Ski Washington Challenge - David's Diary

Blog documenting my progress on the Ski Washington Challenge

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hurricane Ridge

Today marked the twelfth ski area I have visited in Washington since mid-November. Just in time for Christmas, Hurricane Ridge opened for alpine activities today. Barring some unforeseen generous benefactor(s) (?), this will be the last area I visit on the Ski Washington Challenge. Staying in the car has helped to keep my budget very reasonable so far, but the price of admission for Cascade Powder Cats and North Cascade Heli-Skiing is a little beyond my means at this point.

Hurricane Ridge opened to an eager public today, running both rope tows, with the Poma likely to be ready in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately today was not a very good day for enjoying the off-piste, as the avalanche rating was in the highest category. So I kept to the main trail, and enjoyed a brief day of rope towed boarding. The road opened later than usual this morning (around 11:15) due to the snowfall from the previous night, which measured around six inches. I was thankful that they did finally get the road open, and had the tows running when I made it to the top. Although somewhat disappointed to not have the Poma open, I was happy to get some more use out of the Tow Guards I had purchased at Leavenworth.

The one thing that struck me most was the beauty of the area. The views in the late morning were spectacular, and the terrain in the Olympics is an amazing sight. The ski area itself sits atop the windswept ridge after which it is named, and the "intermediate" rope tow drops you off at mid-hill or up at the windy peak itself. You drop to the right, and then have the choice of a ride back down to the tow, or a route out onto a ridge, with a sweeping, perfect bowl to the left, sporting a sizable cornice. With avalanche in the forecast, and nobody to drive me back up to the tow, I decided to restrict my activity to the lift-served terrain, but I did get the vicarious thrill of watching a number of boarders and skiers tear up the fresh powder on the bowl, which was deep and smooth. Snow at the top was measured at 85 inches.

I did get my share of runs in, despite the late opening. I enjoyed the fresh coverage from the night before, and tried making a few passes over the natural jumps that formed along the left side of the ski run. I managed to catch a little air without making too much of a fool of myself, so I kept doing laps on the tow and hitting the smaller jumps on my way back to grab the rope again. Eventually my hands needed a rest, so I headed to the nice, though small, lodge, to enjoy some chicken strips and a Coke. Sated, and with my hands feeling a little relief, I headed back to the hill for another 90 minutes or so, and when I felt my hands begin to tire, and noted the sky closing in, made the call to hit the road. It was a short day, but with a rope tow the first few days are hard work - my hands simply aren't conditioned for the endurance that a full day on the tow requires.

So I beat the traffic off the hill, and made my way back to Olympia, where I sit now drinking my iced mocha, contemplating the experience of snowboarding twelve Washington ski areas in five weeks. It was a great adventure, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who seeks to know the hills in their neighborhood. It didn't require any days off from work, just a little dedication, and some driving. None of the areas were more than a day's drive away, although Loup Loup and 49º North were near the limit of a one day drive. Each of the areas had something different to offer, and all of them have enjoyed a very good snow year so far. Thanks for sharing this experience with me, and I look forward to seeing you on the mountains of the Pacific Northwest this season, and in years to come. Happy holidays, and many blessings for the new year. Let it snow!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Leavenworth Ski Hill

After completing the Ski Washington Challenge on Saturday, I decided to keep visiting more areas, and dropped by Leavenworth Ski Hill on my way back to Portland. The hill here opens late, but stays open a bit late, too. It was nice to sleep in a little, and the drive from Wenatchee to Leavenworth is a very quick one. I was on the hill before they started running the rope tows, and had a chance to check out the tubing hill. Since the "play all day" pass is only $15 and includes rope tows, tubing and cross country, I decided to splurge.

I spent the morning learning the value of "Tow Guards" after destroying my gloves. These leather covers are a must for folks who want to ride the tow - too bad I didn't know. I had never riden a rope tow before, and my first attempt ended rather abruptly. On my second try, however, I had learned my lesson as far as riding the lift, and made it all the way to the top. Of course, I took one look at my gloves and decided I would be picking up a pair of "Tow Guards" before taking another ride on the rope.

I spent the rest of the morning enjoying the powder and groomers, and taking a few turns on the single jump that was set up on the upper slope. There was still a fair amount of untracked powder on the upper part of the slope, and the groomers were in very good shape. Of course, Leavenworth Ski Hill is small enough that there is basically just one run down from the top, and likewise one run down on the bunny hill. I did try them both. Eventually my grip began to give out, and I had to take a break from the tow.

