Category Archives: Skiing/Snowboarding

A Daughter’s Tribute to Her Father

Standard

My father passed away a few days ago due to complications from multiple myeloma.

Daddy's Girl

Daddy’s Girl

He was diagnosed just a year ago, and now he’s gone. For the past several days, I’ve been by his side, helping to ease his pain. On Saturday, after the doctors broke the news that there was nothing more to be done, we brought him home.

Even in the midst of tragedy, Dad kept his sense of humor. He said he wanted to finally get that tattoo he’d always wanted but been too chicken. He told me other things too. That he was proud of me. That I had to take care of Mom. That he wasn’t scared.

Mom, Dad and the kids

The Huleens 2013

It is quite a thing to watch your father quickly decline, to witness an outpouring of love and admiration from others that he touched, to align your heart with others and wrap that communal love around him as if to protect him and usher him on to the next life.

I had my arms around him as he took his last breath. Mom held one side while I held the other and my brother pressed his hand to Dad’s chest. He was surrounded by love. Moments after he passed, the pain on his face was gone. Every wrinkle was erased. He looked as handsome in death as he had in life.

Sun Valley circa 1981

Sun Valley circa 1981

Dad taught me many things. Most importantly, he showed me that I was important. He gave me a sense of purpose that what I do in this world matters. He taught me that life may be short, but we can live well. He taught me to seize every moment, to care deeply for others, to cry openly, to love wholeheartedly, to laugh, to dance, to ski.

I will miss him.

Promises, Promises

Standard

“Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.”  –Warren Miller (via Mark Twain)

prayer flags_rainier

Praying for Snow

It’s no secret that the PNW is suffering in the snow department. We never received that November dump that lays down a thick base layer and covers the rocks and stumps and lets us sit back and gloat. We’re now into the holidays and the snowpack is still scratchy. We haven’t yet been able to groom much snow at Crystal because when the pack is this thin, the machines would break through and pick up rocks, ultimately making it worse. But there’s some hope. Last week the forecast ramped up our enthusiasm. For a few hours the collective PNW ski world held its breath in anticipation of a winter storm watch. Some areas did better than others. Stevens picked up 6″, which must have made for a great day of skiing yesterday and greatly improved their pack. Baker has picked up close to a foot of new snow, of course. Baker’s reputation for the snowiest place around is holding true even this year.

Above the clouds on Saturday overlooking Powder Bowl

Above the clouds on Saturday overlooking Powder Bowl

At Crystal, we got a mixed bag. Some snow on top (a total of 4″ that felt more like 3), some freezing rain, some regular rain on the lower half of the mountain and some valley fog that just made us feel soggy. The new snow yesterday did make a difference. Accompanied by wind, those 4″ smoothed out the base, making for a fun day. The best turns were on the right side of Powder Bowl and Green Valley. I also heard a report that Southback was good skiing. Looking ahead, tonight we will most likely get a little rain. But the forecast is calling for a change to snow by tomorrow along with an increase in precipitation. Even though usually when the temp falls so does the precip, this time I’m very hopeful. When the snowpack is this thin, even a few inches makes all the difference. Give us 8″ and it would be a powder frenzy. The weather pattern is going to change and we will start to get our typical winter storms piling up out in the Pacific. How do I know this? I just have a feeling. And remember, any skiing is better than none.

Mountain Girl Power: A Day on the Slopes with the SAFE AS Crew

Standard

Saturday was an extravaganza of girl power. Between spending the morning with the K2 International Woman’s Ski Day posse and the afternoon with the S.A.F.E. A.S crew, I was brimming with female superpowers.

Me and Lel Tone at the Summit of Crystal

Me and Lel Tone at the Summit of Crystal

Ingrid Backstrom said it best yesterday during our beacon training session led by Lel Tone. After spending several days with these amazing women, her communication skills were “well honed.” Women like to talk to each other. We like to check in with each other, and as these women demonstrated, we are pretty inclusive.

S.A.F.E. A.S. stands for Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety and is led by some amazing women. In addition to Lel and Ingrid, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso and Elyse Saugstad offered Crystal ladies an amazing avalanche awareness clinic designed for women. Not only did I get to join Lel in teaching the field session in the afternoon, I also had the chance to ski with these women the past few days at Crystal.

SAFE AS group photo

SAFE AS group photo

It wasn’t merely an estrogen overload. Nor was it the testosterone fest that usually fuels any group of skiers–male or female–that love to ski hard and fast. These ladies charge hard, but know how to manage risks. As Elyse says, it’s not just about charging hard today. It’s also about getting to go back out and do it again tomorrow. We all love to ski hard, to find that smooth line of snowy perfection and leave our mark on the mountain, our faces freezing into cold smiles. But it means nothing if you don’t make it back alive.

On Friday, we headed to Southback to find some untracked snow. With 3″ of new over a wind packed base, we hoped to find some nice turns. Even though we Crystal skiers are lamenting the slow start to the season, these professional skiers were thrilled. Michelle Parker called her two days skiing at Crystal the best of the season so far. Enthusiasm is infectious, and soon I, too, was caught up in the thrill of new snow, an all-girl crew, and the fun of rampaging around my local hill.

In all my years of skiing Southback, I have never discussed the conditions so much as I did with this group. Elyse asked specifics. Was this true backcountry we were headed into? Had the avalanche conditions changed? How was this terrain managed? She turned her beacon to receive and checked us all as we headed through the access gate.

At the summit of the King, we talked about rocks that I’d seen the day before hidden now by a mere skein of snow. Ingrid pointed to Brain Damage and we talked about where photographer Re Wikstrom should position herself. As Lel would say, the north side of the King is still at low tide. Rocks line Pin Ball, and shark teeth still poke out in various spots along the chutes. Instead of blindly charging into a line, these ladies asked questions, took their time and encouraged each other. It was safe, but fun. Careful but still exciting.

Elyse Saugstad dropping into Brain Damage

Elyse Saugstad dropping into Brain Damage

I followed Ingrid and Elyse into Brain Damage, while Michelle and Jackie dropped into Hourglass and Appliances. The chute is still a bit narrow at the top, and my heart raced a little hoping not to embarrass myself in front of two of the best skiers in the world. In the end, I held my own and embraced the camaraderie and high-fives at the bottom of the chute. Next, Re set up to take a few powder shots of the professionals. Journalist Megan Michelson and I held back while the others found their positions. Ingrid insisted Megan take the next line, and for a moment we all laughed. Megan reminded Ingrid that Re could sell a photo of her skiing powder and Megan and I would find another way down. But we both appreciated the gesture. For Ingrid, she wasn’t pretending. It really was about the skiing. “We’re all girls skiing today,” she said. And it was true.

These women are leaders in the ski industry. Not only do they ski with power and grace, beauty and fluidity, they also model how to do so prudently. This balancing act requires humility and honesty. For these women, it isn’t an act. They walk  their talk. And do so with passion.

The S.A.F.E. A.S. clinics conclude today with the final one at Stevens Pass. For Elyse, the lessons she learned during and after the tragic avalanche accident that took place near Stevens two years ago come full circle. I spoke to her Saturday night about her willingness to teach others through her own tragedy. She wanted to give something back, she said. She hopes that through teaching women to make prudent choices in the backcountry, they can enjoy the mountains and live to tell about it.

Women’s Ski Day at Crystal Mountain

Standard

WomensDay2013Hey Ladies! This Saturday is International Women’s Ski Day, and Crystal Mountain is hosting. That means you can come with your gal pals, meet new ones, take laps in the park or Southback, drink wine afterwards, and you get a discount. Kind of like ladies night at the bar but so much more fun (because this one is really for you). The details (from Crystal Mountain website) are below. I’ll be there too. So stop by and say hello.

K2 is declaring Saturday, December 14th, 2013 to be International Women’s Ski Day. Females are encouraged all over the world to just get out and ski! Women who mention “International Women’s Ski Day” at the ticket window will receive a $10 discount on your ski lift ticket. Meet other women, get a tour of the mountain, practice your beacon skills, try out some demo skis (conditions permitting), shred the hill and then meet from 3:30pm-5:30pm at the Summit House for a special hosted wine and cheese event with $5 appetizer plates and drink specials. Girls can either head into the Summit House after their last run or take the gondola up no later than 3:30pm. The gondola will shut down during Apres and begin downloading everyone at 5:30. Everyone must be downloaded by 6pm. KEEP IN MIND THAT IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT BRAND YOU SKI ON! This day is to simply encourage females to go skiing, regardless of what type of skis you use.

