Monday, January 29, 2007

Dawn Patrol

Ullr has been giving Washington the big F-off for the last week or so but it's as if Mother Nature said "OK, no snow...but how about some SUN?" Wow, sun is awesome. Crappy, gnarly, crusty snow is NOT awesome - but with sun it actually gets a little awesome.
We headed up to the Alpental valley early to get some turns underneath Chair Peak before our normal day in Seattle began. We were greeted with one of those wonderful alpine mornings where the sun moves its way up the valley and is finally shining on your face, there to stay for the remainder of the day. We hit the trail at 8 am - pretty much place to ourselves - skinned and skied about 2500' before heading back. The corn was just starting to realize its own natural sweet self as we pointed our tips for the car but alas we couldn't stick around for its final incarnation.We dodged kids and dogs and sleds and snowshoers on the long slick cattrack that Alpental paves up the valley for access - the closer to the car, the more the maddness. As we drove out the parking lot past the throngs who were just starting their ski day, we felt like we stole something. But we also left plenty of corn behind for those yet to come.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More Heather Ridge (or How I Tried to Kill My Brother)

Mmmm...another great weekend skiing Heather Ridge. Again, we were blessed with deep light snow and clearish weather. BUT, things were looking bad in Monroe when Andrea realized that she had forgotten her jacket. No worries, she would ski in the puffy jacket she always keeps at the bottom of her pack. All loaded up with coffee, things were looking to go swimmingly. But upon arrival at the trailhead, disaster came in the form of me realizing I had forgotten what is probably the single most important item for backcountry skiing short of skis and boots - skins. Ouch, this was gonna hurt.
It was Nick's first time out with all his gear so we resolved to take it slow, do a little beacon practice, and see just how many vertical feet a pair of size 25.5 Scarpa Lazers can take one when the snow is thigh deep. (Sigh, it really was thigh deep.)

Nick looking for my skins
Turns out, skins schmins, I could cover pretty good ground, especially when the skin track was already well set by other skiers and snowshoers. We skied about 2800' vertical in all, a great day considering we spend more than an hour practicing our beacon searches, including multiple burial scenarios. Andrea was the fastest, armed with a BCA Tracker finding 2 buried "bodies" in under three minutes. And that was after Nick buried the beacons close together to make the search harder. I'm glad she is my partner.

Speed-beacon-finding mama
In true Greg Stump style, Nick got the scare of the day in our second run. I had dug a pit on the NW aspect of a ridgeline that had been subject to some wind. I observed Q2 failures at SC10 about 10-15 cm down. Nick picked a line through a 50 degree chute that left little room for error. Just as he entered the chute, a crack shot from his tracks to trees on the side of the chute and weak areas just below the trees began to break apart. Nick pulled up just in time to cowboy over the rocks...

Nick's crack
Actually, he skied out just fine and the chute didn't go but it was a good reminder that we have to stay on our toes. Emerson was following Nick and for some reason turned tail just before Nick skied off and picked a more mellow line down. It's freaky how in tune to this stuff dogs are. Nick was a little shaken and kept asking "How come I have to go first all the time" for the rest of the day but we explained that because we were so good at beacon searching, he had to get buried. And Emerson was too smart. Well, Nick had enough juice left in him the rest of the day to shred the gnar, no worries about that.

All the videos we took turned out sideways so we will have to hit up some new ones next week. And tomorrow, Alpental on my new skis! (hint 4FRNT VCTs).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Gold Creek on Skinny Skis

Today Andrea, I, Jeremy, Sarah, and Tom headed up to Snoqualmie Pass to do a tour around the Gold Creek area on our waxless touring skis. This was Sarah's maiden voyage on her new skis and Andrea and I hadn't brought out the waxless touring skis probably since skiing the Resurrection Trail last winter.
The cold snap that has been lingering over Seattle and the surrounding area made for a crisp, cold trek through the woods. It must have been national "snowshoe on hardpack day" because the trails on the way out were absolutely awash in snowshoers trekking over what to us seemed to be hardpacked ski trail but all seemed to be having fun. As the video below evidences, although we stayed on level terrain much of the day, turns in the freshies were still had by some:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Blower in Washington

On Saturday, Andrea and I headed back to Heather (Skyline) Ridge. Seattle has been in the midst of a cold snap for the last five or six days - temperatures in the 20s and snow actually staying on the ground. Freaky, yes, but it also means that temperatures in the mountains have been even colder - most ski areas have been reporting low single digits every morning. With all the cold comes a more stable snowpack - relief from the mad sketchy weirdness we have had the last couple of weeks. And with a few new inches on top of an already stabilizing base - things were looking to get good. And good they were. Upon arrival, we found 5 inches of fresh blower (snow so light you can blow it off your hands) and clear blue skies.
We climbed the ridge past Skyline Lake and bootpacked the final few hundred vertical feet to sit atop one of the high points on the ridgeline.
With a commanding view of untracked snow in all directions, we picked our lines through stands of enormous Sitka Spruce and Silver Fir, and skied untracked knee deep blower all day. The deep timber stands in Washington provide some of the most epic tree skiing I have ever seen.
The clouds started to roll in on our last climb up but we were able to steal some good visibility through the trees on our penultimate and steepest run of the day. With a good "warm-up" in the legs, and still enough energy to jam, we let the skis run. All in all, we logged 5240 feet of vertical, almost a full vertical mile. We were soaked in fatigue by the time we reached the car (Emerson was strangely energetic as he always is) but wow, what a day.
Here is a video of me and Emerson on the second to last run - shot by Andrea "I will never be a camera person for Warren Miller" Ostrovsky:

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A new year of skiing

Andrea and I spent the New Year's holiday at Mt. Baker in northern Washington with Chester and his brother Will. We were blessed with three days of excellent conditions and great weather. Well, ok, two days of great conditions, one day of rainy-snow/ snowy-rain that quickly turned to rain. But not before we schralped the mash potatoes all morning - and we were getting tired anyway so no love lost on leaving Baker a little early on Monday afternoon.

But Baker really has an inspired setup in terms of the side-country. Basically, if you have the beacon/shovel/probe trio (which we all carried), you could duck the ropes almost anywhere on the mountain and another world was waiting there. Even two DAYS after the last storm, there were still untracked lines aplenty for anyone willing to take on a 10-20 minute hike. Let's see Alyeska make THAT kind of statement.

Well, Chester went back to Alaska and the dumpage of the decade, Will back to LA to start his new practice, and we headed back to Seattle where Mother Nature was planning on owning us for a few more weeks. Since coming back, we have had non-stop storms. Not like Anchorage with snow upon snow upon snow; it's been more like snow upon rain upon snow upon avalanche. The avy conditions have been so sketchy we haven't really been doing that much skiing. Hopefully this weekend our luck will change.

Aaron in the Baker backcountry