Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coolie Season Skiing.

It may have felt like winter at sea level, but it sure looked like winter at 2000 feet.  Oh yeah!

A lot of people consider mid spring to be the height of the coolie season.  You know, once Tioga, or whatever your local pass is, finally opens and the stuff off the plateau if nicely filled in and going through to the valley floor.    But when I think of coolie season, I think about just after the first snow, when everything seems to be a coolie of some sort, as the snow is only filled in within a nice convex pocket in the mountain.  What might be typically a basic open bowl once we get a base, is right now a rocky, peppered slope with literally one, or maybe two lines through the middle in which you can successfully schuss with out bottoming out.  This is what I headed up to this past Sunday.  The Sierra had just received about two to three feet of super low density Colorado fluff, on top of rocks and about a foot plus of snow that had been hammered by a fierce east wind.  Not exactly prime base building conditions.  But with some work, I was sure I would have fun.  At least more fun than staying home and putting in a few hours of yard work.  So, I hit the road at 4AM.

Full on winter time at the Dew Drop incline.  

The morning light and drive was beautiful up in the high country.

The Sierra Crest coming into view.

A chilly -3F at Silver Lake.  The Kirkwood valley as -9F just ten minutes later. 

It was cold.  -9F when I arrived in the valley just at about 8AM.  Turns out cold enough to freeze the pipes at my buddies cabin.  After spending a little time setting up a space heater, plugging some vents, opening others and cranking the heat, I was ready to step back out into the cold.  I had plans to hike, but I decided to hit the lifts a bit at Kirkwood, to test out the snow supportability, before headed out into the backcountry.  And besides, I wanted to stretch the legs.  And there is no shame in lifts.  None.  Chair 11 was spinning, but only the manmade on Buckboard was open.  Patrol was about to head out and mark obstacles on the face of 11, in plan of opening more terrain.  So I headed over to 5 and skied some of the off piste trees they had open.  I found some low angle fresh snow, made a few turns, and was pleasantly surprised how well everything had settled.  Now I just needed to wait for Court to call, and we would take a short hike into the backcountry behind Red Cliffs.

Cold morning light pours in across the ridge and meadow.  

Palisades looks better than it did over Thanksgiving.  

One thing that is nice about riding the lifts is you can catch a glimpse of terrain that is still closed.  The Fingers looking spicy.

As does the Funnel.  Soon, we will be having some fun around these parts.

As we started to head up the face across the valley from the resort, we could see that Patrol had dropped the ropes under 11 and riders where for sure getting some fun powder runs in.  Sometimes you wonder if you are making the right decision.  The skin was easy, with no real thin spots to deal with, but still, the slope were were ascending was peppered and would likely not be that much fun to ski.  Another route home would be desirable, but this would do in a pinch.  Still we climbed.  Our original objective began to seem distant, considering the fact that night comes so early in the day this time of year.  When we hit the ridge of Baby B, it started to look like a fun thing to ski.  Basically, that means it had snow in it.  So, after a short conversation, we decided to switch over and ski something.  After all, that is why we came.  And it was a good ski, it was.  Fun.  Or, rather, fun enough.  The low angle did leave a little to desire.  As we put on skins, and looked up the slope, we saw that Big B looked like it went.  So, time to generate heat and head a little further up and around the ridge.  Back to the top.

Court gets his ski on atop Baby B.

And enjoys some fun, deep meadow skipping pow, all the way to the bottom.

This wilderness zone is just getting started.  Sally Alley does not look too sally.

Meanwhile, Kirkwood pays homage to Vail, and scripts its name across Montes.

