Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Glade and Alpine Ski Trails

Although I've been skiing a ton at the resorts this winter, my backcountry ski gear has been sorely neglected.  This past President's Day I decided to change that and revisit a trail I'd done over the same weekend in 2014, the Glade Ski Trail.

Trailhead is at the end of this road

At the base of Mt Hood lies the tiny village of Government Camp.  Consisting of condos, ski shops, and cute vacation chalets, many trails fan out into the woods above this charming hamlet.  A few ski trails connect Govy (as the locals affectionately call their town) with Timberline Ski Area.  Two of the most well-known are the Glade and Alpine trails.

LOTS of snow this year!

Although I'd skied up and then down the Glade three years ago, the Alpine was a "new to me" ski trail.  I decided my plan for the day would be to ski up the Glade and then locate and take a trip down the Alpine trail, and return to my starting point via the Crosstown Trail.  A nifty six-mile loop and good bit of exercise for a snowy February morning.

Glade Trailhead

Temps were hovering right around the freezing mark when I parked my car along Govy's main drag and hoofed it three blocks up a residential street leading to the Glade's trailhead.  Giant snowbanks lining the road were evidence of this year's colossal snowfall.  Some homes had barely a slot tunneled into the snow to park their vehicles, while decks and rooftops sported thick blankets of the white stuff.

Ready to start

Heavy wet snow pelted my face as I attached climbing skins to skis and prepared for the day's journey.  After a couple of photos, I shouldered my backpack and was off.

Easy to follow, the Glade parallels an old clearing used for the short-lived Mt Hood Skiway, a unique transportation system in the 1950's that used regular city buses suspended on cables to shuttle skiers from Government Camp to Timberline Lodge.

Action selfie

The heavy, wet snow made for some slow going.  Globs of snow began sticking to my climbing skins, necessitating frequent stops to clear the undersides of my skis.  The warm temps had me sweating in no time.  I made more stops to shed clothing and of course, take photos.  One time I even laid my camera on the snow and used the self-timer to get a few action shots.

Uphill climb through the forest

About halfway, frustration mounting due to the constant sticky snow underfoot, I finally dug a block of skin wax out of my backpack and applied it to the climbing skins.  I'd bought the stuff many years ago, and this was the first time I'd ever used it.  I'm happy to report the stuff worked.  It made the going much easier thereafter, so I guess it was a good investment.

I spot the ski lift

The trail alternated between being mildly steep to navigating a few sharp uphills.  A couple of older cross country skiers passed me (I swear I'm the slowest uphill skier ever!) and I pumped them for information on where to find the Alpine Trail.

And then, just when I thought the trail would go on forever, I spotted a lift tower of Timberline's Stormin' Norman chairlift.  Hooray!

Entrance to Timberline Ski Area

The previous trip, I'd continued up Timberline's ski runs another 1000 vertical feet to it's famous lodge.  But not really wanting to dodge crowds of downhill skiers, I decided today's uphill trip would end at the ski area boundary.

There's the sign!

So I stood in the snow just beyond the rope, changed into a warmer jacket, donned my helmet, and peeled climbing skins off my skis.  Several skiers zipped by, a few stopping to inquire what I was doing.  When I told them I'd skied up from Govy, they were all impressed.

Beginning of the Alpine Trail

Up at this higher elevation the snow wasn't as wet and instead blanketed the ground in a soft layer.  I was happy for this - my gloves and hat were soaked from the wet snow-rain (or as I like to call it, "snain")

Ready for some downhill turns!

I was a little apprehensive about finding the Alpine Trail.  The other skiers I'd met directed me to travel down Timberline's Kruser run for a short distance, and I'd see it.  So I joined the other folks on this busy slope.  Not keen on having to retrace my steps uphill, I kept an eagle eye out for the sign.   And, just as I was told, it didn't take but a minute and I spotted a wide clearing with another sign.  Yahoo!

Lovely path through the woods

After two hours of grueling uphill sliding, it was time to reap my reward!  The newly-fallen snow looked wonderful.  I couldn't wait to sink my ski edges into it. 

