Broke, tan and happy, I sold my surf truck today in Paia, Maui. The small pile of wet hundos from Beau would help get the Astro van out of DIA auto lock-up in the Pikes Peak lot. After three weeks, it was going to cost a bit.
Throw in a little heli-skiing around a Maui trip and life is good. Quality over quantity for me with my budget up in AK. ASG didn’t have to accommodate me during a busy end of season. They did. Mahalo fellas, see you next year for sure.
I love driving in AK. My primary life vehicle is a dilapidated 2001 Astro Van that looks like it’s been taken apart and put back together by border patrol a few times, so when given a New Taurus SLE with 5 miles on it at the Budget rental car counter, its on. Even rocketing down the Glenn Allen at 100 or so, the Chugach range view changes its appearance ever so slowly as my kinetic energy takes me closer to Valdez.
The trip is about the people, the town and the skiing. Eating breakfast with the proclaimed “King of Valdez”, Pat Olson, Chugialk tribe member, SAG member(worked with Bart the Bear and that douche Streven Segal), original heli-skier, fastest fish filet in AK (3 seconds down at the town docks) all around Valdez OG is enlightening and fascinating. Pre WESC day stories of Valdez skiing are fascinating. 10 buck runs. Nobody around. I sit and eat my Totem Slam, nod my head and listen.
AK every spring…
What do you get with a foot of new on top of a 3 week old skating rink?
That is all…
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.
The title of this post came from a caption of a satellite screen shot of EV I was emailed from a company called FatMaps, a UK based company, as they were pitching their avalanche safety and 3d mapping ski app and recruiting me to write the beta for it.
I had weathered some earlier bullshit from them but still was intrigued a bit as the app and satellite technology were cutting edge. The local guy Matt seemed pretty cool, who he represented turned out to be cheap, arrogant and out of touch with US skiing. But I thank them because up until this point EVI has lacked a cause and I haven’t been interested in posting the same shit about the same runs. Our cause? Repel the euro 3d satellite invasion into our local backcountry.
In preparation, I watched the movie Red Dawn 10 times last night, the original of course, not that remake crap. I’m ready.
Let’s say the tables were turned, and I had a company called Saucy Maps and I wanted info on our FatMaps homies local break. Being based in the UK, I assume that would be Mad Cow mountain in the Northern Snaggletooth range. I wouldn’t send them satellite images of their mountain with headers like “Your Mom was in Clockwork Orange” trying to get local knowledge from them.
The title of this post came from the caption of a satellite screenshot they sent me of what they thought was East Vail. I know the knock on Vail, I’ve heard it. I sure don’t need to hear it from someone who is trying to get my knowledge of an area that I like and is decidedly not flat. These people also needed to be told to put the trees back in the satellite relief images they had of East Vail to make it more realistic. For reals. Also, if you shift your satellites a little north there’s something called the Gore Range. Enough said.
Regardless of the application of this technology it is EVI’s opinion that EV skiing should never be for profit. And FatMaps can market the app for “safety”, but don’t kid yourself. Its for money. There is also a concern that this app will give inexperienced people a false sense of security by mapping “runs” in what is uncontrolled terrain, taking the place of experience, training and working a skill progression that allows a gradual introduction to an area. My question is when a Denver tech-savy at-risk youth grabs a float pack, pays 29.95 and snaps open a FatMap app, then comes out here and gets smoked is there a customer service 800 number they can call? Country code first remember…
I think the technology itself is cool. I think that in Europe where unmarked objective hazards lurk everywhere in massive alpine ski centers the route finding aspect is useful. And I’m sure the deal will appeal to someone’s ego enough that EV will get mapped. I’m personally not in a hurry for technology to demystify a unique and special area that deserves respect even from high-powered IMGA alpine guides with fancy technology. Who have never skied here.
See ya on the skin track.
I was approached by the devil.
He said, “you know a place. I want to know it to. I’ll give you shiny things and make you feel like a big man.”
“What do I have to do?” I said.
“Tell me it’s secrets.” He said with a black grin, “if you don’t someone else will.”
