Category: Snow Updates

GTotN Day 5: Jackson to Big Sky

2016 02 11 12.21.07i was a little apprehensive at first. The final part of the drive from Sun Valley to Jackson Hole, the Tetons, had been steep and fraught with danger. What would the drive to Big Sky look like? I knew there was a canyon involved, but how steep would it be?

The weather was nice, and as I point out in the previous post, I felt Confident. First, the crossing of the Tetons. Not a problem, except for this lady in the Forester ahead of me that slowed down to a crawl (20 mph) whenever there was water on the road or a turn. Given that it was 37 and we were crossing the mountains, there were lots of turns and lots of water!

We got into Victor and she left for Idaho Falls while I went straight ahead. Again, the landscape was fantastical and magical. Endless expanses of white. The towns were smaller here, less busy, less interested in the passing tourist in the Outback.

Eventually, I got to the first escarpment. It wasn’t bad, at all. The kind of drive you could handle in the snow, no problem. Then I got into the town of Island Park, where things were flat again.

It turns out that Big Sky is really close to the West Entrance of Yosemite National Park. In fact, you have to drive through the town of West Yellowstone to get there. It’s a small town with lots of snowmobile traffic. And it is here that Google maps did something odd again.

You see, when I was driving from EBR-1 to Idaho Falls, almost in the town of Idaho Falls, on US 26, GMaps told me to leave the highway and go onto a rural road that was thick with ice. It didn’t go long, and after about two miles I was back on a highway. Only that it was the same highway I had been on. I should have simply gone straight instead of taking this weird detour.

The same was happening in West Yellowstone: GMaps told me to bypass the only traffic light in town by going on a side road that was thick with ice. I wonder if that’s an artifact of the Waze acquisition, but it sure felt weird to leave the US highway only to get back onto it a block later.

Long story short, you then get onto US 191 that gets you to Lone Mountain Road, which is where all the action is in Big Sky.

GTotN Day 4/5: Jackson Hole

2016 02 11 11.43.59Sometimes, you experience something as wonderful and you realize it might not be as good next time around. You were euphoric with the excitement of the discoverer, and there is no way next time you’ll have as good a time.

Turns out that may be true in general, but not in this case. I remembered Jackson Hole as a wonderful, amazing place. The second time around, it was the same thing, but better.

There was the discovery of the Village, that made the place look less artificial an touristy. But that really wasn’t the driving force. What made me fall in love all over again, and twice as hard, was the mountain.

For one, I had loved the Sublette lift. It accessed amazing terrain with a variety of slopes and challenges. The lift itself, though, was slow.

Then there was the snow. It had been so much better than we had been told it would be, but it was too icy (so they told us) to go to the top. We forewent that and stuck to the mid-mountain.

Then there was the time we spent figuring out where all the beginners were. On Apres-Ski mountain, served by the homonymous lift.

This time around, everything was different – and better! I went to Sublette on a lark, but after two days of snowboarding at high-speed Sun Valley, the pace of that thing was not to my liking. I consulted my map, which had vertical vs. time listings, and decided the brand spanking new Teton lift was my friend. It was flanked by the not equally new Casper, which came with its own restaurant.

So I spent most of the first day just zipping down Casper and Teton in an endless variety of paths. Both lifts had groomers, moguls, and glades, and I mixed and matched until my board fell off. I loved the fact the snow had stayed nice and hadn’t turned into the ice sheet I got off-groomer in Sun Valley.

On day two, I went for broke. Despite the advice of the wise men of the place, I stood in line at the tram. Jackson Hole has the distinction of having the only tram I know that goes without stop from the bottom of the mountain to the very summit. Very daring, especially because the only way down for the unadventurous is the tram itself.

I wasn’t happy about the warnings, but I figured that the simple availability of a warming hut with waffles was reason enough to go. Worst case, I would just eat a waffle and take the tram back down. I even said as much to the attendant.

