Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Bra Tree and Katie's Sled Ride

Another bluebird ski bus Thursday!  Today I had lots of friends to ski with.  I met up with Glen, Linda, and the Tele Ladies.  We skied together for one run before Katie and Sue decided to check out another lift.  Before we parted, I promised to meet back up with them for the afternoon.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Glen and I yukkin' it up

That left Glen, Linda and I to enjoy the sunshiny morning.  We found some nicely groomed runs and zipped down 'em.  Yahoo!

Another bluebird day!

Hood looked her usual lovely self, all covered in white.  And just look at that sky - could it be any bluer?

Glen spots something......

Taking a trailside rest break, Glen noticed something hanging from an old gnarled tree.  We all skied closer to investigate.

What's hanging on that tree?

Oh my!  There were four bras tied to a branch, flapping in the wind!  It was kind of like the Mardi Gras trees at other ski resorts, minus the beads and panties.  This was the first one I'd ever seen at Meadows.  I tried to get Glen to go down and stand next to the tree for a photo, but he used the excuse that the snow was too icy (a likely story).  Linda and I both jokingly remarked this was a waste of good bras - they're not cheap, you know!

Oh my!  Where'd the brassieres come from?

After lunch, our threesome rejoined the Tele Ladies, and we all headed up the Cascade Lift.  Sue and Katie had skied there all morning, and assured us the snow was great.  But starting down, my party found much different conditions.  The temperature had dropped, freezing the soft snow into icy chunks.  Katie hit a rough patch and went down.  When she came up, we discovered her binding had separated from its ski.

Katie vents frustration at her bindings

I stayed with Katie, while Glen headed down to inform the other members of our party what happened.  Katie and I tried to figure out how to reconnect her binding with the ski.  But it was a special backcountry tele binding, and we were both at a loss of how to put it back together.  Finally, two ladies skied by and offered to get the ski patrol.  Katie was embarrassed to ask for a lift down the hill, but really couldn't ride on only one ski.  So she reluctantly consented to the ski patrol's assistance.  While waiting she vented her frustration, first by saying the worst curse words she knew (really not that bad and actually kind of funny) and then giving her binding the finger (which in keeping with the family-friendliness of this blog, I've attempted to blur of the photo).

But she got a ride down from this cute ski patrol guy!

After what seemed like a long wait, a young patroller approached us pulling his sled.  Katie sadly resigned herself to hitching a ride - not the way you want to travel down a ski slope.  But I told Katie I was glad it was the ski that was broken, and not her. 

It turned out Meadows repair shop was able to fix Katie's binding right away.  And she later gave a glowing report about the nice (and cute!) ski patrol guy and how expertly and carefully he guided the sled down to the lodge.  Katie's story had a happy ending after all.

Always something funny and interesting happening when you ski on the slopes of Mt. Hood!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring is Bustin' Out All Over

Now begins the beautiful season here in Portland.  Around mid-March all the flowering plants begin blooming.  This year it seemed like one day the world was dull and gray, and the next, wham-o!  Every living plant in town was sporting bright colors.

One of the best displays of color is at the north end of Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.  Near the Steel Bridge lies a large grove of cherry trees.  Every year in late March these trees explode into a riot of frilly pink blossoms.

I had a hunch these trees might be in bloom, so during last Friday's lunch hour, decided to pay them a visit.  This end of the park is a good distance my office, but the weather was nice (ie, not raining) so it turned out to be a pleasant walk.

And.....the trees were in full spring regalia!  Such a beautiful sight.  The blah cloudy skies didn't make for the best photographic conditions, but I had to try.

I wasn't the only one walking around with a camera.  I ran into at least four other photographers.  Beauty like this was meant to be captured.

My lunch hour now over its allotted time, I realized I needed to head back.  But no sooner was the camera turned off and put away, when the sun decided to make an appearance.  It lit the trees magnificently in lovely rose-colored hues.  The scene was much too good to pass up.  Hmmmm......guess I'll just have to be late!  :)

Linking to:  Share Your Cup Thursday.

Monday, March 25, 2013

New Boots!

Six years ago, when I first began telemark skiing, I was unsure if I'd stick with this strange new sport.  Unwilling to invest the big bucks for new boots, skis and bindings, I searched high and low for used gear.  So when I spied a pair of secondhand tele boots at the local consignment store, I grabbed 'em.  These $32 boots ended up lasting six whole years.  Sadly, while skiing three weeks ago, I noticed huge cracks in the plastic shell.  Damn!  Time to finally replace my thrift store bargains.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version. shiny and new!

