Day 22 Mon Feb 13 Sacramento – LAX – ?????

Had a lousy night’s sleep – the events of the afternoon seemed to keep replaying – so was quite late dragging myself out of bed and eventually out of the motel (helped by a midday checkout).  Did a proper bag pack – as distinct from the stand back and throw things in the general direction of the bags that had happened after my short ski yesterday when I foolishly thought I was heading home.  And discovered that I had just enough room and weight available for a final bit of retail therapy.  And with an REI store in town ….

By the time I’d wandered a while through there, had a couple of coffees, got lost twice trying to get into the central downtown area and seeing some pretty scary bits of traffic in a few spots, I baled early and headed for the airport.  Stopped at the gas station just before the rental return to fuel up and down my final wheatfish I’d been saving, then on to check-in with Southwest.  Once again impressed by what an efficient and friendly service they provide for such low fares.  Had 2 attendants offering to put my bag tags on for me (or was it just that I look that incompetent?)

So I find myself sitting in the terminal, checked in and through security 90 minutes before my flight is due to depart.  I’ve got just under a 4 hour window between when I’m due to arrive in LAX and when I fly out.  I’ve done all I can do.

So far, so good. Good quick flight to LA, though a baggage handler has accelerated the destruction of my ski bag and had to do a quick repair job before heading off down the walkway to Tom Bradley with the ski bag somewhat perilously balanced on the trolley and dodging a whole lot of people who seem to have no idea where they’re going. Didn’t see the final weights of the bags but no comment so all good.

So I’m through screening for the second time, sipping a sparkling and waiting for my calamari.

And now I’m onboard and we seem to be on time – and at this stage there’s still a spare seat next to me – what could possibly go wrong?

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Day 21 Sun Feb 12 Carson City – Heavenly – Sacramento – NOT LAX – NOT MEL

So, how can a day start so well and end so screwed up? 

Beautiful morning and once finally packed up headed up the stunning Kingsbury Grade on th eastern side of the Sierra.  Was trying to get to the Stagecoach lot but missed the sign – or it was buried somewhere under the many metres of snow.  Once I’d finally gotten there it was of course full so dashed to the nearby Boulder lot which was thankfully still taking acceptances.  Could only afford a couple of hours but figured it was still worth while.  And it was great.  Snow seemed drier than at Kirkwood and once again I felt like I could ski.  Had a run through the triangle of trees that Doug and I had enjoyed at the start of the trip, and after a couple of very nice groomer runs did a top to bottom run with some tree skiing up high and great groomer lower down.  A nice way to finish up.

Still had closures in both directions on 50 and after seeing how often 88 closed yesterday figured best bet was back out into the Carson valley.  Tossed up heading up the open stretch of 50 and going around the lake but going via Reno – highway all the way – was just as quick.  I’d spent a LOT of time checking all the options for this final drive and quite comfortable with it all.  Grabbed some gas and coffee just south of Reno then onto 80 to start the last hill climb.  Traffic slowed to a crawl 8 miles before the State Line – nowhere else to go and figured it would clear out relatively OK – middle of the day and pretty light traffic and for a 2 hour trip had over an hour up my sleeve and almost two if I wanted to cut it fine.

So you can probably imagine my consternation when we finally started moving at measurable speeds 7 miles later when over two and a half hours had elapsed.  They had a lane closed doing mop up work on some of the slides from earlier in the week, but I still can’t figure out why it took so long – I can only assume they actually closed it completely for periods getting machinery in and out etc.  Whatever. Was doing the arithmetic in my head as I tried to ignore my bladder and sped to the rest area at Donner Summit.  Suitably relieved I could now figure out that (a) I would definitely miss my flight from Sac to LA; (b) the next Southwest flight was fully booked, would barely get me there in time anyway and other options may not be much better; and (c) the chances of me making my flight home were pretty close to zilch.