-East Vail Parable
It’s a critical period in the development of the snowpack. Periods of warm clear weather between snowfalls early season combined with the warm ground leads to the changing of the fallen snow into a loose facet layer. Surface hoar will also be developing and tends to stick around in wind protected areas to be buried by future snowfall, creating a good failure layer as well. The longer the periods between early storms the worse the deterioration in the early season snow. Facet and surface hoar layers have been known to “heal” within the snow pack with consistent temps and snowfall over time. Usually, for us, the base layer of facets sticks around for us for a good while, until redistributed by a slide cycle.
The exposed West Wall areas will begin developing its series of crust layers caused by the high, intense sun on the E facing snow, warming then refreezing at night. All aspects will be eagerly waiting for a big November dump to initiate the first cycle of the year. This is speculation, but based on the typical pattern of early season snow pack development, it’s a decent guess.
Wasn’t too long between these last two storms, so that is a good thing. It does look like another extended period of warming clear weather on tap after tomorrow, so we will start the pattern again, and keep our eyes peeled. A solid dump in Vail today with a light 8 inches on the deck in West Vail, moderate wind, cold temps. Yeya.
Hope to have an actual snow report from up there before too long.
8 hours by air, three stops at various hot springs and paradise has been effectively leached from my bones. I know what you are thinking. How, why, would you leave the land of surfing, bikinis and 85 degree turquoise water? Especially at my advancing age, it’s exactly what you are supposed to do… let youthful follies such as EV fade into the rearview and start concentrating soft hobbies like Scrabble, clam-digging and turtle watching. Leave that world to the youthful senders.
True, I don’t stay out as late as used to and hangovers have to be scheduled but I’m not quite dead yet. I will always be a skier, and that’s really what it comes down to. I discussed this with Deuce as he sat lounging by a pool in California with his girlfriend. He was basking in luxury and happiness but all he could think about was the storm back here. Knowing full well there is an entire season ahead, it still was eating at him. This powder thing, its a powerful addiction. Luckily it’s a healthy one or I would have been dead a long time ago.
So, for what it’s worth, EVI is back in some shape or form. Looking forward to passing along the antics of the locals and weekend warriors alike for another year. You just can’t make this stuff up.
Good things about being a master’s division EV skier. . I don’t hear well, so don’t bother 2. I probably don’t remember you or why you’re mad.
here’s to a safe year all.
I love saying the word couloir, because the only correct and reasonable way to say it is with an over the top French accent. This makes me happy. In addition to saying the word couloir, I have found that I enjoy skiing them. It’s weird, but I just do. Here’s a little story about a couloir at the top of the world that turns dreams into realities.
Ross and I had been talking about skiing Mt. of the Holy Cross all winter. It is the easily most iconic line visible from Vail, where the both of us grew up skiing. The couloir is a giant cross of snow etched across a massive rock wall. We had already done a few big missions this season and our confidence and enthusiasm were high. It was early April; spring was approaching and the marginal amount of snow was melting. We knew we had to do it very soon or have to spend another year wishing we had. The problem was that we didn’t have snowmobiles, because we suck. The Cross is deep in the wilderness and the approach without sleds would add a day to the trip. So I thought of another plan. I had been ski touring off the back of Beaver Creek a bit and had been eyeing up the access to Holy Cross. I google earthed a route from the top of the Beav back along a ridge to Mt. Jackson. From Jackson, it’s a ski down to the valley and then skin up to the bottom of Holy Cross, spend the night around the Bowl of Tears and ski the Cross the next day…..easy.
I got Ross stoked on the idea and the weather looked great for a couple days. Time to go! We organized our food and camping gear together to spend one night out. We split the four season tent, food and Ross carried the Jetboil. Add in some mountaineering equipment and toilet paper and we were outfitted to slay the dragon.
We met up the next gloriously blue and calm morning. I left my car Subrina at the bottom of Tigwon road and we took Ross’s Jetta (Dick Magnet) over to B.C. You feel like a true boss strolling through ritzy Beaver Creek village with mountaineering packs and ice axes. After saying hola and bon voyage to the homies at Surefoot we got on the chairlift and began the journey to Mordor. We started skinning off the top of the Cinch lift. The skin to the top of BC (the Bald Spot) is a lovely mellow pitch at about 1.25 miles. It took us about 45 minutes. From there we were able to see our entire objective.
“What’s that?” asked Ross.
“Holy Cross” I said.
“Sweet, its right there!”
