Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 Ride Highlife Review

Coming into the 2010/2011 season, I figured my quiver was pretty much set with the addition of my new Never Summer SL (along with my Slackcountry and Burton shit stick).  After a month or so, I realized there was a noticeable gap in performance between my SL and Slackcountry.  Wjo;e tje S: was a playful, fun board, it lacked the stability and stiffness for some of the riding that I do.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Slackcountry was just too much board for the days that weren't nips deep powder.  I needed something to split the difference and fill that gap.

A few days after starting my search, I found a Highlife 161 for a great deal that I couldn't pass up.  The first ride was at Stevens a variable condition day; the second at Baker on a nice powder day.  I was sold, and just like that the Highlife climbed the ranks to my top board preference, no matter the condition.

I had spent some serious time admiring the new-to-2011 Ride Highlife at a couple local shops early in the season.  The camber profile was very intriguing: flat through the bindings and tail, with a bit of rocker lift in the nose.  I was especially drawn to the flat tail profile, which effectively eliminated the washout issues I had with riding the Slackcountry outside of deep powder and on some landings.  The stiffness was there too, perhaps a tad stiffer than the Slackcountry.  The cherry on top was the awesome Spacecraft graphics.

It's also worth noting that this board was on a bunch of people's radars after Jake Blauvelt's bit in Absinthe Films 2011 release "Nowhere" with Nicolas Muller, as the Highlife is Jake's choice for backcountry assault.  If you haven't seen the clip before, check it out.  It is definitely one of my favorite video parts from last season.

My first thought on the board was how smooth, fast, and stable it was on pretty much any condition.  It was easily stiffer than both the SL, as well as the Slackcountry (but not by much).  THe stability was key though as I found the rocker camber combo on the SL to be a bit 'wonky' sometimes when landing a bit off balance.  I attribute this to the amount of rocker found directly between the bindings, creating a pivot point.  Despite being so smooth and stable, the Highlife was still playful and quite nimble for a 161.

I will give one downside on the ride though.  Because of the flat base through the bindings, there's a lot of contact area that can ultimately slow the board down a bit when dealing with 'grabby' snow conditions.  I experienced this a bit in Colorado riding Beaver Creek in sub-zero temperatures where the snow crystals can be quite abrasive.  Slushy spring conditions also attributed to a bit of base suction.  Next season's Highlife (2011/2012) adds a bit of camber between the bindings that will eliminate this issue, as well as add a bit of stability and control to the ride.

As I noted earlier, the flex is a bit on the stiffer side.  I think Ride gave it an 8 out of 10 on their flex meter.  I'd say that is a pretty good representation.  The responsiveness is there too.  This combination can really be felt when ripping a huge turn and really putting your weight into it.  Pushing off the tail results in immediate response and feedback.

I mentioned in my Slackcountry review that the Slimewalls Ride uses really dampen and smooth out the ride, and the Highlife is no different.  It powers through anything you throw at it.  Despite the stiff and damp ride, it doesn't feel 'dead' like some damper boards.  There's still a good amount of feeling that translates up through the bindings so it's not like your riding blind to the conditions.

Ride employed their PopROds 2.0 in the board, which give it a good overall pop off rollers, lips, and jumps while also providing a good snap through turns.  It's not over the top pop like I though the SL had, but it's enough to have some good fun with.  A perfect compliment to the board, if you ask me.

Through the season, I rode the Highlife with two different binding setups.  THe first was the Rome Targas I had on my Never Summer SL.  The Targas felt like a great match out of the box for what I was riding on the Highlife.  They had enough stiffness and response to match the Highlife's level of performance.  As the season went on, I started running into problems with the Targas.  Bolts started loosening up left and right, no matter how much Loctite I applied.  After awhile, I became fed up with having to check my bindings every few runs and switched to the Ride CADs I had on the Slackcountry.  The swap in bindings really turned up the notch on aggressiveness for the Highlife and really pushed me to ride it harder than I had before.  The CADs do take away a bit of the playfulness though, so perhaps a better alternative would have been a set of Ride Alphas.

Final Thoughts
Before I knew it, the Highlife was the board I was always reaching for when I was heading up to the mountains and easily put more days on it than any other board in my quiver.  It fit my riding style perfectly and could shred just about anything I threw at it.  I rode park laps at Breckenridge on it.  I hiked Cowboy Ridge at Stevens Pass and shredded some gnarly sidecountry on it, and super tight technical tree lines at Vail.  I rode it in all conditions from icy January days to deep late season powder days in April.  I rode it on anything and everything while my also brand new Never Summer SL gathered dust in the back of the garage.

While it might not be for everyone given its stiffness, the Highlife is a phenomenal all around board with very few flaws from my point of view.  If you're someone who likes to make the whole mountain your own terrain park, strap on your gnar boots and give the Highlife a try.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2010/2011 season recap....a few months late.

After a roughly six month hiatus, I figured it was probably time I posted something to the blog to let everyone know I didn't perish in an unfortunate cliff dropping incident (although there may have been a close call at one point this season).  So ladies and gentlemen, kids of all ages........I AM ALIVE!

I can't honestly say where I got so sidetracked with my blogging.  I actually had two full posts written and ready to go chronicling two separate weekend trips, but they obviously never got posted.  At that point, I'd like to say I was just too busy shredding to get caught up on my blog.  So here I am months later with no blog posts to show.  Instead, I'll attempt to recount the high points of my season in one (maybe two) recap blogs.

Well, I've had an absolute BLAST this season, shredding a total of 34 days that covered 11 different mountains in four states and one Canadian Province.  Of those 34 days, I got my first taste of cat boarding in eastern BC (I plan on writing up a separate post on this adventure), explored Cowboy Ridge at Stevens Pass, spent a week in Colorado riding four different resorts, and completed the obligatory three Whistler trips.  I also dropped my first 20+ foot cliff, with less than favorable results though.

One thing I've come away with this season is a terrible case of powder fever.  Whether it was waking up at the crack of dawn to hit first chair on a powder day, laboring through a killer hike for the hidden pow stash in the side country, or getting untouched fields of backcountry powder from the cat, I found myself riding way more powder this season than I ever have before.  One late season pow day at Baker made me realize how bad my pow addiction was.  By noon, all the in-bounds pow stashes were gone, and without a riding buddy for the day, the backcountry wasn't an option.  I found myself uninterested in riding groomers the rest of the day and completely content on driving home......At noon on a bluebird day!  From that point forward, I realized that I was officially a powder snob.  There's just something about that euphoric, surfy feeling of riding untouched powder that I just cannot ever get enough of.  If you give me the option of riding a full day of non-stop, lift served runs or a day of hiking for two or three powder runs, I'd take the hiking option all day, every day, no questions asked.

There are a few things I didn't accomplish this season that I would have liked to.  While I did push myself  beyond my comfort level quite a bit, I feel like I could have pushed myself a bit more.  Maybe I should have taken one more run at that cliff that owned me, or hucked myself off that bigger windlip instead of settling for the smaller one.  On the upside, this only fuels my passion and drives me to be a better rider than I was the day before.  The day I am content with my level of riding will be the day I quit snowboarding, and I hope that day never comes.

Well, I hope this is the jump start I need to get back in the swing of things in preparation for the upcoming season.  In the meantime, enjoy a couple of my favorite pictures (and one video of me) from this last snowboarding season.....

Shuksan from the lot @ Baker Opening Day

Heading up Chair 1 @ Baker on opening day - my favorite picture of the season.

My Slackcountry in its natural habitat @ Whistler/Blackcomb.

Early morning beauty @ Mt. Bachelor in mid January.

Sniffing out the powder @ Schweitzer on the Highlife.

Me taking in the Superpipe finals @ the X-Games in Aspen.

Gotta layer up for those -20 degree days @ Beaver Creek.

Me taking the time for a quick picture in the eastern BC backcountry.

Powjunkie checking the stability on the backside of Cowboy Ridge @ Stevens Pass

Powjunkie dropping Tye Smalls, the drop that owned me.

Big Chief pow field in the Stevens sidecountry.

Me gathering my thoughts on top of Cowboy Ridge @ Stevens Pass.

Heading up Chair 8 @ Baker looking towards Shuksan.

Beautiful late season pow @ Baker.

Me getting grabby at Whistler on my Highlife.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Late December Riding

I apologize for not keeping the blog updated in the past month or so. Between the holidays, weekend trips, work, and life in general, I've been pretty busy. I'm hoping to get all my trip reports posted by the time I leave for my Colorado trip at the end of the week, so stay tuned!