Snow-covered fir tree

But these local trails were not groomed, and I found out quickly that the underlying snow was uneven and crusty.  After hitting a couple of surprise bumps and wiping out, I decided to slow down.  Cautiously sliding short distances, I made my downhill trip last a bit longer. 

Tons of moss

That was okay - the adjacent forests were quite lovely.  One section was lined with interesting moss-draped trees.  Another stretch featured a bunch of cute firs, flocked with a coating of winter white.  I felt like I was in a Christmas tree farm.

Challenging portion of the Alpine Trail

The Alpine Trail was steeper than the Glade and a few of the narrow, uneven segments were quite challenging.  With better snow conditions, I would have had no problems, but today's crunchy snow caused me to take it easy (self preservation!)

Time to put the skins back on my skis

Even with my slow downhill pace, I reached the bottom in about 15 minutes.  The trail's terminus met up with one of tiny Summit Ski area's groomed runs.  After the Alpine uneven terrain, it felt good to glide on a groomer.  But now I kept my eyes peeled for the Crosstown Trail, the final leg of my journey.

Another action selfie

The Crosstown Trail was even rougher than the Alpine.  Mainly a snowshoe route connecting Govy's ski trails, it meandered through the trees behind some vacation homes.  Lumpy snow trampled by hundreds of snowshoers, navigating the track was a challenge.  After a couple of uphills had me sliding backwards, I decided to put climbing skins back on my skis.

Pretty creek

But the scenery was wonderful.  More snowy trees and a cute little creek to cross.  I placed my camera on a tree stump to get a few more action shots, and was surprised by a family of snowshoers, who graciously offered to take my picture.

"Skiville, Oregon"

Ending back at the Glade trailhead, the snowfall was again bordering on slushy rain.  Now soaking wet from being out in the weather all morning, I decided the day's journey was done.  Time to change clothes at my car and find a hot drink in town.

While walking back through Govy's streets, I passed by a cute little cabin.  A sign above the upper door proclaimed it "Skiville, Oregon."  I kind of liked the moniker....maybe Government Camp should consider a new name?

Six miles traveled, and 1000 feet of elevation gain - a great day to be up on the mountain!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hooray for Spring!

After a long, cold rainy winter, BAM! - two weeks ago everything started blooming at once.  Daffodils opened their yellow faces and all the trees in Portland suddenly burst into full flower mode.

It was actually sunny this morning, so I took advantage of the good light to capture a few images of the flowers now blooming in my neighborhood.

I know you're probably getting tired of my endless skiing posts, so hopefully these photos are a pleasant alternative.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Skiing With the Boys

As I've mentioned before, Thursdays during ski season I play hooky from work and head up to the local ski resort on a bus.  There I meet my skiing buddies Glen, Pat, and Brian.  Or, as I like to call them, "the men in red."

Let's go ski!

All three guys ride up on another bus that hails from Vancouver.  But each week we all manage to find each other at the bottom of the main lift.  Once reunited, it's off in search of the run with the best snow.

My "men in red" from the Vancouver bus

Although I love my ski girlfriends, I really look forward to making tracks with the boys.  These guys aren't afraid to tackle the steep, gnarly stuff.  And they all ski my speed - fast.

It's snowing!

One particular Thursday, wet weather was predicted.  My friends and I were afraid our buses would be rained out.  But after a couple of  hours on the slopes snow began to fall.  Huge, heavy, wet flakes. 

The sky was dumping heavy, wet flakes

We were so happy it wasn't rain!  And the big snowflakes were mighty pretty.

Wet pow

Instantly the ski runs were transformed into a winter wonderland.

We got covered with snow on the ride up

The snow began falling so heavily, the short chairlift ride left us coated us in white.  Instead of skiers, Pat and I resembled two snow persons!

Two snow people

As with many PNW snowstorms, the heavy, wet snow left my friends and I soaking wet, forcing an early quitting time.  Sigh.....guess that means we gotta  hit the bar early.  (It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it!)