I got into the hut and undressed. Jackson was freaky warm, and the mid-mountain thermometer had proclaimed a puzzling 37 degrees. I was drenched in sweat (which you can see in the picture – that’s the third layer that you see wet!). But it was time for a waffle. Ordered “Italian,” which came with the thinnest idea of Nutella on it.

I got out. Nervous. Almost ready to wet myself. You couldn’t see where the trip would go, only that nobody was turning back afraid. The old man of the mountain yelled a friendly, “Be Safe!” that made me feel even worse.

There was a traverse. I couldn’t see anything beyond that. I got to the gate for the off-resort skiing and knew I had to turn. I did. Facing the invisible chasm.

I pointed the board down. Snow. Moguls. I thought I would die. I was sure there was going to be one of those cliffs you see in snowboarding movies, only that I would be the moron that hits the rock face because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

But then I was just gliding. The MP3 player decided to switch to Demi Lovato’s Confident, a song that seemed oddly appropriate. I was gliding down the face of this mountain, confident, spraying old snow at every turn. I went down in one go, slowing down briefly for a family with kids, but passing by them with elegance. At the bottom, I realized I was where Sublette lets out and followed its trail.

Eventually, I reached one of the gullies I liked. I took it, treating it as a makeshift halfpipe. Maybe I would make a half-decent freestyler. Then the halfpipe ended in a cliff and I had to manage getting by.

I soldiered on, but nothing could make up for that feeling of weightlessness coming down a face whose end I couldn’t see. Eventually, I got to the bottom and went back up for chicken tenders – the mid-mountain ones are the best in the world! Then I left, ready for the next adventure.

GTotN Day 4: Lexington Inn and Jackson, WY

2016 02 10 09.40.33As the brochures ask, is it called Jackson, Jackson Hole, or Teton Village?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the Arctic wind. Jackson, WY is the town. A very nice town, indeed. The low-lying valley of the Snake river around the Tetons is called Jackson Hole. So Jackson (the city) is located in Jackson Hole the area. Teton Village is the name of the base area of the ski resort, which is named after the area, Jackson Hole.

I have no idea why they did it this way. I probably would have named the ski resort, “Grand Teton” and made less of an ass of myself. I don’t know how many idiots (including me) made fun of the name, “Jackson Hole.”

I had been to Jackson the year before and not particularly impressed with the city. That’s because I actually never got to the city, remaining on the outskirts and strip malls. The hotel, the Lexington Inn, is just a block from the real downtown, so even a moron like me couldn’t miss it.

And I’ll have you know that downtown Jackson is a match to downtown Aspen. Maybe not as pretentious (fewer Guccis, more sandwich places), but there are lots of people marching around and seeking fun at night.

Jackson is relatively odd by ski resort standards, in that it is 20 miles from the Village. The Village, in turn, is relatively odd because it doesn’t have a whole lot of services. The two depend on each other in a very weird symbiosis, and the thing that connects the two is the shuttle. Which is not free, for reasons only Jacksonians understand.

The Lexington Inn is another oddball. A set of four buildings walling off a parking lot, it’s nicer than its price would indicate. At the same time, it seems to have a desire to aggravate that is just odd.

The WiFi, for instance, is tragically bad. It’s not just the speed that is arresting, it’s also the fact it requires you to log into the network every night. Since it uses a common password (that is, one that has been set a long time in advance and can be guessed in minutes by any bystander), it’s not clear why they would do it that way.

Also, the hotel had been advertised as having a kitchenette. That turned out to be just a microwave. Also, the room had no desk: I had to put the coffee table next to the couch in front of the easy chair to have any semblance of a working area. Also, the hotel hot tub was small enough that a family would fill it up completely, while the pool was the size of a regular hotel hot tub. Also, they upgraded me to a mini-suite, which would have a king size bed and a living room, but the living room is just the vestibule of the room, with a couch and TV, but no heater.

Still, I won’t bitch. The Lexington was definitely worth the money, and was the only one of the resort hotels that had something warm (scrambled eggs) for breakfast. Don’t forget the location! The shuttle departs right across the street, and you are the first stop, so you get a pick of seats (it gets busier further down).

GTotN Day 3: Sun Valley to Jackson Hole

2016 02 09 12.24.43The drive from Sun Valley to Jackson Hole was 4.5 hours planned. Leaving the first resort at closing time would have gotten me into Jackson after 8, which is something I didn’t want, since the last part of the drive involved crossing the Tetons.

I left early (sue me), after lunch. As usual, I had packed the car and checked out, and since the lot was so close to the hotel, I just moved everything to the lot.

I drove through the towns that make the Valley. Then Google said I should take a detour away from the main highway and I did. The rural roads were fine, and a check after the fact revealed that Google had been right.

After a while, I started enjoying the scenery. The hills were covered in a perfect blanket of white glistening like ermine encrusted with diamonds. The sun was shining and the temperatures were strangely high for the time of year, prompting locals to comment.

The shortcut that bypasses the freeway gets through Craters of the Moon National Monument. To anyone from Hawaii, that’s simply a large lava flow that shows off how the whole area is volcanically active. Nothing exciting. Someone who has never seen a lava flow may be interested in this one.

Eventually, a cloud cut a hill in half. As I got closer, it was obvious the cloud was really fog, and from then on I would drive in this thin layer of mist. I could see the sky above, a foggy shade of blue, but it was hard to see anything around me.

Eventually, I got into the Snake River valley. First, there was the Atomic Museum, EBR-1 (closed in winter). Then the town of Idaho Falls. I stopped for gas and got some McDonald’s. For whatever reason, the ladies there stared at me with undisguised “interest,” something that would continue for the remainder of the trip.

From then on, the drive would lead on US 26 to the town of Swan Valley. From there, I would cross a low-lying chain of hills until I hit the town of Victor. After that, the crossing of the Teton that scared me a little. What to do?

The first thing I noticed was the absurd beauty of the endless fields of snow. They went unbroken for miles, only once in a very long while interrupted by a set of Nordic tracks that stretched from one end of the horizon to the other. I could only imagine how long it had taken the enterprising sportsman to cross that expanse, could only smile at the curlicues they had drawn on steeper hillsides where they could just glide down.

The crossing of the Tetons turned out to be dull. You couldn’t really see much of anything, just driving up and then driving down. I got to the town of Wilson, where the highway split to go to Teton Village, and started recognizing places. It was good to be in a familiar environment.

GTotN Day 2: Sun Valley Resort

2016 02 09 10.34.29From the hotel to the entrance to River Run Lodge I had a 9 minute walk. In fact, getting from the Lodge to the parking lot was shorter than from the end of the lot to the resort.

Sun Valley is incredibly friendly. It advertises it won “Best of” awards in a number of categories, like speed of the lifts, kid friendliness, etc. None of them are technical wins. There is no, “Best lift” award, or “Most difficult terrain.” Sun Valley wins the heart, not the muscles.

Getting my Mountain Collective Pass was easy, and the guys there were incredibly friendly. The friendliness didn’t stop there: people were polite in the lift line, friendly on the lifts, collegial on the runs. It was the Stepford resort, but in a very good sense: you could snowboard all day and not have a bad experience, something I still have to manage at Mammoth or Heavenly, despite trying for years now.

I won’t lie to you, Sun Valley has two massive problems: the resort is relatively small, and the runs are not very challenging. I completed my tour of the place in a day, and on day 2 I was just repeating the runs again. Not all of that is bad news, though: Sun Valley really has the fastest lifts I’ve ever seen at a resort, and it’s really the place you want to go to if you want to get as much vertical in as you can. On day 1, I managed almost 70,000 feet of vertical. Granted, I was snowboarding non-stop from opening to closing, with not a single stop. Also, the snow was tragically marginal and I couldn’t really leave the groomers, so I was all about speed and not at all about technique.

I started doing synchronized boarding. I put on the gym music and started heel-toeing to the songs. Sometimes I would switch fast-fast-fast, sometimes I would get two beats in before switching, sometimes I would mix fast-fast-slow, fast-fast-slow. I was shooting down the runs, slowing down only when there were sweepers ahead of me, and checking whether I could make the song before it finished.

Sweepers, you ask? Well, there is a whole universe of skiers that sweep the runs from one side to the opposite. They are not predictable when they do that, deciding to change direction seemingly at random. So when you hit a sweeper, you can’t really get around them unless by doubling down on speed (which I am still not comfortable with). The other option is to slow down, wait until they notice you, and then pass.

The mountain has three sides. The main side is accessed from River Run. That is not just the name of the lodge, but also the name of an actual run, a gully that comes down the mountain. When you get it with no sweepers, it’s mad fun. The other side goes down to a place called Warm Springs, easily spotted by the stench of foul eggs at the bottom. I should mention that a great many resort mountains have volcanic activity, like Mammoth, Whistler, Mt. Bachelor, and of course Sun Valley.

The third area is the weirdest one, in that it is a traditionally hikers only area (that is, you access it from a flat ridge). Only that in Sun Valley, they built a horizontal lift serving the bowl. I swear it feels odd to go on a horizontal lift, but it works. The snow, sadly, was not worth the trip.

Another oddity of Sun Valley is that they decided to put all the freestyle parks on the opposite side of the Valley. It’s not a bad idea, for sure: the freestylers have their own area and don’t have to share lifts with alpine skiers and boarders. That’s good all around.

Sadly it also meant that on Day 1, I was pretty much alone as a snowboarder. I saw maybe a dozen snowboarders all day! It wasn’t a problem, as it would have been in Squaw (where you still find skiers that refuse to go on a lift with boarders), but not having other boarders around means that it’s hard to gauge which runs work for snowboarding. Particularly annoying on a day with marginal snow.

Day 2 saw lots more snowboarders – maybe there was an event on the other mountain on Day 1. I also stopped for “mountain food,” which in my case generally means a cup of coffee with hot chocolate, and a serving of chicken tenders with fries. I went to River Run Lodge, which served all that food and a variety of others and was, as usual for the place, super-friendly.

Verdict: a technically non-challenging place, Sun Valley wins for charm and overall pleasantness. Highly recommended if you don’t feel like pushing it, and probably the best place to go with a family or beginners. The mountain is well organized, the lifts are incredibly fast, the village has something for everyone, and you can’t get lost easily. It’s the mountain I would love to love if I didn’t get bored so quickly.

Oh, and the views are just amazing.

GTotN Day 2: Best Western Tyrolean Lodge and Ketchum, ID

2016 02 08 08.14.10I didn’t really get a chance to connect to the place when I checked in. I just picked up the room keys and walked up the stairs, then dropped dead tired into bed.

It was in the morning that I activated my snow sense. I got the coffee maker out and started my day by brewing a 12 cup batch and checking email. The hotel WiFi was pretty crappy, and the LTE gizmo turned out to be on AT&T, not Verizon as I wished.

I managed. The Best Western gets points for decor and style. The rooms are clean and nice. Nothing fancy, but also very functional. They did have a coffee maker, pretty much the only food amenity, but it was one of those single cup brands that don’t really appeal to the tired aficionado.

While the place was very clean, it showed there hadn’t been upgrades in a while. The door frames had water damage, the toilet seat was a little worn out.

But they certainly made up for it by being a great place. The breakfast buffet was nothing to write home about, but well organized and in a cheerful locale. The decor, Austria in the 50s, was tasteful and understated. It was a chain hotel with the feel of a boutique hotel. And everybody was friendly.

I didn’t get to see the town until the afternoon, after the first day of snowboarding, but Ketchum is a winner. It has the feel of a real place, nothing of that phony tourist ambiance that is so Squaw Valley or downtown Aspen (or even my world favorite, Whistler). Ketchum does have its insane number of kitsch shops and real estate agencies, but it’s been around before skiing was fashionable and will once it’s over (never!).

The main drag is not Main Street, but a street perpendicular to it. Lots of stores, from the fancy to the cheap. Lots of eateries, but none that I would recommend.

