Feb 25 2012

Working the Winter


Nothing like a winter wonderland

It’s been a tricky winter for Colorado Front Range powder hounds. Unlike last year, when there was record breaking snow totals close by, this year has required some real effort to find the fresh. Fortunately for me I’ve had the flexibility to chase some storms and good luck when the snow did fall locally.


Morning alpenglow on the way to Silverton

One part of Colorado that has not lacked for snow has been the Southwest. Silverton Mountain seems to do well no matter where the storms are coming from but does particularly well in southwest flow which has been our main weather pattern this year. Having not been there for several years and desperate for some deep I headed there in late January to see what was new in their world.


It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Silverton's latest toy...

As it turns they have added some major additions to their repertoire. The milk truck has been replaced by buses with comfy seats but more notable is the helicopter that now permanently resides there. This allows access to terrain which previously would have been unreachable unless you wanted to hike the entire day.


Nothing like a little morning stroll...

As you can see from the photo below Silverton has some excellent sustained pitch and plenty of snow. My issue has always been the required group guiding – invariably I end up with some folks who don’t belong on the mountain and this trip was no exception. We started our day with a 1000′ vertical hike (photo above – we hiked to just below the billboard at top) which led to the terrain in the photo below. The hike was challenging and the run fun but by 2:00 I had only gotten in one other run and was a tad frustrated. At that point I switched to the helicopter (they were running a two for one special) which got me to some new terrain but nothing to write home about (or more accurately, not necessarily worth driving 7 hours for).


Been there, done that...

I was supposed to spend two days at Silverton but couldn’t bear to spend another full day getting just 5 runs and besides there was a storm coming from the north so I decided to head back. I originally intended to check out Powderhorn but when Vail called 12″ and still snowing I changed tracks and drove like a madman to catch the opening of the back bowls. I don’t have any footage or pics from that day because the snow was so sweet and deep that no one wanted to waste time taking footage so you’ll just have to believe when I tell you it was truly epic.

Eldora Rules Again 2/3/12

And speaking of epic, while I have flown all over North America sampling powder I have never ridden any better snow than the 24″ in 24 hours that Eldora got on February 3rd. The video above doesn’t do it justice but anyone who was there will surely agree that it was as light as it gets. This was my third great day at Eldora this season as those same storms that pound the southern mountains often deliver big upslope snows to the front range.


It's good to be home...

One place that had been notably missing from my usual winter rotation was Berthoud Pass. Besides the fact there has been very little snow, what did fall in the early season has become a very shaky and dangerous base in the backcountry. By this time I would normally have quite a few days on the pass but this year my first was in mid February when the avy report finally lowered the danger rating to a tolerable level. As always, like the picture above indicates, there was fun to be had but the terrain options were severely limited. It still was mighty nice to visit one of my favorite spots and the photo below gives you a good idea of why I keep going back there.

In the white room

But no matter what the year there is always one place that comes through for me and that is Wolf Creek. This year of course every one has heard about the great snow that falls during a southwest storm track and I have never seen so many front rangers on the mountain. Still if you’re willing to hike there are always fresh lines to be had so my friend Kevin and I made a pilgrimage to the shrine to pay our respects.


Bitten by the Wolf once again...

Just to remind myself that these trips don’t always work out as planned I tried to go to Vail this past Thursday when they called 12″ at 5:00 am. The only catch was that I-70 was closed at various spots but managed to make it to the tunnel before being shut down for 90 minutes. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Vail later downgraded their report to 2″ (never seen that before). Instead I ended up at Loveland where the snow was sweet but was so damn windy and cold that there was no chance I’d be taking off my gloves for any pictures. All in all it’s been quite a month, full of long road trips, a small taste of the backcountry and some amazing (but infrequent) local powder and as always, well worth the effort…

Nov 8 2011

Let’s get it on – Wolf Creek 11/5-6/11

Back in the powder again

While I had a great summer and a beautiful fall, when the snow starts flying in town my mind turns to winter with its’ many delights. Some years the gods can be cruel and make us snow obsessed folks wait till winter officially starts before delivering natures precious white fluffiness. Fortunately this is not one of those years – at least not at my favorite family owned ski hill better known as Wolf Creek.

