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.  

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