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 longer 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