The weekend between my Whistler trip and Christmas, I found myself up at Stevens Pass for the first time this season.  I spent the first day (Saturday) with GS riding a new addition to my snowboard quiver, a Ride Highlife (first look review coming shortly).  Conditions were extremely variable; from icy moguls to sweet tree-hidden powder stashes.  Despite still being pretty worn down from the previous weekend at Whistler, GS and I rode hard enough to completely wreck ourselves by the end of the day.  My best wreck of the day will probably live on in infamy.  On one of the last few runs of the day, GS and I were lapping Parachute 1 and Parachute 2 underneath Hogsback, hitting a few of the hidden powder pockets.  Heading down Parachute 1, I found a nice little stash at the top of a steep drop in and hit it at full speed.  As I kicked off the fluffy powder on the top of the drop in, I yelled “POWDER DROP!”  It was far from a powder drop.  I landed in pure ice on a nice steep slope, washing out and landing on my ass as I skidded 20 yards down.  All the while, GS is laughing his ass off at the top of the drop in.  My “POWDER DROP” phrase has now become the battle cry for the majority of my crew.  Thanks guys.

I followed up my first day at Stevens with a solid night boarding session the following night with a couple buddies.  Despite being a few days removed from the last good snowfall, we still managed to get some great turns in.  We were able to traverse to some of the lower 7th Heaven terrain off both Hogsback and Skyline that rewarded us with some great powder turns.  With the nice stashes in the trees and the soft, fast groomers, it was a great chill night just lapping the mountain.

The following Thursday, I kicked off my Christmas break with another night session up at Stevens Pass.  With still no new snow, it was mostly a groomer-lapping night, with a few tree runs here and there.  Add a great dinner with drinks and you’ve got a really fun night chilling on the mountain.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The snow returned the Monday after Christmas, dumping a reported 12” of new freshies at Mount Baker.  With a lot of my ski buddies either out of town or working, I headed up for my first solo ride of the year.  I love sharing my time on the mountain with my good friends, but there’s something quite therapeutic about riding solo.  I tend to forget about everything else and just concentrate on my riding.  It’s a great feeling and I always end up feeling refreshed after a good solo session.

After my first run down Chair 8, the 12” of fresh stated on Mount Baker’s website seemed to be an understatement.  I was finding knee deep areas of soft powder just about anywhere off piste.  After a few laps through Chair 8, I headed over towards Pan Dome.  Big mistake.  The wait times on Chairs 5 and 6 were close to 20-30 minutes.  With this amount of volume, the terrain was completely tracked out already.  I took a quick lunch to regroup and headed back over to Chair 8, where surprisingly there was still no lift line at all.  Although the area was pretty tracked out by this point as well, I was able to keep myself occupied by exploring the trees through Chair 8 and found some fun spots.  By 2 o’clock, I was parked next to the firepit next to the lodge with a beer in hand.  Despite the ridiculous crowds, the powder was great and I was able to log another day on the newly acquired Highlife.

With two big snowboarding trips on the horizon (Schweitzer for New Years, and Mount Bachelor the following weekend) it was great to log a couple day trips to the local mountains while I recovered from the epic Whistler adventure.  Stay tuned for trip reports from both Schweitzer and Bachelor!

GS sporting a snow packed helmet after an epic POWDER DROP!
Nice pow pockets for night boarding at Stevens.
This is what happens when you do shots at dinner and keep skiing.
Nothing better than ending a solo day at Baker by sitting by the fire with a good beer!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowboard Review: Ride Slackcountry 164

For the first ten or so years or snowboarding, I was always a single board quiver guy.  I never felt the need to own more than one board, although my college student budget for four years of that period certainly detoured me from buying a new board.  It wasn’t until last season when I started riding a lot more off piste powder that I realized my trusty traditional camber Burton Custom 158 had its limitations.  I recall one day in particular at Mount Baker last season where they got just short of two feet of fresh powder overnight.  All I could do was point the board downhill and lean back as far as I could just to keep myself from sinking.  I was sitting somewhere on Pan Dome buried in powder thinking, “I really need to get myself a nice powder board.”

As soon as the late season sales started popping up, I was out shopping in full force.  I hit all the local ski shops and talked to a lot of sales guys.  I eventually settled on this particular Ride Slackcountry 164 that Evo had sitting all alone in the corner of their shop.  The combination of the late season mark down along with an Evo Groupon (gotta love Groupons!) made the purchase quite affordable.  Since my purchase last spring, I have been able to ride this board on two separate occasions: one Saturday late last spring that featured over three feet of fresh at Stevens Pass, and one day last week at Whistler with close to two feet of fresh.

Last season a ton snowboarding companies made big splashes with tons of different alternative camber offerings, from soft jib rockers to huge powder rocker profiles.  Ride’s big powder rocker, HighRize Rocker, can be found on the Slackcountry.  Laying the deck on a flat surface, you can see it is completely flat through the bindings, then up to a three stage, or three angle, rocker on each end.  Very boat-ish, if you will.  The board just looks absolutely killer as well.  Nothing flashy at all, but I love the Schmidt Beer inspired graphics.  I have definitely used the “Wish You Were Here” message on the base in a few pictures to send to friends who were missing out on the fun.

Both days I’ve been on this board involved pretty decent powder.  I had plenty of untouched runs to test the pow float, and all I have to say is this thing absolutely KILLS in the powder.  It takes almost no effort at all to keep the nose up when slashing through the deep stuff.  Despite the 164cm length, it still feels quite nimble through the trees or more technical runs due to the rocker profile.

When all the pow got tracked into some nasty chop, the Slackcountry just chewed it up and spit it out.  The board is stiff and damp enough to power through any chop without getting all chattery or anything.  Ride’s 90A Slimewalls can be partially attributed to these characteristics as well.  One thing I did notice in these variable conditions is the tip and tail of the board were a little softer than I expected.  I’m wondering if perhaps this is due to the rocker?  I just felt like I wasn’t getting as much response pushing off the tail when I pulled a railed healside turn.  This really isn’t a big knock on the board, just merely an observation.

The one big downside to the Slackcountry is packed powder and groomer performance.  The amount of rocker in both the tip and tail really do affect the control on groomers.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not uncontrollable, but it does take some getting used to.  You really have to pay attention to what the board is doing or you might have the tail slide out under you.  There were a couple long low speed cat tracks at Whistler I took last weekend where I felt like I had stay slightly on either edge just to make sure I kept the board from getting squirrelly.  On steeper groomers that aren’t too packed, the board does carve nicely once you get used to getting it to that edge.

One other thing I noticed during both days on this board is how it seemed to turn into a freight train late in the day on tired legs.  As soon as my legs got tired and the snow got tracked out, I felt like I was in a constant fight trying to make the board go where I wanted it to.  I attribute this to the size of the board, the rocker profile, and my shot legs on tracked out snow.

Ride rates the flex on this board at a 7 out of 10, which I feel is a pretty accurate rating.  It’s not super stiff like you’d think a big freeride board would be, but I don’t think I’d really classify this as a straight hard-charging freeride deck at all.  It’s strictly a powder board.  I’m no expert on board dynamics, but I’d think that the semi-soft tail helps give a little extra buoyancy in the deep stuff.  Like I stated earlier, you can really tell the board isn’t super stiff when trying to pull a really hard turn in anything other than powder.

I really enjoyed how damp the ride was on the Slackcountry once the powder was chewed up.  Just point the deck and go, powering over any and all chop without transmitting a lot of chatter or roughness to your feet.  This really helped take a lot of stress off my knees and legs.

The tail of the board does have a bit of spring to it, but I’ve found it really hard to get a good pop off the tail due to the amount of rocker.  The canted footbeds on the Ride CAD did help get a little additional leverage on the tail, but I still couldn’t launch myself off kickers with any authority.  No big deal in my mind though, this isn’t a freestyle deck!

Both days I’ve spend on this board were on different sets of bindings.  The first set I had mounted last year was a pair of Burton CO2s.  I definitely enjoyed the CO2s, they were a very comfortable binding, but I felt like they didn’t give me the right amount of stiffness I wanted for my freeride powder board.  It also didn’t help that they were slightly oversized for my low profile boot.

Before this season started, I made a huge score on a pair of brand new past season Ride CAD bindings from a Pawn Shop in a pretty sketchy area of Seattle.  For those of you not in the know, the Ride CAD bindings are one of the stiffest, tech-iest bindings Ride has made.  The adjustable ankle strap and footbed let you dial in the ride exactly how you like it.  The response on bindings these are incredible!  The stiff chassis, highback, and ankle strap translate any movement directly to the board.  Don’t try to tweak any grabs in these though, because it’s simply not going to happen.  Pretty good fit for the Slackcountry in my opinion.

Final Thoughts
This powder deck does exactly what it’s made to do: absolutely annihilate the fresh, deep stuff!  It is just an absolute blast to ride in fresh powder, as both of my days on this deck have been.  Chopped powder is fun too once you’ve tracked it all out.  The drawbacks start once it gets all packed down though.  The ride outside of powder is doable and not incredible hard, but it’s enough of a drawback makes this board pretty much a quiver stick rather than a quiver killer.  Regardless of its drawbacks, this board remains one of my favorite and will be my main powderstick for all of my backcountry adventures, cat boarding, and deep resort riding.

My Slackcountry in action.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day #3/4/5 - Whistler Trip #1

With the 2010/2011 snowboarding season officially full steam ahead, it was time for our core Whistler group to make our customary December trip up to the beautiful British Columbian coastal mountains.  Early season trip such as these can be very hit or miss when it comes to conditions.  I’ve been up there when there has hardly been any base with only a third of the mountain open.  I’ve also been up there early in December and gotten my first powder turns of the year.  You really never know what you’re going to get until you actually get up there and check out the short term forecast.  As we all checked the forecast early last week, we knew the weekend had the potential to be an epic weekend for shredding.  A huge system with tons of moisture was stacked up in the Pacific Ocean ready to obliterate the Pacific Northwest Cascades.

My group of three left the Seattle area around rush hour Wednesday afternoon in a complete downpour.  After navigating through the idiots who have no idea how to drive in the rain (which is still completely weird to me for some place that gets a ton of rain a year) we were full steam ahead to Whistler.  A few hours later, we arrived at the snowy Whistler Village and made our way to the Snowbird condo complex near the Blackcomb Base.  First order of business was to get our minds in shred mode, which I accomplished by replacing one of the weird paintings with a poster of John Jackson’s backside double-cork 1080 (courtesy of Transworld Snowboarding magazine’s 200th issue) and cracked a few adult beverages.  Before long, it was time to rest up for the next day on the mountain.

Day #1
Thursday morning brought an early wake up call of avalanche bombs exploding in the adjacent mountains.  This was a good sign.  We all geared up, ate some breakfast, and checked the weather report.  Roughly 10” of new snow fell overnight, on top of the 10” or so of fresh from the day before.  With this little tidbit of information, I chose my weapon of the day:  my rockered pow stick, the Ride Slackcountry.  As we loaded into the Whistler Village gondola, we got the bad news that the high alpine areas (Peak, Harmony chairs) were probably not going to be opened due to high winds and high avalanche danger.  Sad news indeed, but we knew there would still be a ton of nice terrain and nice powder to ride.

We chose our first lines near the Big Red Express to the south of the Roundhouse Lodge.  Despite being a pretty tame run overall, there were a ton of trees and technical terrain in the surrounding areas.  After dropping in and gaining some speed, I pulled my first big heelside turn and discovered the powder was pretty much bottomless and got my first faceshot of powder for the year.  We spent the majority of the morning lapping Big Red, ripping some great lines through the trees and finding a few steeps and kickers to grab some air off.  The powder was just right; super light and pretty much bottomless.

Right before lunch we switched it up a bit and hiked up Pika’s Traverse as far as Ski Patrol would let us to access some of the terrain served by Harmony Express.  We dropped in to the skier’s right of the reservoir next to Rabbit Tracks and shot through the trees and deeper into the Harmony area.  There had been a few others hiking out in the area during the day, but there was still enough powder that we were able to all get fresh lines zipping through the tress.  On our way down to find the Sidewinder cat track back to the Emerald Chair, DBro and I found hidden section of shorter trees that hardly anyone had seen yet.  It was down this little chute that I shredded my first mini pillow line of the year!  From here it was to Roundhouse Lodge for lunch via a terribly flat cat track.  Best lines of the day, bar none.

After lunch, DBro, JK, and I decided we needed one more hike up to the Harmony area.  By this point in the day, Ski Patrol was done bombing and had opened up more terrain for hiking.  We went another 50 yards up the traverse to a new section through the trees that only seen a few lines so far.  As before, the turns were bottomless and the lines were epic.  For those who know the Harmony area pretty well, you know that Back Bowl area off Pika’s Traverse can get very flat so as a snowboarder you really have to choose your line wisely.  This time, I did not do so.  I slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped in a very flat area about 50 yards or so from the groomed GS run.  My only option was to boot out and hike the last section.  As soon as I unstrapped myself from my board I proceeded to sink to my waist.  Ahh the drawbacks of flat terrain and deep pow for a snowboarder.  With my board over my head, I trudged the final flat to the groomer and collapsed completely exhausted from my little hike.  Painful yes, but the ride down was totally worth it.  After getting my legs back under me we cat-tracked out and hit the Peak 2 Peak gondola over to Blackcomb to finish out our day on the Crystal Chair.

