Ski Washington Challenge - David's Diary

Blog documenting my progress on the Ski Washington Challenge

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bluewood Powder

Today was a spectacular powder day at Bluewood. It was a Saturday, but you could hardly tell once you were on the hill. No lift line, no crowds, and hardly any tracks from Friday's riders. There was about a foot of very fresh and tasty powder all over, and the trees were in phenomenally good shape. I had an awesome time grabbing powder runs early, then ran into a fellow Mt. High member, and (re)discovered that there was a bus load on site! Somehow it had slipped my mind that they would be at Bluewood, so I had the unexpected pleasure of showing my fellow club members some of the better pow stashes on the hill. What a great day!

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Crystal Mountain Crust

It was a spring-like day today, but with winter temperatures overnight, much of the mountain was hard and crusty. I warmed up on the groomers in the morning, and then headed up to check out the steeps. Warning signs were abundant, advising skiers of the potential for long slides on the hardpacked surface. I opened a dialogue with my chair-mate on High Campbell, and learned where to find the best conditions. I was pleasantly surprised by the chalky, carvable condition of the bumps, and found a number of north-facing spots that were still holding loose snow and softer bumps.

There were ponds forming on the lower mountain, but upper slopes were holding up fairly well. There were certainly rocks to watch out for, but overall the coverage was good enough to keep most runs open. I was breaking in some new boots, which forced me to take a few extra breaks, and the food at the lodge was good enough to keep me smiling between laps.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

White Pass Expanding

White Pass is a great little ski area hidden in the southern Washington Cascades, and it is growing into a great medium sized ski area very soon, with the pending opening of 700 more acres of terrain on an adjacent peak. Lift towers and foundations are in place, awaiting the installation of lift hardware and mobs of happy skiers and snowboarders. Trails have been mostly cut, so it was possible to envision the ski area as it will be when the expansion is complete.

Being a little adventurous, I followed tracks to the base of the new lift, had a look around, and then took the long trail back to the base area. It was well worth a little extra work to see what will be coming for White Pass next year. I predict the new lifts and terrain will be much appreciated. Looks like more great trees and well-planned cruisers for the Yakima crowd.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

49 Degrees North

Although the forecast called for snow at 49 degrees, nature provided a more nuanced mix of precipitation, which tested my fortitude. Gusty winds made the rain and occasional ice pellets an annoyance on the lift rides, while clouds enveloped the upper slopes, making visibility a problem as well. Despite the less than ideal weather, I enjoyed cruising the creamy wet snow that blanketed the groom, and found myself carving up the trails with abandon.

Aside from cruising the groomers, I also poked around some of the steeper ungroomed trails, where I found stashes of powder and got soaking wet enjoying trails with almost no other traffic. Coverage was better than on some of my past visits, but wet heavy snow required trail closures that limited my options a little. Still, I found myself enjoying both the highly carvable groom and the pillowy powder stashes for a few hours, until I remembered the need to get back to Portland.

With a 400+ mile drive ahead of me, I called it a day a little earlier than I usually would to get a head start on the return trip. The fact that it was my seventh day in a row riding may have been a factor as well. Still, it was a great day, and I felt I made the most of it by beating the rush to get back into town.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mt Spokane

I made my traditional pilgrimage to Mt Spokane today, and enjoyed early season conditions. All lifts were open, but cover was thin in spots - "early season conditions exist" is more than a boilerplate warning here. Thankfully I was well prepared to jump over the occasional bare spots, and the groom crew here has done wonders with the snow they have to work with. The snow report indicated a 17 inch base at the bottom, which made the full-mountain opening an impressive feat.

The best riding by far was on the runs at Chair 4, where the clouds were thinner, and the rain less persistent. There were some snowflakes mixed in with the liquid sunshine, but it was one of those days where a second set of dry gloves was appreciated. I did my share of laps cruising the groom, which held up well all day long, but I also spent some time exploring the off-piste, especially off of Chair 1, where there was not much traffic, and therefore ample room for some fresh tracks.

As always, Mt Spokane retains the family feel of a local ski hill, while the lodge offers cozy accomodations for warming one's toes and yummy food for the famished skier. Even though I ended up soaked in the rain, the riding was good enough to keep me on the hill until nearly 3pm, despite this being my sixth day in a row riding. I love Mt Spokane!

After a full day on the hill, the next order of business was attending the Nutcracker suite. As always, the Spokane Symphony provided the pit crew, who provided me with a comp ticket to enjoy a little relaxation at the ballet before heading to another mountain tomorrow.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Leavenworth Ski Hill

I had a great morning at Leavenworth, riding the tow, and found the hill nicely groomed on the lower part. I did laps there until the top was opened, and did a few more laps practicing switch riding and small jumps, and turning to switch on both sides.

I'm not used to the work of holding on to the rope tow, and after my hands gave out I retired to doing laps on the tubes. The beauty of the play all day plan is evident today, as there is no line for the tubes - I get my fill of the tube by lunch time, and examine the construction of the tubing run on my way to the lodge.

This year the banked turns consist of berms made of hay bales with a snow covering, providing a nice thrill, and improved containment compared to the previous season.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Loup Loup

The drive from Wenatchee was good and there was very little traffic; I found ice and snow only on the access road. I started my morning with breakfast at the Red Lion, but could not resist a maple bar at the lodge before the lifts started turning.

Once I was properly ticketed and fed, and the lifts were turning, I scored fourth chair, and had the pleasure of touring some nice grooming all around, and decent snow free from any freeze-thaw.

I was very pleased that the snow was in such good shape after Friday; untracked snow remained in spots, in the trees especially. I was also surprised at the number of cars on the hill, and the lack of a line even with a mostly full parking lot. The Loup's main lift serves a ridge that can really spread the traffic around, making any crowds disappear.

Today was a picture perfect Bluebird day, with excellent cruising on all the groomed runs, powder on the rest of the hill, and no lines. No wonder the locals are so happy.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Summit at Snoqualmie

My trip to The Summit at Snoqualmie turned out to be well-timed, as I found fresh powder in abundance. I started from Summit Central, where I did a few laps off the ridge through the deep powder off the trails. I rode the Triple 60 chair for a few laps of fluff, then braved the lift line at the Central Express for a quick ride to scope the terrain park. I rode the powder along the rope line, carving deep turns right down the hill as I watched the locals enjoying the ample jibbing opportunities provided in "Central Park".

Not being a big fan of rail riding, I moved on to the east part of Summit Central, and a triple chair that serves some of the finest slopes at the Summit. I did a few laps in the area before curiosity got the best of me and I took the "I-90" crossover to Summit East. It turns out that you need a very large amount of speed for this trail, or you can plan on some skating - and there is no warning sign, so consider this your final notice.

After making the long trek to Summit East, I found a double chair with some crowding issues, and only did a few laps before beginning the trek back to Central. Having tired of the lines at Summit East, I checked the time, and realized I should get to Alpental while I still could do a couple of laps on the Edelweiss chair. I rode the crossover back (again, long flat trail) to Central, took the lift to the top and then rode straight down to the bottom to catch the shuttle.

After arriving at Alpental, I took a ride up Armstrong to find that the Edelweiss chair had a twenty minute line. I elected to do a few laps on the lower mountain before getting in line. The lower mountain was in pretty good shape for the afternoon, but soon I had the urge to get to the top, so I made my way into line and began the slow waddle toward the summit.

Twenty minutes later I was whisked away up the hill, into clouds that were just starting to break up. My timing was very good as the weather finally broke in time for me to enjoy a couple of runs. I took my first around the ridge and down a chute on the Edelweiss side, and then took the plunge on Upper International for my second run.

I had never had the chance to ride the back part of Alpental, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of space and the quality of the terrain. I made quick work of the bowl, and then skirted my way through powder to the area known as Snake Dance. Here the trail runs into a gladed area of steep trees, where the snow had held up very well through the day, and I found plenty of fresh lines through the trees. I remembered Alpental as a special place, and this visit only reinforced my memory.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

White Pass

Today I made my way to White Pass, and was rewarded with an easy drive, followed by fresh snow all day long. The cold temperatures over the last week kept the slopes in very good condition, and with fresh snow falling, it was a great day to be riding. I spent the morning checking out all the groomers, and then ran into some folks from Mountain High around noon.

I did a couple of laps with my club-mates, and they showed me some runs I had not yet discovered, which led me into new territory for the afternoon. I really came to appreciate the relative lack of crowds, and found plenty of fresh tracks all day due to the ongoing snowfall.

