Day 25 Thur Feb 15. SLC – LAX – MEL

So far, so good.  About to board flight to LAX – as long as I can get on!  Flight is oversold – not a rare occurrence – but should be OK (famous last words!)  More to follow …..

SO it’s now 5pm PT, I’ve got three hours before boarding and I’m sitting in the terminal at LAX enjoying my last Starbucks coffee and lemon cake for the trip. I could get used to this single ticket concept – bags checked right through, a bus to connect between terminals so you don’t have to go through the whole screening process a second time.  And I’m going somewhat better than at a similar stage in last year’s trip!

Sort of enjoyed the novelty of having a leisurely pack up this morning rather than my standard routine of doing a few hours skiing then rushing madly to get to the airport on time.  Mind you, good to see that my standard impeccable sense of timing is still working well – Alta picked up 17 in last night when the forecast called for about 5!  Glad I didn’t even check it out this morning.  Snowing lightly on and off at the motel but not much settled. 

A last bit of retail therapy, an attempt to get lost dropping the car off and still managed to be in the security screening line about 2 hrs before flight from SLC.  Took forever to get through screening – good thing I wasn’t cutting it fine – I would never do that.  Once we cleared Salt Lake area had great views all the way to LA.  Sat next to a VERY big boy – looked like he could have filled in as a linebacker – so glad I had the window seat and could sort of turn that way and just use part of my seat.

Must be time to sample some food and beverages ….

… And 24 hours later I’m back home desperately trying to stay awake long enough to start shocking the body clock back into OZ time.  Until next time ….

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Day 24 Wed Feb 14. Alta 4000m vertical (61,900 total)

What a wonderful way to finish up.Could have had a ‘free’ day at Snowbasin, Snowbird or Park City, but found myself instead heading back to Alta for a 4th day at 50% off.  I think Denis Denuto said it best – ‘it’s the vibe’.  Mild in the valley but temps dropped climbing the canyon road and even a few snowflakes chasing each other approaching Alta.  After months of obsessing over forecasts, I barely glanced at todays.  Meant to be a small storm tonight into tomorrow but nothing much for today.

Hovering around freezing at the base but about 7 below up top – much like yesterday.  What was NOT like yesterday was the absence of sunshine and the strong presence of wind.  Snowed all day – light at first but steadily getting a bit heavier – but I would have no idea of how much of the snow that was blowing around was actually falling.  In not unusual fashion for pre-storm Alta, the mountain progressively shut down as the day went on, so missed the chance for a final run through ballroom.  After a couple of warm ups went through the gate to Cecret Saddle.  Had to negotiate steep bumps to get through the first bit and dropped lower than I should so ended up doing some touring across Cecret Lake.  Nice snow but not sure it was worth the effort.  What it did give me was a chance to take a better look at East Castle which I had contemplated yesterday.  Strangely enough, from a bit closer up it looked quite a bit steeper, and was already closed so didn’t have to make a real decision. 

After elevenses Cecret Saddle now closed and headed over toward Collins.  Going past the Mineral Basin saddle it sounded like a jet engine testing lab with snow blowing in all directions.  Tried a run through to Racecourse Saddle – flat and groomed up high but some nicer snow down low.  Collins Return now closed as well and not sure I would want to be anywhere near there anyway, so transfer tow back to Albion Base and up Supreme.  Nice run down Devils Elbow and Rock N Roll then cut left through a gate I had often though of checking out but never got around to it.  The area in here doesn’t seem to have a name but it was fantastic – low angle, soft snow, lots of dips and bumps and trees and FUN! 

In fact it was so much fun I ended up doing variations on the same run 6 times.  In between lunch came and went, the snowfall got a little heavier and my legs – while not being excessively challenged – progressively pleaded with me to call an end to the trip.  On the last run as I approached the bottom of Supreme they were shutting it down for the day, and as I’ve often done in the past, finished off the skiing for the trip with the meander back to Albion Base.

Spent the evening drinking the remnants of Cointreau, beer, wine and DOM (its tough I know) interspersed with some food and a half hearted start to the final packup.


