Wasteland No More

I read a blog called Wasatch Snow Forecast. Powderhounds who are meteorologists. Or meteorologists who are powderhounds. I don’t know. Might just be one guy. In fact, I think it is. So this Utah powderhound meteorologist writes about the Wasatch Range, weather, and powder skiing. Scientific, but personal, written by a serious enthusiast of both endeavors. And he likes to call the powder days. That is, predict the arrival of the snow as well as its quality, and about timing the skiing. Bluebird conditions, deep and soft, that sort of thing. This blog isn’t the only one devoted to Utah pow. There are others. But that’s not the point. The point is that WSF had this to say about our home:

The Pacific Northwest was a barren wasteland last year at this time.

So true!  But that’s not the point either. The point is that things are looking up. I’ve made seven trips to Mt. Ashland in the last two weeks and got five great skiing days out of those trips. I could have skied another five days but I was fussy and only went when there was fresh snow. But there are piles of the stuff up there. Enough so that there will be skiing for some time. I prefer to ski the freshly fallen stuff, the elusive pow-pow, so I’ll be awaiting more storms. After this weekend the schoolkids will be back in school and their parents will be back at work so the slopes will have fewer folks. But the fact that so much has come already is the real good news. Here’s a visual:

snowpack dec 15

Purple is good.

We look good.

Let’s hope it continues.

Happy New Year!

That’s more like it

mt a stats

The storms came and the snow fell and the mountain was covered. So covered, in fact, that they could not open due to a power outage and a nearly-impassable road. But open, eventually, they did. This past Monday Mount Ashland ran one—just one—chairlift and skiers from all over thronged to the gates. The snow was deep and fluffy and was cut up in a hurry by the skiing-starved hordes. My buddy and I managed to find some good stuff. It was hard going for me at first as it always takes me a while to find my legs. The surface was soft and ski-able but inconsistent and well-churned. As the day progressed I managed to find a rhythm and got in some good sequences. The last run was a trip to The Void where it was waist-deep. I got stuck at the top in a quicksand-like patch but dug myself out for what was almost a swim down the steep pitch to just above the parking lot. I missed the spot I wanted and had to traverse over a vertical stretch before finding an outlet. Two quick turns on the steep wall and I slid down to the snow-covered pavement and skied it back to my truck. Glorious!

We are going to take another stab at it tomorrow morning. Maybe this winter will finally give us the ski season we’ve been waiting for. And perhaps the snows will finally give us all some relief from the drought. Nature is a harsh mistress. No guarantees. But a good start, to be sure.

Here’s a link to the webcam on Mt. A. Nice, huh?

The Dark Heart of Winter

mt a


That’s not a snow report, that’s a dull blade shoved in deep. Mt. Ashland has a veneer of snow on her slopes, nothing more. At least two feet of the white stuff, preferably three, is required for skiing. Another winter is upon us and although it is early things are once again starting slowly. Too slowly for my taste. Last year was a disaster and that followed a year that was actually worse. If good things come in threes, what do bad things come in?

I love winter. I love cold weather. Jackets, hats, gloves, scarves, thick socks—these are the things that make me happy. Piles of snow make me even happier. It’s been plenty cold here in the State of Jefferson but there’s certainly not been enough moisture in the air. On our drive south last week we drove over Black Butte Summit in the snow. We followed the plows on the interstate as they scraped the measly few inches off the blacktop in front of us. Since then? Nothing. Bupkes. Nada. Oh, the forecast says we’ll get a drop or two later this week but nothing to get excited about.

In California we talk about drought all the time. That’s because it doesn’t rain at all for half the year. Just about all the precipitation that will fall in the state will fall between November and April. From May to October we are mostly dry. And half the damn state is desert or damn close. I tell people we will always have drought. We will always demand more water for whatever purposes we want it for and our demand will always exceed our supply. But it can be better some years and worse in others and that is mostly due to snowpack. In fact, the entire California water system is built on snowpack. During the dry season the snow melts and keeps the flow of fresh water coming. No snowpack, no renewal. No replenishing the streams. No refilling the reservoirs. No recharging the aquifers. That’s what we have been experiencing lately. Unless we get a proper snowpack this winter we will suffer again next year.

The water-hungry can be forgiven for their obsession with El Niño. I’m not sure any of us can adequately describe an El Niño, but we will babble on about it and imbue the term with prayerful longing because we are desperate for relief. The rains will come at some point and most of the state will sigh contentedly, sure that it means the drought is over. But the high country folk will look at the snowpack and if it isn’t thickening steadily they will sigh resignedly, convinced once again that the gods of winter have cursed us.

And that’s where I am right now. In the dark heart of winter. I sit, watch, and wait for the storm clouds. I long for masses of saturated Arctic air to descend upon our little valley and the peaks that surround us. I need a sign that such will happen soon or I will be be weeping and gnashing my teeth, wailing and lamenting the cruel and capricious weather deities.

I’ll leave you with this. It’s a map of the West with current snowpack numbers compared to the 1981-2010 median for each region. Green, blue, and purple are good. Red, yellow, and brown are bad. I see a lot of bad. Tell me something good is on the way.