Monday, January 30, 2012

A Colorado Weekend

The weekend before last I traveled to western Colorado to visit my friend and fellow blogger, the Brave Ski Mom (BSM for short).  Her blog, appropriately titled "The Brave Ski Mom," is one of my favorites.  The BSM offers lots of good info on family skiing, resort reviews, and occasional giveaways.  And there's plenty of great outdoor family-related posts in the off season.  You can check it out here.

X-county skiing the Grand Mesa!

My flight landed at noon on Friday.  BSM immediately whisked my away to the Grand Mesa for an afternoon of cross country skiing.  After sitting on airplanes all morning, a little exercise was just what my body needed!

Breathtaking view from the top of the Grand Mesa

The Grand Mesa lies 40 miles east of Grand Junction, Colorado.  It rises up from the Colorado River valley to an elevation of 11,000 feet.  That's not much lower than my beloved Mt. Hood, which tops out at around 11,240 feet.  It was a scenic drive up through a canyon lined by steep rocky cliffs, their sides artfully scoured by years of erosion.  As we climbed, the horizon opened up to reveal a wonderful panorama of the landforms below.  A bright blue sunny sky provided the finishing touch (which after a week-plus of torrential Oregon rains, was a most welcome sight!)

Brave Ski Mom points out a map of the extensive trail system

The top of the Grand Mesa has a large network of cross country ski trails.  They are well groomed and pass through beautiful wooded areas and ice-covered lakes.

Beautiful wooded trails

I hadn't xc skied in many years and was a little nervous about how I'd do.  But like riding a bike, my skiing skills came right back.  It helped the trails were pretty mellow - mostly flat with only a few small hills to conquer.  I started sliding backwards down the steeper ones, but my work-around was to gracefully sidestep up when that happened.  I'm proud to say I only fell once!

Cool snow patterns on a frozen lake

Between gliding on my skis, and trying to remain upright, I did manage to capture a few photos of the snow-covered beauty on the Mesa.

We had a beautiful blue-sky Colorado day

We ran into quite a few fellow skiers, all out enjoying a sunny Friday afternoon.  I learned the Grand Mesa is a popular place with the locals.

Scenery out the car window

The next morning, it was time for some alpine skiing.  BSM and her family took me to the Powderhorn Ski Resort, their local hill.  Powderhorn was also located on the Grand Mesa, so I got to see all that lovely scenery for a second time.

Awesome pow run

On Saturday, a storm was rolling in.  The forecast promised snow - and lots of it.  But when we arrived at Powderhorn that morning the only weather we encountered was high winds.  I hopped on the chair anyway, and endured a windy ride to the top.  Coming down a run, the snow was sparse and icy - just like at home on Mt. Hood.  Like the rest of the nation, CO is suffering from a lack of snow.  BSM and her husband were apologetic about the conditions, but I told them I was used to skiing in snow like this.  And besides, this was an improvement compared to last Thursday's miserable ski in the rain.

Ridin' the lift up to do it again

About mid-day the snow began in earnest.  The skies opened up and it was dumping!  Conditions on the slopes improved considerably.  It was wet, heavy snow at first, but again, skiing in the PNW, I'm used to that.  I laughed and told BSM and her husband this was what we called "Cascade Concrete" back home.

Lovely aspen grove

By early afternoon, winds and heavy snow brought the visibility down to near zero.  So we cut the day short.  But at the rate the snow was falling ("puking snow" as someone put it), it bode well for the following day.

Bare aspen branches reach skyward

And - oh yeah - Sunday was the day!  It was a classic Colorado ski dream come true.  The storm had dumped 11 inches of dry fluffy pow overnight.  And we awoke to brilliant blue skies.  It doesn't get any better than this!

Proof that I was at Powderhorn

Sunday morning, Powderhorn was a-hoppin'.  Lots of locals came to the mountain for a long-overdue powder fix.  But it was nowhere close to the crowds that Meadows gets on a powder day.  The lift lines were never very long - five minutes was the most I ever waited.  It was nice to ski at a small resort.  People were extremely friendly, and everyone seemed to know each other.  It was a great vibe.

Snow-flocked trees

For our first run, BSM and her husband took me down a narrow, steep run that was filled with deep, fluffy pow.  It was so much fun, we just had to go back for seconds.

Lots of nice glades for your skiing pleasure

I spent the rest of the day chasing BSM and her family through deep snowy glades, over soft moguls, and screaming down tree-lined trails.  As expected, the entire family were superb skiers, and it was all I could do to keep up.  Luckily, BSM and her husband were nice enough to wait for me, so I never got lost.  Of course, I discovered Colorado has "snow snakes" too, and upheld my reputation by finding them all.  (That and a close and personal encounter with a treewell had me wearing some snow)

Million-dollar views

Powderhorn might be a small ski area, but it boasts some mighty views.  From the top of the chair, the entire valley opens up before your eyes.  Smaller peaks and mesas dot the plains far below.  The Colorado River winds through the lowlands.  Slopeside, lovely aspen trees line the trails.  I felt lucky to be up here on a bluebird day, able to enjoy all of it.