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Day 23 Tue Feb 13. Alta 3300m vertical (57900 total)

Great Day!

Almost got away just a little behind schedule until I tried to find my Alta pass – pulled everything apart and finally found it in a perfectly logical spot – just a shame it was in the last spot I looked.  Had been worried that traffic might be an issue but only dropped below 120 kmh a couple of times, and got to Alta just in time to get one of the last spots at Albion car park. 

Brilliant sunny morning.  No fresh overnight to add to the 8 inches they’d picked up Sun night into Monday but about 6C below freezing and snow holding up well.  Straight up Supreme, did a few turns off track off Big Dipper then down an (unfortunately) groomed Rock N Roll – but still quite nice.  Then up Sugarloaf and across to Ballroom which had some very nice snow.  Back to Alf’s for elevenses then figured I was running out of time to have a crack at Catherines.  The short climb up to the traverse almost had me calling for the defibrilator – my lungs haven’t been even close to working properly since about day 3 (which is partly why the skating skis are still in their bubble wrap).  But once recovered and clipped back into the skis a nice traverse and a delightful run down the top section.  Normally have to wend my way down a steep bumpy section to the run out but with the low snow this year the bumps were actually small trees and there was no way I was heading down through there.  So traversed through the trees to rejoin the trail through the flats.

From Supreme lift had seen what looked like a promising alternative to the lower section which is often pretty scratchy (particularly in low snow) so did another short climbing traverse and tried to cut across to it, but the traverse had been cut by someone way more confident / competent than me – rocks, bumps, small trees – the works.  So baled and cut back toward the standard run only to find myself looking down on a really nice runout.  Unfortunately looks can be deceiving – on the second or third turn managed to scrape back to gravel which brought me to a rather sudden halt!  But generally a good runout to finish off a great run.  Back up Sugarloaf and another run through Ballroom and some really nice ungroomed off the side of Main Street.  By the time I got to Watsons Shelter to have lunch I was barely capable of walking.

Somewhat recovered after chilli and coffee headed back to Sugarloaf and headed for Razorback – partly to check out whether Cecret Saddle looked doable.  Some sizeable bumps but once again lovely soft snow and found a few different little side runs on the way back to Alfs.  Clouds rolled over for a few minutes a couple of times and even managed to wring out a handful of snowflakes. Finished the day with a final trip up Supreme and a relatively straightforward run down with only a few off track diversions.  An appropriate finish to the day when I fell over trying to unclip from my skis – I could barely stand but felt most satisfied.  Given the low snow level and with the fresh already being well tracked, today provided some truly great skiing.

Really enjoyed having only a 35 minute post ski drive instead of the 4 hour one of the last 2 days, and did my last motel check in for the trip.  Still feeling weary after lugging everything upstairs, but after cointreau, beer, cheese and biscuits and a bath, life was looking up.

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Day 22 Mon Feb 12. Rexburg – Grand Targhee – Clearfield UT. 3700m vertical (54,600 total)

A few flakes falling and a few more blowing around as I loaded the car this morning.  Not a great night’s sleep and feeling pretty ordinary – if it wasn’t 3rd last ski day a day off might have been tempting.  Somewhat surprisingly a rare occurrence of actually getting away roughly on time, and even with fuel and coffee stops I was picking up my ticket at Targhee just as they were loading first chair.  By the time I’d finished suiting up most chairs were going up empty.  Gotta love a quiet ski area.

Had donned full down jacket and by half way up was seriously considering adding the vest.  Claiming an inch of fresh overnight but it must have blown away.  Headed for Lost Groomers which was VERY firm.  A bit softer in the trees but still not quite the soft snow I was hoping for.  Having gone back to the car and got the yellow lens goggles after just one run headed back up and tried the off piste around Siting Bull and Wandering Moose – still skier packed but much more enjoyable, then over to Sac for the obligatory run into Medicine Bowl.  Was so skier and wind packed it almost felt groomed.  Nice but not quite like normal, so back to base for elevenses.  Snowing lightly but not really accumulating

Then headed out on Headwall Traverse and cut back above Chief Joe Bowl – VERY nice chalky snow only lightly bumped at the top.  The little bit of fresh was actually making a difference.  Cut further left than previously and great snow but some big bumps.  Had to do a very bumpy traverse back through the trees – great snow but no way I was going to point my skis down through there.  Bowl also skied nicely.  So back up and this time dropped directly off the traverse between Headwall and Chief Joe and was even better than first run.

