Snow Updates

What's new in the world of snowboarding, or snow in general? What's the latest trip? Where is the freshest powder? Who got busted in the off-limits terrain again?

It is Presidents' Day 2016 as I write this. The sun has come out and it's going to be a warm day in San Diego. The yellow jacket is staring at me on a chair opposite this computer, while the board and gear are still firmly lodged on the living room floor. It's a mess, a glorious mess.

This adventure was amazing. I saw places I would remember forever, had more fun than I thought I could have, was less stressed out than I thought I would by the constant need to move, move, move.

There were a few takeaways. First, I am firmly back in the saddle when it comes to snowboarding. I was reticent for a long time, the lingering side effects of the shoulder separation contracted in Breckenridge still haunting me. Not on this trip: I pushed harder than I have ever before, and I was rewarded with more accuracy, more stability, and greater challenge. I snowboarded down double blacks wondering why they weren't just single blacks, and had a ski instructor in Sun Valley tell me I should stay the hell out of blue runs and use them only to get to the more challenging drops.

Second, I was positively amazed at how much my second time in Jackson Hole was better than the first time. I had very, very fond memories of the place and thought they couldn't and certainly wouldn't be bested. But I was wrong, and Jackson Hole delivered. Part of it was that I wasted less time exploring places I wouldn't like, part of it that I actually was able to get everywhere I wanted to get (including the top), and part of it that I found new places (especially in the Village) that I didn't know existed, but made my day.

Finally, and this is the biggest one, I found Big Sky. Sure, I was lucky and got a fresh dump of pow pow to work with, but aside from Swift Current, the mountain was perfect. It is enormous, second to Whistler only in North America, but it also has a variety that is hard to match. Unlike Whistler, too, it has much more consistent snow. I cannot tell you how often I've gone to Canada only to find the snow rained out, or melted already to the point where you couldn't ride down to Creekside. You don't have to be afraid of that in Montana, although it might occasionally get way too cold for comfort.

Better than Whistler, Big Sky is not crowded, ever. Presidents' Day weekend is the busiest time at any resort in the USA, and I remember with horror the lines at Ski Express in Heavenly (45 minutes! in the singles line!) Yet, aside from the popular destinations, I never had to wait in Big Sky. And since it is uncrowded, people are friendlier and don't get frustrated as easily. I wonder about the random rudeness of some, but I have an inkling it is more a function of the weekend than of the place.

Next year? I still have a dream trip to make with the Mountain Collective, and I mentioned it here in a previous post. The trip is Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, to Whistler. All those resorts are lines up on Highway 1, the Trans-Canada Highway (except for Whistler, which is on a spur through Pendleton). The problem is logistics, having to fly into Calgary and dropping off the car in Vancouver, or vice-versa.

I may do that trip later in the season, if I feel like it. It would be great to have 5 of the Mountain Collective resorts under my belt in one year, although I had 4 last year - not a giant difference.

But next year? I am planning on getting the MAX pass and staying a full week. One full week in Big Sky, and if I have the time and money, one more week at one of their other destinations. Maybe Steamboat in Colorado, although I will be a native by then. Maybe Mount Bachelor in Oregon. I've heard great things.

To the West, the airport, to the right the Holiday Inn. I was happy about that, because I really didn't want to deal with any kind of traffic in the morning.

Location for the Holiday Inn is perfect, and the rooms are really nice. In fact, this was probably the nicest room I've stayed at during the entire trip. The only downside: I got a Hotwire room. Some hotels have the nasty habit of giving guests the crappiest rooms just because you ordered it with a discount.

Las Vegas knows how it's done: if you show up for the first time, they more often than not upgrade you for free. If you go to Cesar's Palace and get upgraded to a mini-suite, while at the Circus Circus you get stuck in a danky room next to the elevators, you are simply going to give Circus Circus a crappy review and never show up there again.

Such was my fate at the Holiday Inn Boise Airport. The hotel was barely half full, judging by the number of empty parking spots in the morning, yet I had been assigned a room so obviously Hotwired, it even had its own sign.

You know how when you get to a hotel floor, they have signs that tell you "Rooms 301-332, left?" Well, this hotel had the same. Plus a sign that read, "Marco's crappy room, around the corner." OK, it said, "334, right arrow." But it really meant the same.

It was the room, you guessed it, whose long wall was the wall to the elevators on the other side. All night long, I would hear the chyme of the elevator whenever someone stopped at my floor (3) People would talk in normal voices, and they felt as loud as if they were standing right next to me.

I've had two experiences worse than this in a hotel. Once, I lost my apartment keys in Portland and the building manager refused to give me spares that night, so I had to stay at a Motel 6, right next to elevator and ice maker. It was whoosh, crunch crunch all night. Then I was at the fancy Mammoth Ski Resort Lodge and they gave me a suite at the corner at street level. Snow removal equipment was working all night.

Still, nothing that makes me recommend the Holiday Inn Boise Airport. At the very least, if you booked on Hotwire, make sure they change your room, no matter what they first give you. Simply say something like, I will not like that room, please give me a different one, and only then march upstairs and check what they gave you.

In the morning, I was on my merry way. The airport formalities were easy. Drop off the rental car, walk to Alaska check-in, walk through security, wait. There was no delay this time around and we got into San Diego on perfect time to witness a gorgeous, warm and sunny morning. I will miss San Diego's winters, for sure!

Lyft (and Uber and all the other cab apps) finally got a place to do pick-ups at the airport. It is in the parking lot, just beyond the regular cabs. The app even has instructions when you request a Lyft.

So concludes a wonderful week of snowboarding adventure.

One thing I failed to mention in my write-up of the snowboarding day in Big Sky is that it was "unseasonably warm." It was mid-February, when temperatures should have ranged from 15 to 38 (low high). Instead, it was 38 to 50. Locals told me it felt like May.

I had checked the weather before going up the mountain and made the right (if scary) call: only the Tesla base layer and a cotton sweater on top. That my usual uniform for spring skiing, and it was way too much for the day. I wish I had brought the convertible jacket (the one where you can separate the shell from the inner lining and wear it as a full protection jacket, a shell only, or a light jacket with not shell).

The warmth and sunshine and lack of wind certainly helped make the day as perfect as it was. They also conspired to make the night a tragedy for the snow. All the softness of the day would turn into crusty ice at night. I thought maybe I could get by on Moonlight Basin, maybe I could get to the tram and do some of the crazy stuff on the top of the mountain.

But I didn't. I was tired, since I hadn't slept well, and I had a long drive back to Boise ahead of me. There was snow on the forecast for the afternoon, and I didn't want to get trapped in it. And I was tired, with a crescendo of snowboarding that had culminated in a day spent nonstop on the slopes.

Finally, I would have to pay a full day, $106, while knowing I wasn't going to stay much past noon. I would also have to pay for parking, since I would have lost another hour getting to the shuttle and driving down.

For consolation, I told myself it didn't really matter: I would be back. Big Ski is easily reached from Bozeman (it's about 50 miles from the airport) and the snow is much more reliable, still, than at other resorts. It's the kind of place where you feel comfortable buying a time share, because it doesn't really matter that your week is assigned: no matter what week it is, you can make it work.

I also learned about the existence of a "secret" resort just South of Big Sky. It is called the Yellowstone Club, is members only (where members means you have to buy real estate), and boasts 2200 skiable acres. It is weirdly adjacent to Big Sky in a way reminiscent of Alpine's proximity to Squaw. If you want to buy into the private resort idea, you should know that the cheapest condo there is about $2M at the time of writing. "But no lift lines" sounds a lot more appealing in Heavenly or Mammoth than in Big Sky.

I jumped in the car with the clouds from the West looking dark and uninviting. I had planned on leaving after the stores opened, so I could buy one more Big Sky souvenir. But I didn't make it: it was 8:30 when I went downstairs and handed the key to the front desk. Dumped everything into the car, not caring about planning anything, not needing to make sure the snowboard gear was in reach and that I wouldn't leave the boots in the car, or else I wouldn't be able to get into them in the morning. No more snowboarding for a while. Sad Face!

I drove off knowing the drive was going to be 6.5h on a good day. Six and a half hours don't sound too bad until they are your parting shot going away from a week of perfect fun.

The gas stations in Big Sky, at the bottom of Lone Mountain Road, are both relatively cheap. If you are leaving town, buy gas there, since anything en route is much, much more expensive. When I drove past, it was $1.85 in Big Sky and $2.65 in West Yellowstone. That may be because West Yellowstone seems to be the snowmobile capital of the world: I saw at least seven bands (gaggles? murders? choppers? packs?) of snowmobiles on tour just driving through.

There was no snow. I drove down without the slightest issue and by the time I had reached Ashton in the Snake River valley, I knew the drive was not going to be a problem. From there on, I drove to Idaho Falls and onto the freeway. Stopped for a Starbucks on the way. After that, a long long boring boring drive and stop at the McDonald's in Burley. I might be forgiven for not knowing much about Burley: the only thing I remember was the people driving off the drive-through, reclined in their car seats because of obesity.

As you drive on, you reach the Snake River Canyon and things get more scenic. Central Idaho is volcanic and the canyons are steep and scenic. There is an area called Massacre Rocks that sounded historic, but turned out to be just a cautionary tale for emigrants.

Eventually, I got to the airport in Boise.

Subcategories

The snowboarding trip of the year 2016! Three world class ski/snowboard resorts in the northernmost reaches of the mountain states. A six day trip spanning three states, in the middle of winter!