Thursday, December 27, 2012

Getting with the VeeTee

Somewhere in Philadelphia International Airport, clutching a cold beer in one hand and the most expensive (per pound) turkey sandwich I've ever had in the other, I got punched in the face. For the last 14 hours I'd been in some type of haze, nodding in and out of consciousness as various tubes transported me at 30,000 feet altitude from West Anchorage to the southwest U.S. to the decidedly east, City of Brotherly Love. Only two more hours of layover and airtime separated me from my final destination.
The punch in the face came from an unlikely source though, it was solar.
The big airport windows were flooded with the light of a descending orb that was unrecognizable to the one I'd seen several hours earlier.
I was with it.
Reunited with the big rig, looking a little more rusty and haggard every year.
There was no snow in Philly, but my plane set down on the heels of a warm and windy fall storm that had ended with a feathering of light snow in VT.
The long-range forecast for VT when I left AK looked bleak, and I tried to mind erase memories of my last visit (LINK), where I swooshed around the trails on skate and classic skis on a pillowy and deep cover of snow.
I rolled the dice, and decided to leave behind classic skis or rock skate skis, taking only the good skate skis and assuming that I would only get to skate around on the local ski hill's rock hard man-made ice. I also, brought clothes for lift-serve, and on my first day back, went to the local ski shop and rented a pair of carving skis and hard boots.
Snowboarding seemed like a guaranteed disappointment, but turning on two edges for the first time in 12 years...that sounded interesting.

Tony and I went to Sugarbush on Xmas Eve Day. I think we scared a lot of people... 
Conditions at "The Bush" weren't all that bad. The sun was bright and warm - but not too warm - the snow mostly soft, and skiing, and I do mean, skiing, was great. No one said I looked good, but I kept off my backside, except for one run where Tony body-checked me while launching off an exposed water bar. The language war that ensued assuredly cost the resort some repeat business from the quaint family that watched the incident just above us.

Tailgate lunch in the local's corner of the lot (as far away from the tourons as possible).
One of the hard and fast rules of east coast lift serve skiing is that you never go in the lodge, except for emergencies (e.g., to get a replacement pole after getting body-checked by your brother). This means skiing through lunch when the trails are at their quietest, and eating later in the back or your rig.

The first full day I was back my Dad and Melissa got hitched. It was a small ceremony at the house.

Tradition, stuff a Champlain salmon and eat him on Xmas eve.

Talking about what we are not going to do.

On Xmas Day I went to Rikerts and skated laps in the meadows. A thin, roll-packed base was covered with about an inch of overnight fluff.

Amy and I went for a walk to Nettle Hollow and Bowen's Landing the day after Xmas.

Winter Storm Eucilid brought some fresh snow on Thursday morning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Low and slow

Mother nature took an Ambien, passed out, woke up, and had no idea what was going on. The Mighty Pacific was puking all over Southcentral AK, but the snow was flying in West Anchorage and the Valley. The common snow locales of the ANC Hillside and Turnagain meanwhile, were merely getting side-sprayed in mist, accumulating only a precious few inches.
Mother Nature got it together, through a little hoar-frost sawdust on the mess to dry it up, and ushered that drunken jet stream back south so AK could go back to what it knows best this year: cold and snow less.
I guess the Valley was pretty desperate, so maybe it's good they got dumped on, but West Anchorage? Well, good thing for the new snow making equipment over at Kincaid, apparently it was the ticket to a free foot of all natural, organic, frozen water.

Undeterred by the lesser amounts of snow in Turnagain, a big crew (read 5) consisting of Mike C, Josh O, Cody, Nate and I rallied to the Tin Can trees. At the middle-elevation we found knee-deep, super dry, super light white stuff. Higher up looked wind schlammered with a few pockets of glory. We were happy to launch cliffs and ledges all day. The snow was slow, taking a few turns to get used to at first, but boosting confidence on the airs and steeper slopes.

Inlet fog.

Skiing dawn to dusk is easy these day. Total daylight: 5.5 hours.

Josh and I pointed our Subaru road show back to Soldotna while the rest of the boys headed back to the Big City. Josh and I were hoping to fly his Super Cub to the West Side and poke around in the Chigmits to assess the snow over there. Back at camp in Sterling, the thermometer read 20 degrees, 15 degrees warmer than Turnagain Pass. That never happens, but a thick fog over the Cen Pen was storing heat.
The next morning the fog was still holding thick and temps remained in the 20s. Stuck on the ground we waited, knowing we had only a few hours of daylight to complete the mission.
By 11 it was the fog was blowing out and I headed to the airport.
The fog did lift, and the temperatures dive bombed 20 degrees in maybe as many minutes. Water vapor crystallized mid-air, but we went airborn.

Rag Tag

Frozen Kenai River
As we headed out toward the East Forelands to make the crossing, the Rag Tag was fighting a stiff 30kt north wind. We were rocking an airspeed of 48mph. The Rag Tag's normal cruising speed is 88mph. We started to get a visual of the Chigmits, and from what we could see, things did not look good. Little snow has fallen on this oft-soaked range, and the winds had worked much if it away.
We turned with the wind, accelerating to about 110mph, and headed toward the Tustumenas to fly around.

Redoubt to the far left. Snow-less Chigmits and thick fog.

Skilak Lake.

Self portrait.

Blowing hard in the Tustumenas.

Skilak River inlet.

Hidden Creek inlet.

Skilak River.
Swamp surfing.

Kenai River.

Fish camp.
Quarter-turn ski take off, and landing, with video speed control.
Any trip to the West Side is subject to a lot of variables, so we had low expectations going in. The scenic flight was still nice. Riding in airplanes never gets old in a state like this.
With a few hours of light left on the table, I hopped on the skate skis and did a lap at TTA. I haven't skied the "TTA Lap of Pain" (a loop incorporating all the trails in a way that maximizes climbing) in over a year. Since I left, a few clicks of new trail have been added as well. Despite low single-digit temps, the snow had not yet fully cooled and turned to styrofoam, and was still skiing well, albeit, getting loud.
Sunday morning it was 18 below at camp, and 5 below in Turngain. If I had brought classic skis I would have been happy to ski the classic tracks set at TTA, but that wasn't the case. Josh was headed to ANC as well to invest in his own pair of skate skis, so we we decided to make the best of it and ski a couple laps at the Can.

I beat Josh to the lot, but it was too cold to sit and wait, so I started climbing, periodically spying on him from the ridge...creeper alert.
Tracks and gapers were many, and the snow was even slower and colder than Friday. We skied one line through the trees that has somehow been largely missed, climbed back up, and were happy to GTFO and call it a successful weekend.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Last Post, Ever

This will be the last post, ever.
I haven't given up on blogging or anything, but the Mayans forecasted the end of life as we know it this week.
Meanwhile, the Weather Service is predicting "Snow-mageddon" to descend upon Los Anchorage and its pseudo suburb, the Valley.
We'll see who's better at predicting the future I guess.
We finally saw the first real shot of snow this past weekend, though in quantities much less than advertised by one of the aforementioned forecasting services.
With temps finally above 0 on Saturday, I ventured out on my stud-equipped Trance and rode with Ethan from Lower Hillside up to the top of the Middle Fork Trail, riding snowy single track back down. I've heard many rave reviews of this trail by winter riders, and indeed it was a fun ride out. Too bad Chugach State Park is approximately 20 years behind the curve when it comes to the sport encompassing the mountain bicycle, and still believes the its participants seek an experience well-exemplified by this:
Yeah rock! Take that!
By the end of the ride snow was falling in earnest, and it looked like we might actually pick up some significant accumulation by morning.
That was foolish, and just wishful thinking.
Dan and I had intended to ski Alyeska, but with only half the predicted snow fall, we headed to the Tin Can trees instead.
We ended up punching in four laps there, plus an exit run back down the main skinner to the car that Dan described as: "perhaps the best that skinner has ever skied."
Very accurate.
As usual, despite Tin Can's reputation, except for two laps that we were shared with Ethan, Josh D, we had no other company that stuck around for more than 2.
The storm snow skied great, and rocks, stumps, etc were not a problem, but we did get almost everything steep we skied to let go about a foot deep, including one release that spanned about 50 yards wide. Propagation was minimal and the snow lacked energy.

