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An abrupt end to the 2019/2020 ski season

Top of Snowbasin Utah, February 2020

Top of Snowbasin Utah, February 2020

Well everyone on planet Earth will remember how the world changed in March 2020.  The coronavirus ended our season 2 months early this year.  At first Vail said they might reopen Heavenly in May, but it doesn’t look like there is any way ANY ski resorts will open back up before the snow melts.  For me, 36 days isn’t terrible, but compared to last year… ouch!  We got 4 new resorts done: Steamboat, Tamarack, Beaver Mountain, and Sunlight.

Our Big Trip this year started in Tahoe with some really low-tide skiing at Kirkwood and Heavenly in late February.  The last snow had been more than a month before, so that meant skiing on the good ol’ ice skis.  We love our ice skis, but they sure got a workout this year!

We were expecting things to improve dramatically in Utah, but our first day at Snowbasin was … icy.  Luckily, our next day at Beaver Mountain in far northern Utah just a mile from the Idaho border was one of the best of the year.  It was one of those rare all-day powder days when you get fresh tracks all day long.  This place is another one of the great discoveries we have made on the project, and we will definitely be going back there someday.

AiRung at Beaver Mountain Utah, February 2020

AiRung at Beaver Mountain Utah, February 2020

Back to Snowbasin the next day, and this is where we got exposed to something.  We were riding the gondola all day and there were a couple of sick people on with us.  Within 2 days we were in bad shape.  At this time (late February) we weren’t even thinking about Coronavirus, but who knows?  A week later it was everywhere.  This made our day at Sunlight in Colorado pretty unpleasant, but we toughed it out so we could do a review.  Now of course the world has changed and if you are sick you self-quarantine, but not then.  Luckily Sunlight has old double chairs so we were never close to anyone else anyway.

Mt. Wilson Colorado, March 2020

Mt. Wilson Colorado, March 2020

Whatever it was, we got over it pretty quickly and by the 2nd day at Telluride we were just fine.  After that one powder day at Beaver Mountain, the rest of the trip was snowless unfortunately, but I did get to at least knock off a bucket list item on that visit to Telluride.  The Gold Hill stairs and Chutes were something I have been looking at for years, but I never got the motivation up to try in previous trips.  It’s steep and exposed up there, and it’s a long hike from the top of the Revelation chair.  What an experience it was though!  Incredible views and some really impressive avalanche chute skiing that very few people ski.

Gold Hill stairs at Telluride, March 2020

Gold Hill stairs at Telluride, March 2020

Gold Hill Chute #9 at Telluride, March 2020

Gold Hill Chute #9 at Telluride, March 2020

Around March 14th it FINALLY decided to snow again in Tahoe.  That was a Saturday and that was the last day our local resorts were open.  This was particularly cruel because over the next 4 days it snowed over 60″ at Heavenly and up to twice that on the other side of the lake.  Just at our house at 6450′ we got 53″.  This was followed by a few smaller storms and another big one, turning March into an official “Miracle March”, with over 100″ of snow at most of the resorts.  If only they were open!

60" of untracked powder on the runs at Heavenly, March 2020

60″ of untracked powder on the runs at Heavenly, March 2020

Instead, I did some backcountry skiing, including a day at Waterhouse on Luther Pass and 2 days on the Stagecoach part of Heavenly.  This was actually some of the best powder skiing of the year, but it is a LOT of work climbing up over 1500′ for a single run that is over all too soon.

Climbing up at Heavenly, March 2020

Climbing up at Heavenly, March 2020

Heavenly Stagecoach run, March 2020

Heavenly Stagecoach run, March 2020

With all that snow the XC skiing around our house was good until the last of it melted in mid-April.  This may be the first year I actually did more XC ski days than downhill!  Sammy enjoyed it at least.

XC skiing near our house April 10th, 2020

XC skiing near our house April 10th, 2020

Highlights of this year were the days at Tamarack, Idaho and Beaver Mountain, Utah which were both uncrowded powder paradises.  Those are the memories we will hold onto for this season that will have to tide us over until the world gets back to normal again.  We still have 18 more resorts to do, so plenty of adventures yet to come!

