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Conditions Update – Copper Mountain (12/4/10)

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Before Monday and Tuesday’s solid storm, I made it up to Summit County with some friends for the first time this season to get some skiing in at Copper Mountain.  For being so early in the year, we found a good snowpack with plenty of freshies to be found in the trees.  An impressive amount of terrain was open for being so early in the season, and all in all, it was a fantastic day.  Early season conditions don’t get much better than this, and with the recent foot plus of snow Summit County just received, the area resorts should be doing even better this week.

Speaking of Summit County, here is how a few of the resorts in the region are faring right now.

Copper Mountain

  • Snowfall from recent storm:   13 inches
  • Season-to-date snowfall:   105 inches
  • Base:   51 inches
  • Acres Open:   1349

Breckenridge

  • Snowfall from recent storm:   16 inches
  • Season-to-date snowfall:   130 inches
  • Base:   51 inches
  • Acreage open:   1913 (80%)

Loveland

  • Snowfall from recent storm:   12 inches
  • Season-to-date snowfall:   115 inches
  • Base:   45 inches
  • Acreage open:   1002 (60%)

Vail

  • Snowfall from recent storm:   14 inches
  • Season-to-date snowfall:   123 inches
  • Base:   33 inches (I question this report)
  • Acreage open:   4309 (81%)

Here are a few pictures from Copper Mountain last Saturday.

Emily, James, and I at the top of Excelerator Lift
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Southern Ten Mile Range hanging onto some clouds
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Jon enjoying his Ski Logic Bomb Squad skis
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Dramatic looking clouds
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Jon and James ready for some glade skiing
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Woohoo!
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Colorado Snow Conditions Update – Dec 2

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In terms of early season skiing, the month of November was about as good as we could ask for in the Rockies.  Long range predictions had indicated a strong La Nina developing and bringing plenty of snow to Colorado by December, but it seemed to start earlier than predicted, leading to near record November snowfalls for some ski areas.  I had three fantastic backcountry days in November – better, in fact, than any backcountry days I had all of last season in terms of snow quality.  The resorts haven’t been doing too badly either, with many turning in epic opening days thanks to plenty of snow falling in the prior weeks.  I’ve been out nine times so far this year, easily a personal record (before this year, the most I’d ever skied before December was only two times I think).  Here is a little recap of the skiing conditions I have observed over the last couple of weeks, mainly around the Front Range.  Please feel free to send me your own recent observations!

Resort Skiing

Loveland (11/25)

On Thanksgiving morning, my friend Ryan, his girlfriend Brandi, and I skied at Loveland before the holiday festivities began.  It was a cold start to the morning, with a temperature of -2 when we got there around 9:30 (the official low was around -10 I believe).  Skies were completely clear, though, so in spite of the chilly lift rides, it was a beautiful morning.  Temperatures “warmed” into the single digits while we were there.

The amount of terrain open was impressive for so early in the year.  We made our way over to Chair 8, finding variable snow.  Strong winds a day or two before had created some hard wind-packed areas where turning was quite difficult (but still fun once we figured out we were better off straight-shooting these sections).  However, by the time we got to Chair 8, we found nice, soft snow in the trees that was a lot of fun to ski.  All in all, it was a fantastic Thanksgiving morning, with the advantage of burning extra calories to allow for more food consumption later in the day.

Winter Park (12/2)

This morning, I went up to Winter Park for a few hours and skied Mary Jane until my legs were about to fall off (which only took about 3 hours… hey come on, it’s early season, my skiing legs aren’t in that good of shape yet!).  The Jane was fantastic, though.  I was actually quite surprised.  There were very few people on the mountain today, while plenty of leftover untracked powder stashes could be found in the trees.  The weather was nice, and actually quite warm, but the snow still remained fresh when I took off around 1 p.m.  I had forgotten how much fun Mary Jane is to ski when the snow is good.  Right now, I’d say about 75% of the terrain on Mary Jane is open right now, which is quite impressive for this early in the year.  I scraped a few times on the bump runs far skiers right of the Challenger lift, but in the trees I was skiing, I don’t think I scraped at all as the coverage was quite good.

Backcountry Skiing

Berthoud Pass (11/17)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have skied Berthoud Pass, so this report will be somewhat outdated, but should still give a good idea of how strong the early season coverage is (which of course means, it should be even better by now).  My friends Nick, Jamie and I headed up to Berthoud in the morning for three laps before heading back to Denver in time for work, school, etc.  We made a lap off of West Russell and skied a gully near the 90’s, before jumping across the road and skiing two laps in the Floral Park area, the second of which was amazing.  There were some wind-loaded areas up on the pass, the result of a strong storm from the day before, but we avoided these areas and found stable snow on our lines, mostly below treeline.

