Ironing Out the Kinks: A Splitboard Tour at Jenny Creek / Eldora

This last weekend, J and I headed out for, what we hoped was, a relaxing splitboard tour on the Jenny Creek Trail that starts right around the base area of the Eldora Ski Resort.  Unlike last time at Caribou, we actually had some sunshine and no wind and could focus on just being outside on the snow and not getting blown off the mountains.

We actually had sun this time.

We actually had sun this time.

The trail started off a little tricky.  I mean, I LOVE maps, and think I can read them pretty well, but unfortunately for us, all the nordic and snowshoe trails for Eldora ARE NOT on the standard topo maps.  Needless to say, we (I mean I) got pretty lost until a friendly nordic skier pointed us in the right direction and gave us a trail map.

"Are you sure this is the way Ry?"

“Are you sure this is the way Ry?”

Poles are nice.

Sure… just another quarter mile (I think)

After a good half mile detour and a bunch of stops to iron out our setups, we finally found the start of the Jenny Creek trail.

Finally... the trail!

Finally… the trail!

We continued on the trail for a little while as it pushed further away from the ski resort itself, and finally decided to turn around.  J and I were both STARVING at this point and were seriously craving some french fries.

Caution, smaution, Full Speed Ahead!

Caution, Smaution, Full Speed Ahead!

On the way back, we took the correct trail that basically skirts the lower bunny hill of the ski resort.  That meant that we got to “practice” our splitboard skiing, which, I must say, isn’t too pretty just yet.

Descending on the edge of the ski resort.

Descending on the edge of the ski resort.

Overall, we went about 2.5 miles and gained around 500′ on our little outing, but it was great to get the setup dialed and just to work up a good appetite.  Oh yeah, and we totally demolished some Five Guys fries when we got back to Boulder!

Google Earth RouteWEB PM

Breaking Trails and Breaking In

When your season starts as horribly as ours, you tend to go a while without getting out and splitboarding.  What also happens, is you end up getting a lot of new gear without getting a chance to try it out as you get it.  That was the case for us as we finally had enough snow here in the Front Range to go get on it and break in some of our gear.

We didn’t have much time and weren’t in the mood for much of a drive so we went to check out one of the closer local spots up past Nederland – Caribou.

As usual, a little windy up there.

"Nice" day for a split tour

“Nice” day for a split tour

Jess getting out on the Voile Mojo RX that we picked up in the off season, and me on my DIY splitty.

The quiver

The quiver

Felt really good just to get out on some snow again.  The frustration of this early season is unreal, and the best way to cure it, I’ve found, is to get out there when the going gets good.  (BTW, pretty obvious that we haven’t been out much since I FORGOT OUR FRICKIN POLES!)

Awww, snow.

Awww, snow.

Jess is sporting a whole new setup including the Voile MojoRX split, Voile Lightrail bindings, new G3 High Traction skins and Black Diamond Covert Avalung pack.  That means: lots of GEAR REVIEWS on the way.

Testing out the new Voile and G3's

Testing out the new Voile and G3’s

So nice to be able to actually dig in the snow.  What did I find?  About 1-2ft of soft slab on top of rotten depth hoar, yup, not too good.

Cocaine... so much cocaine!

Cocaine… so much cocaine!

AND, some new gear of my own to test out including the Ortovox Haute Route pack, some Arcteryx Theta AR bibs and a new Lowe Pro camera bag setup for backcountry photo shoots.

Satisfaction!

Satisfaction!

Something to talk about

I clicked onto my blog today and I swear I could hear crickets echoing in here.  It all comes down to the fact that this blog is just a way to express passions and interests.

As a snow lover in the winter mindset, if there is no snow, there’s no passion and no posts.

Frustration has been at an all time high here in Colorado as the state is at basically zero snow levels.  Another couple of weeks of this and I’m not sure I would make it to Christmas.

Butthurt on the rise in CO

In comes talk about the proverbial “pattern shift.”  This is some mystical thing that is supposed to bring massive amounts of snow to the state, but me, along with most other Coloradoans, will believe it when we see it.

Pattern Change?

Living vicariously through Mammoth mountain locals only lasts so long before that just gets depressing.  Let’s pray, dance and burn stuff to keep this “pattern change” coming!

Mammoth now... CO soon?

Mammoth now… CO soon?

Birthday Boarding: Opening Weekend @ Copper

I don’t think I have EVER been snowboarding ON my birthday before!  It doesn’t seem quite right since November makes it totally possible, but I really don’t think I ever have.  I know what all you August-Born people are thinking (“must be nice”).

Birthday Boarding at Copper

After last years fiasco at Keystone on opening weekend, Jess and I pretty much said “never again” to the weekend-super-early-one-(icy-man-made)-run-one-lift thing, but seeing as it was my birthday, we made an exception.

The key to survival?
Go late!  Seriously, it seems counter-intuitive (the early bird gets the worm) but at this point in the season, it’s not a frickin powder day, and everyone else is so amped up to ski/ride that they are there at the opening bell… and subsequently done by noon.

We rolled in at a comfortable 1130 (partly because Jess was feeling a bit ill) and by the time I grabbed some lunch and hopped on the lift, the numbers were slowly dwindling and by two-thirty there was zero wait in the singles line.

On top of the crowds, showing up late and letting the run get a little chewed up and warmed up can have its benefits.  Sure the first 10 people will get some nice untracked corduroy, but after that its just super-packed base making material.  Stick to the edges or some areas in the very middle and you can find the best stuff later in the day.

Now… snow is looking to come back to the western US possibly next weekend, so maybe this early season one run stuff is on its way out!

First Day Out: Jones Pass/Butler Gulch

Watching the snow fly this last week, I had determined that I HAD to go get out and at least see it, feel it, touch it (yeah, it’s like that).  I decided to check out a new area and decided on the Jones Pass/Butler Gulch area.  Not knowing how much snow was really out there, I optimistically packed my splitboard in the car hoping against hope that there would be enough to slide on.
Well, pulling up to the trailhead was not promising:

Not too promising out of the gate at the Jones Pass TH

Almost immediately after leaving the trailhead though, things started to gradually improve into a skinable 4-6 inches on the trail.

Skinning in, things are improving

After climbing to about 11,000′ things got a bit deaper and I actually made a few (very cautious) light turns.

Splitboard and Tracks – Like Pees and Carrots

All in all, I was not optimistic that I would even be able to skin up there, but it turns out it was much better than I thought.  About 12-18″ more up there and it should open up quite a bit.

Snow + Me = Smiles

Shoulder Season: Storms, Snowmaking and Stoke

If your stoke meter is running around the green or blue level, just give it a few days, cuz things are starting to happen.

The stoke meter climeth

First, there is moisture heading our way from a cut off low pressure system that brought a couple inches to mammoth and is heading our way promising to drop a few inches on our local mountains.  It may be warm, wet stuff (snow levels starting around 10-11k then dropping to around 8k) but snow is snow especially when it makes a base.  [Of course, be careful what you wish for since Early Season Snow can be a curse]

Precipitation totals for the next 24 hrs… Green/Blue=Good

On top of that, Further, the snowboard film by TGR featuring Jeremy Jones premiers tonight in boulder at the Boulder Theater.  I have heard great reviews (except from the folks that are waiting for the DVD’s to ship) and going to see it in a premiere atmosphere should definitely help move that stoke meter needle.  If you need a little pick me up yourself, here is the tour schedule.  If you haven’t seen the trailer, you should:

Finally, while Loveland and A-Basin are waiting to announce their dates to open, it’s getting close as you can see here:

A Basin Blowing Snow on High Noon

Loveland Changing Colors

While we are talking snowmaking, and since I was curious about how it works myself, lets dive in and see why snowmaking isn’t quite as simple as just freezing water and blowing it on a slope.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start talking about snowmaking is this thing called the “wet bulb” temperature.  What the heck is a wet bulb and why do we even care?  Well, the wet bulb, in the simplest form, is a way to relate regular temperature and humidity in the air and gives an idea of what effects evaporation will have on temperatures of air or water vapor.