It only took a few runs for all of us to realize that our legs were completely shot.  My big powder board became pretty unruly on the tracked out powder.  It felt like I was trying to steer a freight train with my burnt up legs.  Time to call it a day.

That evening brought an amazing combination of friends, home made mac & cheese with bacon (courtesy of our favorite Social Narcissist), hot tubs, and adult beverages.  Team Snowbird was in full effect.  Before we knew it, it was time to shut it down and rest up for the upcoming day of shred and the rumored opening of the Peak and Harmony chairs.

Team Snowbird waiting for the bus on day #1.
My Slackcountry waiting to drop into Harmony.
GS digging himself out after a nosedive.
Arguably the best run of the day down into the Harmony trees.
DBro, JK, and myself on Crystal Chair.
Late day clearing on Blackcomb.
Day #2
Day #2 brought us a little more fresh snow, but not on the level of the two previous days.  Conditions were a little better than the day before with a lot of the clouds clearing for better visibility.  Instead of the big stick, I selected my all-mountain board for the day and as before, DBro, SN, and I started by lapping Big Red again, awaiting the opening of the high alpine terrain.  Right before lunchtime, we got word that Harmony had begun uploading for the first time in about 4 or 5 days.

My usual line of choice on Harmony is to follow the lift down pretty much the whole way, starting up in the Little Whistler bowl, down through Back Bowl, Die Hard, and ending through the trees under the lift.  The first few laps were rewarded with all fresh lines and a lot of smiles.  My smaller Never Summer board performed quite well in the deep powder.  Not as much float as the Slackcountry, but a lot more fun in the tighter areas.  Harmony was as good as it’s ever been with this amount of powder.  I swear if I had to choose one single place to ride for the rest of my life, I might just choose Harmony Ridge. 

After a quick lunch break, it was back to Harmony to lap until our legs wouldn’t hold us up anymore.  Unfortunately I didn’t quite make my way all the way around the Harmony Ridge before my legs told me it was time to wrap it up in a very painful way.  So down it was to the Village for a post-mountain beer at GLC.

The day ended with more Team Snowbird hijinx around the condo and Village.  The Whistler Brewhouse, a group favorite, was finally graced with our presence at once point in the evening, where one of the servers actually recognized us from our previous exploits.  In the end I was left with a sizeable headache as a result of my actions, but I doubt I was alone on that front.

Blue Sky heading up Big Red Express.
Me ready to drop down under Big Red.
DBro ready to shred.
Freshies under Harmony Chair.
More freshies on Harmony.
DBro and SN excited for pow.
Bright pants crew: DBro, me, and AK.

Day #3
After leaving everything I had on the mountain during the previous two days, I told myself that I was going to take the day off for a nice relaxing day in the Village.  Once I woke up and started my day, this feeling didn’t last very long.  With the help of DBro, I was persuaded to head back up for a third day in a row for as much as my legs could handle.  My only caveat was to take it easy and just cruise.  I did just that until we heard that the 7th Heaven Express chair was about to upload for the very first time of the year.

I had previously only ridden the 7th Heaven terrain a few times two years ago in very icy conditions, so I didn’t really know a lot about it.  The idea of new terrain with a lot of fresh snow made me forget about my dying legs and pull it together.  We surveyed the terrain on our first chair up and decided the runs directly below the lift were the way to go with hardly any tracks at all.  Despite the lift lines being ridiculously long, most of the people must have been heading over to the bowls instead of following the lift down.  Run after run, we lapped the same area under the lift until lunch at the Horstman Hut atop the 7th Heaven lift.

After lunch, the group headed out to the bowls to the skiers left of the 7th Heaven lift.  This proved to be disastrous for me.  First, I got cut off by some idiot not cutting across the traverse and had to drop down below.  This put me in a position where I had to either hike back uphill 10 yards to the traverse, or drop into the bowl earlier than the rest of the crowd.  In the condition my legs were in there was no hiking for me so I decided to head down, directly into a low coverage boulder field.  Not good, especially for my brand new Never Summer board.  I did make it out alive, but with a scarred board.  My toeside edge really took a few bad hits and will need a little TLC before she sees the mountain again.  The base came away with only a few dings, but nothing to the core thankfully.  That was pretty much the end of my day.  My legs were completely dead from the 3 hard days of riding, my board was dinged up, and my attitude was admittedly a little sour after hearing how great everyone else’s ride was.  A ride back up 7th Heaven took us to the Horstman Glacier, and down to the Blackcomb Base via what seemed like mile upon mile of painful groomers.  The only saving grace was the thought of après at my favorite bar, Merlin’s.

