Day 20 Thur Feb 13. Bend. Inside. Working. Again. grrrrrrr

This is getting ridiculous.  If I’d known it was going to take this long I would have just made up some data!  Had initially thought / hoped it would all be done by lunchtime and could then toss up whether to use a day of the ticket or do a few hours XC.

When it became obvious that was never going to happen took a wander downtown for another visit to Looney Bean – purveyors of fine coffee – while I could still at least get to enjoy some daylight.

Finally all done just in time for another wander downtown for dinner- another brewery, another beer and some quite tasty fish and chips.

Difficult as it is to believe, in between bouts of work I’ve been procrastinating greatly on where and when to go over the weekend.  Do I stay here, hope the promised storm delivers and that they keep some lifts open?  Or do I cut and run and head for Targhee where the forecast also continues to look promising.

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Day 19 Wed Feb 12. Bend

And so the waiting begins.  Storm possibilities both here and back around Targhee way for the weekend and as usual I don’t know which way to go.  Meanwhile there’s a big job of work I can’t put off any longer, so it’s a day in the motel room logged in remotely with an occasional break for a wander and a coffee.  Hoped to get it all done today but it’s very slow going on a small single screen.  Oh well, at least I’m not passing up prime skiing conditions.

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Day 18 Tue Feb 11. Mt Bachelor 3900m vertical (48640 total)

Lovely morning but with hard pack on the hill, figured there was no reason to rush, so took the 10 minute walk to downtown and started checking out the coffee options.  Actually there are probably more brewpubs here than cafes.  Ended up at The Commons, overlooking the Deschutes – which is just a small stream here – for a perfectly acceptable offering.

Easy  30 min drive up to Bachelor – the road just gently and steadily climbs up and for the last bit you’re out in the open with the mountain and The Sisters dominating the skyline.  Picked up my 3 day pass and headed out to a basically deserted base area.  They really got hit hard here last week by the ice storm that came wrapped up in the atmospheric river.  I was even more keen now to be able to ski off the summit lift after not being able to get to the top at Mt Hood, but it looks like I’m in for continuing disappointment.  It took them days to start deicing the top of the lift, only to discover a foot of ice on the lift communications cable had knocked it out – will take most of the week if not longer to repair it.  Oh well.

Stunning outlook from the top of Pine Marten.  Did a warm up dowd coffee – firm but not as bad as I’d feared it might be and from about half way down it actually skiied very well.  Did a run down Outback then kept going to catch Northwest up – the highest point you can get on the mountain with Summit out of action.  Quite astounding ice and snow buildups at the top and some most impressive snowghosts.  Had a great run down Olympian back to base, grabbed a coffee then started working across toward Cloudchaser – a new lift since my last visit here.

The whole of this pod – even skiing the liftline – is intermediate pitch and with a little fresh snow would be a great playground.  Some relatively open trees at the top and fun rolling terrain.  Did venture off trail a couple of times but looked much better than it was so once again stuck to the groomed.  Another day with 0 points for fresh and zillions of points for spectacular and fun.  Wind had been steadily picking up and I was most happy I stuck with what seemed like overdressing at the start of the day.  When I started heading back to the middle of the mountain the wind was really howling and straight into my face.  Alternating between sheet ice and really nice windblown, the traverse back had it’s challenging moments. One more trip up Pine Marten and the wind blew me back down to base to round out the day.

Had made a point of finding Deschutes Brewery on this mornings wander, and headed there for pizza and beer for dinner.  Disappointed to find that the Zarabanda – their beer I’d found in Portland that got me interested in Saison as a style – was no longer being made.  Had a cloudy pale ale that was a bit weird but grew on me and a taste of another ale that will be my first choice next visit.

Next (and final) week looking pretty dry at this stage, but the intervening Presidents Holiday long weekend – when I’d planned to avoid skiing to avoid the accompanying crowds and have a relaxed drive back to Utah- is starting to shape up as a realistic last chance to ski some fresh so like all good plans it looks like being thrown out the window.  The 3 day ticket here can be used over 5 days, so will probably hang back on using the other 2 days until the forecasts become a bit clearer.

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Day 17 Mon Feb 10. Hood River – Mt Hood Meadows – Bend OR. 4400m vertical (44740 total)

So, let’s try that again.