Last year a number of runs were closed due to lack of coverage when I arrived, and some were off-limits due to deep powder. The base was much more mature on this visit, and the mountain was 100% open. I had a chance to explore the cliff areas that were closed on my last visit, as well as some of the outer runs off Holiday that were too deep to ride when I came to White Pass last year.

This is a great little ski area, with the advantage of being farther from major cities than most others in the cascades, which keeps the crowds in check. I found challenge in the mogul fields and trees, and enjoyed the very well groomed cruisers and packed powder off-piste. It was a great day to be at White Pass.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stevens Pass

It turned out to be a beautiful day at Stevens Pass today, partially overcast, but with excellent visibility. There was a nice dusting of fresh snow overnight, and all the lifts were running today, so I made a break for the backside to explore the runs that were off-limits on my last visit.

The backside of the ridge at Stevens provides a great sustained pitch, and has huge potential on powder days. There were still many choice lines to be turned, but there was also a fair amount of crusty/icy snow, which made for a less-than-perfect day off piste. Nevertheless, I made a number of laps on the backside, exploring the trees and hunting for powder stashes.

Once I was warmed up, I decided to check out some of the "Double Diamond" territory on the front side of the ridge. Signs clearly indicate that this is expert terrain, with unmarked cliffs and other obstacles - consider yourself warned. The terrain is extremely steep, and heavily forested, but there were plenty of small clearings and powder shots in the trees, so I did a few laps here as well. I would advise anyone exploring this area for the first time to proceed very slowly, or take a local as a guide.

There were fresh tracks to be had in the Double Diamond area all afternoon, and no crowds, but eventually I had the urge to see how the front side was doing, and made my way down to the base area for some less extreme riding. The grooming was very good, and even late into the afternoon I found untracked corduroy along the edges of the trails.

Finally my legs started to remind me of the time, and I packed it in so I could make the drive back to Portland before the Seattle-bound crowd made the road too slow. The drive into town went quite smoothly, so I stopped to post my blog from the Trabant Chai Lounge in the University district. This has become my regular blog and coffee stop since I learned last season that it was founded by a high school classmate - and it has been repeatedly voted the best coffee shop in Seattle, too.

The Ski Area list is growing shorter week by week, and I foresee only two more weekends before I complete my planned itinerary for Washington. Stay tuned for updates as I wrap up another Ski Challenge for 2008.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hurricane Ridge

Today was a snow day at Hurricane Ridge, but I missed by just a little on the timing. It appears that the Poma lift will not be open until tomorrow - so once again I spent the day on the rope tow. Hearsay indicated that today was inspection day for the Poma lift - but I wasn't really waiting for it to open anyway. The rope tow provided me a good workout, and there was fresh snow all day.

Hurricane Ridge is a small hill, but the real action is the backcountry. There is a great deal of terrain available along the ridge for those willing to hike back to the top, and the tracks of skiers and boarders were very visible. I was not in the mood for that much activity, still recovering from my Idaho marathon, and contemplating the resources needed to fully exploit Stevens Pass tomorrow.

Still, this is a great hill for cruising, and by noon most folks are worn out from the tow, so the line is gone and you can do laps until you drop. I made it to about 1:30 before my hands called it a day. On to another hill...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain was one area that I had a very disappointing visit to last season, when I made the trip too early in the year and found rain and rocks with only the lower mountain open. This year was the polar opposite - a perfect fresh powder dump, a brand new lift, and every chair running all day long. I started by attempting to cruise to the far right to score some powder, not realizing that I was needing to make it to a gated entrance. Visibility was poor for the first few runs, and I managed to end up in a depression, forced to hike out through thigh deep powder on my first run. I learned my lesson, and headed back to the base to start again.

This time, I headed to the top, riding the High Campbell chair to access the southern bowl, where I traversed to find incredible powder - and experienced my first true face-shots of powder. Plumes of the fine white stuff enveloped me as I turned cleanly down the face, and it was a most exhilarating feeling to be cutting fresh tracks on such a perfect slope, with the trees spaced just right, and the snow flying. Unfortunately the sheer volume of snow blocked the lens on my helmet cam, leaving me with no permanent record of the turns - but my memory is vivid.

After cruising Campbell, and a few laps in Green Valley, I made my way to the Northway traverse, and boot-packed up the ridge, only to find a helpful ski patroller at the top advising folks to cut back away from the north bowl, due to somewhat thin cover. She gave us the goods, and described the ideal line to take off the nose of the ridge, and down through some well spaced and untracked trees to the bottom. More powder turns in tighter trees, and then a convoluted runout led to the bottom of the chairlift, the new Northway double which was on its third day of operation.

A quick run back to the car (parked in the front row), and I was on the road again, headed south to Oregon, and half-way through the Washington challenge to boot.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mission Ridge

Mission Ridge was in pretty good shape today, and I was there to enjoy it from the start. I had the first spot in the parking lot, and scored first chair on the Liberator Express as well, marking the start of a very nice day indeed at Mission. Although it was a bit windy, the lifts kept turning well all day, and I split my time between the groomers, the powder along side them, and the steeps off the ridge. Cover was very thin along the ridge, probably due to phenomenally windy conditions, but I was at least able to hit my favorite powder run from last year off the top. There is an interesting phenomenon I observed, whereby the freshly fallen snow drifted into wave-like piles on top of the groomed slopes, creating a very odd effect when sliding over the intermittent powder and groom.

Mission Ridge is a large area, but the locals are friendly, and I struck up conversations with a number of folks on the lifts and in the lodge. Altogether, this was a great visit, and I was impressed by the customer service - when I was purchasing my ticket, the fellow at the window noted that I had a season pass from another mountain, and arranged a discounted ticket for me ($35). I didn't expect that at all, and it was a nice surprise to have some extra cash for lunch. Glad I did, because lunch was very tasty, and a pretty good deal to boot.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Bluewood was tons of fun on my last visit, and I was somewhat worried that their snowpack would limit my explorations this year. My fears were completely unfounded - I spent the day enjoying endless powder turns in the trees, with fresh snow falling most of the day, and only a moderate crowd. The snow in eastern Washington is especially dry, and the layout of Bluewood spreads the skiers out across the hill, sparing the powder from too much concentrated traffic. But the thing that makes the area truly unique and special is the epic tree skiing. Almost every bit of forest here is skiable, perfectly gladed for those who enjoy ripping it up in the woods. I found myself eschewing the groomed runs in favor of knee-deep powder in the forest. Finally, after hours of rapid laps, I called it a day and started on the road to Wenatchee - and was still dreaming of powder turns in the trees when I curled up in the car for the night.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mount Spokane

Another fine day for snowboarding in Washington today, and I found myself at Mount Spokane. Their usual $39 ticket was discounted to only $15, as they are running only chairs 3 and 4. However, the runs they opened were groomed very well, with only a few icy spots, and plenty of loose snow and corduroy on top to glide through. They even had some rails set in the terrain park, although as usual, I elected to use the ramps as jumps, and skip the rails themselves. By the early afternoon it began to snow, and I determined that I had made the best of the day, and packed up to hit the road for the long drive to Portland. With snow falling, it seemed prudent to get on my way before dark, so I am stopped at Starbucks charging the computer and drinking a Mocha. That about sums it up for this weekend, keep an eye out for photos and videos as I have the chance to put them together.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

49 Degrees North

My memories of Forty Nine Degrees North are vivid, and I recall a day of good visibility and groomers in the morning, followed by epic trees and powder in the afternoon. The weather did not follow last year's pattern, but it was a beautiful sunny day, and the groomers were certainly the place to be. Off the trails was a large frozen mass, although in spots there was blown powder to be poached - otherwise the best place to be was in the few spots that got some sunshine. Due to the season, and the orientation of the mountain, very little of the hill received any sunlight all day, despite the clear skies. Still, there was plenty of corduroy and even some loose dry powder, a reminder of the superiority of the snow in this region, and foreshadowing my return to the region later this month, when I will visit northern Idaho's ski areas.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mount Baker

Today marked my return to Mount Baker, a little more than a year since my last visit, and with a similar snowpack and familiar lift system I was cruising the mountain - so happily, in fact, that aside from a quick stop to replace a worn out toe binding bracket ($10 and 10 minutes), I made no stops for the whole day. I actually got a later start than I wanted; I slept in the car and did not hear my alarm, and by the time I pulled into the parking lot and made it into line, there was about a fifteen minute wait to get a ticket.

