Mar 272016

It’s never to early to start learning to Ski! Over this winter we took Elza up to Stevens Pass a couple of times to go Alpine skiing. We gave her some 80cm skis, a pair of small ski boots, and a harness, then took her up to the top of the hill and gave her a little push. Next thing you know she’s skiing like a pro (well, a 2-year old pro). We started on the Magic Carpet hill a few times and then graduated to Daisy and even one run on the Brooks Chair. Photographic evidence is attached.

Elza Ski 2 Elza Ski 1

Elza Ski 3 Elza Ski 4

We have also been taking her out on some nordic skiing adventures. On those trips, she rides in the Pulken.

Elza Ski 5 Elza Ski 6

Elza Ski 7 Elza Ski 8

Jan 062013

Quarter Circle Bridge

Snowshoeing on the Quarter Circle Bridge

Amie & I returned from a family vacation in Whitefish, MT, over New Years, where we embarked on a trifecta of winter activities. In attendance was Dad and Beth, Jack, Jain and Moira, Shawn, Amie and I.

First, we went snowshoeing in Glacier National Park. We followed the Quarter Circle Bridge Road for a few miles along the Middle Fork Flathead River, near the Apgar Visitor Center, ate lunch at a stand of convenient logs near a creek crossing, and then returned. On the way back, Amie spotted a growth of Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a fungus known for its medicinal properties, on a Birch Tree. I attempted to harvest some with a small knife, and was able to get about a half-cup.

Four Nordic Skiing

Four Nordic Skiing at Stillwater

The next day, New Year’s Eve, some of us went nordic skiing at Stillwater Mountain Lodge. Stillwater has a semi-extensive network of trails that are nicely groomed for track skiing. Amie & I had to rent nordic skis in town since we don’t own this equipment. We went up the longest trail, the “Hellroaring Highway” and had a lovely time. My thighs were sore after that activity.

On our last day we went skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort at Big Mountain, more colloquially known as just Big Mountain. Amie and & telemarked while Jack and Moira went alpine. My telemark skills are slowly improving; I can get down the intermediate runs using so-so telemark technique, but on the advanced runs or steeper areas, I resort to cheating with mock-alpine technique.

Frozen Goat

Frozen Goat at Big Mountain

To get to Whitefish and back Amie and & took Amtrak’s Empire Builder. We splurged for a roomette in the sleeper car, which is a great way go because the train leaves in the evening and you arrive at your destination the next morning, going both directions. Both trains arrived on-time, which is a minor miracle, however we had to take motorcoaches between King Street Station and Everett, due to recent landslides across the tracks.

We returned to Seattle on January 2, where we were greeted with sunny and clear skies. That evening, I took a lovely soak in the outdoor clawfoot tub.

You may have noticed that my blog has been pretty neglected as of late. I have been working on something bigger related to my online presence, which will be revealed as soon as I actually get it to a somewhat-finished state. Stay tuned…

Feb 112012

Sunrise on Glacier Peak

Sunrise on Glacier Peak

Last weekend Tschuai and I went on another backcountry ski adventure. This time he led me to a secret shack near Steven’s Pass. We got a late start on Thursday night after work, and arrived at the pass around midnight. We started hiking to the top of the ridge above the ski area, under the light of the moon and the ski area lights in the distance, and squatted in a ski patrol cabin for the night. After a few measly hours of sleep, we left the cabin before the ski area fully opened for the morning, and then continued traversing the distance to the shack. It was a beautifully clear day and the views were amazing.

The shack is a little treehouse that has been lovingly built and maintained by a small group of people. There is a tiny wood stove, four bunks, cookware, and some food stocked in the place. I won’t disclose its location since it’s illicitly built on NSFS property and could be torn down if discovered.

Upon arriving at the shack, we fired up the wood stove, cooked some brunch, and then pulled out our sleeping bags for an extended nap. After sleeping soundly for a few hours, we packed up and began the descent. There are several options for descent from here, some requiring hitchhiking to get back to the pass parking lot, but we elected to take a route that took us back to the parking lot with minimal hiking. The snow was great, a good amount of powder but not too much to get swallowed up in. My telemarking skills still need improvement, so I kind of bumbled my way down, but I made at least a few good turns and still had lots of fun.

We returned to the parking lot just as the sun was disappearing and casting a golden red glow on the ridge above us.

[more pictures here]

Owen at the Top

Taking a break at the top of the ridge

Feb 022011

Last weekend my friend Tschuai and I went on a backcountry ski adventure. We started at the Steven’s Pass summit, ascended Skyline ridge, dropped into the next valley to the north, and then came out at Yodelin Place. This was my first real backcountry skiing adventure, and I had a blast.

I have been slowly learning to telemark over the past couple of years, and I got some climbing skins for my birthday last year, but before this weekend I had only telemarked at ski areas and hadn’t yet used the climbing skins. Tschuai and I concocted a plan to ski/hike up to the top of the Double Diamond lift at Stevens Pass Saturday night, then head over to a fire lookout up on Big chief mountain (“The Shack”) and camp there. On Sunday we would ski out and maybe catch a couple of runs before heading back in time for band practice on Sunday night.

I spent the day Saturday trimming and preparing the skins to fit my skis. This was a time-consuming task, since I have never done it before. Tschuai was supposed to pick me up around 5:00pm after he got off work. I was all packed up and ready to go when he stopped by. We were going to pick up two other of Tschuai’s friends, but they were running very late. By the time we started heading into the foothills, it pretty late and raining hard, so we decided to stay at a cabin in Baring that night.

On Sunday morning, Tschuai’s two friends got lazy and decided to just buy lift tickets and ski at ski area. So, it was just Tschuai and I left to explore the backcountry. Our original plan would not work well now because Steven’s pass does not allow uphill travel during open hours (despite the fact that the Pacific Crest Trail goes right through it), so that effectively killed out plans to get to the shack. We sought out an alternate plan.

We did a drive-by of the Surprise Creek trailhead, but decided that the snow there was poor. We checked out Tunnel Creek, which looked better but there appeared to be zero parking available anywhere within a mile. (Anyone know how one is supposed to park to access Tunnel Creek in the winter? Please comment.) We settled on Skyline Ridge, a familiar spot right across the valley from the ski area. As we approached the pass, Tschuai’s Subaru began to overheat. We investigated and found that the radiator cap had blown off. We replaced the cap and barely made it to the pass before the Subaru completely overheated. At that point we decided to blissfully ignore the mechanical difficulties and go skiing.

We started climbing up the Skyline Lake track, along with other parties with dogs and kids being towed on toboggans. When we reached the lake, it was lunch time. We contemplated our next move. We didn’t have any real maps of this area, but I had my GPS. With the GPS, we determined that we could drop into the next valley to the north, intercept the Pacific Crest Trail, and then follow it back to the parking lot. This seemed like a fine plan given the amount of time we had left in the day. After lunch, we beelined to a saddle in the ridge a short ways from the lake.

Top of Skyline Ridge

The high point, moments before the descent...

Now for the fun part. We removed the skins from our skis and descended into the valley. The snow was great, a nice fluffy layer of powder on top of some sightly chunkier stuff. There was maybe two sets of recent tracks down the valley and they promptly ended half-way down (guess they hiked back up to Skyline Lake?). The snow became progressively crappier as we descended, eventually becoming crusty ice. We located the Pacific Crest Trail and followed a set of snowshoe tracks that appeared to follow the trail. However, following the tracks led us below the trail and we ended up at Yodelin Place. This was okay, except that we would have to either hike up the highway or hitch a ride back to the pass.

We followed Yodelin Place back to Highway 2, with a brief detour to check out the east portal of the Old Cascade Tunnel. When we got to the highway, we got lucky and found a vehicle there that was about to depart westbound. Tschuai got a ride with them (they didn’t have much room) and returned with the Subaru. We loaded up our stuff and took off with just enough time to make it back to town for band practice.

Unfortunately, the overheating issue presented itself again when we climbed back up to the pass. After some prodding, poking, and playing with the heater, we determined that the problem was low coolant. We managed to fill up the radiator and expansion tank, thanks to the people at the Steven’s Pass maintenance shack who let us take a few gallons of water. Soon we were back on our way home, but now late for practice.

Although our backcountry ski outing didn’t cover any impressive amount of distance, this was a great learning experience for me and I had a great time. I am already scheming some possible backcountry skiing adventures to tackle in the future.

Route on Google Earth
GPS trace of our ski route, projected onto Google Earth
[Download the KML file]