I had a blast skiing with BSM

It was a wonderful weekend of skiing with the BSM and her family.  Sadly, time went by way too fast and before I knew it, I was boarding a plane back to cloudy, rainy Oregon.  Western Colorado is an amazing place, and I'd love to come back again with a full contingent of photography equipment to capture more of its scenic beauty.

Thanks to the Brave Ski Mom for showing this Oregon skier a good time!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Soggy Ski Day

I should've known better....

Last Thursday's forecast was for snow and 32 degrees at Mt. Hood Meadows. 

Slushy, wet base area

A huge, wet storm was blasting Hood.  But the ski bus was going up, so I went anyway.   Temps hovering at the freezing mark assured the snow would be anything but dry.  Arriving at the ski area, I found 11 inches of slushy, heavy new snow that had the consistency of mashed potatoes.  The howling wind sent visibility down near zero, and whipped large, soggy flakes into my face.

Notice all the equipment in the racks - not on the slopes!

After four attempts to ski down the mountain in the sticky slop, and face-planting most every run, I hung it up for the day.  I never quit skiing before lunchtime - but conditions were downright miserable.  The last thing I wanted to do was injure myself.  I sat in the lodge with my fellow ski bus passengers, drying out, and hoping our ride would leave early.

Modeling the latest in PNW skiing fashions

But some folks are true die-hards.  They just donned the nifty plastic bags Meadows was handing out, and kept on skiing.  Only in the Pacific Northwest do people wear plastic bags and ski in the rain!  But eventually the conditions drove even the most hardy of these snow-riders into the lodge, sporting super-soggy outerwear, and wringing torrents of water from their gloves.

This was hands-down the most miserable ski day I've had in years.  Next time I see a forecast for Hood that predicts moisture and above-freezing temps, I'm staying home!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter's Finally Here!


Yes it snowed!!  Hood finally got a decent powder dump!  Woo-hoo!!  Happy, happy, happy, happy!

Hooray for snow!

Yep, 12 inches of wonderful, light, fluffy, non-Cascade-concrete powder snow fell up on the mountain overnight Saturday.  And - lucky us - Kim and I had already planned to ski Meadows on Sunday.  Timing is everything!

Kim catching snowflakes

Of course, Kim and I weren't the only ones with Sunday ski plans.  A large portion of the Portland Metro area powderhounds had the same idea.  We met most of those folks on the road to Meadows.  Traffic was extremely heavy and slow.

The mother of all lift lines

And then we met everyone again in the mother of all lift lines.

Kim freezing in the 35-minute lift line

It was a long, slow 35-minute shuffle through the maze of people for a cold, windy lift ride.  When Kim and I finally got on a chair, we cheered.  And we got the other two people on the chair with us to cheer too!

Stuck in lift line hell

By the time we got to the top, Kim had already decided we weren't skiing back down to that same lift just to sit in line again.  The long wait had chilled her to the bone.  So we skied over to the lodge to warm up and take a hot chocolate break.

Colorful flags and tents at the main lodge

After a warm-up and a great cup of cocoa, we were ready for some powder action.  It was snowing hard and the new-fallen flakes were beautiful. 

Powder happiness for Kim

I suggested to Kim we try the Gemini run.  It hadn't been groomed, but that was just fine with us.  The slope was graced with knee-deep soft, fluffy pow.  And in the great morning rush, this run had been forgotten.  It was hardly tracked at all!  All this deep pow, all ours!

I express my glee in finding a deep powder stash

I had my telemark skis on that day.  In the past I've had trouble making tele-turns in deep powder.  But today, the tele-gods were with me.  The knee dropped easily, the turns came smoothly.  I discovered there is nothing more fun that doing tele-turns in deep snow.  The flakes were flying up so high, I think I even got a few face shots.

Makin' tracks

Our run down Gemini was so epic, Kim and I braved the lift line and cold, windy ride to the top and did it again. 

Knee deep in pow

Yeah, the slopes were crowded, the lift lines long, and the driving to and from treacherous.  But we got to ski in lots of dry, fluffy powder and that made it all worthwhile.

Welcome winter!  I'm glad you're back!


Friday, January 13, 2012

Spring Skiing in January??

This has been one of the wackiest winters ever.  Hood's had hardly any snow for the entire month of December (if it wasn't for the NYE dump, we'd have been skunked).  The weather gods brought clear, sunny skies - unheard of for Portland in early winter.  And temps up on the mountain have been above freezing.  The timing of the seasons is way off.  We have spring skiing in January.