After a quick rest and fuel up, we headed over, and looked down into Big B.  Big B is neither super steep, or super gnar, but with the thin, light snow coverage, it sure felt worthy.  Made a little route planning, and we started the short descent.  After the first turn into the gut of the bowl, it was nothing short of super fluff.  Nice thigh deep plus snow.  Ah, the joys of a winter hike.  We even found some small hits to play with.  And the trees in the apron were nothing short of perfect.  With a short traverse, we hit up the bottom of our skin track, and headed back to the top.  The day was getting short, so we needed to make a ridge that would allow us to return to our car.  We had the choice of another shaded run, or a warm one in the sun.  Of course we headed for the shade.  I mean, you figure it is winter time, so you mind as well go for the goods.  Turns out, we did just that, as we were soon at the top of the Corner Pocket.  And it was filled with goodness.

Did I mention that it was cold?  Try sitting in the shadows while you buddy is in the sunshine.  

The hits where knee to waist high.

The powder was shin to thigh high.

The turns were all good.

And the runs lined with rocks.

These cold winter days are interesting if you are touring.  On the down, it was down right cold in the shade.  And just plain cold in the sun.  On the up, the shade was chilly, but in the sunshine it could get very warm.  It is funny to think about how much I can sweat in 15F degree temperatures.  A lot it seems.  Even late in the day, climbing mostly in the shade, you can feel right toasty.  Well, we had a great final run back down to the lot.  And it was not yet 3:30.  So, I made the quick drive over to the base and hoped on a lift for a few end of the day runs.  Let me tell you, it was freezing out.  Sitting on a chair for 7 or more minutes, in the shade, late in the day that peaked at 15F, is very cold.  Two runs was all I had in me.  I'm not quite sure how some of you folks can sit on chair lifts all day long.  Seems chilly to me.

Once down into the woods, the fluff is deep.

Then it was time to head home.

It turned out to be a decent run.

And a good start to the touring season.

While the resort at Kirkwood is still operating on limited terrain, they are working hard to get more terrain open.  They were blowing snow at the top of 6 all day, as well as in the hole that is the bottom of Upper Zachary's.  Depending on how snow making goes, they could have the top open shortly.  Once that happens, they will certainly have the steepest terrain in Tahoe open.  But really, we just need another good storm.  Then we could be looking at the frontside.  Hell, even the backside could be ready to go.  Cross you fingers, do a snow dance, burn an effigy.  Do what it takes to bring us another dump.  We need it.  But in the meantime, get out there and dust the cob webs off your gear.  Winter is here.

Back on the lifts for a few evening fast laps, and the Kirkwood crew was hard at work getting more terrain ready to open.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Pow

Especially in a season that has seen a drought since the new year began, spring pow is a very welcome sight.  Once the sun death star starts getting high up in that sky powder does not stick around for long.  With a little luck, the air stays cold and the clouds stay thick and it takes more than a few hours to turn the blower into slushies.  But it never last around for long once the snow stops falling, but that is better than no snow falling at all.  Sure, I know, a lot of folks get all excited about corn season to start up, and the fresh snow does little more than screw up the cycle.  But I say corn can wait, and sooner or later the storms will stop rolling in, so let's enjoy that spring pow while it is around.

Chris gets an early morning jib while the snow was still soft and wintery.

The east wind was blowing snow while I headed toward my chosen line.  So many options out there.  Including Bear Valley.

Beta shot for a zone I'd like to have more intimate knowledge of.

Plenty of gnar out there to sink your teeth into.

And all you need to do is shift your view a little bit to find some mellower terrain if that is your preference.

Some of my favorite zones to ski drop down below 8000 feet.  That seems to be the line around this time of year.  Below that things really take a turn for the worse once the sun comes out.  Especially anything that is not completely north facing and shadowed.  But that becomes less and less each passing day.  So, you need to get on it early.  No longer do you have a week or so get on it before the crust starts to thicken.  Hours are more like it.  Lucky for me, the three days this month I actually was able to get out on the snow turned out to be more wintery than spring like.  But things sure did turn quickly down low, and I had to find some lines that kept me up a bit higher.

Seriously, this stuff looks like fun forever.

Life on the Edge looking well filled in.

Court gets his spring time hike on.

Sometime the hike is just worth the beauty of it all.

Back inbounds things are pretty tracked up by 11AM.

Luckily, that was just a short hike, followed by a few lift rides, followed by a short hike away.  And luckily the northeast breeze started to blow a bit.  Usually, these are thought of as demon winds, but they do keep the upper elevations cold.  So come spring, I tend to find them to be more of a friendly wind, allowing some of those upper slopes to stay soft and chalky.  Even better if you are out touring a bit.  See, once you put tracks in this spring stuff, it tends to get rutted and firm.  Inbounds things get gnarly pretty quickly.  A short hike away from the lifts will net you smooth turns.

Court and Nacho dropping start a good morning spring run.  Still pretty fresh over here.

The March sun bakes the snow, so you got to move quickly.

You can usually tell if the powder is still powdery if it is clinging to the trees and rocks.

Court hits a small drop down below as Nacho locks in his sights.

So my plan was simple.  Meet up for a morning run in the fun zone down low with a friend for an early lap through the trees and over a few cliffs.  See, this spring pow is actually fantastic for landing hits, and it tends to be spongy and grippy.  Then, as they fled to work or Oregon, I worked my way through the resort finding partners to head out and hit a few lines in the basin along its eastern edge.  It worked out well, as my morning runs got baked in the mid March sun, my afternoon runs were smooth wind buffed wintery goodness.

Teeing off the edge of a spine as the sun really gets some work done on the snow.

While turning becomes more work, the landings tend to feel a bit plush.

Showing off the pristine bases of the PM Gear Kusala Pow.

So, once spring shows up, the game plan is simple.  Watch for a storm.  If it drops more than a few inches, get on it early.  The underlying crust will soften up just a bit after sunrise, providing soft cushions.  As the day wears on, head up high into the east and north facing slopes.  And if you have more than just a day to ski, start poking finding stuff that is more due north facing and in a steep chute if you can.  Sure, the goods can stick around for more than just a day in March, but you will need to do some work to find them.  It is good practice, because it becomes an even greater challenge come April. And May.  And June.

Court allowed me to take the bush huck, one of my favorites.

And the landing was like the perfect sponge cake.  Alone worth the drive up.

The bottom of the morning run finished, well, warm.  Time to move to higher ground.

Headwall was looking pretty well filled in, and with Tony on his way out there, I thought it would fit the bill.

The steep section provide to be perfect chalk goodness.  Notice the two tracks coming out of the chute lookers left.  Props for hitting that sketch line.

The apron proved to be perfect for arcing some larger radius turns.  All in all, good stuff.

So get out there and make some turns.  More spring pow is falling up high as I type these words.  A decent rain is pitter pattering on my roof.  The next few days should be fun, and with some luck we have another round on its way for next week as well.  Powder season is not over yet.  Corn season will always show up sooner or later.  Have fun.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

In the Midst of the Thaw, Powder is a Gift.

There is no doubt that the early season this year was awesome.  We got started in October with a small dump.  Veteran's Day was pretty awesome.  December was non stop fun.  And then as we rolled into 2013, the snow came to a halt.  No surprise there.  I mean, the January Thaw is as much a part of the Tahoe season as is 3 foot dumps and 500" winters.  But then came February.  And the thaw continued. It seemed almost endless, and some, have written off winter.  A small storm rolled through the region on the 19th and 20th, and almost immediately the hordes started to complain.  The two feet promised at one point ended up looking more like 5-10 inches.  No enough to make the drive stated some.  Conditions are crap stated others.  Well, I happened to have the week free, so I was on the lifts Tuesday morning, and hiking by afternoon.  It did not suck.  And as the week wore on, it got even better.

No camera for Tuesday, but on Wednesday afternoon, the sky was blue.  Looking back toward Glove Rock.  

Off in the other direction, what looked like a forest fire raged in Desolation Wilderness.

After a run down the Back 40 with James, it was over to Red Cliffs with Court for a view of Round Top.

Nacho stands guard over our line as we rip skins.

Need a Kirkwood postcard?

A boy and his dog sharing the snow.

To start out Thursday, Jason finds some snow that is a bit deeper than 10 inches.

Court finds a few turns to start his day.

Casey decides it is game on.

Wednesday was a bluebird morning with fresh snow, so I hit up Kirkwood with a few friends and no camera.  Ooops.  It was very good in select spots.  By afternoon it was off to hike some zones in the valley.  That night I got a text from Court stating the trees in a certain zone had lots of snow on them.  So, we met Jason and Casey at the trail head at 8AM.  Okay, so it was more like 9AM, but, seriously that was not my fault.  Or maybe it was.  Once we started hiking, though, no one seemed to care.  We found snow.  Soft, bottomless snow.  It skied deep.  And it was even nice to jump into.  Skied all day and started to wonder about all the complaints I had heard the day before about how there was no snow.  Just goes to show you, if you are willing to put in a little work, then it is often worth it.

And it keeps going and going.

Of course, there are always a few mishaps.  Or front flips.

Going for it, in a spicy zone.

Down low there are some fun rollers to pop off of.

The snow was really that good.

Hiked back up to the ridge, and ate elk sausage with a view of Round Top and her Sisters.

Lap after lap, after lap.  It was a very full day.  It was hard to not keep going with the snow as good and deep as it was.  And besides, I don't often get so many days to ski all day.  So, we did just that.  Up, and down and up again.  And again, and again, and again.  All I know for sure is that every run was spectacular.  It was just about as good as it gets.

This zone has become my nemesis.  I'm 3 for 3.  Three hits, three back slaps.  

Court seemed to have better luck on his hit.

And stomp.

Back down in the trees, he finds another fun hit.

Deep, deep landings.

Again, Jason leaves a vapor trail behind.

Good times.  Blower and smiles.

As the day wore on, some headed home.  Court and I headed back for another few laps.  One in the dark, another in the light.  And finally, we were skiing back to the car in the last rays of light.  A nice, long, very good day.

Some one went to school in Florida.

Even the low angle run outs skied well.

Back on the sunny side.

And the final run to the car as the sun disappears behind the ridge.

While Thursday was a full work out, plans were laid to tour from Carson Pass to Kirkwood on Friday, with a shot detour up the Moon Crescent.  Personally, I am not a big fan of the coolie, having had several aborted missions and a preference for big, fast, wide open turns.  Still, I agreed to join in the fun, and met up with Jeff and Court for another reasonable start time.  As we skinned up the apron below the Moon, the snow was fantastic, and I began to get excited.  As we entered the cooler, though, perfect powder turned into firm, mean, psuedo-snow.  After climbing up 50 feet or so, we decided to turn back and enjoy some turns on the apron before heading toward our next line, Life on the Edge.

Courts works his way down the ice heads.

Um, yes, those are some nice turns.

And then Kyle from Washington shows up on the skin track to join in the fun.

So much gnar, do little time.

Jeff works his way out onto the Edge.

And drops into one of the longer lines in the region.

While the snow was not as consistently awesome as the previous days locale, things skied pretty darn well.  Life on the Edge is perhaps one of the longer lines in the region, which makes it a ton of fun in good conditions.  This would be my second time this season scoring powder, as opposed to corn snow. This time, we continued all the way down to 4th of July Lake for a variation on a theme.  It was well worth it, allowing us to skip skinning over a false peak on our exit.  And we skied more vertical as well.

Jeff finds some turns down through the gut.

Next up Court gets his turn.

And finds himself some good snow.

Jeff finishes up his line.

Kyle also finds some snow.

Unfortunately,  my memory card filled up around this point.  And I was pretty exhausted, so no more pictures.  No pictures of 4th of July Lake, or the WWII era Air Force plane that buzzed our heads along the ridge line, or the turns down through Stovepipe and back into Kirkwood.  But one of the best parts of the day was still to come, as we skied down to Chair 3 at just after 4PM, and we got the very last chairs back to the front side and our car.  Another great day and another great week in the mountains.  And, of course, the conditions just suck up there.