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Where’s the Snow? 12 December 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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So, you’re probably wondering where those three posts a week are. So am I. Rest assured, though, that’s it’s not my fault—you can blame it on the weather. Since December 1st, it’s snowed precisely four inches at Copper. Four inches. Now, granted, I shouldn’t be complaining that much because even with that meager amount of snow, the good folks on the snowmaking crews have opened up enough skiable terrain to make copper larger than all but the biggest eastern resorts. But I am; this is Colorado and we came here for the snow. Vermonters on the other hand, never left. No one moves to Vermont for the skiing unless he’s from New Hampshire.

At least we’re in better shape than Europe, where just a week ago, these intrepid young men had taken to skiing on rocks:

Note the reporter’s enthusiasm as he intones, “shredding some serious stone.” He must be a skier disappointed with this season, too.

All hope is not lost, though. Colorado powder guru Joel Gratz suggests that the current weather pattern may be coming to a close, which could mean the start of a snowier few weeks—if the weather cooperates of course. And even if it doesn’t Wolf Creek remains its usual snowy self, where 163″ have already fallen this season and all 1600 acres have opened for the year. At 4.5 hours from Denver, it’s a reasonable price to pay in travel time if you absolutely need your powder fix. And if you can wait a little longer then the storms will come as they always do. We’re still hungover from the endless untracked lines of 2010/11, unwilling to admit that this year might not compare.

It doesn’t have to. We’ll still be skiing.

The Start of the Season 9 November 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing, Travel.
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Of course we were wearing onesies. Of course. 

I think we can consider the season officially started, so long as you ignored the opening of Wolf Creek, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, but no one really counts those since they’re not real mountains. The ski season hasn’t truly begun until some mountain owned by a publicly traded company or a private equity firm gets into the game. Those are the folks who know what skiing’s all about, so I’ve decided to write a season-opening haiku in their honor.

Keystone and Copper:

keeping investors happy.

How? More yard sales, please.

I spent too long on that.  In any case, Copper mountain and Keystone have both opened their white ribbons of death, so if you still haven’t bought a pass and want to base your decision purely on on the one run that’s open right now, get the five mountain from Vail Resorts. Keystone’s top-to-bottom runs, serviced by two lifts, will make it worth your while. After that, well, I don’t know. This is the first year I’ve held the Copper/Winter Park pass, so it’s tough to say where you’ll get the most value down the road. But you’re concerned about skiing Right Now, right?

In other news, it looks like Winter Park’s opening early; they say it’s because so many folks were asking them for it at, of all places, Denver’s Ski Expo last weekend. Plan on heading there this Saturday, Nov. 12 if you prefer crossing Berthoud, rather than Loveland, Pass to get to some mediocre skiing. On the other hand, maybe you ought to check out Wolf Creek, which received almost three feet of snow over the weekend.

And in still other news, if you haven’t bought a pass already or if you do have a pass and simply oodles of money to spend too, you should check out the Monarch season pass. Even if you’re not planning on skiing there, the $339 you’ll pay for it gets you three free days at a gaggle of ski resorts including… Revelstoke, Powderhorn, Sunlight, Loveland, Red River, Angel Fire and several more. You’ll also get a free unguided day at Silverton as well as half price skiing at Taos and Alta, two of the best mountains in America. The rep at the ski expo suggested that next year will feature even more deals, so check Monarch’s website in late spring/early summer next year to get the best deals.

That’s all for now, but if any of you have experience writing profile pieces for magazines, let me know. I’ve told Powder that’s the plan for Tuesday, but I’m not sure I have any idea what I’m doing.

Snow! And other stuff. 10 October 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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Okay, so it’s been a while. Consider this the omnibus post before winter begins in earnest. Just to get it out of the way, if you’re reading Powder this month, check out page 46. You might remember my article in there from a blog post last year. Too bad it’s not online or I’d shill for myself with a link. That said, here be a few things:

Wolf Creek opened

Ski season has already begun, in  a way that no one really expected. Normally there’s the slugfest between A-Basin and Loveland to see who can deliver the first white ribbon of death, but the lifts at Wolf Creek started spinning on… Saturday, and those folks don’t even use snowmaking equipment. The three foot dump the San Juans received evidently amounted to enough. That’s what the photos indicated anyway: all the Colorado resorts under a dusting of now, the aspens still showing through,then Wolf Creek, where a front-loader was pushing around what looked like a mid-season dump. Check out all the photos in OnTheSnow’s gallery. They more or less sum up every season at Wolf Creek, a  powder paradise (by Colorado standards) that delivers some moderate tree skiing and occasional short steeps.

