Archive for October, 2013

The “Donut Season” is in full effect at Red Lodge Mountain Resort. Sure you can eat donuts from the City Bakery all year long, but you won’t always get the opportunity to burn them off by skinning 10,000 feet worth of vertical up at the hill all year. Red Lodge’s uphill policy during the operating season limits you to uphill travel before the hill opens and after it closes for the day (better than being banished altogether). But the shoulder seasons (the Donut before which the hill is open and after it closes) inconsistently consistently produces some of the best powder turns off Grizzley Peak…or at least some of the least populated ones.

I set out Saturday properly inspired, my normal eastern Montana ski partner having completed over 8k worth of vertical the day before. Why not push myself for 10k, a gold standard for touring days in my mind. My reasoning behind this standard is simple: when it comes to lift service 40,000 feet in a day is “a big day” or the gold standard to me. For alpine touring that similar achievement is 10,000 feet. I think the 4 to 1 ratio works. Typically a leisurely 5,000 foot day touring is about as much work and time as spinning 25,000 feet of lift service. Sure they both get the legs working and lungs pumping, but they are also both pretty boiler plate days. 10k and 40k days are the things dreams (or nightmares) are made of. Early starts, burned out legs, and lap after lap after grueling lap. And tons of turns….O the glorious turns!

Sunrise Over Miami Beach

Sunrise Over Miami Beach

Conditions at Red Lodge were perfect for just such a personal challenge. The turns off the top into “Continental” and “Berry’s” for the first two laps were playful powder turns with some dicey exposures at the road cuts, and frozen goat heads and frozen goat torsos chucks where the snowcat and rolled the cat tracks. Lower mountain north facing shots too continued to provide soft forgiving turns with soft turns through the slag plies on “Bigfoot.” While skinning up for the 2nd and 3rd laps I talked myself into progressively more aggressive terrain. I reasoned that in order to keep finding untracked and non-sunbaked snow I would have to move into steeper, dicier terrain. Cole Creek could have provided the aspects I needed, but might have been tracked out, and also provides less vertical per skin. Or if I did climb all the way from the top to the bottom of Cole Creek certainly the skin track wanders a bit more.

It was under this thought process that I am proud (and mortified) to admit that I opened up “the drain” for the first time this season. One word to describe the experience… “interesting”. Or “scary”, “spicy”, “sketchy”, “foolish” and “terrifying.” That being said I dropped three laps into it, slicing and dicing my way down the “Main Drain” twice, and “Westside Nosedive” once. Tracks weren’t just laid out in the snow, my skis took a fair number of hits as well. The drain was littered with granite shark fins and bulges in the snow that could have been rocks, stumps, snow piles or other various detritus. By the end of the third lap down the drain even in the steep sheltered terrain the snow was becoming clumped and isothermic. It might have been the warming temps, as the sun really wasn’t out in full force anymore. Also the exposed and open creek towards the bottom of the drain may have been adding moisture to the surrounding snowpack (a first time skiing that line with a creek to greet you at the bottom…guess that’s why they call it “the drain”?).

The fifth and sixth laps were the really butt kickers. I figured on the range between the 7,000 to 9,000 foot mark being a trying time. My feet and legs felt like there were in pretty good shape, with no real hot spots in the boots, but thing in general started to slow down. The hill was deserted, the conditions were deteriorating. Most of the snow had been warmed up and was started to set up as it cooled down. Isothermic snow in the Drainage yielded to halfway re-frozen snow on the runout below the “Face of M.” When I slapped the skins on for one last assault up the skin track on Lazy M I figured the last 1,100 feet would be child’s play. That unfounded optimism lasted all the way to the top of the “Chicken Trail”, or about 250 feet. The steeper sections of the skin track were setting back up, and were riddled with boot packs, giving the skins a lot less grip at times. The runs back down Lazy M were garbage, and the only successful way to ski the difficult snow was to charge the turns hard working the slightly frozen mashed over. After 10k of skinning I was only barely up to the task.

Actually it's the "over 10k" day...

Actually it’s the “over 10k” day…

How to properly toast my second 10k day? Well a nighttime drive through the killing fields of Joliet, Montana dodging deer while trying to eat a footlong sub seemed about right. Having survived the drive home (the sub however did not) I rested easy, content that tomorrow my day would be easier.

Which it was not…after attempting to push Craig’s Yaris up a substantial portion of Ski Hill Road (a great workout to warm up the quads and calves) we abandoned the vehicle and it’s balding summer tires in favor of hiking the few remaining mere miles. About 5″ of wet warm snow blanketed out approach. As luck would have it no sooner had we strapped on our ski boots then our ride appeared, providing us with a lift to the parking lot, and my with my 1st chance to ski some lift(ed) assist vert. The 1st lap was the best of the bunch in terms of consistent snow. “2nd St.” to “Upper Limited” was a nice fresh white carpet of untracked pow. “Upper Limited” was slightly less blanketed in the shelted lower half, and “Lower Limited” while untracked was showing signs of warming 20% denisty snow already. Creating turns that may have looked effortless in the spooned signatures we left behind…but were far from effortless in their making. The warming temps and wet heavy snow marched up the mountain behind us in our next two consecutive laps. After a slog on tired legs through some of the deepest snow on the mountain on “Upper Continental” and “Boomerang” I knew I was done for the weekend.

The Donut season at RLM has been absolutely going off. It feels like it’s high tide for the touring season, and in reality things are just teeing off. I’ve still got some bugs to work out the system, as my lackluster skin glue, and blistered toe will account for. Still it’s been a great start for the northern-most bcbuzzard…and I’ve got the smiles (and videos) to prove it…

-Phil

YTD stats: Days skied: 6, YTD self propelled vert: 31,526, YTD lift(ed) assist: 741

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***Editors Note*** The following post, penned by the illustrious Tris T. was logged back in the drafts section of the bcbuzzards blog. In hopes the remembrance of how bad the ski conditions were when the buzzards formed leads to many deep days in our scattered but singularly combined future winter days…we offer this blast from our initial collective year in the Wasatch….Your’s Truly….

                                                                                                                                                                                             –Phil–

Well it looks like mother nature has dashed our hopes for a bountiful early season snow pack. The Buzzards have been scavenging the Wasatch for fun, mostly rock free, skiing on stable snow. Generally, not too much to ask for. But with the stability of the snow pack being a bit on the touchy side we have found ourselves in less than inspiring terrain more often than we care to.

Arthur making his life difficult.

This past weekend, in light of  the meager coverage on most aspects,  Arthur Debowski, Phil Santala and I  decided to do some exploring.  With the stability this last week improving a bit we set our sights on Wolverine Cirque. The concept was to dedicate a day circumnavigating the Cirque while scouting all the little nooks and crannies for lines that could be skiable in better conditions. With massive cornices guarding the entrances of the chutes most of of the season we thought it might be worth trying to sneak in early before access becomes difficult.

The Brighton parking lot has become an all too familiar starting point this season and this day was no different. We parked below Milli and skinned past Twin Lake in route to Patsy Marley making up the southern terminus of the cirque.  Initially the skinning was cruiser on  surprisingly well covered terrain. Once on top of Patsy Marley the snow thinned quickly and we soon found ourselves skinning on rocks and a thick carpet of shrubbery. Stopping frequently, peering over the lip,  sussing out some tasty lines and mulling over the possibilities a few feet of snow would unlock.

We did a lap off Wolverine peak towards Brighton on  3-6 inches of super light pow over breaking crust. Turns out 3-6 inches is just enough snow to cloak some massive rocks. I started making my way down a little shot then blew up when my ski made contact with a large rock. One of my skis decided to continue down to where Arthur and Phil were waiting. After gathering my belongings and dusting myself off I awkwardly skied, as I often do, down to collect the other 50% of my rig.

Into the Mystic

Wonder what’s going on at Alta today?

While cruising back back up the ridge to Wolverine Peak we heard a disturbingly loud low rumbling of a slide in the distance, a humbling reminder of mother natures power. Dropping back down the ridge to the entrance of Grannys Chute. It was really the only option with enough snow to drop into the Cirque. Phil eased into the chute and ski cut the top to try to get something to release to no avail. Then it was game on and Phil laid down a fine line of his patted
“worm turns.” Arthur was next then I brought up the rear.  The bottom of the Cirque is still a rock garden so picking our way through was time consuming.

We had a few more good little sections and hit plenty more rocks before skinning up Milly then dropping back to the car. All in all another great day in the mountains with good friends and garbage snow.

Tris dropping

Tris

Job well done boys!

Once more unto the breech

Once more unto the breech

And so….it begins. While the late September fizzler left me salivating and cursing NOAA last weekend, this weekend produced big time. The Cole Creek snotel was reading 16 or so inches when I awoke Friday morning. Being long on time (I work 4-tens) and short on common sense (as many who know me will attest) I pulled out the biggest rock boards I could find and headed up to the hill to see what I could ski.

The roads up were a clear indication of my potential mistake. The highway was littered with broken tree limbs and spun of cars. The town of Red Lodge was a mess. My normal stop for bathroom facilities was an unpowed mess of at least 12″ of wet heavy snow. This was simultaneously envigerating and horrifying. After spinning the car out of the lot I reasoned that my chances of making it up Ski Hill Road weer about 50/50. If the road was not plowed, I was 50 precent sure I would end up 100% trying and about 100% stuck as well. I contempated parking and skinning, sure that if I needed to someone in a massive truck would offer me a ride, or at least lob an empty rockstar at me. But being persistent (and sleeping in a bit) prevailied, and the road was plowed all the way up.

Conditions Friday were brutal, just the way I like ’em! Cold, windy, snowy, simply sublime for a couple laps. Saturday’s weather was much more mild, a serious drawback. While the company was vastly improved (I was skiing with a friend vs. by myself) the actual weekend (remember I work 4-10s) meant the crowds were out in full force. While the lower hill seemed to get decimated, the greener pastures Craig and I had moved onto were significantly less crowded. Hard for the “one-and-dones” to get back that far, let alone all the “1/2-one-and-dones.”

Sunday featured Saturday’s weather (warm) and Friday’s crowds (non-exhistant). In my typical progressively poor decision making pattern I moved from mostly blue runs (with some greens and a few blacks) too “Upper Bucking Chute”, a double black diamond (with some rocks/stumps/slag piles). I’m happy to report that the decision proved worthwhile giving up some of the deepest turns and certainly the steepest terrain I rode all weekend (and the most foreign objects I connected with too) . It’s the occasional pay-off like that one which continues to push me to ski terrain that people who value their equipment and physical well being generally shy away from.

While I’d like to continue to wax Phil-Low-Sofically on the skiing and conditions, I’m wiped out having thrown together the following tasty edit. All the skiing (falling, crashing, and gear damage)  was done at Red Lodge Mountain over the weekend of Oct 4-6, 2013. So enjoy:

 

Phil

YTD Stats:

Days skied: 3

YTD self propelled vert: 14,728