Ketchum, incidentally, is the town near the resort named Sun Valley. There is a separate town called Sun Valley, which is on the other side of the valley from Ketchum. It’s a little confusing, but not as much as the town by Heavenly being called South Lake Tahoe.

GTotN Day 1: San Diego to Sun Valley

2016 02 07 19.18.18The Alaska flight to Boise leaves San Diego at 3:40p from Terminal 1. It was a Sunday, so the late afternoon was a perfect time to go. What do you know, it was also the first day of a heating trend and I found myself leaving town with the first long stretch of beach weather arriving. It’s been a cold winter, this year, with barely a day making it to average temperature.

I called a Lyft and a ginormous Tahoe showed up. I guess that was very much in keeping with the spirit of the trip, no? We got to the airport in no time, and I had totally overbudgeted time. I got through check-in in no time, thanks to amazing Alaska staff. Then security was not a problem, unlike at Terminal 2. I had nothing to do but browse Facebook and Reddit for hours and realized I really needed to get some games on the phone.

The flight was uneventful. I got sort of lucky and scored a window seat, but I got it on the left side, where the sun was about to set and made watching painful. I still managed to see Mount Shasta, my favorite mountain on the planet (until this trip).

We were somewhat late. At first, they said one hour, but then it ended up being more 30 minutes. We got into Boise, where we actually had to get out of the plane on rolling stairs, like in the ancient days. Then we had to walk a covered but unheated walkway to the terminal. It wasn’t cold, and we were lucky. I can only imagine if it’s below zero and you have to walk for five minutes with the fear your shoes are going to freeze stuck to the floor and you won’t ever be able to leave.

The airport is tiny, compared to the ones I am used to. They also have an amazing setup: rental cars come before baggage claim, so that you can waste time filling out forms while your luggage is placed on the belt. Smart move!

I was with Hertz on this trip, and to my delight they informed me that my car was going to be a Subaru Outback. I could have kissed them: I hate those fleets that are entirely composed of vehicles that are of little appeal to a car buyer, but work well for rentals. Yes, I am talking about you, Nitro, you of the crappy bumper that bends just by looking askance.

The board bag was waiting for me as I showed up. I could tell TSA had gotten busy because they had moved the zipper locks from the end to the middle, doubling my chances that something might fall out.

I got to the car and drove in the dark. I stopped in Mountain Home, where I had to get off the freeway, anyway, and got into the Walmart to buy the items I was missing. From there on, off on highway after highway, until I would get into the valley of the sun. Speed limit: 25.

GTotN: Planning

Why did I pick the three resorts on the list? Why Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, and Big Sky?

Mountain Collective had added Sun Valley this year, with Lake Louise and Thredbo. I dreamed of going to Lake Louise, but an international trip comes with its complications: if you rent a car, you cannot cross borders. You need to bring your passport, and that makes things a lot more complicated in case stuff (including the passport) is lost or stolen.

I also wanted to go to Sun Valley. My friend that taught me snowboarding hails from Idaho and he always told me how fantastic the snow is up there. How he would chase the powder up and down the hill, never to worry about ice because it was always too cold for the snow to melt.

With Sun Valley in mind, the options for other resorts were limited. I could drive down to Salt Lake City and visit Snowbird again. I had loved that resort, for sure. I could also return to Jackson Hole, which had surprised with the quality of snow and terrain, as well as the general friendliness of the people.

That would have been a trip, but I didn’t want to retrace my step so closely. The tour I just described would have been last year’s tour, only with Sun Valley replacing Snowmass. I am not going to say it wouldn’t have been worth the effort, but I wanted a little more adventure.

Then I remembered my geek days of perusing Wikipedia’s Comparison of North American ski resortsIt’s an amazing resource if you want to know where to go, as it has sortable lists of every kind of geeky data. The one that interested me the most was skiable acreage, followed by vertical drop. In those two categories, the winner was my all time favorite resort, Whistler/Blackcomb. But it was followed by a resort that not a whole lot of people seemed to have been to: Big Sky, Montana.