Of course, once I was on the lift, I remembered how much fun Baker is, especially when it is snowing. This was a great powder day at Baker, even though the base was light. There was fresh feather-light powder all day, and blankets of snow so broad that you could nab fresh tracks all morning. Even in the afternoon, the tracks were filling back in, and I finally had to quit when the only chair up was to the parking lot. I posted a video at youtube of a run from the top of Chair 1, taken with the helmet cam.

A great start to the Ski Washington Challenge for 2007-2008!

Sunday, June 24, 2007


2007 was a very good season, but unfortunately, mine was cut very short by a broken leg at Skibowl on New Years. I did not return to the slopes until April, by which time my chance to use my season pass had grown quite short. I was lucky to complete Ski Washington before my injury, and took to heart the lesson that my injury provided about paying close attention to slope conditions. My time away from the slopes allowed me to reflect on all the fun I have had snowboarding for the past two years, and helped inspire me to explore further afield in the coming year. After completing Ski Oregon in 2005-06, and Ski Washington 2006-07, I have decided to return to all the great areas I have seen, and to add more to my experience by boarding Idaho as well.

All of this I owe, at least in some part, to Emilio Trampuz, Steve Coxen, and the Northwest Ski Club Council - these two men have been tireless advocates for snowsports in the region, and an inspiration to those around them. My thanks and appreciation to both of you, and NWSCC, for helping to make all this fun a reality.

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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stevens Pass

Stevens Pass Lift Ticket
The final stop on my Thanksgiving weekend was Stevens Pass. I started out Sunday morning from Wenatchee after a hearty breakfast of french toast and bacon, with the whole staff of the Red Lion cheering me on. There was fresh snow on the ground in Wenatchee, with more coming down, so I knew it would be a slow drive to the mountain. By the time I got to Leavenworth, it was clearly time to put on my chains, which I did at a convenient bus stop turnout. A few moments later, I was rumbling up highway 2 on my way to the pass. After a good twenty miles or more, the familiar thump of a broken chain interrupted the otherwise pleasant drive. I pulled over at the first safe shoulder to secure the loose ends so I could limp to a better spot for swapping out the broken chain. Thankfully I was carrying a spare chain, so I just pulled the broken one off, and replaced it. It's nice to be prepared.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and I pulled into the parking lot just a few minutes after nine. Made my way to the ticket window, and decided to hit the fresh immediately - I didn't even stop to lace up my boots, just stuffed the laces inside, yanked on the velcro and strapped in. It was a great powder day at Stevens, and from what I gathered, Sunday was the best day they had all weekend. Lucky me! After the first run, I made a quick stop to grab a mocha and lace up my boots, and headed back to the powder. The express quads started to get a little busy, so after a few runs on that side, I moved up the hill to the Tye Mill triple lift for a few runs, and then switched over to Big Chief, a fixed double that had huge untouched powder chutes running down to the bottom.

I was getting some great exercise with all the deep powder, and decided to see what I could find on top - the lift called Seventh Heaven accesses the steepest terrain that was open - all double diamonds from the summit of Cowboy Mountain. The chutes were a bit rocky on the lift side of the hill, and required a climb, so I stayed on the Rock Garden side, enjoying Little Tree and Cloud Nine, where the snow was deep, and even though it was not untouched, the steepness of the runs kept most folks away, and left plenty of awesome dry powder to ride on (and through). I kept circulating around to all the lifts, even taking a run through the terrain park, before finally calling it a day around 3pm, and retiring to the lounge for a pulled pork sandwich and a brew - Stevens Pass Amber. Neat how the Washington resorts seem to have house brews.

The drive back was easy going down from the pass, and I had my chains off in just a few miles. The traffic was moving well all the way to Monroe, where the weather suddenly turned very nasty, with heavy, wet snow dumping all over the place. Highway 2 was a mess from Monroe to Everett, and Interstate 5 was moving at 15-20 mph due to the heavy snow on the road. I heard on the radio that a few miles north, chains were required on Interstate 5! Thankfully I was heading south, and by the time I hit Seattle, the snow had lightened up, and speeds were back to normal for the remainder of the drive to Portland. I was tired, and a little sore, but it was most certainly worth it. What a fantastic way to spend a long weekend!

Oh, yes, the obligatory photos: