Dec 22 2010

Long live the King – Monarch Mountain 12/21/10

It was beautiful day in the neighborhood - Monarch 12/21

Your mom probably told you this but it’s worth repeating – don’t believe everything you hear. Take for instance, this last storm that’s been making headlines for ski resorts around Colorado. While it’s true that several feet of snow has fallen in the last couple of days, it takes more than quantity to make for “epic” conditions. Unfortunately much of Colorado has been experiencing a phenomena familiar to Californian skiers – something known as “Sierra Cement”. I got to experience this personally on Monday when despite arriving in the middle of a now 5 foot dump, Crested Butte skied like a 5″ day in spring. Having driven 6 hours in a snowstorm to get there, it was a tad disappointing to say the least. It snowed the entire time we were in town and while it all looked beautiful and everyone treated us great we hightailed it out of town the next morning hoping for a change of luck and praying for a drop in temperature.

Now that's more like it...

Fortunately the gods decided to be kind to us and reward our efforts at our next stop – Monarch Mountain. Monarch is your classic local ski hill – super friendly folks, fun terrain and lots of hidden stashes. While the majority of visitors seemed to be sporting Texas accents, that generally only scares the locals way and leaves more untracked for those willing to go off the beaten trail. We had come expecting little in the way of powder so were immediately energized when we discovered lots of good old fashioned Colorado fluff in the parking lot. It wasn’t bottomless “blower pow” but more than enough to make our day. There wasn’t a lot of competition in the woods so we spent several hours whooping it up in the trees as the video below can testify.

After the day was done I tried to talk my compatriot into chasing some more powder at Wolf Creek but the fear of heavy (as in wet) snow combined with the incredible responsibilities of producing the most accurate snow forecast in Colorado led him to decline. Sadly I eventually made my way back to Boulder having learned once again that while you may never know what the snow will be like until you actually get on the mountain  –  if you get out there often enough you will eventually be rewarded and those are the days you’ll remember when you’re planning your next adventure…

Dec 17 2010

The powder keeps on coming – Mary Jane 12/16/10

I thought I was going to sleep in today but when my phone rang at 6 am I knew those plans were out the window. Sure enough Mary Jane called 10″ and the double digit rule was immediately in effect. Sooner than you can say I-70 we were on the mountain and enjoying some very nice turns. Now while I may own a video production company, I’m still working out the kinks for shooting ski video. I’ve been trying to get by with my still camera but as todays water spotted and hand held footage shows, it’s not really meant for snow and I find myself stopping too frequently to get shots. However, yesterday my very nice employees got me a big gift card to REI so a helmet cam may be in my very near future. Stay tuned to see if I can do it justice…

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.

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…

Nov 5 2009

And now for something completely different

Silverton Mountain is a backcountry skier/riders dream. Located deep in the San Juan Mountains it has super steep terrain and is regularly hammered with big storms. Because the base is at 10,400’, the lift goes to 12,300′ and the hiking tops out at 13,487’ it typically provides great early and late season conditions.  The place is run by Aaron and Jen Brill who basically designed, built and now manage the mountain – it’s basically my dream of what I would like to have in my backyard – a single lift that accesses tons of steep powder laden terrain. I try to make it there at least once a year for the unguided skiing (early and late season only) but it’s a long ways away (7 hours by car over hairy roads) and can be a somewhat frustrating experience at times (try to imagine doing avalanche control on almost 2000 acres subject to huge storms with just you and your friends to help – it takes time). But on every day I’ve been there I  have had at least one run that rivals the quality of heli and cat operations at ski hill prices.

Speaking of helicopters, amazingly enough Silverton added one to their mountain last year. This is sort of like your favorite burger joint adding lobster thermidore to their menu because prior to this the only amenity Silverton offered was a yurt with a wood stove and some post skiing beer.  And this morning I found this link to Red Bull Project X where they used the helicopter to help build a half pipe for Shaun White there – what will they think of next! Well worth checking out – they obviously spent a lot of money to make this happen and the website, pictures and video are all high quality.

And on one final note,  Silverton needs our help to allow this all to continue happening. They’ve added a new bus (with seats, no less!),  are trying to open more terrain early season and increase the number of unguided days. But they can’t do it if we only show up on dump days so if you can, get your butt down there early season – you’ll be a better man (or woman) for it.

Nov 2 2009

It’s Miller Time

they're not the only ones with a heli

they're not the only ones with a heli

Warren Miller is doing their annual movie tour and while they’re certainly not the most radical movies out there, it is fun to see the powder porn with a crowd and more importantly get a free lift ticket for your efforts. The ticket is usually only good for an early season day (0r two for one mid season) at Copper Mountain or Winter Park/Mary Jane but it means you’re basically seeing the movie for free and I find it handy to have a non season pass for an early season poach days at one of those hills.

Also here’s a link to a crash highlight video they’ve put up online if you like that kind of stuff.

Oct 6 2009

First turns 09

Those lucky folks in Silverton get in some of the earliest and latest skiing during the season. Check out this video of some first turns.