I googled the place. Switched to the image search. I almost fell on the floor. That mountain looked gorgeous, simply spectacular. Then I realized there was a tram that went all the way to the top. I couldn’t even begin to imagine standing there, at the top of Lone Mountain, looking into Yellowstone National Park. I had to go.

So, there you go: a new resort to Mountain Collective, a resort from last year, and a resort outside the Mountain Collective.

What route would I take?

Once I saw it would take a full day to get to the closest of the three resorts if driving from San Diego, I knew I had to fly somewhere. Of the three resorts, the only one reasonably close to an airport is Sun Valley, 2.5 hours from Boise. I had driven from Jackson Hole to Salt Lake City, so I knew that to be an impractical trip. And the only thing close to Big Sky is Bozeman, MT. Not exactly Chicago’s O’Hare field when it comes to frequency of flights.

When I checked connections, it became apparent that Alaska had a direct flight from San Diego to Boise. I was sold. There were seats available for the days I had in mind, and they were not even too expensive. The time was also relatively convenient: I would fly into Boise in the evening and leave in the morning. Since it was unrealistic to drive to even the closest resort in the morning, thus making an early start of the snowboarding impossible, a late arrival guaranteed I wouldn’t waste a full day of boarding to travel. I would land in the evening, drive to the resort at night, and start snowboarding in the early morning.

That made the first stop mandatorily Sun Valley. I would get in around 7, which would get me to Sun Valley around 10p. Excellent time to zzz and get ready for the first day.

From there, I had two options: either a long drive to Big Sky, a shorter drive from there to Jackson Hole, and then a longish drive back to Boise; or a shortish drive to Jackson Hole, a shorter drive to Big Sky, and then a long drive back to Boise.

Since I really didn’t care about the length of the last leg, I opted for the second version. I would drive Boise to Sun Valley to Jackson Hole to Big Sky. As it turns out, that was the best way to approach that from a travel satisfaction perspective, for several reasons.

The days I picked were far enough from the day of planning and purchasing to get decent prices, but not far enough to make it impossible for me to make another trip. I settled on 2/7 to 2/14, which was just before the crazy Presidents’ Day weekend. Which was a great thing, since resorts tend to be less crowded around a holiday.

Where did I buy everything?

As mentioned, I didn’t need to worry about lift tickets at two of the resorts, since they were included with my Mountain Collective Pass. The third one, Big Sky, offered online purchase, but I could do that when I got to Sun Valley and got a better idea of what the weather was going to be like.

I got a lucky break with the car. Of course, I wanted AWD to avoid getting stuck in the snow. After all, we were talking about the second week of February, smack in the middle of the season! Also, incessant snow was on the forecast for all three resorts, and I saw myself already muddling through feet-high snow banks to get from one place to the next.

When I booked, there was a special price: the “Intermediate SUV” option cost about as much as a compact car. I couldn’t believe it and booked immediately. Then I went to the Alaska Air site and bought the corresponding flights. I got lucky, and seats on the direct flights were still available at the same price I had looked a before.

Hotels were more of a problem. The thing is, you really have to spend a lot of time researching options, because all resort hotels in season are freaky expensive, and the quality can be very varied. I recall spending some $250 a night in Snowmass for a room that was barely bigger than the queen size bed in it, and with sheets stained with blood on arrival. Not so nice. Conversely, I scored an amazing two bedroom condo in Vail at the end of the season for less than half that price.

I quickly realized that pretty much all the places that had rooms sold them on various sites, including Hotwire. If you don’t know the place, it offers special rates if you buy a location, but not a specific property. Hotwire will tell you the general area, the star rating, and a customer recommendation index in addition to your price. After you pay, it will tell you where you are staying.

Generally, the combination of data points gives you a good indicator of where you are going to stay. That works particularly well in ski resorts, because there just aren’t that many hotels of any given category, especially when you book close enough to the trip that a lot of places simply have no rooms left on any online travel site.

What do you know, I got exactly the hotels I thought I was going for. I was iffy on the one in Big Sky, but got the one I wanted in the end. The amount of money saved is not astronomical, but if you save $50 in two days, that’s enough to buy an extra souvenir shirt, and I need those!

