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

Ripping the Steeps at Red Mountain

A weekend simply isn’t enough to explore the wonders of Red’s unrelenting terrain. If you don’t like steeps, trees and bumps, this is probably not a mountain you want to hang out at for too long. But if you do, it is virtually without peer, packing a punch way beyond its moderate statistics. There are good groomers. We even ripped a few. But there aren’t many.

Saturday dawned chilly and bluebird. Glorious, soft deep snow has blanketed the mountain this winter, creating magnificent conditions. In fact there was as much snow here as I’ve seen on our many visits. We warmed up on Red’s epic fall-line groomers, and then dipped into War Eagle Glades to test out the off piste. Rocks were covered, shrubbery was covered, hell – even most of the cliff bands were covered. What a great run.

I’ll let the pics tell the story of the day.

Sunday wasn’t quite so photogenic, or chilly. There were still wonders to be had though, especially on the shady sides of Granite and Gray. If you avoided anything that had seen substantial sun the day before, the snow remained mostly in primo condition. Of course the north facing areas on Granite – Beer Belly, Booty’s Run, Captain Jack’s Trees – held up best, delivering the fear inducing, exhilarating experiences that  Red Mountain Resort dishes up in spades.

This is a great year to visit Red. I’m not sure we’ll make it back unfortunately. I just hope next year that Ullr is equally generous.

Saturday 8000m, Sunday 8100m vert

Season Totals: 34 days,  281,400m vert, 8 powder days

Max-ing out the Passes at Loon and Sunday River

The good old M.A.X. Passes we bought are turning out to be a helluva good deal. Already in the gravy zone, and finding ourselves in New England for a weekend, we had plenty of ski hills to choose from where the MAX Pass was accepted. We punted for Loon and Sunday River. Both had good on ground conditions, pleasant forecasts, and well, we’d never been to either. And the skiing was ‘free’.

In fact we were New Hampshire ski virgins, and Loon is such a silly name, it was completely irresistible for so many reasons. Luckily, the skiing added another reason. The groomers were truly fantastic – grippy and fast, holding an edge easily. The trees were a little sketchy lower down, but in general were classic hard pack New England woods. Bumpy. Tight. Kinda solid. Wonderful fun.

We started on South Peak, and picked off all the runs, from lookers left to right. With a fast chair and light crowds, this was fast vertical accumulation. Ripsaw, a classic New England steep groomer, was the pick. Hit runs like these early before they get scraped off, and it is high-speed corduroy heaven. The weather even cooperated, revealing surprisingly mountainy views to the north. The White Mountains do deserve their moniker.

Loon Peak and especially North Peak also held delights and surprises. Walking Boss (weird name!) had a steep groomer and two pitches of woods to the skier’s right that were excellent riding. Mike’s Way and Skidder were slightly less challenging but equally satisfying excursions in the woods. And it was hard to beat long, top-to-bottom groomers on runs like Flying Fox and Northstar. 2100 feet of high speed carving always brings a smile to my face.

Next stop was a  couple of hours around the White Mountains in Maine. Sunday River is a place I always fancied skiing. With some of the most expansive terrain in New England, it has a reputation for reliable snow (ok – it’s New England!) and lots of variety spread across its 8 ‘peaks’ (New England, remember).

Again, the skiing did not disappoint. The snaking, winding, crisscrossing  runs took some time to get our bearings, but by mid afternoon we kinda knew where we were going. A favorite was White Heat, a formidably steep groomer with a solid slab of exposed ice on its steepest pitch. Hit it first thing in the morning, and the ice is a cinch. Hit it late in the afternoon, and it’s a slightly more scary proposition. To add to the fun, two excellent glades, Hard Ball and Chutzpah, surround the groomer. Chutzpah especially was kinda steep and gnarly. I survived!

At the other end of the resort, Jordan Bowl has more approachable terrain and fabulous views in all directions. Excalibur is one of the best groomers around – rolling and winding. Wizard’s Gulch is fabulous, tight tree skiing. In contrast, Blind Spot is fabulous, wide open, gentle tree skiing. Both runs are rippable and worthy of many laps.

