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.

It’s the Final Countdown…

First things first, push play on this and let it roll:

Okay, now we can get down to business.  It’s a little crazy, waking up this morning I could just feel that it had snowed in the mountains.  Something about the chill, the clouds, the humidity? I don’t know but I just had this feeling that I needed to go check the webcams and, sure enough, BAM! White up on top of A basin this morning:

Snow at the Base of A Basin 9/17

Now, I should warn you that there is no reason to get over excited about this little dusting (too late, I know).  This is because the weather outlook is not too promising for natural snow in the next week or so.  Basically, the forecast calls for a couple of shallow cold fronts to push by but not create too much weather.

“CHANCE OF ANY PRECIPITATION TUESDAY THROUGH NEXT SUNDAY IS VIRTUALLY NIL”   – NWS Weenies

So, here is the deal Nature: I’m going out of town this Friday and when I come back, I want full-on-winter snow dumpage… got it?

Tough Decisions That We LOVE to Make

It’s starting.  You know what it is.  I’ve already warned Jess about it.  Yup, it’s fall which officially makes it the “obsess over all aspects of weather, every possible chance of a snowflake falling on any mountain in any region of the continental US, last minute scope out of backcountry spots, get out, dust, tune and dial in the setup” season.  It basically gets to the point that if I can’t check my weather sites on a daily basis, I freak out like this guy:

It’s especially apparent that this season is upon us when images like these start rolling in:

Snow on Pikes Peak as of 14 September

This is one of those events that tends to set a few things in motion.

  1. First is that winter conditioning program starts to ramp up.  (More on this in another post) It happens to fit nicely with the Whole Life Challenge that Jess and I are starting on Saturday
  2. A 2012-13 winter goals discussion gets started. (More in a future post)
  3. And, tough decisions have to be made regarding the logistics of winter activities

What logistics? You might ask.  Well, the logistics of big trips to take, when, where, how long and the logistics of whether or not to get a Season Pass and if so, where.  I know, tough life, having to make these crucial life or death decisions.

It basically comes down to this.  Our main focus for this year is to safely spend most of our snow days in the backcountry.  With this as our ultimate goal, I initially considered not getting a pass at all especially since last year we got Epic Local passes and it turned out to be a bust.  To figure out what to do I did what any 21st century man would do: take it to the forums.  So I asked the fine folks over at splitboard.com and was surprised by the responses I got.

Expected to be ridiculed by hardcore/purist backcountry splitboarders on even considering the idea of a pass to a resort (said with lots of disdain btw), I found that a lot of the folks were really supportive of the idea.  Shredgnar immediately threw it out there.

“Riding backcountry all the time makes you rusty, some will disagree but for the way I want to ride it does. Plus it’s nice to bang out a few laps before work or when you are too hung over/tired to skin. Plus, if it’s anything like last season (god I hope not) it’s hard to find good backcountry riding all the time.”

While several folks disagreed with the concept of not riding resort makes you rusty, the overall vibe was that having a pass (especially if its cheap enough) was a good compliment to backcountry objectives.  Summing it all up it seemed to be

PROS:

  • Downhill riding skills stay fresh
  • “Nothing like a lift accessed powder day”
  • Good for those high avy danger days
  • Good for early season before the backcountry opens up
  • Good for days when you don’t have a partner to go into the backcountry with
  • Hard not to consider lift access up stuff like this:Easy, fairly cheap lift access to THIS... tempting

CONS:

  • Having a pass makes some less motivated to go backcountry
  • Have to deal with resort crowds & traffic (+1)
  • You actually have to pay for the thing which takes away from $ used on gear

So there is the debate, still trying to iron out the final decision here… tough life, I know.

Hot Sulphur Springs

It’s never too early to start prepping for the upcoming Winter! Last weekend, we went terrain scouting up at Berthoud Pass just for kicks:

 

Afterwards, we dropped by Winter Park to check out their downhill mtn bike park “Trestles.” Then we hit up Hot Sulphur Springs out in the middle of HoDunk, Colorado where there is literally one stoplight and a single hamburger stand at the side of the road! We dropped in at this place that had 21 mineral hot springs. The water bubbles up from 35,000′ underground smelling like sulphur and 15 other minerals. Jacuzzis now seem like such a knock off. 🙂 You mean, I can get 98-113 degree water au naturale?