Category: Snow Updates

Last Snow in Mammoth

2015-03-31 112728 20150402 2012071608It was so tempting: on the heels of the mega-epic trip around the Rockies, I wanted one last chance to ride before the season’s officially over. Also, I had bought this cheap Arbor board and these cheap Gnu bindings and I wanted to give both a go.

I packed the car and my friend Torrey and we dashed up the highway on a fateful Monday afternoon. The snow divinities liked us, as we sailed up the 15, then 215, then 15, then finally 395 without a hitch. I’ve had the worst experience driving through San Bernardino before: none of that this time.

We got into Mammoth too late to get an idea of snow conditions. The hotel was the Juniper Springs Resort, which has amazing lift access: you stumble out the side door and you are at the lift. It’s really awesome! The room was the usual one bedroom condo, with a spacious and well-equipped kitchen and two TVs. I love to stay there!

In the morning, I looked out. We got a condo on the South side of the building, overlooking the lobby and hence automatically the lift. What do you know, there was no snow. Not a single flake, speck, or puddle. The lift was bone dry, immobile, and our lift access had been revoked by Mother Nature.

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Circle Around the Rockies: Seeking Fresh Powder Edition

2015-03-07 103933 20150318 2043875689Mountain Collective? Check! Car? Check! Hotels? Check! Snowboarding gear? Check!

This is the second instalment of the yearly Spring Break Snowboarding series. Last year’s was about the West Coast, this year it was all in the Rockies. I went with my amazing friend Michael again, and we had an absolute blast!

The Mountain Collective, for those of you that joined this time around, is a loose group of ski resorts that all banded together to combat the evil empire, a.k.a. Vail Resorts (VR). VR owns a large number of places on the West Coast, including many of my favorites (like Heavenly and Kirkwood). Their passes are relatively cheap and suck up a lot of the snowboarding that could be going to the resorts in the Collective.

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Running Out of Time: Mountain Collective Passes Nearly Sold Out

Quick word of warning: while last year’s Mountain Collective passes were “nearly sold out” for months, who knows what’s going to happen this year. In any case, the site lists them as almost sold out, and they are still the best deal in mountains you’ll find.

(A season pass with Epic is my second choice and would be my first choice if I lived closer to Tahoe or Colorado!)

Up and Down the West Coast: Seeking Fresh Powder Edition

I mentioned in a previous post how I went to Mammoth on a Mountain Collective Pass. My friend Michael and I now decided to go crazy and drive all the way to Whistler, BC, Canada and hit the three resorts on the way that offer the pass.

Executive summary: Driving from San Diego to Whistler and back in a week is crazy. But it’s still better than flying. Thanks, airlines!

Following the Pineapple Express to Mammoth with a Mountain Collective Pass

joomplu:14924What a tragically bad season to get a Mountain Collective Pass! We’ve barely had any precipitation at all in California, and the more South you go, the drier it gets. Snow pack was below 33% of normal, which means most mountains would only allow on-piste skiing, and that’s tragically bad for crowd control.

The Mountain Collective Pass, if you haven’t heard, is the attempt of the non-Vail resorts to band together. Vail owns many of the top ski areas in North America, and they offer a season pass that allows you to ski at all of them. The other ones had nothing similar to offer, and have been coasting on monopolistic revenue for way too long: the snow aficionado could only get a pass to, say, Mammoth or Whistler, and then buy day passes at all the resorts for which a season pass wouldn’t be cost-effective.

Under the threat of losing even more business to savvy Vail, six fancy resorts banded together. They are Aspen/Snowmass, Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Squaw, and Whistler/Blackcomb. The pass cost $349 during pre-season, $379 at the end of it, and became unavailable as soon as snow fell. It gives you two free days at each resort, plus a 50% discount on additional days. It’s a really good deal if you don’t want to commit to a single resort, and at 50% discount, you can actually go up the mountain even if you are not up for a full day.

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Tahoe, Here I Come

tahoeY’all probably remember the terrible snowboarding accident that cut short my budding career as the world’s worst snowboarder. Well, that was three years ago, and I am still not fully recovered: there isn’t much to recover when tendons snap off, is there? But I am pretty much functional as I was, if more cautious at times.

While I’ve been good about keeping active, and even added surfing as a new and all-consuming sport, I didn’t snowboard as much any longer. By “as much” I mean that I hadn’t been snowboarding since the accident, with a single exception.

But after three years, I felt like going again. Cautious not to cause injury, I booked a trip to Lake Tahoe. Turns out the season pass cost as little as four day tickets, and I figured even a moderate snowboarding trip would take four days.