Had worked up an appetite again so in for the second round of beer and wings for the trip.  Headed back out and did Headwall again and this time traversed across the bowl to Steamvent which was quite similar to headwall – the run of the day.  Thought about doing it again but decided I’d done enough, and still had the last significant drive for the trip ahead of me.  While once again got skunked on the fresh snow I really couldn’t complain about the skiing.

Decided to drive out via Victor, but half way between there and Swan Valley was trying to nod off so pulled over for a 15 minute powernap – made all the difference.  Quick run into Idaho Falls, grabbed coffee, croissant and lemon cake and headed south down the interstate.  A little fresh snow on the lava fields south of Idaho Falls – very pretty.  Snow clouds hanging over the peaks and drove through a couple of short but intense snowfalls over a few of the summits but not enough to slow down from the 130 kmh cruising.  Last light fading as came to the northern extent of the Wasatch at Tremonton and just managed to push myself through to just past Ogden.  Had chosen here for the night to keep the option open for heading to Snowbasin tomorrow, but Alta has had snow today and they haven’t so guess where I’m heading tomorrow.  Would have been nice to push through to Midvale but it was hard enough just getting here.  The one hour drive to Alta tomorrow will be the longest drive I’m facing for the trip. 

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Day 21 Sun Feb 11. Missoula – Lost Trail Powder Mtn – Rexburg ID. 1800m vertical (50,900 total)

It shouldn’t come as a great shock that I was a little late in departing today – the longer I nest in the one spot, the harder it seems to be to pack up and leave.  With a final coffee and a final crossing of the Clark Fork it was a fairly slow drive up the lower Bitterroot valley.  Had my 4th deer sighting for the trip this morning – the first three had surprisingly good road sense and kept well out of the way but this was in the middle of the road as I approached.  I’d seen it from some distance off so was already slowing when its head went one way and its feet went another and the silly bugger fell over!  Thankfully got it together and was up and running OFF the road after that.  Was finally up at the parking lot about 10.30.  Had feared a busy day but it was only half full.

Just enough breeze to make it one of those days when the cold eats through you.  Another rather cheap lift ticket – $38 for ‘Golden Agers’ so seemed worth a few hours on the way through.  No new snow but had picked up about a foot over the last week.  Pretty much straight on to the chair from the base and when I saw at the top that chairs were coming up empty on Chair 2 figured I’d take the same start as last year.  Delightful lightly tracked snow on meadow to start and headed off to the right from the traverse.  Bad move!  Very firm bumps everywhere, including on the escape track that takes you back to the chair.  Not the ideal first run.

So back at the top took an easier path over toward Saddle Mountain.  Snow was generally pretty firm but still skiing quite nicely.  A few low angle soft patches in the trees.  Then the 15 minute ride up the old double chair – possibly the longest chair ride in existence.  And did I mention it was a tad chilly?  From the top traversed across toward the top of SacJac trees.  Tried a little of the ungroomed the other side of the groomed run and it was a little challenging so ended up sticking more on the groomed.  Really nice up the top but got progressively more concrete like toward the bottom – another place where the r@!n had obviously got into the mix at some stages.

Once I figured it wasn’t going to be the soft powder conditions I was used to here I adjusted my expectations and just cruised around a bit and explored a couple of spots I hadn’t skied before.  Ended up back on Saddle Mountain, then took the rope tow to the top and headed back toward the base.  Of course it was at this point that I found my nicest run of the day on Lower Oreo.  Would have been nice to do a repeat, but the time and effort required to do a second lap just seemed a bit much, so headed back to base and called it quits.  Just a few hours but a fun ski and worth the visit.

