Sunday, May 13, 2012

There's corn in them thar hills!

Just got back from Mt. Shasta, CA, where the corn skiing is off the hook and significantly better than what we have going on here. Note to out-of-towners: Keep driving.

That said, it's tough to beat a 15-minute drive and two hours of skinning to get to the goods. Since I'm here, I'll ski it, right?

The road is completely open all the way to the end. The snow doesn't get started until a few hundred yards above road's end, and I didn't put skins on until I'd been hiking for a half hour or so. Of course, I started spotting snowmobiler spoor pretty early on.

Q: What's the difference between snowmobilers and BC skiers? 

A: Snowmobilers drink Bud Light and toss their empties on the ground wherever they happen to be at the time. Skiers drink real beer back at the bar and pick up after snowmobilers.

Found a shop rag, too.  But I digress.

I didn't really have a destination in mind when I started, and opted to ski an east aspect line (Snowflake) since I hadn't hit that line yet this year and since it wasn't going to be around long. It became apparent pretty early on that I was going to be playing connect-the-dots looking for skiable snow.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.

I got to the ridge at about 8:30 AM, which was perfect. The snow softened up enough for me to feel secure with the skins and ski crampons on the up, but not so much that it wasn't excellent skiing.

Snow Lake Peak

If you're planning on skiing Thomas, plan on packing your skis for a while.
There's still plenty of skiing up high, if you're willing to hike for it.
The turns were pretty darned excellent while they lasted. Unfortunately, if a line went through I didn't find it, and I ended up picking my way down through rock bands and moats. All part of the day's adventure!

The day, unfortunately, ended poorly. I was following snow patches and rocks back to my car when I stumbled upon the place where the snowmobilers have been tearing up the willows to access the snow from their trailers.

Not only have they killed a bunch of plants, but they've created an erosion path that is going to turn into a trench without some serious rehabilitation from the Forest Service or some other non-existent group.  The snowmelt has already started the erosion process. Water is running pretty much constantly down this new snowmobile-created "path."  Of course, nobody's going to do anything about it, so we'll be stuck with the scar.  It'll get worse and worse as time goes on and the water up there does its work.  It's just a matter of time before some jerk on an ATV gives it a go.  It's a "trail", right?

And now I'm going to rant for a while.

It just blows my mind that the USFS could use taxpayer money to pay for some fat jerk "Law Enforcement Officer" all winter long to bust people for driving past a closure sign on a snow-covered paved road. Most of the people he busted were doing nothing more than following HIS tracks - that's right, he continually drove his truck past the road closure, leaving big trench tracks that made the skiing and snowmobiling both difficult and more dangerous. When people followed his tracks up there - oops! BUSTED! That'll be a nice fat fine, thank you very much.  I know one long-time local who got a ticket for driving on dry pavement.

Where is the LEO and the USFS when these people are up here doing this kind of resource damage? This clearly wasn't one guy one time. This damage was done by numerous people driving repeatedly over the same place, destroying the same set of willows, over a matter of weeks.

And, where is the outrage? There is this BS mindset here in Elko County that every single inch of ground can be and should be torn up by motorized users.  Our County Commissioners (TM) have spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on staff time, public meetings and travel to ensure residents' rights to do exactly this - drive offroad - just in places that aren't so readily apparent to the public.  I'm confident they'll express "outrage" over this, find some way to blame the Forest Service, and deny that anything like this is happening anywhere else in Elko County.

I understand - clearly - that it's a small minority of people causing 90% of the problems, but I see absolutely NOTHING from the motorized user crowd about stopping this kind of thing, about prosecuting the people responsible for this kind of vandalism. All I hear is a bunch of mindless screaming about the USFS' efforts to close a few erosional and duplicative roads and to stop offroad travel.

It's enough to make a person sick.

Rant over. I wish somebody else around here cared enough to be mad, too.

Monday, March 26, 2012

1971 Ski Stoke

These guys rip! They're all in their 60's and 70's now and I bet they STILL rip!

Super fun to watch!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

May I have more potatoes, please?

Sometimes, I just guess wrong.

With the recent snow and excellent conditions, I thought we might be able to eke out one more day of powder and hit one of my favorite lines in the Rubies, Snake up at the top of Snell Canyon. Mike, being the good sport that he is, agreed to give it a shot. We probably should have stuck to Plan A.

The forecast said that it wasn't supposed to get above freezing up there, but I swear to God it felt like about 50 degrees! In any event, all of our lovely powder turned into mashed potatoes at best, gnarly mank at worse, even in mostly north-facing and beautifully-treed Snell. That's usually a consistently excellent line, but not today.