So spent the next 40 minutes on the phone rescheduling with QANTAS and Southwest and adding a day to the car rental. QANTAS were asking an arm and a leg to change to tomorrow but if I took my chances and didn’t end up making it tonight they’d hit me with an extra few hundred for the privilege – and still charge me the arm and the leg as well.   So, feeling rather shattered, headed off over the top barely noticing the stunning scenery.  Though shortly after I had much more time to admire it.  Because of course my quiet midday trip was now a late afternoon trip – a busy, sunny Sunday afternoon trip – and was meeting up with all the skiers heading back down to Sacramento and the Bay Area.  Good thing I hadn’t convinced myself I could still make it tonight.

So at the time I should be taking off I’m enjoying the ambience of Motel 6 in downtown Sacramento.  I think I’ve got a few photos from the last few days but I really can’t be stuffed even thinking about them.  Might to try to post a few tomorrow to kill some time.  Not a lot else to do – except of course to GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY !!!!!!!!

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Day 20 Sat Feb 11. Kirkwood 2000m vertical

Maybe I’m just worn out …

Was up early enjoying the novelty of a clear cool morning but somehow still managed to not get away all that early.  Looks like I’m 0 for 3 re my rule about lift skiing on Saturdays – but with an enforced day off and an ordinary day yesterday I’m not passing up fresh snow this close to the end of the trip.  Both Heavenly and Kirkwood reporting another foot on top of the two foot they got yesterday. Pretty quick trip up with the just the last section of SR-88 under snow – couldn’t believe how different it was compared to when I was last through here a couple of years back – SO much snow. Was only just after 9 when I made it to the entrance at Kirkwood – but it was at least 15 minutes later before I was getting kitted up after an agonisingly slow trip through the whole of the village to a parking lot that needed 4WD more than any trip I’d done in the last fortnight.

Queues were actually quite manageable for a sunny fresh Saturday, particularly using the singles lines, but I struggled to really get into it all day.  It’s a fairly intimidating (though spectacular) hill – the main lifts go right up to the ridgeline with no easy way down, many of the intermediate runs near the base are closer to green, and the one area that has a more consistent intermediate pitch was still closed with avalanche control.  The groomers were quite pleasant, but off track was – while way better than yesterday – still a bit cement like.

As I skied past the base of chair 2 – which services the approach to the more appealing intermediate area – saw that they seemed to be gearing up for opening.  On the next lap they were removing the closed signs as I approached so figured even if it takes a while it would be worth the wait.  Ended up taking a LONG while but it was sort of worth the wait – ended up on 7th chair and had pretty much clean tracks down the first run.  Was a little slabby and had to keep well balanced but slowly started to feel like I could actually still ski and didn’t have 2 left feet.  Did another lap and still no sign of opening the backside – don’t think it’s going to happen today – then on the 3rd run headed back down to base via a lovely open hillside and grabbed 2nd lunch.

Tried to get back for another run but it was closing just as I approached.  Wasn’t inclined to try other areas so called it quits.  However I might as well have gone and sat in a bar for an hour.  Took 45 mins to get out of the place – not helped by the fact the 88 westbound was closed for avalanche control with no expected opening time, but I don’t think it was just that.  Back to Carson and start planning the possible options for tomorrow that can see me get a couple of hours skiing in and NOT get delayed by rockslides, mudslides, avalanches or diversions – tricky.

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Day 19 Fri Feb 10. Winnemucca – Northstar – Carson City 1600m vertical (50600 total)

New day, new challenges.

Up very early ready for a quick dash to Tahoe so I could be skiing mid morning.  Just a few problems with that.  Multiple road closures with snow, mudslides, rockslides, floods.  2 foot of snow overnight.  Multiple resorts shut due to avalanche risk unable to cope etc.  So took a slightly more relaxed approach and after finding a quite acceptable coffee headed of on I-80 back toward Tahoe.  Much more pleasant driving today with wind way better than yesterday.  Rain got serious again on the last stretch toward Reno as I followed the brown surging torrent that had once been the Truckee River upstream.

