The acid hadn’t quite kicked in yet, but I could definitely feel the moorings holding my mind to this reality loosening. It wasn’t planned that I found myself on top of a big-ass line in the San Juan mountains tripping, but I came into this trip telling myself to have no expectations and to just roll with it. Didn’t quite plan on this.
The rest of the crew was already back at the sleds on the other side of the magical wilderness boundary where the machines, beer and about a pound of Durban Poison waited. We had skied two big runs already, the first a huge, classic San Juan death funnel, choking out down low and spitting out onto an apron. The second was a surreal run, skiing steep fingers through red red rock towers deep in the range. Its not often you can put a group of eight through these types of runs here, but the snow pack was green light after a couple weeks of clear warm weather with a solitary storm dropping about a foot on top of a rapidly consolidating early spring snow pack. The elevation was above 12000 for the cabin and terrain, which left the north, west, and even east aspects up high with a creamy smooth pow layer. The snow reminded me of AK orange peel texture snow in the spring, and skied and held as good as you can hope for a continental snowpack. The weather was perfect as well, bluebird and light winds. Green means go.
Our crew was a pack of 9 senders, all capable skiers and riders, with a pack of high-end sleds at our disposal in a vast wilderness with no one else for miles. We were all here to ski, ride and party, taking a needed break from the Vail valley ski season, deep in our respective jobs serving those that come here to catch a glimpse of the life that we live. Usually a group this large is a pain to organize, but everyone was ready to get after it and capable. Patrollers, photographers, ski bums, the love for skiing was well represented.
Hunter S. Thompson would’ve been proud is all I can say. Epic night sled missions punctuated days of sled accessed touring, climbing and sending. Sleds allowed us to bring anything we needed to this amazing cabin. Drinking, guns, sleds, skiing pow, food, party favors. Pretty much all time.
Our group had spaced a large portion of the meat products and cheese at the hotel in South Fork, but that was the only snafu of the entire trip. Too much Durban too early in the morning had contributed to the meats being left in the mini-fridge at the Allington Inn in South Fork.
I had spotted the line instantly when we got to the cabin. It was by far the most esthetic line in the immediate terrain. A winding steep entrance onto a huge steep face and into the basin. The far right line in a half dome face littered with old avi crowns and mando entrance lines with no way out, it was the only skiable line on the face and it was a gem. I mentioned it a couple times, but no one seemed to hear. So I waited.
Our two runs required us to skin out right under this face, so I had time to study it and look. The snow, weather, group dynamics, snow pack were all pointing to a go. All I needed was the opportunity. I wasn’t going to rely on anyone to make this happen.
The x factor was on a skin change over on our way out of our two runs. Quiet, reserved, baller skier, J Tsunami produced a “20 minute J” and ten strip of L. We were a group of four of the nine putting our skins on and shooting the shit, reviewing the runs at a cluster of stunted avi hammered pine trees.
“Hey, I have a 10 strip of acid.”
Everyone looked at him, at each other, and burst out laughing. The line of the trip by far, now and forever.
Now my big party days are long behind me, but at that moment I couldn’t think of a reason to say no. Here, deep in the San Juans, there was plenty of room for one’s mind to roam free and soar. What the hell…
It’s been a long time since I twisted myself is such a way. The skin continued on, through the basin, up and out. Things started getting weird around the time I crested the ridge, and assessed the situation. Everything was getting brighter and louder and starting to shimmer. The crew had headed left back to the sleds, across the ridge. I looked left, then I looked right. Over to the right, the line of the trip waited. Suddenly, I wasn’t tired. I was elevated. I was waiting for my spirit animal to appear. What I got were two ravens flying low in looping circles up the skin track. Good enough. I turned right and headed up the skin track to the low ridge cutover to the top of the half dome.
I remember being on top of the line, looking down the concave 55 degree entrance chute rippling like a white water bed. I didn’t have much time before things got seriously unhinged. Check the snow and go time. The first three turns in the chute was blower and deep, then gravity took hold and onto the apron. Shit flew by warp speed. I had time to make one sweeping turn to avoid the exposed moraine below the run. I wanted to gap it, but realized that I was going way too fast to do that. Around, down and hauling ass to the skin track laughing like a loon. It was over.
The skin out was a face-melter. By the time I crested the ridge again a permagrin was plastered on my face. D had mercifully jetted over on the sled, into the wilderness terrain, to save me a slog out. I had hoped that he had gotten the shot from across the ridge, but he wasn’t expecting the warp speed velocity of the run and missed it. The free ride out was much appreciated, and he was instantly forgiven. I had gotten to ski it and that was enough.
Back on the ridge was a party going on. I had wondered if the group was pissed for holding them up, but they were psyched, hanging out drinking beer and watching the show unfold. Hi fives and a beer…A moment of pure ski bliss.
We headed back to the cabin for a night of debauchery. Those of us on the paper watched the others lap the log rail and ski the pow shots near the cabin. I was seriously torqued and headed upstairs to hide from the sun for a while. It was an overwhelming urge after being stuck in a white salad bowl for hours.
A tripping vampire, I emerged downstairs after the sun went down, after a few tacos and several beers. Switching to tequila for the leveler, the night unfolded and the slednecks took the opportunity to rip it in the huge lower pow meadows for hours. I laid on the couch, became part of the couch and chilled. J Tsunami guarded the fire with his white shades on. We held down base camp as the others brapped around till the late hours.
Not often a trip comes together so well with so many green lights. This one did. It will live in infamy for many reasons. For me it was an opportunity to ski something amazing and get ready for Alaska. The three day hangover was worth it.
It’s been a year since I split to Maui and longer since the last post on this site and after a year on the rock I was ready to delve back into the winter world….especially after watching a 10 foot tigershark swim through the lineup at the Cove break in south Maui the Saturday before I left. Check please…
Missed the entire season so this has little relavence to anything East Vail, but I found my way back to Vail for closing day debauchery and got on the hill for one day. An after closing Roger’s Run was nothing short of epic.
Able to hook up with Deuce, Dave and Matt L. and his Dad for some quality over quantity turns on Vail pass after the late season storm rolled through bringing north winds and a couple feet of snow layered on top of a firm spring pack. We saw no natural avi activity on any aspect, save for some sun warming on S and E aspects with minor rollerballs and sluffing off sun warmed rock areas. The skiing was creamy goodness on the N and W.
Hooked back up with Dave to take a look around Berthoud pass for a day. Fraser and Winter Park are areas so close to Denver but managing to stay funky and rural. Good terrain and access and got 20 inches from the same storm. Pretty settled by the time we got to it. We ended up grabbing some low hanging fruit off the top for some more good spring skiing.
This high altitude training was in preparation for the AK leg of my trip. I was hoping surfing and hiking would keep me in the game for the microseason but there was some time needed to sweat out the Mai Tais and salt water. Two choices on my first few runs, stroke out or make it to the summit following tech binding tourers. Touch and go for the first few laps but luckily I made it on the big skis and Dukes. Oh yeah, I can still say the alphabet too. Success.
Hit Girdwood AK at the tail end of a low snow year salvaged by a big April but then hit by big rain down low the week before I arrived. It left low to no snow on lower elevations but still significant snow up high. The season was very warm overall and produced a rapidly destabilizing isothermic snowpack that was slowly creeping upwards in elevation with each warm spring day. Pretty much nailed the last few days of the season on the pass.
Turnagain pass on the Kenai peninsula offers some of the coolest touring terrain. There is an epic non-motorized side that preserves the gnar for those willing to sweat for it (leave your Epic passes and credit cards at home).
With the low snow pack putting the kibosh on a motorized season on the other side of the pass, Turnagain was silent and empty. Exactly what I was looking for after a year on an island with 144000 people. What I missed most for the last year was mountain air…nothing like it.
Three days of beautiful weather allowed me to tour and window shop for future trips while skiing some fun stuff. The spine walls were mostly melting out so staying safe and on supportable snow on N and W aspects was paramount. S facing slopes were heading rapidly towards a large shed cycle and cornice failures were already causing step down wet slides. Some superficial melt freeze with the clear skies during the time I was there, but the pack was waterlogged down low and the ship had sailed on the season. Glad I got what I could.
The end of the trip for me signified also the end of an era in gear. That’s right, the 207s, (196s after I chopped the skegs off with a hacksaw for better touring capabilities) time had come.
Just chucking them seemed too mundane, so in true Sunset Rider Inc. fashion( a subsidiary of EVI) a Viking funeral was the only option. I grabbed a lighter and some lighter fluid from the Tesoro at the Alyeska turnoff and headed out to the Portage Glacier for a ritual sacrifice. It’s AK, you can burn shit pretty much where ever you want.
Learned that Maker Dukes explode when burned and that it takes some doing to send the 207s to Vahalla, but finally they went. One way to save on baggage fees headed back to the rock…
As I did a couple 360’s last night coming down West Vail after my brakes failed, I had a few seconds to ponder the temporary nature of things. Things are most clear and vivid when the future of our own existence is not certain. Luckily no one was hurt, and what do you do when shit happens? Get up and keep going.
There is increasing avalanche danger in East Vail as the biggest cycle of the year so far continues. High W SW winds and heavy snow will crossload our usual suspects and create the possibility of rider triggered avalanches. Again wind slabs on top of a weak base layer is the concern.
Excitement over the epic snow conditions is tempered with the events of this week. A big snow weekend will bring the travelers out, and we will be waiting to see the results.
EV always demands respect, but during cycles like this extra caution is advised. Runs like Water Tower that are most frequently utilized during storm cycles are able to slide, even into the old growth trees. Step out into the open over the next couple days and I would expect reactivity at least in the new storm snow. Of special concern is Benchie. Like Olds, parts of Benchie have run, but not all together and not to the bottom of the base layer of the snow pack. Head on a swivel if you plan to venture out.
Buddy passed along some info from his run today. Mentioned 22-24 inches of new with what he described as “moderate” reactivity of the new snow, increasing with another night of wind transport. The x factor is if it goes blue bird. That definitely brings the people out and seems to entice folks to step out a little farther. This week the death of Tony Siebert is fresh on everyone’s mind and the effect of that I think will limit traffic. However EV skiers will continue to ski EV,the beat will continue to go on and slowly the traffic will build again.
There are two lines in EV that aren’t in my playlist anymore. First is King Tut’s, the second is CDC. Watching my friend get strained in the through the top trees and seeing the entire bowl run top to bottom under 3 seconds in 2002 tempered my enthusiasm for the area and shattered my youthful notion that I could out run a such a slide. Hourglass convex cross loaded entrance with few safe areas in the open parts make it a consequential run under the best conditions. The sleeper rock on skiers right provides a thin spot in the slab and a sensitive trigger point. Can it be skied safely? Sure, under the right conditions. Many folks like the run for its length and cliffs. It can be an epic run.
I hope to get out tomorrow and get some more detailed pit info as I’m interested in what is going on. As always, leaving the possibility open of not skiing EV,of turning around. The lesson of turning around is the hardest to learn for a pow addict like me. After my own mistakes and lessons learned, it is easier now to do that than ever. For me it was the hardest one to learn. Stay safe out there.
EVI has learned that a Vail local has died today in an avalanche in East Vail. A four pack headed out to the old man’s bowl and triggered a wall to wall slide that buried the deceased and injured 3 companions. Early reports indicate one companion suffered broken ribs while the extent of the injuries of the other two are unknown. We here send our deepest condolences to the family of the deceased, and that quite frankly seems horribly inadequate.
Sunday’s storm came in with high winds and cold temps. The small sharp densely sintered grains produced a slabby feel to the new snow, especially on the ridge lines and upper wind affected cross loaded N facing areas. It was a change from the several days of 3 to 4 inch storms that came with little wind and mild temps which produced light blower snow, resulting in a snowpack that was upside down.Dense storm wind loaded storm snow on top of a base layer of loose facets is a dangerous situation. The first signs of localized instability during was a slide in T-falls two days ago, which I have little information on.
Skier accounts today indicated that before the slide the old man’s area looked fluted, with mini spines in the bowl itself, a sign of serious wind affect. Same observer dug a hasty pit on an E aspect, different than the N aspect of Old Mans but found serious instability with a score of CT 2 on a quickie column test. Old Mans usually runs wall to wall at least once a year. This year parts of it ran early, but not the whole thing. Critical load was reached with this storm and skier traffic. The slide seemed to originate from the CDC area, stepping down from a thin spot in the new wind slab to the ground by a large rock on skiers right in the hourglass entrance of CDC. It’s the same trigger spot that has claimed others lives as well.
Sunny and bluebird day after the day long storm that brought elevated winds good snow and low vis for a great day of storm skiing on Wednesday. Scooted around the north facing trees for both laps and enjoyed skiing the new snow as it accumulated. Nothing better.
Thursday was the busiest day of the year(myguess) for Vail mouintain. Took an hour to weave my way through the throngs to get out. Found that the parade was on, regardless of the poma being open or not. Bluebird and about a foot of new.
Wind slab concerns as the upper scarps of Benchie and Old Man’s were loaded. First run in Old man’s I found myself skirting the edge of a pocket release in the first slot skier left of treeline, rider triggered, as tracks entered by the rock band that creates the reef at the first rollover. Didn’t propagate beyond the width of the pocket or beyond the depth of the new snow, about 50 feet wide and ran to the beginning of the flats.SS-AS-R1-D1 new snow old snow interface, soft wind slab. My run was uneventful, excellent skiing conditions in settling pow.
East facing warming quickly with intense sun,but early teleline tracks looked good in the morning. West Wall still not quite fully covered from it’s wall to wall rip a few weeks ago. Eying up the corner pocket, but will wait for another storm before testing it. Probably my favorite mandatory run in EV, gets the adrenaline going and usually something is following you, so sticking it is necessary. It’s the closest I’ve come to using the float 30 after blowing the landing and getting hit in the back by the following slab. I, being infallible, blame the elf shoes I was wearing at the time, Damn JJ’s.Sold them for a month’s rent in Bham. Saw a set of tracks through there today, Friday, nice to see it held above the rock band after the trees for those two.
Second run spotted Matt B. and friends through gunbarrell, then skied through secret chute to trees, getting the goods in the dark north facing. Slots in benchie still a little boney for my taste, picking through the shrubbery not my preferred way to run there, but props to them for sticking it through there and sending it. As evidenced by the four foot trees guarding Mushroom Rock, it’s still a little thin to run clean.
Good to see the usual suspects still around, and the crop of senders half my age as well. Hope we all have a safe year out there. See you on the skin track.
Looking at J’s video from the West Wall today inspired me to write a post. Check it out, looks like a sweet bluebird day in ol’ EV and a nice run. Makes me a little misty…
Don’t have much snow info for you all, Mt. Baker still exists and the nonstop weather here has ended for the time being revealing the Cascades cloaked in feet of the white stuff. Bluebird here hurts the eyes at first, takes a little while to get used to it after four weeks of constant snow and rain. The energy around town immediately picks up, the vampires here absorbing the UV’s and turning back to day walkers. Will get up there when I can, but starting somewhere new requires more work, less play.
Been occupying myself with learning and guiding some of the local rivers, many which run year round. Trying to get ready for the whitewater season here on the Sauk and Suiattle rivers. Fast and loggy, they both provide a different challenge than most of the Colorado rivers and are a challenge for any rafter, especially during the spring runoff. The northern Cascades are chock full of snow to melt, the coming season shaping up to be a good one so far(starting after an AK ski trip I hope. Snow is starting to fall up north in the Chugach finally after a drought cycle.)
It’s eagle season here and that’s a big deal. Thousands of eagles, Balds and Goldens alike travel down from Alaska and Canada to feed on the spawning salmon in the Skagit River basin. The river, fed by rain and snowmelt from the towering Eldorado and Glacier peaks, contains all five species of salmon, as well as steelhead and rainbow trout. The might Skagit runs emerald green and crystal clear, a big wide beast of a river headed to the Puget sound, 10 billion gallons every day. Seattleites flock with here with the eagles, toting five thousand dollar cameras, clad in Gore-Tex, ready to capture the action. They turn the tiny rural river towns of Marblemount and Concrete into bustling tourist havens for a month or so.
The eagles sit perched on branches overhanging the gravel bars at turns in the river. The mottled dying and dead salmon wash up on these bars and provide an easy meal for the eagles and their young. One trip I had we saw 190 eagles. I was told by a veteran river guide here that was a below average day. Pretty cool to see.
I try to stay in the loop as much as I can as far as EV concerned. Read about the snowboarder that launched a cliff and took a ride sometime back. More recently, I heard someone ran Benchie and ripped out the whole thing. I’m wondering if Old Man’s has ran yet wall to wall. Sounds like Deja Vu all over again, assuming the existence of persistent loose facets below the new snow like last year. J’s run looked solid. Typically the East facing West Wall snowpack sets up differently than the shaded Northern aspects of Old’s and Benchie. Just hearsay, however, from a recovering EV addict at large. Hope everyone has a safe year.
Driven out of Vail like the mighty lynx out of Cat 3 , I, Martineast found myself on the road in search of new terrain. The factors had come down from the universe and it was time to go. Really the death of the Visti Bahn was too much to bear. For me, that signaled an end of an era in Vail history and for me personally, my stint in Vail. That’s right, EV won’t have Martineast to kick around anymore. I look forward to the first report of conditions, I expect another touchy year with the early snowpack resembling last years’ junk underneath, but I can’t tell you for sure.
Wyoming, Utah, Idaho. Drove through all of these and had the urge to keep going. Washington. Pac-NW it is. Mt. Baker sounds good, why not? World record snowfall, middle of the Northern Cascades. No Condos, 125 dollar tickets or fur stores. A sick little resort resort tucked away from the world high in the Northern Cascades. Bellingham, the closest real town, is 50 miles away.
Different from Vail? About as radically different as you can get. Land of moss, weed, wool and hanging seracs. Volcanoes, ice, crevasses, glaciers. At the end of WA-542, Mt. Baker sits below Mt. Shuksan, an imposing Cascade wedge with a massive serac hanging from it. A couple day lots, couple of base areas and that’s it. Possibilities for backcountry around Baker. Endless. When you can see, that is, as weather is a constant off the ocean. Literally, the end of the road. Next stop B.C.
It’s been a long time since anything inbounds has required a second look to ski. I’ve been lulled into complacency by our wonderfully groomed golf course. Baker, however, has it all over. Better bring your A-game. Steep slots and trees runs, roll overs exceeding any point of repose in Colorado. Covered ice, rime spines, snow ghosts. Sidecountry that dwarfs the resort. Bottom line, if planet Hoth had a ski area it would be Baker.
Spent time out the gate my first afternoon to check out the snowpack. Dug my pit on a North facing 28 degree angle slope just above the gate, right off the skin track. Snow total, 305 cm depth on December 13. T his was before the current four foot snow cycle that has since closed the road. Results on my two columns dug to 160cms: CT-build a house out of it. Incredulous at the results of my first attempt at column failure, I recut and dug the second with the same result. It took all my weight and pulling on the second column as well to get a Q2 shear at 130 cms, way off any scale. Cascade snow pack is for real. I’m sure things have changed of late, our latest cycle has come with big wind, so we’ll see the impact of that. (63 inches in 4days, 100 plus trees down on the road up. Resort, I mean ski area, is closed for three days to clean up and dig out, truly a wild place on earth.)
Learning a new area isn’t overnight. I have no comfort level with the backcountry terrain here. My initial day had good vis and what I could see just on an EV length jaunt outside the area was vast and varied. Trees and spines, convex rolls and chutes endless are calling. In due time. It was good just to get my hands in snow and get a general idea of local conditions.
Here to relearn it all. I guess that’s the reason for the move. Look forward to the posts from Vail, Luke in Jackson, Me in Baker. EVI worldwide. Note: we plan on being in AK again if the snow shapes up, so stay tuned…
As we here at EVI wait for the snow to pile up and the lifts to start running here in Disneyworld west, we’ve been racking our brains to figure out what we can give you, intrepid reader, to enhance your upcoming EV experience. We’ve come up with the obvious answer in an information driven world. Data. Snow data from a couple different plots will be available this year. Pretty simple info, but should give those hungry for numbers something to look at besides the posts and keep you up to date on new snow and snow depth. One at Beaver Creek HQ, one in West Vail, and one up top of Benchie somewhere soon, (hopefully). So much data you’ll be able to roll around in it, build a nest in it if you like.
The first storm in November dropped 17cm of snow here at BC (not quite the 54 inches that Alta got), with cold air temps, -8.5 C and light winds here at 8200 ft on 11/11. Temps are trending warmer for the rest of the week. Hopefully it will snow without another extended dry period.
That’s it for now folks, have a safe opening day on the strip o’ death, see you all soon.
Took a drive tour over Loveland Pass coming back home from the front range yesterday. Stopped to hike the dog up the eastside ridge at the summit of Loveland pass. Stomping through freshness layered in among the scree it was great to get smacked in the head with 0 degree, 30 mph winds under a cobalt grey sky.Stood into the wind and took a breath of the cold. The jet stream was whipping clouds overhead, obscuring the tops of the highest peaks off the Divide, blasting eastward. Snow was falling and the wind was transporting it in great swirls on the open faces of the pass, steadily erasing whats left poking through the snow. Off in the distance, A-Basin looked better than it did all of last year, lifts churning on a busy Saturday, snow in the tress .There were even a few intrepid souls braving seriously early season conditions on the West side of the pass, skiing down to the lower switchbacks . Looked to be about 8 inches of fresh on top of a 60 mile deep granite base. Admire the love, a little early for myself. Drove over a mitten in A-Basin”s cross walk. coming down the pass. No hand in it. Ahh winter. It’s back.. At least above 11,000 feet.
Back in our world, EV is covered in its first layer of the white stuff. I drove back over Vail pass looking the notorious layer that is the foundation for our snowpack. Usually for us in Colorado this becomes a loosely faceted layer that sets the stage for an avalanche cycle in mid to late November in EV and can dog us for the entire season, depending. Last season Old Man’s early season was perfect example, sliding to the ground in November.
This first snow set the stage for the crown jewel of a garbage Continental snowpack in 2011/2012. Early October snow with a long long period of clear, warm weather created 2-4 mm very loose facets out of the first snow. Surface hoar also reared its’ ugly head. When we finally did get some snow, it came with wind and the results….well you remember. The snow pack never recovered.
Our best hope is continued snow without a third Indian summer before the larger snow load arrives. As bad as last year was ,two years ago was the textbook for a decent snowpack. fo us. Snow, snow and more snow, consistent temps and little wind. “Average” year ? I’d take it.
Every year is different and fascinating in our world, , not only because of the endless variables that affect our snow, but the endlessly variable human element as well. You can’t make the stuff up that happens out in EV. Keeps me coming back and I can’t wait to tell the tale this year. See you soon at the bus stop. EVI.
A little update from the North on EVI’s inaugural trip to Alaska.
Letting the boys sleep in today after a bluebird windless stretch like I’ve never seen up here. We were up at 4500 feet yesterday and not a breath of wind. Unreal. Snowed 20 to 100 cms depending on the aspect and elevation last Friday and Saturday, since then its’s been game on!. Tailgate AK, a lovable junkshow, has wrapped up and the ABA parking lot is ours.
Spent our time getting to know both sides of the pass after getting through an avi cycle the day after the storm. Luke set of a SS-AS-R5-D3-I on the Berlin shoulder. Everybody’s OK, but a sobering reminder to watch your ass at all times up here. Since then the conditions are stable and good. Things heal up very quickly here in the maritime world. The north aspects are filled with Valdez cream cheese, wind buffed supportive powder that hardly sluffs at all on our 40 to 50 degree runs. We’ve been using sled bumps to get to our zones, after that we’ve been climbing and skinning. It’s different and very enjoyable to tour in a place that is a skier’s paradise and overwhelmingly beautiful, filled with a lifetime or two of accessible runs.
Berlin Wall, Berlin Shoulder, Giovanni’s, Aucopolco, Girl’s, Python Wall and today when the boys wake up a bump and hike to ski the mighty Python. Our cost? A little sweat equity and 180 bucks. Not a bad deal.
Will jump into the heli for a day or to and if it stays the same conditions try to get onto some big stuff. Meteorite, Tusk, Pontoon, Kiwi’s are all things availible.
Matt and Luke have been awesome and our group dynamic is better than I could hope for. Solving problems on snow, getting around hazards and learning the game, they both have excelled. We have a ton of pics and video. We will put them up when we aren’t skiing. Simply put it’s been incredible.