At least we got out on a gorgeous day, got good exercise with good company in a spectacular place. Who's to complain? I could have actually achieved work today.

Things started auspiciously, with a cold and gorgeous morning out my back door.

My wonderful husband agreed to pick Mike and me up at the end of the day, saving us from having to shuttle trucks. Good lord, how much worse would this have been an hour later! It didn't take long for the snow to start getting heavy and for the up to turn into a lot of work.

Even so, it was a glorious day to enjoy a Great Basin winter view.

Cody enjoyed the up. Hell, Cody enjoys most anything.

It was nice to take a break and watch this critter for a while up near the top. We couldn't get very close to him and I was wishing I had a better camera... pretty sure he/she was a bighorn but I can't be sure. If it was, we were lucky to see him, as there's been a huge die-off of these guys in the Rubies recently. Click on the picture to make it bigger, you can see him a little better.

When we finally got to the top, we were treated to some welcome cloud cover... and rollerballs. Not auspicious. I was hoping the more northerly aspect would be a little colder, but no such luck.

Even so, after a quick sandwich and a call to my sweetie to let him know when to pick us up, we got ready to head on down.

The first few hundred feet skied pretty well. The snow was heavy but turnable.

We had a bit of a discussion about how we wanted to get out of there. The best line heads off right to the heliski's landing zone - but it takes a pretty good bushwhack to get out of the canyon from there. I generally opt to avoid the bushwhack and head off skier's left, which means a big traverse and missing some of the best snow of the run. With the mank and thin cover, we opted to go for the best line, bushwhack be damned.

We could use a few elk around here to improve the skier habitat.

Even with the conditions, Mike made some quality turns above the LZ.

And then paid for the pleasure with a mank-snow bushwhack out... that got worse as the day went on. Ugh.

I'm not a PBR fan, but it sure tasted wonderful by the time we got down. It's been a long time since I've been that tired. I'm glad we got out but I hope I guess more accurately next time around.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Current conditions info

Seems like everybody in Elko County is involved with mining in some way, myself included. I mine for data rather than gold, though, particularly when I'm trying to figure out if it's worth heading up to catch a ski day.

Here are a few of my favorite internet haunts when I'm trying to get an idea of what's happening in the Rubies:

SNOTEL - The Lamoille #3 SnoTel site is handy for figuring out how much snow's fallen recently, as well as for seeing what the temperature is up to (or down to, as it were). It's located at about Thomas Canyon, at 7700' or so, so you have to extrapolate a bit to figure out temperature higher in the range. Keep in mind that snow totals here may be completely off from higher up, as the wind has a tendency to blow things to hell up there.

Lamoille #3 SnoTel

SNOW COURSE DATA - The Lamoille #5 Snow Course measurement site is located just above Road's End in Lamoille Canyon. They update it manually and only once a month, so read the info with that in mind. It's a lot closer to accurate the first week of the month than later on, obviously. It does give you an idea of how the season is stacking up compared to previous years, what the base depth is at the time they checked it, etc.

Lamoille #5 Snow Course

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE - There are a couple of different places I go for info from these guys. The first link is pretty handy as it gives you an idea of what they think it's going to do over the course of the day. It's a point forecast which, right now, is set up on a ridgeline near Mt. Gilbert. You can move the point around as you like to see what it is forecast to look like pretty specifically around the range.

NWS Forecast Table

Here's another good one. This graph shows, among other things, wind speed and direction, forecast temperature, forecast wind chill for the point you select.

This link shows forecast conditions up at road's end at the head of Lamoille Canyon:

Road's end weather chart

This link shows you what they think is going on up on the ridgelines west of Lamoille Lake

Ridgeline weather chart

There is all kinds of good info on that site... click around and see what suits you best.

UTAH AVALANCHE CENTER - While our conditions aren't a direct correlation with what's happening over in Utah, they are the closest avalanche forecasting center and we do often have a similar snowpack. Checking here doesn't replace digging your own pits and doing your own research, but it is a good place to look for ideas. According to the guy who taught my last avy class, our snowpack tends to be most similar to that in the Uintas.

Utah Avalanche Center

RUBY MOUNTAIN HELISKI - CONDITIONS PAGE - Last, but a long ways from least, I check out RMH's "Conditions" page. There's a lot of info to be had there if you're familiar with some of the terrain they ski. Besides, the pictures are generally excellent.