Four Corners on the way home, March 2020

Four Corners on the way home, March 2020

Mid-season update

After some great Christmas skiing in Tahoe and 3 consecutive powder days in mid-January, we headed out on our second trip of the ski season. We returned to one of our favorites: Sun Valley and hit our 2nd new resort of this ski season: Tamarack.

Heavenly powder in the trees, January 2020

Heavenly powder in the trees, January 2020

This was the first time we ever flew into Boise and we discovered that it’s a super easy and quick flight from San Jose.  In fact we think Boise is the best airport experience we have ever had.  It took about 5 minutes for us to pick up the keys to our rental car and when we got to the luggage area it was already waiting for us.  Within 20 minutes of landing we were on the road to Hailey.  The drive on highway 20 through southern Idaho is very scenic and empty.  Some day we would like to try Soldier Mountain which is a small resort between Sun Valley and Boise.

Sun Valley Selfie, February 2020

Sun Valley Selfie, February 2020

We had 3 days at Sun Valley and the truth is that the conditions weren’t very good.  It had been very warm the week before, and then on the 2nd day of skiing it got really cold and windy.  Although they have great grooming there, you can’t really effectively groom compacted ice.  Still, the overall experience was fun because we got a lot of skiing in with zero lines, and cold sunny weather to enjoy the fantastic views.

Sun Valley wind, February 2020

Sun Valley wind, February 2020

Tamarack was a welcome change, with 2″ of fresh at the start of the day about about 3″ more by the end.  It warmed up while it was snowing, and conditions were soft and prime.  This was one of the best days of the season so far, and we were super impressed with the resort and would love to return some day.  We figure there were only about 100 people skiing that day and with the size of the resort it felt like our own private playground.

Hero snow at Tamarack, February 2020

Hero snow at Tamarack, February 2020

Since the last powder day in Tahoe over a month ago, it hasn’t snowed more than 2-4″ so we will have to look forward to our next trip to snowy Utah and Colorado, which are both experiencing above-average snowfall.  We will be visiting 2 more new resorts and a couple of old favorites.  Can’t wait to get on the road again!

 

Start of the 19/20 season and our first trip of the year

Early season at Heavenly

Early season at Heavenly

It’s the end of December, and we’ve already been working on the project for about 3 months.  It usually starts in late September when we start getting winter pattern predictions for the upcoming season.  Those don’t become solid until October so we usually hold off on reservations until then, but it’s always a gamble when we are committing to several days at a resort like Telluride or Tamarack where bad seasons can be really bad.  Somehow it almost always works out for us though, so we will stick with our method!

First day of the 19/20 season on Thanksgiving at Jackson Hole

First day of the 19/20 season on Thanksgiving at Jackson Hole

Opening day was at Jackson Hole on Thanksgiving, which is really unusual for us.  This is NOT the time to visit JH, but we needed something to do over Thanksgiving and have been interested in getting property in the Teton Valley, Idaho which is close to both Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee.  So being in the area looking at property, it was a must to ski opening day.  They had 2,200 vertical open, but only on 2 runs that had snowmaking.  Still, it was skiing and tickets were only $50 so it was cheap Thanksgiving entertainment.

Filling in nicely at Heavenly, December 2019

Filling in nicely at Heavenly, December 2019

December was really good at our home resorts Heavenly and Kirkwood, so by the end of the month I was up to 17 days skiing already.  Along the way, we met a couple of really interesting people on the lifts.  The first was Bill Killebrew, who owned and ran the resort in 1977 when he was only 23 years old.  He had a ton of stories for us and being good listeners, we ended up skiing with him all morning.  He was on the US Ski Team in the early 70’s, so it was a challenge to keep up with him!

The second was another local who owns 2 wolves (permitted) in South Lake.  After skiing with him all morning, he invited us over to see them.  There is something really soulful about these animals.  We love seeing wolves and this was the first time we were allowed inside the fence with them which was thrilling and something we will remember forever.

Wolf in South Lake Tahoe

Wolf in South Lake Tahoe

In between skiing our local resorts in Tahoe, we knocked off our first trip of the year to Steamboat and Loveland.  Steamboat was a new resort for us, and Loveland was a do-over that we felt we had to do because we didn’t really get to ski much of it the first time.  Our luck held nicely with 130% of normal snowfall at both resorts when we visited.  We spent 3 days at Steamboat to get the full experience and hit Loveland on our way back to Denver.