I decided in favor of South Lake Tahoe, my old staple. What I really like about the place is that it’s a real town, with real people that live here year round and have their own needs. Other resorts, like Squaw, or Kirkwood, or even Northstar, are little worlds to themselves. There, you are restricted in the things you can do. In SLT, there are grocery stores, gyms, even a K-Mart.

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Heavenly? Not So Heavenly

People familiar with the geography of the place know that Heavenly-the-resort is named after a creek and valley that come down from East Peak, the highest skiable location in the Tahoe region. So, to expect it to be heavenly would be geographically not justified.

We had a series of intense storms in the Northern California region, so it seemed the perfect moment to rush out and get to Tahoe. I rented a car, since I wanted to go midweek (and realized later I could have gotten a bunch of friends to go with me). I filled the tiny Kia Rio with the gear and off I went at 5:30.

It was all good. The roads were in pristine condition, and even the slow guys on the highway behaved. There is usually at least one idiot that drives 40 on US 50 (speed limit: 55) and uses the passing lanes helpfully provided every few miles to race ahead like a maniac. I haven’t figured out, yet, if they do so out of a spirit of competition or because they are afraid of the one-lane road.

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Peak 2 Peak

Day 2 of my yearly trip to Whistler. The snow stinks, and you can’t really do anything outside of groomed runs, but storms are on their way. The base is decent, but really way too low for this time of the year. In places you see the base of trees, and the snow covering the rest of the mountain looks threadbare and thin. Snowmaking equipment is on all day and night.

The big news, this year, is of course the Peak2Peak gondola that gets you from Whistler to Blackcomb (or the other way around) in 11 minutes. I skipped it on day 1, but I felt like going to the "other side" yesterday, so I jumped the mountain.

Two things stand out:

  1. 11 minutes is really, really fast if you consider the alternative (going down the mountain and riding back up). Besides, you skip all the low terrain, which means most of the beginner land and the high annoyance areas
  2. The Whistler web site makes it look like a huge thrill ride, with the gondola suspended high above the valley floor. It isn’t, the gondola is still quite high up, but the arc of the gondola line follows the valley much more closely than you’d think. 

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bayareaskibus.com

No car and snowboarder? What do you do? Take your bike up to Tahoe (hopefully it’s motorized) with your gear and your snowboard strapped on your back? Comes in handy when going downhill, you can use the board as your wings and fly above the crowd waiting in that giant parking lot that is I-80 on a Sunday evening.

So far, I had three options: rent a car, go with friends that are willing to drive, or hitch a ride with unknown strangers on craigslist or one of the carshare sites. Each of the three came with advantages and disadvantages:

  • renting a car definitely wins points for being the most independent way to get to Tahoe. You can even rent the car and then look for friends or strangers to go with you, share the cost, and maybe even drive some of the time. The drawback is mostly that it’s expensive (since you don’t have a car, you have to get insurance) and that most rental car agencies don’t have snowboarder-friendly policies. For instance, most agencies in town close on the weekend, so that you’d have to rent your car on Friday to return it on Monday even if you just need it on Sunday
  • going with friends the funnest way of going anywhere on earth, is dependent on everybody’s schedule. If you have friends like mine, who are constantly on the move, it’s hard to do anything short notice. They’ll have planned the weekend already by the time you call and say there is going to be snow in the mountains (yes, I know, another sign you are growing old is when your friends pre-plan their weekends)
  •  random car shares is theoretically a wonderful idea: you pay a moderate amount of money (typically gas/part of the gas), you can arrange for a pickup, you can choose the type of people you are going to meet and, best of all, you actually get to meet people that might become friends! The downside? Would you really want to make your snowboarding day depend on some random stranger? Imagine they don’t show up at all, show up late, show up drunk and stoned, show up drinking and smoking pot, and are not willing to share? Wink

I found a better alternative. I tried it out yesterday for the first time, and it’s been a complete success. It’s called bayareaskibus.com. (more…)

Review: Kirkwood

{moszoomimglink:Cornice}Of all the resorts in the Tahoe area, Kirkwood has been consistently cited by friends as the one with the best snow. It is indeed in an odd location, about 40 minutes South of South Lake Tahoe, all by itself. The slopes face the East, which means they are shielded from the fierce West winds that bring all the powder with the winter storms.

I had not gone in the four years I had been snowboarding: I had always relied on season passes, and it seemed foolish to pay extra tickets and then go to a place so far off. Indeed, those that love Kirkwood all say that it doesn't have anything going on outside the slopes, unlike SLT, where you don't get bored no matter what time of the year. 

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