After just spending a ton of money to ski in Utah, I felt bad telling my hubby I'd need to drop even more cash on new boots.  Luckily, Roger took it fairly well.  And it helped one of the local ski shops happened to send out a 25% off coupon.  Good timing!

I'm...too sexy for my boots....too sexy for my boots

A nice guy at the above-mentioned ski shop guided me toward a pair of Scarpa T2 Ecos.  They were a pretty bright royal blue, and after molding the liners to my feet, fit like a dream.  But new ski boots are always a gamble.  What feels good in the store doesn't always translate to comfort and control on the slopes.  So it was with great apprehension that I joined the Tele Ladies for the maiden voyage.

Katie and Sue loved my shiny new boots.  They oohed and aahed and made covetous statements.  Katie jokingly said I'd better guard them or they just might accidentally go home with her.

Katie and Sue lost in the fog

We hit Mt. Hood Meadows the day after a huge rainstorm.  The slopes were soft and wet.  And the snow was fast.  After numerous adjustments and general boot futzing, I took a shakedown cruise down an easy groomer.  Ahhh....the turns came smooth and easy.  My feet felt good.  The boots were gonna work.

I'm the envy of my tele friends

After the previous day's monsoon, Meadows apparently thought no one would come skiing and only had one lift running besides the bunny chair.  (Really, Meadows???)  The sun was starting to burn off the misty clouds.  And the snow was just fine.

Admiring my feet

Finally at about 11 o'clock another lift opened.  Katie and Sue, tired of doing laps on Express, wanted to check things out. So we traveled over to the Vista chair.  While loading, I noticed thick fog rolling in.  My friends and I arrived at the top to find it totally socked in.  You couldn't see things more than a couple feet away.  Hmmmm......maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

The sun finally made an appearance

Katie and Sue have climbed dozens of mountains, skied many peaks, and have lots of experience with backcountry navigation.  So I'm not sure why they appointed me to guide them down through the fog.  But I was the chosen leader, so I gingerly picked my way across alternating icy and soft snow.  After "skiing by Braille" for a few dozen yards, I spotted another person faintly through the white curtain.  I tailed the mystery man until we got low enough to finally make out some landmarks.

Icy slopes glisten in the sun

The Tele Ladies didn't like conditions one bit and suggested we take an early lunch.  So my friends and I hung out in the lodge for awhile, filling our bellies and swapping funny stories.  Katie and Sue were almost ready to call it a day, when I spotted sunshine streaming through the windows.  While we were inside, the weather did a 180.  The fog was now completely gone, replaced by blue skies.  We had to go back out!

Icy old tree

By this time, Meadows had wised up and opened the upper Cascade lift.  Our "tele-trio" headed up high to check things out.  The groomed track on the upper slopes was velvety-soft and super fast.  The best we'd had all day.  But you didn't dare stray off the groom.  What snow hadn't been smoothed out was covered in a sheet of bulletproof ice.  Ice even coated all the trees and rocks.  A pretty sight, even if it wasn't very skiable.

My buddies show off their telemark stance

Another great day on the mountain!  I had a blast roaring down the slopes in my shiny new boots.  They felt great and even helped me ski better.  I think these boots and I are gonna have a long and happy relationship.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Return of the Unknown Celebrity Skier

Another weekend trip to the mountain.  This time I teamed up with my friends Kim and Tamie.  I ski with Kim on a regular basis, but haven't skied with Tamie for awhile.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Who is that masked woman?

Tamie likes to cover up when she's out skiing.  I mean TOTALLY cover up.  She pulls her face mask up so high that it hides her entire face.  Not even her nose is visible.  (Although we tease her, Tamie is probably the smart one.  She won't ever get skin cancer.)

Last time we skied with Tamie, Kim said it looked like we were hanging out with someone famous.  Tamie was then dubbed our "unknown celebrity skier."

Looong lift line

There'd been a dumping of snow the prior day, and the upper Cascade lift didn't open.  But today the weather was calm enough to de-ice the lift.  Hungry for fresh tracks, when my friends and I got wind of Cascade opening, we hightailed it on over.  Unfortunately, so did everyone else.  The lift lines were epically long. Kim, Tamie and I took our places and braced ourselves for the wait (at least...I think it was Tamie.  But I may have been waiting with Goldie Hawn.)

The photo I took when the lift stopped

Finally we got on a chair.  Up, up and away!  Until....the lift stopped.  Ugh!  After hanging in mid-air for several minutes, I got out my camera.  I figured I might as well take some photos of the lovely snowy woods while I was waiting.  Well, I'd no sooner gotten the camera out of its case, when the lift came to life.  My friends told me I need to take the camera out more often when we're stuck on the chair.  (Although I think our "unknown celebrity skier," aka Madonna, may want to avoid the paparazzi.)