Our first new resort of 19/20 - Steamboat

Our first new resort of 19/20 – Steamboat

So 19/20 is already super memorable for us, but we are already looking forward to our next trip at the beginning of February.  That trip will be a return to Sun Valley and another new resort for us: Tamarack, Idaho.

Spring, Summer, and the end of the 2018/19 ski season

2018/19 was another great year for us.  I got a record 63 days and AiRung recorded a new high mark of 44 days.  To keep that in perspective, that means that I skied 1 out of every 3 days from November 30th to May 31st.  That’s dedication considering I’m holding down a full-time job! Adobe is a very understanding employer with unlimited vacation days luckily.

A fun day at Kirkwood, March 2019

A fun day at Kirkwood, March 2019

We got 5 new resorts this year, which is a bit lower than in previous years.  The main reason is that we had the full Epic Pass for Vail resorts this time around, and we wanted to use it the best way.  That meant trips back to some resorts that we already skied at previously like Whistler/Blackcomb, Vail, Telluride, and Park City.  Of the 5 new resorts, 3 were in Vermont though, so we feel like we put in a great effort!

Late March at Heavenly, 2019

Late March at Heavenly, 2019

After our Big Trip to Colorado which ended in mid March, the snow eased off in Tahoe, with below average snowfall in March and April following the non-stop record-breaking snowfall in February.  Still, there were a few powder days and plenty of great skiing.  Although it wasn’t snowing much, we never really got much spring skiing until May because it was colder than normal.  With the 2nd most snowfall at Heavenly ever and cold temps, they decided to stay open until the end of May.  So of course we took full advantage of that bonus time skiing almost every weekend.

Late March powder run on Firebreak at Heavenly, March 2019

Late March powder run on Firebreak at Heavenly, March 2019

Last day At Heavenly, May 24th, 2019

Last day At Heavenly, May 24th, 2019

The other big bonus was that there was cross-country skiing at lake level in our neighborhood until a very late April 19th.  Sammy loved every minute of it!

Sammy in his natural element, late April 2019

Sammy in his natural element, late April 2019

Whenever Mammoth stays open until July 4th week we try to get down there for our season wrap and that’s what we did this year.  Again, cold temps had preserved the snow so even though there were about 200″ less snowfall than 16/17, there was actually more terrain open than that year which was the last time we were able to do it.  2100′ of vertical with 6 lifts open was pretty good for June 30th!  We camped in the woods nearby and got up super early to hit the 7:30AM opening.  It’s fun to park the rig at Chair 2 “The Mill” and let Sammy run around on the runs after the lifts shut at 1PM.

Summer skiing at Mammoth, June 30th, 2019

Summer skiing at Mammoth, June 30th, 2019

 

 

Great parking at the Mill at Mammoth, June 2019

Great parking at the Mill at Mammoth, June 2019

So that’s a wrap for 18/19 and we look forward to next ski season which is only 5 months away!

April at Heavenly, 2019

April at Heavenly, 2019

The 2019 Big Trip

This year’s Big Trip was VERY BIG.  17 days long and 2600 total driving miles to be exact.  We were not as ambitious as previous years,  and planned to get 2 of the last 4 resorts on the list in Colorado done. We also want to revisit one of our top 2 favorite resorts: Telluride.  And then, last minute, we threw in Park City on the way home.

Top of Paradise Bowl at Crested Butte, March 2019

Top of Paradise Bowl at Crested Butte, March 2019

Planning for this trip started last summer when we upgraded our passes to Vail’s Epic pass, which includes Crested Butte and 5 days at Telluride.  We were banking on the weather patterns favoring southern Colorado this year with the long-term climate forecast models pointing towards El Nino. Although the El Nino never materialized, pretty much every state in the Western US had well above average snow anyway. We hit some of the best conditions of the year everywhere we went.

Revelation Bowl at Telluride, February 2019

Revelation Bowl at Telluride, February 2019

Stop #1: Tahoe

We started the trip in our own backyard in Tahoe, Heavenly.  I had the best run of the DECADE on the very first day.  Tahoe had the biggest February for snowfall on record. And it was also very cold with the snow line was all the way down to 2,000 feet or so.  This gave me a once-in-a-decade chance to scratch off another bucket list item:  The “Minden Mile”.  The “Mile” is a 5,200 vertical drop run from the top of Heavenly to the town of Minden in the Nevada desert at 4,800′ elevation.  It’s rare that snow sticks for more than a day or so down there. However, it was deep and cold enough to enjoy powder turns all the way down.  It was incredible to have that kind of a huge vertical drop run outside of Canada or Europe.