Happy faces on the ski bus

On the bus ride home, my bus buddies and I celebrated a late Valentine's Day.  And my friend and co-bathroom monitor Kerry made a cameo appearance.  Bad knees curtailed this year's skiing fun, but he missed his bus friends so much that he rode up anyway and hung out in the lodge.

And just for old times sake, Kerry donned his "special hat" and resumed his bathroom monitor duties.  (Check out the end of this post from last year for the story behind that).

Our bathroom monitor was back!

The midweek ski crowd is a great community.  I always look forward to meeting up with my bus friends on Thursdays, and of course, to ski with the boys.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend at Crystal

Crystal Mountain.....the largest ski area in Washington State....known for it's steep, gnarly terrain and breathtaking mountain views.  For years I've wanted to come here.

Crystal Mountain base area

This season I tried to convince one of my friends to join me for a mid-February trip, but she was busy.  Then I decided why not go by myself?  Coincidentally, the weekend of choice also happened to land on my birthday, so I told the hubby this could be my gift.

Rainier Express lift

In the days leading up to my ski trip weekend, I watched the weather like a hawk.  Although the Cascade Mountains suffered a bout of rain all week, Saturday promised clearing skies.  That morning, I loaded my car and pointed it north, hoping for the best.

Mt. Rainier Gondola

Located in the Northeast corner of Mt. Rainier National Park, Crystal is a 4-hour drive from Portland (roughly the same distance as my fave Oregon ski area, Mt Bachelor)  Aside from some traffic through Olympia and Puyallup, it was a fairly uneventful trip.  I arrived at the resort with enough time to check into my hotel and drop off my skis to be waxed.  Then I chilled slopeside on the base area's large covered patio, listened to a good live band, people-watched, and enjoyed a cold Porter.  Aaahhh!

And the grand mountain herself!

Although I studied the resort's trail map that evening, the following morning I boarded the Chinook Express Lift with no concrete plan.  Luckily, I got buddied up with one of the resort's volunteer hosts, and he was more than happy to share recommendations.  Head swimming with information, I disembarked and decided to check out the Forest Queen Express.

Fancy restaurant on the mountaintop

Although today's weather was mild, a week of rain and overnight cold temperatures had frozen the snow into an icy crust.  I found the first few runs fast and challenging.  Luckily, most everything had been groomed.

Spectacular views everywhere!

One of my first impressions of Crystal - their runs were steep!  What's considered an intermediate (blue) run here would be classified a black diamond (expert) trail at my home hill.  Now I'm not one to shy from a gnarly slope, but the day's icy conditions (and the fact I was by myself) made me a bit more cautious.

Lots of people taking in the scenery

Riding single, I got paired up with lots of interesting people.  I learned very quickly asking my lift-mates "Where have you been skiing today?" brought a plethora of trail recommendations, snow condition reports, and valuable local advice.  Plus I enjoyed some great conversations.

After spending most of the morning exploring the terrain off of Forest Queen, I decided to broaden my horizons.  A man on the lift recommended riding the Rainier Express, which took you to the very summit.  He said the views on top were amazing.  So off I went!

Nice place to mountain-gaze

Although the forecast was for sunshine, skies remained overcast most of the morning.  By the time I disembarked from the Rainier Lift, things were just starting to clear.  And there on top, staring me in the face, was massive Mt. Rainier.  My oh my, what an incredible view!  

Cool cloud beside Rainier

A fancy restaurant was perched on the summit.  On one side of the building was a snowy patio area offering low-slung lounge chairs.  Chairs and people lined the edge, all taking in the amazing mountain panorama.  Snowy peaks stretched out in all directions.  It was totally breathtaking.

Apres-ski action

After soaking in the scenery (followed by copious photo-taking) I followed the crowd down Lucky Shot trail.  After a couple of laps on that and a super-steep black diamond run called "Middle Ferk," I could feel my tummy rumbling.  Time to break for lunch.

The Alpine Inn

Taking a long, winding cat track back to the base area, I skirted a steep slope with three tiny avalanches, and ended up barrelling down another steep bump run (but it was fun!).  After a bowl of chowder from the outside dining area, I hoofed it back to my room at the Alpine Inn to shed a layer and use the bathroom.  My hotel was a mere 200 yards from the lifts.  I've only ever booked slopeslide lodging once before and I must say, it was worth the extra bucks.