Ruby Mountain Heliski - Current Conditions

Finally, I look out my window. By the time I'm done cruising around all of these sites it's generally light out and I can see if there's new snow, spindrift on the ridges, etc. If the wind's howling at my house there's an excellent chance that it's howling up there, too. Handy to live this close.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


So, the good news - it was good fluffy light non wind-affected excellent skiing out there today, with a bunch of friends I've not had the chance to ski with before.

The bad news - no pics. Sorry. I can come up with a whole bunch of excuses, but the bottom line is that I was having way too much fun to want to stop mid-run today and take photos of other people's face shots. I was too busy enjoying my own.

Here are a couple of photos from previous ski days that represent the flavor of what today's photos would have looked like, had I not been so intensely selfish. Bottom line: about 10" of very light and fluffy non-wind-affected snow (at least in protected places), flat light, significant wind in less protected places.

I did a number of laps in Ambrosia with some friends. A couple of other folks headed into the Dollars and set off some slabs in 2 1/2 (not unexpected). First Dollar skied beautifully, as did the Ambrosia Trees.


On another note - how small does a person's life have to be for him to want to purposefully mess up somebody's else's fun? "Gee, those guys look like they're having an excellent time - let's go fuck it all up for them!" We were skiing in Ambrosia today, and some jerk of a snowmobiler high marked right where we were skiing. And then he came back and high marked a few feet over.

It must be tough to have such a small penis.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In celebration of bluebirds

It's been windy as hell the last couple of days, which only suits when said wind is blowing in a big storm system. The weather guessers say that is, indeed, the case, and that we should have a big fat dose of freshies by the end of the weekend.

We'll see.

In the meantime, here are a couple more photos from last week in the Rubies. If we can't have powder I'm happy to have bluebird skies, gorgeous surroundings, and good company.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A sad day for the BC community

Very sad news from the Jackson, WY area, as Rando Steve and his partner Chris Onufer die in an avalanche.

They were extremely experienced folks up on a day the local avalanche forecasters called "moderate."

A tragic day for their families and friends. Sobering for those of us who are regularly out on "moderate" days. It can, and does, happen to the very best of us.

Steve Romeo

Chris Onufer

Coverage from

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Well, it's better than it could be...

One of the genuine joys of being a local is that I don't have to play Russian roulette with my ski days. If it's nice out and it just snowed, I ski. If it's been a while since it snowed, I don't. That doesn't guarantee good conditions but it does at least give me a shot at them.

This year, as craptastic as it's been snowpack-wise, has yielded up some pretty sweet skiing. Have I had the huge blower powder days I've enjoyed in the past? Well, no. But that's not to say that excellent turns can't be found when one goes looking.

The USDA's measurement gnomes tell us that the Lamoille #5 Snowcourse site is at 48% of normal this year. Any way you slice it, that sucks. It means that lower-altitude, non-sled-access skiing requires a real PIA of an approach. It means that there are a whole lot more of those "unmarked obstacles" that seem to want to eat a girl's skis. It means that it takes longer for old tracks to fill in, whether they're made by skis or snowmobiles. It means that some of our favorite lines may not fill in to the point that they're worth skiing at all this year.

That said, even a make-do year in the Rubies beats just about anyplace else on Earth. At least in my opinion.

By the way - click on the pix to make them bigger. It's worth it. The first three are of my friend Mike Glasgow, the last one is a pic that Mike took of me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thanks, Shane

I never get tired of this. Thanks, Shane, for the memories.


Snowing with some enthusiasm out there right now. My ski partner bagged on today's tour (understandable). Went up yesterday for some XC, ran into a couple of heliski guides who reported thin but marginally skiable snow on Snowflake. They'd done some digging and the garbage had melted out on that slope, anyway - last weekend's snow was all that was underneath.

Will ski XC again today, tour tomorrow. Likely to stick with low angle trees, but we'll see what we see.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ullr's howling

Well, it's been more than a month since my last blog update, and we're still waiting for real skiing to arrive. Some folks I know have been out beating their boards up for terrible turns in Ambrosia and the Dollars, but it hardly seems worth the effort and the base damage from what I can see.

Ullr has sent the storm, though, and it's been howling outside for several days now. The snow is starting to accumulate north of here, and there are even some flakes falling in the Rubies. The forecast is for snow for the next several days... with the howling wind and the sugar underneath it's going to be scary, scary, scary for a while.

My dad lived in this valley for more than eighty years, and used to tell the heliski guys that you couldn't count on skiable snow until the end of January. This is one of those years that is proving my old man right. At least - I hope it will, and I'm sure the heliski guys are hoping he's right, too.

Patience, grasshopper...