Got to Reno and diverted off the highway to grab a coffee and check road and snow reports.  Still mass confusion and looked like a bit of procrastination might pay off – thankfully something I excel at.  But eventually bit the bullet and headed toward Northstar.  Not my first choice – would have preferred Heavenly or Kirkwood but getting to either of them was somewhat problematic and they were struggling to any operations going.  So back to I-80 and up the hill.  Fairly major accident in the foothills that took a while to get through then another go-slow at the stateline where they were stopping all trucks – well the ones that hadn’t already stopped at any available rest area in the previous 20 miles – due to the minor issue of I-80 being closed in BOTH directions up near Donner Summit due to a mudslide.  Down to one lane for a few km half way up where multiple small mudslides.  But eventually made it to the Northstar turnoff.

Temps had dropped earlier than predicted yesterday so even lower areas like Northstar had ended up picking up substantial falls – they were claiming about 60 cm!  Figured it would be pretty wet stuff but beggars can’t be choosy.  But started to get concerned as the closer I got the rain still struggled to turn to snow. And still not impressed when got out of the car into deep puddles.  Snowing steadily mid mountain and figured might be OK right at the top.  Headed off down West Ridge – surrounded by about half of California – and tried heading off into some untracked.

Now when snow is COMPLETELY untracked I should finally maybe learn that there MAY be something less than perfect about it!  It was deep OK – was up to my knees in wet cement with a slab on top – the only thing that was going to happen in this stuff with any certainty was an injury.  Back out onto the runs and rejoin the hordes.  Got back to the base of the upper chair and couldn’t face the crowd so back to mid mountain for some lunch.   Then headed back out into heavy snow and tried again.  But it just wasn’t cutting it.  Classic Sierra cement that sets up hard and lumpy very quickly.  You’d find a section that skied nice enough but it wouldn’t last.

So after one more run up to the top then a top to bottom run and called it quits.  And right on queue the sun came out. Pretty quick trip down to and around the lake with the hillsides looking stunning (from a distance) with such a heavy coating of new snow.  South Tahoe is prohibatively expensive on weekends – and besides I couldn’t actually get there at the moment!  So it was over the range and drop down into Carson City and my last motel check in for the trip

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Day 18 Thur Feb 9. McCall – Winnemucca NV

Soggy, very soggy

With absolutely no chance of a ski today there was no need to rush out and enjoyed the chance for a cooked breakfast while I could.  Grabbed a coffee heading out of town – ordinary coffee, acceptable scone and good range of signs. A bit of aquaplaning and the trip down the Payette wasn’t as spectacular as usual but all in all not too bad.  Had originally booked a room with a kitchen in Boise for tonight with the option of a ski at Bogus or Soldier tomorrow but that looks like pie in the sky so after a bit of retail therapy and a quick cancellation it was off into the desert – well once I managed to actually get out of Boise.  Stupid GPS app got it into its head that I didn’t like travelling on interstates and took me on some unintelligible diversions.  Oh well.

After crossing the Snake rejoined US-50 which I’d followed south out of Montana a few days back.  This road really gets around – back then it took me through Moscow and today I went through Rome!  Strange to see flowing and standing water out in the sagebrush.  Scarily windy in places – there was a wind warning out for the eastern Sierra and almost could have had one here as well.  Part of the drive got a bit tedious as passed through more rolling almost grazing terrain rather than the classic basin and range of Nevada but started to get more dramatic toward last light.  Was in Winnemucca by a bit after dark and as a bonus I got back that hour I lost a fortnight ago.

Not sure how tomorrow will pan out – the whole Tahoe basin sounds like a mess.

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Day 17 Wed Feb 8. Brundage 5400m vertical (49000 total)

And on the eighth consecutive day of fresh snow he wondered if it would ever end – but suspected it would very soon …

Only a little fresh overnight but snowing lightly when I headed out.  Grabbed a quite acceptable coffee up on the hill and was on the chair about 20 mins after it openend – by which time maybe 50 people had been up.  The definition of crowded here is where you have to share a chairlift with someone.  Headed straight for Lakeview and spent the first hour and a half  there. Was getting 3rd or 4th turns on groomers that had an inch of fresh on top and plenty of untracked off the runs – if you have thrown in a bit more visibility it would have been just about perfect.  Snow was dryer again than Monday and most skiable.