Another stunning morning, another session of gaping in awe at the mountain as it fills the horizon as you climb toward it.  Determined to see no repeat of yesterday, I found myself in the 3rd row of the carpark at Hood Meadows at 8.15 – 45 minutes before first lifts.  I’d tried buying today’s lift ticket on-line yesterday – which would have saved me $10 – but their stupid website couldn’t figure out how to list the Australian states (had no problem with Afghanistan or Albania!), so I got to waste some time in a pointless discussion about why I was paying more than I should be – have to do something to keep Mr Grumpy in business.

And I guess technically I could have a whinge about the lack of fresh snow and the inability to find any soft off-piste to ski – but it was such a stunning and enjoyable day I’m just not going there.  All the lifts both here and at Timberline are a LONG way below the summit, but in a way that adds to the spectacle – this monstrous peak is always towering above you and on as clear a day as this once you stop and gawk it’s hard to tear yourself away and continue skiing.

The only real disappointment was that Cascade – the highest lift that tops out well above the treeline – was still being de-iced from last week’s inclement weather and never opened.  Off piste often looked better than it skied, so stuck largely to the groomed with some short diversions.  In fact my most skied run was a simple one off the aptly named Vista – the highest operating lift – but when you’re skiing with this sort of view you I find I really don’t care whether or not I’m being challenged very much.

They were clearing the entry gates and loading a few chairs on Cascade so I forced myself to do a couple more runs just in case but it was to no avail, so finally chucked it in at about 2.30 and headed off for the drive to Bend.  After about 30 minutes of gradual descent through pine forests the green world I’d almost gotten used to in the last few days abruptly gives way to the return to the high desert and swathes of saltbush.

The Deschutes – a small river when it flows through Bend – has carved an impressive gorge further north and you get to drop right down into it and back out the other side.  But the gorge of the Crooked River is even more impressive.  Even with 2 GPS units trying to guide me still managed to do about 5 wrong turns coming into Bend but finally – just on dark – made it my comfortable motel room where I’ll be ensconsed for the next 5 nights.

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Day 16 Sun Feb 9. Mt Hood loop drive

Well, that didn’t quite go as planned.

I thought I was away early enough.  As soon as you start heading south out of town Mt Hood appears and absolutely dominates the landscape.  Clear sunny morning and absolutely stunning views.  Road on the upper flanks were pretty icy but had been heavily gritted.  Drove past a fairly large queue of cars heading into Hood Meadows as I kept heading toward Timberline.  But as I kept going and the queue of cars coming from the other direction toward Hood Meadows showed no evidence of diminishing I started to wonder if I’d done the right thing – and of course I hadn’t.

Turns out half of Portland was driving past Timberline heading for Hood Meadows, and the other half were already queued up at Govt Camp trying to get up the road to Timberline.  Car parks were full, they weren’t letting anyone up and it was a total standstill.  If I’d had the cross country gear with me I would have thought about a plan B, but of course it was all back at the mote wasn’t it.

Absolutely no point turning around and trying to head back to Hood Meadows and figured it was going to be crazy busy and not all that enjoyable at either area even if you could get there, so in the end gave up and headed down the road toward Portland as even MORE cars kept driving up looking for a non existent way in to a days skiing.  After finally finding some signs of civilization – i.e. coffee and a toilet – I cut across to the gorge and followed it back upstream to Hood River.  Even the carparks at most of the waterfalls were overflowing, but thankfully not as busy at Horsetail Falls which were quite spectacular.

Wandered downtown in the afternoon to sample another of the local coffee offerings and well worth the walk.

Think I might have a VERY early start tomorrow …

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Day 15 Sat Feb 8. Spokane WA – Hood River OR

(Wind)Surfin’ USA

Nice bit of a sleep in and a relaxed departure in calm mild and sunny conditions.  The drive from Spokane to the 2nd crossing of the Columbia was nothing special but the road was dry and fast so no complaining.  Surf was up on the river and it was trying to live up to its rep as the windsurfing capital of wherever.  Big waves and lots of whitecaps.  Would not have wanted to be out there in the kayak.

But as you start following the river downstream it gets quite spectacular. Stunning cliffs on both sides of the river.  Taking lots of photos from the car, and stopped at rest areas whenever I could, but almost got blown over each time I got out of the car.  Crossed the John Day – a river I plan to follow upstream when I leave Bend next weekend – and before I knew it I was strolling down Oak St in Hood River choosing from several coffee shops – civilized town.

Motel is about a km from downtown and has sort of a view of the river, and a great view of Mt Adams – one of the many spectacular Cascade peaks.  The tap to the Atmospheric river that has been hitting the northwest for what seems like forever has finally been turned off with the local hills getting a somewhat colder blast of new snow today.  Quite happy to wait and have a crack at it tomorrow. 

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Day 14 Fri Feb 7. Missoula – Silver Mtn – Spokane WA. 3000m vertical (40340 total)

Another early start, another car clearing effort – though definitely not pixie dust today – much more like back in Oz.  Occasionally twitchy in patches of slush but the drive on I-90 pretty good, particularly once it got light enough to see the road properly.  Followed the Clark Fork downstream and then the St Regis upstream toward Lookout Pass then a quick trip back down into Idaho and into Kellogg.  Crossing the state line meant I got an extra hour, so was on the Gondola heading up to the mountain by 8.30.  It’s only a small local hill, but you get there by catching what is meant to be the longest gondola in the country – after a 20 minute ride I can believe it.

So was clipping in just after 9.  Initial report this morning was 7in fresh which had me quite excited, but it got revised back down to just 3 which seemed about right.  Was doing a familiarisation cruise around the mountain when I discovered a completely untracked slope – old firmer snow under the fresh but still great.  Much wetter snow than the last two days – more like Oz powder – but still skiing very nicely.  Plenty of great soft bumps everywhere – but I got what I deserved when I took on a run called half pipe – more detailed snow depth testing and extraction from deep snow practice.

Weather was quite clear early on and it was quite spectacular with surrounding ridgelines poking their heads through the clouds.  Fun mountain with lots of variety and if we’d got just a bit more (and bit drier) snow it would have been a very special day indeed.  But I think 2 days of lots of teles have taken their toll and my knees were really starting to feel it as the day developed and the snow got that bit heavier.

Called it quits around 2 and after the gondola ride back down it was back onto I-90 where the occasional flurry of this morning had now pretty much turned to r@!n.  Quick trip into Spokane and was checked in by 4.  Really looking forward to a sleep in and a rest day – well a driving day anyway – tomorrow.

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Day 13 Thur Feb 6. Bozeman – Big Sky – Missoula. 2580m vertical (37340 total)

Peered out the window around 3am (gotta love waking up in the middle of the night) to the lovely sight of a well covered car.  A lot more than just pixie dust to brush off this morning – about 10cm on the car.  Reporting between 20 and 30 com on the hill.  Yippee!

Was worried about the drive up but the biggest challenge was navigating the sidestreets around the motel where there had been minimal plowing.  After that the drive up to Big Sky town was pretty good – snowing the whole way but well plowed road and no idiots trying stupid overtaking manouvres.  Slowed to a crawl on the final 8 miles up to the resort and getting into the parking areas – and then getting onto a zoo cart – was complete chaos.

So it ended up being two and a half hours for what would normally be about half that.  And of course EVERYONE was out enjoying the new snow.  Queue at Ramcharger looked horrendous but got through singles line in a couple of minutes.  Headed for the other gladed run off the top of Southern Comfort and it was just wonderful. Gliding through calf deep fluff with a bow wave building up over your knees, so nice I had to do it twice.  The run down Africa to base wasn’t quite as good as yesterday but still pretty damn fine.

Was only going to have a short day so took an early lunch and emerged to find queues had dropped considerably.  Still snowing steadily and all the high and exposed lifts closed and sweet FA visibility when you got out of the trees so headed up Swift Current and had a run down Crazy Horse.  Seemed to be collecting quite a bit of windblown as well as the falling stuff and was just great – though I did take a BIG tumble that knocked the wind out and took a bit to get the skis back underneath me again.  Though at least I didn’t lose a ski like one poor sod.

Was going to head down through the trees next run but looked a bit tight so played in the fluff at the edges of the next run before darting back into Lois Lane, but with this much fresh the only way you could keep your skis moving was to ski already tracked terrain – which sort of defeats the point of it all.  One more run down Crazy Horse and my knees and quads had had enough.