Colorado's finest forecaster out doing field work

For two year’s now I’ve been trying to convince Joel Gratz, the man behind OpenSnow (formerly known as Colorado Powder Forecast) that he really needed to check out the mountain that consistently gets the most snow in Colorado. But being a full time meteorologist/web site developer/business owner doesn’t leave a lot of time for long road trips so the timing had to be just right to make it happen. Thankfully, weather and work finally aligned properly and I had the pleasure of having my own personal forecaster for a classic Wolf weekend. I’ll let Joel’s video report tell the story of day one.

Wolf Creek powder on November 5, 2011

Day two promised more of the same.  While Saturday definitely featured some early season conditions by Sunday we were in full winter mode. The ski patrol at Wolf is all about customer service so in no time at all they had all the ridgelines open for our hiking pleasure.

Wolf Creek's version of the Ho Chi Minh trail

The best terrain at Wolf can only be reached by hiking which often makes the mountain feel more like lift accessed backcountry than a traditional ski hill. I personally don’t mind having to earn my turns – if nothing else it helps the endorphins kick in earlier.

On the stairway to heaven...

I tried my best to give Joel the full tour but a patrol induced slide knocked Horseshoe Bowl out of contention. So we had to settle for just ripping up the lovely glades that are everywhere on the mountain. We shot a ton of video, but like most helmet cam footage it’s only really worth watching if you experienced it the first time. Suffice to say, it was well worth the effort.

No place I'd rather be...

The picture above says it all for me. I’m headed into a nice steep pitch in dynamic terrain filled with pristine snow – I couldn’t really have asked for anything for more especially considering it was November 6th! But in fact it wasn’ t that surprising as this was far from the first time that I had the pleasure of bountiful early season freshies at the Wolf and hopefully won’t be the last.

And the scenery on the ride home wasn't bad either...

All in all, it was a great start to what hopefully will be another great season. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it certainly felt good to be back on the snow again. No matter what, I feel blessed to have even one day in these incredible mountains and hope you all feel the same. Happy trails, everyone…

Feb 22 2011

Hail to the Wolf – President’s Day 2011

Hi Mom

It’s been a tough season for Wolf Creek. Their ski patrol director died in an avalanche back in November and seemingly in remorse the snow gods have been withholding their usual bounty from the area. Although I did not know him personally, I’m sure I had met him because I’ve always made it a point to thank the patrollers there for the incredible effort they put in keeping open the entire area for what is often only a few people. This includes extensive hike to terrain where my friend Kevin and I spent most of our weekend enjoying turn after turn of deep untracked snow despite the presence of several thousand Texans who were enjoying the President’s Day Weekend.

A typical turn at the Wolf

If you’ve followed my blog at all you know that Wolf Creek has a special place in my heart. I have had more epic days there than anywhere else but more than that it’s just got a relaxed vibe that you can’t find at the major ski areas. The lifts may be slow and the runs short but few other places can deliver the powder as consistently as the Wolf. This weekend was no exception but the irony was that the supposed bigger snow day (Sunday – 14″ new) was just a tease for Monday (a supposed 6″ in 24 but more realistically overnight) when the sun came out and the crowds went home. We worked hard for our turns but boy were we rewarded as the video below can testify.

So once again we left the mountain shaking our heads at how good the skiing and riding was and how lucky we were to be there. Long live the Wolf!

Mar 15 2010

Wolf Creek and the soul of skiing

Staff photographer and ski sherpa Kevin Edwards taking in the incredible views from atop Knife Ridge at Wolf Creek

In my endless pursuit of powder I’ve traveled all over North America and sampled many a ski area but the one place that has rewarded me the most and feels like home is definitely Wolf Creek, located in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. It’s more than the just the fact that they average 465″ of snow a year, the most of any ski area in Colorado, or that it typically falls several feet at a time. It’s the whole vibe of the place, from the totally backcountry feel of the terrain to the incredible effort that ski patrol does to keep it all open to the reasonably priced and very tasty food they serve, Wolf Creek always does its best to always make you feel like your a special guest in a winter wonderland. I’ve been going to Wolf for over 15 years now and as I always say — the Wolf never disappoints.