Believe it or not, snowmaking CAN occur at temperatures above freezing and it can sometimes NOT occur even below freezing.  So why don’t resorts just crank the guns up whenever they want… $ and limited resources (water supply).  Especially in this economy and after last years dismal season, efficiency is the name of the game.  Basically, the drier the air (low Relative Humidity) and the colder the temperatures the more efficient.

The Efficiency Chart for Snowmaking. Green=Good Yellow=Marginal Red=Go Biking

This is all based off of how snowmaking equipment functions.  There are varying types of snowmakers but in general, they work on the same principles and need the following:

Cold Ambient Temperatures:
The Colder outside the better, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be below freezing and even if it is below freezing it’s not always ideal.

Evaporation:
Some of the heat is lost through the evaporation of molecules on the surface of the water drops that can help the water reach freezing and solidify.  Think of how cold your skin gets if you rub a little alcohol on it (not that kind of alcohol).  This is where relative humidity and the wet bulb come into play.  The more dry the air is, the easier it is to evaporate and cool the water drops.

Surface Area:
The smaller they can make each water droplet come out of the nozzle the greater surface area is exposed to the cold air and evaporation process, therefore more of the water turns to snow.

Supercooling:
Yeah, snow is pretty supercool but what they mean here is that if you use a compressed gas (like compressed air) and let it rapidly expand, it cools the air around it and helps to cool the water droplets to freezing.

Nucleation:
Not like nuclear bomb radiation or anything.  Even with natural snow from the clouds, water needs stuff to cling onto in order to really make good snow.  They call these nucleation sites and sometimes additives are used to help make this happen.  Ever heard of Cloud Seeding?

So there you have it, now you can sound super smart when you and your buddies are riding the WROD and someone asks why the joint is or isn’t making snow.

Snowmaking at A Basin Last Weekend

Early Season Snow… blessing or curse?

I get pretty excited when temps start to drop, leaves start to fall and talk of snowflakes picks up.  After all, this is one of the prettiest times of the year in the high country:

Dogs enjoying the fall colors.. oh wait, they’re color blind

I used to spend hours watching satellite loops, anticipating when snow would start falling on my fave Mammoth Mountain.  That attitude didn’t change when I moved here to Colorado, but should it?

Last season I took my AIARE Level I avalanche class and I have shifted my focus to the backcountry.  In terms of avalanche safety and backcountry snowboarding, early season snow is typically a BAD thing… WHAT!!!!  “How can that be?” you ask.  Well, let’s talk snow science:

Snow is good, but snow doesn’t just fall from the sky lay on the ground and stay there.  It is constantly changing (snow geeks call this metamorphism).  Those little flakes that you see in a snowstorm are great, they typically bond well together and make for a pretty good snow layer, but what tends to happen early season is that they begin to “facet.” These facets do not bond well to each other or other layers and become little ball bearings for avalanches to slide on.

Facets!

If you’ve been in the game long enough, you’ve heard the term facets before, but what causes them and why is it so bad with an early season snowpack?

1.  Facets are caused by temperature differences between lower and upper layers of the snowpack (geek speak = temperature gradient).   Check out this site for a cool video and a ton more info.

Temperature Gradients that cause facets.

2.  These gradients are especially bad with a thin snowpack (like early season).

3.  Facets forming from this temperature gradient in the lower snowpack is called depth hoar.  It sticks around and causes problems for a long time through the season (persistent) and is one of the major causes of injury/fatality causing avalanches

“Never trust a depth hoar snowpack, no matter how deep you bury her”
-Unknown Smart Dude

Overall, for resort riders, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!  For the backcountry types out there, let’s be a little more patient, if it’s going to snow, let it snow hard and keep snowing for months, otherwise lets hold off until it’s ready to dump.
So, in conclusion:  Am I going to stop obsessing over early season snow? Probably not.  Am I going to pay attention to what it does to the avalanche hazard in the backcountry… hell yes and so should you.