It was a true pass-skiing type of morning… skinning up above the pass, skiing down to the road below the pass, and hitchhiking back to the top of the pass.

The skin up the west side of the pass

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James enjoys some powder

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Fun little gully we skied

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The smile on Nick’s face says it all

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The “ski lifts” at Berthoud Pass = riding in the back of pickup trucks to the top of the pass

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It was very pristine at Floral Park on this morning… and the skiing was pretty good too

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Rogers Pass/Indian Peaks Wilderness (11/22)

About a week and a half ago, my friend Michael, an old friend of mine from Jackson Hole, spent a couple of days in Denver while on his way to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving.  We were able to get out for a nice ski tour in the Indian Peaks while he was here.  We ran out of daylight and didn’t quite make it to any true downhill skiing areas, but we did have a great afternoon with about two and a half hours of good exercising skinning a few miles into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

We started at the Moffat Tunnel and skinned the Heart Lake Trail, finding a pretty good snowpack.  Being the eastern side of the Front Range, variable snow is obviously going to exist with the windy conditions that area receives, but the snowpack is pretty deep as you get closer to the divide.  I suspect good turns can be found on north-facing (and perhaps east-facing) slopes right now, if you don’t mind a longer approach.  The ski back down our skin track was fast and, at times, pretty tight, but all in all it was an excellent tour in a beautiful area.  We had cold and windy conditions for most of the tour, but the snow that had been falling was pretty much winding down by the time we got there.

Avy beacon check

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Bridge crossing

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Creek crossings on skis are always exciting

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Caught a pretty cool sunset on the way back

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Current Conditions

As I took Highway 40 to Winter Park this morning, I couldn’t help but wish I had taken a backcountry set-up with me to ski a run at Berthoud Pass, because it was looking very good.  The 110’s area had a couple of good looking tracks in it, and coverage appeared to be better than the last time I was up there.

Avalanche conditions have been reasonably stable lately, at least by Colorado standards.  Many steeper slopes have been relatively safe the last couple of weeks, when evaluated properly.  Pockets of wind slabs are forming, though, and weak layers are continuing to form, so definitely keep your guard up, especially as more snow starts to fall.  In fact, the CAIC has already indicated pockets of “Considerable” danger above treeline in the Front Range zones, indicating wind slabs.  If you’re a backcountry skier, make sure you follow the CAIC’s excellent website religiously and don’t get a false sense of security just because there hasn’t been much avalanche activity recently.

More snow is headed for Colorado this weekend and early next week, but there is still a bit of uncertainty regarding how much snow will fall.  Still, the weather pattern continues to look pretty favorable for us overall.  For more weather information, check out Colorado Powder Forecast.

Early Season Skiing 2010/2011

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Jones Pass

 

It’s been in an unbelievable start to the ski season in northern Colorado this year.  After a couple of months of very dry weather, winter came in with a bang in late October, starting out with a few back-to-back moderate snowfalls for the mountains and ending with a huge storm dropping a few feet of snow.  After a little break, the snow train has picked back up, with consistent snow having fallen pretty much every day for the past week in the northern mountains.  It’s a classic La Nina set-up which has been dropping moderate amounts of snowfall every day on a consistent basis, and I would love to see this pattern continue through the winter (07-08 anyone??).

It looks like the rest of the week will be dry and sunny, but I plan to make a few bluebird powder laps up on Berthoud Pass tomorrow morning.  Easily the best website for weather and ski conditions in Colorado is Joel Gratz’s site, Colorado Powder Forecast.  A local meteorologist out of Boulder, Joel forecasts specifically for outdoor related activities (mainly skiing) in Colorado, and does a much better job forecasting the many micro climates in our mountains than weather.com or other automated sites do.  We Colorado skiers are indeed lucky to have such a reliable site to help us find the freshies.

I’ve been out five days so far this season, easily the most I’ve ever had for so early in the year.  Granted I didn’t really start getting into the backcountry a lot until late last season, but still, it speaks to how good the conditions have been so far.  Also, the earliest powder day I had ever had prior to this season (keep in mind, this is just my fourth winter living out west) was on December 3 at Loveland two seasons ago.  As of November 11 of this year, I have already skied on three powder days.  Yes, this is shaping up to be an amazing start to the season, and the start of calendar winter is still over a month away!  Lets just hope the snow keeps on falling.