What snow gear would I need?

Montana in the middle of winter. Literally the middle of winter, counting as such the period between December 21st and March 21st. It was going to be cold. 20 degrees below kind of cold. At the base. I was prepared for sudden death on the ski lift. I mean, I had spent the most uncomfortable 20 minutes of my life stuck on KT22 in Squaw Valley, dangling 100 feet above the rocks with a ferocious wind howling around me – but that was still in the 20s above!

I went to Amazon and looked for thermal protection. They have an amazing selection, and the reviews help sorting out what works and what doesn’t. I ended up with a set of Tesla thermals as base layer, followed by a set of merino wool thermals, and an additional red onesie for superprotection. I completed the collection with two pairs of wool socks made to make me think I was warm.

I didn’t need to buy any new gear: boots, board, bindings, helmet, and gloves were in perfect working order. I had six sets of Dragon goggles I could pick from. Love those goggles with their wide field of vision and perfect fit. Also, they do not fall apart at the seal like other brands I have bought.

I needed to decide on a new set of incidentals: stomp pad, lock, tools, and tether. In the end, I decided to do without the tools because my board is incredibly reliable. The board is also very pretty, so to heck with the falling and I wouldn’t put a stomp pad on. I got a cheap spiral tether that doesn’t get in the way, although I have to question its utility – or that of all tethers. I mean, the bindings don’t just pop open, so your board is going to run away only if you take them off. But if you do, you generally hold the board under your arm, which is of course when you don’t have the tether on.

The last item I needed was a lock. I opted for the Kryptonite lock, since it looked the easiest to use with frozen fingers. When I got it, I was surprised at how big it was, but also at how light and easy to use. I absolutely recommend. I should mention that many of the reviews on Amazon complain about how insecure this lock really is. That’s definitely the case: it’s a cable lock, and those are notoriously easy to crack. Just cut the cable.

The thing is, though, that barely anyone has a lock at those resorts. So if someone wants to steal a board, they don’t need fancy equipment, they simply take what’s unsecured. Also, the more common reason for a board to disappear is for someone to take it mistakenly. If the board is locked, they realize it’s not theirs. But if it isn’t, it might take them a while to figure it out, and by then you are already stuck without board somewhere by a board rack in the middle of the mountain.

I concluded my shopping spree on Amazon with rub on wax that I wouldn’t need, and a really great padded board bag. I can only recommend a padded bag, since an unpadded bag has the side effect of getting your edges dull. My beloved Custom X was so dull from years of shipping (and from the idiot in Whistler that shaved off the sharp edge) that I could barely ride it any more. The bag I bought is this one.

What gear would I need for travel?

Planning for such a trip is always major hassle. I decided I would go as easy on the stuff as possible. Three changes of clothes, one set of workout clothes, and only one sweater and pair of jeans. No extra jacket but the snow jacket. I figured that if I felt I needed something extra, I could buy it en route.

I always have a toiletry bag handy that has everything I need, including a first aid kit. Really, I mostly need the ibuprofen for the pain and antibiotic ointment for tree booboos. I also always include my portable waterpik, because you should never skip oral hygiene when you spend half your day taking yourself to the limits of your athletic abilities.

Computer gear was the minimum required. Which, since I am a geek, was a lot. I tried to keep the gadgets to a minimum, but ended up taking the following:

  • Bluetooth receiver/transmitter to be able to listen to BT audio from the phone on the helmet headset
  • Two phones, because if one craps out, you need a working sub
  • My gym MP3 player, which will become important in Sun Valley
  • A portable power bank for the days when you forgot to recharge the gear
  • The Contour camera that would record all the tumbles and conquests
  • A powered USB hub to connect the gadgets to the computer and recharge them independently
  • Cables for the assorted multitude
  • A StraightTalk LTE mobile hotspot. StraightTalk is Walmart’s brand of wireless service, and it’s offered as a partnership with the four big carriers. My phones are on the amazing T-Mobile network, but sometimes that amazing network falls flat in rural area. There, using AT&T or better Verizon gives you better coverage. You only pay for the data you use, there is no contract or commitment, so it’s exactly what you’d want on a trip.

