Day 15 Mon Feb 5. Whitefish 4100m vertical (38,000 total)

Powder Day!

8 in overnight added to the 4 that fell during the day yesterday.  VERY slow drive from Kalispell – snow covered and snowing all the way.  The obligatory stop in Whitefish for coffee and scone then another slow drive up the hill – bus would have been good but always seem to miss the timing.  Was up to Chair 1 about 5 minutes before it started loading and queue was already pretty big so did a quick run off Chair 2 – very nice though you could feel a bit of a firm layer underneath – maybe a little r@!n last night down low?

Queue much the same for Chair 1 but at least it was moving now and only took about 5 minutes to load, and the sounds of explosions coming from Hellroaring Basin seemed to be slowing down.  While still not perfect visibility significantly better than yesterday and Big Face looked pretty good from the chair, so headed for that.  First few turns were pretty challenging then got into the rhythm of it and was so nice.  Back to base on a nice soft groomed Toni Matt then at the top saw that Hellroaring was now open.  The traverse to Hellfire brought you to a standstill several times but when finally got to the descent proper I was about 8th set of tracks down.  Top section was just about perfect and didn’t have to share it with anyone.  About half way down some weird wind waves and consistency started to firm up but still most enjoyable.

Up Hellroaring, down Hibernation then back up to the summit where it was overdue for elevenses.  When I headed back out took another crack at East Rim Face and this time found the right line in.  Sensational! From top of Chair 5 headed off for Flower Point area.  Ridge Run was supposedly groomed today but still soft and bumpy when I got to it.  Tried a run down Outside Road which had nice chopped up bumps.  Finally back up to the summit for lunch and still the snow kept coming though were getting occasional clearing breaks. 

Was going to have a crack at Elephants Graveyard then realised I could cut back to Big Face and decided to try that again.  Still skiing really well but I was starting to fade.  When I got down to base took one last ride up Chair 2 so I could do the long easy run around the top of the lodges back to the car park where once again I could ski to the car.  Great Day.

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Day 14 Sun Feb 4. Whitefish 4600m vertical (33,900 total)

Welcome back winter!

No snow overnight in Kalispell but at least colder air has come in and dropped it back below freezing.  A few stray flakes on the drive to Whitefish and when I emerged from Coffee Traders it was snowing lightly.  Nice drive up the hill and at 8.45 I was sitting in the car park drinking coffee, eating a scone and watching snow fall.  What more could you want?

Picked up my 3 day ticket and caught the 2 chairs to the summit.  Reporting an inch of fresh on top of the falls of the last few days.  Warmed up with a very nice run down Gray Wolf on the back side – soft creamy snow.  Another down Whitetail then decided to up the challenge level and headed for East Rim Face.  And it definitely upped the challenge level.  Knee deep dips and troughs trying to traverse across the slope to find where I normally head down and couldn’t find an easy path.  Deep and variable – oh well it was fun trying.

Headed in for elevenses then tried Big Ravine into Good Medicine.  Started off nice enough but once again once I got into the trees I started to struggle.  Snow density was quite variable and visibility was a touch less than sweet FA and as well as a few falls I managed a somersault!  At this point I decided that maybe the biorhythms were a bit off or something and I should stick to slightly simpler tasks.

Back up and this time took off on HellFire.  This run starts with a LONG traverse that almost brings you to a standstill several times but then you turn left and start a long series of dips and rollers that are just fun, fun, fun.  The bottom can often get a bit scartchy as it takes you to the lowest lifted point on the hill, but good cover all the way down today.  Very nice.  Back up the top and in for lunch.  Had been snowing all morning and at times was coming down quite steadily.  Only a couple of degrees below zero so not cold smoke by any means but nice consistent creamy snow that just skied better as the day went on.

Down the back side again and this time cut across to Flower Point and did a couple of laps of Ridge Run.  Just fantastic skiing with soft bumps and increasing piles of fresh on the sides and virtually had the run to myself.  Back up the top and decided to finish off with a top to bottom run down Inspiration.  In low visibility this run can often be a challenge just to keep your feet but with such snow it was just fun.  One more ride up the short chair at the base just so I could ski down to, and across the car park to my car.  And it was still hammering down.  This is the sort of day I do these trips for.

Cautious drive down the hill and back into town which was now blanketed by snow and grabbed another coffee and some beans then headed for home.  Weird weather.  Temp on the car was showing just a bit below zero all the way from Whitefish to Kalispell, but the precipitation changed from snow to rain before I made it to downtown Kalispell.  Back at the motel put the clothes through the washing machine and had my first huckleberry wheat while watching the Superbowl.

Not a great day for taking photos

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Day 13 Sat Feb 3. Idaho Falls ID – Kalispell MT

Road Trip!

Quite spring like this morning though winter is still trying to happen up north with a winter storm warning due to kick in for Whitefish from 5m Today.  After grabbing coffee and snacks it was off up I-15 heading for the north end of the Snake River plain.  low cloud and fog for much of the first hour, but then climbed away from the plains and got back into intermittently snow covered mountains.

A fairly long (680 km) drive today but when you can sit on 130 for much of the trip it becomes pretty manageable.  Feeling quite tired so found myself taking lots of breaks.  After crossing the continental divide descended to I-90 and headed west and north, following the infant Clark Fork downstream which was just a series of 2 metre wide meanders up here, but soon swelled to about 100 metres!  Just about running on fumes when pulled in to Deer Lodge to fuel up – yet another forgettable town along an interstate.  Raining on and off and while it occasionally tried to turn to sleet it stayed pretty warm – hopefully snow at the elevations where it matters.  While no scenic byway the drive was pretty enjoyable.

Stopped in downtown Missoula for a coffee refill then off up US-93 for the final leg. Finally into Kalispell a bit after 4.30.  Have decided to stay here – 15 minutes down valley from Whitefish where I normally stay – to save a bit of cash for important things like beer and coffee – oh and skiing.  For the same price as a cheap end motel 6 the room is relatively luxurious and should do fine for the next few nights.  Storm warning still kicking in tonight and still forecasting snow for Whitefish mountain for the next few days – I might have timed it right this time. 

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Day 12 Fri Feb 2. Jackson WY- Idaho Falls ID 3300m Vertical (29,300 total)

Skiing oz powder in the Tetons ….

Another year, another groundhog day.  Didn’t actually see Punxatawny Phil’s prognostications this morning but I hear that the large rodent displayed his east coast bias by predicting 6 more weeks of winter, whereas it’s obvious that spring is just around the corner for much of the West. Snow falling and a light layer on the car when I peered out this morning, but this was a long way from pixie dust. Under a winter weather advisory for the day with several inches predicted, so figured a little active procrastination was warranted, and headed downtown to JH Coffee Roasters for a damn fine latte.

As I drove back down through the Jackson sprawl and out toward the Transit Centre, the precipitation had transitioned to a ‘wintry mix’.  Only about an inch of fresh on top of the 4 they claimed for yesterday but skiing was soft and fun all day.  Up the new Sweetwater Gondola and Casper then worked across toward Ampitheatre.  Lower part was quite nice but then shocked by a strange sight – a lift queue on Thunder!  At the top visibility was next to non-existent and the first turn down toward Ampitheatre was a leap of faith, but the snow was delightful – the wind was blowing it in and filling in tracks.  From about half way down it settled into denser wetter snow but still very nice.

Back up then turned left this time and an even greater leap of faith to traverse out into the head of laramie bowl and drop the first turn.  I’ve always found this run right at the extreme end of my comfort level, and no change of that assessment today.  Snow not as well drifted here and was skiing lumpier but still fun.  Slowly worked my way down the steep first section till it starts to flatten out and become like any of the other runs.  Back up and drop into Ampitheatre again, this time taking an even more enjoyable line into Rag Run.  This time headed for Gros Ventre at the bottom and took this all the way down to the base.

So much different than on Wed – white concrete had turned into soft spring bumps down low – much more like oz snow than Teton powder but no mr grumpy for me – much fun.  Fine slice of pizza washed down with a draught Shocktop then it was back up Bridger Gondola and back over to Thunder for one final run down Ampitheatre and Rag Run.  Had been snowing just about all day without adding much to the cover, but it had given up by now, as had my legs.  This time took the traverse past Gros Ventre and headed down Sundance which had looked quite nice from the Gondola.  Even more spring-like now with the sun out and creamy soft snow.  It’s not the sort of skiing I expect here but I’ll take a day of it every once in a while.  Good stuff.

Practiced my napping a bit more on the bus back to the car then did a quick dart back into town to grab a takeaway from the coffee roasters.  Weather had given up on wintry mix – it was out and out r@!n in the valley now.  Coffee in hand, back on the road then headed for what I thought would be the major challenge of the day, the trip over Teton Pass.  But with such mild conditions and yet another under-delivery on snowfall it was a total anti-climax.  Headed west from Victor to rejoin the Snake and follow it back to Idaho Falls. 

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Day 11 Thur Feb 1. Driggs ID – Grand Targhee – Jackson WY. 4700m vertical (26,000 total)

Little storm …… Big Improvement!

Nice to peer out the window and see a dusting on the car.  Targhee reporting 2 in – so much for the 1 to 2 feet from earlier in the week.  Had been tempted to stay another night – largely because I couldn’t be stuffed packing up this morning – but eventually was driving back up the hill to Targhee in sunshine and the Tetons with their heads fully out of the clouds.   I always reckon it’s going to be an OK day when car tyres make that lovely squeaky sound on new snow as they’re parking.

From the top of Dreamcatcher made a beeline for Lost Groomers and dropped off the cat track into the fresh.  To call it dust on crust would be to undersell it, though you could feel the old firm underneath the new fresh.  But once into the trees it skied much better than 2 inches.  Plenty of pretty clean lines weaving in and out of the trees.  Lovely.  Next up headed out a bit wide of Crazy Horse for lots of fine turns down the open face followed by almost perfect groomer down to the cat track, then dropped back into base for coffee.

Back up again and this time after a slight variation on the Lost Groomers theme, headed past the base and down to Sac.  Snowdancer was a little firm but still nice but was well worthwhile as access to Medicine Bowl which had drifted deeper than elsewhere and was skiing without the feeling of firm underneath.  Followed up with 2 runs down Shaman, a traverse across some untracked and then different lines through the bowl.  Finally some nice soft bumps down under the chair then cut across to the return trail to base.  Just kept getting more and more enjoyable.

After all that felt it was long overdue for the first instalment of beer and wings for the trip – and they were pretty nice though my lips were feeling a little numb for some time after.  Fighting the urge to have a second beer, headed back up for a couple of runs the other side of the chair.  First off a groomer down Rock Garden and Wandering Moose – just about perfect.  Then it was out to the head of Chief Joe Bowl then cut back left to a nice long run of soft bumps leading into the middle of the bowl.  Also very nice.  Then one final run down through the trees around Lost Groomers.

Cloud had been slowly rolling back in and the Tetons were no longer visible on the drive back down.  Back over Teton Pass and got to the Jackson Motel 6 about 4 to be greeted by a sign I’m sure I have NEVER seen at one of their motels – NO VACANCIES!  Good thing I’d booked some time back.

Then it was finally time for some decision making.  Have been trying to convince myself that it was worth heading for Colorado and while they MAY get some fresh over the next few weeks they still have historically low snowpack.  Or there’s Whitefish which has super cover, has been getting fresh topups all week and has fresh forecast for Sunday and Monday.  Have been conducting an informal chairlift poll of my options with a range of people over the last few days.  Colorado didn’t score a single vote, and I’m not inclined to go against the unanimous view.  Looks like it’s a return to snowghosts, huckleberry wheat and lemon-blueberry scones!

With that finally sorted, headed downtown in the evening, and having finally got a park wondered if I could find the Thai place Trevor and I went to 2 years ago – and of course it turned out I’d only parked a block away from it.  Food as good as I remembered it and heading back to motel well satisfied.

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Day 10 Wed Jan 31. Jackson Hole 2300m vertical (21,300 total)

Still waiting ….

No snow reported overnight though at least it’s cooled down – yesterdays puddles are todays ice patches.  Though after breakfast saw some nice flakes wafting down.  Hoping that we might pick up a little today and tonight, figured I’d save my 2nd Targhee day until tomorrow, so drove over Teton Pass to Jackson.  Snowing lightly all the way but road was pretty much dry.  Pulled into the Transit Center car park and had to walk VERY carefully across sheer ice to get to the bus stop.

Jackson make you sign the world’s longest season pass liability waiver just to pick up a ticket you’re going to use for 2 days.  With that out of the way it was 800 m vertical up the hill on the Gondola.  With a not particularly early start yet again, I found myself having elevenses before even clipping into the skis for the first time.  Still snowing lightly but steadily and while it was dust on crust, it was pretty pleasant dust for the most part.  Worked my way back toward Apres Vous then back across again to Casper.

Was only 6 or 8 degrees below but felt colder than that – the sort of day it just eats into you.  From Thunder Chair did the full run down ampitheatre which had some very nice snow in parts – more dust, less crust. Kept heading down on Gros Ventre which was fine on the top portion but got VERY firm down low where it was pretty much snowmaking I suspect.

Had only done a couple of hours but felt sufficiently cold and satisfied to call it a day.  Practiced my napping on the bus back to the car then back over Teton Pass – still snowing but once again not enough to affect the driving over much.  Back at the cabins spoke to a couple who were just back from Targhee where it had also been snowing, but they’re not showing any daytime fall on their website.

Will head back up to Targhee tomorrow then drive over to Jackson to stay tomorrow night – will probably finally have to make a decision about next week then.  

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Day 9 Tue Jan 30. Idaho Falls – Grand Targhee – Driggs ID 3600m vertical (19000 total)

Waiting for the storm …

The flip flopping of the forecast for the next few days continues – downward of course.  Following these forecasts is a great way to send yourself crazy.  Oh well.  Regardless, was heading north up US-20 beating the well worn path to Targhee in first light.  The spring like conditions of southern Idaho slowly returned to more winter like as approached Driggs.  Pulled up at the Park and Ride and pleasantly surprised to see a few flakes falling while I was pulling the boots on, but that was as active as it got all day.

Picked up my ticket and discovered the main lift was on wind hold.  So it was straight over to Sacajawea for a warm up on Snowdancer then into Medicine Bowl.  So much more snow here than in Utah and while it was now a few days old was still relatively soft and skiing well.  Other than Medicine Bowl off trail was a little bumpy and challenging particularly in flat light, but still fun.

Headed back to base for elevenses then over to Blackfoot – first trip up the new 4 seater since the upgrade.  Did a run down Chief Joe Bowl which was pretty firm but still enjoyable, then one on the open face to the right, but again found it a bit challenging in the low light.  This would be a good day to be playing around in the trees off Lost Groomers but of course that wasn’t an option with Dreamcatcher closed.

So back for some lunch, then back to Sac for multiple runs doing variations on a theme taking different lines through Medicine Bowl – definitely the best snow of the day IMHO.  Nodding off on the bus heading back down the hill, then time to check into my cabin.

Still trying to figure out where to head next week – looks like we’re generally heading for another dry spell.  I guess I’ll just put it off as long as possible like I usually do.

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Day 8 Mon Jan29. Midvale UT – Idaho Falls ID

SO had 2 initial options for today – both involving a drive north and a few hours skiing en route.  However both required me to get away at a decent time.  So when I finally checked out at about 10.30 I was ready from Plan C.  I’ve done this drive many times, and it’s usually after a fairly full days skiing and sees me arriving after dark, so it was a novelty to do it in daylight with no rush on and arrive mid afternoon.  While a ski would have been nice I think I could do with an early night and a good nights sleep way more.

Lovely morning in Salt Lake.  Grabbed a final coffee from Java Jos and back up I-15, and this time kept going past Ogden.  From there traffic dropped away to nothing and a leaden overcast came over that persisted all day.  Had a quick wander around the lava flows at the rest area just south of Idaho Falls and was checked in by 3.30.  Time to catch up on stuff.

Forecast is now back to being up to a foot over a couple of days at Targhee, so all appendages crossed.


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Day 7 Sun Jan 28. Powder Mountain 2700m vertical (15400 total)

I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure.

Been wanting to do a day at Powder Mountain but they are having a very slow start and while I love the place I’m not sure it’s going to be worth it.  But with nothing else really inspiring me I ended up heading out in first light to grab a coffee to go and head north.  And a few minutes later I was back again, having forgotten phones and bum bag.  Oh well, managed 4 days without forgetting anything.  Take 2 and heading up a near deserted I-15.  Fast trip found me about 20th car in the top car park at 9am.

Warm up run down White Pine, it was immediately noticeable that a packed run here still has a little give in it – so much more pleasant.  Back up then headed over toward Village.  As soon as I crossed the bridge my doubts returned as the main trail down had many sticks, bumps and scraped spots.  But the other side of the valley looked very tasty.  Aspect is everything.  It’s a SLOW ride up this lift so you get plenty of time to check out the options.  From the top took the traverse along the rope line and headed into the woods.  Low angle and required plenty of manouvering but nice soft snow.  Finally broke out into a lovely open ungroomed slope down to the lift base.  Back up and did much the same, this time doing a bit of a skate to get further along the rope line before heading down.  Very nice.

Next time up headed into Marys Bowl on the new Hippy Hill trail and again dropped down into the trees.  Well spaced aspens – as in so many places on this hill – made for great tree skiing.  If you were going to be fussy the snow was a little on the heavy side but still would have been considered fluff in Australia.  Any doubts about a day here completely negated.

By the time I was back up the top I was starving, so quick run down to base of Hidden Lake and up the top for Chicken Quesadilla and hot chocolate.  After lunch did 3 circuits of Hidden Lake and Sunrise -a fun run down the groomed Clair’s Run, a wide out tree run and a half and half off Dr C.  Could have maybe done one more but felt well enough satisfied with the day.  Given the low snow level and no Paradise Lift it still managed to deliver.  Love this place. 

Easy drive back to base where I had to get stuck into some work which I’d been putting off.  Leaving Salt Lake tomorrow and heading north to start week 2.  Doug flies in tomorrow and this town’s not big enough for both of us!  Actually would have been nice to catch up for a ski but with no snow here in the immediate future there’s not a lot to keep me here.

Hopefully catch up with photos in Idaho Falls.

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Day 6 Sat Jan 27. Park City 2100 m vertical (11700 total)

After a satisfying day like yesterday didn’t feel the need to rush out, particularly with it being Saturday.  Figured I could ignore my “I don’t do lift skiing on Saturdays” advisory yet again owing to having taken Thursday off.  Didn’t seem worth using a day off the MC pass and sure wasn’t going to pay for it, so was off to Canyons mid morning just in time to squeeze into the parking lot.  Up the funny little Cabriolet then only had to queue for about 5 minutes to pick up my Epic Pass – you can’t use the Australian one over here.  Not sure that I’m actually going to end up using it very much but what the hell.

Onto the Gondola pretty quickly and faced with the sight of a massive queue at Saddleback, but skied down to Timberline where I pretty much skied straight on.  Spotted a run off Iron Mountain that looked like it hadn’t been groomed so headed up for that.  Of course the reason it looked nice and ungroomed was that it was closed!  And once you got to the closed sign the only way down was through a field of soft moguls and shrubs!  Snow was actually quite nice but not really what I was expecting.

So worked my way over toward Dreamcatcher / Dreamscape area.  All around there seemed 2 choices – very hard packed groomers or bumpy and shrubby but nice snow off piste.  Did a couple of runs through the bumps down through Snow Meadow but it was really pretty close to survival skiing (though as I said, quite nice snow).  Took a LONG run through the mansions back to the base of Tombstone with the white concrete broken up by some patches of nice chopped up softer stuff. 

At the top of Tombstone a bit of a breeze was coming up and I decided I’d done enough to justify the drive around here, so back to the top of the Gondola where I grabbed some lunch then downloaded on the Gondola.  I’ve never really enjoyed any run back down to base that I’ve done from here and I didn’t see todays conditions providing anything that would change that.

Driving back down Parleys Canyon looked like the trails at Mountain Dell were skiable but wasn’t interested enough to stop and check it out.  Back to base and start planning out the last couple of days in the area.  A little weather going through further north tonight but don’t think it’s going to make a lot of difference.

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