Luckily the lift started running again

Ahhh....forward motion once again!  Up we traveled, all the while enjoying amazingly beautiful views from the Cascade lift.

Our mystery celebrity skier

And the ski down was sublime.  Nothing better than making tracks through fresh snow.  My friends and I made a quick stop at the bottom of the hill, and I snapped a shot of Tamie with low clouds in the background.  At least, I think it was Tamie but I can't be sure.  (I may have been skiing with Sandra Bullock.)

Looking down Heather Canyon

We skied a few runs down the Cascade, until my friends were ready for lunch.  Upon reaching the lodge, we discovered it was a 15 minute wait just to get a table in the restaurant.  Fifteen minute wait?  There was skiing to be had!  I decided I could skip lunch and get by on the powerbar in my pocket.  I told Kim and Angie Jolie I'd meet up with them when they were done eating.

Heather Canyon from the bottom

I headed straight over to Heather Canyon.  I'd heard rumors it was open.  Heather is a steep canyon with lots of double-black diamond runs - someplace my friends aren't willing to go.  Now was my chance to ski it. 

I was hoping for some fresh pow, but found the canyon's slopes wind-scoured and icy.  I did happen upon a small gully filled in with fluff, so I rode that down until I hit the trees.  The forest was full of wonderful soft snow, and I was able to get five blissful turns before reaching bottom.

Afternoon blue skies

My Heather fix now satisfied, I did a couple more runs before meeting up with my friends.  We headed back over to the Cascade lift.  By now, the morning's clouds had lifted, and blue sky filled the horizon.  Hood stood out like a lofty white sentinel. 

I catch Kim in action

We found a fun run.  Skiing on top of a gully lined by a cornice, I found if you went straight down the top of the cornice, the snow below was velvety-soft.  It was so nice, we had to go back and try it again.  Both Kim and our unknown celebrity (Katy Perry?) voted it the best run of the day.

Ski tracks make cool patterns on this slope

The second run down the cornice, both Kim and Tamie (or maybe it was Nicole Kidman??) hit some deep snow and wiped out in unison within a few feet of each other.  It was such a funny sight, I quickly dug out my camera to memorialize the scene.  But Kim was too fast.  She saw what I was doing, and sprang up right away.  Foiled!

Kim and Demi Moore

Skiing down the gully's bottom was especially scenic.  Hood rose up at the head of the canyon.  The sky couldn't have been any bluer.  Perfect photo op!  The girls consented to a couple of shots.  Here are Kim and Tamie, enjoying a bluebird day (at least I think it was Tamie, but it very well could have been Mariah Carey).

There go the girls!

Another wonderful day on the slopes.  Sunshine, great snow, and fun companions.  And it's not every day you get to ski with a celebrity.  Although I think I skied with Tamie, I can't be sure.  It may have been Meryl Streep!

Linking with:  52 Photos Project.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

First Flower

It happens every year.  Once February has taken its exit, the dull gray that's Portland in winter begins to slowly brighten.  The first indication spring is almost here?   When daffodils begin to push themselves up through the rain-soaked soil.

Last weekend I discovered a clump of cheery yellow daffodils blooming in my front yard.  The sun made a brief appearance.  Just long enough for me to grab my camera and get a couple of shots.

One week later, the cherry trees have burst into frilly pink blossoms.  Tiny green leaves are beginning to sprout from other trees.  Our backyard frogs are out in force, performing their nightly symphony.

Yep - spring is coming fast.  My skiing days are numbered.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Finally - a Post That's Not About Skiing

President's Day rolled around.  Not only a holiday for me, my hubby had the day off too.  Since I've been skiing somewhere almost every weekend since Christmas, I suggested we spend the day together.  (Didn't want my poor hubby to turn into a "ski widower.")

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Checking out the surf

Today's weather wasn't the best.  It was your typical February day in Oregon - cloudy with showers.  What to do on such a gray day?  Why, head to the coast!

Bear enjoying the sea air

We packed up the dog and headed to Cannon Beach.  A mere hour's drive, it's the closest ocean access from our home.

The waves made cool sand patterns

Once out of the car, Bear made a quick dash for the sand.  He had a grand time, running up and down the length of the beach, his doggy ears flapping in the wind.