Between these two extremes lies an immense amount of some of the best skiing in New England. Super steep groomed runs like Vortex, scary tight trees like North Woods, and perfect pitched smooth blues and blacks like Nothern Lights, South Paw and Top Gun ensure that only the most hardened snobby Vail skiing type would get bored in a week. The locals were hoping for another foot of snow to completely cover up all the woods and ‘natural’ areas, but the bottom of my skis suffered less damage than the truth does in a Sean Spicer press conference. In fact we had a ball. And as I write 6 days later, they got 18 inches. The local will be happy.

I’d head back to Sunday River any time.

Loon 10,200m vert

Sunday River 9,500m, 9300m very

Season totals 32 days,  265,300m vert, 8 powder days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding in the Washington Cascades Sunshine

January often brings ‘the doldrums’ to the Pacific Northwest. A period of high pressure gives sunshine in the mountains with little new snow for a week or two. This year, the last half of January is very doldrums-like. Still, the base is good and the occasional little top ups and cold temperatures keep the skiing kinda fine.

A Sunday at Snoqualmie was never going to be quiet. We started at the Summit East parking lot, and when we clipped in the bindings, the snow arrived. Good timing indeed. We explored Summit East quite extensively, and there is some good fall line, bumpy terrain there. By the end of the day, with a couple of inches new snow on top, these runs were ripping wonderfully. And East is not a busy spot.

We then skied from Summit East to Summit West, skirting smallish lines in Central – very respectable for a Sunday really. The killer runs were under the Wild Fire chair in West. Short but steep, bumpy, with trees to hop around and snow covered boulders to drop. And no wait at all.

The lines midweek at Alpental typically comprised the ticket checker and me. There were maybe 100 people there for a morning of high-speed frontside groomer and bump shredding. The bowl off chair 2 was pretty solid, so I avoided that, and after 20 laps of the quad, I was rolling back down the freeway to Seattle.

It wasn’t really a lot busier at Mission Ridge on the weekend. Lodges were packed with racers and families, but most chair rides required a 1 minute wait maximum. The mountain was still riding well despite having little new snow for a week. And the views were pretty darn awesome. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of the world.

Snoqualmie 5900m

Alpental 8300m

Mission Ridge 9200m, 7100m

Season totals 29 days,  236,300m vert, 8 powder days

MLK Weekend at Whistler

It’s weird, as we don’t usually ride Whistler in mid winter. When the whole mountain is actually open. The crowds were even very respectable for a US holiday weekend. And with rather calm, benign weather, it was kind of a luxury to be honest.

With so much terrain, epic and varied terrain in fact, it’s impossible to beat Whistler in North America. There is simply so much superb skiing. Simple delights like a top-to-bottom, deserted,  Peak-to-Creek runs are not possible to replicate on this continent. There’s trees, killer steeps, epic groomers. And in mid season, if you can see it, you can ski it.

Friday we luxuriated in the emptiness, spending a lot of time on the Symphony chair. We played on the numerous lines into Rhapsody Bowl and ducked in and out of Glissando Glades. Low angle tree fun at it best.

Saturday was a Blackcomb day. We got caught in one 10-minute line at 7th Heaven at 10.15am, but apart from that, waiting was no big deal. This was a full mountain exploration day. I really enjoyed Raptor Ride and Where’s Joe, two tree runs on the way to 7th Heaven. It’s a bit of a trek back to Solar Coaster, but this particular Saturday it was well worth it.

Back to Whistler for Sunday. Lots of long groomers (‘coz they were epic) down to Creekside and off the Garbanzo chair. Seppo’s under the lift line was very worthy too, if a bit sketchy down low. Crowds – well, there weren’t any.

And Monday we just ripped Blackcomb groomers, mostly off the Crystal Chair. There were a few excursions into glades like Outer Limits and Log Jam, and the rocky steeps under the chair (no idea what they are called), but basically we just flew on fantastic corduroy with few slow moving obstacles on the runs to avoid. I clicked out of my bindings back at our Wood Run condo at 12.59pm , with over 10Km vert on the GPS. Bummer we had to drive home really.

