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

5 wonderful days in New Zealand

Early July was very sketchy in New Zealand. Sketchy as in bare, mountains-not-really-open sketchy. We were certainly Slightly Concerned in Seattle.

Luckily, by mid-July it started snowing and laid a decent but small base at the mountains around Wanaka and Queenstown. Then we arrived. And it dumped. Big time. Mostly at night. This formula equaled 5 fabulous ski days indeed.

Skiing at Treble Cone – TC as the locals call it – on Day 1 was a bluebird day, with some wind moving snow around and 5cm of pow from overnight to add to the fun. Saddle Basin was pretty well covered, but the frontside Home Basin was not skiable off groomed from about half way down. It was a great day to reacquaint the legs to high speed, steep turns in TC’s fine chutes and gullies.

The next day it snowed 50cm at the base of TC. They never reported how much up high. This led to a delayed opening, so to Cardona we headed, where a mere 25cm of fresh was sat on the mountain. We were in line with 3 other people at 9am (!) and just lapped up pow all day long. The mountain was riding beautifully – it opened my eyes to the pleasures of Cardrona as I’d never skied here with such a good base. An apres beer in the quirky Cardrona Hotel tasted mighty fine afterwards.

Day 3 and 4 were back to Treble Cone, with now an excellent base from top to bottom, opening up the front side for ‘ski where you like’ fun. There was so much untracked snow in Saddle Basin that the skiing was truly epic. The wind kept things topped up all day, ensuring freshies every single run before it got too strong for the Saddle Basin chair to run. The next day started stormy and snowy and foggy, meaning a ski-by-braille morning on TC’s treeless slopes. About 1pm the clouds, as if by Games of Thrones like magic, lifted, leaving a mountain with 20cm+ of snow lying everywhere, and mostly untracked as no one could see it before now. Cold, sun, pow, no crowds – it was quite an afternoon.

The snow and wind, and cold, sunny conditions persisted through our last day at Cardrona. The wind was so strong it was scouring some previously skiable areas and loading the snow in the chutes and gullies. It must have been the reason the crowds stayed away too, leaving wide open, ever-refreshing snowfields for us to rip all day long. It was the perfect last day for a superlative, too short trip. And the 2015-16 ski season.

Bring on November.

Treble Cone 8000m vert

Cardona 7600m vert

Treble Cone 10,300m, 9300m vert

Cardrona 7600m vert,

Season Totals: 75 days, 609, 300m vert, 27 powder days




Closing weekend carnage at Mt Bachelor

We missed Memorial Day weekend at Bachelor last year. Everyone did. The mountain closed Mid May due to a horrible snow year in the West.

The base made it pretty easily this year. It was thin down low at West Village, but conditions hung in like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. No doubt due to some fine work by the grooming crew.

The recent spell of super warm weather abated, making for some cool and gradually warming Spring skiing. On several days the conditions up high were just turning to perfect creamy corn when the lifts closed at 1pm. 2pm would have been nice indeed. Those runs off the Summit as the snow transforms to wondrous high speed soft Spring snow are magical things. They are well worth the hike.

The whole weekend was the usual recipe of great skiing – on and off groomed -silly costumes, lots of wine, and wandering around Bend in the evenings sampling its fine food and breweries. It really is a combination that is hard to beat.

Until next Memorial weekend …

6400m, 9600m, 7200m, 7600m vert

Season Totals: 70 days, 566, 500m vert, 23 powder days

A very warm early May at Blackcomb

Summary of post for busy readers:

  • fabulous Spring skiing for 4 days on Blackcomb
  • It’s ridiculously warm and the snow is melting fast

This was 4 days of some of the best Springy goodness you can ever have on skis. Soft groomers early, dollops of corn by lunchtime especially around 7th Heaven, and epic lines to pick off in the afternoon off the Glacier chair.

The only downside is the temperatures are making the snow disappear very rapidly. The amount of melt in 3 weeks since Whistler closing weekend is quite staggering. This is a stupidly warm Spring. The runouts to the lower chairs were brown mush by the afternoon, and on Sunday rocks appeared on high traffic areas on 7th Heaven. The heat from the previous day did some serious damage.

Run of the trip was an 11am descent of the Blackcomb glacier. A short hike led to innumerable lines of heavenly corn snow down the full length and breadth of the broad glacier. You just picked your line and like Donald Trump on illegal immigration, let it rip without a care in the world. Below the glacier, the run out was slow, and in several places. bare. Walking required. It was worth it.

On 7th Heaven, a lunch time push out skier’s left revealed high quality lines in Lakeside Bowl. Huge radius high speed turns were the order of the day while watching the pond skimmers try their luck on the melting blue edge of the glacial lake. It was all slightly surreal.

As 7th Heaven closed, runs like Cougar Chutes, Pakalolo and Heavenly Basin delivered steep and soft turns. It was actually remarkable how well all the runs held up in the afternoon heat. Our standard last run of the day from the top of Jersey Cream down Zigzag was fantastic at 3.30pm-ish every day. High speed slush riding is epic fun. Just let those rockers ride the snow and hang on.

I hope we get some more in before this crazy hot Spring melts all the snow.

9,300m, 9500m, 8200m, 6900m vert

Season Totals: 66 days, 535, 700m vert, 23 powder days


Topping 1/2 million vertical meters for the season at Mt Bachelor

It’s always nice to top 500Km vertical in a season by the end of April. It’s even nicer to do it at Mt Bachelor on super Spring ski weekend. Searing deep blue skies dominated, it never got too warm, leaving the snow slick all weekend.

Timing is always the key in Spring. With nothing high groomed off the Northwest Express, we cruised front side groomers on Saturday until the Summit runs came in to their own. Then, two top-to-bottom runs on Cows Face were the highlight. A few crunchy turns up high transitioned into heavenly high speed corn. Aiming for the rapidly defrosting patches of ice in the shade paid huge dividends with divine  turns for several 100m vertical until the catchline brought you to the long trek back to the Skyliner lift. Mt Bachelor epicness at it best.

Sunday was markedly cooler early. With high winds, the Summit lift stayed closed, and all lifts ran at low speed for the first two hours, making for a slow start to the day. We tooled around on creamy groomers and soft off piste low down until 11am-ish when the ungroomed areas off the Northwest Express  started to ride well. We then lapped multiple lines west to east for the next two hours. sucking in some great turns, and flying down the lower groomed sections at speeds that would’ve been respectable in mid-winter.

If this crazy warm Spring doesn’t get out of hand – it was the warmest April on record in Seattle – there should be plenty more of this in May.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday 10,3oom, Sunday 7900m vert

Season Totals: 62 days, 501, 800m vert, 23 powder days

Closing down a wonderful season at Mission Ridge

All good things have to come to an end, and the 3rd weekend in April was the time for this wonderful season at Mission Ridge to shutdown. It was a festive weekend, full of costumes vaguely related to the flamingo theme, and, well, lots of people drinking. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that Mission just uses skiing as a front to sell copious amounts of alcohol. Works for me🙂 The skiing bit, that is.

The warm weather had damaged the sunny, Bomber side of the mountain, but the cover was excellent on the 2/3rds of the terrain that remained open. Saturday was warm and true Spring skiing. There were some fantastic soft, corned up bumps on runs like Lemolo, Johnsons, Tyee and Maggies. The groomers hung in too, helped by the 2pm closing.

Sunday was more late winter than Spring. An overnight freeze made everything off groomed pretty solid, and a cold wind was as welcome as a carton of beers at an AA meeting. We skied mostly groomed all morning, with the runs off Chair 3 particularly rocking and rolling. The sun finally worked its magic on the upper mountain bump runs by the afternoon, and by 2pm everything was starting to ride very sweetly. And then the lifts closed😦

So that was 22 days this season at Mission. 22 very fine days. It’s a great place to call my home mountain.

6800m, 10,200m vert

Season Totals: 60 days, 483, 600m vert, 23 powder days

Closing Weekend at Whistler

Closing weekend is a fine thing at Whistler. The crowds have gone, the snow is deep and the weather usually highly pleasurable, in a typical mixed up Whistler kind of way. We spent most of the weekend cruising all over Whistler, checking out the free demos at the Roundhouse – in my case, Prior demos. Prior skis are fine things.

Saturday was cooler and it even drizzled a little in the afternoon, which had the curious effect of speeding up the snow late in the day. The Peak fogged in by the afternoon, so we lapped sugary soft bumps on the lower runs down to Garbanzo. It was ripping fun.

Sunday was more traditional Spring, bluebird and a little warmer. We closed down the hill in style, with many runs off Harmony and the Peak chairs, as well a quick excursion to Symphony Bowl. The run down at 4pm was a hoot, fancy dress everywhere, and in one case, no dress at all above the (female) waist. That was a first for me😉

Spring season started on Monday. It was more like Summer on Blackcomb, meaning early laps of 7th Heaven were the order of the day. As the hungover ex-Whistler employees rolled up by noon, we popped over the top and skied the Blackcomb Glacier. It was a little slow up high, but still a fine, spectacular ride. A shortened day meant we left before it got really hot. Hopefully Spring, and maybe even a tad of Winter, will return soon!


11900, 11600, 6800m vert

Season Totals: 58 days, 466, 600m vert, 23 powder days

Spring in the Cascades – Snoqualmie, Stevens Pass and Mt Hood Meadows

Spring arrived early in the Cascades. It’s not usually so warm in early to mid April. Luckily the base is deep, the scenery magnificent, and there’s some killer good Spring corn to wallow in. Early April we did two day trips from Seattle, hitting a soft and bumpy Snoqualmie Pass and fine, creamy corn day at Stevens Pass.

With the hordes gone from both mountains, you could time your runs perfectly to match the warming snow conditions. It was also my first descent down Double Diamond at Stevens. It’s a steep one, which was covered in big old soft bumps. Epic run. I’d love to hit that one on a powder day. Midweek.

Second weekend in April we headed south to Mount Hood Meadows. Always a favorite after the Portland crowds have gone, there was as much snow as I think I’ve seen here in April. The wonders of Heather Canyon are always the main attraction here, and we managed 3 laps each day before first avi danger closed the lift and second a sticky run out sent us high.