Great run all the way down on 45th parallel and tried (again) for the mid mountain eatery but closed (again) so back to the base for an early lunch.  After more than a fortnight finally buckled and went for the wings and beer – and the wings were sensational – possibly the best I’d had since in Canada with Robyn & Trevor (was it at Jasper?) – and ably washed down with a shock top – a nice drop in the bottle but a very nice drop on tap.

Suitably fueled up back out and did two or three runs down the frontside – a mix of groomed and trees and very nice.  Was feeling one more run might almost be enough, then had one of those sliding doors moments and rather than take that run, I headed in for a relaxed coffee and scone break.  And discovered that the 3-7 in of snow forecast for tomorrow is now less than 1 in and there’s a flood warning out for the whole valley – sounds like I better get the most out of today.  The forecast is starting to sound like a homage to an 80’s Scottish pop band (think Four Weddings and a Funeral if you’re having trouble with the reference)

And as I head back out it starts snowing seriously.  Ands rather than do 1 more run I did 5!  From here on it was free refills all round.  And a day that was already great morphed into sensational.  Did the same sequence 3 times in a row – down North into Rodeo then drop into the trees from there where there was a wonderful series of dips and bumps through lovely snow through perfectly gladed area – then emerged onto the bottom part of a groomer that was skiing about as well as it could.  Repeat.  Drool.

Pretty stuffed by now but no way I was stopping so did a couple of runs down Main Street into Lower Slobovia with occasional forays into the trees till the knees pleaded with me to stop the teles.  Officially only a few inches during the day but as often the case was skiing much deeper and better than that.  The sort of day that can make a trip.  By the time I was doing the last few turns down to the base the lift was closing down and so were the legs.  A quick bit of retail therapy and back down to my little abode.

And now the forecast for tomorrow is for 4-8 in snow with rain thrown in – I don’t think anyone has a clue WHAT is going to happen.  At least I’m not at Jackson – they had a major wind storm last night that killed all power to the area around the base of the hill and it won’t be restored till at least Monday!  And Powder Mountain was closed today (again) and road may not reopen till late tomorrow due to avalanche risk.  Interesting times indeed.

But tonight I’ve got crab cakes to go with more roast vegies.  It’s a tough life.


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Day 16 Tue Feb 7. McCall

Sitting in my little bungalow looking out at the snow wafting down – it’s a tough life.  Meant to be a relative lull in the precipitation today which (along with the fact that my legs are stuffed) is part of the reason for the day off.  Not sure if I’ll go out skating yet or not.  Very difficult trying to plan the next few days as after tomorrow things warm up drastically and they’re talking rain at all the hills I could realistically get to.  Last 2 days look OK in Tahoe but before that looks ugly so no point rushing back there.  Looks like I might have an enforced break sometime in the next few days.

Finally dragged myself outside about 2.30 and headed to Ponderosa State Park for a quick skate.  It’s on a peninsula that juts out into Payette Lake and have never managed to have a ski here on previous trips.  Only a very short ski – no more than a stretch of some different leg muscles really (and strangely the skating seemed to hurt my knee more than the teles!) – but most pleasant.  Heard a woodpecker at work long before I spotted it then marvelled at its persistence at what looked suspiciously like banging your head against a wall.  Also spotted a squirrel and heard a few more.  Still snowing on and off.

The evening weather update still giving a glimmer of hope for some skiing in the area Thurs so booked an extra night here.  Made good use of the oven and did some roast vegies and stuffed scallops – yum.

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Day 15 Mon Feb 6. Grangeville – Brundage – McCall 4200m vertical (43600 total)

What a great way to start the final week!

