started, but we decided to ski the last pitch to the bottom and hike on the highway back to the parking lot.  Below us was the most open part of the run, which allowed us to ski fast and take wide turns.  At the bottom, we came to an open creek and had to find a place to cross it.  There was one down tree that was too narrow to walk across, but if we threw our skies to the other side, we could scoot across it on our butts.  We all made it safely across and then boot packed up the shallow ditch to the road.

On our next lap we decided to cross the highway and see what the south side of the pass had to offer.  We skinned up a closed forest service road packed down by snowmobilers.  At first, it looked futile; the terrain was too flat and it didn’t look like the road was leading anywhere.  After the third bend in the road, Jon eyed an open ridge line in the distance, and decided he had to ski it.  It was a ways away, but we skinned our way there.  The higher we climbed, the colder it got and the wind began to pick up.  Half way up the ridge I realized I couldn’t feel my face.  Time to climb faster.  When we reached the top we switched over quickly and dropped in.  This aspect seemed to have more snow coverage, and even though there were a lot of down trees, you could just pop over them like skiing over small pillows.  The snow was so soft if was like goose down.  You knew it was there, but when you skied it it felt like you were floating on a cloud.  It’s rare in Colorado to ski such light consistent snow; there is too much of a temperature gradient.  Here though, it had been very cold since we got here, which was a gift hidden in the snow.

After we made our way back to the truck, we were unsure of our next move.  Since we had begun our trip, it had been snowing across the northwestern United States.  Somehow we had skied everyday, each one being better than the last.  We had been spontaneously having the time of our lives.  Now though, there wasn’t much snow in the forecast, so we weren’t sure where to head to next.  We decided to try somewhere neither of us had ever skied, so we called up our friend Justin McBride and drove to Bend, OR.Image