It’s still early season, but Apex Mountain Resort in British Columbia is skiing very well.
The day started cold — it was minus 4 Fahrenheit when the SkiZer arrived at the lifts, but it was sunny at least. After a couple of excellent early runs, I quickly warmed up and forgot about the cold temps.
Apex is a skier’s mountain. It has excellent grooming and some very fast and fun advanced-intermediate runs. But it really stands out with its steep terrain.
Even though it was five days since the last snowfall, the cold temperatures and light crowds left plenty of fresh lines available off piste. Best day of the year, by far.
Day 6: Apex Mountain Resort
- Vertical for the day: 30,000
- Vertical for the year: 76,000
The SkiZer had some unfinished business with Mount Hood.
Last year, SkiZer and Cousin Tom spent a very substandard day at Mt. Hood Meadows. It rained all day and most of the mountain was closed.
This time, things were much improved. The SkiZer arrived at the base of Meadows with 20 inches new over the previous 48 hours,
temperatures in the low 20s, and snow dumping. About 8 inches fell during the day.
Conditions just kept getting better. Everything off the Mt. Hood Express and Shooting Star lifts was incredibly soft, and as the storm picked up, untracked lines were refilled all day long.
Meadows is an interesting place. The terrain on the east flank of Mount Hood is all ridges and canyons falling down the side of the mountain. For a major ski area, it feels wild and untamed.
The blizzard made it feel even wilder, in the best possible way.
Day 3: Mt. Hood Meadows
- Vertical for the day: 21,500
- Vertical for the year: 26,000
Days 24 & 25: March 14-15, 2016
- Crystal Mountain
- Vertical for both days: 67,000
- Year total: 497,000
Late-winter storms have just delivered two of the best powder days of the year.
While racking up vertical, the SkiZer found himself thinking about powder-day strategy. His chairlift meditations led to the following Powder Manifesto.
Build powder karma
Powder attracts a crowd, there’s no getting around it. When you have a bunch of aggressive dudes competing for fresh turns, there’s bound to be bad behavior.
Don’t be That Guy.
Example: SkiZer was enjoying a stellar start when he arrived at Crystal Mountain’s Chair 6. A crowd of skiers and boarders was waiting at the lift like a pack of hungry jackals huddled over a kill. The line slowly inched forward.
SkiZer found himself on a chair with one of the snarling jackals. As we neared the top, the lift abruptly stopped, and we waited … and kept waiting.
It was a mechanical failure. The Crystal Ski Patrol sent word that we might be stuck for a long time, and possibly even need to be evacuated. As we sat gazing at the powder below, my chairlift mate became increasingly agitated.
Finally, he’d had enough.
“I’m going to jump off!” he screamed.
A ski patrolman stationed at the top of the lift heard him and shouted, “If you jump, we’ll pull your ticket.”
As soon as the patrolman left sight, the jackal leaped into the fresh snow and skulked away. SkiZer stayed put.
Ten minutes later, the chairlift started and SkiZer was quickly off.
“Thanks for your patience,” the patrolman said, handing over a voucher for a free lift ticket for the next day.
The ski jackal disappeared. SkiZer likes to think he was caught and sent packing. But even if he wasn’t, SkiZer played by the rules, built good karma, and got a free ticket out of the deal.
Stay with a winner
Too often, skiers take a great run, then rush to what they imagine will be an even better run. This often leads to disappointment.
SkiZer believes that if a run is good, you should stay put.
Example: SkiZer headed to the Northway chair and found first tracks on the run Penny Dawg’s. It was fantastic.
For whatever reason, hardly anyone was taking this thrilling drop, so the SkiZer returned, milking it for four untracked runs. Penny Dawg’s paid off big time.
Mornings are intensely busy on a powder day. The crowds arrive early and compete for every turn.
SkiZer calls these people “The Hit It and Quit It Crowd.” They go hard for a couple of hours, then leave. If you can stay strong for the entire day, you’ll be rewarded late.
Example: The Hit It Crowd was long gone when a late afternoon flurry dumped fresh inches of snow on the hill. SkiZer stayed until the final bell and scored fresh tracks on empty slopes.