Morning gondola ride

Then I hopped on the Mt Rainier gondola for a cushy ride back to the top.  I spent the afternoon exploring more trails both off the Rainier Express and Green Valley lifts.  Although the sun finally made an appearance, it wasn't enough solar power to soften the snow much, and by 3:00 the trails were beginning to ice back over.  Deciding my legs had had enough for one day (and wanting to save something for tomorrow) I decided it was time for beer-o-thirty.

Had the views all to myself

I enjoyed yet another good glass of Porter on the base area sundeck before heading back to my room for a shower.  The Alpine Inn offered both a nice German-themed restaurant and a casual bar and deli on the premises.  I chose a burger and beer in the bar, and both were quite tasty.  Before heading back to my room, I was tempted enough to grab one of the deli's  huge brownies for dessert (hey, it was my birthday!)

Looking down on Silver Queen

After a good night's rest, I was up and at 'em the next morning for more skiing.  The day dawned with clear skies and sunshine.  Perfect!

Good morning, Mt Rainier!

First thing I jumped on the gondola for another scenery-packed ride to the top.  Taking advantage of the morning light, I wasted no time capturing a few more mountain photos, especially of massive Mt Rainier. 

Looking towards Green Valley

Then it was back down Lucky Shot for a few laps.  The adjacent peak, Silver Queen, had a recent avalanche on one of it's slopes which was quite visible from above.  As a matter of fact, one of the trails went right by it's debris field.  Very sobering to stop and look uphill at the huge volume of snow that came crashing down!  Some of Crystal's slopes are so steep that inbounds avalanches are quite common.  As a matter of fact, an avalanche in March 2014 took out one of Crystal's chairlifts (luckily no one was hurt and the lift has since been replaced).

Lucky Shot run

The day's copious sunshine quickly turned icy groomed runs into wonderful soft snow.  Perfect for carving some turns!

Avalanche aftermath

I played all morning, alternating between Rainier Express and the Green Valley lifts.  Since it was a Monday, the slopes were practically deserted.  Sunshine, good snow, fabulous views, and no people.  Happy birthday to me!

Gondola car

Towards late morning, the winds picked up on top, and blew hard enough to shut down the gondola.  Luckily, it didn't affect the slopes much - just at the very top.  I had to batten down the hatches for the first couple of feet, but once I'd skied a short distance, the wind quickly died down.

Lots of photo ops for this mountain

For today's lunch, I decided to check out the Campbell Basin Lodge, an on-mountain cafeteria located atop of the Forest Queen lift.  A beautiful structure, it appeared to be quite new.  I loved the inside decor, with rustic log furniture and Warren Miller cartoons adorning its walls.  I especially liked the drawing titled "Northwest Skier" showing a man skiing on ice in a rain slicker.

Campbell Basin lodge

Although it was a fabulous day, I had to cut my afternoon short.  Not only fatigued from yesterday's full day of skiing, I had a long drive back to Portland and hoped to beat some of the traffic.

Warren Miller artwork

So what did I think of Crystal Mountain?  Loved the variety of trails, but the weekend's icy conditions kept me from trying some of the super steeps.  I'd love to come back on a powder day and explore more terrain.  But on the flip side, the sunny weather enabled me to enjoy the fabulous mountain panoramas Crystal is famous for - totally one of the better ski area views I've seen.

I thought the on-slope lodging was expensive for what you got.  I paid big bucks for a tiny single room.  And the Alpine Inn, although clean and cozy, was sort of run-down and noisy (my room was right next to the stairway - thump, thump, thump all night!)  Crystal being a remote location, is a 45 minute drive from the nearest town, and a two hour drive from Seattle.  Visitors can either spend their money on lodging, or spend time driving back and forth down a sometimes treacherous road.

I'll be back!

But I was thrilled to finally experience Crystal Mountain for myself.  A perfect way to spend my birthday weekend.  Two ski poles up - I'll be back!