Warm (relatively) and windy leaving Grangeville this morning as first light starting to appear.  Most of the latter part of the drive  yesterday and at first this morning wasn’t all that exciting but I’ve had plenty of driving excitement the last few days so I can live with that!  But took a dramatic turn for the better as started another long winding descent down into and then along the Salmon River valley.  This is after the river emerges from its ‘River of No Return’ zone and carves a magnificent gorge through the barren hills.  And the Hells Canyon gorge on the Snake River – the deepest in the US – is only about 15 km in a straight line to the west.  It’s a big part of the appeal of driving around these areas – the rivers are just stunning.

Tempting to take even more photo stops but fresh snow was calling and from Riggins (where there was coffee!) followed  the Little Salmon upstream almost all the way to Brundage.  Intermittent rain turned to snow before the final climb up to the hill and was snowing steadily at the base.  Arrived just as the main chair started loading but this place doesn’t do crowds midweek and within 2 minutes most chairs were going up empty.  Visibility at the top varied between not much and Sweet FA but knew my way from previous visits so headed straight for Lakeview – which didn’t seem to be running – so started heading back toward base – when I realised that it wasn’t Lakeview after all but another chair that never runs midweek.  Why would I trust my memory about anything?

Back to base, up to the top and this time managed to get to the correct lift.  Have had some great skiing in here previous trips and while the snow was a little heavy (but MUCH better than yesterday) it was great fun with only a few sets of tracks.  Did a few runs over here thenafter catching the main chair back up did runs on Main Street and North and ducked off North into some lovely deep soft bumps on Stair Step.  Top half of runs were skiing by braille and as you got further down the hill visibility improved markedly.  LOTS of teles with occasional forays back onto the groomed to save the knees.

Grabbed some chilli for lunch out for a couple more runs then caught a different chair up to the mid mountain eatery only to find it closed.  Headed off down an ungroomed run which looked OK from the top but devolved into HUGE soft bumps half way down.  By the time I got to the bottom I was ready to chuck it in.  But then a strange light appeared in the sky and I could actually see!  So one last chair ride and another run down North and Stair Step – in some ways good that you could now see the terrain but also slightly disconcerting that you could see how far you were going to slide if you missed a turn!  Slow but uneventful drive down the hill and after grabbing some supplies and a coffee checked into my very comfortable little bungalow.

Very warm and wet storms forecast for later in the week for all areas I could possibly get to so not sure what the final plan will be yet, but the legs are telling me that tomorrow might be an XC day.

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Day 14 Sun Feb 5. Missoula – Lookout Pass – Grangeville ID 1500m vertical (39400 total)

What a difference a day makes.  Last nights warming trend kept up and this morning temp was up around freezing and the car was wet rather than snow covered.  Yesterday marked the furthest point north for this trip and the original plan for the first stage of heading back toward Tahoe was a days drive via Lolo Pass with a stop for a bit of XC.  However temps looking marginal at Lolo and it’s still dumping at Lookout and Silver Mountain ( a bit further along I-90 from Lookout) so it was back onto the interstate.  Rather than being snow covered the left lane now had mounds of slushy ice which once again was quite treacherous to cross or drive through – which may have had something to do with the truck that had jacknifed about 30km out of Missoula.  Was actually raining down in the valleys but slowly turned to snow on the climb up to the pass but temp was hanging in around freezing.  Last 10km or so ended up being very slow as I was not prepared to chance the ordinary condition of the left lane so kept with the trucks and other nervous car drivers as speed slowed and slowed until we were crawling by the time I turned off at the pass.

Absolutely bucketing down at Lookout.  Had started a little late as the early morning road reports had not been encouraging and was only planning a couple of hours here – but at $32 for a day you really don’t have to worry about justifying the cost.  No problems here about hitting firm underneath the fresh – you would have had to dig down a LONG way to find it.  It was deep but it was also heavy – more like powder in Oz then US.  Did one VERY short foray into the trees and decided that in snow like this you just have to accept some speed to get anywhere – a concept I often struggle with – and if I’m doing that I’m doing it out in the open not in the trees.  So as long as you could keep moving it was lots of fun.  If you got into areas that weren’t steep enough to keep some speed up you just ended up sinking into it .  All over the front open slope parents were extracting small children from holes that they would literally disappear into when they fell.  They had to bring the groomers out in the middle of the day to groom some new pistes just so those who weren’t coping could get down the hill.

