Jan 11 2010

No more pineapple!

P1000053

My temporary home sweet home

Now I love Hawaii as much as the next guy. I’ve had many a fine vacation in that tropical paradise. But when I’m visiting British Columbia I don’t want anything associated with the Hawaiin Islands particularly something known as the “Pineapple Express”. This term refers to a weather pattern where warm moist tropical gets funneled directly from Hawaii to British Columbia. While moisture is generally a good thing, the warm air that comes with it is not and can lead to rain throughout the BC mountains in the middle of January. I have experienced this phenomena before and it’s not a pretty thing. Unfortunately the area I’m visiting right now is in the middle of this pattern and while we’re fortunate it’s not warm enough to rain, it has made the snow very heavy and more importantly has caused a lot of fog which makes flying a helicopter quite problematic.

nice accomodations

nice accomodations

This year our group chose a new venue for our annual helitrip – Snowwater. Like all the heli and cat places I’ve visited in BC, it is very nice, with comfy rustic lodges, great food and wonderful staff who cater to your every wish. What they can’t do however, is change the weather. They do have the benefit of having a snowcat that they use when they can’t fly but they can only ski the local terrain for so long before it starts getting skiied out which is not a term I want to be using on a helitrip.

Looking for freshies

Looking for freshies

For most of the day we played hunt and peck with the helicopter and the fog. It would look like it was clearing, so we’d get in the heli but by the time we got to the top of the hill the fog would close in again preventing us from getting any distance from the lodge. We did get some good shots at the top of the runs but eventually everything would funnel back towards the lodge where the terrain would start to look more like your local ski hill than your typical heli paradise. Eventually we switched to the cat for our last run which was actually one of the better runs of the day as we accessed some terrain that had not yet been skied this year.

the happy camper in the cat

the happy camper in the cat

For those of you that know me, it will come as no surprise that I was less than thrilled with the conditions. Fortunately, I was able to remember that I was incredibly blessed do be doing a trip like this in the first place and it is still a lot of fun to ski with a bunch of folks as dedicated to chasing powder as I am. On every trip like this I meet really nice people whom I exchange snow stories and info with usually in the hot tub or over a delicious meal so I got that going for me. But if you know any weather prayers, please say one for me as I will only be here for four days and sure would like to see what these incredible mountains have to offer.


Jan 6 2010

Should I stay or should I go…

Sadly, not today

Sadly, not today - but hopefully soon

Here’s how my planning goes during the six months of ski/snowboard season. Scour the various weather and snow reports to determine when and where I’m most likely to find powder. Cancel all appointments for that day (or days) and make sure I have the needed child care arranged. Put out the general call to any or all that might be interested in coming along. The night before pack up my stuff and get some food together.  Everything’s ready but now comes the big variable – the actual snowfall. It’s an easy decision when there’s a big dump somewhere but unlike some of my friends I’m not interested in riding hardpack so when the morning reports show little or no new snow the debate in my head starts. Sure is comfy in this warm bed. Maybe the storm is just late and it’s dumping right now (check more reports/forecasts here). Perhaps tomorrow would be better. Does whomever I was planning to go with still want to go (make phone calls here). Maybe I could poach some old snow. I wonder what shape Berthoud is in? And so it goes till I either get out of bed and go for it or I’ve debated so long it’s now too late to catch rope drop so what’s the point. That’s how it went this morning – no new snow to speak of, no great motivation from my potential riding buddy and the lure of chair 4 at Loveland opening for the season not enough to get me going. Oh well…

But there is light at the end of the tunnel – a very bright light – my annual heli trip to British Columbia is next week. What started out as a once in a lifetime experience during a particularly dry spring in 2002 quickly became a once a year necessity – one trip to the powder triangle and I was hooked for life. Some years it’s been heli, some cat and some both but no matter what every year I make a pilgrimage to what I consider the closest thing to a sure thing – British Columbia and its’ astounding collection of cat and heli operations – there’s a good reason 90% of the world’s heli ops are located there (if you’re interested in more details check out the B.C. page on this site). This year we’re checking out a new place Snowwater – which actually runs both a heli and cat (Valhalla) operation so if you can’t fly due to weather they put you in a cat till it clears (a very useful option and one that few other places offer). Anyway my next several posts should be from there so if you’re interested, check in next week or if you’re jealous skip the next couple of posts or start saving up for next year…


Dec 17 2009

The fast is over!

Alberta Peak 12-14-09

the view from Step Bowl to Alberta Peak 12-14-09

Well I finally got on my board for the first time this 2009-10 season this past weekend at my favorite Colorado resort – Wolf Creek. They got 6 feet of snow last week and I was lucky enough to catch the last 2+ of that (never believe what the National Weather Service says regarding predicted snow totals there – they called for 4 t0 6 inches the night before they got 18″ – if they use the words “snow may be heavy at times” or “significant accumulations possible” – just go). Sunday was a full on raging blizzard with sustained winds of 30 to 40 and gusts to 60 so I had to hold my board with both hands while hiking the bowls and while it was still fun after 5 hours of buffeting we were ready to call it a day and save some legs for Monday. When we got to my car it had merged with the snowbank it was parked next to and the ride back to South Fork was the hairiest I’ve ever done there. Shortly after that they closed the pass  which did not reopen till 10 the next morning which is why I never stay in Pagosa when it’s dumping.

Local jumping the rail on the hike up to Knife Ridge

Local jumping the rail on the hike up to Knife Ridge

Frank on the Knife Ridge Bridge

Frank on the Knife Ridge Bridge

Monday brought clear skies, no wind, no tracks and no people as at least half were stuck in Pagosa waiting for the pass to open. So we had the whole glorious mountain to ourselves (and a few other lucky east siders) for most of the morning and definitely made the most of it. Knife Ridge was in prime form and worth every step of the hikes to get there. Not that I need a reminder, but man do I love that mountain!

Meanwhile, the rest of the state finally got some snow with most locations getting up to a foot of much needed fresh. Aspen Highlands opened for the season on Saturday and called 18′ in Highlands Bowl for the storm but friends of mine were shut down at Snowmass on Sunday as they closed all the lifts mid morning because of high winds (the only advantage of those old slow non-detachable chairs at Wolf – they never close). Right now it unfortunately looks like we’re in for a dry spell for awhile – not the xmas present the Colorado resorts were looking for.

As for our lucky neighbors to the North, it just keeps getting better. Whistler officially set the record for the snowiest month in recorded history with 18.3 feet of snow in November!!! They are now in the middle of another snow cycle as they’ve called 2 feet in the last 48 hours with a year to date total of 247″ and 6600 acres open and yes it’s only December 17th. The rest of BC is getting hit as well which has resulted in a continual barrage of emails from all the places I’ve either been or considered going to up there telling me how I need to get there now. My pick of the litter this week is this video from Baldface Lodge which is calling last month Snowvember – got to love it. However, if you really want to get a feel for the BC mindset check out the videos in the blog post below this – very funny…


Dec 17 2009

I could have been a contender…

I had heard about this contest called the Powder Highway Ultimate Ski Bum Blow Your Mind Contest sponsored by Kootenay Rockies Tourism where the winner got a 3 Month Journey along the BC Powder Highway, including Free Lift Tickets at all of the Resorts, 16 days of Heli and Cat Skiing, Accommodation and Transportation. Unfortunately, by the time I found out the details, the entry deadline had already passed. The prize is one of my basic life goals – to ski and ride all of the BC resorts and cat and heli ops so I was quite saddened to find out I was too late to enter.  However watching the contest video brought a big smile to my face as it was clearly made with folks like me in mind. So while I’m bummed I didn’t get a shot at it I do see that the winner was a worthy choice…


Dec 3 2009

When’s our turn?

Revelstoke 11/23/09

Revelstoke 11/23/09

So when you’ve done a bunch of cat and heli trips and are constantly researching where to do your next cat or heli trip you end up on a lot of email lists. And when the places you’ve visited or inquired about get snow, they’re more than happy to share that info with you. Thus for the last week or so I’ve been bombarded with emails describing epic early season conditions in British Columbia full of pics and links to videos designed to get you to reach for your wallet. My favorite of the ones I’ve received recently is this video from Kicking Horse Resort in Golden, BC which was actually sent by Great Canadian Heliskiing which is located just down the road from Kicking Horse and is now planning on opening early if they can induce enough powder fanatics like myself to come up on short notice. The Kicking Horse video  basically describes my greatest fantasy (at least of the ones I can discuss in public) – having an entire beautifully gladed ski area to your self and a few friends – is that too much to ask? Then yesterday I got this link from Canadian Mountain Holidays with a video from their Revelstoke operation (and where the photo on top of this post is also from) showing some typical BC tree skiing. Yep, things are looking good in BC.

Colorado, on the other hand, is experiencing a little bit of an early season drought. While Boulder has gotten three decent storms already, the mountains have not fared so well with traditionally snow blessed resorts like Vail having received only 37″ total to date.  There are rumors that the weather pattern is going to change starting this weekend (keep your fingers crossed) but until then I guess I’ll keep on watching these videos and saving my pennies for my next trip up north…