Upper part of the Minden Mile at Heavenly, February 2019

Upper part of the Minden Mile at Heavenly, February 2019

Stop #2: Powderhorn and Grand Junction

Next we drove 760 miles to Grand Junction Colorado to ski one of the smaller Colorado resorts: Powderhorn.  We met up with Tom and Nancy Johnson who are friends of one of AiRung’s clients.  They have lived in Junction and skied Powderhorn for the last 2 decades. Tom is a patroller there and we got a great tour of this really fun and unique resort. This resort is another great find that we never would have skied without the project, and one we are certain to return to.  Grand Junction is a pretty great town as well, with a nice walkable downtown with shops and restaurants.

Great grooming at Powderhorn, February 2019

Great grooming at Powderhorn, February 2019

Another thing we liked about Grand Junction and Powderhorn is that the town is at only 4,600′ elevation, so it’s easy to get a good night’s sleep.  This is about 5,000 feet lower than where we stayed later in Telluride and Mt. Crested Butte.  We always have trouble sleeping at those high altitudes, so the option to ski Colorado but stay down low is attractive.

Stop #3: Telluride

We continued on to Telluride after Powderhorn.  As before, we really enjoyed the steep groomers and views. This time we also got 2 powder days out of the 4 dyas we skied to experience the whole package!

This is why we love Telluride, March 2019

This is why we love Telluride, March 2019

Stop #4: Crested Butte

Our next stop was Crested Butte.  I lived in Gunnison and Crested Butte for 8 years, first as a student attending Western State College, then as an employee of the resort. So it was a home-coming for me. I left Crested Butte 26 years ago and had not been back in all that time.  The changes were huge.  But this was AiRung’s first time here and I got to show her around some of my favorite places.

Mt. Crested Butte under the stars, March 2019

Mt. Crested Butte under the stars, March 2019

We had 3 days there with fresh snow every day.  The skiing was the best I’ve ever seen in Crested Butte, considering I had 8 full seasons of skiing CB as my home resort. In fact, from the last 2 days at Telluride to the day we left Colorado a week later, it never stopped snowing for long. Crested Butte has some of the most impressive steep terrain in North America and every skier who likes steep terrain should give it a try.

Showing AiRung around the North Face at Crested Butte, March 2019

Showing AiRung around the North Face at Crested Butte, March 2019

Stop #5: Park City

To break up the long drive back to South Lake Tahoe from Crested Butte, we added  Park City as a “stop” in between.  With only one day to ski, we picked our favorite side of the resort, The Canyons.  We used to go there every year to ski the massive amount of terrain,except last year. So it was time to go back.  This year Vail has upped their grooming game at Park City, claiming the most nightly groomed terrain in North America.  Conditions were great with lightly falling snow all day.

Snowing again at Park City, March 2019

Snowing again at Park City, March 2019

As of this writing in early April, it’s still snowing in Tahoe and Heavenly has extended their season until Memorial day, so we still have almost 8 weeks of skiing left!  With 51 days thus far for me and 38 for AiRung, this will certainly be the most ski days we’ve ever gotten in one season.

Eastern Icebox

Our 3rd trip of the year began to take shape when Vermont got pounded with early season snow in November.  That was looking pretty good from dry, smokey California where we were reading about firestorms and waiting for snow in Tahoe. With our full Epic passes this year, we got “free” skiing at Stowe, VT. So we decided to squeeze in a  trip to knock off 3 of the best Vermont areas:  Stowe, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen. The only time to do it was early January because of our other commitments. And there were two big risks we were taking: extremely low temperatures and winter air travel with connections.

Mt Mansfield at Stowe, January 2019

Mt Mansfield at Stowe, January 2019

Luckily it all worked out, and more.  Our flights were a non-event. And after a month of no snow and lots of rain, Vermont got their biggest snowfalls of the year in the 2 days before we got there. When we were landing in Burlington, we heard a returning local complaining: “I can’t believe how much snow fell while we were gone.  Yuck!”.  We were loving it.

