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…

Jan 15 2010

The answer my friend…

still chasing the dream

still chasing the dream

The weather has been a big factor on this trip. Every day we seem to highlight a different meteorological feature and today’s winner was the wind. We started the day by going back to Tropicana where we had great fun two days ago. When we got out of the helicopter we were greeted by winds gusting to at least 60 MPH. This makes for both tricky skiing and of course difficult flying. Our pilot today was Ben and there’s a saying around the lodge that goes “Ben would do it”. He certainly did a masterful job today because shortly after the flying started snow and fog joined the wind for the perfect bad flying weather trifecta. Despite that we managed to get 5 runs in before heading back to the lodge for lunch.  After our food break we headed out for a few more before the weather gods shut down the heli for the day.

the cat patrol

the cat pack waiting for a ride

As I’ve mentioned before Snowwater has cat backup for just this kind of weather. So midafternoon we all piled in and headed back up the hill. While we all would rather have been flying in the bird, the cat does have its’ advantages. It’s a much more social place with tunes and plenty of good conversation. It’s also a great place to take a nap if the urge hits. And at Snowwater while the cat terrain is short, it’s also steep and lots of fun. Adding to the excitement is the mad rush that occurs when 13 powder junkies all see a steep untracked powder laden slope below them. The guides do their best to spread us out but patience seems to decrease in direct proportion to how much new snow is on the ground. Fortunately there’s plenty of lines for everyone and there’s an extra rush of adrenaline when people go flying by you as you make your way down the hill.

lining up for the next chinese downhill

Tara and friends lining up for the next Chinese Downhill

All in all it was another fun day out on the hill. Where the wind hasn’t compressed the snow, it’s still quite soft and deep. And for tomorrow there’s rumors of another weather feature we have yet to see – the sun. Bring it on!

Jan 11 2010

No more pineapple!


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.

Dec 9 2009

Damn that’s cold!

How does Hawaii sound about now? Kelly Slater in the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau competition in Waimea Bay, Hawaii held yesterday for the first time in 5 years.  Photo: Michael Goulding/Associated Press

How does Hawaii sound right about now? Kelly Slater in the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau competition in Waimea Bay, Hawaii held yesterday for the first time in 5 years. Photo: Michael Goulding/Associated Press

My season has gotten off to a very slow start due to a combination of recovering from shoulder surgery and the general lack of snow in Colorado. This week I was looking to break the drought as my doc says it’s only a pain issue now and big storms were promised. Today was going to be the test drive day for the shoulder and although the storms did not produce as promised for the northern mountains (snowforecast.com actually apologized for over forecasting as is their tendency) it still seemed like a good idea till I saw something in the National Weather Service forecasts that I have never seen before – a “Wind Chill Warning” for the mountains. They’re always posting expected wind chill readings but I guess when it reaches “30 below to 50 below above 10,00 feet” – that merits a warning. So instead I decided to stay home and do some nice warm surfing on the web.

Speaking of surfing, thanks to a huge swell in the Pacific, they held the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau competition in Waimea Bay, Hawaii yesterday for the first time in 5 years.  Strangely enough I first saw something about it in the New York Times which had a small slide show and article. I then went straight to the source on the Quiksilver website where they had a great collection of videos from the event – well worth checking out.

Meanwhile, back in Colorado, the Southern mountains did get pounded with 51 inches on Wolf Creek Pass, 42 inches on Coal Bank Pass, and 46 inches near Irwin Lodge north of Crested Butte.  Further north the highest snow total at a resort was 12″ at Snowmass so not a huge amount of help there but there’s another storm headed our way this weekend so hopefully we’ll have better luck with that. I personally am feeling a strong need to head to Wolf Creek and start my season in style so I’ll be heading there sometime this week – I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Nov 24 2009

El Nino?

Could El Nino lead to this? - GCH 2008

Could El Nino lead to this? - GCH 2008

So the NOAA through the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center says that this will be a El Nino winter for the Northern Hemisphere.  This typically means drier conditions for the Pacific Northwest and wetter conditions for the Southern United States. If you look at this 3 month precipitation probability chart it basically shows that Colorado has an equal chance of being above or below normal precipitation till at least spring. If you probe deeper, NOAA says that Colorado likely will get fewer storms but that the storms they do get may be greater in intensity – in other words snowpack may be fine but less powder days.  El Nino can also mean lots of upslope storms (particularly in the spring) like the two we’ve had already this year. Upslope storms come from the southwest (good for Telluride, Durango, Siverton, Aspen and especially Wolf Creek) and can bless the mountains closest to the divide (Monarch, Loveland, A- Basin, Eldora) with some very good dumps. However, the farther you get from the divide (Summit County, Vail) the less snow you see. So far this has been pretty much what we’ve seen as the Southwest has gotten decent snow whereas Vail is sitting at 40% of it’s usual snowpack.

However, looking at the bigger Northern Hemisphere picture we see how unpredictable snow patterns usually are. The Pacific Northwest has seen record snowfall this year with Whistler recording over 200 inches of snow already and breaking it’s November snow total record halfway through the month. Mount Baker got 190 inches in 20 days and all my favorites in BC are reporting great starts. And during the last El Nino winter of 2006/2007, Whistler got 16 feet more than usual during what some experts described as a hundred-year winter on British Columbia’s North Coast.

So what does this all mean? There’s an old saying in Colorado that only fools and newcomers try and predict the weather. As always I’m hedging my bets – I went light on the passes this year but did get an Aspen Classic card and some Loveland 4-paks just in case El Nino plays out like it’s supposed to. As usual, for the closest thing to a sure thing I’m headed to BC in January and am thinking about Alaska in April. But for now, I’m just waiting for it to really start snowing somewhere, anywhere in Colorado, home sweet home…