Holy lift line!  7th Heaven is finally open!
Under 7th Heaven.
Aftermath of an epic DBro crash.
I spent my last night out in the Village with DBro and SN walking around and grabbing dinner at the infamous Splitz Grill, which was amazing as usual.  The rest of the crew eventually met us out at Splitz after proceeding to polish off the remaining amount of alcohol in the condo and out for our final night in the Village.  Full steam ahead for Team Snowbird!

It takes one hell of an epic trip to be considered as one of the best Whistler trips for me, but this one almost unanimously takes the cake.  The conditions were just perfect all three days I spent on the mountain.  I’ve never had back to back to back powder days, and it might take awhile until I see another one.  Despite still being the early season, this trip was one of the best.  Ever.  Team Snowbird came through both on the mountain and off.  I feel incredibly lucky to have all these amazing friends who make these trips as much fun as they always are.  I will always be looking forward to the next excursion to Whistler.

Redecorating the Condo.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's Whistler TIme!

It’s that time of year when I really start to get excited.  No, no, no, not Christmas or the holiday season.  It’s WHISTLER TIME!  Every year early in December our core ski/snowboard group always makes our first pilgrimage of the season 200 and some odd miles north to one of my favorite places on the face of this earth. 

Say what you want about the Whistler Village and “elitist atmosphere” I’ve heard some people describe it as, but I still would never pass up a weekend in Whistler.  I hear a lot of people complain that Whistler has been completely commercialized and geared too much towards the average tourist.  Sure the village isn’t the cheapest place in the world and there are a lot of touristy things that are heavily advertised, but it still doesn’t take away from the epic snowboarding that can be had up on either mountain or the fun atmosphere wherever you go.

Granted I haven’t had a change to ride a ton of different mountains to be able to really compare terrain, but I can say that Whistler blows every other mountain I’ve ridden completely out of the water.  The shear amount of terrain, variety of features, and quality of the snow are unmatched in the Pacific Northwest.  From steep glacier riding above treeline, to complicated glades, to award winning terrain parks, to easy cruisers, Whistler/Blackcomb has EVERYTHING you could ever want in a resort.  The light fluffy powder that can be found in the high alpine on either mountain is probably the lightest pow that can be had in the Pacific Northwest.  Of all the places I’ve ridden, I’ve only had lighter powder in Colorado last winter.

Every time I page through the “mountain stats” page on the Whistler/Blackcomb website, I’m always amazed (  With over 8,000 skiable acres and 37 lifts between the two mountains, no other North American resort comes close to offering the same amount of terrain.  I’ve spent roughly 15 or so days riding Whistler/Blackcomb during the past two seasons and I know I still haven’t explored everywhere.  Last year I stayed primarily in the high alpine on Whistler, exploring the terrain served by the Harmony and Symphony chairlifts.  This area of the mountain always seems to have the best snow and enough area where it takes quite a while for it to all get tracked out.  I’ve been able to hit some fresh lines on my last run of the day.  There’s even some great hikeable inbounds sidecountry off of Symphony (among other places), which I fully intend to take advantage of more this year.

The only thing that trumps Whistler/Blackcomb’s inbounds territory is their epic backcountry.  There’s a reason there are multiple heli-ski and cat-ski outfits posted up in the Whistler Village.  One spot where you can really get a better idea of how much vast backcountry terrain there is to ride, hike out on Flute Ridge off Symphony and look to the east at all the incredible steeps and deeps for miles and miles and miles.  Without this vast amount of backcountry terrain, professional video producers and photographers would be missing a huge piece to their puzzle as well.  You’d be hard pressed to go through an entire video or magazine publication without multiple references to the Whistler backcountry.  From what I’ve seen in my years of watching a fair amount of ski-porn, the Whistler backcountry is only second to Alaska (Valdez or Haines) when it comes to backcountry terrain references.  And yes, my bucket list includes a heli-ski trip to the Whistler backcountry.

After I’m completely spend from ripping my way all over the mountain, there’s nothing I crave more than Whistler/Blackcomb’s awesome Après atmosphere down in the Village after the lifts close down for the day.  Just about every single restaurant and bar has some sort of Après deals going for food and drinks.  My personal favorite is Merlin’s at the Blackcomb base (  Nachos and pitchers of Kokanne all around!  And no, I will NEVER be doing Jaeger Bombs at Merlin’s ever again.  Ever.