My first day out was on October 26 at Butler Gulch with my friend Angela, right after the huge early season snowstorm I spoke of earlier.  The snow was insanely deep for October, which was great, except the only available ski set-up I had for that day was my spring mountaineering setup – Black Diamond Havocs with Fritschi Freeride Bindings and alpine boots.  Not exactly the best for higher-than-waist-deep snow (not even joking) that was a bit on the heavy side by Colorado standards.  Angela also had a skinnier set of skis, so we both were getting stuck in the fairly low angle terrain a lot.  Regardless it was a fun day and I was able to get a few good shots on the initial steeper section.

 

Ready for the season’s first turns

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Angela making some powder turns

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Day number two was about a week later, and with proper gear was a much better day.  Three of my co-workers, Jon, Nick, and Rico, and I went on a dawn patrol before work at Jones Pass.  We hit some north-facing soft-snow and had some awesome turns.  Much better than day #1 as it turned out.  I took out a pair of 184 cm Movement Sluffs with Marker Baron Bindings and Black Diamond Factor boots.

I really enjoyed the Sluffs.  Even though they’re a little longer and stiffer than what I’m used to, I didn’t even notice the difference.  I found the Sluffs to be very responsive, when I needed to whip some quick turns through tight spaces I could easily, but they also floated through the powder very well, even though they aren’t true powder skis (99 mm waist) by today’s standards.

Being in the market for a set of AT boots after touring all last season (including a few 14ers) on alpine boots, I was very pleased with the way the Factors performed.  The flex on the walk mode was nice and comfortable and made skinning much less painful than in stiff alpine boots.  They also skied very well on the downhill.  Overall I felt like it was a very good balance of tourability and downhill performance.  However, they aren’t too good to be true and their downside will probably cause me not to get these boots.  Unfortunately, BD boots sometimes tend to break, and I found this to be true when I tried on a defective pair just prior to this trip.  The flip switch from ski to walk mode did not work, and apparently this has been a quite common problem with BD boots.  The last thing I want is to be in the backcountry and have one of my boots not switch into ski mode when I’m ready for the descent.

I didn’t get any action shots on this dawn patrol, but I did take a picture of the Continental Divide just after sunrise.

Jones Pass scenery

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Last Thursday, Greg Floyd, Sean Mattingly, and I headed back to Jones Pass after some fresh snowfall, and had what is seriously one of the best days I’ve ever experienced skiing the backcountry.  It was a day that I will not soon forget, with wonderful early season conditions and a great group of guys to ski with.  I took out the Movement Sluffs again, but this time with Dynafit Titan boots.  The Titans were solid as expected, but to nitpick I found them to be a little too stiff (never thought I would say that to be honest).  I also didn’t think they toured as well as the BD Factors, and they didn’t keep my feet warm at all (as evidenced by the purple toes I had when we got back to the car on a day that wasn’t that cold).  Then again, that could have been more the result of not having an exact fit with the demo boots and not having a custom liner.

Regardless, we had an amazing day.  It was a long tour, with some tough uphill stretches, but we skied three laps and every single turn was phenomenal, especially for November standards.  As it turns out, Greg, who is one of the owners of Bent Gate Mountaineering, is also an incredible photographer.  Here are some of our shots from this beautiful day.

On the way up


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This was easily the best “skiing photo shoot” I have ever been a part of.  Greg’s shots are amazing, and I wish the ones I took of him were as good as the ones he took of Sean and I.  Nevertheless we had a blast the entire time.  What a day!

Skier: Greg Floyd  (Photos: Alan Smith)

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Skier: Sean Mattingly  (Photos: Greg Floyd)

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Skier: Alan Smith  (Photos: Greg Floyd)

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Some of our tracks

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And it was all powder smiles…

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On Sunday, I made a trip up to the Indian Peaks Wilderness with Emily and Lida for some snowshoeing and exploring.  And yes, there was plenty of snow on this day too!  It was snowing steadily, the temps were cold, and the wind was howling, but we had a great time.  We followed a “trail” towards Woodland Lake from the Hessie Trailhead right outside of Eldora, but much of the hike involved a lot of trail-breaking through deep snow, as well as lots of snow plunging and snow diving (sometimes intentional… other times not so much).  Emily tried to take me out at one point even though I was trying to pull her out of a deep pit in the snow, but fortunately my cat-like reflexes allowed me to escape her wrath.

Pictures from the Indian Peaks Wilderness
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Written by Alan

November 17, 2010 at 12:05 am

More Snow Headed for the Rockies

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Last week and weekend, a big storm moved into Colorado dumping as much as 30 inches over parts of the Front Range.  Loveland received almost two feet total, while A-Basin got even more.  Unfortunately, my timing was horrible as far as when I hit the slopes.  Saturday was when the snow came to an end, and supposedly was one of the best days of the season at Loveland.  I didn’t make it up on Saturday because I had to get some work done that I was too lazy to do before.  As it turned out, I really shot myself in the face by not going up on Saturday.

