Rockin’ The “Boat”

Steamboat that is.  What were you thinking?  After an incredibly insane month or two of holiday cheer in the real world, we took a week-long, much-deserved, much appreciated trip to the amazing Steamboat Springs, CO.

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The place is known in the ski and board circles for one thing: Copious amounts of light fluffy “champagne” TM (Seriously… its trademarked by Steamboat Resort) powder.  Plus, with our Rocky Mountain Super Passes, Jess and I had 6 days worth of lift tickets already in the bag.

We stayed in an amazing cabin about 5 minutes – but another world – away from downtown Steamboat Springs.

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We planned for everything: what amazing runs we would take to get to the best powder filled aspen glades, what lifts would get us there fastest, what time to get up to get first tracks, where to eat breakfast on the go to get there early… the ONE thing we didn’t plan for: ABSOLUTELY NO SNOW!  Not a flake fell until the day we left.

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That should have been a complete disaster – right?  Actually… it worked in our favor.  Instead of jostling every other powder-hound-cowboy to load up into a cramped humid gondola, we took our sweet time and hit some of the most fun backcountry lines we have ever experienced.

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Just goes to show, when life hands you lemons… chuck ’em and go splitboarding.  (Oh… or go hit the hot springs!)

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Oh, and before you go, here are a few MUST do activities and tips while spending time in Steamboat:

  1. Strawberry Park Hot Springs – Pretty much the number one reason we came here according to Jess, and it was so worth it.  Go during a snow storm – the contrast is so amazing between the warm pools and the cold snowy atmosphere.  Photo 2_WEB
  2. Rabbit Ears Pass/Buffalo Pass – Backcountry – Rabbit Ears is super mellow and a great place for beginner splitboard/skiers to have a good time.  Head to Walton Peak or you can find some fun lower commitment stuff off of the Fox Curve trail too.
  3. Off The Beaten Path Coffee/Book Shop – Nice place to relax and have some coffee on a down day plus they have wifi so you can reconnect with the world.
  4. Perry Mansfield Cabins – Awesome place to stay about 5 minutes outside of downtown Steamboat.  No internet, no TV, no stress!  Super quiet and perfect for unwinding.
  5. Lil’ House Biscuits Just get the plain biscuit: SO tasty.
  6. Johnny B. Good’s Diner For Breakfast – Cool vibe and good breakfastOutdoors_130111_SteamboatTrip_0287_WEB
  7. Steamboat Smokehouse BBQ Joint – Have the best appetizer: “Burnt Ends” are just the best crispy part of a brisket and are very flavorful. Outdoors_130111_SteamboatTrip_0446_WEB
  8. Steamboat Resort Itself – duh? We didn’t have great snow conditions while we were there but the trees off of the Storm Peak Express and Sundown looked like they would be epic on a pow day.
  9. Bear Grill at Steamboat Resort – According to Jess they have the “Best hot chocolate she has ever tasted” – No joke, she was super impressed.  DCIM100GOPRO
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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

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.