10,800m, 10, 900m, 11,700m, 10, 100m vert

Season totals 25 days,  205,800m vert, 8 powder days

Cold and Snowy at Mission Ridge

Wow it was cold at Mission Ridge on the first weekend in January. Really cold – like ‘-17C with wind chill’ cold. The skiing was rather tasty though. Despite frequent stops at Midway to warm up, we shredded silken groomers early and later played in the inch or two or new snow that fell from early afternoon. And we still got down to town in time to watch the Seahawks whip Detroit.

A little more snow fell Saturday night, and Sunday we had light snow most of the day. It was still cold, but not freeze the ‘nads off a polar bear cold like the day before. The top up of freshies made for mighty fine skiing.

With a tad of care on the drop-ins, all of Mission’s intriguing and fun tight tree lines were ready for exploration. These kinda hidden and unnamed tree shots are one of the joys of Mission Ridge. Once the lines fill in, there are numerous lightly tracked options, some genuinely steep and most a ski or two wide.

The variety this offers makes Mission such an appealing and enjoyable place to ride. Add the lack of crowds – no lines all weekend – and you know why we drive over the Cascades at weekends in midwinter!

Saturday 8800m, Sunday 8400m vert

Season totals 21 days,  162,300m vert, 8 powder days

The Great Mission Ridge New Year Deluge

A slightly solid, slightly low snow Mission Ridge on New Year’s Eve gave no hint of what was to come on the first two days of the 2017. The weather was sunny and cold, and base was good but about a foot short of ‘ski anywhere’ coverage. 2 days later and 39 inches of blower pow, that problem was put to bed. For the season.

Not even the weather forecast bore clues of the impending deluge. A couple of inches were forecast for New Year’s Day, with just a few flurries afterward. The reality was very different.

The snow started innocuously enough about 9.30am on New Year’s Day, and the steady light snowfall did a very welcome job of refreshing the groomers. By noon it was really coming down. Puking. We declared a powder day by 1pm when a run down Allah in 4-6 inches of super light wind loaded pow brought whoops of delight all around.

By the end of the day, the conditions were quite wonderful. A liftie at midway measured 11 inches of new snow on the seat of a broken chair. Every run had at least half that amount just begging to be smashed by the 200 or so people left on the mountain (the Seahawks were playing!). Every drop in off Windy Ridge was face shot territory. What a day.

The forecast for the next day had the snow petering out overnight. So imagine my surprise when I rolled groggily down to breakfast and ski buddies said 28 inches had fallen overnight. 28 inches at about 17F. 28 inches. This is Mission Ridge. 28 inches. That doesn’t happen here.

It did. There was so much snow the mountain opening was delayed, but soon after 10am we were riding Chair 4 and choking on snow on every turn. In places there was actually too much snow. You needed some angle to gather speed and hence the flat spots were a struggle. But runs like Johnson’s and Tyee and Mission’s many tree shots, that the day before were marginal, were now trips to the White Room.

I guess it was one of those occasions that you just had to see to believe. I suspect the locals will talk about the start of 2017 for many a year. I very glad we got to experience it. 39 inches in 24 hours at Mission Ridge. Really ….

Mission Ridge 8100m, 10100m, 5500m vert

Snoqualmie 6400m vert

Season totals 19 days,  145,100m vert, 8 powder days

Xmas in the Canadian Rockies

A friend from New Zealand staying in Lake Louise? Well, let’s drive most of Xmas day and have dinner with them on the 26th. It’s only a 10 hour drive over two very snowy mountain passes. But we hadn’t skied Louise for a while. And it had reportedly got good early snow, so there were many incentives.

The reports were, in fact, true. A cold grey day dawned on the 27th and we quickly discovered the frontside groomers were ripping good. We then plopped over the back and skied excellent bumps off the Larch chair before a mid-morning coffee and warmup stop. It was chilly.

The fun really started when we took a few laps of the Ptarmigan chair. The trees on both sides held great lines and only low down got somewhat boney and rocky. The straight shot under the chair was similarly fun, with the usual rock and stump hopping required. This is Lake Louise in December after all.

Next was multiple laps of the Top of the World chair. The wind was loading the open and treed areas that offer so much variety on the way back to the chair. This was great skiing, with free refills every ride. Both sides of the gully held soft bumps, again with a little obstacle avoidance required.

We finished with a ride down Paradise Bowl. It was -15C up top with a strong cold wind that chilled to the bone. The skiing was good – the bowl was well covered – but with time running short, we skipped a second cold ride, explored Ptarmigan trees once more, and headed to the Jeep by 3pm. A fabo day on a truly excellent ski mountain.

We bookended the Lake Louise day with a couple at Kicking Horse – it is on the way from Seattle after all :). On the 26th when all Canadians are boxing, Kicking Horse was a deserted big mountain delight. The snow cover up high off the ridges and in the bowls was excellent packed powder, creating lots of options to contemplate on the gondola ride up. Below the alpine was much thinner, with little grooming off the winding cat track and tree tops abundant on the runs. We found 2 or 3 that skied well, but a good foot or so was needed to open more terrain.

Two days later Canadians were not boxing, and by 10am it felt like most of the country was in line for the Kicking Horse gondola. We had two rides before the holiday hordes arrived, in conditions very like two days before. With no desire to stand in line for 30 minutes, we retired to the good old crawling Pioneer chair, where with about 30 others, we skipped and hopped bumps and tree tops. These runs are hardly used, so despite low-ish snow, the conditions were fun. Fun until 2pm anyway, when the lift closed!!! Really Kicking Horse. At Xmas. 2pm!!

The gondola line was no shorter, so we bailed at 3pm and jumped in the car early the next day to ski Kimberley. No crowds here, similar snow to Kicking Horse (ie tree tops to skip on steeps), and lots of bumps and groomers to shred. It snowed steadily from late morning, and we revelled in the ever improving conditions on mostly deserted runs. Kimberley doesn’t get the most abundant and reliable snow, but it’s a kicker little ski hill when fully open. A low key treasure to visit. Highly recommended.

Kicking Horse 8400m, 6800m vert

Lake Louise 8200m vert

Kimberley 7500m vert

Season totals 15 days,  115,o00m vert, 6 powder days

 

 

 

Pre-Xmas Cruising around Seattle

One of the joys of living in Seattle is access to local ski hills. Between a Mission Ridge season pass and a MAX Pass, I can ski virtually anywhere (except Baker) and get great lift discounts. The downside is weekend crowds, but they don’t kick in until after Xmas (and never kick in at Mission). Before then is luxury 🙂

Big early December storms have put down a solid base everywhere. Another two feet and it’ll be ride anywhere time, but for now there’s still the odd tree top and cliff protrusions on steeper terrain.

Decent snowfall Tuesday was followed by a warm up and rain, and this left Snoqualmie Summit somewhat firm on Wednesday. The groomers were decent at Summit Central, but off groomed was more like east coast skiing. I ended up doing laps on the Armstrong chair at Alpental, where it was virtually deserted. Grooming was minimal but the bumps and snow covered boulders were fun to ride. Fun for effectively free anyway.

Thursday was a mostly clear day at Stevens Pass. Groomers were soft and carving beautifully early, and if you were judicious, there was soft packed powder in the gullies and trees. We spent most of the morning lapping the back side on the Jupiter chair, and the afternoon on the front where the snow was probably better. A bad lift line was 2 minutes, so we happily jaunted around the mountain like a President-Elect with a twitter feed, aiming the skis randomly at any target that looked worthy of attention. The payback was typically positive.

By Saturday morning, a few inches of new snow had fallen across the Cascades. Xmas Eve, Seahawks game, some freshies – the perfect recipie for a day trip to Alpental at Snoqualmie. It was still firm underfoot but the 2-3 inches on top softened things up in places. The lower groomer off International was killer high speed fun, and there were plenty of bumpy steep-ish lines through the middle of the lower mountain to have fun on. I gently explored, with the odd trip to the top when the visibility cleared out.

On the lift at 9.30am, in the car at 1.10pm. It was mostly deserted. I rode most lifts alone, and weirdly only talked to Scots and Irish folks. It was that kind of day. Merry Xmas 🙂

Snoqualmie/Alpental 8300m, Stevens Pass 7700m, Alpental 9300m vert

Season totals 11 days,  84,100m vert, 6 powder days

 

More Early December Whistler Pow

Not a great deal of snow had fallen at Whistler in the 12 days since we left on ThxGiving weekend. It had been cold though. Real cold. Perfect for filling in the mid and lower trails with gun pow. The whole place looked a lot whiter.

A skiff of snow fell Thursday night, freshening up generally firm runs and adding a little give to the off-piste. High cloud invited us to take laps on Harmony, where some of the bowls skied pretty well. Just before lunch we headed up the Peak Chair and as we did, in moved the weather. It was ski-by-braille on the top of the Peak-to-Creek. We bailed at the Big Red Chair, and stayed on mid-mountain ripping groomers for the rest of the day.

A solid 4 inches+ fell Friday night. Early runs on Blackcomb were fantastic. Warming up on the terrain park, smoking pow between jumps, was great fun. Then laps on Seventh Heaven where the trees near the chair were a bumpy soft delight. There was still time before lunch to duck over the top, grab a shot down Pakalolo and head back up to hike to the Blackcomb Glacier. It was a little rugged in places, but there were really nice fluffy turns to be had.

Sunday was a mild storm day. Snow overnight was topped up constanly by steady falls. The upper mountain was socked in all day, so we played mid-mountain on Whistler. Garbanzo was the go-to lift, with no line (it wasn’t busy anyway) and some excellent on and off groomed runs to be had. It was a very fine, fast day.

Friday 9500m, Saturday 8000m vert, Sunday 8500m vert

Season totals 8 days,  58,800m vert, 6 powder days

Footnote: This was our first trip with the S’no Joke ski club, which we joined recently. 80+ members headed to Whistler and stayed in the Listel and Aava hotels – fantastic locations and great pre-Xmas prices. Everyone carpooled up and we shared with another new member (from the UK!) who turned out to be a really nice guy. The downside of this was that we collectively knew no one in the club, and as we arrived 8pm-ish Thursday and missed the arrival drinks, we pretty much hung out together that night and skied together Friday.

Friday night was a fun social with tasty food. We got to know a few folks, but I especially was hampered by an evil cough, so wasn’t exactly on best socializing form. There was a pre-ski meeting Friday morning where we at least got to ride up the lifts with a few members and chat. The group quickly disintegrated when we got to the top but I did manage a few runs with a strong group of skiers. Promising.

Large, established groups are always hard to get to know, so it’ll take time, but hopefully we’ll meet a few good ski buddies downstream. If any turn out as good as out friends from the Desert Ski Club, we’ll be very hoppy indeed 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crystal Delivers Deep

Saturday at Crystal delivered the groomers that Whistler the previous weekend had denied. With plenty of opportunities to jump off piste and play in soft snow, it was a fine old ski day. It was fun to ride at high speed on Crystal’s great terrain.

Then about 5pm it started snowing. We retired to the Snorting Elk and watched the snow dump. There were no groomers to be found Sunday. Everything was buried under 18-24 inches of light blower pow. What a storm. What a ski day.

With so much snow, the upper mountain lifts were slow to start. With the sound of bombs ringing around the peaks, I hopped on the Chinook chair – singles line magic – before 9am and bolted to the Forest Queen to get in some quick laps. The terrain over there has flat spots which are challenging in knee deep snow, but the steeper pitches were truly amazing. It was powder cloud time. Every turn.

By 10.30 the upper mountain lifts opened and the line at REX (Mount Rainier Express) shrank to a couple of minutes. So we just lapped the bowl in Green Valley, the trees to the left of Middle Ferk, and the steeps down to the base. Wash, rise, repeat. There was so much deep untracked snow that short traverses delivered huge rewards.

There may not be many better days than Sunday this season. Although I said that about Whistler last Saturday. That was a great day. This was even better.

Saturday 9000m vert, Sunday 6100m vert

Season totals 5 days,  32,800m vert, 4 powder days