Pacific Northwest Ski blog (and a few other places!)

Lots or reports from skiing around the Pacific Northwest, with some East Coast excursions thrown in for good measure

January skiing – sunny and solid-ish

#fuckingelnino gradually moved on during January. Thankfully. This unwelcome climatological event, unfortunately left behind a relatively warm dry winter.  Luckily there has been easily sufficient snow in the Washington Cascades to make for some fine fun, mostly sunny groomer skiing. By early January the base at Mission Ridge was deep enough to pretty much cover everything. Minor top ups made for a good first weekend of January cruising, with killer Cascades views.

We spent the next weekend at Whistler Creekside.  There was as much snow in the village as I think I’ve ever seen in Whistler. Again, fluctuating freezing levels meant venturing off groomed on the lower 2/3rds of the mountain was brutal. There was good snow on the upper mountain though, which made for some soft and fun runs in Harmony and Glacier Bowl especially.  Crowd management was needed though. Ski high early. Retreat to mid-mountain groomers mid-morning. Head high again once the post-lunch crowds dissipate. Works every time.

Since then, nowhere within weekend striking distance has been better than Mission Ridge.  MLK weekend actually delivered some fantastic skiing, with 10+ inches of pow and cold sunny weather to preserve the snow all weekend. It was the best skiing of the season by far.

Now if Mission Ridge can only keep chair 2 running – it has broken twice in the last two weekends – the season might get close to normal! At least we’ve paid for our season pass. And then some 🙂

Day 11, 12 Mission Ridge: 7600m, 7900m

Day 13-15 Whistler Blackcomb: 10700m, 10000m, 9700m

Day 16-20 Mission Ridge: 7300m, 8200m, 6600m, 8400m, 4400m

Season Totals: 20 days, 144,660m vert. 2 powder day

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Ski Season 2018-19 finally up and running

#fuckingelnino

El Nino years are never welcome in the Pacific Northwest. This #fuckingelnino delivered clear sunny weather well into November.

#fuckingelnino

With an early Thanksgiving, Whistler managed to blow enough snow to open. Just. but not enough to tempt us up there. So we worked, cooked turkey, and drove up to Crystal on the Friday for two days.

Crystal’s investment in snow guns sure paid off. They blew enough gun pow to enable us to slide down Tinkerbell for two days. It was far from epic. At least it was skiing. And we had Ikon passes, which effectively gives us a Crystal season pass. And the weather was nice.

Luckily the cold meant Mission Ridge opened soon after, and some steady top-ups made it fun there in early December. Slightly rocky. But fun.

And since then, conditions have slowly got better and better. We’re still getting signature El Nino temperature bounces, giving some rain between the dumps. But now there’s plenty of snow, we’ve had a good powder day at Crystal before Xmas, and some ever improving cruising and the odd off-piste expedition at Mission Ridge.

So – #fingerscrossed, #fuckingelnino might be slowly slipping away.  And #fingerscrossed, we won’t have to ski Tinkerbell again this season!

A selection of pretty scenic pics is here. It’s been fine photograph weather 😉

Day 1 Crystal 3200m vert

Day 2 Crystal 3200m vert

Day 3 Mission Ridge 6900m vert

Day 4 Mission Ridge 6800m vert

Day 5 Crystal 2700m vert

Day 6 Crystal 4600m vert

Day 7 Crystal 9300m vert – powder day

Day 8  Mission Ridge 7500m vert

Day 9 Mission Ridge 7400m vert

Day 10 Mission Ridge 7800m vert

Season Totals: 10 days, 59,400m vert. 1 powder day

 

Week 4 Update (Knees, Skiing and Stem Cells: Part 4)

A bit like the Seahawks offensive line, the last three weeks have seen pretty steady improvement in my knees. Swelling is now pretty much gone, walking 99% pain-free. I’ve managed 5 spin class at the gym with resistance little more than a flat road equivalent, but a solid pace, and 20-minute sessions on an elliptical at pretty light resistance. Enough to cause a tad of body leakage, which makes me happy. Its good to earn a shower.