The two days here have provided some truly fine storm skiing and helped make up for the disappointment of the missed storm at Targhee

Remarkably easy trip back down the Gallatin – only issue was when I pulled over into a turnout to take a photo and nearly got bogged cos it was so deep.  Back down in the valley, equipped with coffee and lemon cake it was onto I-90 and 130kph most of the way to Missoula.  While you could see the storm clouds in the mountains to the south the highway was for the large part mercifully dry and was at the motel just after 7.

Still more snow forecast for the mountains overnight and it’s been snowing steadily here for the last few hours.  Looks like I’ll get more practice at clearing snow off the car in the morning.  Too tired to go through photos – maybe tomorrow.

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Day 12 Wed 5 Feb. Driggs – Big Sky – Bozeman MT 3380m vertical (34760 total)

With several winter storm warnings due to kick in at 5pm this afternoon, I figured this morning would be a good time to get the drive through Island Park – often a pretty hairy trip – before the weather closes in.  So why would I be surprised to see it already snowing when I head out to pack the car at 7am this morning.  Had to brush about a cm of pixie dust off the Rogue before heading north for West Yellowstone.  Never stopped snowing and with visibility coming and going and road clearing sometimes non-existent it had its moments.

Was very happy to finally turn on to the recently plowed US20 and start the climb up to Island Park.  After the Idaho back roads it was actually a pretty benign trip.  Grabbed coffee and second breakfast at Yellowstone then pushed on to Big Sky.  It had been a pretty slow trip and by the time I’d got the zoo cart from the parking area and organised ticket it was pretty close to midday.

But it was sure worth the trouble of getting here.  They’re reporting 10 cm overnight and with light but steady snow all day was already more than that.  So nice to get back to skiing IN the snow rather than ON it.  Was fun just to let the skis run along slightly submerged with a spray of super light fluff blowing around your boots.  Was traversing across from the top of the first lift when I found myself drawn down a run with LOTS of soft big bumps through the trees – not necessarily the smartest first run for the day but skiing groomers for 3 days will do that to you.

Headed down Africa to get back to base and start moving across the mountain and it had delightful (and much more manageable) bumps down one side of the run, a common feature for the day.  Visibility down to not very much at the top of Powder Seeker, but after a stretch of skiing by braille visibility improved enough to reveal almost untracked snow leading down to Upper Morningside and a return to Lois Lane, the great little run through the trees I found last trip.

After lunch headed for Shedhorn where once again dodgy visibility at top but opened up to lots of lovely open snow and very few people.  Getting close to lift closing so up for one more run down Africa where the snow was holding up better than my legs were.

Actually dry road down the magnificent Gallatin valley to Bozeman and once checked in settled down for the daily forecast trawling.  While I’ve learned to treat them with decent doses of scepticism, it really does look promising for the next few days.  Walked downtown for a beer and pizza.  Snow forecast for in town tonight as well but nothing happening yet.  All appendages crossed.

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Day 11 Tue Feb 4. Targhee 4200m vertical (31380 total)

A couple of unexpected cm reported on the hill this morning and figured it was worth another relatively early start.  However 2 things encouraged me to dawdle: On pulling up the window blind in my cosy cabin I found a substantial layer of ice on the inside of the window; and they were reporting temperature of 25C below up top.

When I did emerge into a gloriously sunny morning it actually wasn’t all that much warmer than that down here, but by the time I was in the car park it had rocketed up to about 15 below.  Not enough wind to have blown enough snow around the ungroomed areas to make a difference, so once again figured on a groomer day.  It had been pretty cold up here yesterday but today was quite brutal.  While the sun made it feel a bit better, it just ate through you, and needed to head back inside for coffee after a couple of runs. 

Most enjoyable skiing and it was even quieter than yesterday.  Another 2 runs and I made a beeline for the Trap Bar and – you guessed it – wings!  Honey and garlic and washed down by a local amber ale – very tasty. 

A few more runs and I’d had more than enough to justify the lift ticket.  With a nice early return to the cabin it was over to the hot tub for a very relaxing soak.  Storm is still on track to start hitting a pretty wide area from tomorrow afternoon, so I’m out of here early tomorrow and heading for Big Sky.  Only making definite plans one day at a time at the moment – if this storm goes to plan driving could be challenging at times over the next few days and might need to keep it flexible.

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