I did not pack anything for the drive. I might need a scraper for the windshields, sunglasses for the drive, and chains for the wheels. Of course, I couldn’t buy chains in advance, since I didn’t know what car and hence what tires I’d get.

What I typically do is look for the closest Walmart en route. There I buy everything I will need, which is usually food and drink, and whatever else I forgot. This year, I introduced an interesting variant and bought a coffee maker for $10. I wake up early, much earlier than the breakfast buffet, and I love making my own coffee. At $10, I could afford buying the coffee maker and simply leave it behind, making some room service maid eternally grateful.

What to do with the cat?

One of the problems of living in Pacific Beach is that everyone moves all the time. Last summer, all the people I trusted to watch my cat left and I was left, too. But left without a cat minder. In fact, in hindsight I didn’t travel at all in the second half of 2015 because I had nobody to watch the cat.

You’ll say, there must be an app for that! And you would be right. Short story short: it is called It is meant for dogs, but you can get a cat minder if you select the breed, “Cat.”

I checked the various sitters and found Susan. She had stellar reviews (unlike the one I gave my neighbors), had been doing it for years, and was willing to come for a modest price. Rover, you saved my trip!

The Grand Tour of the North: Seeking Fresh Powder Edition

2016 02 09 10.34.29For the past three years, I’ve started a collection of all Mountain Collective Pass resorts. For those who don’t know, the Mountain Collective is a group of resorts not owned by the big juggernaut, Vail Resorts. These banded together to offer an alternative.

The Pass works very simply: when you buy it, you get two “free” days at each of the participating resorts (and a third free days at one resort you designate when you buy). After that, you get 50% off tickets at the same resorts. It’s a fantastic deal whether you plan to go to many resorts or not, especially because it’s relatively cheap. Three years ago, it was $349 at the beginning of the season, this year $389.

The first trip I took was in 2014. My friend M flew in and we drove to the three Western resorts of the pass: Mammoth, Squaw/Alpine, and Whister. This trip is recorded here. In 2015, I joined M in Denver for the second round, a trip to Jackson Hole (newly added), Snowbird, and Aspen/Snowmass. That trip is recorded here.

2016 could have brought one of two trips. I may yet take off and do the second trip, but I selected a tour de force of colossal proportions. A daring feat of the ass, sitting in a car for endless hours to get to the three northernmost big resorts in the Rocky Mountains. That would be Sun Valley ID, Jackson Hole WY, and Big Sky MT. Of those, Big Sky is not in the Mountain Collective. But I am sort of running out of resorts to visit, and there was nothing close enough to the other two to make the trip worth it.


Can You Day Trip from San Diego to Mammoth?

Selfie, looking up-mountainSo, maybe 2015 was not your year. Maybe everything went wrong in your personal and professional life. Maybe there have been long lasting relationships falling apart, or greedy and incompetent advisers. Maybe you have been in a funk for months, thinking dangerously frequently about that suicide scene in your upcoming novel with no suicide scene anywhere in it.

Fret not, a new year is here, a new leaf is turned, and a new adventure awaits. This time, to find the answer to the age old questions: Is a day trip from San Diego to Mammoth possible, advisable, worth it?

You cannot even believe how much just a stupid trip on a hunch can do for you. Set your mind, close the shutters of your brain, and just do it. Maybe it’s fun, maybe it isn’t (hint: IT IS!!), but you are for certain going to get out of your discomfort zone.

First, logistics: the trip from San Diego to Mammoth Lakes is about 400 miles, depending on where you start in San Diego (395 miles for me, to be precise). You can cover that with no traffic in about 6.5 hours, according to Google. To be at the lifts at opening hour, 8:30a, you’d have to leave at 2a. To leave at 8a means to get there at 2:30p, which is when the lifts are about to close. So you have to leave way too early for sanity.