May 3 2013

Mayday! Mayday!

A snow beard in May?

A powder beard in May?

My trip to Alaska let me know my knee was ok and got me pumped for the rest of the season. The only problem was that it had not been snowing much in Colorado and last year there was no snow after mid March so there were lots of fears that 2013 would be a repeat. However, if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that nobody knows what mother nature will do. This year in Colorado, she decided to play a mean trick and wait till most resorts closed before turning on the snow spigot. The biggest snow cycle of the year started the day after Vail shut down for the season and continued till they reopened a week later – the first time they’ve done that in 26 years. I was lucky enough to catch the reopening which was quite spectacular and like all good days at Vail, very well attended as you can see from the photo below.

3 feet of untracked tends to draw a crowd

For those who can’t bear for the season to end both Loveland and A-Basin stay open till at least May and tend to do well in spring storms. This year has proven to be a stellar example as Loveland has received over 100 inches since April 1st – no fooling! I was fortunate to catch three days during that stretch – all of which were at least a foot with the last on May 2 being a 17″ in 24/24″ in 48 extravaganza. I was too busy snarfing powder to take many pictures but did record the clip below for authentication purposes.

So sadly it seems like another season has come to an end (at least the powder chasing part). This one had it’s ups (BC, Alaska, powder days in May) and downs (MCL tear, another below average snow year for Colorado) but all in all just thankful that I get to play in the first place. And hell, October is just 6 short months away…

Mar 2 2010

The third time’s the charm – Berthoud Pass strikes again

Lifts? We don't need no stinking lifts...knee deep in the 80's at Berthoud Pass, Colorado

There were a lot of surprised front range skiers and snowboarders yesterday because despite all the weather reports calling for a few inches tops, Monday mornings ski totals included 11″ at Loveland and 16″ at Winter Park. According to the CAIC’s morning avalanche report, Berthoud Pass received 5″ in one hour Sunday night and 12″ in three – that’s some serious snow coming down which no one anticipated. I, unfortunately, did not discover this until it was too late to get to either resort but knowing there would be plenty left at Berthoud on Tuesday helped ease the pain.

First one to the road wins - looking down the 90's, Berthoud Pass

Because of all the new snow, the CAIC  issued a avalanche warning for Monday which means natural and human triggered slides slides are likely – not the kind of day I want to be out on the pass. By Tuesday, they had lowered it to considerable which in layman terms means you can go out there but be really, really careful. Thus on the ride up I was very surprised to see tracks way out in Floral Park which is not only steep and exposed but it also has heating/freezing issues as it is southern facing. We immediately decided to pass on that and later talked to a very shaken snowboarder in the parking lot who got caught in a slide out there and was lucky to escape with only some ripped pants and some very bad memories.

The crappy view on the way up to Hell's Half Acre, Berthoud Pass

We decide to opt for the Hanging Meadow in Hell’s Half Acre which is lower angled and treed thus making for a less risky proposition. The snow was beautiful – deep and relatively light, making for some fabulous riding. While there had been plenty of visitors before us, there were still huge swaths of untracked which we took immediate advantage of hooting and hollering down to the road. We got a ride as soon as we hit the road and got dropped off at the ditch trail so we could do some Current Creek runs.

Frank enjoying the fruits of his labor on Vigilante, Berthoud Pass

The nice thing about the ditch trail is that after the tough hike up to Hell’s, the walk out to the Current Creek runs is quite leisurely and the rewards still plentiful. We started with a 90’s, which is pretty much a straight shot to the road with the top full of sweet deep untracked and the bottom still super soft if no longer pristine. It was so good that we immediately did another but this time moved over to the 80’s which had yet to be explored. I started getting flashbacks to the days when Berthoud had lifts and this was one of my favorite late day runs. There are some large rocks that sit atop the run (see first photo in this post) and although I passed for the most part today because of some avy concerns, I could see that the snow cover was getting to the point where some big fun could be had soon.

Not bad for 2:30 in the afternoon - Vigilante, Berthoud Pass

After a quick snack in the parking lot, it was back to the Hanging Meadow followed by another Current Creek. Both were fabulous and could have easily provided several more powder laden runs had we the time. As it was we felt blessed to have been out there at all – did I mention it was a warm, windless, bluebird day and even though the parking lot was full in the morning, by mid afternoon it was back to just a few happy campers. This was my third trip to Berthoud in the last month and each one has been better than the last so while I don’t see how it could get any better, I’m looking forward to trying to prove myself wrong…

Feb 12 2010

Knowledge is powder – 10 great ski and snowboard websites

Can surfing the internet lead to this?

In the old days (say 10 years ago) if you wanted to know, for example, if it was snowing in Vail, you had to either be in Vail or be talking on the phone to someone who was. Nowdays, thanks mostly to the internet, it’s almost impossible to not know when it’s snowing in Vail. You’ve got your Vail webcams, I-70 road reports, and Vail local blogs, not to mention emails and alerts from the mountain itself. This is both a blessing and curse – you’re never going to miss a powder day because of lack of information but neither will any of the other 3 million potentially interested parties who live in the Denver Metro area. But since there’s no going back to simpler times, you might as well embrace the new reality and man, is there a lot of it out there.

No longer a secret - Knife Ridge at Wolf Creek

Now, while I may occasionally get slightly bitter about the fact that it’s almost impossible to keep a powder stash secret anymore (and yes, I know I’m contributing to this problem by writing this blog) I’m generally thrilled and amazed by what I can discover just sitting at home surfing of my laptop. Besides the real obvious stuff like snow totals and weather reports from around the world that are listed elsewhere on this site – I’d like to point 10 websites that have really caught my fancy lately.

First, let’s talk about the compendium sites – those that aggregate data from multiple sources. My favorite of all of these has got to be (1) Western Snow Info. If I was limited to just one site to get snow info, this would be the one as they list daily and weekly snow totals, detailed weather reports and webcams from 16 major ski resorts spread out across the western US and Canada in a very user friendly layout. I will warn you, however, that visiting this site can cause severe bouts of powder envy when your local area is not doing so well. Another great compendium site specific to Utah can surprisingly be found on the (2) Salt Lake City National Weather Service page. Not sure why Colorado doesn’t do this, but this page combines snow, weather, avalanche and UDOT reports along with webcams for all Utah ski resorts – what a jackpot! For sheer reach, it’s hard to match (3) Mountain Weather which features weather forecasts from Jackson Hole, Alaska and the Himalayans. And for a great example of a local’s site that has everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask check out (4) Tahoe Loco for all the latest in what’s happening around the largest alpine lake in North America.

I have become quite the weather buff over the years by necessity and obviously the web has long been the motherlode for finding meteorological information. But if you live in Colorado and haven’t already seen it, (5) Colorado Powder Forecast is a tremendous new addition to the scene. Written by Joel Gratz, a Boulder resident, it is a regularly updated specific forecast for all areas of Colorado designed especially for skier/riders. Not only is it informative, funny and full of all sorts of extra goodies (and more importantly generally very accurate), but Joel will personally answer your forecast questions if you post to the comment section. Just today he’s added a video forecast and can’t wait to see what’s coming next – a definite must stop on the internet powder tour. Another interesting ski specific weather site that Joel turned his readers on to is (6) Utah Ski Weather which is run by meteorology grad students at the University of Utah. And for those of you who like radar imaging, the (7) National Weather Service Enhanced Radar Image Loop can be quite hypnotic.

Then of course, we have what got me started on all this – ski and snowboard blogs. I first started checking out what I call the industry blogs like ESPN SnowboardingSnowboard Magazine and Teton Gravity Research which given their reach and resources often have interesting posts and videos. I soon found, however, that I prefer the smaller more personal sites like (8) Mountain Goat Ski Guides based out of Silverton or the beautiful photos that can be found in the backcountry skiing/snowboarding section of (9) Jack Brauer’s Mountain Photography site. These are kindred spirits whose souls are nutured by untracked turns in the backcountry. To access a huge variety of snow specific sites I often check out (10) Lou Dawson’s Backcountry Skiing Blog which has links to dozens of fascinating sites. And the list goes on and on with new ones coming online everyday.

The kind of surfing I'd rather be doing

In the end of course, I’d much rather be surfing some untracked slope than the internet but it’s nice to know that there are other folks as equally enamored (or should I say obsessed) with skiing powder as I am. It also helps to get through those times when there’s not a lot of new snow coming down locally (like this entire ski season in Northern Colorado). And now that the internet has answered the eternal question of “where is it snowing”, we can move on to more important matters – like how can I get there before it’s all tracked out…