Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tahoe Update.

Powdork having fun on the US Airbag at Kirkwood.
Okay.  So a few days can make a big difference.  I'm not here to tell you that we now have a snow base or anything, but I did get up to the mountains to poke around a little bit.  And we have a window of hope over the next week.  Nothing promising, but I do know what a lit of folks are hoping for this holiday season, and that is snow.  As for the updates.

Kirkwood is working hard to get the top of the mountain open, but even if they do, it will be really just a WROD coming down from the ridge.  There is essentially no snow on the top third of the mountain.  The good news is, that with a foot of good wet snow, the bottom half of the hill will be game on.  The coverage is almost there to open up all terrain off chair 5 and most of the terrain off of 11.  So I guess that is good news.  And in other fun, US Airbag is set up at the base so you can perfect your flips and spins before heading to the park to huck your meat.  If you are headed to Heavenly, there is good news there as well.  They have openned up a bunch more lifts, and now have both the Stagecoach and the California base lodges open.  Add to that Olympic, North Bowl and Sky chair.  And connection between NV and CA.  So, not half bad.  Sierra at Tahoe still looks like it has very limited terrain.

I sampled Northstar this week, and have to agree with the reports.  Fun.  Plenty of long piste open.  Sure, it is all manmade, but with runs like Burnout open and riding excellent, it is hard to not have a good time.  And with all the high speed chairs running, there are very short lines, and plenty of opportunity to put down some vert.  A great way to stretch the legs and enjoy the holidays.  They do have Lookout Mountain open with two runs, but things are pretty scraped over there.  I guess that could be plenty of fun on the right race skis, but for most of us, it is a slippy slidy adventure.  And to add to the good news, terrain off East Ridge and the Backside really only need a foot, or a bit more of Mother Nature's best to get going.  It looks promising out there.  And they are blowing snow on four more trails, which look ready for Christmas.  And if you are the park rat type of guy or gal, there is are so great features, and plenty of them off the Vista lift.  All in all, plenty of fun to be had at Northstar.  This is a unique year indeed.

Kirkwood is blowing snow up near the top of Chair 6.  The push is on to open the top.

Monte Wolfe to The Fingers looking quite bone dry at Kirkwood.  Pray for snow.

Anyone want to take a run down Once is Enough?

Mid day lines at Vista Express.  Northstar has the runs, and the people.

Alpine is also open to the top, with Summit and Alpine Bowl running.  The reports are coming back with lots of fun terrain going.  And now they have the vertical and long run.  They may not have the variety and expanse of N* right now, but you sure could get the burn going.  Squaw has Creekside going, essentially doubling their terrain.  Sugarbowl and Rose does not have much changed, but news is Diamond Peak is open to the ridge.  And Homewood has their beginner area open.  Finally, Boreal is open to the top and plastered with a coat of man made.

Burnout may be the longest, steepest run in Tahoe right now.  And it is riding great.

If you can't have fun with views like this, you are doing it wrong.

So, what about that snow we need.  Nothing too promising yet, but we are seeing a chance of light snow starting around the middle of next week.  We could end up with nothing, but there is a chance of up to a foot by New Years Day.  So keep an eye out, and keep reading over at the real weather for updates.  Good luck and get out there and get some.  It is still schussing.

And as a note, be careful out there.  Lots of folks are out, and plenty of variety of skill and awareness.  Be careful on the chairlifts and on the slopes.  Have a safe and fun holiday.  And remember the Skier and Rider Responsibility Code.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tahoe Holiday Ski Forecast. Good Luck.

New Years Day 2011.  We had plenty of snow.

It is fairly typical for snow enthusiast to find at least a few days over the holiday period to get up to the snow and make some turns.  For many, it is their first day of the season.  Others will have logged 10, 20 or more days by then. Especially in years like last season when we saw a 100" week in November and another in December.  This year, we have yet to see any significant snowfall, other than from the storm in early October.  And most of that snow melted away within a few days.  So what can we expect for the coming holiday.  I mean, you need to make your plans.  Right?