Typically after a solid Après, a quick nap, and a Red Bull, it’s time to head out for dinner and a solid night out on the town.  The Village has just about any type of food you could ever crave.  My favorite (and highly recommended) dinner destinations are the Whistler Brewhouse ( and Splitz Grill (  Splitz Grill makes some of the most amazing burgers you’ll ever have, plus the employees are awesome!  I definitely recommend the Brewhouse bar on Saturday if you want to take in some serious Canadian hockey spectating.  The nightlife after dinner offers a little bit of everything.  From dirty beat dance clubs (like Gabe’s favorite Tommy Africa’s) to a typical bar-scene like The Longhorn or GLC, there’s something for everyone.  One of my favorite things about almost every bar and club in Whistler is they ALWAYS have some sort of ski-porn running on the TVs.  Gotta love that!  Oh, and don’t forget to get some putine from the street vendor right by The Longhorn.  A night out in Canada is not complete without a plate of putine.

So here we go, it is Whistler Week #1; insert happy dance here!  The weather is looking great with a lot of fresh snow coming in.  If all goes right with the weather, I’ll be able to bust out the Slackcountry for the first time this season!  Be sure to stay tuned early next week for my trip report, pictures included.

On a non-Whistler related note, I just wanted to plug a buddy’s blog:  Powjunkie, also known as SM in my Baker opening day post, has been writing technical product reviews on all sorts of gear and trip reports as well.  If you enjoy my blog, you’ll definitely enjoy his as well!

Pics from past Whistler trips:

DBro atop Symphony (last season).

Me at the top of Symphony looking southeast (last season).

About to hike up Flute ridge (last season).

DBro on top of Flute ridge looking north towards Blackcomb (last season).
I learned cotton sweatshirts are definitely not made for rag-doll'ing through late Spring powder (last season).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Looking Ahead

Now that the season has officially started and I have a couple days under my belt, I’ve been able to look ahead and plan details for some trips I have on the docket for the season.  For those wondering if all my blog posts will just be boring day trips to local mountains, the simple answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT!  About half of my riding will be local mountains, while the other half will be weekend (or longer) trips to various mountains and resorts across the region, along with a few backcountry hiking trips, and one cat ski trip.

Whistler/Blackcomb is always a multiple weekend destination for me every season.  Last year I made it up there four separate weekends and spent a total of 8 days on the mountain.  The greatest thing about Whistler/Blackcomb is there is such an incredible amount of terrain I still haven’t completely explored both mountains in the two years (and roughly 15 days) I’ve spent there.  This almost guarantees there will be some good stories to tell after each day I ride there.

I made my first trip out to Colorado last year and spent time at Breckenridge and Copper Mountain around New Years.  Being my first time in the Colorado Rockies, I was blown away by the amount of ski resorts within driving distance and how soft champagne powder really was.  It was an easy decision to make a plan to head out to Colorado again.  DBro and I currently have a week and a half long trip planned in late January/early February that would put us in Aspen for the Winter X Games followed by a week in Summit County riding as many mountains as we can.  The stoke level is quite high for this trip.

The trip I’m probably most excited about is my first cat expedition with Big Red Cats out of Red Mountain in British Columbia (  DBro and I met the owner at the Ski and Snowboard Convention in Seattle back in October and booked a buy one get one free trip for late February.  NP and SN also got in on the trip, along with two other friends.  I’ve always wanted to get in on a cat ski trip and have priced them out multiple times in the past, but none came out to as good of a deal as this was.  It was waaaaaay too good to pass up!  Now if only I could find a good deal on a heli-ski trip……

Along with the cat ski trip, I’m hoping to get more into back-country boarding this year.  I’ve already looked into the required avy gear (beacon, probe, & shovel) along with a certified Level 1 avalanche course, but haven’t pulled the trigger on either yet.  I don’t plan on going big my first year out obviously, but I really want to get my feet wet and tag along with a few other riders who are accomplished back-country enthusiasts.  The cat ski trip will help a get me into it a little bit, but I really want to do a bit of hiking at Baker for some turns.  I blame TGR’s "Deeper" for pushing me to go, well, deeper, if you will.

There are also a few other weekend trips planned throughout the winter.  Schweitzer in Idaho for New Years, Bachelor in Oregon the following weekend, and perhaps even a late season trip to Tahoe.  Schweitzer will be a more prominent destination this year, as my parents recently bought a condo within driving distance that I’ll have to take advantage of.  I hope to add at least 3 or 4 new mountains to my resume along the way.  Whatever way you look at it, this season is shaping up to be a really good one.