Lousy shot of the biggest slough of the day.

If the world is still turning in a week, I guess will post back here. Otherwise, enjoy the afterlife!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Freeze Dried

The dry spell continues, but winter persists, with temps dropping daily. The pseudo mercury has not climbed above the 0 mark in the "F" column of the thermometer on Lower Hillside in a few days.
Down in Sterling, temps dive even lower during the cold, clear nights.
Josh O and I got a leisurely start on Friday at Tin Can. On the drive down my car recorded a low of 17 below in Portage. A 30-degree inversion was in place between sea level and the ridge lines. We had all of 1 degree above in the parking lot, where only two other cars sat idle.
Though the mountain has been skied hard in the previous weeks, we trekked to its northwestern flanks and found lots of fun gullies and many roll-overs and ledgy slopes untouched. We saw no one else all day.
The snow is a solid layer of facets to the ground, but supports boards and skis well, making for some fast turns higher up. On the exit, even with fresh wax, the hard-packed traverse was slow and grabby. 
Despite the cold, we felt good about getting in turns, knowing that the future of our season is looking more and more disastrous by the day.

The colors are distorted some, but the grayish appearance, particularly in the skin track is not photo magic. Dust was noticeably settling into the snow. What does this mean, if anything, to our already freeze-dried snow?

The smog over 20 Mile Valley is actually a giant dust cloud, blown by winds that were gusting to 60 mph in the snow-less Mat-Su Valley to the north. During the day on Thursday, the dust was thick enough to hide the mountains near Eagle River when viewed from my office in Mid-Town Anc, and give the rest of the Front Range a hazy appearance.

December exit lighting.

After skiing I headed to camp. I promised to help Joe set up, run, and take down the Christmas banquet for the Guide Association. Mid-day, we ran back to the lodge and I snapped a few pics. There's a bit more snow down south, though not a whole lot.

The river is frozen over downstream in Soldotna, which normally happens before it freezes at camp. As of this writing it could be frozen at camp now too. Just before it goes, the river surface is typically covered in thin platelets of ice that cause it to hiss. Then one night, the hissing stops, and the river goes quiet. With temps going sub zero nightly, I suspect if it hasn't frozen yet, it will by the end of the week.

Under the cleaning tables, a thick layer of aufeis has formed on the exposed river bed. The heavy rains of fall followed by a dramatic drop in temps caused a lot of glaciation this year.

A 2-inch screw hook on the board clients hang their catch on for pictures is engulfed in hoar frost.

On the way back from the banquet we could see the northern lights. It wasn't a spectacular display but it was easy to view.
Back at camp a bit later, they had died down and the full moon was up and bright. I snapped a few other shots.

Ice fog on the river with the moon overhead.

This pic made the northern lights look better than they did in real life. Taken from the top of the hill looking toward the Highway.
The next morning I went to Headquarters Lake, where Bill has groomed a wide skate lane and a double-set of classic tracks. Despite the deep cold (it was negative 2 to start, and reached a high of only 4), lake snow seems to retain some moisture or warmth from the water below, and doesn't get quite as grabby as snow on dry land might in these conditions.
The skate skiing was still a bit more grabby than it has been on Sand Lake, but the change in scenery, longer circuit, and added company was very nice. Adam joined me for 10 laps, or 22 miles, and Kjell joined us for about half of that, having already done more of a workout that morning than most people would do in a week. Along the way most of the crew was out, though the cold temps and a need to get on the road kept me moving more than talking. There is something to be said for familiar territory and familiar faces.