Sunday was a disappointment to say the least.  It didn’t help that I forgot my boots… in fact that made it significantly worse.  I had left my pair of Rossi Brigades with EdgeWorks in Denver to have their original bindings remounted and hadn’t gotten around to picking them up yet.  I completely forgot that I had left my boots with them as well, until Sunday morning when it was too late.  So for the first time in probably seven years I had to rent boots.  The rental shop at Loveland was a total disaster.  It took me 30 minutes just to rent a pair of crappy boots.  It’s not that Loveland was crowded that day, because it wasn’t (it’s almost NEVER crowded at Loveland, even on weekends).  However, just about every other ski rental shop in the state besides A-Basin and Loveland had closed for the season, so that meant everyone who had to rent was renting at the mountain.

Also, we weren’t having the bluebird day I had expected.  It was snowing again (not that that’s a bad thing), but the wind was insane, forcing Lift 9 to close, which I was really bummed about, and the wind had pretty much blown all of the fresh snow off the mountain it seemed.  Combined with it being skied out the day before (at least at mid mountain), there were icy patches everywhere.  This, combined with low visibility and crappy ski boots that I never felt comfortable or stable in at all, led me to call it a day by 11:30.  It was one of my biggest ski day disappointments I can remember, just because I had such high expectations.  Oh, and it didn’t help that when I woke up this morning I heard that Loveland had received another 8 inches of fresh overnight, meaning today was a powder day.  But to anyone who was lucky enough to make it up for today’s surprise powder day, good for you!

But if you were also one of the unfortunate souls like myself (though I hope you were smarter than I was and skied on Saturday) who skied Sunday and not on Saturday, fear not because more snow is on the way!  The next couple of days will be warm, in fact Wednesday could be very warm, but on Thursday another major storm rolls through, which according to snowforecast.com, could be even stronger than last weekend’s storm and should last for a few days.  And then, get this, even more snow could be heading into Colorado afterwards!  Loveland should have a great closing weekend, and I’m going to try as best as I can to make it up there on Friday, although I’m considering A-Basin as well.  Supposedly, the Basin was skiing great all weekend, which is awesome news considering how much they struggled for most of the season.

As for backcountry skiers, be careful because there’s a combination of slab avalanche danger on north and western facing slopes, and wet avalanche danger on south and east facing slopes where the heavy snow accumulation will quickly warm up and turn into unsupportable slush.

As for Loveland and A-Basin, Loveland will close next Sunday, on May 2nd, but A-Basin will still be open for another month.  Get after the powder while you can!  Better that northern Colorado gets good snow late than never!

Written by Alan

April 26, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Late Season Spring Snow Surprise

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This hasn’t exactly been a stellar snow year in the Rockies by any means, but all of a sudden at the end of April, a big storm system has moved into the area bringing tornadoes, hail, and lightning to the Denver area on Thursday, cold rain with some snow mixed in in Denver on Friday, and now some big time snow for the mountains.  Yesterday, a Winter Storm Warning was posted for most of the Front Range and northern mountains, forecasting 14-28 inches of snow.  There are only two ski resorts in Colorado that are still running the lifts (three if you count Aspen/Snowmass still running on weekends only), so my suggestion is to get after it this weekend while you can!

As of this morning, Loveland was reporting 14 inches at 8 a.m. (18 in 48 hrs, 23 in 72 hrs), while Arapahoe Basin was reporting 11 as of 6 a.m. (and probably several more inches since then).  So yes, a nice late April powder day for two resorts that have struggled for snow this season.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this goes down as being the biggest storm of the season for both of those resorts.

It’s looking like the snow will slowly taper off today before clearing up this afternoon.  Tomorrow I plan on heading up to Loveland, and will hope that it isn’t too tracked out.  Tomorrow will start out clear before isolated thunderstorms/snow showers move into the area.  A little thundersnow could be exciting!

As for closing dates for ski resorts, Loveland will be closing next Sunday (May 2nd) and A-Basin is scheduled to close on June 6.  Spring backcountry ski season is definitely underway, with this weekend being the exception as the heavy snow has caused an Avalanche Warning to go into effect for the Front Range Mountains.  Hopefully this fresh snow will delay the spring melt at least a little bit, which is happening earlier than usual thanks to a low snow year and a dust layer that has coated the western mountains.

Written by Alan

April 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm