Category Archives: Skiing/Snowboarding

Windchill, Frostbite, and Winter Storms Coming

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She’s back. Winter that is. The past few days at Crystal have been quite cold. While we haven’t yet been pounded by mounds of fresh snow, the snow from last weekend is still cold, dry and fluffy. And, it’s about to get a whole lot more wintery.

First, let’s look at the current weather. Temperatures are minus Fahrenheit and the wind is coming from the east. Since Crystal mainly runs along a ridge oriented north and south, east winds rake up the slopes and blow hard across the top ridges. East winds are generally cold and miserable. If you’ve ever traversed across the top of Green Valley with a brutal wind on your right cheek, that’s east wind. Usually we get these winds during periods of high pressure, when cold air trapped on the east side of the Cascades leaks over the passes into the west, finding its way over places like Crystal.

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Windchill Calculator courtesy of NWS

Take yesterday for example. The above chart, courtesy of NWS, shows that winds in the 35 mph range can significantly impact temperature. At the top of the High Campbell chairlift yesterday, we measured the air temperature at -11 F. Add in the windchill and it feels like -41.

According to the chart, bare skin will suffer frostbite in ten minutes. I can attest to that. While trying to stay warm up there, a fellow patroller and I hiked the ridge to try to raise our body temperature. During the hike, my neck gator slipped down and a sliver of skin was exposed to the full brunt of the east wind. After less than five minutes I felt a sting on my cheek, which turned out to be frost nip.

Crystal Mountain

Hiking the Queen with the Hiking Queen (aka Michelle Longstreth)

Today the winds are even stronger and the temperatures are starting out even lower. While the Crystal telemetry is advertising spikes into the 100s mph, human observations aren’t validating that. But even a steady 30 mph is going to feel like -35 F. So bundle up. Keep moving and make sure that neck gator doesn’t slip down.

As for the weather forecast, the temperatures should moderate over the weekend. We might pick up a little bit of snow, but not much. A more normal winter weather pattern should set up next week, with Tuesday and Thursday bringing cold precipitation our way.

7 Day Forecast for Crystal Mountain

7 Day Forecast for Crystal Mountain

It also looks like Tahoe should finally get some snow. And as stingy as our snowfall has been this season in the PNW, those guys down there need it even more than we do.

Riding a Chairlift

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Niseko Japan

Single Chairlifts offer lots of time to think

The number one objective of a ski area is to provide uphill transportation. All the other stuff–the schincter-tightening bowls, the alpine-style restaurants, the crowded bathrooms, the fresh corduroy, the terrain parks with the their diligent crews raking and raking, the ski instructors with impossibly perfect hair–all of that is just a bonus. A ski area wouldn’t be a ski area without a way to get you uphill.

I’ve ridden a lot of chairlifts in my life. And yes, they are very efficient at getting me back to the top. But they have another purpose too. Chairlifts are a place to stop, to regroup, to remember why it is I live in the mountains, why I love to slide on snow, and why I could never live in the city.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve lived entire lifetimes seated on a lift. I’ve laughed with friends and cried alone. I’ve been mesmerized by the brilliant sparkle of sun on snow; I’ve witnessed marriage proposals and spectacular crashes. I’ve also noticed work to be done–tower pads that needed raising, sticks of bamboo that needed straightening, pieces of trash that needed to be picked up.

Last week I spoke at my father’s funeral. The very act of getting up in front of family and friends and declaring the importance of such a great man in my life has altered something in me. It has made me reevaluate what is truly important.

Big Sky, MT

Big Sky, MT

For years on my father’s desk he kept a motto written on a yellow sticky note. It read, “If it’s green, golf it. If it’s white, ski it. We’re not here for a long time. We’re here for a good time.”

Life provides us with all too many opportunities to waste our days. Jealousy, anger, having far too thin of skin, taking things personally, these all help us squander our short time here. Distraction from real life is another wasteful act.

We're riding a lift!

We’re riding a lift!

 

But riding a chairlift is an opportunity to engage. Sometimes draw-droppingly picturesque and other times cloaked in clouds, the views always change. No matter what the scenery offers, I always remember to stop. To breathe. To look around. To remember what it important.

Because like a brilliant man once said, we’re not here for a long time. We’re here for a good time.

The Four W’s: When Winter Packs a Punch

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Winter finally arrived last week and so did the four w’s: wild, windy, wet and wacky. Really, it’s the three w’s but we like to throw the wacky in there because you just never know. This is Crystal and things can get pretty crazy sometimes. On Saturday the Crystal telemetry recorded a spike to 111 mph at the top of Rainier Express. That’s a Category 3 hurricane.

By Sunday morning we’d picked up 24 inches of snow in 24 hours according to the human observation at the Green Valley weather station. From 5am to 8am Sunday morning it snowed 10″. That’s more than 3″ an hour. This fluffy “bonus snow” caused quite a bit of chaos in the parking lot as the plowing crews had to re-plow at the exact time that everyone was arriving. It made for a long drive and an even longer time parking.

It also made for some excellent skiing.

Speaking of wind, check out this video taken recently at Bridger Bowl. The winds were in the 70s this day. Just imagine what Rex looked like on Saturday with those spikes in the Category 3 range. Makes me shiver.

Hopefully most of you were able to partake in the Sunday morning goods. It doesn’t get like that very often in the PNW and when it happens on a weekend, the untracked snow goes fast. We opened Northway for the first time this season at 1:30 on Sunday, and those that stuck around got some good skiing there too.

We are implementing a new program at the Northway gates on big days. Skiers and riders with beacons and partners get to come to the front of the line and go through the gates first. Even though we use explosives to mitigate the avalanche hazard, Northway and Southback are still avalanche prone areas. They simply do not see the same skier compaction as our “in area” terrain. Thus, we recommend skiing with a partner and carrying a beacon and shovel. We are also tweeting our openings, and giving our followers an early heads up. So follow us at @crystalmtpatrol and help us spread the message by retweeting.

The forecast is now calling for a return to high pressure. This should give the snowpack a chance to settle out. While doing avalanche control in Southback this morning, we saw evidence of some big natural avalanches in the backcountry. So giving the layers a chance to bond and the snowpack an opportunity to find some equilibrium is a good thing. Let’s just hope this return to spring doesn’t last too long. I’m kind of partial to winter.

A Daughter’s Tribute to Her Father

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.