Bear is ready to play

I, of course, was busy with my camera.  Oregon has the most gorgeous coastline.  Steep cliffs, mossy old growth forests, and craggy rocks rising up from the shore.  Even on a cloudy day, it was spectacular.

Making tracks in the sand

The rain that intermittently pelted our car during the trip over, cleared up upon arrival.  Timing is everything!

What's left of a sand dollar

It's always interesting to find things embedded in the sand at water's edge.  Cannon Beach is one of the more popular places on the coast.  Shells and such are discovered quickly, so the beach is usually picked clean.  But I happened to spot this half sand dollar sticking out of a wave-eroded hollow.

Dramatic beach views

I was hoping to hit the beach at low tide.  It's always fun to check out the variety of marine life in tidepools.  But the water was starting to rise when we arrived.  There was one large rock already inundated that had tons of starfish clinging to it.  I really wanted to get some photos of them, but heavy wave action made access impossible. I could only photograph from afar, the sea stars barely visible in my images.

Sea anemone in a tidepool

I did spot one tiny tidepool near a group of flat rocks.  And hidden in the mud were a bunch of bright red anemones.

Barnacles encrust the rocks

The barnacle-encrusted rocks also made interesting photo subjects.

Rock peek-a-boo

We'd walked along the beach until reaching the farthest distance from our car.  It was then Roger noticed a heavy rain cloud heading our way.  Time to turn around and hightail it back!

Scenic, rocky beach

Halfway to our vehicle, the sky opened up.  Rain began pelting our faces.  Wet and cold when we reached the parking lot, I noticed Moe's, a local clam chowder restaurant, right next door. clam chowder!  Too good to pass up, we left our wet, smelly dog in the car, and went to lunch.

Roger tries to capture the elk with his phone

Hot clam chowder always hits the spot!  After filling our bellies, it was time to head home.  On the way back, I spotted a sign for an elk viewing area near the town of Jewell.  Intrigued, I asked Roger if he minded making a detour. 

Elk galore!

After a short drive down a winding, mountain road we came to a lovely clearing.  Since it was mid-afternoon, I didn't think we'd see any elk.  I thought they only came out in early morning and late evening.  But upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised.  An entire field was chock-full - elk of every shape and size.  I've never seen so many elk in one place, ever.  Cool!  I instantly regretted not bringing my big zoom lens.  Oh well, feeling privileged to witness this impressive sight, I reasoned it was a good way to end our day trip.

Although I love skiing, it was nice to go somewhere entirely different.  That's the great thing about Oregon - you can always find something fun to do, even on a rainy day.

Linking to:  Share Your Cup Thursday.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Linda's Great Fall

After all the birthday resort skiing, I was ready for a nice, quiet backcountry trip.  The Mazamas ski mountaineering class scheduled its first official tour for the Saturday of President's Day weekend.  An email hit my inbox asking for assistants - presenting the perfect opportunity to tag along.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Ready to go!

I joined up with a group planning to tour Newton Creek.  Familiar with the area from a trip I did last year, a return visit was in order.  The class met up in the Hood River Meadows parking lot at Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort.  The plan was to ski uphill, following a trail leading out of Heather Canyon, and then climb up the adjacent ridge outside of the ski area boundary.  Supposedly, there were some good slopes at the ridge's end.  Last year, due to bad weather, my party only reached the top of the first pitch, before high winds and heavy snow forced us to turn around.

Starting up the trail

Today's snow conditions were 180 degrees different from last year.  Instead of fresh, fluffy powder, the snow had been melted and re-frozen.  The weatherman had predicted warm temps and possible rain.  Not remotely prime conditions for skiing, upon hearing the forecast, I'd considered staying home.

But, not one to back out a commitment, here I was.  Patrick, our group leader, gave out general instructions, and then sent us down the Heather runout trail.  A relatively flat path, the first part of the journey was an easy glide.

Here's where the climbing begins

But once our group left the trail, things got tough quickly.  Climbing through the woods up a steep slope got everyone huffing and puffing.  Class members began to spread out.  Some had more trouble than others navigating the steep, somewhat icy grade.

Poor Patrick was having the most trouble.  He'd just purchased a new set of skis, much wider than his old pair.  The problem was, he was still using the much narrower climbing skins from his old skis.  These skins didn't provide enough surface area for traction on the icy slope, which made ascending all but impossible.  Patrick was finally forced to take off his skis and boot-pack up the slope - a slow, tiring slog.

Looking down on my companions

The steep climb finally leveled out to a flatter ridgetop.  A gap in the trees revealed a nice view of Heather Canyon and Mt. Hood.  This warranted a quick photo stop.  When finished, I realized the rest of my classmates had already taken off up the ridge.  I got a glimpse to the last two guys as they vanished into the forest.  Looking back, I saw Patrick struggling up the final pitch.  I waited for Patrick before taking off again.

