Rendezvous for Freshies at White Pass

Day 19: Feb. 22, 2016

  • White Pass
  • Vertical for the day: 28,000
  • Year total: 323,000

The lone-wolf SkiZer usually does his skiing solo, not always by choice.

Day 19 of the season brought a welcome change: SkiZer made the trek south to White Pass to ski with cousin Tom Olason and his buddy Mick LaBerge. The two were excellent guides, revealing their hidden powder stashes and resort wisdom.

SkiZer with White Pass buddies Tom Olason (left) and Mick LaBerge (center).

Tom and I last skied together 40 years ago when we were in college at Western Washington University. Equipment has changed and the hair (what’s left of it) is mostly gray, but we both still have the alpine fire.

White Pass feels like two different mountains, with a “frontside” that has some steeps and a “backside,” known as Paradise Basin, that offers gladed powder skiing and rolling cruisers. We spent most of our day in Paradise Basin, searching for untracked turns in the two inches of new snow.

Click on the map to enlarge.

Our best runs were off West Ridge, a Paradise Basin traverse leading to treed skiing and powder. Again and again during the day, the West Ridge access led to untracked snow.

At midday, Tom and I returned to the frontside for some steep skiing. We found it on Mach V, Hourglass and Roller, all of them offering thrilling drops and untracked snow.

After a break for lunch and a coffee fix for the caffeine-addicted SkiZer, we headed back to the Paradise Basin powder. Mick and Tom led the way, unlocking the secrets to White Pass. For a lone wolf, it was great to be back in the pack.


Mick shreds powder in Paradise Basin.
Tom Skiing
Tom searches for freshies in the glades of White Pass.
Late-day spray off the top of Great White Express.

Get a Job: My Life as a Retail Ski Dude

Some of the skis on display at ProSki Seattle.

The snobby rich guy walked in to ProSki Seattle and asked me pointedly, “Do you know what you’re doing?”

Well, yes and no. At that moment, I was putting away some rental skis, so yes, I did know what I was doing. But no, as a new employee ProSki, I really don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. I’m trying though.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working a new gig at ProSki. I’ve been setting up rental packages for customers, helping with inventory, waxing skis, selling the occasional helmet and trying not to mess up.

This shop is for hard-core skiers. Customers come to ProSki because owners Mike Tracy and John Gould are gear savants who know their stuff.

But ProSki also does a huge business in rentals, and that’s where the SkiZer comes in. I’m one of the rental dudes, a guy who fits boots and finds skis for customers. And it has been fun.

SkiZer on the job.

Mostly. There was the day last week when I had the family of four — all needing boots, skis and poles. Our tiny shop was packed to the gills, no place for anyone sit. Little Sister didn’t like any of the three pairs of boots I brought her. Little Brother needed help rolling socks over his nasty middle school feet so he could try on boots. Big Sister was bored, and Mom was just tired. With these kids, who could blame her.

“Why is this taking so-o lo-ong?” Little Sister whined.

Smile SkiZer. You can do this. They got their gear — eventually — but not without some SkiZer flop-sweat.

Most customers are nice, though. They’re in good moods when they come to ProSki because they’re dreaming of their next days on the slopes. In that way, they’re just like me.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be working as a ski shop dude. But for now, I’m happy to be among my people.

A friendly snow monster graces the mural on the back wall at ProSki Seattle.

And the Rains Came: It’s Ugly Out There

No skiing for SkiZer this week.

It’s raining everywhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I’m blaming Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog. Ever since Feb. 2, what had been a stellar ski season in the Cascades has been warm and mushy.

Like Bill Murray in the classic movie “Groundhog Day,” the SkiZer is hoping to take out Phil in a desperate attempt to break the cycle.

You’re out Phil. Let’s get some more snow!


Baked Bluebird: Warm Winter Fun at Crystal

Mount Rainier is just across the valley from Crystal Mountain.
A snowboarder cruises spring-like snow on Rolling Knolls on the Forest Queen lift.

Day 18: Feb. 8, 2016

It’s hard to beat Crystal Mountain on a sunny day.

Day 18 of the SkiZer season was bluebird-beautiful at Crystal. Or make that baked bluebird. With temps well into the 50’s, it felt a lot like spring skiing. Best of all, the slopes were uncrowded.

On a clear day, the view from Crystal is amazing. Mount Rainier is just across the valley and it dominates the skyline, but you can also see the other Northwest volcanoes: Baker, Glacier Peak, St. Helens, Adams and Hood.

Click on maps to see detailed versions.

