Combining my 2 mountain loves

Sorry for the delay to my update, I was being lazy with my blog, but not with my mountain activities. Recently we haven’t been getting any new snow, and the conditions at the resorts have been rather marginal. A few of the guys at work and I were talking about maybe using this past weekend to try some winter hiking. The more we talked, we decided we would attempt to climb a fourteener in the winter, and that led us to think maybe we should ski back down it after we climbed. We did a little research online, asking about conditions, which peaks are safer from avalanche danger, that sort of thing. We decided upon Mt Elbert, the highest in the state at 14,433 feet. Quite a daunting task for a first winter ascent/ski descent, so we wanted to make sure we got an early start. We met up at 6am at the coffee shop, loaded up and headed out. We planned on hiking the North Mt Elbert trail, which has less vertical gain and is a couple miles shorter than some of the other routes. Access to the trailhead is via a dirt road that in most seasons is maintained in winter up to a campground that lies a mile before the trailhead. We figured with no storms in the last 3 weeks we would be good to the campground, but we were wrong. The road was only clear for the first mile or so, leaving us almost 5 miles from the trailhead. On top of that, I got high centered on a 2 plus foot deep wind packed snow drift. The tires wouldn’t get traction because the body of the car was still resting on the snow. We dug out around the tires and got some rocks from the side of the road under them and I was able to rock the car back out of the drift. All hope was not lost, as we headed instead to the South Mt Elbert trail, a longer route with more vertical, but one which has a paved road and parking area. In the summer there is a 2 mile road that 4WD vehicles can take to a higher point, but we had to walk that section as it is not cleared of snow. We loaded up our packs with our skis at about 10am and strapped on snowshoes for the 5 ½ mile one way climb and the 4800 vertical feet that went with it. The trail was well packed down; apparently we are not the only morons who climb in winter! We made good time at first, and stopped for lunch at noon just below the start of the east ridge. We pressed on and made it through a relatively flat spruce forest to be rewarded with a beautiful untracked face that we knew would be a good ski on the way down. We climbed to about 12,400 feet and ditched our skis, which add a considerable amount of weight to ones pack. In fact after ditching the skis, the packs felt like they weren’t even there. The problem was that slogging all that weight around was starting to really affect our time, and it was now 2pm. We decided to keep going, but to turn around no later than 3 so we wouldn’t run out of daylight on the way back down. We knew we would not make the summit, but we were able to make it to about 13,000 feet. We took a little snack break, and headed back to our gear. The boots were so stiff from being out in the cold, it took us a while to get them on. After a brief section of wind packed snow, we made it to the nice open face we saw on our climb. It was about 4 inches of untracked powder on top of a wind packed base, we were able to make several nice carves through the snow, then traversed through the trees to another open slope that took us back to our lunch spot. At this point we were reaching a dense section of aspens that was not skiable and had to walk down for a bit. Below that the forest loosened up and we were able to get a few sections of nice gladed runs in. When we got back to the access road, it was basically just like a catwalk in-bounds at any resort for the last 2 miles back to the car. Although not exciting, it was definitely worth skiing out on the road because of all the time it saved us. Altogether it was an amazing day, and while we were disappointed to not get the summit, we had such a great experience, and learned a lot for future climb/skis. We are already talking about trying it again soon, just on a shorter route next time.


Taking it easy

I went to Beaver Creek again Saturday, my friend Drew from work and I headed up there. The snow wasn't too great so we took it kind of easy. I think its been kind of warm and sunny, but then colder at night, so its melting the snow a bit during the day, and then re-freezing at night. It wasn't really icy, just hard packed in spots, especially in where it was in the shade. We spent most of our day hanging around the top of the mountain because one of our other friends from work, Brian, was racing in a boarder-cross up there. Basically what a boarder-cross is, is four people race down a course together and the heat winners advance. His first heat he got clipped and fell to third, but the second heat he won. He worked his way through the ranks to the final heat, where he was leading until he got clipped again, he and the two guys behind him both fell, and the guy who was fourth ended up winning the race. Brian did make the podium though, finishing in third. He should have won, but its part of the race, when you are packed in that tight on the turns, jockeying for position, you are bound to get clipped. You can watch the "pros" race next weekend on the X-Games to get an idea what I am talking about. It was a fun day of skiing, we took it pretty easy, mostly skiing on the groomed runs to avoid the hard as a rock moguls. We even went and checked out "Park 101", a terrain park for beginners. Its funny, all the people in it are either little kids or people out of college. I guess all the teenagers already know what they are doing in the parks. Park 101 has smaller features, closer to the ground, and wider. I went off the two table-top rails they had, but kept my skis forward, normally rail slides are done sideways. The one that I tried sideways my skis just washed out from under me and I slid across on my hips instead of my skis. It was a nice introduction though, I don't see myself as becoming a terrain park guy, but its nice to still have new things to learn after all these years on skis.

In sports news, Syracuse is now 19-1 in basketball, matching their best start in school history. They have a chance to be the first team to win 20 on the season with their game at Rutgers on Monday night. Today are the NFL conference championships, I am looking forward to watching my fellow alum Donovan McNabb, hopefully he can get to the Super Bowl. He has lost 3 straight conference championships, but this year the team is better, more confident, and healthier (except for Terrell Owens). If they win, I guess I am going to have to have a Super Bowl party!


Fun in the Snow

The start of the New Year has been pretty good for us with regards to snowfall; about 4 1/2 feet have fallen in Vail and Beaver Creek in the first 2 weeks of the year. The only problem is that is always seems to fall on the weekdays, when I am work. This week it was all at the early part of the week, as the “Pineapple Express” wrapped up its visit to the Southwest. All of the rain in southern California you heard about last weekend, and the tons of snow in the Sierra, that was all part of the same weather system, which originates in Hawaii (hence the nickname). It’s nice to get that moisture, but it comes with warmer temperatures as well, we even had rain in the valley, and highs in the mid to upper 30’s. We had a cooler last couple of days, which hardened up the snow a little, but there were still some pockets of great snow on the slopes. I spend Saturday over at Vail, trying to find the pockets of good snow there, most of which were either in the far out bowls (Siberia and Mongolia Bowls) or on the steepest runs, because they get a lot less traffic than other parts of the mountain. Inner Mongolia Bowl actually was really nice, it was mostly windblown, but enough to create a nice surface to carve some wide Giant Slalom type turns through, which was a lot of fun. The crowds started picking up in the Back Bowls, and especially in Blue Sky Basin, as the morning changed to afternoon so I switched over to the front side where the lines were actually starting to thin out a little bit in a couple of places. It was a pretty full day on the mountain, not just because of the amount of runs I took, but the crowds as well. From the Vista Bahn the view of the frontage road was just a line of cars parked along it as far as you could see before the mountain cut off the view. It was a fun day, after which I met up with a bunch of my friends from Denver to watch the Honda Session at Vail. The Session is a snowboard competition, where there is an overall time limit and competitors get as many runs as they can in that time frame to score enough points to win. First was the Women’s Rails, followed by the Men’s Slopestyle. The terms “Women” and “Men” should be used loosely, as most of the competitors were only about 17 years old! In fact the winner of the Men’s competition is only 18, but already a world famous icon of his sport, Shaun White. He won the $30,000 prize on a run that featured 4 straight jumps with 900 degrees of rotation, it was amazing. He followed it up with three 900’s and a 1080, but fell on the rail portion on that run and had to “settle” for his earlier score of 97 to win. It’s amazing to see these athletes compete live, and to think of how young they all are makes it that much more incredible.

Everyone that came up for the competition stayed in the valley, my friends Jake and Sara stayed with me, and we went out for pizza at my favorite local pizza place for dinner. We all went to Beaver Creek on Sunday where we met up with Karlin and Wells who came up for the day. We took it easy, getting a few runs in and then having a great lunch at the Beaver Creek Chophouse, which is much more affordable at lunch that dinner. The on-mountain dinning is so expensive anyway; I think it’s like $8 for a bowl of chili, so the $10 burgers and $15 ribs at the Chophouse are much more worthwhile. Even though we didn’t get a lot of runs in, we had a good time hanging out on the mountain all day. Pretty much any day you spend on the slopes is better than most anything else you could be doing. It was a pretty good weekend on the slopes, hopefully the work week goes fast so we can do it all over again.