Hood looks over a barren White River

My friend Dean and I teamed up for a day at Mt. Hood Meadows last Sunday.  I love skiing with Dean.  He's super enthusiastic about snow-riding and is a lot of fun to be around.  He likes to attack the gnarly steep stuff.  We're pretty evenly matched in our abilities.  And we both love to ski Four Bowl.

Sunrise at White River

On our way up to Meadows in the morning, the sunrise was lighting up Hood so nicely, I made a pit stop at the White River Sno-park to snap a few photos.  Since this Sno-park has a "little boys room," Dean took the opportunity to have a pit stop of his own.

Dean flies down the slope

Dean and I arrived at Meadows under sunny, bluebird skies.  It was already feeling warm in the parking lot.  No heavy layers needed today!

What's in that flask, Dean?

Dean is a well-prepared guy.  He always stuffs his pockets with snacks and carries his water in a small flask bottle.  Dean get some funny looks when he pulls out his flask on the lift!  Not everyone believes him when he says it's only water inside.

Yes, this is one of the slopes!  Grass skiing, anyone?

We started out at the Hood River Meadows lift (affectionately called "herm" by we locals) the lowest elevation lift. The upper runs were still icy, but down at HRM, the snow was already soft and ski-able. Even the dreaded "face of HRM" was easily traversed.  We had a couple of good runs, but did have to dodge some protruding stumps, rocks and bushes.  Ah - the joys spring skiing already!

Lookin' down Inner Limits

After HRM's trails started getting really soft, we moved up to Shooting Star.  The snow was just perfect and we enjoyed some most excellent runs.

Dean does his "Karate Kid" impression

Around 11 o'clock-ish we decided it was time to move higher.  Dean and I rode the lift over to the Cascade - the highest trails in the resort.  The snow was just beginning to soften, so our timing was good. 

Can you see me up there?

The blue skies and plentiful sunshine guaranteed jaw-dropping views up top.  We were not disappointed.  Dean and I had planned to take a lunch break around 11:30.  But the snow was perfect right around then, so lunchtime was delayed until 12:30.

Icy, icky slope.  Yeah, we skied through that.

After lunch, we headed right back up to Cascade.  Dean spied a south-facing slope, warmed by the sun, where he thought the snow would be good.  We skied over to find it and discovered, much to my dismay, that reaching the slope required a traverse through a bumpy, icy plain.  I took one look at this spot, glittering with ice, and said "no way!"  But Dean told me he was going for it, so I had no choice but to follow.  Bumping and sliding through the ice field, I complained "this better be worth it!"

Dean and I's favorite run

Ooohhhh.....and it was!  The first turn down was pure heaven.  It was hero snow.  My ski edges cut like butter.  I made a bunch of effortless sweeping graceful turns.  I ended up liking the run so much that we rode the lift back up, endured bumping back through the ice field, and did it again.

Dean, pointing out Upper Elevator

By early afternoon, Meadows was a corn snow paradise.  Everything off the groomers was totally soft and ski-able.  Dean and I hit the face off express.  Fabulous!  Riding the lift back up, we eyed Four Bowl.  Beings it's our most favorite run, Dean and I just had to go leave tracks on it.

Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters dominate the skyline

For the final trip, I suggested to Dean we check out Upper Elevator.  Neither of us had skied that run since last year, so he was totally game.  I kind of remembered  how to get to the top of the slope, but the trail sign was iced over, so it there was a little bit of guesswork involved.  We did manage to head in the right direction and found our slope of choice.  And we had a most excellent trip down to the bottom.

If you can't have fresh pow, sunshine is the next best thing!

It was a fabulous sunny, "spring" day.  I always say, if you can't have fresh powder, sunshine is the next best thing!

Any day on skis is a good day! 


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Blast From the Past

My kids got me the best Christmas gift ever.  They pooled their money and purchased a photo scanner.  I was so psyched!  Now I can scan all my old photographs and use them for things such posts!

The image below was my first scan. There's a great story behind this photo. It was taken during my honeymoon, way back in 1985. Roger and I were living in South Dakota at the time and didn't have a lot of money for an exotic trip. We chose to visit Estes Park, Colorado as it was a day's drive from our home.

Like my "80's hair"?

We had a great time.  Roger and I were treated to majestic views of snow-capped mountains.  We climbed a path above the highway to an especially scenic panorama.  Wanting to show our friends how high in elevation we'd ascended, Roger snapped this photo of me beside an innocuous sign.  The mention of Mt. Hood didn't even register on my geography-meter.  At the time, the only thing I knew about Oregon was what I'd read from Beverly Cleary books back in grade school. 

