Resort and backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the western US and Canada, including our famous reader-submitted No-Bull Snow Reports.
Sat Mar 02, 2019 7:50 pm
While storms have been pounding California for the past 6 weeks, snowfall has been about average along the US-Canada border and only half of average at many places farther north. Prior to our arrival there had more of a settled subsurface at Mustang than normal. So we got lucky with an unpredicted 8 inches the night we arrived at Mustang. Fortunately there was little wind Friday afternoon so we were able to fly the heli into Mustang’s lodge despite the clouds and snow.
With unsettled weather and new snow Saturday, the guides decided to concentrate on the Wonderland sector of mostly tree skiing and cut blocks. The SW exposure here will get sun affected by this time of year, so they wanted to get on it while it was good. The new snow was very light and dry but got heavier through the morning which was unexpectedly sunny. The heavier snow was no problem to ski untracked, but it clouded over around 1:30 and started to form a zipper crust, more work for those of us who had been skiing the previous 5 days.
We moved to the nearby WNW facing Crème Brulee sector for our last 4 runs, where the powder had the same A+ quality of our first morning runs. Since we stayed in a localized area our cat rides were short and we skied 18,200 vertical, unusual for a first day where you don’t start skiing until the transceiver drills are done around 10:30AM.
Monday was supposed to be the clear day, but since it was clear Sunday morning we headed for the alpine right away. We took a couple of short runs on the way, but Cloud 9 is where we are headed.
We traversed across the top of Cloud 9.
Guide Hayden is where we will start ski Silver Lining below.
This was nonstop mellow skiing in hero snow so I only got this pic of Tseeb at the bottom.
We got to admire our Silver Lining handiwork from afar at our next drop point.
Here we are about to drop onto Showtime, one of Mustang’s signature fall lines of a consistent 1,500 vertical.
I had some concerns as it faces into sun. The snow was a little heavy but it must have been mostly shaded the day before as there was no crust. We saw Hayden get out of the cat on the way up there and poke the snow to test for crust. Tseeb on Showtime:
We returned to a parallel run Smell the Glove. Snowboarder Stu from Toronto there:
The opposite side of that ridge features the shady Roman named runs which face NW and have steep drop-ins at the top. Looking over the edge of Christians & Lions here:
Tseeb really nailed the deepest section at skier’s left.
Closeup lower down:
Stu found a good line far skier’s right.
We moved into the far NW corner of Mustang’s tenure where I had not been before. Here I am with a view to Shuswap Lake.
We did 3 runs out here, Gin & Juice and two on Tina Turner. Flyover on one of those:
It was almost 3:30PM when we got to our highest drop point at 8,000 feet at Eldorado.
The clouds had moved in making the light flat as Hayden sets the line. This was a situation where it was not best to be first. But the snow remained excellent and it was easy to use other people’s tracks for orientation.
We took a run on Cloud 9 starting just above tree line and a final run back to the lodge to finish with 17,100 vertical.
Monday was clear as advertised but colder, starting the day at zero F but getting to about 10F for most of the day. This is still in the comfort zone for skiing when you’re riding the enclosed cat up the hill.
We started with subalpine/tree runs on Rapid Transit and Porcupine and then did an encore of Silver Lining. I was pleased to see we were next skiing Gladiator, which had been my favorite run on my first trip in 2010.
This is another 1,500 foot fall line. Here are Colin from Calgary and John from Seattle.
We took a run on Eldorado then moved northeast via Kiwi Cruise to the Forgotten Claim area of high alpine for three runs. Tseeb took this short steep drop at the end of the first run,
Our second Forgotten Claim run had the longest steep pitch.
The snowboarders were really in their element here. Jay dropped the steep section in 3 turns.
Stu puts up a water ski like plume here, like I remember seeing from a snowboarder at TLH back in 1998.
More from Stu here:
You can tell the quality of the powder by the mist still hanging in the air from his previous turn.
We took one run on Mulberry into the trees then traversed to a cut block of Cat in the Hat. We returned to the alpine for a fourth run. With assistance from another cat group we worked this part of Forgotten Claim quite thoroughly.
Our final run was Mustang’s longest, Fifth Dimension, which I had not skied before. We have a short traverse to get there.
Fifth Dimension faces east but there is a towering rock wall to the south that keeps most of it shaded. It cooled off fast after we got into the shade and I had to stop and put my glove liners on, so I got no pictures of the upper pitch. This was the second pitch.
John at right caught a tip in the snow, lost one ski and managed 3 turns on the other one before losing balance and crashing. Flyover was next and retrieved the ski.
About 3,000 feet down we had to negotiate a sideslip past some running water.
This put us on the skier’s left side which had been sun exposed and had an inch thick breakable crust.
We traversed back to skier’s right to get decent skiing for the last fall line.
We had now skied 4,000 vertical. The run continues on for another 1,500 of questionable snow quality so we traversed out 500 vertical to a higher pickup point.
This run was quite reminiscent of the Galtiberg in Engelberg last month (5,000 of skiing with a 1,000 vertical traverse out). The exit traverse was much easier here. The skiing was consistent settled powder top to bottom on the Galtiberg. Here it was fresher and deeper powder on the upper half and more variable on the lower half.
At any rate Fifth Dimension was quite a grand finale to 19,200 vertical for the day. Mustang needs to send a separate cat for the pickup because it would take the dropoff cat at least an hour and a half to work its way around.