The other appeal of this approach for the day – other that skiing Lost Trail – was to be able to drive a stretch of the Salmon River.  Quite a steep descent to North Fork, where the river turns its back on civilization and turns into the River of No Return.  The next few km from here as you follow the Salmon back upstream are just spectacular.  Would have been nice to keep following it up to Challis but that would have added more than an hour to an already long day, so at Salmon township headed up ID28 following the far less impressive Lehmi River upstream with the continental divide just a few km to the east.

Ended up at the Motel 6 in Rexburg as couldn’t be stuffed doing the extra driving through to Driggs.  And yes the promised snow for Targhee for tonight into tomorrow morning  is looking progressively less likely.  Oh well.


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Day 20 Sat Feb10. Lookout Pass 2200m vertical (49100 total)

What a difference a day makes!  No wind, no fresh snow and heaps of sunshine.  Headed east from Missoula along I-90, following the Clark Fork for another 100 km to St Regis  as it drops 150 metres and continues to grow.  From here it heads north from the Highway to empty into Lake Pend Oreille and eventually join up with the rest of the Columbia River.  Meanwhile I did the climb up to Lookout Pass at almost full interstate speeds, and thanks to the marvels of crossing time zones, I was able to leave Missoula at 8, do the 90 minute drive and arrive just as lifts were starting to spin at 8.30!  Some quite spectacular vistas along the road made the drive almost as enjoyable as the skiing

Having missed the chance for Boomers Friday when tickets are $30, so had to fork out the full seniors rate of $35 – still a pretty good bargain.  Brilliant sunny morning and cover looked pretty good heading up chair 1.  Headed over the back where groomers were very firm but still quite nice, did one run off both chairs there then back to the front side where went off piste onto the ungroomed front face – some nice softer snow interspersed with some crunchy spots.

Because the resort operates on Pacific time they were still on breakfast menu so got some pancakes.  By the time I ventured back out there was a substantial lift queue – oh well, it is Saturday.  Paired up with one of the mountain hosts and after 10 minutes of chatting we were finally heading back up.  Tried another north facing run but it was steeper than the other and it was obvious that if the sun ever got to this side of the mountain it wouldn’t happen till much later in the day.  Sides of some of the runs had a little bit of softer ungroomed in spots, and tried a few short ventures into the trees but they were pretty tight and snow was just stiff enough to have me a little cautious.

So pretty much stuck to the open areas after that but was all good fun – hard not to enjoy on such a nice day.  Pick of the groomers was probably Rainbow Ridge on the Montana side and the second run down the ungroomed on the front side was enjoyable enough to encourage me to do one more run on the front through some more widely spaced trees – nice.

After about 3 hours figured I’d done enough to justify the huge expense of the lift ticket so back in the car and 30 seconds out of the car park you’re back on the interstate.  Road surface now almost completely dry and did the trip back at pretty much full speed.  Took advantage of the early finish to get some washing done and fill in the blanks accommodation wise for the last few days.  With snow forecast for Targhee Sun nigght into Monday bought a ticket for Monday online last night – and now of course the forecast has downgraded yet again.  Such is the life of a snowchaser!  At least looks like Alta is due to pick up a nice freshen up Monday, so that could be the go for a ski Tuesday.  At least until the next downgrade!

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Day 19 Fri Feb 9. Discovery 3200m vertical (46900 total)

A very different world revealed when peered out the window this morning – snowing, blowing snow and plenty of wind – looks like the NWS got 3 for 3.  Away a bit after 7.30 having had to chisel a very solid layer of ice off the windscreen, then did a brief stop at Liquid Planet for coffee to go.

There was a winter weather advisory out for Missoula this morning.  I normally try to avoid major travel days during advisories or warnings but was meant to expire at 11am and figured it was worth a try.  Started off OK when I got onto I-90 – snowy but OK in the right lane and plows were working the freeway.  Even managed a couple of tentative overtaking moves though the left lane was often quite a bit more snowed in.  About 20 minutes out of Missoula things started going downhill.  Each time a car passed, visibility reduced to less than zero with plumes of blowing snow going everywhere.  Got stuck behind a car going even slower than me – pulled out very slowly and found myself in quite deep drifts in the left lane and couldn’t bring myself to actually get past.  So back into the right lane going slower and slower and dreading the outcome each time a more confident driver did overtake.  If I could have stopped anywhere safely I would have.