By the early afternoon, it was clearly time to start my "90 minute session" on the tubing hill. One of the staff had not tried the hill yet, and offered to join me, but I was not able to locate them until after I had taken a couple of runs. The tubing hill was clearly the most popular feature at Leavenworth, and for good reason. The hill is long enough and steep enough to make for some truly speedy tubing, and includes a set of banked turns at the bottom. The walls of these turns are close to ten feet tall, and send the tubes into a hard left turn, followed by a right turn back to the base of the tow.

Early in the day, folks were starting at the top of the hill, and getting a lot of speed - so much that a few were even clearing the banked turns and leaving the course. The launching area was moved down the hill, which helped to prevent tubes from speeding over the berms, and the staff continued to shape the course throughout the day. It was busy at first, but as the day wore on, the crowd thinned out, until the wait for a ride became very short.

Finally, as the crowd thinned, the staff member who had not yet tried the tubing hill came to try a run. I waited at the top, and then went first to show the way. The staff member followed, and went sailing over the berm at the bottom of the hill. They tried a second run, and the same thing happened. Toward the end of the day, after quite a few exciting runs on the large size tubes, I decided to try my luck on a smaller tube. The smaller tube made for a very quicker run than the full size tube.

Still, I had seen a few folks go over the berm, and I was itching for my chance. On the last run, I finally got the speed I needed, and I made the crest of the outside turn, sliding over the wall and out into the ski run. I made it halfway to the bunny hill rope tow before I jumped up off the tube. It was a great finale to my weekend of snow riding, and I left Leavenworth wholly satisfied that my $15 was well spent.

Sorry, no photos from Leavenworth due to technical difficulties with the memory card in my camera.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Loup Loup

My plan had been to head to Hurricane Ridge today, but they were closed due to very high winds. It turned out to be a very good thing, as I changed course for Loup Loup, where I enjoyed a spectacular opening day with untracked powder and sunny skies. There was a pretty good turnout for the opening day, but there was still no waiting for a chair (other than first chair), and no crowds on the slopes. On the ride up, the only tracks in the powder were from Ski Patrol, and it was clear from these that the top layer was about 10 inches deep.

Reaching the top, I made my way back to the liftline run, known as "Volunteer", and proceeded to enjoy the satisfaction of first tracks on fresh powder from top to bottom. It was deep and dry, with a very nice base underneath. Perfect for cruising, and deep enough that it required attention to preventing any nose-diving. It was a fantastic first run, and I quickly made a few more down neighboring runs, with no trouble finding untouched lines in the deep stuff. After I finally wore myself out with powder runs, I explored the groomers, and in no time I had made my way to every trail.

Loup Loup is a smaller area, and only serviced by one fixed quad, with nothing extremely steep, and nothing really flat except for the runouts. All the runs are really cruisers, with about half of them groomed, and the others were all untouched powder this morning. Loup Loup also boasts some new renovations which make it a much more attractive destination than it was in previous years. Top on the list is the new restroom facility that was just completed this morning. Folks on the lifts told stories of concrete outhouses with no heat and the difficulty this presented in bringing women to the hill. No more. Now they have top of the line bathrooms, with automatic infrared everything, and heated floors! Nothing beats radiant floor heat in a ski resort bathroom.

I stopped for lunch at the lodge, which was very cramped with the opening day crowds, and was lucky enough to score a heat on the fireplace. I enjoyed lunch and a cold St. Pauli Girl Special Dark while sitting with my backside warming by the fire. After a hearty dose of chicken strips and fries, I went back to do it all over again, and made more fresh tracks until it was time to go. I even got adventurous enough to make a little tree run down to the cross-country trail and hike back up to the lift - there were some awesome trees and untouched powder down there that I just couldn't resist. Overall, Loup Loup was a great choice for today - I'm very happy that I was able to make it on such a perfect day here.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mount Spokane

I decided to sleep in a little later this morning, knowing that the drive to Mount Spokane would be a short one, but that the drive in the evening would require me to be well rested. There was freezing fog overnight, which made the drive a little dicier than expected, but I made it safely to the mountain before the chairs started turning. I decided to avoid the crowd by starting out at Chair 1, which also meant a much more convenient parking spot at the secondary lodge there. It had been a fairly dreary morning in Spokane, but the clouds parted as I arrived at the base of the mountain, and there were clear skies and amazing views. I began with a few runs down the groomers on Chair 1, which are comfortably steep - really good for cruising. Then I worked my way around the mountain, with a trip down to Chair 2 and then a few runs on the backside at Chair 4. Having familiarized myself with the layout, I proceeded to check out all the runs I could manage.

