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.