Tahoe Winter Update

telemark skier tilt shift kirkwood

Tiny boyfriend enjoying some fresh snow at Kirkwood over Presidents Day weekend

You might have noticed that I’ve not posted much about this winter.  I’ll be honest – it’s not been an ideal year for crowing about those 2-4 foot Sierra storms that leave nothing but grinning skiers in their wake.  Certainly the ski resorts have been able to make a lot of decent snow to cover the groomers (and I’m grateful they have).  But it’s been the year to travel for backcountry turns, which we have done.  That does get expensive, especially when one has a season pass and a home in what usually is a pretty awesome ski destination.  So we’ve made lemonade out of the situation, skiing the resorts because that’s where the snow has been, enjoying more early afternoon beers with friends than I typically do, and generally trying to chill the F out about things that I cannot control.

But after a few late-in-coming storms, it finally feels like winter, assuming you’re at the ski resorts or up above 7500 feet.  Upper elevations are surprisingly well covered, considering that the lower elevations and lake level have little to no snow left.  I had heard that conditions at Kirkwood were good, and confirmed that over the weekend.   Let’s just say that if you looked carefully you could find chalky snow and ski lines that you didn’t think would be possible this season.

That said, I’d be happy if March lived up to its ‘Miracle’ name of yore, both for my personal desire to have some powder turns as well as the state’s painful need to combat the drought.   The storm that’s forecast to arrive later this week certainly helps, but we need more.

Since this whole snow dancing thing didn’t work to well in my favor (I danced, I swear), I’ve turned to drinking for snow, which is inherently more enjoyable.

Who wants to join me?

Bad Ass Women Redux

It’s been a disappointing start to the winter here, to say the least.  Endorphin hunting has trumped powder hunting, at least for now.  So while I wait until my secret mission takes me to powder snow, I’ve been finding inspiration in Lynsey Dyer’s all-women ski movie fundraiser on Kickstarter.  As well as in Rachael Burke’s Female Wolfpack video (below).

I’m not a fundraiser or group-hug type typically, but Lynsey’s project is something that resonates with me, after having seen many, MANY ski movies over the years that offer a single token female skier/snowboarder at best.  If you’re a skier, or a woman,  both, or neither, I ask you to consider supporting this project at whatever level you can.

And if you can, a snow dance (or six) would be appreciated too!

Praxis Backcountry Ski Review

I really didn’t think I needed another pair of skis, but apparently, N saw a hole in my not-insubstantial quiver late last year. One that could be filled with a pair of Praxis Backcountry skis. While I was skeptical at first, I realized that not only did they fill an admittedly small hole in my quiver, they are now replacing some of my other skis.

Praxis is a freeride oriented ski company based here at Lake Tahoe, one that builds their skis in-house. While most of what they focus on are powder and freeride skis, the Backcountry model is designed for people who want to earn their turns efficiently, but not necessarily compromise the descent.

Skiing the Praxis Backcountry inbounds

Skiing the Praxis Backcountry inbounds

Coming in at a little over 7 lbs in the 170 length, the Praxis Backcountry ski is a lightweight ski that doesn’t sacrifice weight for performance. Its dimensions (131/106/121), camber underfoot, and rockered tip and tail combine to create a versatile ski design for a wide range of snow conditions. I took the Backcountry with me on a recent ski trip to Canada and found it skied well on a variety of conditions. But I’m jumping ahead.

This particular model has been around for a few years, but apparently, there were some significant changes made this year. The skis have carbon fiber in the construction, which helps reduce the weight. Carbon fiber had been an option in the past, but this year it was included in the Backcountry by default. This allowed Praxis to include maple hardwood around the edge of the ski core. If you think of a tennis racket, where the torsional stiffness comes from the ‘frame’ of maple around the edge and tip/tail areas, that’s what the Backcountry looks like inside. For the tech nerds out there, this core design is enabled by the CNC milling machine at the Praxis factory and makes it a bit different than the typical ski.

Praxis at Mammoth

Praxis backcountry at work in-resort

While weight tends to correlate to stiffness, these lightweight skis are also stiffer than any other backcountry ski I’ve owned. See the tennis racket analogy above. This is not a bad thing and was particularly useful when at the ski resorts. I found no chatter at higher speeds, even on firmer snow conditions. It had great edge control on the groomers, and the front rise plus turn radius meant that short turns and bumps, while not my preferred ski style and terrain, were doable.

In the backcountry, these skis really excelled. They climbed easily, and even with the tip rise, my skin tails stayed on. Certainly, they ski well in blower pow, but they really shine in variable (read: backcountry) snow conditions. I really noticed the feeling of not being as spent after a long climb, which translated into me enjoying the descents much more.

That said, there were some growing pains. They were hooky at first, and I had a hell of a time on groomed snow, which I found out later was because they were edge high. But after N, aka the Ski Valet™, spent time detuning the edges in the rocker zone, and put a slight base bevel on the edges underfoot, the issues went away.

Praxis builds its skis in three stiffnesses – medium, medium/stiff and stiff. According to the Ski Valet, my Backcountry’s were medium, which was the standard stiffness for that model. Custom stiffness options are available at no extra charge, which is awesome.

Unlike other skis I’ve been on that are designed for the backcountry, the Praxis is a versatile ski that can hold its own both within resort boundaries and outside them. It was an ideal ski for our recent ski safari.

More importantly, it’s a ski that’s fun to ski on, which, to my mind, is the whole point.

Ski Safari, Part 5: Mt. Baker

Mt Baker

Smiling ’cause his jacket was waterproofed recently.

While our drive to Bellingham along the Trans-Canada Highway was sunny and clear, the next day’s forecast was wet.  So wet that Mt. Baker’s snow report had the rare statement of ‘light rain’ at the base.  That’s a forecast no ski marketer usually admits to, so we went up expecting a downpour. It wasn’t that bad.  Wet snow, yes, and I quickly learned that I needed to re-waterproof my ski jacket and pants, but the terrain is super fun, and I finally had a chance to ski with my niece.  That she insisted on skiing a double black diamond chute (her first) with us really capped off the day.

It also capped off a fun trip, since from there it was all about the marathon drive back to Tahoe, broken up with a few stops along the way.

Would I do it again? Absolutely – ski vacations are fun, and something we’ve not done often, seeing how we live in such an awesome ski destination like Tahoe. Though the next time I want to stop at some other smaller Oregon and California resorts, like Willamette Pass, Mt. Hood and Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

So, next year – who’s up for it?

Ski Safari, Part 4: Revelstoke

Missed Part 1, 2 or 3?

Revelstoke

Big views & big vertical

The Whitewater to Revelstoke leg of the trip was one of the longer drives, involving high mountain roads, beautiful scenery, some snow, and a ferry crossing.  That was my favorite part of the drive, and not just because it was free.

We arrived in Revelstoke along with the snow, which resulted in our second official powder day of the trip.  New snow + 5620 feet of vertical + high speed chairlifts meant that we quickly racked up vertical, along with face shots and grins.  Revelstoke’s terrain includes some fun hiking, a ton of trees, and sustained steeps.  That there was nothing resembling a lift line during our two days was further reason to love the place.

In its current incarnation, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is a new ski resort, only opened in 2007.  Admittedly there was another smaller ski resort and a cat ski operation before that, so it’s not like skiing is new here.  But it doesn’t come across as your typical destination ski resort.  There’s no lodge around every corner, and not everything is groomed to perfection.    Like Red and Whitewater, this is a skier’s mountain.  And like those two resorts, there are a lot of people that drive up the Powder Highway to hit them all.  We saw a few of the same people at the three resorts doing just what we did.   So clearly this Powder Highway thing has caught on.

After two days of powder, steeps and trees, it was time to start the journey south.  Our next stop was Bellingham to visit family and ski Mt. Baker.  Having visited Bellingham numerous times over the past 4 years, I had never skied there, so I was super excited.

Coming up: Mt. Baker

Ski Safari, Part 3: Whitewater

Snow ghost trees

Snow ghosts at Whitewater

Missed Part 1 or Part 2?

When you’re on a ski safari, it’s as much about the driving as it is the skiing.  Getting from Red Mountain to Nelson, the closest town to Whitewater Ski Resort, was one of the shortest driving legs of the trip, a little over an hour.  Our route took us through Trail B.C., which was the location of the JP Auclair’s creative urban ski segment in Sherpa Cinemas All.I.Can.

Nelson is a town I spent just enough time in last year to want to go back.  It has many of the things I seek in a ski town – great coffee (Oso Negro), lots of ski shops, and a number of interesting restaurants.  Oh, and a ski resort just outside of town, one known for great powder and great backcountry access.  Win-win-win-win!

Just our luck we arrived in Nelson on the eve of a holiday – Family Day. It’s a new holiday for British Columbia, but new or not, local citizens took it very seriously.  As such, all stores, including most restaurants, were closed, outside of the one located at the Hume Hotel, where we were staying (the newer rooms have great beds & groovy decor).   Americans, particularly those of us living in resort towns, might learn from this example.

I was eager to ski Whitewater, as much to explore the terrain as to enjoy another awesome lunch.  Our timing meant mid-week ‘crowds’ and a cloud layer up high, the latter which kept us gravitating towards the trees, and the former meaning there were not many people besides us in said trees.

Endless vertical

Endless vertical

Like Red Mountain, Whitewater doesn’t have a whole bunch of lifts, and ZERO high-speed quads.  But its geography means that the two lifts we rode accessed a lot of fun (and steep) terrain.  By lunchtime I had worked up an appetite, and since I had eaten well the last time we were here, I was looking forward to lunch.  Whitewater’s Café is still as interesting and delicious as I remembered.  We split an order of vegetarian poutine with yam fries that I was still talking about the next day.   Were we not on a schedule to get to Revelstoke that night, I might have insisted on returning to Nelson to find the Whitewater cookbook with that recipe.  As it was, we were on a mission ski safari.

After another few hours of endless turns past snow ghosts, we packed up in order to get to Revelstoke by dinner time.

Next stop: Revelstoke

Ski Safari

When much-anticipated plans to take a ski vacation to France didn’t quite pan out, we found ourselves looking north.  Canada north.  We had passports and fat skis, vacation time, and a yen to ski new terrain – ideally with new snow.

This idea wasn’t totally out of the blue.  Last year’s trip to a backcountry lodge near Nelson, B.C. piqued our interest in exploring that part of the world, and an article in a ski magazine on the Powder Highway further encouraged us.  The final straw was the dry and springlike weather in Tahoe, with a forecast that offered no immediate relief.  So off we went.

Mt Bachelor powder skiing

First day of vacation – not bad.

Considering that Canadian border is nearly 1,000 miles from Tahoe, we decided to hit a few U.S. ski resorts on the way up.  First stop was Bend, OR, to see N’s parents…and sneak in skiing at Mt. Bachelor.  This is not a new resort to us – it’s where N learned to ski, and we’ve had more than a few memorable powder days there already.  But to have fresh snow after weeks of sunshine and high pressure in California was a welcome start to vacation.  

Mission Ridge Ski Resort

Short hike, big payoff.

From Bend we drove to the town of Wenatchee in eastern Washington.  Located on the east side of the Cascades, it’s home to Mission Ridge, a 2,000 acre ski resort right outside of town.  It’s not your typical PNW resort, in that there’s a lot of sunshine (300 days a year – like Tahoe) and the snow is drier than those resorts on the western side of the state.  Like a few other ski resorts we visited, Mission Ridge does not boast villages or lodging.   There’s a base lodge and a smaller lodge mid-mountain, but it was refreshingly simple – and the lift ticket rates reflected it ($53).  Our timing was good, for a recent storm meant that fresh tracks could be had if you were willing to hike.  And we were.

Mission Ridge ski resort

Fun terrain…and a bomber plane!

Mission Ridge’s terrain is varied, with plenty of advanced/expert steeps to keep us skiing until the end of the day.  It offers night skiing as well, but we had to get on the road for the next stop on our ski safari.

Next up: Red Mountain

Desolation Wilderness Under Snow

Backcountry skier above Lake Tahoe

Not a bad day at all.

I wanted to celebrate my new year with a big day out.  I wanted it to be somewhere new, and ideally involve winter snow.   The latter was of particular importance because my birthday falls in what locals call ‘Juneuary’.  Corn tends to be more plentiful than powder, and typically I have to go elsewhere if I want to get my snow fix.

This year I got both of my wishes.  N and I had been discussing heading back into Desolation Wilderness, and our friend Meghan kindly told us of some lines that hold winter snow weeks after a storm.  Lucky for us, she wanted to play too, so a posse of four telemark skiers set out from the Emerald Bay area early-ish on Saturday.

Skinning above Dicks Lake

The views were well worth the climb.

Our route involved some up, some down, lots of snow, very few people, and plenty of sunshine.  And views.  While I have spent a lot of time in the Desolation Wilderness, it’s been in the summer and fall mostly, so seeing it under snow gave me a whole new perspective.  There are a lot of skiable lines back there!

Backcountry skier above Lake Tahoe

She was right about the snow.

Despite my inherent skepticism, Meghan was right.  You can still find untracked powder, even in Juneuary.  Which we did.

It was a great start to my new year.   Yes, getting older sucks, but when it’s celebrated like this, it’s actually not all that bad.

Skiers crossing lake

Heading back after a fun – and full – day out.

Winter is back – really!

After what could optimistically be described as a disappointing ski season last year, it appears that Mother Nature is trying to win back Lake Tahoe’s affections.  She succeeded this month, with a series of big storms that left up to 94 inches of snow before and after Christmas.  The ski resorts couldn’t be happier, and frankly, neither could I.

The timing has been awesome, as many local’s season passes are blacked out during this holiday period, reducing the bum rush to get the untracked powder.  We’ve enjoyed relaxed days at our favorite ski resorts, lapping areas that typically are tracked out in minutes. Despite the holiday crowds, we also found untracked snow and few people at some of our favorite backcountry stashes as well.

While the snow volume appears to be slowing down for now, cold temperatures are forecast for next week, ensuring great mid-winter snow conditions will stick around.  At least until the next storm shows up.

Need proof of the awesomeness?  See below.

Trimmer bonus run from TahoeJenn on Vimeo.