Fast forward three years later and where were we living?  Yup - Portland, Oregon, in the shadow of Mt. Hood.  After we'd lived in Oregon a year, I rediscovered this photo.  Roger and I had a good laugh.  I showed the pic to a bunch of my co-workers, and had a photocopy made to hang at my office.  To this day, it holds a prominent place on my cubie wall.  And it still elicits lots of comments from proud Oregonians wanting to know why Colorado picked on their iconic mountain.

The best part of all, Mt. Hood ended up being my favorite mountain.  Over the years living in Oregon, I've come to know it well, skiing its snowy goodness, and hiking its spectacular trails.  I have photos well into the hundreds of this beautiful peak.  Who knew an innocent photograph would foretell a future favorite place?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happy Ski Year!

I love skiing on New Year's Day.  The slopes are empty.  Everyone stays up late the night before, and nobody wants to get up early to go skiing.  But I do.

Good mornin' Mt. Hood

My ski-buddy Kim had a carful of people who wanted to snow-ride on NYD.  Her sister, her teenage son, and three of his friends.  And of course me.  It was a full vehicle travelin' the road to Hood.

A sexy telemark skier

The mountain got a 16 inch dump of snow Friday night.  I'd heard Saturday (New Year's Eve) was an absolute zoo at Mt. Hood Meadows.  But today all was calm and quiet.  And sunny too.  Oh yeah!

Hood peeps out from the woods

The four boys grabbed their snowboards, and instantly ditched us old mommies.  Kim's sister headed for the bunny slope.  That left Kim and I free to explore.  And check out what was left of all that new snow.  It was a beautiful blue-sky day. Hood towered, gleaming white, high above us.   And the snow, although skied out, was still soft and fluffy.   Best of all, lift lines were non-existent.  (Have I told you how much I love skiing on New Year's Day?)

Kim takes in the glorious view

Kim and I rode the new Stadium lift over to Shooting Star.  We had some fine trips down Star's trails.  I spied this great view of Hood from one of the cat tracks.  I made Kim pose and got this great shot of her (wearing her new "bling" goggles).


Then Kim offered to take a pic of me in the same spot.  I handed off my camera and side-stepped back into position.  Or I should say I tried.  My skis were right on the edge of the slope and my maneuvering caused a backward slide.  I tried to stop myself, but in the process tumbled to the ground.  Having camera in hand, the situation was much too tempting for Kim to pass up.  She took a shot to document my great biff.  What are friends for?

Time for my photo op

But Kim took a non-embarrassing photo of me too.

Kim takin' some turns

The Cascade lift was open, so Kim and headed over to check it out.  The views are always wonderful from the top of Cascade.  And being a clear day made for a perfect vantage.  We could see Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters far in the distance. 

Enjoying a good run

From the lift, Kim and I saw a couple ski patrollers heading down an empty trail.  The trail looked good, so when it came time to unload, we headed over.  Midway down the run, we noticed a ton of people around us.  What happened to our nice empty ski trail?  Kim said we must be trendsetters.  Everyone wanted to ski with us!

Cascade Lift and Mt Jefferson

Later in the day, the snow began to get bumped up.  We revised last year's "Kim and Linda mogul rating system".  Most of the runs, the moguls only rated an "A" or "B."  But down some of the trails off Cascade, we encountered groups of "DD's."  I decided to try a run where I'd seen some people heading, went over a rise, and ran into a bunch of massive moguls that qualified as  "Dolly Partens."  Kim wasn't happy with me for leading her into this!  (I think she might've used the b-word)

Heather Canyon

The bumps finally got to poor Kim, and she headed in.  I took a couple more runs, but then my legs started talking, so I decided to quit.  I found Kim and her sister sitting at a table in the cafeteria.   But the boys were no where be found.  They were still somewhere out on the slopes.

Man in pink??

While waiting for the boys, we passed the time people-watching in the lodge.  Kim spied a man wearing a neon-pink one-piece ski suit.  It was straight out of the 80s.  But a man wearing pink?  (Maybe he lost a bet.)  We tried to refrain from pointing and staring.  I attempted to take a photo of the guy without drawing attention to myself.  I turned off my camera's flash and held it in an inconspicuous position.  I got one blurry shot as proof of our sighting.  It's not every day you see a dude in a pink snow suit!

Kim's son and friends finally located us.  We loaded up her rig, and headed for home.  But road conditions were super-icy and and traffic soon came to a screeching halt. We were engulfed in a massive traffic jam.  What is normally an hour and a half drive took us four hours!   Ugh!

Aside from the traffic, it was great to be up on the mountain.  A perfect way to spend New Year's Day.  Happy New Year! Or should I say - Happy Ski Year!