Some of the areas on Teakettle were quite exposed, with rocks in abundance, but there were stashes of powder in between, so I couldn't resist. I made my way from there down B-29, and then back around for another pass on Chair 1. I kept making laps, looking for powder in the trees, and practicing my mogul busting skills. Eventually I even made it to the terrain park, although it was busy enough that I only caught a few jumps on my way down. Particularly challenging was Exterminator, where the moguls were approaching car size, and the runout required plenty of speed to clear a long uphill. For the most part, the groomed runs were fast and smooth, and the powder was hiding in the trees.

The weather was really nice in the morning, with snow starting in the afternoon and getting heavier as I departed. I finally left the hill when the clouds completely enveloped the mountain, and visibility became too low to see the next lift tower ahead. I certainly got my fill of turns, and the Riblet fixed double chairs reminded me of Skibowl, my favorite little ski area at home. It has been great fun to board all over the state of Washington. I am looking forward to area number ten next weekend when Hurricane Ridge opens for the season.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

49º North

Last night I made the drive to Spokane, leaving work a little early (thanks guys!) and arriving around 9pm. Some good friends were willing to take me in, so no sleeping in the car this weekend, mercifully. Considered my options for today and decided to make the trek to 49º North. Got up extra early and headed out to grab coffee for the drive, and made it to the parking lot comfortably early. Had time to get myself into my gear before the ticket windows opened, and made it to the line early enough to enjoy the first chair (after ski patrol, of course) on Bonanza, a comfy fixed double. Made a quick run down the pristine groomers and managed to score first chair on the second day of operations for the new #5 chair, the Sunrise Quad.

I had a chance to speak to the locals about the great improvement that the quad brought for 49 degrees. by making terrain that previously had a very long runout into an easily accessed bowl. Needless to say, the morning was busy on that side of the hill, so to get away from the crowds, I slipped over to the #4 chair, called simply "West Basin". The terrain on this side is a nice mix of smooth and steep, though it was still only lightly covered, as evidenced by the large number of bushes and trees poking up through the snow. It made for challenging runs on some of the terrain, dodging bushes, stumps and bumps. Overall, however, coverage was very decent, and the groomers were actually fantastic.

The morning was sunny and cool, and I managed to keep on my feet enough to make quite a few runs before lunch time, exploring the majority of the slopes before taking my meal break. Where the snow wasn't tracked out, the powder was still dry and light, and even the tracked out portions remained loose enough for cruising. There were some good gladed areas as well, although many were very well travelled, simply because the runs were so easy to access. After my stop for lunch, and a chocolate dunkel ale, I headed back out to find that it was snowing. The afternoon was spent enjoying freshies all over the hill, until cruising in a little after 3pm to head back into town.

Great area, nothing really terribly steep, but plenty of well-placed trees and wide-open cruisers. I also noted that the terrain park boasted a variety of brand-new rails, which the snowboarders seemed to all be enjoying. There was plenty at 49º to keep me busy for the day, and I left very satisfied with the quality of the snow and the variety of runs. The drive from Spokane was also surprisingly easy.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Summit at Snoqualmie

The Summit at Snoqualmie is essentially four different ski areas that merged into one complex. The economies of scale are unquestionable, and Snoqualmie is a resort of variations. We explored three areas today, beginning in Summit West, the middle area. To the east, Summit Central, and then across Interstate 90 to visit Alpental. Beginning at West made sense, because it gave us a chance to start with the relatively easy, well groomed terrain of that area, where a snowboarder on her fourth day of snowboarding could feel comfortable and really explore. Beginning with "Little Thunder" we worked our way from green terrain, then to blue on "Pacific Crest" and finally to black diamonds on "Wild Side". Of course, I didn't let on that the terrain was rated black diamond until she was past the hard part. Not bad - a black diamond run on the fourth day boarding.