Kevin enjoying more than just the view - the Dog Chutes, Wolf Creek

This trip was no exception to the rule – having missed the last several storms at Wolf I was determined not to let another one pass so when Wolf called 8″ and snowing hard Sunday morning, we hopped in the car and headed down. At any other ski area, I would never consider arriving at noon on a powder day no less during spring break but Wolf is different. While there were a ton of Texans in the parking lot, cafeteria, ski school and on the groomed runs, there were none where we were headed  – in the trees and on the ridge lines and bowls. In fact, the tourists seemed to have scared away the locals so there were lot fewer folks than normal on all the prime terrain.

Don't believe it when people tell you Wolf is flat - behold Knife Ridge

Now if you don’t like to hike at a ski resort, then Wolf Creek is a fairly small mountain with slow lifts and a lot of flats. However, if you don’t mind earning your turns, Wolf is as fun as it gets. Their terrain is situated on the Continental Divide and the ridgeline trails you hike are actually part of the Continental Divide trail that you can hike in the summer. In the winter though, they lead to exciting steeps and powder filled bowls. We immediately started climbing and found ourselves virtually alone atop Knife Ridge which soon lead to face shots galore – and the best was yet to come.

On the long...

and winding road...

to Horseshoe Bowl

If you look at a map of Wolf Creek, you’ll notice that on the eastern most point of the mountain, as far away from the base area as you can get, there’s a big wide open bowl named Horseshoe. Now on a normal day day, the hike to Horseshoe is at least 20 minutes, but since this was the first day of spring break, the wonderful folks at Wolf Creek decided to run a cat out there, and since none of the tourists were venturing up on the ridge, it was like having our own private cab; whenever we showed up it was there, empty and ready to go. On top of this, also because it was spring break and the first day of daylight savings time, they kept the ridgeline open till 4 and the mountain open till 5 (!) meaning that although we only got there at noon we didn’t get off the mountain till 5:15 making for an epic half day.

Enjoying the fuits of our labor in Coyote Park, Wolf Creek

By Monday morning they called another 8″ making for 16″ total, a relatively small storm for Wolf but more than enough to make us happy. The cat was not running today so we reverted back to the old fashioned way, hoofing it up Knife Ridge and going out further and further each time till we finally hit the boundary line and nirvana at about the same time. The hike without cat to the farthest point is about an hour loop but worth every minute as the stunning views make you forget how tired your legs are and the run down makes you want to do it all over again.

The happy camper on top of Horseshoe Bowl - that's Alberta Peak, which is also hike to terrain, in the background

On the one hand, I’m very reluctant to publish this post as I want to keep Wolf a secret and uncrowded for as long as possible. On the other, the word is already out and I feel I owe it to all the great folks at Wolf (including the snowboarding owner Davy Pritchard who I’ve met numerous times on the mountain) to give them a public shout out for all the fantastic work they do that’s led to all the incredible days I’ve had there. So as I said more than once this weekend at the top of my lungs while slicing through knee deep snow in a beautiful untracked glade – I LOVE WOLF CREEK!!!

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 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 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 - ESPN.com

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 ESPN.com 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.

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…

Oct 27 2009

Can you feel it coming?

Just another day at the Wolf

Just another day at the Wolf

Yes,  it’s only October and I know there are months to come but there’s a Winter Storm Watch on for the entire state of Colorado and Wolf Creek opens Saturday. Unfortunately, I had shoulder surgery two weeks ago and am nowhere near riding shape so I’m just going to have to dream about the powder and pray that it keeps coming.

Jan 25 2008

Well worth the hike…

Well worth the hike

up to Knife Ridge