Sunday, February 27, 2011

deep and light

after an incredible day on wednesday, followed by some very not so incredible day with super cold temps and more high winds, i headed back to the frontcountry and side country slopes of the Big today, sunday. it felt like a mid week day. basically no one was there, zero lift line, and new snow coming. this day really had the feel of the mid-ninties. the snow was super light, and probably piled 6 new by the four in the afternoon. but such light snow on firm packed powder makes for good skiing, but not great.

so what was great. why do i bother to write this after 10pm, when i have to get up at 4 am and head south into the bitterroots for the week? well, let's me just say,if you read this, before it warms too much, get your ASS into the creek.

waist deep, light, fast, face shots, reminiscent again of the mid-ninties. minimal tracks are still found, the snow felt stable , the wind had not affected the area. anyone who can, needs to get out there, because it is the highest level. "that was ORGASMIC" i heard one experienced skier (not under 25, by the way) say. it sure was.

enjoy the week. more snow is coming and with luck, no ra, ra, ra, oh, i cannot write it. you know.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


after some consultation with a couple of backcountry gurus, taking into account parental duties, and looking at some snotel sites, a small group of us headed north of WF to look for the goods.

i have sworn to secrecy the whereabouts of our trip, but it was certainly unknown to me, and i look forward to heading back with our hosts.

the snowmobile ride let us know from the start what was in store, as we hit nearly a foot of new on the trail right off the bat, and it just got deeper. as a complete and total novice, perhaps even beginner sledder, i just did what i could to keep our track on the road in out of the stuff too deep to drive. i did okay, only losing the track once, with a small flip on the side that was quickly righted.

our skin track was knee deep, but we found a super safe route thru the trees, and made pretty good progress, climbing 2000' in under two hours. only in the last 300' vert did we hit massive drifts, dense snow and "arduous" travel. (arduous, as reported by snow safety scientist erich from a week ago in the gcac obs page. check it out). the very first turn justified the effort, and i knew the day would be worth the hassles and cold everything.

with the advent of shaped then fat, then uber fat skis, it is harder all the time to find face shots. as a skier over 6' in height, there are extremely rare for me. but this was 800' of all face shots, and not much vision. twice i skied over rocks and trees i did not see until the last minute.

back to the uphill, and still colder than bejeezus, we quickly gained a saddle. but he ridge we needed to ascend would not be possible with the drifts and massive winds. so we moved forward on the lee side, and this went fine, just slow, as we moved thru myriad trees. finally we got to our point for our ascent, which would eventually take us right to our sleds. this was a long run thru trees and into a narrow drainage, that was so filled in, there was room to spare for our group of four. the snow was incredibly stable, and again, face shots reigned. our group leader mentioned it to be the deepest snow he had been in in many years. for me, make that about 10.

back at the sleds, we realized that the pre trip plan to be out in time to meet and greet kids home from school, would not be met, but we had been safe and travel had been hard. my sled partner decided to take a tow instead of a ride, which was fine, until i suddenly decelerated to clear my sideview mirrow (my sled is a huge four stroke, kind of a caddie of sleds). joel got caught up in the tow rope when i re-accelerated, which i did not notice until i had dragged him a hundred yards or more. fortunately, i was not going too fast, and he was fine and did not even threaten to beat the crap out of me, or push me out of the drivers seat.

back at the truck, after 5 pm, we were met with a beer (really, in below zero temps, and it still tasted great) i have been getting pretty good at loading my sled up my steep ramp, but when my first attempt came up a bit short, i over gunned it the second time, slammed my skid thru the cross beams of the head rack, and right thru the back window of my truck. with the heat cranked throughout the drive home, it never really got warm,but was tolerable. yet another lesson learned. okay, maybe i am a beginner sledder, but i took my lessons well, and look forward to my nest venture out.


man, it is cold as can be again. and with high winds, the ski hill is not even open (really) today. by my calculations, done by scientific memory method, this is our sixth snap with below zero temps.

an old adage and theory, of myself and others who have been here for more than a few years, it that once we get to about mid-feb, the worst of the weather is over, with little risk of these severe low temps. but the last couple of years has contested that viewpoint, and i find it hard to believe this is the last such arctic front we will see this year.

so while yesterday found some good to great skiing in spots (see the post that will show up at the top, next on my list of to do), the wind howled all night last night, and has certainly added to dangerous windload, scoured some more aspects and did some damage to our precious resource. that being said, i am sure there is some great skiing to be found between 4500' and 6500', in trees, where the wind affect was moderated or perhaps even enhanced the skiing. but i do not expect much in the alpine to be of any use for a bit, and travel in these conditions is nothing short of brutal anyway.

so dress warm, ski and travel safe and when you find the right spot, you will know it, because you will have entered the "white room" (no, not the one in WF, but the real one.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

race day

GREAT race at stillwater nordic yesterday. the fourth (or fifth) annual "broken-binding" 32 or 48 km skate race. probably had 60 plus participants and a lot of smiling, worked over faces. i know i am still stiff and tired, and i only did the 32. but the conditions were superb. fast, nearly perfect snow, except for the lake portion. this could be improved with an alternate return course that does not go over murray lake, but that would require the state to allow the stillwater team to build new trail, and that is likely just a bit too forward thinking for the logging first mentality that is anchored into the dnrc minds. not to get into politics or anything. just trying to keep it interesting.

so the race was great, tons of prizes, great food provided by lisa stiener. and since she was busy cooking, there was one less person ahead of me. my highlights were finishing, not coming in last, not getting lapped, and finishing ahead of rob m, who to his credit, had put in a pretty big day in the bc the day before. i had spend saturday, learning that you cannot drive a snowmobile, just like a car, without adequate anti-freeze, before the thing will overheat. no harm done, and a good lesson learned.

more snow in the forecast. we have not had too many amazing days on the hill, but two straight months of consistently good skiing, and great backcountry. lets hope the snow continues into march.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

big dump

one of our bigger overnight dumps. great skiing was had by all, and i do mean all. where do all these people come from? doesn't anyone work anymore? there were substantial lift lines until nearly noon. but it was great skiing, so not really that surprising.

got to ski a few runs with the great cody T. she is still as good a skier as there is on the hill. so it was quite a surprise to see her at the top of haskill's slide pulling a ski out of the snow. but there had not been some great head plant, just a malfunction of her bindings.

also had a great run into the canyon. new snow seemed totally bonded with the old, on all exposures, and the skiing was over the knees. with this somewhat heavier snow, there were not face shots to be had, but it was still deep and soft. with slightly colder temps coming in, and some more snow, anything over 4 inches could turn those turns into mid thigh face shots. or, just put on some old school skis and sink to your chest. you just might not come out, or worse, remember how to ski old technology. i doubt i can.

by the end of the day, the damage to the hill had been done. sure, it was still soft, and some deep searches into trees will still find some untracked spots, this place no longer offers untracked lines for days after a storm. so let's hope the snow gods hit the refresh button again, tonight, before the wave of president's weekenders arrive.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

melt down

holy end to the la nina winter. no not really, but it sure got warm. went off for the weekend, where it was also quite warm, came home to much ice, dirty snow and overall spring feeling. not too inspiring for mountainous skiing, so i took to the nordic track this week in hopes of competing at stillwater this weekend. if the new snow projected does not totally engulf the track, it should be great, and a cancer fundraiser to boot.

yep, new snow and some cooler temps are again on the way. started late this am. off and on right now, but forecast sure looks good. this might not be best for the aforementioned race, which would probably be best suited with a 2-4 new, cold temps and lots of grooming to make it super fast. which is more fun, and gets one off the track more quickly with less effort. a soft track could make for a slow, difficult slog.

but that would mean, POWDER! so, it really is a no lose situation.

unless it rains.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

more snow, wind and cold

the roller coaster continues. up and down, over and under, sideways and fast, the winter of 10/11 has been wild and crazy.

monday morning brought a fresh new 6" to the Big. enough in many places to make for deep turns, not enough in many spots to stop you from hitting the bottom. but overall, great skiing, and in the afterthought of winter carnival, super bowl and all around good skiing for many days, the crowds did not flock to fast or furious. it was nice to ski untracked all morning without feeling the pressure, or having to wait for long for the next chair.

i had full intention of hitting a lap or two in the canyon, but the after-affects of an "adult" cookie during the super bowl party we have every year, left my brain a bit fuzzy. somethings i can handle, beer, others not so much. anyway, i was content to ski the hill with a great group of gals. there are just so many strong skiers here these days, of both sexes. and the gear is so great, everyone just rips. super fun.

for some cardio, i took the dogs to whitefish lake. deep snow on top of an 8" thick ice makes for some good skiing. always feel a bit unsure out there, but it is such a beautiful perspective of the north valley. and fun to look up at the hill after a great morning, thru the backyards and windows of the rich and sometimes famous. beautiful!

when the winds picked up late on monday morning, the lift ride became increasingly uncomfortable. the immediate effect on skiing was pretty cool, turning newly wind-loaded slopes like the face into some good surfing. but ultimately, it was too cold for me.

yesterday went for a tour with a pretty hardcore group of middle aged men and women who still want to be in their 20's. start early, go hard, no breaks. but this group does not end the day with endless beers at the stube or somewhere else, but head back into town to pick up kids, return to work and regain their age.

we found some really good snow on multiple aspects, as the cold temps did not allwo the bright sunshine to affect snow quality. there are however, many new hazards. a result of the high winds that lasted over 24 hours. new wind load is as big a concern as a new dump, sometimes more. in this case we kicked off a few slabs, but they did not propogate, and in the somewhat mellow and protected terrain we had chosen, they really did not present a problem. just know the top 6-12" are not bonded, especially in the typical trouble spots.

some snow happening now, but not much really expected. we can always hope the forecasters are just off, by an inch or five.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


february and the skiing is easy. front country, side country and backcountry are all skiing great. very stable snow, soft and mid calf deep.

wherever you may be going, it is likely you are having a great time. add in some sunshine and everyone is happy.

today is the super bowl, but with the 4:30 start, plenty of time to get in a great day outdoors

okay, here is a story i just cannot not tell. yesterday, coming up the canyon road after a great ski, we ran into a USFS employee, one of our esteemed forecasting team. he was with a gal i assumed was their seasonal assistant, and they were doing some filming. i was excited to hear they were going to start including video in their forecasting methodology. but it turns out she was from a local tv station, doing a report on snowmobiling. so good for the USFS to be out lending a hand. spread the word, educate. but as they drove up the canyon road, after pit analysis in an area about as irrelevant as can be, the tv woman stopped to take some video of one of the more prominent of the "skook chutes". and where was she stationed. right at the bottom of the slide path. now, i understand she likely did not realize this was not a great spot, and the USFS forecaster was just down the road, on his way up behind her. i fully expected him to have her move off to a bit more safe zone. but he stopped and turned off his sled, and observed her filming. now, i understand the conditions are very stable, and there were multiple snowmobile high marks on the slope, but the entire top 60% was untracked, waiting for a skier to rip it. and if some skier had come and ripped it, and it ripped out, then the USFS employee and the tv gal were in the perfect spot to get annihilated. sure, unlikely, but possible. i would think, even if the chances of avalanche were zero, he would have moved her off this spot to a safer spot, just as a matter of course. set the right example.

and we wonder why our esteemed forecasting team continues year after year to be the laughing stock of the avalanche society.

any, be safe and have a great day and on into the week. the snow is great right now, so get it while it's great.