When to hike
SkiZer believes in staying in-bounds on a powder day until the slopes are completely skied-out.
Many of the ski jackals are obsessed with scoring freshies. At the first sign that the backcountry is open, they stomp, swear and push people out of the way as they rush for first tracks.
Why not go for the low-hanging fruit first?
Example: The South Backcountry opened and a steady conga line of skiers rushed out of bounds. As the feeding frenzy went on in the backcountry, SkiZer still found great lines in-bounds.
Later on, SkiZer did go hiking.The rush of the jackals had passed, and SkiZer found fantastic turns in their wake.
Try this move
SkiZer likes to think that he has a sixth sense that draws him to hidden untracked snow.
One technique that seems to pay off every time is the “Patented Cutback Move.” Here’s how it works:
When you come to a ski run, don’t immediately turn downhill. Instead stay high, keep traversing, and then, like a big-wave surfer in Hawaii, make your “cutback” onto the run. Other skiers will have cut in early, leaving fresh tracks on your cutback side.
Don’t be greedy
A final thought in the Powder Manifesto: It’s a big mountain out there with lots of lines to ski. You can afford to hang back and let a fellow skier grab that powder shot while you watch. If you do, good karma will reward you with your own freshies — guaranteed.
Days 21 & 22: March 7-8, 2016
- Crystal Mountain
- Vertical for both days: 66,000
- Year total: 409,000
Hitting it hard.
That was the goal for days 21 and 22 at Crystal. As the winter days dwindle, the SkiZer is feeling some urgency to rack up as much vertical as possible before it’s all over.
Conditions couldn’t have been better. Temps were cold, the powder was fresh and the crowds were gone.
In-bounds skiing was good, particularly on the north-facing aspects, but conditions were even better in the South Backcountry (Southback), accessible by hiking. SkiZer spent much of both days taking some thrilling drops off of the Throne (6,600′), the King (7012′) and Silver Basin.
The Southback terrain is wild and gorgeous. The hikes can feel a little draining, but the runs more than paid off with the season’s best powder shots.
And it’s not over yet.
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.
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.
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.
Day 15: Jan. 29, 2016
- Mission Ridge
- Vertical for the day: 20,000
- Year total: 248,000
There’s something I love about skiing in a major storm.
When the winds are howling and the snowflakes are flying sideways, you’ll find me with a huge grin on my face.
SkiZer’s Day 15 at Mission was like that. A wild Pacific storm dumped several inches onto the slopes of this gem in the eastern Cascades by the time I arrived. And it just kept dumping through the day.
As luck would have it, I rode with a ski patrolman on the first chairlift. I asked him for a run recommendation and he pointed me to the Bomber Bowl area of Chair 2, the “Liberator Express” quad that takes skiers from mid-mountain to the top of Mission Ridge.
“Seems like it’s really blowing in over there,” he said.
With 30 mph winds pounding the top of the ridge, I headed to Bomber Bowl on one of the area’s primo cruisers, Katsuk. About four inches had fallen over a very hard base. The low-angle intermediate run was fast and fun as I floated on the new-fallen snow.
Bomber Bowl is named after a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber that crashed on Mission Ridge in 1944. A piece of the plane’s wing is displayed on the slope with a large sign that commemorates the crash.
Legend has it that if you touch the wing, you’ll bring more snow to the mountain. Consequently, riders are constantly swinging by to give it a lucky pat. The mojo seemed to be working on this day.
As I dropped in, swirling winds buffeted the impressive Bomber Cliffs, dumping more snow into the bowl below. It was mid-shin deep and I even got a few face shots.
Wow. This was still my first run.
I spent the morning doing laps on Chair 2, skiing various lines in the accumulating fluff. A sparse crowd — which is the norm at Mission — was there to share the wealth.
As the day wore on, I headed to Chair 3, the other lift that accesses the upper mountain. The raging storm had turned what had been a bullet-proof base into effortless powder skiing. The best runs tended to be the cruisers, which Mission has in abundance.
