Paul Scells enjoys some Heavenly views.
After four pretty ordinary seasons many felt California had lost its mojo.
Already playing in the shadows of the Rockies and Wasatch ranges, Sierra Nevada was starting to become more synonymous with its eminently drinkable pale ale than as base for a ski or snowboard trip.
But season 2015/16 brought it back to the fold. The numbers weren’t through (or over) the roof snow-wise but it was a solid season that again demonstrated just how good California can be. And some are suggesting a good to better one this season.
I’ve done Colorado and Utah and while it can’t compete for dry snow in most seasons there’s plenty of things to like about the Lake Tahoe district. Stick with me and I’ll take you through what tickled my fancy …
Kirkwood Mountain at night. Pic: Rusty Rogers
Before I stepped foot in Kirkwood, California I had enormous respect for the place. In part it was due to its fearsome big mountain reputation and tales of 600-inch snow years. But a big component was also the snow reports.
Of course there’s epic powder days. But at how many commercial ski areas would you also see these types of comments in your reports:
“The weather pattern is setting up for unseasonably warm days with max temps some 10-15 degrees above normal and nearing records for early Feb …”
“Rain top to bottom all day yesterday my friends, ouch but temperatures have dropped significantly here since 3am its now 26@the base and 22@the summit, winds SW 35/40mph across the ridge tops with gusts upwards of 45+…”
“Take the day to get your affairs in order, #POWHunting season is well underway – We will keep you in the know …”
“14”@the base with 14”+up at the summit… Not quite #ColdSmoke but certainly not #SeirraCement! … Let’s level set the day mis amigos, We will start the day out with snow-safety holds on all front-side lifts 1,5,6,7,9,10 & 11 …”
Richard Jameson gets amongst the powder at Heavenly
A disturbing incident brought out the best of punters and staff at Heavenly.
It’s easy to judge a place like Heavenly, California in a great season like this one. After all, the cliches of powder snow, incredible views and glorious sunshine all ring true in the state’s best snow year since 2010/11.
But there’s another way I will judge it first: by how people reacted to what looked to be a man dying before our very eyes.
Well, maybe for governor of California anyway …
When it comes to technical snow reporting it doesn’t get much better in the US than the guys at opensnow.com
Looking at their national forecasts with numbers plonked across the map denoting predicted falls reminds me of bingo night. The stoke certainly grows when you see two digits, the first of which starts with a four (and that’s inches not centimetres).
These guys are real pros too, with three full-time and five contracted forecasters over winter. They are either degree-qualified meteorologists who love riding or have high-end weather forecasting knowledge (and ride of course as well). They must be doing something right with an estimated 1.5 million riders using their site.
I had a chat with founder Joel Gratz and he took me through what they do, and more importantly:
– How he thinks the season will play out
– Tips for the best places to go
– Some areas that may actually get below average snowfalls
– Insights into Canada and even touching on Japan.
On the 18th anniversary of the Thredbo landslide which tragically also killed 18 people, we remember two very special ski instructors whose legacy lives on – on both sides of the Pacific.
It’s an innocuous trail in a ski resort that probably doesn’t enter into too many people’s thoughts outside of California, but when I saw it, I knew. If your heart could rise and sink at just the same time then I guess mine did. It was a name that I could only ever associate with one thing.
The name Sodergren will resonate with many in Australia’s alpine community, as it does in Northstar, California. Sodergrens run, a clear-cut trail in among the Lake Tahoe area’s glades, was named after the resort’s much-loved ski instructor Mike Sodergren and his wife Mariam, who were killed in the 1997 Thredbo landslide. As it did in Thredbo, the death of the pair hit the Lake Tahoe area hard.
Used to picking apart some of California’s steepest terrain with their almost obsessive technical proficiency on skis, it seemed almost inconceivable that the Sodergrens were crushed in bed as they slept. I’d met Mike a few times in the mid-1990s at Thredbo. His broad Cali accent, blond spiky hair and ski-fit physique formed most of my memories of him, along with a warm smile and happy disposition.
Mim & Mike Sodergren – California ski instructors who lost their lives in the Thredbo landslide of ’97