Well, we do have a week before the holiday run starts up, and a lot can change with the help of Mother Nature.  But that does not look like it will be the case.  We see a chance for a dusting later this week.  A slim chance.  Not enough to make much of a difference, other than helping a bit in the zones where snow has been made.  The middle of next week looks like a storm may move into our north.  Still, this one looks to get knocked east before moving south enough to give us any snow.  The best chance we see right now is for a possible storm the weekend of New Years.  And there is nothing set in stone about that fantasy right now.  In fact, the best bet would be for no significant snow until after the New Year.  Say around the 10th.  So, you may want to make your decision based on things other than your usual criteria.

Getting the #1 vote for best skiing to date is Northstar.  While not known for its gnar, it is known for its snowmaking genius.  Northstar has manmade snow on many runs from beginner to advanced.  They have opened the backside lift recently.  There is just enough variety and length to the runs out there to keep things interesting for a day or two.  And they have some nice park features set up.  Expect more trails to open as the temperatures stay cold this week allowing for more snow to be made.  And the reports keep coming back with excellent surface conditions.

Kirkwood has committed to try to get Chair 6 open from the top for the holiday.  Currently they have three lifts and four trails open for skiing.  Nothing too exciting, but with limited terrain with snow making, they just keep resurfacing what they have.  They also seem to have more snow off piste than anyone else.  Things have gotten thin, but you can still take the rock skis off the groomers in spots for a little adventure.  Expect lots of deals and programs from these guys, as they are moving back to their roots.  They do have a few small park features set up at the base.  And even with just another foot of snow, the K-factor will kick in, and things will get real fun.

Hoping to see some of this kind of action soon.

Heavenly has the views.  And plans to open up Stagecoach Lodge this week.  Currently, skiing is limited to the Dipper/Comet/Tamarack chair zone on the upper Nevada side.  Riding is limited to a few trails, but they have decent length, pitch and are quite wide.  As they move down to the base, they will start to get some serious vertical in the mix.  Surface conditions are not quite the quality of Northstar, but then again,it is a bit steeper.  And they have several park lines set up.  Watch their website, as they plan to move things over to the California side quickly.

Alpine has high speed Roundhouse open.  As well as a beginner lift and Hot Wheel soon.  While you won't get a lot of vert over at Alpine, you can get some quick laps.  And if you enjoy park, this seems to be the place to be.  Word is the park features are sick.  Or you can go next door to their sister resort (did you hear Alpine was bought by KSL?)  Squaw has Red Dog open with some steep groomer action.  This stuff is all in the shade, so you may find things a bit slick by afternoon.  But it is still skiing.

Snow facets.

Sugarbowl has the best coverage in North Lake.  So if you want to get off the groomers, this will be your best bet.  Mt. Lincoln has good coverage and benefits from its north facing slopes.  Pretty much every thing except for Disney has lifts running, so there is a good variety of terrain.  Across the lake, Rose is running the 6 Pack to the top, with at least one run with coverage.  While it is not a whole lot of variety, you could get the leg burn going with consecutive high speed laps and a decent pitch.  

It looks like Sierra will have one lift open with their wide beginner run, Broadway.  If you are a beginner, this could be just the ticket, with a high speed lift and no crowds.  Homewood looks like it will remain closed.  I am guessing that Donner Ski Ranch is closed, as their last update was from when they ran their lifts last July 4th.  Got to give this small hill props.  They are one of the few hills that stay open into spring, as long as their is snow.

Soon, we will again be throwing ourselves down the hill.

That is kind of the low down on the holiday ski stretch.  This is Tahoe, so things can change quickly.  Keep an eye on the forecast and read the real weather.  If we are lucky the change will come sooner rather than later.  Better luck for the week following the New Years holiday.  On the plus side, it looks like things will be a bit milder the week after Christmas, so if you do decide to schuss, it at least won't be bitter cold.  Go out there and get some.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Well, it is that time of year again. Let it Snow.