The first ski films have hit the theaters

You’ll still have to wait on Warren Miller, if he, or Jonny Moseley, is your man, But Matchstick Productions has already come out with Attack of La Nina, and Colorado College grad Nick Waggoner released Solitaire last month, too. If you have to pick one or the other, then go with Matchstick for big mountain porn and Solitaire for cinematography and an interesting narrative that riffs on Heart of Darkness.

Last year’s The Way I See It is the better of the two recent Matchstick films, though, probably because Alaska experienced such a miserable year. But that still doesn’t pardon the sin of illustrating Silverton as a place purely to go backcountry jibbing or, worse, to try some urban assault stuff in town with a tether and a snowmobile. That’s why Minneapolis exists. There’s also the issue of Colby West who—we get it—is a Funny Guy who skis. The three minute rocker montage strikes me as contrived and gimmicky. Colby’s funny enough when left to his enough devices. Don’t force it.  And what about Ingrid Backstrom?

At any rate, there’s enough Cody Townsend to go around, and that makes up for most of it. And really, who can be that critical of ski porn? It’s good stuff.

You Should See Larry

Larry’s Boot Fitting in Boulder doesn’t pay me to say nice things about them on the internet. They didn’t even ask. But that’s the sign of a good company. If anything ailed your feet last season, see Larry. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t met a foot he couldn’t fit, and within a few minutes he can identify pretty much any problem with your current rig. That, and if you’re in there for a fitting, there’s free beer and ski porn while you wait. If you’re going to to drop close to a grand on some boots, you might as well get an IPA and some 90s Glen Plake footage out of it too.

More posts

Expect more frequent posts this season, probably on the order of a few times a week. I’m still going to be working on longer posts about individual resorts and stuff like buying and selling skis on Craiglist, but I’ll also be on the lookout to send worthwhile content your way, so keep checking in. Posting was a little light this summer, and I’m sorry for that, but the ski focus for this winter should be on target.

Wolf Creek Avalanche Official Report 8 December 2010

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The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has released its official report on the death of Scott Kay, ski patrol director at Wolf Creek. And the report is, essentially, “We still don’t know.”

I’ve copied it below because I don’t think it holds any copyright protections. If it does, however, please leave a comment and I’ll take it down. You can also view the full report on the CAIC’s website, here: http://avalanche.state.co.us/acc/accidents_co.php

Avalanche Details

  • Location: Wolf Creek Pass Ski Area, Glory Hole Point
  • State: Colorado
  • Date: 2010/11/22
  • Time: 7:30 AM (Estimated)
  • Summary Description: Ski patroller caught, buried and killed
  • Primary Activity: Ski Patroller
  • Location Setting: Ski Area – closed area

Number

  • Caught: 1
  • Partially Buried, Non-Critical: 0
  • Partially Buried, Critical: 0
  • Fully Buried: 1
  • Injured: 0
  • Killed: 1

Avalanche

  • Type: SS
  • Trigger: AU – Unknown artificial trigger
  • Trigger (subcode): —
  • Size – Relative to Path: R3
  • Size – Destructive Force: D2
  • Sliding Surface: O – Within Old Snow

Site

  • Slope Aspect: NE
  • Site Elevation: 11676 ft
  • Slope Angle: 45
  • Slope Characteristic: Planar Slope

Avalanche Comments

The avalanche debris ran into a terrain trap. This terrain feature is probably an old terminal moraine with a deep hollow just upslope.

Weather Summary

A strong storm had moved into the southern San Juan Mountains the day before this accident. The ski patrol had recorded 16″ of new snow since the morning of the 21st, with 1.85 inches of water. Strong southwest winds blew the day and night before the accident.

Snowpack Summary

The area of the avalanche had a variable snow depth ranging from boulders to some 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground prior to the avalanche. The avalanche ran on a firm melt freeze ice crust which had formed on top of the October snows. The crown face ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet deep.

Events Leading to the Avalanche

On the morning of November 22 the ski patrol assembled to conduct avalanche hazard mitigation before opening to the public. This involved multiple groups on several portions of the ski area. The individual involved in this accident was in radio contact with ski patrol dispatch. There were no witnesses of the avalanche and therefore the exact details of the event are unknown.

Accident Summary

A ski patroller conducting avalanche hazard mitigation at the Wolf Creek Pass ski area was caught buried and killed. The accident occurred within the ski area boundary, but before the resort was open to the public.

Rescue Summary

There were no witnesses to this accident and therefore we do not know the exact time of the avalanche. Other ski patrollers reached the site about 50 minutes after the victim’s last radio communication. The victim was located using avalanche rescue beacons and pin pointed with a probe pole. Due to the depth of the burial and topography of the burial site, it took a half hour to expose the victims head after the initial search was complete. The debris piled into a deep hollow, which made it difficult to remove snow from the burial site. The victim was buried under 4 feet of snow. He was found with both skis on (telemark equipment), pole straps around his writs, and hat and goggles on. He was wearing an Avalung pack, but the mouth piece had not been deployed (zipped into shoulder strap).

Comments

The CAIC’s report on this accident covers the snow and avalanche issues. This accident involved a professional avalanche worker in a workplace environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the USDA-Forest Service (USFS) are both conducting reviews of the accident, which is standard procedure for industrial accidents.

 

Avalanche Kills Wolf Creek Ski Patrol Director 23 November 2010

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Wolf Creek, February 2010

At 7:45 this morning, while conducting avalanche mitigation work, Wolf Creek Ski Patrol Director Scott Kay was engulfed by a slide. He didn’t survive, and for the first time in more than 17 years, an in-bounds avalanche had claimed the life of a patroller. It was so unlikely, so astonishing, and so terribly terribly sad.

The mountain had already received 52″ for the year, and the 13″ Wolf Creek reported overnight was the largest total in the state according to Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade association representing all but Vail’s ski areas in Colorado. The wind had howled through the night, loading snow into slabs on top of an unstable snowpack, and this morning, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) upgraded its avalanche watch to a warning for the San Juans.

But patrollers at Wolf Creek deal with dangers like throughout—at Colorado’s snowiest resort, they have to. A team from CAIC will visit tomorrow to learn more about the cause of the slide, standard procedure in the event of a fatality, and Wolf Creek will reopen in Kay’s honor after closing for the day. For the time being, we’re left wondering how and why the slide occurred.

I write about this because I have skied Wolf Creek before, spending time on “Glory Hole” where the slide occurred but never really consider the mitigation work necessary to make ski areas safe for the millions of skiers who descend on the slopes each year. We complain so often about ropes and closed terrain, but an in-bounds avalanche as anything other than the result of control work is almost unheard of. Patrollers do all the heavy-lifting to provide an essentially effortless ski experience. Just ask the folks who do ski backcountry lines: they’ll spend thousands of dollars on gear and tens of hours in avalanche training classes to feel prepared for only the tamest slopes. There’s a lot to learn.

Certainly, skiing claims lives every year, but the tragedy strikes home when the victim is one of the sport’s own, reminding us that even the proper precautions sometimes fail to suffice. Every time I ski powder in the trees, I’m reminded of the two instructors who died last year in Colorado, in Steamboat and Wolf Creek I believe. They’d lost sight of friends in the forest—just a little ahead or behind as seems to happen all the time when skiing in the trees–and had fallen into tree wells. Both died before anyone could find them.

We can all imagine ourselves in such a scenario, and perhaps that explains the overwhelming support following tragedies like last year’s and today’s. So I’ll join with the hundreds of others in offering my condolences. It’s a sad day for the Colorado ski community, but tomorrow brings another day and another storm, the reasons we joined that community in the first place, and the reasons we’ll ski again.

Skiing Utah: Brighton and Solitude 8 March 2010

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It's everything you'd ever wanted in a mountain.

For the last month or so, we’d intended to swing into Taos for a bit of southwestern skiing and gawking. I’d recalled visiting there, what, more half my life ago, now, and had looked forward to catching whatever it is that makes Taos a known place on the map. Back in 1997 I recall that my dad bought a hat there, and I think a belt. We ate at a restaurant with a poster of the Scoville Scale and the corresponding peppers, then wandered around some kitschy art galleries before retiring to a Comfort Inn and Suites. This is what I remember.

But evidently the skiing at Taos also attracts the winter sports types who enjoy steeps and bumps and hiking and all of that. Until Friday morning, we were in. Taos had gone for days without snow, though, and a peek at the highest points on Breck, which had received similarly little snow, indicated that the conditions in NM would prove downright upsetting. Even the best art galleries and the quaintest cafes wouldn’t offset atrocious snow.

We’d realized this earlier in the week, of course, and had wrung our hands. We thought of Aspen and Telluride, Crested Butte and even Silverton, and then on Friday morning, we saw that the Salt Lake City mountains had received nearly two feet of snow. Done. I cancelled my reservation at the Best Western Kachina Lodge and Meeting Center (Thanks, front-desk Kelly. Sorry, Taos.) and booked a highway hotel in Midvale, UT. We would ski “The Greatest Snow on Earth” if only because the state of Utah has trademarked that phrase.

The name leaves nothing to the imagination.

As it stands, I have skied a vanishingly small portion of the Earth’s snow, and so cannot say whether Utah’s deserves the superlative. I can, however, tell you that it rates as very, very good, based on quantity alone. Coloradans who worship Wolf Creek’s 400+ inches forget that even the lesser-known resorts in Utah receive a scant 500 inches annually. This is A Lot of Snow. Check out Big Cottonwood Canyon’s two gems, Solitude and Brighton: 2550 acres of fresh, light, and untracked powder.

Vacation, Wolf Creek 2 February 2010

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Erm… so I’ve been bad about the whole Sunday/Thursday posting thing, this time because after trivia I left my laptop in the car ten minutes from the apartment and wasn’t about to jump on the bus just for a blog post. But everything’s back together now, so I can can finally sit down to work on the entry about Wolf Creek. If you’d been expecting an ecstatic outpouring of love for that ski area, I apologise — it rates as merely very good, probably better with a the fair bit of snow it usually receives.

Mostly, though, it’s the San Juans that impress because the differ so markedly from the mountains up here in Summit County. That’s not just geology babbly (although that counts for something). The beetle kill hasn’t reached the area and red rock cliff bands under the snow look like something out of 3:10 to Yuma. And you’ve seen that move, right? The surrounding towns look more or less stuck in that era. Plus there’s a Dairy Queen! At any rate, they generate an atmosphere a thousand times removed from Summit County’s glitz and corporate varnish. Breck cherishes its status as a “real” mountain town, but it’s places like Alamosa, Saguache and Monte Vista that capture what rural America has become. They are a story of dilapidation, stultification. A slow, inevitable slide toward obsolescence.

And in the middle of all that cheer, or, really, 2000 feet above it, lies Wolf Creek, so before I get too involved in any more depression about small town Colorado, I’ll stop for some pictures. Wolf Creek is worth the visit, especially on one of several days each year when it receives multiple feet of powder. Right then, on days like that, I imagine few resorts in Colorado offer better skiing. The mostly unmaintained terrain allows skiers to make their own runs through the trees creating that feeling of discovery impossible at a place like Breck. Check out the fun.

Wolf Creek 22 January 2010

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Is it bad form as a Vail employee to talk about Wolf Creek? Eh, probably, but after work today, I can’t really contain my excitement. 16-22 inches tonight, then 9-13 inches tomorrow during the day? This southwestern Colorado dumping ground deserves another look, even if it is five hours away, and perhaps more than that, it deserves a road trip — our first of the season.

I’d intended to stick to a tight budget, one that would save nearly half my income, but as it’s become more obvious that life will get in the way, and that a real job with real income will follow, I find myself less inclined to thrift any more. Maybe I can spend that money. Maybe I can indulge just a bit more. After all, it’s only retirement that’s at stake…

And yes, it’s easy to say that the benefits of compound interest will mean that later in life, I’ll be able to consume (relatively) more, but I wonder whether certain activities benefit from a less advanced age, if skiing wolf creek now with x dollars will count for more than the same amount of time at age 65. In essence, then, I’m asking whether experiences themselves grow at a compounded rate, the interest of nostalgia together with the increasing value of photos and shared times. Eventually these carefree days will end, finally snuffed out by family and obligation and responsibility, each of course bringing their own reward, but for now, it’s possible to live just a little bit longer at the brink, chasing whatever fancy may arise.