Seemed to take forever but finally got to turnoff onto MT-1 and things improved dramatically.  Still challenging but back to pretty much normal winter driving conditions.  Drove up to and past the north facing runs on the backside of Discovery and left the valley and drove up a lovely little canyon till finally turned off and headed back toward the front side. Virtually no plowing here but still way preferable to the interstate.  Finally over 2 hours after leaving pulled into the carpark – and after a minute or so could actually ply my hands off the steering wheel and start gearing up.

This place has been on my must do list for years, but has never had good cover when I’ve had the chance to check it out on previous trips.  Having bought a ticket pulled out the trail map to orient myself and immediately some guy is describing the whole mountain to me and showing me where to go.  Could have easily started with elevenses, but figured I should have one run before taking a break, so up the Anaconda triple and did a nice long cruiser back to base – perfect groomer with a few spots where you could get some freshies.  Looked promising.  As I’m getting stuck into a hot dog and hot chocolate, once again pull out a trail map and instantly another guy is introducing himself to me and explaining how he’s going to give me a guided tour of the hill as soon as I’ve finished eating.

So it was back up Anaconda and then we headed for the backside.  I’ve had SO many recommendations to come here and ski the backside on chair rides over the last 2 weeks.  Most of it is black or double black but thankfully a couple of intermediate trails as well, which is where my guide steered me toward.  Some really nice skiing – great wide groomers with an ungroomed strip in many spots that let you get a bit of the fresh.  Back up the Granite triple then did Medicine Ridge that winds it’s way around the top of a large bowl where every run that drops off the ridge is a double black.  Once again, lovely run with some very nice snow.  From he bottom of the bowl looking up, the bottom half looked tempting, but I’m not sure I liked any of the options I’d have to take to get there.

Up the old Limelight double and then my last guided run back to base on Red Lion – an easy run but perfect snow and lots of fun.  On my own now I did a similar circuit with a few  modifications.  Rather than following Winning Ridge all the way to the base of Granite headed down the ungroomed Black Moon – which of course devolved into a VERY bumpy steep series of lurches between small trees.  Oh well, the snow was soft and it was still sort of fun.  Headed down Medicine Ridge but this time cut back to Granite on Boilermaker – nice but quite a bit steeper than the other intermediates.  Finished up with a full run down into Limelight and a repeat return run on Red Lion.

Really enjoyed it – only downside is I can’t see many easy options for open glade skiing at anything other than very steep terrain, and I definitely wouldn’t want to be here on hard pack.  But look forward to getting to know the place better in the future.  Washed down a burger with a quite acceptable draft heffe then headed for the car.  Had snowed lightly on and off and still a few flakes wafting down.  MUCH more pleasant drive back – still had to approach any overtaking with caution but wind had dropped right off.  Back in Missoula about 5pm and discovered the advisory was still in effect. 

Have now mapped out a plan for the last few days of the trip and have booked an extra night here.

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Day 18 Thur Feb 8. Missoula

Peered out the window this morning to see wet roads and wind, and forecasts haven’t changed from last night, so rest day has come a couple of days early.

Eased into the day gradually and kept up the same relaxed pace all day.  Cooked Hashbrowns, got coffee, did some retail therapy, made pancakes and coffee, caught up on some work – hard to know how I’d fit a days skiing in.  Mild and dry by the time I headed out late morning.  Got a fine coffee and an OK scone (but nothing like Whitefish) at Liquid Planet.  Snow on some of the surrounding hills looked quite fresh but none of the resorts reporting any fresh and temps all around well above freezing.

Afternoon forecasts are still hinting at snow for both Targhee and to a lesser degree Utah for the start of next week – hopefully will be clear enough by tomorrow evening to plan the route back to Salt Lake.  Winter weather advisory for Missoula from 11pm tonight as cold air and snow moves in.  Fingers crossed.