This Post Will Make You Jealous

Standard

This is not a real post.

Admittedly, I haven’t put up as much content lately. I’ve been far too busy. Skiing. So instead of letting another day/week go by without a word from me, I thought I’d put up some photos from yesterday. Spoiler alert. You’re going to be jealous. Even if you were here yesterday.

If you’d rather read something real, check out Jen Hudak’s post Sex and the Female Athlete, which eloquently scathes Freeskier’s 10 Hottest Women in Freeskiing article. If I wasn’t trying to dash out the door to go skiing, I’d probably write a post about how women in the ski industry need to be appreciated for their skills on the slopes, not their looks. But Jen does a much better job at it anyway. So just go read her.

Below are some photos from yesterday. It was one of those redemptive days, when you start off not  sure if you even like the PNW anymore, what with unreliable forecasts and heavy rains and high snow levels and all the things that make people move to Utah, and then suddenly you fall in love all over again. Yesterday was like that. Turns out the rain down low was snow up high, and when you drop over the edge in the wee hours of the morning because your General Manager husband wants to check it out before opening and the light is so flat you aren’t even sure what the conditions are and then you land on a pillow of snow that goes on forever. And you’re just happy to be alive. It was two feet of fresh snow, layered perfectly with heavier snow covering the rocks down low and lighter snow tickling your boot tops.

Then the sun came out.

A few early turns in Green Valley

A few early turns in Green Valley

 

Hiking up Powder Bowl for Avalanche Control yesterday, the sun came out just as we topped out.

Hiking up Powder Bowl for Avalanche Control yesterday, the sun came out just as we topped out.

After throwing shots in Powder Bowl, I got these untracked turns on Lucky Shot

After throwing shots in Powder Bowl, I got these untracked turns on Lucky Shot

We plan to continue opening terrain all week. With the cold temperatures and dry air, the skiing should just get better. That also means that we want to get this snow skied before it starts to facet. Cold temps and a shallow snowpack will bring avalanche problems later. So the pressure is on to get Southback and Northway open soon. Our current plan is to open High Campbell tomorrow, South on Thursday and Northway by the weekend.

Come and get it.

Praying for Snow

Standard

The sacrificial ski burning to coax the ear of the gods

The sacrificial ski burning to coax the ear of the gods

Flames from the bonfire sparked overhead like tiny red snowflakes falling upward. I looked up and squinched my eyes just right, trying to remember the feel of snowfall on my cheeks. Huddled together with my husband, neighbors and friends, we chanted in unison.

Goddess Hecate,
I pray upon thee.
Make tomorrow a snow day;
So let it be.

After a week of sunny skiing in Green Valley, it’s time for more snow. Not that I’m complaining. While the city has been cold, the mountains have enjoyed warm temperatures. Skiers and riders have been relaxed and grateful as if it were the beer-drinking laid-back end of the season rather than the beginning. I’ve made turns every day, giggling into the collar of my parka. But after such warm temps, much of the snow in the main runs has been scraped down to rock. The quality has been skied out of the snow.

Now it’s time; we need more snow.

Snow forecast Sunday Morning

Snow forecast Sunday Morning

So Saturday night we lit a bonfire in the front yard, burned skis and snowboards, lifted shotskis and champagne, prayed to Ullr and Hecate and anyone else who might be listening. We asked for snow. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day, but soon. We need more snow soon.

In fact Crystal closed this week as we wait for our next snowfall.

And as if by magic this morning the forecast models are showing some promise, finally offering up colorful blobs of moisture and plunging temperatures. The latest extended GFS run is modeling snow starting early Saturday morning and continuing through Sunday. Sunday especially looks cold and snowy and very promising. Click on the photo above to check it out. At this point Sunday looks especially good, which admittedly is still a million light years away in forecast-years.

But still. Would the joy of Christmas be nearly as good if it was a surprise? No indeed. It is the promise, the hope, the longing for and finally the delivery of a powder day that makes it so awesome. So starting today, I’ve got my hopes set on this weekend.

Maybe Ullr really was listening to our heartfelt chants this weekend. I’d like to think he was.

Crystal Reopens Tomorrow: Conditions Report

Standard
John and Scott give two enthusiastic "thumbs up"

John and Scott give two enthusiastic “thumbs up”

Thanks to the new snow we received in the past 24 hours, Crystal will reopen tomorrow. This morning, when John, Scott and a few other patrollers and I headed up the Gondola for a look, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was last Saturday. That time I had a feeling about the snow. My instinct was telling me it would be good, and it was.

This time I wasn’t so sure.

Green Valley covered in snow was a pleasant surprise

Green Valley covered in snow was a pleasant surprise

It rained hard last night at the base, and the telemetry wasn’t showing any new. I was a bit skeptical. But we headed up into the fog nonetheless, ready to ski down or ride back down on the lift or do whatever was necessary.

I was pleasantly surprised. The fog lifted and we found up to 6″ at the top.

The rain line made it up to about the elevation of the bottom of Green Valley. Above that is all new snow. It is thick and “buttery” as ski patroller Michelle Longstreth put it. Classic PNW base-building snow. The top portion is really good skiing.

Once John made the call to reopen, off-duty patrollers Michelle, Christina, Peter and I felt we had to do our part too. So we skied a few laps in the valley, then headed over to the cache run just to make sure it was fit for public consumption.

Christina and Peter survey the goods

Christina and Peter survey the goods

And it is.

Green Valley Bowl itself offered up 6″ of chalky powder, while the lower valley was a bit thicker. However, we didn’t run into a rain crust until we skied Lucky Shot to the base. I wouldn’t recommend breaking any closures and skiing to the base. As Michelle described it, the conditions below midway were “character building,” and from our most enthusiastic patroller (hell, our most enthusiastic employee) at Crystal, that’s saying something.

So come up tomorrow and make some happy laps in the valley. The forecast is calling for sun the next few days, and the conditions are pretty darn good for pre-Thanksgiving turns. I, for one, will be up here enjoying the sun and the lift-served skiing.

Green Valley looking good

Green Valley looking smooth and buttery

Snow in the Forecast

Standard

I’m not one to obsess about the forecast¹. So when I just happened to check out the latest forecast discussion on NOAA, I was pleasantly surprised. I especially liked this part:

  A MUCH STRONGER SYSTEM WILL IMPACT THE REGION ON FRIDAY FOR 
  THE POTENTIAL FOR HEAVY SNOW IN THE MOUNTAINS AS WELL AS 
  COLDER WEATHER AND LOCALLY WINDY CONDITIONS.
Winter Forecast

7 Day Forecast for Crystal Mountain

Friday looks like our best chance for snow, with the forecast calling for 6-10″ up high and about 4-6″ down low. With strong west winds, we could pick up a little more than that in places like Green Valley Bowl. Saturday will bring some leftovers and orographic showers with Sunday now offering cold enough temperatures to add a little man made snow to the mix.

Already we have a 8-12″ base on the upper mountain, but need quite a bit more to open. It rained lightly yesterday, but not enough to melt what’s already in place. However, the rain hopefully helped to rid the growing snowpack of early season facets that could cause avalanche problems down the road.

24 Hour precipitation amounts ending Saturday

24 Hour precipitation amounts ending Saturday

People always ask John, “how much snow do you need to open?” The answer is always, “it depends.”

We always welcome a big November storm that deposits two feet of wet snow that compacts into a nice, smooth base. (Miles Clark over a snowbrains.com put out a nice post this week about why the PNW gets so much snow. The pattern mentioned in the article would be very welcome right about now.)

But this year we’ve had an accumulation of smaller amounts of snow that could add up to enough. Some of the long-term models are showing a low in the Gulf of Alaska, which could usher in those classic November storms we all like to see.

With “summer grooming” and strategic rock picking at Crystal, we try to set ourselves up for needing the least amount of snow possible to open. This could be one of those years where we get enough to open Green Valley, but have to wait for more snow to open the rest of the mountain. Only time will tell.

So start doing your snow dances and rubbing your Ullr pendants. Book that non-refundable trip to Mexico for Thanksgiving and stop washing your socks. We could use all the help we can get up here.

¹ Actually this is a complete lie.