This was one of the more impressive Mustang tours. In overall terrain quality it ranks at the top with my first trip in 2010. The 54,500 vertical was second by only 200 feet to 2013-14, which was quite terrain confined due to snow instability. Snow quality was excellent on an absolute scale but only a bit above average by Mustang standards. But that’s a tradeoff. If you have deep blower powder, often you will be more limited by weather in terrain and quantity of skiing.
Sun Mar 03, 2019 7:36 am
Thanks for taking the great pictures of me. I don't think I have any of you from this year. My excuses are you were ahead of me or not far enough behind for me to get my camera out in time, and my camera's zoom is much weaker. I'll add some when I have more time to review. Mustang really stepped it up the last day, even though all the lucky 13 people in our cat had already renewed for new year, leaving no room for those trying to add more people. Fairly late in the afternoon we had one cat ride that was over 2500 vertical to get us another quick lap on Forgotton Claim, then finishing with 5th Dimension was a great ending.
Sun Mar 03, 2019 7:54 am
Excellent pix and nice to finally see some sunshine on this trip. The Great Grey North weather that you've mentioned several times probably gets old quick, especially to a SoCal resident.
Sun Mar 03, 2019 9:51 am
Some more photos from day one:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:18 am
More photos from day two:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:47 am
More photos from day three:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:56 am
jamesdeluxe wrote:Excellent pix and nice to finally see some sunshine on this trip. The Great Grey North weather that you've mentioned several times probably gets old quick, especially to a SoCal resident.
I've been making these trips since 1997 and it's part of the territory up there. Between lighting and temperatures I wear goggles a lot in Canada. Those were the only two days of majority sun of the 11 I skied. The first day at Castle was clear for 2+ hours midday. Stevens, Apex and day 1 at Mustang had short sunny breaks, a term I never heard until I started skiing in Canada. The other 5 days were 100% overcast though only the last morning at Fernie was heavily snowing.
In CA, UT, CO weather seems to be more binary. It's usually either sunny or snowing. The Alps are distinctly sunnier in winter than any mountains in North America at comparable latitude (46-47N), though not quite as sunny as our places 40N or less.
Fortunately temperatures (to a point) and lighting are features of skiing to which I can make appropriate equipment adjustments.
Sun Mar 03, 2019 12:27 pm
Tony Crocker wrote:The Alps are distinctly sunnier in winter than any mountains in North America at comparable latitude (46-47N)...
That's my experience as well. Most trips seem to be at least 2/3 sunny and sometimes more. Of course, we know the tradeoff -- storm-day skiing is far easier in NA due to the much lower treelines.
Sun Mar 03, 2019 1:36 pm
jamesdeluxe wrote:Of course, we know the tradeoff -- storm-day skiing is far easier in NA due to the much lower treelines.
Yes and I've been trained for Alps weather issues by 40+ years of skiing Mammoth. In both cases I avoid skiing during the biggest storms.
Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:39 pm
Tony Crocker wrote: I avoid skiing during the biggest storms.
The obvious best practice during storm cycles is to have nearby ski-area options with North American-style trees -- of which there are hundreds -- rather than high-elevation moonscapes (to avoid a hijack, we can continue this in the appropriate forum).
Impressive that Mustang has an almost 5K vertical drop. How many years have you, Tseeb, and Flyover skied together out there?
Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:16 pm
jamesdeluxe wrote:Impressive that Mustang has an almost 5K vertical drop.
It was late on our last day and we did not get dropped at the highest starting point for the run. If we had started at the top we would have skied 5655 vertical feet. To Mustang’s knowledge, by vertical feet, this is the longest run in the cat skiing industry. However, Mustang acknowledges they seldom ski the run due to stability reasons.
jamesdeluxe wrote:How many years have you, Tseeb, and Flyover skied together out there?
Four. tseeb and I both took our first tour with Mustang in 2015, but we also both sat out 2017.
Sun Mar 03, 2019 8:05 pm
John did not sit out a year and got his 5 year jacket this year. This was my 9th year.
I would say the greater issue with Fifth Dimension is snow quality lower down, which is presumably why we didn't ski its bottom 1,000 feet. In 2015 they put a cat road down the top 1,000 vertical and we skied that. That was just before we skied the nearby 3,500 vertical Love Me Longtimes, which was ugly for the bottom half that season.
Tahoe has several sheltered options when Squaw/Alpine are in blow down mode. Mammoth's more sheltered option is June Mt. But the drive can be tough in a storm and when Liz and I went over there in 2017 June's upper chair was only open about an hour due to wind even though it has trees to the top. Heavenly has excellent tree skiing but its upper lifts also tend to be on wind hold during storms.
When the weather forecast was stormy at the end of our January trip, we chose Portes du Soleil because it has a lot below tree line. But the forests at Morzine were dense so the best powder was down the liftline of some chairs. Does James know of areas in the Alps that have good skiing IN the trees? In some places like St. Anton it's actually forbidden to ski in the forest. And with the low tree line it takes an unusual storm to bring quality powder to the low elevations. It's very clear that the Northern Stau storms in the first half of January did that though. I was also surprised how little wind affected snow there was in the Alps this January.
Mon Mar 04, 2019 4:43 am
Great reports and pics, guys!
Mon Dec 30, 2019 6:29 am
Given that heli-skiing is something I'll likely never have the opportunity to try, here's an interesting article
posted in Powdermag about Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides.
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