Early morning runs on Rainier Express and Green Valley were sun-softened and fun. Quickly, the south-facing slopes took on a mashed-potato quality, so I searched out some meat — in the form of north-facing steeps.

SkiZer prepares to drop off of Northway Peak.

I found some great, sugary snow on Northway. The north-facing Horseshoe Cliffs, Northway Peak and the shaded portions of Paradise Bowl were the best of it.

Still searching for north-facing runs, I made my way to Chair 6 and took a couple of laps on Powder Bowl. Its cliffs were well-covered, and the snow underneath was soft and carvable.

Campbell Basin also had its moments. I took a run up to the Throne Chutes, got another view of those beautiful volcanoes, and skied down to the soft snow in the basin.

It was all great sunny fun. Still, the SkiZer wouldn’t mind a few more stormy winter days before we get into spring for real.

The view from the Throne at Crystal Mountain.
A skier carves on Middle Ferks as the Mount Rainier Gondola passes overhead.
Sunwashed slopes of Crystal
The sun-washed slopes of Crystal Mountain.

Alpental is the Perfect Place to Play Hooky

Walking across the bridge leading to Alpental.
The cliffs of Alpental from the base area.

Day 17: Feb. 2, 2016

  • Alpental
  • Vertical for the day: 20,000
  • Year total: 268,000

Is there any better feeling than playing hooky? I don’t think so.

Day 17 of the SkiZer season was a playing-hooky day. Here’s how it went down:

It was mid-morning, and I was sitting at my desk in Seattle. The sun was shining (a rare thing) and I kept looking outside. Thoughts of being in the mountains on a beautiful day wouldn’t leave my mind.

“No, you must work!” Responsible SkiZer said sternly.

“But you could go for a half-day and get your work done later!” Fun-Loving SkiZer countered.

Well-played, Fun-Loving SkiZer.

I bolted out of Seattle at 11:30 a.m. and headed straight to Alpental. One hour later, I was walking across the wooden bridge to the Alpental lodge. You have to love that kind of access.

It was so worth it. The snow was soft from our weekend storms, the sun was out and no one was there.

Alpental map
Click to expand.

I spent most of the day on Chair 2 (Edelweiss) at the top of the ski area. I found pockets of untracked snow all over and did five quick laps, then headed for an always-thrilling drop down International.

As the afternoon progressed, I hit my favorites again and again until Chair 2 closed at 3:30. I finished on the lower mountain, and even that was fun. The groomers were fast and fun and powder stashes were still waiting to be discovered.

By 4:30, I was driving home, headed back to work, but with a great attitude.

A skier rides Chair 2 at Alpental.
Skiers cut through the cliff area on Rollen on Chair 2.



Rockin’ the Good Times in Leavenworth

Lee Bob and the Truth perform at the Timbrrr! Festival. (Leslie Kelly)

Day 16: Jan. 30, 2016

You have to love a place where you can eat good food, party, see a killer concert and then go skiing the next day.

After a night of rockin’ it at the Timbrrr! Winter Music Festival (shoutout to my new favorite band, Lee Bob and the Truth!), I hit the tracks at Leavenworth the next morning. Admittedly, my head was hurting, but nothing a day on skis couldn’t fix.

Hatchery finish
Skiers enjoy the trails at Leavenworth Fish Hatchery.

First I loaded up on an excellent breakfast and a few cups of restorative coffee at the Icicle Inn. By 8 a.m., I was skiing on the Icicle River Trails at Leavenworth Fish Hatchery. Conditions couldn’t have been better for skate-skiing — the trails were groomed, frozen and fast.

“This snow will make you feel like Superman,” said Jim Ward, owner of Sulla Vita, an excellent Leavenworth restaurant. I ran into Jim as he was coming off the trails. Part of my foggy brain was due to the wine I’d had with Jim the night before — but for some reason, he looked great. Why me?

In the cool Icicle River Valley, fog hung at tree level as I blazed around the hatchery’s 8K of flat trails in no time — then skied the outer loop a second time to get in a little more. I burned to the finish as the fog was lifting in the valley and in my head.

Skate-skiers on the outer loop along the Icicle River at the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery.

Later, I hit the Nordic trails at Leavenworth Ski Hill. The old-school ski hill is a ropetow-served alpine ski area, but it’s also home to the town’s most challenging Nordic trails that snake up the mountainside.

In contrast to the hatchery trails, the ski hill was nearly empty. These hilly 7K are a push and will challenge even the fittest skier. Conditions were great and by the time the sun poked through to bathe the ski hill in warm light, I was feeling human again.

Ski Hill classic ski
A classic skier enjoys the tracks at Leavenworth Ski Hill.