A steep climb up

I plodded along, following the ridgeline, making occasional stops to let Patrick catch up.  I kept following the ski tracks ahead, hoping to find the rest of the class.  I trudged along for at least a half mile seeing no one.  Finally, when Patrick reached me, I asked him if we'd somehow missed the group.  Patrick was as mystified as I.

We took a break, ate some lunch, all the while thinking someone would happen by.  After 20 minutes, Patrick made the decision to ski back down.  Maybe somehow we'd missed everyone.

One of my tour-mates

Due to the icy snow conditions, I elected to keep my climbing skins adhered to the bottoms of my skis.  (it was a thickly forested area, and I didn't want to hit a tree)  Patrick and I picked our way back down the ridge.  We'd traveled almost a mile when I heard a shout.  One of the other class assistants came sliding through the trees.  Turns out the group went higher up the ridge than anticipated and we'd turned around too soon.  The assistant came down to check on us.  Now that we'd been found, he was heading back up to rejoin the class.  Patrick said boot packing had worn him out, and he was going to travel back to the trailhead.  Also feeling a bit worn out, and thinking it was a good idea to travel in pairs, I offered to ski down with him.

Pausing for a brief rest

The assistant mentioned a treeless slope not to too far away nicknamed "the potato patch."  He said it was a good place to ski down.  Patrick and I decided we'd check it out.  After another half mile or so, we saw an opening in the trees.  Skiing up to the edge, I peered down a very steep barren slope.  It was completely clear, except for some large rocks sticking out of the snow.  At the bottom was a rushing creek.  This must be the place.

Patrick (on the left) our super-nice leader who helped me out of a tough spot

Patrick went out first.  I heard the unsettling sound of ski edges scraping.  Uh-oh!  The entire slope was a sheet of ice with a thin skiff of snow on top.  If there's one thing I don't like it's skiing on ice.  But already committed, I tentatively pushed out onto the slope.

And then suddenly, my skis went out from under me.  I slid into Patrick, knocking him over.  We untangled and I righted myself.  I'd no sooner gotten back on my feet, when my skis slipped again.  This time Patrick wasn't there to stop me.  I found myself sliding head first, on my back.  I'd lost my poles immediately upon impact, and didn't have them to slow myself.  I could feel my body accelerating as it traveled over the slick ice.

Following the ridge

I've experienced sliding falls many times when skiing in resorts.  So I think instinct kicked in.  Somehow, I got my body turned around so the feet (with skis still on) faced downhill.  Then I dug in my ski edges, elbows, and butt with all my might.  Miraculously, I came to a stop about halfway down the slope.

Patrick, visibly shaken, shouted "don't move!"  He retrieved my poles and skied down to where I lay sprawled.  Patrick said he saw me starting to accelerate, and was afraid I was going to hit a rock or end up in the water.  Looking around at the many rocks poking out of the snow, and the creek, now much closer, I realized how lucky I'd been.  If I hadn't stopped myself, I would've surely hit something, sustained broken bones, or worse.

Now, totally freaked out by the icy slope, I told Patrick there was no way I was going ski the rest of the way down.  If I fell again, it was very likely I'd slam into something and get hurt.  I decided the safest thing to do was slide on my butt to the bottom.  Patrick was very understanding.  He offered to ski directly below me to make sure I didn't get going too fast.  Using my ski poles as brakes, I slowly inched myself to the bottom.

Nice Mt. Hood view!

So that's how I ended up traveling to the bottom of the "potato patch."  Not exactly the way I'd envisioned, but at least I made it down safely.  Patrick and I crossed the creek on a snowbridge, then removed our skins for a fast ride down the Heather runout to our cars.

Later that evening, now safely home, I realized how close I'd come to disaster.  The only casualty from my tumble was a very sore right knee (that is unfortunately still bothering me).  It could have been so much worse.  I'm a very lucky gal.

Looking back on my experience, I think keeping my climbing skins on prevented me from using my ski edges to dig into the icy slope.  With nothing sharp to hold me, I was unable to keep from slipping.  Patrick's narrow little skins only covered the middle third of his ski bottoms and didn't impede use of his edges. That's why he was able to ski down with no trouble.  Another lesson learned!

Will I still backcountry ski?  Oh yes.  Although not a pleasant experience, I'm not one to let a scary fall stop me.  But next time, if the snow is icy, I think I'll stay home.