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…

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…

Nov 17 2009

It’s On!

Wolf Creek 10/09

Wolf Creek 10/09

True powder hounds know that with the right combination of time and resources you can find powder everyday of the year. It may require a long hike or a helicopter or even a trip to the Southern Hemisphere, but somewhere there’s fresh tracks waiting to be had. However, since most of us have limited time and funds, we have to pray for powder that’s more easily accessible and it certainly doesn’t hurt if there’s a lift involved. That’s why we so eagerly await the start of the season and the first real storms rolling in. In Colorado, the pickings are still pretty slim but things are looking a little better after last weekends storm.  Once again it was a southwestern storm with Wolf Creek the big winner picking up 30″ and allowing them to open the entire mountain for our skiing/riding pleasure. Aspen/Snowmass also picked up about 2 feet but will not be opening till Thanksgiving. All of the Summit County resorts are now open with unfortunately very limited terrain and snow and Vail opens this Friday but from the looks of their web cams it doesn’t look like a can’t miss event either.

Mount Baker 11/12

Mount Baker 11/12 photo: Blair Habenicht rider: Tarek Husevold -

On the other hand, if you’ve got the time and the money or are just a gluton for punishment, check out what’s been happening in the Pacific Northblessed. Mt Baker opened last Thursday with a 6 foot base and tons of fresh which spawned these giddy reports from and Snowboard Magazine. And across the border in my favorite neighbor country, Whistler opened Saturday with a 73″ base and 134″ this year to date. If you’ve been thinking about moving to Canada (as I do every winter) these videos and photos from the biggest mountain in North America should further motivate you.