After lunch Sunday we scored some superb corn on the runs off Cascade. It lasted 6 laps before the Spring sun turned it to much. We were like hipsters in a Goodwill store, charging relentlessly to find more wondrous goods. I even hucked a cornice. In a dress. And there was a girl in a bikini in the terrain park. Just stood around. It was that kind of day.

Snoqualmie: 5800m vert

Stevens Pass: 8400m vert

Mt Hood Meadows: 8100m, 6400m vert

Season Totals: 55 days, 436, 300m vert, 23 powder days

Spring Saturday, Winter Sunday at Crystal Mountain

Winter weekend crowds mean we avoid Crystal Mountain like a Donald Trump rally. Those Seattle-based hordes mean crowded everything all weekend long. But by mid March the crowds are playing baseball and golk, and on most years the skiing is still fabulous. This Saturday saw the 500 inches for the season broken – thanks El Nino!! There’s as much snow as I’ve seen at Crystal in 15 years.

Saturday was Spring. Great groomers, and some tasty remnants on north facing aspects from the previous day’s storm. Powder Bowl was excellent. So was Paradise Bowl and the steep-sometimes-groomed run into Snorting Elk ripped all weekend. Half way down Bear Pits was where winter snow turned to ball-y, solid crud. Those last few turns weren’t my favorites of the weekend.

It started drizzling late Saturday night but by Sunday morning it was snowing steadily to the base, with a couple of inches on out truck. Squalls moved in and out all day  topping up the excellent conditions. Sunday was as empty as I’ve seen Crystal for many years, which just meant more pow for us. First groomer pow off the Forest Queen. Then pow off the north facing lines that run back in to Green Valley and Snorting Elk Bowl.

Conditions warranted a couple of runs into Northway, where wind was constantly loading Paradise Bowl and serving up fantastic conditions. After lunch we timed a run down Powder Bowl in a cloud. White on white on a 50 degrees slope isn’t may favorite, but at least the snow quality was excellent.

Great ski hill. Great conditions. Absolutely fantastic weekend.

Saturday 10,100m, Sunday 8200m vert

Season Totals: 51 days, 407, 600m vert, 23 powder days

Mid March at Snoqualmie and Mt Bachelor

This has been a wild old fluctuating winter, but not one that has been short on snow. A Mid-March powder day at Snoqualmie on a surprisingly quiet Sunday was a fine thing. The low base meant things got a tad heavy by noon, but the steeps skied well all day.

By the following weekend, a big old high pressure had set in and it was serious Springtime at Mt Bachelor. Freeze-thaw cycles meant the west side of the volcano was frozen solid until early afternoon. On days like this, start at Sunrise and Cow Face on the east side of the Summit, and follow the sun. We were guiding a beginner Hobbit skier so vert wasn’t huge. But neither were the crowds. Really no lift lines all weekend.

There’s so much to love about Spring skiing! But I suspect Winter might return before teh season is out.

Snoqualmie 7900m

Bachelor 7500m, 7500m vert

Season Totals: 49 days, 389, 300m vert, 22 powder days



Badass Big White Week in early March

A fading El Meano was refusing to go without a struggle in early March. Moisture was pointing at the Pacific Northwest, but it had fast moving pineapples in it, causing a fair bit of rain in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. For a week off work, we made a late decision and headed north and high to Big White. A 100+ inch base and temps forecast to stay on the lower side of 0C all week, as well as a killer priced last minute slopeside condo deal (thanks Ownerdirect!), made it an easy choice. And as it turned out, a very good once.

The week started cool and clear and sunny giving  a perfect chance to reacquaint ourselves with the terrain, and explore the seemingly numerous newly gladed areas. Then we got a fluffy 8+ inches of delightful Okanagan pow, making Tuesday a very fine day indeed.

Wednesday brought a break in the weather, perfect for playing in the Cliff area where plenty of pow remained from the previous day. In the afternoon we just lapped the Bullet chair, having stupid ridiculous fun in the trees between runs. Well carved, soft luge tracks made for Indiana Jones like high speed adventure runs, with tree branches flashing past dangerously close at times.

Thursday brought high winds and some new snow. We were luckily well positioned for a late Gem Lake opening, and managed two fantastic virtually untracked runs before scurrying back to make the last Crystal chair to the village. And Friday topped off a glorious week with perfect wind blown pow and constant refills in Sun Rype Bowl. When the wind and cold and snow and sun come together like this, it is genuinely hard to beat, ripping through snow ghosts at high speed in soft, talcum like snow. A really fantastic week at a very fine, varied ski hill.

(For posterity – we actually book ended this week with one excellent and one very soggy day at Schweitzer, and the usually rocking Mission Ridge day, unfortunately curtailed due to a Seatac airport pickup. That was a tough day to leave early.)

Schweitzer :9300m, 5200m

Big White: 8700m, 8200m, 9300m, 9100m, 7300m

Mission Ridge 5500m

Season Totals: 46 days, 366, 400m vert, 21 powder days