Thanksgiving has always been a top holiday for me.  As a kid, it was the one that held together the longest.  When all the extended family arrived.  The kids played and put on talent shows.  The adults chatted, had a few drinks and became merry.  And we all sat down together for the typically huge portions of turkey and stuffing.  When I moved away from home over 15 years ago, it was one that I felt I would miss the most.  But lucky for me, in my new home, I found my new family to have Thanksgiving with.  And slowly we developed our tradition, and our group history.  About six years ago, we headed up to Kirkwood for the weekend after the holiday.  And it dumped.  Several feet of fresh powder.  Ever since then, we have headed to Kirkwood for the entire holiday stretch.  More often than not, Mother Nature had yet to deliver, and we would find ourselves (if we were lucky) on a White Ribbon of Death.  Last year, we got the goods, with the entire front side opening in epic conditions.  This year, we had fun enough.

Lonely Solitude.  Alone lifting riders up the mountain.

Snow for every sort of slider.  Making the most out of an early season sunny day.

The season is off to a strange start.  Snow first came in early October.  A decent amount even, but with the sun still high in the sky, a good portion of that stuff just burned off within a week.  More came in early November and through out the month.  But this was a mix of super light blower and insignificant dustings.  So, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, we had just a few inches to maybe a foot on the ground.  Southerly exposures were bone dry.  Up high on the northern faces, things were a bit deeper.  For the resort skier, it meant mostly man made snow and groomers.  Or grommer (yup, one), if you headed to Kirkwood.  Of course, at Kirkwood, there is usually enough snow off to the side to hit up some low angled gnar.  That is were our group ended up, led by a 6 year old.

Best snow was in the mini trees.


Looking back uphill to see hands up front.

Things are thin up there.  That can mean a bunch of hazards.  Sticks and stones, as the saying goes.  And then there is the people thing.  After the epicness of last season, folks are lining up to make some turns.  And a lot of them want to get some speed.  With limited real estate, the slopes are crowded.  Another reason why we ventured of the groomer.  Be careful, and be respectful out there on the slopes.  Give some room, and slow down in these crowded early season conditions.  There have already been several fatalities already this ski season.    At that is just within the resorts on the open terrain.  Outside the boundary, lies a whole different danger.

Round Top, and her Sisters at Carson Pass, California

Snow pack is still really thin along the Crest.

We are often blessed with the stability, and cling, of a maritime snow pack.  Thick and well put together.  The thin pack that we have stitched together since October is lurking with danger.  Any one with a a bit of snow knowledge knows that cold nights and a thin pack spells facets, and facets spells persistent weakness.  Facets are snowflakes that are thin and fragile.  A house of cards.  Pretty fun to ski on, when they form on the surface.  Now bury those things and it is like putting some 2x4s on that house of cards. Sooner or later, poof, it all collapses.  That is an avalanche.  There are buried facet layers all over out there.  Some are weaker than others and some stronger than others.  If you are are heading out, bring some knowledge and be careful.  We will see stability soon enough.  No reason to slide so early in the season.  Remember that sticks and stones thing?

Finding strips of snow in the rough.         Photo: Jordy Coleman

Give it time and this rocky slope will be a smooth groomer.         Photo: Jordy Coleman

Still, this is a great time to head up to the Sierra.  The drive is stunning, with autumn cutting down the foothills and across the vineyards.  And mostly a clear with enough sun and daytime warmth to keep the asphalt clean and dry.  With no snow in the short term forecast, you can plan on little traffic a quick trip.  The slopes should be pretty uncrowded until the next holiday, unless we get a proper dump.  And it is a great way to stretch the legs.  Often asked the best conditioning to prepare for skiing, I respond "skiing."  Nothing replicates it.  Don't wait for knees deep powder for your first day.  Unless you like to apres pre noon.