Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vail Powder Day/Run

All last week I'd been eyeing the weather for central Colorado, and the predicted storm materialized on Friday and Saturday. When I woke up, Breckenridge had gotten 14" of snow in 24 hours, but personal preference caused me to favor the 9" at Vail.

I left at 6:30 AM, which is really too late on a powder day; I should have left at 6:00. Due to weather and traffic, the drive to Vail took a whopping 2 1/2 hours. The drive was slow but mellow until Vail Pass, where I was tailgated and passed by various Canyonero-sized vehicles on slippery snow barreling down the mountain highway as if the road were dry. You highway menaces need to do a little remedial reading.

However, all that melted away once I got on the mountain.

Vail is a big resort, and you can spend a lot of time on catwalks trying to get where you want to go. I've learned to traverse the mountain by zigzagging up and down, rather than laterally via catwalks; you get more skiing done that way. So, from the Eagle Bahn chair I tacked my way over to China Bowl, getting in a few blue runs and a couple of great black runs on trampoline bumps along the way. Here's the view part way down Jade Glade -- I think:

I skied a couple of runs in China Bowl; big choppy powder bumps and a few slow-motion fresh lines through the trees.

Then it was off for one lap of Siberia, where I slipped through an easy spot in a cornice and watched some guys eat it one after the other coming over the top (they were laughing, thankfully). The snow was pretty good back there; it was a tad wind-packed, but it tended to explode into loose stuff when you hit it:

Then it was over to the pommel lift to the Mongolia Bowls, to see about hiking for some turns. If the snow was good over there, I wanted to hike up to the top of "Mini Vail", my name for the hill with the East Vail BC gate at the top, and ski down the front. It's about a 15-minute hike up, and here is a view uphill (the skis are balanced on my shoulder):

See how narrow that track is? Whoever made the boot tracks must have had two left feet, because both of my feet kept slipping inward and I'd go off balance. It must have been a tightrope walker. So, I kicked in some wider steps along the way.

Also, see that grey haze at the top? That's the cloud I'm walking up into. This is the view downhill from within the cloud:

The powder was almost up to my knees, and on a sunny day, it would have been awesome. However, I could not see any details on the slope ahead of me at all. I couldn't tell whether I was on level ground, a slope, or looking over a drop. Also, the snow was fluffy enough that I could not even tell how fast I was going or if I was stopped. I fell over moving about 1 mph because my senses could not keep track of how I was oriented in space! So, unfortunately to some extent my side trip was a waste, but once I got down below the fog, the powder was great.

As always, 3:30 came too soon, and the Back Bowls were closing for the day. I made my way to the front side for once last run, and hit some great choppy bumps on the way down. The sky was clear on this part of the mountain.

I think the trail below is Whistle Pig, which I didn't realize until recently is another term for marmot:

I stopped at the deserted Mid Vail lodge to get a drink (i.e. water). This is a photo from the dining area:

Afterwards I stowed my stuff in the car, changed into what passed for running clothes (winter boots, convertible pants, long-sleeve top, etc. -- it's all I brought with me) and went for a little jog to squeeze in a run for the day. It was nothing strenuous and as much a way to get to Christy Sports for something I needed, as real exercise. Some of the suburban side roads were nice, and had enormous homes on them. Oh, to live in one of those places!

Back in town, I passed this pool with steam coming off it, which would have been a great end to the day. The phosphorescent glow caught my eye:

As it was, I headed back to my modest yet affordable ($65 + tax) room at the Silver Inn in Silverthorne. Dinner was at Smash Burger, which was good as usual. Somehow I misread the menu and ordered the Colorado, thinking it was a burger with cheddar. Instead, it's a burger with jalapenos and pepper jack. Interesting, but a little too much heat for me.

I have to say I still don't get a great night's sleep at 8,700 feet. I often prepare for another day or half day (to beat the traffic) only to bail when I feel like a beating victim upon waking up. Although I'm still not sure if it's the altitude, the activities, the evening beer, or all of the above.

Regardless, it was another fine outing in the high country.


  1. Looked like a great powder day! Nice description of schussing thru the deep stuff when the visual cues of how fast you're going are missing. I also have done the falling over thing while skiing too slow.

  2. It was pretty strange.

    When I was last at Snowbird the locals (I assume) were bombing down an invisible catwalk in the fog, like it was nothing. Gotta be what you are used to.