Thursday, December 24, 2015

Walking the dogs

The dogs were due for an outing, not a walk around the block, an outing. So, not being so much into walking when you can be skiing, I took them to Empire Pass. The super-easy outing that is just great to exercise the dogs as they have to punch through all that deep stuff while I coast on all the existing cut trails. Except that today there were no cut trails at all, the trail breaking was deep, and it required punching through a top crust before getting into the deep stuf and did I mention the wind and the arctic cold? Bottom line both the dogs and I got a wee bit more than we bargained for, which isalways great in the winter season! Right? Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):
Not being trained at all in photography, I always struggle at rendering
movement. This is my first attempt at showing howling winds...

...and here is my second attempt.

Here is Skadi the snow dog wearing it...

...and this is her having had enough of the deep trail breaking, arctic cold
and howling winds. She just turned around and was probably bee-lining
for the parking lot (she has done that before in storms)...

...but we got her to come back and here she is with Loki, both of them with a
distinctly arctic feel.

Calyton Peak and 10,420.

View of Daly's Chutes.

View all the way to the Uintas and Windy Ridge.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Greens Basin

When the UAC avalanche rose (December 17, 2015) looks like this:
Rose for December 17, 2015

…one should probably just stay in resort but if you are going into the backcountry, then you could pick a spot like Greens Basin. Why? Because not only can you find low angle anchored terrain in there but if you pay a lot of attention to your route selection, you can access it without exposing yourself to a lot of avalanche terrain. West Bowl could be a choice too except that you would probably not want to expose yourself to skinning up the Alta south facing knowing that a natural broke the same day off of Superior all the while this rose telling you, among other things, that south facing above 9,500’ is red!

So we went to Greens Basin. The skiing was probably one of our worst ones so far. Two feet of fluffy powder offers only very marginal cover of rocks and fallen trees! So the ski was kinda heinous but the tour was still outright glorious. It was 2°F at Spruces trail head, there was a crisp white cover, the spruces were covered in snow, and we had to break a deep trail all the way up. In short it felt like a real legitimate, full on winter day!

Greens Basin with Mike in te distance.

Mt Raymond from Eastern Days Fork.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A bad sign

As I got up to Empire ready for a good workout I stumbled into the epitome of the phrase "a bad sign" and I mean that in the most litteral sense, this is what I was greeted by:
This is indeed "a bad sign"...
Every season I try to work up the energy to do four laps before the resort opens. From the base of the Empire Express lift at 8,300 feet to the top at 9,570' there is an elevation delta of 1,270'. My November objective is three laps. and my mid-December objective is four laps. Saturday morning (12/12) I went up on my last pre-season conditioning tour at Deer Valley's Empire Express. I did not realize I was too late as per above sign. Lucky for me the Deer Valley Ski Patrol is very skier friendly and understanding of skiing needs. I already wrote about this last season and that post still fully stands. They realized I did not know they were closing that day and seeing me all geared up they agreed to let me do my laps provided I stayed off their equipment, work sites and don't come back for more this season which I consider more than fair. So thanks to the generosity of the Deer Valley Ski Patrol I got to meet my December objective this year too.

The Empire Bowl area is getting ready to open as you can see in below pictures;

Powder on Ore Cart...

...and more powder on Ore Cart.

Domingo with its base layer.

Jupiter filling in.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Brighton’s unique uphill policy

First and foremost a great thank you! to Brighton for it's unique uphill policy.

As far as I know Brighton is the only resort in Utah that has an uphill policy that allows us backcountry skiers to skin up from the resort base during the ski season. This is a fantastic development. We have resorts that will allow access to the BC provided you use their lift, only the ones that are absolutely obligated by virtue of being in the National Forest do it. However Brighton has worked out, in cooperation with the National Forest, an uphill policy that allows (on green days, see more on this below) two access points from the resort base to Twin Lakes Pass and to Catherine’s Pass. They allow us to skin on their terrain until we reach the trail and then we leave the resort to get into the BC. There are green, yellow, and red days. On green days you have access during the season, yellow days are off season and red days are avalanche control days and closes the access. For all the details click the uphill policy.

Yesterday Mike and I went over there to check it out. It was a green day and we opted for the Catherine’s Pass access. To get there you start skinning to the left the Crest Express lift, here is what the policy says on that access:

“Kathryn [sic] Pass Access: Please travel up the far right hand side of the M&M Trail to the Lost Maid Trail, proceeding up the Mary summer hiking trail, leaving the ski area boundary at that access point to Lake Mary and Catherine Pass areas. (marked with Forest Service boundary sign)”

Using these directions I actually missed the exit on the first try. A very friendly ski patrol gave me good directions (once I was pretty close to the top of the Crest Express lift) and I found out that the exit is at the bottom of Wren Hollow beyond Lost Maid, see top arrow on this map (click to enlarge):
Lost Maiden and Wren Hollow

What threw me off is the “marked with Forest Service boundary sign” as I could not see any sign at the exit point. In any case on our second lap we found the spot which is where the summer trail takes off to Lake Mary and then Catherine’s Pass beyond that.

The really neat thing is that they will let you ski down the slopes which in the early season with too thin a cover in the BC allows you to get a good workout in skinning up in the woods and quickly and safely down in resort. This is the track we put in to do laps (about a  1,000' elev.) off of:

Here are more pictures (click to enlarge):

The M&M Trail that will lead to the Lost Maid Trail

View of Mt Tuscarora

Mike approaching Dog lake with the Lake Mary dam in the background

As thin as the snow cover was you still get to break trail.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stealing Turns

At this stage of the pre-season whatever the snow conditions may be any turns you get in are all bonus turns. You never get ideal snow conditions this early but on the bright side:

1) You get to spend a day where its winter
2) You get a workout to prep for the "real season"
3) There is so little snow the avalanche risk is not all that high
4) Whatever turns you get are all stolen turns!

One might ad that since the worst day in the BC beats the best day in the valley, why on earth would one not get out! So we got out. This was a tour under the Wasatch Mountain Club a fantastic organisation out of Salt Lake. We went to Alta (my last week's tour was a recon for this week's) up the summer road to the Pass and on to the slopes under the Rocky Point to Point Supreme ridge line. A fair amount of the snow was wind jacked and there were almost no first lines available but this is one of my only tours so far this season where I didn't hit a single rock!

Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):

This is an amazing picture taken by Matias. 

Greg on the summer road

Mike W.

Mike G.

Catherine's Pass, photo cred: Greg

Yours truly at Catherine's Pass, photo cred: Greg

Bjorn and Matias at Rocky Point

Cardiac Ridge holding a little snow the Ivory Flakes hardly any.

West Bowl

Mt Baldy from Point Supreme

Devil's Castle

Mt Superior - Cardiac Ridge - Cardif Pass