Author Archives: skyfree

Christmas Eve update

We’ve had some great skiing so far this season.  November’s great start has continued into December with more cold storms.  We are now at about 120% of normal snowfall for the year after several large storms hit Tahoe.  We’ve been taking advantage of it whenever we can and I’ve got 12-days before Christmas — AiRung has 9.  That is a really good start.

Heavenly is 85% open and Kirkwood is 100% (when winds and heavy snow don’t shut it down!).  Below is a picture of our son Kai enjoying the steep stuff at Kirkwood.

Steep terrain at Kirkwood Dec 20, 2015

Steep terrain at Kirkwood Dec 20, 2015

There have been some powder days too.  On our most recent trip we used our powder skis all 3 days.

Heavenly tree skiing Dec 21, 2015

Heavenly tree skiing Dec 21, 2015

Our first new resort of the year is in the bag — Arapahoe Basin, Colorado.  That brings us to 47 resorts complete. We had a mid-December trip to Summit County where we skied A-Bay and Keystone.  Yes, we hit powder as we usually do in Colorado this time of year — maybe too much powder because travel was more of an adventure than we wanted.  The Denver airport was shut down for several hours the day we flew back so we didn’t get back home until 2AM.

AiRung skiing powder at Keystone, Dec 16, 2015

AiRung skiing powder at Keystone, Dec 16, 2015

We look forward to the rest of the season and hope to get as many as 8 new resorts done this year given the excellent snow falling over Western North America.

 

2015/2016 is ON

For the past 2 years we have had to wait until mid December to get any real skiing.  I saw a webcam grab from Kirkwood 2 years ago on this day that showed brown grass and very little snow.  Last year was even worse.  Looks like our luck (or the weather at least!) has changed, because this year both Heavenly and Kirkwood opened a week early on November 14th, so of course we hit opening weekend.

We chose to ski Heavenly on Saturday because a strong storm was predicted for Sunday, and with access only possible from the Gondola, it was certain to be shut due to strong winds.  It was surprisingly fun for just having 2 main runs open.  The crowds weren’t that bad, and the snow quality was great.  Add in a bluebird day and those views of the lake and it was definitely worth it.

Heavenly opening day November 14th, 2015

Heavenly opening day November 14th, 2015

Sunday we went to Kirkwood.  When we left the house at 8:15AM the sun was out with very few clouds.  By the time we got to Kirkwood 40-minutes later it was a full-on blizzard.  Chair 11 opened for the season and we caught the 4th chair.  They ended up getting 14″ out of the storm, and probably 50% of it fell while we were there.  There was a lot of terrain open and very few people so it was classic Kirkwood magic.

Stormy fun at Kirkwood November 15, 2015

Stormy fun at Kirkwood November 15, 2015

Later in the afternoon our Husky Sammy got in on the fun too.

So this was an awesome start to the season. We are now looking at the strongest El Nino conditions ever recorded. I’m not sure what that will mean to snowfall this year, but so far so good and we will hope for more of these consistent storms coming through!

 

End of the 2014/2015 season

Kirkwood Chair 5, April 18 2015

Kirkwood Chair 5, April 18 2015

 

This is the end of the season for us so it’s time to look back and summarize.

Despite the lack of natural snowfall in California we managed 27 total days, and 17 were in our home state.

We knocked off 9 resorts this season — a new record.  June Mountain in California was great despite the poor snowfall in our home state because we hit it at the right time in late February after recent snow.

Colorado had the best snowfall in the West this year so we hit 5 new resorts there — Winter Park, Loveland, Copper, Telluride, and Purgatory.  All of those had great snow.  The first trip in December featured some of the deepest powder we have ever skied, and some very challenging travel.  The second trip in early March hit the best conditions of the season in southern Colorado.

"The Wall" at Kirkwood, April 18 2015

“The Wall” at Kirkwood, April 18 2015

On that same trip to Colorado in March we circled through Brian Head, UT and Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff, AZ.  Snowbowl was a huge surprise as we didn’t expect much from this small area but it was one of the most memorable days of the year.

We also did our yearly trip to Park City with AiRung’s brother and family that was a lot of fun.  We knocked off Alta in early February on a not-so-rare powder day at the snowiest resort on our list.

So that’s all for this year and now we wait through the long hot summer and dream of the adventures we will have next season.

 

 

Back in South Lake Tahoe, April 10-11 2015

This is the 2nd to the last weekend for us skiing in Tahoe.  Kirkwood is saying they will be operating on a “day to day” basis but probably won’t make it to next weekend, and Heavenly’s last day will be April 19th.  Conditions were actually pretty good at Kirkwood due to the 28″ of fresh snow received in the last week.  There were still some pockets of soft dry snow on north-facing steeper slopes.  The steep stuff was skiing well and the groomers never slushed up. The total snowfall for the year is 187″ for them, which will probably be it for this season since nothing is expected next week. That is historically low, but not bad when compared with the average for many resorts on our list.

"The Wall" at Kirkwood, April 10 2015

“The Wall” at Kirkwood, April 10 2015

Heavenly wasn’t very good at all. It was surprisingly cold and windy, which made for very icy conditions. There are really only 5 main long runs left open, so a couple of runs on each makes for a short day. It’s been a super challenging year for them, and the 85″ of natural snowfall this season is just not enough — even with the 300+ acres of snowmaking they have. That is only 28% of the average reported snowfall of 304″ from 2008-2014, and that’s at the snow measuring altitude of about 8,600′. Basically no snow fell below 7,500 feet this year.

Still, it’s fun to ski our home resorts and any day on the snow is a good one.

Empty groomer at Kirkwood, April 10 2015

Empty groomer at Kirkwood, April 10 2015

#43, 44, 45 and 46

We just got back from our biggest trip as far as knocking off new resorts.  By the numbers:

Telluride groomer, March 2015

Telluride groomer, March 2015

We had been trying to plan this trip starting 2 months prior, but snow has been elusive this year and our original idea changed from Idaho, then to Northern Utah and then finally settled on Southern Utah and Colorado just a week before we left.  We prefer to drive and stay in the truck camper, but with the long distances and amount of ground we had to cover we decided to just take the car and hotel it.

Just a week before we went the 4 areas we went to got pounded with new snow and the coverage and snow conditions were excellent at all of them.  This was our first time skiing Telluride together, and we both decided it will probably win the overall best resort in North America in our rankings.  The place has everything, including (but not limited to):  Steep groomers, vast off-piste expert terrain, an authentic Victorian mining town, a fantastic modern mountain village, and views that you never get tired of.

This will be our last road trip of the 2014/2015 ski season.  It’s getting warm now and we don’t generally travel to ski slush.  Some of the Tahoe resorts are closed already in this historically bad snow year, but we do expect to get at least 2-4 more days before we hang them up for the season.

Town of Telluride, March 2013

Town of Telluride, March 2015

June Mountain and Mammoth

We had been planning to ski in Idaho the week of President’s day, but in early February it rained up to a pretty high elevation there and then got cold and froze into ice, so we decided to alter our plan to ski one of the last 2 resorts on our list in California – June Mountain.  June is about 20 miles from Mammoth and is about 300-miles from our house in the winter (summer is closer when the pass is open).

Chalky snow at Mammoth, Feb 15, 2015

Chalky snow at Mammoth, Feb 15, 2015

We also wanted to try a ski trip using our truck camper, which allows us to bring the dogs with us.  Our preference is to camp in an RV park with electric hookups when available in the winter.  This allows us to run a space heater which is quieter than using the propane furnace.  In the morning we drive to the ski area parking lot and hopefully get close-in parking.  We walk the dogs before skiing and eat lunch with them.

I plan to create a page with more details on the truck camper and winter camping later, but the bottom line is that it did work out very well and we plan to do this a lot more in the future.  It will be necessary to use it to take some longer trips up to British Columbia and maybe even the east coast so we can get more resorts done at a time.

June was the best skiing we had on this trip, with soft, dry, chalky snow at the top.  We skied just about everything that was open and it was a great time that we hadn’t necessarily been expecting.  Mammoth was not nearly as much fun and we wish we had just skied another day at June.  It’s crowded, icier, and the mountain is just not laid out that well with too many intersections and confusing and crossing lifts.  The best terrain at the top is accessed from either a super scary chair (#23) which has no safety bars, or a gondola which forces you to take off your skis and crowd in with people that are always on the phone.  Ug.

The last day we swung back through Tahoe to stay at the house and ski our home mountain Heavenly.  The snow there was REALLY bad, having been hammered by the sun and the holiday crowds.  Icy in the morning and slush by 11AM.  Oh well…we ski in all conditions and it’s better than going to work!

Alta — #41!

Yes, we finally got to experience the heart of ski culture at Alta after somehow avoiding it for the past 11 seasons of going to Park City.  We booked a last minute trip to Salt Lake City and stayed over in Park City at the base of The Canyons.  AiRung’s family from Taiwan were with us, a situation we found at The Canyons was perfect for them with the gondola literally 100ft from the hotel.

View from our hotel at The Canyons

View from our hotel at The Canyons

The first 2 days, we skied with our guests at The Canyons.  They only ski one or 2 weeks a year and have progressed remarkably in so short a time. So it’s getting to be really fun skiing with them.  The Canyons was great with several small 1-3″ refreshers before and during the 2 days we skied there.  Everything was open and so much better than Tahoe is right now.

One of our favorite runs off Super Condor at The Canyons

One of our favorite runs off Super Condor at The Canyons

We weren’t even supposed to ski a 3rd day. But we decided to extend so we could get our last Salt Lake City area resort crossed off – Alta.  It was definitely worth the $650 or so it cost us to change my plane ticket and secure another night of lodging.  3″ of fresh the night before made for excellent conditions.  It warmed up at the end of the last day and, on the way to the airport, it was pouring rain in Park City. So I think we hit it just right.

Exploring the chutes to the left of High Rustler at Alta

Exploring the chutes to the left of High Rustler at Alta

So after skiing all the Wasatch front ski resorts, we can do our rankings:

Ron

  1. Snowbird
  2. Alta
  3. The Canyons
  4. Snowbasin
  5. Park City Mtn Resort
  6. Deer Valley
  7. Brighton
  8. Solitude
  9. Sundance
AiRung

  1. Park City Mtn Resort
  2. The Canyons
  3. Snowbasin
  4. Snowbird
  5. Deer Valley
  6. Alta
  7. Solitude
  8. Brighton
  9. Sundance

We differ quite a bit on our rankings because of ability levels, but really all of these resorts are great except for Sundance, and people that live in Salt Lake City really are living in the very best location for skiers anywhere in North America as far as we are concerned.

3 new resorts skied in Colorado

Once again, Tahoe was having a late start to the season with lots of rain and spotty snowfall, in spite of the torrential rains we got in the Bay Area.  So in late November we decided to hedge our Christmas bets by booking a trip to Colorado.  I skied 2 days in early December at Northstar and Heavenly on the few open runs in poor conditions.

We arrived December 19th at 12:30AM and after straightening out a rental car nightmare, we got to bed at 2:30AM.  4-hours later we got up and made our way up to Winter Park for our first new resort of the 2014/15 season.  I lived in Colorado for 8-years, but for some reason I never made it to Winter Park.  We hit it perfectly because they received the most snow in Colorado overnight with 8″ of fresh.

Winter Park winter wonderland

Winter Park winter wonderland

The next 2 days we skied Copper Mountain, which was also a new one on the list that neither of us had ever skied.  A big storm came in on the 2nd day at Copper, with 9″ of new and heavy snow falling all day.  It got very windy at the end of the day, but it was a great powder day.

The last day we checked out of our hotel, dug the car out, and made our way up Loveland pass on I-70 to the Loveland ski resort.  It was a full-on blizzard with super-marginal driving conditions.  The car got stuck trying to get off the freeway into the upper parking lot, so we went down the the Valley parking lot and skied the 14.5″ of overnight fresh before heading back down to Denver to catch our flight home.  Loveland had the largest storm total of any Colorado resort, with 40″, so once again we hit the jackpot, although the wind, cold, and falling snow were brutal to ski in.  They shut the freeway down for several hours right after we made it into the parking lot, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

The day after we made it back from Colorado, we headed up to Tahoe with the kids to celebrate Christmas.  Christmas day we skied Kirkwood for the first time this year.  They were 100% open with 4″ of fresh.  It was icy underneath that 4″, so not great but pretty fun nonetheless.  We both tried out our new powder skis (ON3P Billy Goat 186 for me, and Salomon Rockette 115 for AiRung) and were super happy with them.

So as of now, 3 new resorts down, for 40 total, and 5 total days of skiing for AiRung, 7 for me.

– Ron

OK, this is REALLY the last day of the ski season…

After 2 weekends of camping with the new truck camper, it was time to get back up to Tahoe to check things and turn on the sprinklers for summer.  Alpine Meadows was still open, so I decided to get one more day in.

P1070330

Both Summit Six and Roundhouse were open with a lot of bowl terrain and 3 or 4 groomed runs. It was windy and fairly cool, so the snow stayed in good enough shape that I was able to get 20,000 vert in. This brings the total # days this year to 33, beating last year by 1 day. We skied Alpine on Mother’s day a few years ago and there was so much more snow that year. They were reporting a 5″ depth at the base today, which is really hard to argue with since there was a thin path of snow they had to extend a few hundred yards from the bottom of the snow line to get to the lifts. Still, it was fun and definitely worth doing. There are only 11 resorts left open in North America this weekend, and after this weekend it will probably be down to 6.

I did a couple of new reviews recently: Northstar, CA and Squaw Valley, CA. Alpine is now owned by Squaw Valley, so some day soon they will probably get interconnected and become one area, but for now they are still separate. Alpine is definitely in need of some upgrades — especially the base lodge — so I hope Squaw starts spending some money on it soon.

End of the 2013/14 ski season

"Two Man Chute" at Kirkwood, April 19, 2014

“Two Man Chute” at Kirkwood, April 19, 2014

This was our last weekend of skiing for the 2013/14 season.  I ended up with 32-days and AiRung got 25.  Not too bad for a “bad” snow year because it was actually slightly above average for us, and I could only ski on weekends and on dedicated ski trips due to my job.

The season started off with almost no snow in Tahoe.  By mid February it was snowing again, and that month was the only one with above average snowfall, but much of it fell as rain at lake level so resorts like Northstar, Diamond Peak, and Homewood really suffered.  I looked at the Northstar web cams the other day and they had a couple of narrow strips of snow at the bottom of the mid-mountain base area for people to get back to the lifts.  Kirkwood was the winner again this year with 375″ of snowfall up top and with a base elevation of 7,800 ft most of the storms produced snow down to the base.

Ridge Run at Heavenly, April 20, 2014

Ridge Run at Heavenly, April 20, 2014

We crossed 7 resorts off of the list including Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee, Sun Valley, Snowbird, Brighton, Sundance, and Mt. Rose.  We now have completed 37 of the 100.  At this rate we will complete the project in about 9 years, but we definitely have some work ahead of us to complete it that early because we’ve picked most of the low hanging fruit at this point.  Many of the remaining resorts are far away and difficult to get to.

We will move on to camping and other summer activities now.  We recently sold our travel trailer and picked up a 2013 Arctic Fox 990 truck camper.  This will be used as a base to ski some of the more remote resorts we need to ski.  I plan to do an in-depth review of this setup after we have some experience using it.

I added a couple of new reviews recently: Crystal Mountain, WA and Mt. Bachelor, OR.  I’m going down the list in order and doing resort reports that I have photos of.  There are several places that we have already skied that I have no photos for, and I’m trying to keep this site filled with only photos that I’ve taken.  We’ll try to get back to those so I can take some photos, so those reports will have to wait.