Jan 23 2011

An East Vail powder tale – 1/20/11

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Joel Bettner

After the first big snow of the season I saw a blog post about skiing at Berthoud by Joel Bettner that both warmed my heart and made me jealous. Since then I had seen several of his videos that were posted on everyone’s favorite forecast site, Colorado Powder Forecast. When Joel Gratz, the forecaster himself, invited me on a East Vail tour with his namesake I jumped at the chance since I’d had never done any of the terrain but had always looked at it longingly whenever I drove by on the way to Vail.

The two Joels - just follow the guy in red and blue...

You get to the East Vail terrain by hiking off the top of the Siberia Bowl poma. There were lots of folks headed out on Thursday as Vail had gotten more than 30″ in the previous 3 days. As usual there were folks who didn’t belong out there and in particular one gentleman who had no idea of where he was going (right towards the most avalanche prone area) and fortunately for him several folks yelled for him to come back before we ended up reading about him in the paper the next day. Joel Bettner is a former Alaska heli guide and is incredibly knowledgeable with a very healthy respect for the mountains which is the only reason I was comfortable being out there in the first place. The Vail sidecountry is no joke and just because it’s relatively easy to get to and lots of people do it doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

The view from the top - East Vail sidecountry

Since Joel  was giving the tour it was totally up to him what terrain we were going to ski and it turns out he has a little thing for cliffs (check out the January highlight video on his blog which includes footage from this trip). Now I like to catch a little air now and then but wasn’t quite ready for the 20 to 30 footer that started the tour. Joel, on the other hand was primed to go and we captured the moment in a variety of ways.

Joel B coming off the top

Jeff follows suit...

But doesn't quite stick the landing

Seeing the boys go for big air (not to mention the three feet of powder you were landing in) encouraged me to do a little launching of my own.

it's fun to fly...

and meanwhile when the other Joel wasn’t honing his photograph skills (all the photos in this post except for this next one are his) he was showing us that he was just as good at shredding the powder as predicting it

Joel G coming up for air

All in all, a fabulous tour that left me wanting more and knowing that I would be back sometime in the future. Many thanks to the two Joels for making it happen and capturing the action – otherwise it could all be just another tall tale…about East Vail…


Nov 30 2010

A Snovember to Remember

Better than a field of gold - Berthoud Pass - photo by Joel Gratz

Alright – I’ll admit it – I’ve really been slacking on the blogging thing. After three years where the I didn’t get out in November due to poor snow conditions, this year has been a very refreshing change of pace. Steamboat set a snowfall record for the month and numerous Colorado resorts were way ahead of typical year to date totals. I was personally lucky enough to get in 6 days 5 of which were legitimate powder days. So why no posts?

Getting up early has its' advantages - on the road to Vail 11/19/2010

You know the old saying “powder has no friends” – well actually in my case while powder has lots of friends – most of those friends have jobs and can’t ski/ride during the week. Thus I often end up riding by myself and that doesn’t make for great photo opportunities and this blog without photos is just a lot of cold air. Opening day at Vail was a perfect example of this because despite giving my ski associates plenty of notice, no one was able to make the trip with me. Vail opened with over a 1000 acres and bless their hearts, groomed very little of it. I immediately headed to Game Creek Bowl and was pleasantly surprised to find all the northside trees totally rideable so spent a very fun hour or two laying down first tracks through the woods some of which I captured on my camera in the video below.

Opening Day – Vail 2010

Vail has since opened almost the entire mountain with the exception of the new chair 5 lift which will open this Friday. I caught the opening of China Bowl the day before Thanksgiving and even though I had company on that trip it was so cold that the price of getting any pics or video would have included frostbite which is where I draw the line for my faithful readers. Sadly, I missed the opening of Blue Sky Basin this past Friday but heard it was quite fun – all in all, Vail is off to a great start.

Jean Francois bustin' it at Berthoud 11/17/2010

All my other days this month were spent at my favorite backcountry paradise, Berthoud Pass. I’ve documented many a fine day at the Pass on this blog so I won’t go into any details here other than to say the hill is already in great shape and am looking forward to future fabulous forays in the coming year. Thanks to everyones’s favorite forecaster, Joel Gratz, I was able to put together the footage below of a typical run down Hell’s Half Acre. And none of those whoops were added in in post.


Apr 9 2010

A Powder Day gift from the Gods – Vail Mountain – 4/7/10

Yes, it was really like this - Photo: Dominique Taylor at Vaildaily.com

I know I’ve really been slacking at the blogging thing lately. My primary excuse is that I’ve been hitting mostly big powder days at local resorts where the competition for fresh tracks has been fierce so the picture taking has gone by the wayside. I did do a classic two day trip to Wolf but shot mostly video which I need to convert and then learn how to edit (yes, I know it’s my business) – I’ll post that one of these days. But if you haven’t heard already Vail had one for the ages on Wednesday (my birthday no less – thank you gods) that I need to share with powder hounds everywhere.

Who needs food when you can eat snow all day - Photo: Dominique Taylor at Vaildaily.com

First off I want to say that I didn’t take any of these photos – they were all mostly by Dominique Taylor at Vaildaily.com. I know it’s bad etiquette to post other folks photos but the world needs to see Dominique’s fine work and if you want to see more or buy these photos you can get them at Vaildaily.com in the photo section. I was too busy sucking down snow (lesson #1 – keep mouth shut while riding on thigh deep powder day) to take any photos of my own.

Hey, where did everything go ? - Photo: Dominique Taylor at Vaildaily.com

On Tuesday I had gone up with my new best friend Joel Gratz of Coloradopowderforecast.com, the hottest new ski weather forecast site on the web. We had a fabulous day riding the 13″ new they had called and sometime will post the merely great pictures from that outing. When we got back to Boulder at the end of the day we both had other plans for Wednesday which immediately went by the wayside when Joel saw they had posted another 19″ new (32″ in 48!) at 5:00 am the following morning. I was planning on maybe having a leisurely powder day at Loveland but fortunately decided not to look the gift horse in the mouth and quickly hopped in the car for a return voyage to Vail.

This isn't me but I know the feeling - Photo: Dominique Taylor at Vaildaily.com

The drive up felt more like a Saturday in March than a Wednesday in April as the word had definitely gotten out that Vail was getting hit hard. I did my finest Mario Andretti impression and thus was able to at least be inside the maze at the Vista Bahn when it opened at 8:30. I knew it was going to be good but when I got into the back on my second run and encountered thigh deep blower pow (and not just in some random drift – everywhere!) I knew that I (and several thousand of my new closest friends) was in for a special treat. When I got to the liftline the main topic of conversation revolved around pointers on how to breathe when your face is constantly covered in snow.

Doesn't look like it was too shabby at Beaver Creek either - Royal Elk Glades - Photographer unknown

The back was quickly overrun so time to move on and eventually made my way to Blue Sky Basin as the chair was just opening. This allowed me to ski the Champagne Glades which on this day was like the best bottle of vintage Moet Chandon that you could ever hope to find. I then reconnected with Joel (we had gone up separately as the lucky dog had a cat trip at Irwin Lodge lined up for the next day) and we proceeded to cement our powder relationship with several incredible runs through all Blue Sky has to offer till we started to get a little tired and began to go through trees instead of around them.

The tracks say it all - Photo: Dominique Taylor at Vaildaily.com

And speaking of trees I decided to give myself a little momento from the day and managed to catch a branch right in the nose on my last run down to the village through Riva Glade (and yes, it was well worth it). Joel got a nice picture of my face afterwards but I don’t think I’ll be posting that here. All in all an absolutely amazing day with perhaps the best snow conditions I’ve ever seen at Vail – who says April is the cruelest month…


Jan 26 2010

Back in the USSA

Was it all just a dream or water on my lens - Snowwater

Was it all just a dream or water on my lens - Snowwater 2010

In case you somehow managed to miss the news, there were some big snow totals in the US last week. For me the rumors started when I was up in Canada when Erik Roner, one of the Rossignol athletes also at Snowwater, said something about Tahoe getting a huge storm with 200 mph winds! It turned out he was talking about the jet stream but still quite impressive and as soon as I got home the calls started coming in from my friend Mark who lives in Reno and patronizes Northstar (on windy days) and Squaw on a regular basis. Mark likes to tell how they predict the anticipated storm totals in California in feet as opposed to inches here in Colorado.

At Chair 5 in Vail with several hundred of my closest friends

At Chair 5 in Vail with several hundred of my closest friends

Sure enough Squaw called at least a foot a day on the upper mountain for 6 days in a row and soon reports from friends in Utah started telling similar tales with Snowbird accumulating 88” in 7 days. Normally, when it’s dumping like this in a southern storm track I’m headed to Wolf Creek (67” for the week) but having just spent a week away in Canada I needed to tend to the home fires so a road trip was out of the question. Fortunately for me though, after getting skunked for weeks, Vail pulled one out of the hat on Monday for my viewing and riding pleasure.

Big trees and soft snow in the Windows at Vail

Big trees and soft snow in the Windows at Vail

A while back I posted a blog about Vail’s cloud seeding program. Now while there’s still no scientific proof that it works how else can you explain Monday morning’s snow report when its’ neighbor to the west, Beaver Creek called 4” in 48 hours, it neighbor to the east, Copper Mountain called 6” and Vail in the middle called 19”. You could attribute it to inflated snow totals except I was lucky enough to be there and no, they weren’t exaggerating. Of course, I wasn’t the only one checking the snow report as the picture two above can testify.

and some Aspen groves for variety

and even some Aspen groves for variety

I have a typical love/hate relationship with Vail Mountain. I love that it’s huge, gets lots of snow, has great tree and bowl skiing and with all the high speed quads you get a lot of riding in a day there. I hate that it’s so expensive ($25 a day for parking), gets unbelievable crowds, and sometimes feels like a total rat race just to get a few untracked lines. Monday, fortunately was one of those feel the love days as while there were still quite a few people on the mountain, there was great snow everywhere and after a while people went home and left lots of goodies for those of us who stayed. I played in the trees for as long as I could and was rewarded with run after run of untracked sweetness and even the shots on the open slopes were far from ravaged. It was a day that reminded me of why I go to Vail in the first place – because when it’s good, it can be very, very good…


Nov 11 2009

So that’s their secret

Cloud seeding? We don't need no stinking cloud seeding...Wolf Creek 4/09

Cloud seeding? We don't need no stinking cloud seeding...Wolf Creek 4/09

In the course of checking out other blog sites while gathering material for this site I’ve come across some interesting articles. For instance, for years my friends and I have always wondered what deal Vail cut with the devil in order to get significantly more snow than their neighbors on a regular basis. Some claim it is the geographical setup of the Gore Range, others go with inflated snow reports and we all have heard the rumors of cloud seeding. Well those rumors are true and now Winter Park is joining the seeding club as this article from ESPN documents. Lots of interesting links in this piece – for a good in depth look at the history and science behind  cloud seeding in Colorado check out this article from the New York Times from 2003. My favorite line in the piece is this quote from Mr. Barry of Denver Water  ”It’s better than rain dancing,” he said. ”I’m pretty sure about that.” Could that be why Vail averages 350″ per year while Copper Mountain just on the other side of Vail Pass averages 284″ – only Mother Nature knows for sure…



Nov 4 2009

Not quite yet…

In the dog chutes

Sadly, not this week - Wolf Creek 4/09

Last week I got myself all worked up about missing a big opening day at Wolf Creek.  I was thinking they’d get 3 or 4 feet and open the whole mountain on opening day and I’d be home in Boulder nursing my repaired shoulder and feeling sorry for myself. Turns out they only got 26″ (a minor storm for them) and just opened the front side. We got 2 plus feet in Boulder but except for perhaps Eldora (which won’t open till the end of the month) the mountains did not do all that well out of this storm. It was primarily an upslope event so while the front range got smacked Loveland and A-Basin only got 10″ each and the amounts went down from there as you went west. Vail Resorts of course put out an email saying how the mountains could receive up to 4 feet of snow but if you take a look at their web cams you can see that they didn’t quite fair so well. Until the mountains start putting up their snow totals, the only way to really see what they’re getting (other than having friends at the mountain) is to look at web cams which there are a ton of these days.  I’ve created a page with all my favorite cams and I’ll be watching those along with the weather and snow reports until my shoulder heals or the snow gets too deep to resist – whichever comes first…