After 3 runs I was getting close to saturated so inside for some food and dryness then back out and onto the front lift.  Looking over my shoulder on the way up saw a LONG line of trucks stationary on the Interstate – it was closed!  Maybe I should have kept going on to Silver Mtn this morning.  Oh well, will just have to keep skiing.  By next run traffic had started to crawl and after one more it was actually moving so I was out of there.  Thankfully very little traffic coming through from Missoula – not sure if there were crashes, chain controls or what – but not a bad trip down.  SNow turned back to sleet near Wallace and from there we had what they refer to as a ‘winter mix’ from there on.  Had decided on the slightly longer route via US95 as there were no issues showing on the roads website this morning but of course as soon as I started climbing south was once again back into snow and a completely snow covered left lane.

But from there conditions slowly improved and by half way to Lewiston temp had climbed into the positives for the first time in ages, it stopped precipitating and even broke out of the cloud.  Dropped down to just 300m at Lewiston then a steady climb back out onto the plains and was into Grangeville about 8.  Another pretty major drive but it leaves me less than 2 hours from Brundage for tomorrow morning

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Day 13 Sat Feb 4 Whitefish 3500m vertical (37900 total)

A day of challenges.  The storm has continued on track and the first challenge was getting out of the motel car park and only slightly less challenging negotiating the main street of downtown Missoula.  Tried the second coffee place downtown – Zootown Brew – and got one of the finest coffees I’ve had in the US.  Very tentative for the first bit of the drive but settled down after a bit.  Right lane had been fairly well plowed but using the left lane – or being passed by anyone – had its own set of challenges.  And left fingernail marks in the steering wheel when did a downhill corner coming into Polson and the grooming just disappeared – as did most of the car’s traction.  I’m constantly amazed by the number of people over here who persist in driving these big rear wheel drive pickups that seem to have absolutely no traction anytime you have to brake, steer, go round corners etc.  Its hard enough in a proper car. 

Hmm, my ‘rule’ about avoiding lift skiing on a Saturday seems to be notable in its breach rather than its observance lately. Had decided on Whitefish even though it’s a long day trip from Missoula as it had a good fall last night and more due during the day.  And of course there’s the lemon & blueberry scone and coffee at Montana Coffee Traders.  Snowing quite steadily heading up the hill and kept up most of the day.  Quite a queue at Chair 1 so did a lap of chair 2 to get the first turns for the day then had a remarkably quick passage through the singles line on chair 1 and up to the top.  Socked in up the top and headed in to the new Summit House which should have been renamed mad house as it was absolutely packed.

Headed over the back for a very nice run down to Flower Point.  From the top meant to do the wide out run back to its base but somehow found myself back out on the frontside of the mountain on the interminable cat track to the base of chair 1.  Oh well. Big Face had looked good from the chair and I hoped there was just enough tree cover to give a bit of visibility but it was yet another challenge.  Lovely snow on top though a little heavier than at Lookout but again there was a very solid base underneath which you could hit on the steeper pitches. After a good run out in Big Ravine back up and this time headed for the trees in Good Medicine.  Great snow but again occasionally hitting the firm underneath, and found myself being even more challenged than I really wanted.

As one of the old knees finally started to complain a bit I finished up with some groomers.  Well worth the trip.  Back in town to be greeted by chaos as the Winter Carnival parade had just concluded and traffic was insane.  Drove down a couple of sidestreets to try and park but they were almost undrivable with the amount of snow.  With coffee and scone on hand started the trip back to Missoula and only a couple of km out of town watched the almost comical spectacle of a pickup a little up the road loose it trying to cut back from the left lane and do a 180 spin (thankfully into a waiting snow bank rather than another car).  Drive back only a little slower than normal without any additional challenges.

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