After that series of runs and mutliple traverses, my companion was ready to take a break, so we grabbed the shuttle to go to Central, where she settled in for some hot chocolate and a muffin while I headed off to hit some moguls, run some trees, and catch some hits in the terrain park. Known as "Central Park", the terrain park was spacious and well laid out, with a few medium-large jumps supplementd by smaller sets of jumps that were more to my liking. There was also a generous assortment of boxes and rails, although I mostly was using these as jumps, too. Central had only one express quad serving the park, and as this was the first week of operation for the park, which was very popular. I limited myself to one run to avoid the wait for the lift, and took the rest of my runs at Central on the Triple 60 side, checking out the trees and moguls on that side of the hill.

Soon enough, it was lunch time, and rather than wait for the line in the cafeteria at Central, we hopped the shuttle again to visit Alpental. Being the most difficult of the areas, it was not likely to have a long wait for food. My friend took video of me slowly descending the moguls on my first run at Alpental, and then we stopped for a bite. After eating and visiting with a friendly local skier, I had an idea of where to head on the top of the mountain. We headed out for a few runs together on the lower lifts, and then I headed up to the top to take a couple of runs from the Edelweiss chair.

This experts only chair provides access to the backside of the mountain, and has some spectacular views as well as incredible runs. I took my first run in Edelweiss bowl, a beautiful little bowl right below the chair that funnels down between two high ridges where tracks from backcountry skiers were clearly visible. This route down a steep bowl was moderately technically challenging, with a very entertaining runout. My second run from the top, just before they closed the lift, was a double-black called Breakover that runs along the tree line, giving access to small glades and highly technical tree routes. The run also included multiple consecutive three to six foot drops on narrow tracks through trees, making it one of the most technically taxing runs I have experienced.

I cut across the hill to enjoy "Ingrid's Inspiration" on my way back down to the lodge. I had to stop and rest after that, and took in the view of the lodge below. After descending through the mogul field to the lodge, I landed just at eye level with my friend, flat on my face. I was just too tired to hold on for those last three moguls, and fell over on my way to them. I rolled on into the next mogul and then stopped at the patio to unstrap for the day. I could tell I was finished, and went inside to rest for a few moments and discuss the great weekend of snow and sun with my companion before catching the shuttle back to the car and heading for home.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


We arrived in Dayton, WA around 12:45 am on Saturday, and pulled into the Bluewood Motel, where we picked up our ski vouchers as part of the stay and play package. A few minutes later, we were snug in our bed, resting up after the long drive from Portland, anticipating a beautiful day on the slopes. This weekend, a coworker decided to join me on my trip to Washington, so I elected to splurge on accomodations, rather than sleep in the car. It was a good choice.

The drive to Bluewood was a scenic one, and not very long. Soon we had caught up to a group of fellow snow enthusiasts taking the 23 mile drive from Dayton, and before we knew it, we were pulling boots and boards from the car, preparing for the slopes. The road up was packed snow, which made me happy for having installed snow tires Thursday evening. After exchanging our vouchers for lift tickets, we suited up and headed for the Triple Nickel, a fixed triple that serves the smaller side of Bluewood. My companion had only been snowboarding twice before, so I joined her for a few runs on the beginner hill before she sent me off to explore the rest of the mountain. Her first few runs were pretty slow, but she showed spirit and enthusiasm, and was cruising the slopes confidently in no time.

Having set her on her way, I started to explore the runs, beginning with the cat tracks and working my way toward the steeper runs. The hill was servedThe snow was wonderfully light and dry, and the groomed runs were in great shape. I enjoyed cruising around the outside edges and then started down some of the blacks. I spent the morning exploring the groomers, and then after a corn dog and french fry lunch it was time to take another run at the bunny hill and see how my friend was progressing. She had made enormous progress during the day, and was now making it all the way to the bottom without stopping. I was impressed!

Having established that my companion was doing well, I started to take some runs on the ungroomed trails, and then in the trees. This is really where I discovered what Bluewood is all about. The tree skiing here is incredible. This is not a huge ski area, but every inch of it appears to be open - no roped off sections, no cliffs, just a lot of terrain with perfectly spaced trees at ridable angles from steep to easy. Most folks stayed on the groomers, which were in great shape, dry, smooth and fast, but a few adventurous folk went into the trees. Although much traffic centered around the marked canyons on the map, one could find huge areas of virgin or near virgin powder untracked through the trees here. There are areas of tight spaced trees, and tree-farm spaced trees, and areas with fallen trees to jump and jib. I spent my last few runs of the day diving through the trees, cutting lines in fresh powder, enjoying a sunny and beautiful day in the desert. After one last run down the bunny slope as a cool down, I caught up to my companion, and we decided to call it a day. Time to hit the road again for the next destination.