Snow, Steeps and Crowds

We have been getting a lot of snow up here in the Vail Valley recently, unfortunately most of it has been when I have been at work. The snow report for Wednesday was 13 inches, Thursday 9, and Friday 12 more. Just under 3 feet in 3 days, and I got to watch it all out of my window at the office (sigh). Friday the sun came out, and I’m sure it was a great day on the mountain, but, with the sun, that meant that for Saturday we wouldn’t have any fresh powder. Overnight there were some light snow showers, so we had a report of 3 inches by morning, and it snowed a good part of the morning and early afternoon, so though there were no “fresh tracks”, it was still nice and soft. I met a group of friends from work up at the village, where they all promptly ditched Ben and I, who wanted to do the Talons Challenge. I think they just couldn’t handle the 13 black and double black runs totaling over 23,000 vertical feet of skiing in one day (equal to about 16 Sears Towers, at a pitch similar to the stairs). Ben and I, however, were up to the challenge and headed straight over there after getting our official checklists from the ski school. We started with the 3 easiest runs of the challenge, completing them in under an hour. Then we hit some of the hardest, while the snow was still good, and the runs a lot less crowded. I think a lot of the people started out by getting all of the single black runs, then moving up to the doubles. We actually had a great time on the doubles we did early, because there was a lot of great snow still left over from the storms. The lift lines were really the only thing that slowed us down, but they thinned out a little bit near lunch time. We only had 4 runs left, and decided we would eat after we finished, taking advantage of less crowded lifts and runs. We finished at about 1.45, only 4 hours and 15 minutes after we started our first run, averaging over a mile of vertical per hour! We got our commemorative lanyards, and pins, and turned in our cards so that they can put our names on the “wall of fame” at Red Tail Camp. Ben’s is already on there, as he did the challenge last year. It was nice to ski with a goal in mind, usually it’s just aimless wandering, “hey, that run looks good” or “let’s go to a different area, this lift line is too crowded”. After we finished we had lunch at Red Tail Camp, where we met up with Ben’s girlfriend, she had been sick in the morning but felt good enough to make it up in the afternoon. We then did two runs on the front side with her before calling it a day. It was a great day of skiing, and I hope our other friends had a good time as well, we never did see them again. Overnight (and during the day yesterday), we got 6 more inches of snow, but once again the sun is shining, although tonight through Tuesday we should be getting some more snow showers. We have really started to build up our snow base over here, but there are still a few rocks and tree branches to look out for here and there. Unfortunately Summit County has not gotten hit nearly as hard by this storm, getting half of what we have which means Vail was packed as everyone headed to the snow. I heard yesterday the parking structures were both full by 9.30 am, and the line of traffic getting off the highway was backed up so far, it was into the right lane of the highway! Some people we shared a lift with said it took them 3 hours to get here from Denver, and its only 100 miles away. Even at Beaver Creek the lots filled up, and people had to park on the road. It even affects the crowds at the local restaurants and at the grocery store; it really feels like I live in a resort town now!


Ringing In The New Year

Happy New Year everyone, hopefully the first two days have been good to you. I have been skiing all weekend, starting on Friday at Keystone with the Denver gang, who were all renting a place up there for the weekend. It was pretty crowded, even the lifts at North Peak and The Outback had a lot of people. We found some solitude though, but it required us to hike to get it. From the top of The Outback, the hiking gate for the North Bowl and South Bowl was open. It was a short easy hike along the ridge, not much altitude gain and not steep. We dropped in to the South Bowl for a few nice turns on good snow down the steep face just above the treeline. The bottom filtered through a catwalk back through the trees to the lift. It was a nice little adventure, and a great way to ditch the masses for a bit. Friday night I hung out with the game for college football and Erica’s homemade bouillabaisse. It was delicious, filled with halibut, shrimp, scallops and clams, and I was fortunate enough to get some leftovers, which I just had for lunch today (thanks Erica!). Rather than drive back from Keystone with the drunken hordes, I took off early and just hung out at my house. I wanted to go to bed early anyway so that I could head back over to Summit County for more skiing.

I met up on Saturday with Wells, Erica and Pete, and we went over to Arapahoe Basin for some morning skiing and riding. I guess a lot of people were hungover, because there was hardly anyone on the slopes when we got there. By noon it picked up a little, but still it was relatively uncrowded, and there were barely any lift lines. It was quite windy and cold up top though, A-Basin is above treeline with lift access to almost 13,000 feet. That type of exposure can make it a windy place sometimes, and Saturday the wind machine was definitely turned on full blast. It was still a lot of fun, the wide open bowls above treeline are such a great place to ski and ride. It was a short day on the slopes, my friends were heading snowshoeing with the rest of the gang, and I took a few more runs before heading to lunch and some shopping. After I got home I watched some more football, and then had dinner before watching one of my Christmas presents on DVD, Harry Potter 3. Even though they are “kids” movies, I like them. I guess I am still a kid at heart, I also got Aladdin and Shrek 2 for Christmas!

Sunday with the blackout dates lifted at Beaver Creek and Vail, I hit the slopes at Vail. It was surprisingly uncrowded, at least through the morning in the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. I zipped up the front side lifts and went down a run each on Sun Up, China, and Siberia Bowls, where there was some nice snow on Gorky Park. Then it was over to one of my favorite places to ski, Blue Sky Basin, where I did a couple of runs down the steep faces of Lover’s Leap and the gladed slopes of Resolution and Champagne Glade. The terrain at Blue Sky gives a backcountry feel, but its inbounds and patrolled, so you don’t have to worry about avalanches. The runs are the farthest from civilization at Vail, and the runs are peaceful and quiet, the only sounds are the other skiers and riders. I only stayed half the day, and then I headed back home for lunch. Tomorrow it is back to work, but all in all it was a great holiday break!