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Day 17 Wed 7 Feb. Kalispell – Blacktail – Missoula. 2300m vertical (43,700 total)

And it’s goodbye to the sun – it was a novelty while it lasted.  Once again a dusting on the car overnight but overcast and dry when I finally started throwing everything in the car.  Wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  They’d had a few inches over the last few days and had been closed since Sunday, but reading the Whitefish report this morning it obviously got a little damp overnight.  I’d done a couple of days here 6 years ago and figured it would be a nice way to fill in a few hours en route to Missoula.

A fairly slow half hour drive once you leave the highway, and was drizzling low down, but temps finally nudged below zero a little before getting to the top of the ridge.  Only 3 lifts here but enough variety to keep amused for a few hours.  Did a run down Emmons Ridge for a warmup – very nice up top but getting a little wetter at the bottom.  Very slow old double gave you about 10 minutes to survey the scene on the way back up.  Nice open slightly treed slope looked very appealing so headed off the groomed into that.  Strange snow and hard to describe accurately. Soft slightly damp dense powder that almost had a crust – quite nice when you got moving and kept momentum, and could find some fairly clean lines so no complaining.

Mid station loading meant you could shorten the ride back up so did pretty much the same again.  Clouded in at the top but visibility improved as you headed down.  Back to the resort centre – which actually sits at the TOP of the mountain – for elevenses.  Somewhat of a comedown after the Whitefish menu – apart from Chilli, all options revolved around fries, cheese or a combination thereof.  Headed over to Crystal – the other main lift – for a couple of runs – a most enjoyable ungroomed then groomed West Ridge then an ungroomed Independance Park – probably the best run of the day.  

Back to Thunderhead for a couple more runs – the ungroomed was getting a little heavier and three days of teles at Whitefish were starting to take their toll on the legs, so called it quits about 1.30.  Didn’t need to ski a whole day when a lift ticket was only $42.  Had a few flurries during the day – didn’t amount to much but at least there was no r@!n.

Back down to Hwy 93 then headed back toward Missoula.  Have had a few harrowing drives on the descent to I-90 in the past but with temps today well above freezing it was quite benign.  Was checked into the motel by 5pm and started trying to figure out how to spend the final week.  Tomorrow looks quite warm and wet so might be in for a rest day unless things take a turn for the cooler.

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Day 16 Tue Feb 6. Whitefish 3400m vertical (41,400 total)





Ho Hum – only 3 in fresh today and 39 total for the last week.  A little snow at the motel last night but clear this morning and the sun was even lighting up the hills to the west on the drive to Whitefish.  A part of me could have had a day off today but don’t know how many fresh snow days I’ve got left for the trip, so I compromised and started a little later, but was still at Chair 1 only a little while after it started loading.  Brilliant looking day and all sorts of options were presenting themselves.  Decided to try Ptarmigan bowl for starters – virtually treeless and vertigo inducing in ‘standard’ Whitefish conditions but was pretty damn close to perfect today – soft, fresh, not overly trashed.  Started following Toni Matt back toward base then dropped off into Larch which was similar condition to the bowl, then finally onto Corkscrew and back to base.  Fantastic.

Back up to the top and decided East Rim Face was next on the agenda.  Once again snow just about perfect and got a really nice line down.  Up Chair 5 and did it again, this time traversing a bit further about half way down to investigate – nice at the top but funnelled into some tighter trees so had to cut back out – all good.  Back up decided to take a relaxed run down Goat Haunt and Whitetail with an occasional foray off the edge of the run then back up to the top for elevenses.  Finally sampled some of their chilli – quite good.  This place has a great range of affordable food options for snacks and lunches.

Back out did another lap of Ptarmigan Bowl and Larch – starting to get a little heavier now as were my legs.  Then did the run of a thousand turns down Big Ravine – just about as good as a groomer could ever get.  Legs were starting to fade, so back up to the top one more time, a more traditional – and still great – approach to East Rim Face then the long haul back on Russ’s Street to base.  Would have been nice to do a bit more but walking may have become problematic.

Did one last coffee and scone pickup from Montana Coffee Traders then back to the motel for a Wheatfish, a soak in the bath and start planning the next few days.

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