“Yep, I’m a genius”
What did appear farther away was Mt Jackson, which Ross observed and noted. I agreed but we decided to head towards it and see how it went. We skied down the back of Beav and skinned across Grouse Mountain. The weather was holding strong and blue but the wind picked up reminding us that we were outside in the high alpine. From the other side of Grouse we determined that Jackson was still pretty far away. We decided it was a better idea to bypass skiing Jackson and take a more direct route towards Holy Cross since that was our main objective.
It was a leisurely ski down Grouse through open, rolling trees for the first half. Then we got in to the trees and the snow became a little sparse, then we got to the dirt. The last 1,000 feet down to the valley was entirely melted. We put our skis on our packs and down hiked through the woods, cursing occasionally. This was turning into the adventure I expected. We finally made it to the river valley below, which was snow covered. We looked back up at Jackson. The exposure of the bottom was a bit better so if we had skied it, we could have skied almost the entire way to the valley floor. It would have been more skinning but we could have avoided that whole walk through the woods. We were still making decent time though.
We had lunch in the valley and started skinning up the Holy Cross side. It was steep zig zagging through woods. We eyed up pillow lines that might be worth a 6 mile skin. The snow was sticky and started to glop up on my 10 year old untreated skins. Nobody brought glop stopper. This when the going got a little tougher. I found the best way to knock the snow off was by whacking my skis with my rental poles. This worked great until I snapped my pole in half sending one end boomeranging away. I recovered the half of my pole and continued on with one and half. Learning experiences! Thankfully the snow had gotten less sticky at the higher elevations.
It was late afternoon now and Ross and I hadn’t talked in two hours. We made it to the ridge of Holy Cross past where the hiking trail goes up, and looked down at a nice place to camp. We skied about 800 feet down an icy chute to a perfect camp spot. It was flat, it had a cave, and there were trees nearby so we could gather pine bows to put under our tent. Camping in the belly of the beast is not something I will soon forget. I also repaired my broken pole with two sticks and duck tape.
We awoke at dawn and had coffee and oatmeal in the tent. We gathered only the necessary gear together and started skinning up to the bottom of the Cross Couloir. It felt great not to have a heavy pack. The sky was blue and the wind was calm. We skinned around to the north east side of the peak and started zig zagging up to entrance to the couloir. It was firm but we knew it would be corn by the time we came down it. We made it to the entrance of the couloir and got our first really good look at it. She was beautiful. Tall and thin with subtle sexy curves. Consistently steep up to blind rollover entrance and flanked by two rock walls. One other surprising feature was the single track down it! Some solo shredder apparently got it the day before. Touché. We switched over to crampons and ice axe to start boot packing up.
The snow was ideal for boot packing. Kind of like a cream cheese corn mixture with blower in there too. The boot pack was the most fun part of the trip so far. We felt confident in the snow pack, the weather was great, and I was hiking up the freaking Cross Couloir with my buddy. The top of the couloir is the steepest part. It was exciting hiking but not gripping, just extremely fun. We made it to the summit which was a bit windy. The view from the top of Holy Cross is one of the best in Colorado. 360 degrees of snow capped rockies from Denver past Aspen. We soaked it in for a bit and had some tea and crumpets.
So without further adieu we skied her. I let Ross take the honors. The top few turns were firm and I skied slow and cautiously. After a few turns the snow softened. The sunny side of the couloir was corn and the shaded side powder. I gained some confidence and started lacing some smooth turns exploring the different aspects of the couloir. I stopped halfway down to let my slough go and give the legs a break. Then I charged it down staying closer to the wall and the snow was powder almost the entire way. I had a couple face shots and some of the best turns of the season, in definitely the sickest place I’ve been all season. I exited on the right before the couloir closes out to a mandatory rappel and met up with Ross. Even though we had hiked up it we were still shocked at how good the snow was. Also my stick repaired pole held up perfectly. It doesn’t get any better than this. Now we had another thousand feet of corn down to the Bowl of Tears.
We made it back to camp and packed up our stuff and headed out. We ended up following the ski track of the solo person who skied it the day before. It lead us to the way out perfectly like a guiding forest angel. We were completely spent by the time we made it to Subrina and so happy about the whole adventure. We didn’t ski Jackson, but we got the Cross in epic conditions and we did it without sleds. Nature taught me a few lessons and I gained deeper appreciation for the mountains near my home. The next day I went to Alpine Quest and bought glop stopper.
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.