All covered up at Stowe, January 2019

All covered up at Stowe, January 2019

Stowe

Our first day at Stowe featured 8″ of fresh on top of 16″ the day before that.  The only problem was the temperatures and wind.  It was -10F at the Mt. Mansfield weather station and was blowing 50mph, which is a wind chill of -45F.  That is serious danger territory, where skin freezes in 5 minutes.  We had double face masks with absolutely zero exposed skin.  The problem is breathing because you have to breath through the fabric and your goggles get fogged.  Everything becomes difficult at those temps:  Skis don’t slide well, goggles are fogged, fingers frozen so badly that you can’t operate a camera or phone (which are dead anyway because of the cold).  Taking your gloves off for a minute for a picture is a painful experience.  Chemical hand warmers are an absolute necessity.  Every picture on this page was taken at great expense and personal torture!

Nearly untouched groomer at Mad River Glen at 10:30AM, January 2019

Nearly untouched groomer at Mad River Glen at 10:30AM, January 2019

Oh, but the skiing was great!  No crowds, everything was open, and soft snow almost exactly the quality we see in Tahoe…pretty much as good as it gets in the East.

By the 2nd day we were more used to it and started to really enjoy ourselves.  We skied about 90% of the named runs at Stowe over 2 days, including the VERY steep front 4 runs: Starr, Goat, National, and Liftline.  I have to give the scary nod to Starr, which was an absolutely smooth slippery slope that you would NOT want to fall on.  I wouldn’t exactly call it ice, but it was as close to ice as is possible to get an edge into.  The lower part was fantastic though, as were the others.  This was a bucket list item for me because we used to ski Stowe regularly when I was a kid growing up in Buffalo, and I always looked at that run as something to aspire to be able to ski.  Mission accomplished 42 years later!

The namesake trees at Sugarbush, January 2019

The namesake trees at Sugarbush, January 2019

Sugarbush

After 2 days at Stowe, we moved on to Sugarbush Sugarbush is a larger resort spread over 2 distinct ski areas connected by a lift that was NOT running when we were there.  That meant that in order to get the full resort experience we had to get in the car and drive over from the Lincoln Peak side to the Mt. Ellen side.  Both sides of Sugarbush are great with a distinct character and plenty of advanced to expert terrain on both.  We would have liked to have spent more time there.

Single chair at Mad River Glen, January 2019

Single chair at Mad River Glen, January 2019

 

 

Mad River Glen

The last day was at Mad River Glen.  The last time I skied there was in the mid 70’s.  It hasn’t changed much.  This is one of North American skiing’s historic places, and it is a truly unique experience.  If you ask people you meet at Stowe or Sugarbush what their favorite Vermont resort is, they might say it’s Mad River Glen. Nobody can really put their finger on why that is exactly.  We think the 1948 single chair is a big part of that, being the only single chair remaining in regular operation in North America.  Mt. Eyak in Alaska still runs a single that was purchased and moved from Sun Valley, built originally in 1939, but it only runs a few days a year.

Mad River Glen features what is often rated as the most difficult run in the East: Paradise.  Although not super steep by Western standards, it’s full of ice falls, rocks, and tight trees and believe me it will be a serious challenge getting down that with intact dignity at the bottom.  There are better runs there though, and we ended up skiing about 75% of this small resort.  There were a total of about 20-30 people skiing that day so we felt like we had the place to ourselves.  It was a surreal experience and I recommend it to every skier that wants to experience what skiing used to be like.

Mt. Ellen at Sugarbush, January 2019

Mt. Ellen at Sugarbush, January 2019

 

Some changes to the list…

We always learn something new after our ski trips. Because of our really positive experience with this trip,  we gave some more thought to what it is that makes a resort stand out. We decided that, while snow and acreage are important, what really makes a place for us is vertical drop.  So we made some changes to the 100 list. We have added back Whiteface, New York, which has the biggest vertical in the East, and Sunday River, Maine which is a huge, popular resort that everyone keeps telling us must be on the list.  Removed were Eldora and Monarch Colorado which are at the bottom of the list for vertical drop and fell under the 1,400 vertical lower limit.  We also removed Brian Head, Utah which has a real continuously skiable vertical of only 1,100 feet to make room for Tamarack, Idaho. Tamarack was added back because they are re-installing one of the vital lifts that was removed when the resort was foreclosed on 10 years ago. We had previously skied Brian Head so after all this shuffling we are back to 76 resorts completed.

Lots of thought has gone into the list and we think it’s pretty close to final now.  We may make more changes later as we finish the last 24.  There are also 2 new resorts being planned in British Columbia that may need to be added to the list if they are built in time:  Valemount and Garibaldi.  These will be huge resorts and when complete will rival many of the best resorts on the list now.

Maple Syrup bottling in Stowe, January 2019

Maple Syrup bottling in Stowe, January 2019

The Whistler Christmas trip

The Whistler Christmas trip was our 2nd of the the 2018/19 season.  This year we decided to get full Epic passes for Vail resorts which gave us access to Whistler/Blackcomb over the Christmas holidays.  We have been there twice before in the winter and spring and never had good conditions so we wanted to give the biggest resort in North America another shot.

Whistler Peak Stonehenge

Whistler Peak Stonehenge

We’ve had good weather luck on this project over the years, but you can’t win them all.  Whistler is prone to rain on the lower mountain and that is what we got.  Good snow and 4″ of powder the first day was replaced with all-day rain 2/3 of the way up the mountain on the 2nd day and all of the upper mountain lifts closed due to wind.  Ahh!  This is the worst possible weather when skiing because skis don’t slide on water.  We also found out that our waterproof ski clothes aren’t really that waterproof.  We just barely got them dried out in time for skiing the next day.

View of Whistler from 7th Heaven at Blackcomb

View of Whistler from 7th Heaven at Blackcomb

On the third day we did the First Tracks breakfast which gets you on the gondola in the dark and up top long before sunrise.  After a good breakfast we got to ski the upper mountain before the hordes of holiday skiers got up there.  This was one of the highlights of the trip along with a great dinner at Ka-Ze (Japanese) in the village.

First tracks at Whistler before sunrise

First tracks at Whistler before sunrise

So the Whistler Christmas trip was interesting and fun, but our opinion of Whistler isn’t really improved or changed much.  It’s risky planning a trip far in advance there, but if you hit it on a good day it’s pretty amazing.

Lift Line Camp Robbers at 7th Heaven

Lift Line Camp Robbers at 7th Heaven

Skiing back down to the village at the end of the day

Skiing back down to the village at the end of the day

Peak to Creek run at Whistler on a good day, December 2018

Peak to Creek run at Whistler on a good day, December 2018

Waiting in line at the Whistler Gondola at 7AM

Waiting in line at the Whistler Gondola at 7AM

 

Ski North America 100 begins our 7th season!

We are excited to start on the 7th full season of the Ski North America 100 project and 18th year accumulating resort visits to the top 100 ski resorts in North America.  Somehow we are already 75% of the way finished, but we still expect the project to take another 5-10 years to finish all of them.

Ski North America 100: First run selfie at Heavenly, November 2018

First run selfie at Heavenly, November 2018

The season started off strong in Tahoe with our first weekend of skiing on the last day of November featuring a blizzard at Kirkwood and bluebird powder skiing at Heavenly.   2 weeks before, we were hiking in pleasant summerlike temps at 10,000 ft thinking that we would be lucky to ski anything in early December, but things change quickly in Tahoe and the switch from summer to winter was just in time.

Ski North America 100: Early Season at Heavenly, November 2018

Early Season at Heavenly, November 2018

This year we have 4 trips planned in addition to our usual Tahoe skiing.  We just returned from the first trip to Vail, Colorado December 8-11.  This trip was planned in mid November because Colorado was getting good snowfall.  The snow kept coming and it snowed every day for 11 days up to and including the first day on the mountain.  This resulted in our best trip to Vail EVER.  No crowds, everything open, and the great weather was unbeatable.  Our favorable opinion of Vail as a 5-star resort was further improved.  Although the skiing there is not very challenging, the quality of the lift network, grooming, and facilities are at the very top of all of the resorts on our list.

Ski North America 100: Some nice powder at Vail, December 2018

Some nice powder at Vail, December 2018

Next up we are giving Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia another shot.  This will be the 4th time we’ve been there.  This time we hope it doesn’t rain and everything is open!  After that, we are continuing our focus on the East Coast with a trip to Burlington, Vermont to ski Stowe, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen.

Ski North America 100: Back Bowls at Vail, December 2018

Back Bowls at Vail, December 2018

Lastly, we will head back to Colorado again to ski our favorite resort Telluride and also my old hometown mountains Crested Butte and Monarch.  If it all works out, we will ski 5 new resorts this year, and plenty of our old favorites.  It’s on!

#SkiNorthAmerica100

Leaving Summer

High Noon groomer at Thredbo, August 2018

High Noon groomer at Thredbo, August 2018

This summer I got a chance to check off one of the items on my bucket list — skiing in Australia!  My daughter lives in the Outback in Alice Springs has been there for 1 1/2 years, so it was time for a visit.  Since it is such a long journey I decided to take a few extra days to see Sydney and to go skiing in the Snowy Mountains.  AiRung couldn’t make it on this trip unfortunately.

Above tree-line at Thredbo, August 2018

Above tree-line at Thredbo, August 2018

After looking at the map and logistics and talking with Jack at Snowpak.com, I chose to ski Thredbo and Perisher.  Jack rated Perisher as #1 and Thredbo as #3 in his article here: The Best Ski Resorts in Australia.

Highest lift-served point in Australia at Thredbo, August 2018

Highest lift-served point in Australia at Thredbo, August 2018

I spent most of Sunday driving from Sydney to Jindabyne, which is the closest town to both Thredbo and Perisher and a great spot to spend a couple of nights with lots of restaurants and bars, and the largest per-capita number of ski shops I’ve ever seen anywhere — over 20 for a town with a population of 2,600!  Of course these shops are to serve the hordes of skiers that descend on Perisher and Thredbo.  I did some digging and it looks like those 2 resorts are responsible for somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million skier visits per year, which is huge.  That’s why Jack suggested that I ski on a weekday, which was great advice.  I did see lines at Perisher, but nothing too bad.

"Funnel Web" black bump run at Thredbo, August 2018

“Funnel Web” black bump run at Thredbo, August 2018

I skied at Thredbo the first day, and was super impressed with that resort.  It has both the highest and lowest lift-served elevations in Australia, giving it a respectable 2,200 feet of vertical.  It also has a great lift network with 3 high speed quads and the best lift in Australia: the Kosciuszko Express, which has a vertical drop of over 1,800 feet.  I spent most of the day on that lift.  There were patches of wind-blown powder in the trees, and lots of top-bottom groomers.  There is some challenge there, but nothing that could be considered double-black.  Good snowmaking coverage assures skiing even if natural snowfall is lacking.

Graham shows me the soft snow at Thredbo, August 2018

Graham shows me the soft snow at Thredbo, August 2018

The very first chair ride of the day I met John and Graham: 2 Thredbo regulars who spent the whole day showing me around.  Graham had been skiing there since the 70’s and had lots of stories and history for me.  John and his wife invited me to join them for dinner in Jindy after skiing, so it was a super fun day and I got to learn a lot about the skiing culture in Australia.  These 2 guys had to be the best 2 skiers on the mountain and as long as I was following them, I was skiing soft snow and powder.

Local guides Graham and John at Thredbo, August 2018

Local guides Graham and John at Thredbo, August 2018

The next day I drove up to Perisher, the largest resort in Australia at over 3,000 acres.  It has a higher base but has much less vertical and is mostly green or easy blue terrain.  In fact the max skiable vertical there is only 1,200 ft.  It also has only one high-speed lift which has very little vertical and serves beginners. Perisher was underwhelming but impressive in a silly way — being so flat and spread out with so many T-bars and pointless long flat chairs.  I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.

"Village Express" 8-pack at Perisher, August 2018

“Village Express” 8-pack at Perisher, August 2018

The best chair is the Ridge Quad which has some legit steep terrain on 2 trails which provided the best runs I encountered in Australia.  Other than that, there was only Mt. Perisher on the other end of the resort that had decent vertical and enough slope to make it interesting.  Once again, I had a friendly guide Mark who I met on one of the many T-bars early in the day who led me to the steeper stuff.  Thanks Mark!

Steeper terrain at Perisher off the Ridge Quad, August 2018

Steeper terrain at Perisher off the Ridge Quad, August 2018

Snow was excellent according to the locals I talked to, and I thought it was good even by Tahoe standards.  They don’t get the depth we are used to, but all the runs were covered and I never hit a rock in 2 days of hard charging off-piste.

Mt. Perisher soft snow off the Eyre T-bar

Mt. Perisher soft snow off the Eyre T-bar

I felt like a star skiing in Australia and had a great time.  Locals were very interested in showing me around and I’ve really never skied anywhere else where people were that friendly. Once I opened my mouth to speak they found out I was from California and they seemed so happy that I had made the effort to ski in Australia.  It’s a fun skiing culture with less emphasis on challenge and more on just getting out onto the snow and sliding around.

Base of the Freedom Quad at Perisher with a view of Mt. Kosciuszko, August 2018

Base of the Freedom Quad at Perisher with a view of Mt. Kosciuszko, August 2018

I would go back to Thredbo which I would rate at least 3 out of 5 stars on our scale.  As far as choosing Australia over New Zealand for a summer skiing vacation, New Zealand definitely has better resort skiing at Treble Cone, but I’d rather ski Thredbo over the other major NZ ski resort I skied at which was Mt. Hutt.  The thing that New Zealand has over Australia is really impressive mountains that you can only get to with a helicopter or by hiking, but the resort skiing is actually pretty comparable.

Mt. Perisher, August 2018

Mt. Perisher, August 2018

Now that I have had my summer skiing fix, we are waiting for Winter in North America.  I’ve been doing a lot of mountain biking to stay in shape.  Hopefully winter provides us with deep snow and cold temps, but even if it doesn’t we are certain to have a good time.  We have already booked our Whistler/Blackcomb trip for Christmas and are also planning to go back to Telluride and my old home town Crested Butte in March.  Can’t wait!

End of the 2017/18 season

The end of our ski season has arrived so we will reluctantly hang them up and reflect on what was our best year ever!  Records were broken, and some great memories were made.  

Heavenly bluebird powder, March 2018

Heavenly bluebird powder, March 2018

Kirkwood closed on April 8th and Heavenly on the 22nd, so this last weekend was the first time I was not skiing and was home in Fremont since mid January! Total ski days this year were 55 for me and 38 for AiRung. This is a record for me and ties a record for AiRung, which is all the more impressive because December, January, and February were way below normal snowfall in Tahoe. At the end of February we were flirting with record low snowfall, but then we got another one of those Tahoe “Miracle March’s” which provided some awesome powder days. In fact March 17th at Kirkwood was the deepest inbounds powder I’ve ever skied. 74″ fell in 2 days, and it was super cold, which made for light blower powder like you would find in the Rockies. Neck deep isn’t an exaggeration!

The start of the biggest storm of the season at Heavenly, March 2018

The start of the biggest storm of the season at Heavenly, March 2018

The snowfall continued well into April and both March and April had much higher than normal snowfall and colder than normal temps — just what we needed. The season ended up with about 75% of normal at Kirkwood and Heavenly which is something I never saw coming at the end of February when we were somewhere around 30% of normal. I skied closing day at Sierra at Tahoe which featured 15″ of fresh and lots of tree skiing.

Closing day at Sierra at Tahoe, April 2018

Closing day at Sierra at Tahoe, April 2018

We had the best ski trip ever this year which started in late January and lasted until early March courtesy of my 5-year sabbatical from Adobe (see the previous post). We skied a record 11 new resorts from the far west coast (Stevens Pass) to the far east coast (Le Massif). Trips like that are what we live for.

10 minutes after Killebrew Canyon opened for the year at Heavenly, March 2018

10 minutes after Killebrew Canyon opened for the year at Heavenly, March 2018

As usual we spent about 10 days skiing with AiRung’s family in Tahoe and Park City.  This is a lot of fun for us because they are now able to ski just about anything and can follow us all over the mountain.

AiRung and family at Heavenly, January 2018

AiRung and family at Heavenly, January 2018

The planning is now underway for next season when we will hit some of the remaining resorts we have to do in Colorado including my old hometown Crested Butte. Can’t wait!

Fantastic grooming at Heavenly, March 2018

Fantastic grooming at Heavenly, March 2018