I’ve also had five sessions with Jenna, a physical therapist at the local MTI clinic. I’ve been really impressed with the service and treatment there, professional and informative and funny, and I’ve no doubt it’s been helpful. They did discover a ‘clicky’ – technical term – lump in the back of my left knee, which caused some consternation two weeks ago. Luckily, it wasn’t a stem cell inspired growth in the wrong place, just a small pocket of fluid from the injection. It has improved in two weeks and is all but gone now.

I’m still taking it super easy though. Walking slowly and carefully up and down stairs and downhill to minimize impact, and all exercise is gentle compared to my pre-injection intensity.  I’m doing lots of upper body work, but all sat or lying down. I even position the bench next to the weight rack so I can transfer the weights one at a time with minimal steps. Pathetic really 🙂

In summary, things are promising. Given the lack of stress on the knees, it’s hard to know if this is real stem cell-inspired progress or just an artifact of me doing very little for the first time in decades. This week I slowly start to turn up the exercise dial. Still nothing serious, but it should tell us all a little more about the state of things in my knee interiors. #fingerscrossed.

Week 1 Update (Knees, Skiing and Stem Cells: Part 3)

It’s a week now since the stem cell procedure. After leaving the clinic Thursday afternoon, I pretty much ate and went to bed early, armed with a painkiller or two.  Knees and back (extraction sites) were sore. Here’s how things have progressed during the week.

Day 1 (Friday): I didn’t leave the house. Knees were swollen like balloons, stiff and sore. My Fitbit gave me 1300 steps. The low for the year by about 7000!

Day 2: I made it out of the house!! A slow morning stroll to my local Broadcast Coffee at least enabled some fresh air to enter my lungs. Late afternoon we took the bus to downtown to meet some friends. The 10-minute wait for the bus proved too much and I had to sit on the sidewalk. Lyft home. 3623 steps.

Day 3: Woke up with a significant reduction in swelling in the right knee. The good news was balanced by a nasty tightness in the back of my left knee. I hobbled to Broadcast Coffee again, and then spent the afternoon watching the Seahawks stumble around in Arizona with my left knee on ice.  An early evening stroll to Standard Brewing for a beer and sandwich was a slow affair. 5286 steps.

Day 4: Back to work. It was a bus ride there and back. Walking to and from bus and around work gave me 7986 steps – woohooo!! The right knee actually looked like a knee. The left was still swollen, stiff and tight. Lots of ice applied.

Day 5: Day 4 replica … more work 🙂

Day 6: Finally my right knee swelling was minimal and it felt pretty good walking. The soreness in the back of my left knee was better, although still lurking. The swelling was finally going down. Broke 10K steps, so basic movement restored. No ice. Life looking up!

Day 7: Right knee looks almost normal. Left somewhat swollen, and feels kinda creaky. Soreness in the back minimal. Basically walking on the flat normally, and tentatively up and down stairs. Very slowly down the unavoidable hills of Seattle’s Central District and Capitol Hill.

So, one week down. In summary, the procedure was nastier than expected, but after 3 days and lots of coffee I’ve been pretty mobile.

To the gym today. Upper body only …

 

 

 

 

Well, that hurt! (Knees, Skiing and Stem Cells: My Story Part 2)

About twenty seconds after the first marrow bone extraction from the back of my hip for my stem cell procedure started, I wanted to ask “Excuse me? Did you forget the anesthetic part?”. In my polite British manner of course. I actually would have except my face was buried in a hole in a treatment table and I was too busy using my vocal cords to make constant ‘arrgggh’ noises.

I eventually mumbled, “Fuck that hurts!!!”.

The usual dose of local anesthetic had been applied, but it didn’t seem to have much effect. For probably 3 or 4  minutes this meant I had to put up with pain as intense as I think I’ve ever experienced.  I think I had deliberately ignored the details of a bone marrow extraction procedure. If you are interested, this is what happens.  I imagine as I was having two knees worked on, I went through this procedure twice in two different places.

No wonder it hurt. Needles in your bones are really, really painful. I think I’d request stronger drugs next time!!

It didn’t get much better when the liposuction started from my lower back. As the nurse said afterward, there’s not much fat there so they struggled to suck some out. I would have happily rolled over and let them suck from my beer belly if they had asked!

Ah well. what’s seven or eight minutes of sheer agony in the scheme of things, right (see Part 1 for background)?

After that, it was mostly smooth sailing. The stuff extracted my back was mixed with my blood and injected back into my knees. The knees were swollen due to the volume of fluid, and hurt, but I hobbled out to the car and straight to pick up some hydrocodone from the pharmacy. At least you can get mildly high for a day or so after procedures like this 🙂

I needed those painkillers in the night. I think they helped me sleep a bit too. By morning, the knees had stiffened up and staggering like Brett Kavanagh at a freshman party is an optimistic description of my movement right now.

After making it downstairs (very slowly) and munching on some muesli and coffee, I broke out in a whole body sweat and felt nauseous for 20 minutes. Nothing projectiled from my mouth, but it was a close thing. I think the painkillers are wearing off. Bring on 11am!!

I was hoping to be able to stagger to the local noodle house for dinner tonight. Maybe with a day of ice and rest and minor hobbling around the house, things will improve? But right now tonight’s goal seems very unlikely.

Anyway, let’s finish with a picture of before, and today. just for posterity!

More in a day or three. Now, where are those painkillers?

 

Knees, Skiing and Stem Cells: My Story (Part 1)

My 56 year old knees have taken a bit of a beating. Decades of decent distance running, college lacrosse, and about 1200 ski days have taken their toll. I can’t really complain. I’ve got more value out of them than the vast majority of people get from theirs.

Right now the knees are holding up after a solid biking season (2150+ miles so far) and cope pretty well with my gym circuit classes and hiking. But with ski season looming, I’ve decided to take some action while there’s a possibility of success. The action?

Bring on the stem cells!!

First, some background.

Things took their first turn for the worse in April 2015. We’d had an epic snowy East Coast ski season, and in early April Sugarbush was skiing like a dream. Sunday afternoon I lapped the Castlerock chair, hitting 1500+ vertical feet of Springy east coast (aka solid) bumps from top to bottom. It was great skiing, but I vividly remember thinking ‘my knees are going to pay for this one day’ as I headed back to the chair for the umpteenth lap of the day.

Little did I know how prescient that thought was. I was still running a fair bit in hilly Pittsburgh, and 3 weeks later was running to the gym when my right knee gave out striding down the steep Negley Hill in Shadyside. I’d had some pain while running on the inside of my right knee for a good while, but, pain is for the weak, right? This, unfortunately, was real, nasty pain. I’ve pretty much not run seriously again since that day.

After moving to Seattle in June, with a still swollen knee, I had an MRI. It revealed moderate cartilage loss in the medial compartment (inside part) of my right knee. And bone spurs. Classic osteoarthritis (overuse) symptoms. A cortisone shot settled things down, but I left with a warning that I had a knee replacement in my future.

Great.

After that I skied with a knee brace. It helps.

Fast forward 3.5 years, and the right knee wasn’t a lot different. Not great, but still surviving my pretty mad annual gym, bike, hike, ski schedule. I’d had some weird lingering pain and stiffness on the outside of my left knee, but nothing that slowed me down. Pain is for the weak, remember.

One early 2018 January weekend, we were having a tame Sunday ski day at Snoqualmie Pass. I hopped a little turn over an innocuous bump, and on landing my left knee gave way. Not good. I got down the hill slowly, in a lot of pain, and headed to the hospital. A few days on crutches, another MRI, and the diagnosis was torn meniscus on one side of my knee, and a macerated (technical term for ‘really fucked’) meniscus on the other. My next two months were a slow recovery, but by early March I was skiing at 95% again in Lech. While not perfect, the knee is pretty good now.

Still, the writing is really on the wall. And the writing says, “Your Knees Are Fucked!!”.

Unless I slow down, two new knees will be needed over the next few years.

And I don’t fancy the slowing down thing at all.

Enter stem cell therapy. Several clinics in Seattle are advertised daily on the KIRO radio morning shows and in the Seatle Times. So with the help of the Google machine, I did some research and decided it was worth checking out. It held hope of delaying more serious intervention.

The first clinic I visited, near work, felt like someone was trying to sell me a timeshare. They brought up Google Scholar to show me all the academic papers on the subject. I told him to put me in Google Scholar. The dude nearly fell off his chair when my 4500+ citations popped up, and I told him I knew intimately how meaningless such numbers were.

Strike 1.

Next, I went to Bellevue. This was a real doc, so I was more hopeful. He looked at my imagery reports and said the left knee had a very good chance of responding to treatment. The right – who knows. I was down with that. I then tried to organize the detailed ultrasound and MRI examination with his colleague, but nothing happened for 3 weeks. I wasted lots of time on emails and phone calls. Finally, I received a letter saying the doc had given up stem cell procedures and there was now no clinic. Great for building confidence, eh?

Strike 2.

Next, I hobbled to Lower Queen Ann. A real doc, involved in a stem cell clinical trial. This must surely be the one.

It turned out she specialized in cosmetic surgery. I showed her the knee reports from my MRI/X-rays, and she hardly read them. She started telling me about how wonderful things will be after I have the procedure. I asked if she was going to get the imagery from the hospital to check in detail the state of my knees, and she wasn’t really interested. I politely said I’d think about it and left. Forever.

Strike 3.

Finally, I headed to Dr. Mark Wagner’s office, again near work. Dr. Wagner had been written up in Ski Magazine and advertised daily on Dave Ross’ morning show on KIRO radio. I like Dave Ross, so there’s one for the power of advertising.

Dr. Wagner’s office got my knee imagery from the hospital before I arrived, and took a new X-ray of my right knee to get recent views. He said similar to the other guy. Left knee was a good candidate and right might respond as there wasn’t total cartilege loss yet. You get a bulk discount for two, so why the hell not I thought?

This was February, and I was desperately trying to recover and get through ski season, so I told him I’d see how it goes and almost certainly be back. Very soon if my recovery failed! But I got through ski season, then bike and hiking season. Ski season is now on the horizon. It’s now or never.

So today I will wander down to Zum Fitness for Liz’s crazy fun noon spin/torture class. Have a shower, and stroll to Dr. Wanger’s office, where, in return for $10K, he will somehow drill into my hip to extract stem cells, do some chemical magic with them, and inject them back into my knees. Then, with luck, some true biological stem cell-y wonders will happen.

To this end, I’m going to report on this blog about the procedure, recovery and hopefully, improvements in my knees over the next few months. I found it so hard to get some real information I could trust, maybe this might help someone out there who has similarly mangled knees.

I’ll be ecstatic if one or even both knees respond positively to stem cell therapy. Regardless though, I’m just one data point. Just because it works (or doesn’t) for me, doesn’t mean it won’t (or will) for you. Clinical trials are needed to test the widespread effectiveness.

So, my fingers and toes are firmly crossed.

But if it doesn’t work, I know I’ll never listen to Dave Ross again! 🙂

And if you want to know how the procedure went, read on

 

 

Powder Day at Kimberley, BC Dec 30th 2017

Finally getting around to processing the GoPro footage from last winter. This was my first experiment with the camera mount, so it’s a tad wonky in places though. Great ski day at Kimberley, BC, where the trees rock!

End of 2017-18 Season Summary

Since my last post, life kinda got on top of me. Crazy workload, trips to Europe, trips to Boston. There was time for work and skiing, and not much else. Hence here’s a brief wrap up of April and May skiing, more for posterity than anything else.

First stop was Whistler in early April. Great skiing, light crowds, hanging out with our  ski instructor friend Jess. It was funsies indeed, and a great way to belatedly hit 50 days for the season.

Friday 10,300m, Sat 11,300m, Sun 8300m vert

Saturday work meant we could only make the closing Sunday at Mission Ridge. It was the usual – great base, low crowds, Spring weather. Shame they closed.

Sunday 8000m vert

Work travel delayed the next trip until early May and a week riding Blackcomb. Despite the slightly limited terrain due to the new gondola construction to replace the Wizard and Solar Coaster chairs, there was some magnificent skiing. I love Spring at Blackcomb. Some GoPro footage of this week might emerge sometime if I buy a new laptop that can edit 60fps footage!

Sunday onwards: 6800m, 9400m, 11,000m, 8200m, 10,100m, 11,300m, 8600m vert

After a well deserved weekend at home we headed down to close the season at Mt Bachelor. The first 3 days were hardly Springtacular – the first day the lifts closed at 11.30am due to lightening (!) –  but the closing weekend brought sunny weather, silly costumes and lots of fun skiing.

3200m, 8200m, 6400m, 6300m, 6700m

Season Totals 63 days, 474,900m vert, 17 powder days

All in all, a decent season smattered with some truly wonderful skiing. Given the state of my knee on Sunday 7th January, I’m pretty pleased to still be able to churn out some decent vertical through the end of the season. The knee is far from perfect, but its manageable. Next challenge is biking season, with some long rides planned and serious training needed. If my knee survives that, there might just be some fun and games attempts to at least partially fix the bugger in early Fall.

Anything could happen.

Watch this space!

Excellent March Cascades Skiing

We’ve been blessed with some sensational mid-late March skiing in our local resorts since returning from Lech. We started at Mission Ridge with a 6 inch cold smoke day on a typically mostly deserted Saturday. There were plenty of scraps left for Sunday too. A fabulous weekend with great snow and cold clear weather.

The following Friday was a wild one at Stevens Pass. 4 inches of snow had fallen overnight, but the solid base meant only the brave went off the groomers early. The weather then oscillated every 45 minutes or so between sunshine and absolute dumpage as the storm pulses rolled in from the west. By the end of the day, I was lapping the Winnie Chutes off Skyliner, picking up face shots. The rock solid base was nowhere to be found. Quite a day.

We carried on from where we left off Friday in some superb conditions at Mission Ridge. The late Friday afternoon storms had made it over to the east side of the Cascades and laid a soft blanket of snow on Mission’s runs. With no killer freeze-thaw cycle earlier in the week, the whole mountain skied great for the weekend under clear, cold blue skies. One day I’ll process the GoPro footage of this one. One day.

Finally, we spent last weekend at Crystal. This was one of those weekends where the weather forecast was as out of kilter as the Seattle Sounders forward line. Saturday was a fun, mostly groomer Spring day, but the promised sun never arrived to soften up the mountain.

By Sunday morning it was unexpectedly dumping. We left at 2pm and there were 5 inches on our car outside the Alpine Inn. Easter Sunday is a reliable ‘no one on the hill’ day, so all day there was freshies on the groomers, and as the base built. tasty turns were available all over the mountain. Loadsafun.

Another massive storm is rolling in off the Pacific as I write. We might be in for some fun at Whistler this weekend. I love Spring in the Cascades 🙂

Mission Ridge 8200m, 8500m vert

Stevens Pass 7800m vert

Mission Ridge 9400m, 8100m vert

Crystal 10,400m, 7900m vert

Season Totals 47 days, 340,700m vert, 17 powder days

Early March in Lech

Another year, another trip to the Arlberg. We arrived at the end of a super Arctic freeze, with a palpable relief in Lech that the -25C temps had moved on. After a day of funshine, small storms moved in delivering a solid 10cm+ of snow each night to play in for the next two days. It was perfect cruising conditions – morning pow, then to Warth one day, St Anton the other, where the conditions on Rendl were especially fine.

Spring returned for a day, perfect for cruising the north facing slopes of Stuben. Then a  serious storm arrived. A classic foggy Lech pow day ensued – great snow, iffy viz. A day for the hardcore amongst us. Beer sales in town were up that day, I suspect.

It continued to snow heavily overnight, and the morning sun revealed mountains coated in 20-30cm of fluffy,  light snow. The sort of day when you have heliskiing for the cost of a day ticket. A GoPro day for sure.

We finished the trip with Spring gripping the weather for the last 2 days. Some corn, some amazing slushy bumps, even a hint of light drizzle thrown into the mix.

Overall, another superb visit. This has been a great snow year in the Arlberg, and the base was deep everywhere. Crowds were light except in Zuers, where the new lift link to St Anton seems to bring a constant stream of visitors every morning. I think we skied Zuers less than ever before for this very reason. Weirdly St Anton seemed quieter.

Lots of pics here. And for the three of you who follow this blog, my knee mostly survived to fight another day. That made me very hoppy 🙂

9 days: 8600m, 9900m, 8400m, 8200m, 9500m, 8400m, 7500m, 8100m, 5400m vert

Season Totals: 40 days, 280,400m vert, 13 powder days