After a quick stop at Midway Lodge to get warm, I found the storm had picked up. Winds were gusting to 5o mph on the ridge, so I headed back to Chair 2. It was a full-fledged blizzard now, and the chairlift swung precariously as we ascended.
“Yee-oww! That was fun!” I screamed in the gale to my chairlift mates as we got off the swinging lift. The wind was making a loud moaning noise and it was hard to stay upright.
It was now a race to get in as many runs as possible before winds closed the lifts. I did one on the Bomber Cliffs, a stunning out-of-bounds hike into a large side-country bowl that brings skiers back onto Chair 2. And then I made another run under the cliffs, hitting a line I had skied earlier in the day. Nobody else had touched it and I laid down a nice set of parallel tracks.
Then it was over. Chair 2 closed in mid-afternoon, and I managed to get three more runs on Chair 3 before the storm took it down too. Snow was falling harder as I skied back to the base area.
Wow, that bomber wing really does have some magic.
- Jan. 19, 2016
- Mt. Baker
- Vertical for the day: 27,000
- Year total: 228,000
A few years ago, I was riding on a chairlift with an acquaintance. We were talking about our favorite Northwest ski areas.
“I like the vibe at Mt. Baker,” she said. “It’s relaxed and doesn’t feel ‘resort-y’.” Later that season, on her recommendation, I went to Baker and had a great day skiing fresh snow among easygoing locals.
It had been a few years since I had been back. As I drove up for my 13th day this season, I wondered if Baker was still full of good vibes.
I pulled in to a nearly empty parking lot and clear skies. So far so good.
If you can hit Mt. Baker on a clear day, you’re in luck. You’ll have incredible views of the North Cascades and 9,131-foot Mount Shuksan, one of the most iconic peaks in the Northwest.
Usually, storms are the norm. This place gets pounded and is famous for collecting huge snowfall totals. On this day, there was about 3 inches new. Not a typical Baker dump, but plenty to shred and have fun.
I headed to Chair 6 on the Panorama Dome side of the ski area to check out some of my favorite runs. Good karma ruled as I unloaded — untracked slopes were abundant.
I skied several unhurried powder runs among the sparse crowd. Unlike most places on the west side of the Cascades, there was no intense competition to beat others to the best snow. Plenty to go around.
One highlight was “The Canyon,” one of Baker’s signature runs. The top, called Gunner’s Bowl, leads into a narrow canyon with huge cliffs on each side. It’s dramatic and fun to ski between those mountain walls.
But the highlight of the day was Pan Face, a wide open and at times steep run down to the Heather Meadows side of the mountain. On weekdays, the Heather Meadows base area is closed, as are some of the lifts on that side of the mountain. But you can still ski Pan Face and then traverse back to chairlift access.
An hour into the morning, I headed to Pan Face. Amazingly, I had first tracks. Throughout the day, I returned several times to ski different lines down this incredible landscape, and each time found freshies.
After an excellent morning on Chair 6, I ate my customary packed lunch along with a quick cup of lodge coffee — not great, but caffeine all the same — at the Raven Hut. The coffee might have been a letdown, but everything else at this mid-mountain lodge is cozy, complete with a welcoming fireplace.
Afterwards, I traveled to the more intermediate Chair 8 side of the mountain. With Mount Shuksan looming above, I found lots of untracked powder and fast groomers.
Besides offering exceptional intermediate terrain, Chair 8 is the gateway to the famous Mt. Baker backcountry. Skiers and boarders climb from the top of Chair 8 to Shuksan Arm, a ridge extending from Mount Shuksan. The ridge offers access to big-mountain style drops, that eventually lead back to the ski area.
You need a partner, a transceiver, probe and shovel to ski this out-of-bounds terrain. Mt. Baker Ski Area doesn’t patrol it or control for avalanches.
On this day, the in-bounds slopes offered plenty of challenges for the solitary SkiZer. I eventually ventured back to Chair 6, where Pan Face was calling. As afternoon wore on, I found myself returning again and again for fresh tracks and powder thrills.
It didn’t disappoint.