Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Skis for the New Year

I've been skiing on Volkl 188 G31's and G41's since 2001. That's a long time to go without an equipment upgrade. For the past several years I've been eyeing out the Salomon Pocket Rockets, which were a huge hit on the mountain here. Last year my friend VC bought a pair of Salomon 1080 Foils, a successor to the now discontinued Pocket Rocket. He bought them as a pair of backcountry skis, putting a Diamir Fritchie Alpine Touring binding on them, but wound up using them as an all mountain alpine ski as well.

Yesterday I stepped into Kirkwood's Sports Shop in the village to warm up and see what gear they had this season. I noticed they had last year's 1080 Foil in the size I wanted (174cm), and better yet they were 40% off due to being last year's model. So I couldn't help myself and got a pair, putting a set of Salomon 914 bindings on them. The shop mounted the bindings and did a new ski prep in 45 minutes and this morning I got to see what they could do.

I can now say that all the hype about this ski is well deserved. It's an amazing ski. The short length makes a huge difference in cutting rapid turns down mogul fields or kick turns on the steeps. They also held up incredibly well doing speed runs down the Reut. I flew down Thunder Saddle in a way I never could do with my aging Volkls. I like these guys so much I may need to go out and get a fair of 1080 Guns for deep powder days as well.

Snowshoeing by Moonlight

Debbie Waldear runs the Kirkwood Cross-Country and Snowshoe Center. They maintain 85 kilometers of groomed trails for across two trail systems. The upper Schneider trail system has incredible views of Caples Lake, Round Top Mountain and Kirkwood Mountain.

Last night we went on one of their guided moonlight snowshoe tours. A group of 38 people showed up, which the guides claimed was a world record for a Kirkwood moonlight snowshoe event. We brought our own snowshoe gear, so after waiting for everyone to show up we went outside, geared up, and went with the pack on the tour. I bought a small LED headlamp from REI last year and was happy I had it on this tour - you never know when you might need one. :)

Our trip took us along the High Trail Extension, which goes behind Kirkwood Lake and has awesome views of the Carson Spur as well as the Sierra Crest. I thought this trip would take us on a fairly flat, easy hike, but the guides decided to have some fun and took the group up and down some really steep areas. At one point nearly everyone just sat down on their but and slided down an extremely steep part of the hike instead of trying to hike down on their snowshoes.

Overall the hike was a blast and well worth the $25/person charge. Total hike time was roughly 90 minutes. Make sure to bring warm gloves if you go.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holiday Weekend

Today wasn't that crowded considering it was a holiday weekend. Having spent a lot of time on the Backside yesterday I thought I'd try to find out where the rest of the powder from this week's windstorm went to. Sentinel Bowl was a combination of packed powder and hardpack snow, so I ventured over to the Rabbit Run chute that is skier's left of the top part of the bowl. Sure enough, there was plenty of packed powder in the chute, very few obstacles, and overall a great run. At the end of the run dropping down into one of the chutes that take you past the cave gave you some great packed powder as well. To end the day I went up Chair 11 (The Reut) and did some speed runs on Buckboard, which was the best groomed trail of the day.

Vegan Dining in a Stateline Steak House

This fall I hosted a trip up to Kirkwood for some high school friends. We went into Stateline to check out the casinos and discovered that the former Caesar's Palace had been sold and was remodeled and opened as the Montbleu Casino. Compared to Harvey's and Harrah's (now owned by the same corporation) we thought the Montbleu was the nicest casino to hang out and lose money.

I checked their restaurant listings on their web site yesterday and saw that their steak and seafood restaurant, Ciera, featured vegetarian/vegan entrees. Since my wife, LS, is a strict vegetarian and vegan 90% of the time we made a reservation on OpenTable yesterday and gave it a try. I'm happy to report that we give Ciera high marks. They actually know what a vegan entree is and delivered on it, I had a great steak au poivre, and they served excellent martinis. Highly recommended.

The Entire Mountain is Open

The winds died down yesterday and the entire mountain opened up with two feet of fresh powder. The high winds from the previous day did some serious rearrangment of the distribution of powder on the mountain - in some areas of the backside there were large sheets of ice - make sure you sharpen up your edges.

But if the powder is blown off a certain area of the mountain it has to wind up someplace else. And if you were on the backside yesterday and brave enough to venture out to the fence above Thunder Saddle you found where all of that powder settled.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Snowblowing at 2am

We finally made it to Kirkwood this past Tuesday. The snow level was at 7000 feet and slowly dropped all day. Caltrans has a real challenge keeping the north-facing cliffs along the Carson Spur (highway 88 right before you drop into Kirkwood from the west) free from avalanche danger. So years ago they mounted two avalanche blasters along the cliffs that set off blasts from a mixture of oxygen and propane. On Tuesday night at 2am Caltrans closed 88 and set off their avalanche blasters, causing our entire house to shake and dog to go into a barking festival. I went out on the driveway and discovered the snow was getting too deep for my dog, BH, to do her business, so I rev'd up my trusty Honda HS1132 snowblower and cleared out a dog walking path on the driveway at 2am. But that's part of the excitement of living in Kirkwood.

I took the above photo last winter when some friends and I were backcountry skiing above Red Lake. Some big cornices built up on the cliffs above the Carson Pass so Caltrans brought in a military gun that they were going to shoot over highway 88 from Red Lake. It was fun watching them do some practice shots before we took off.

We got close to two feet of new snow yesterday. The snow depth is still shallow for this time of year, but there's plenty of good skiing. The groomed runs are all in great shape, and yesterday morning Sentinel Bowl was only partially tracked, and the Palisades was virtually untracked. If you go out to the Palisades make sure to use a pair of old rock skis. The new snow has covered all of the volcanic rock waiting to be exposed by skiers out there. Unless you know the area well and have a good idea of where the underlying rocks are you're better off staying on groomed trails for now. That said, I had some killer runs in great fresh powder conditions out there yesterday.

The entire mountain is on wind hold today. Kirkwood just recently was able to open chair 9, the bunny hill, but until the winds die down it's a good day to hang inside and watch a DVD or take your dog for a walk.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Welcome to

Welcome Kirkwood skiers, boarders and visitors. Kirkwood is not only a great ski resort but also a fantastic place to be all four seasons of the year.

As a homeowner in the West Meadows part of Kirkwood (at the end of Fremont) I thought I would start this blog to give people a local's view of "The 'Wood" and the surrounding area. The image above is from a Webcam I keep on my dining room table, looking out at the Red Cliffs.

This season has been off to a slow start and my day job (developing a new site for Peerflix) has prevented me from getting up to The 'Wood since early fall. The new site went live last week and it's looking good, so we'll be heading up to Kirkwood the morning after Christmas. Check back in for daily reports to find the best snow on the mountain.