Round You Go: On the Rim of Crater Lake

Overlook
On the rim of Crater Lake, one of the best rides you’ll ever do.

As I topped a ridge near 8,049-foot Llao Rock on the north rim of Oregon’s Crater Lake, I had that giddy moment cyclists get when everything comes together.

I felt great. I had just finished one of my biggest climbs of the day. And I was alone on a road ringing one of America’s natural wonders.

I picked up speed on the downslope and screamed for joy.

It was early October. I had left my home in Seattle a week before on an extended road trip around the west. I had no real itinerary, except to camp, hike, bike and enjoy beauty.

I hadn’t planned on coming to Crater Lake National Park. But while camping on the Oregon Coast, I met a fit retiree who had just done the 33-mile ride around the rim.

“It’s incredible,” he said in a hushed tone over the campfire. I decided then and there I had to try it.

A few days later, under cool, clear skies, I clipped in and started what would be one of the best rides of my life.

When you tackle the Crater Lake ride, the first thing to understand is that almost none of it is flat. You’ll do more than 4,000 vertical feet of climbing over the next few hours, so get used to the long ups, and the lovely, all-too-quick downs.

Headdown
Climbing along East Rim Road at Crater Lake.

I started at the park headquarters and immediately had a 1,000-foot climb to the rim of the lake. Cresting the top of the rim, I was treated to views of something really special.

Crater Lake is America’s deepest lake (1,943 feet deep, to be precise) and rests in the caldera of Mount Mazama, which collapsed during an eruption 7,700 years ago. The average annual snowfall here is 44 feet, which melts in warmer months, keeping the lake filled with some of the purest water on earth. Its color is a dramatic deep blue.

The rim road sits many hundreds of feet above the lake. From a car, the view is stunning. From the seat of a bicycle, it’s much more than that—you become part of the earth, water and sky as you grind past each jaw-dropping viewpoint.

CRLAmap1
Click on map to enlarge.

If you go

Which direction? Most people choose to go clockwise, which puts you on the lake side of the road on your journey. Starting at park headquarters gets a big climb out of the way early when you have the energy to do it.

Fitness concerns: The ride is strenuous and not to be taken lightly. Besides the many ups and downs, you’ll be pedalling at up to 8,000 feet elevation. Temperatures vary wildly from below freezing to well into the 90s.

Safety: Auto traffic can be heavy in the summer months, and rubber-necking drivers don’t always watch for cyclists while taking in the views. Wear bright clothing. If you want to avoid cars, visit on one of these dates in 2016: Sept. 17 or Sept. 24, when the East Rim Drive will be closed to automobiles for runners, walkers and bicycles. Information is here.

Water, food: The Rim Village Visitor Center is a good place to load up. Bring lots of water for the ride: There are no drinking fountains along the rim. The Visitor Center has cafeteria-style food service if you want a meal.

Stops: There are 30 overlooks that ring the lake; plan on stopping frequently to rest, take pictures and enjoy the views.

Accommodations: Inside the park, the historic Crater Lake Lodge has commanding views from its location at Rim Village. You’ll need to make reservations a year in advance to book one of these in-demand rooms. The Cabins at Mazama Village have scattered availability through summer and fall of 2016. Reservation information is here.

Camping: Two campgrounds are available. The full-service Mazama Village Campground has 214 tent and RV sites. A limited number can be reserved, the rest are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The primitive Lost Creek campground has 16 non-reservable tent sites.

National Park Bicycling Info:  Highly useful guide to the Rim Drive, including safety, camping and ride information.

This article also appears on SeniorsSkiing.com. You’ll find it here.

Slaying a Volcano on a Warm Spring Day

  • Day 29 – April 19, 2016
  • Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier
  • Vertical for the day: 9,000
  • Year total: 581,000

A ski acquaintance likes to say this time of year is for “slaying volcanoes.”

With 90-degree heat in Seattle, the SkiZer headed to the high-alpine air of Mount Rainier and unsheathed his AT skies for an exceptional volcano-slaying adventure.

Starting at the Paradise parking lot at 9:30 a.m., SkiZer strapped on the skins and made it to Anvil Rock at 9,000 feet three hours later. It was gorgeous, with 50-degree temps, just right for a comfortable lunch break watching rockfall off the Northwest’s most impressive peak.

The ski down was a treat. Muir Snowfield is low-angle and expansive. It feels like the world’s widest intermediate run. Turn after turn carved nicely in the soft spring snow.

Rainier down. Who’s the SkiZer’s next volcano victim?

Lunch
Lunch break at 9,000 feet.
RainierClimb
Skiers head up the slopes of Mount Rainier.

La Niña Predicted and a Marketing Campaign is Born

It’s the end of a successful season, but Northwest ski areas are already revving up their marketing campaigns with a La Niña forecast for next year.

NOAA has issued a La Niña watch for next winter, saying the current El Niño pattern will be gone by this summer.

For skiers in the Pacific Northwest, La Niña is great news. The weather pattern, with colder than normal temperatures in the Pacific, can spark a steady flow of powerful storms from the gulf of Alaska. In the La Niña winter of 1998-99, a world-record 95 feet of snow fell at Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Crystal Mountain in Washington and Schweitzer Mountain in North Idaho are already touting the La Niña forecast on their home pages, hoping to entice skiers to buy season passes for next year. It won’t take long for other ski areas to jump aboard the La Niña marketing train.

Remember that almost nobody was right about last winter’s dire El Niño forecast, as the SkiZer detailed in this post. El Niño typically brings drier and warmer weather than normal to the Northwest, but that didn’t happen. Only the Farmer’s Almanac correctly called our wet winter — so stay tuned for that publication’s old-school forecast.

 

 

 

 

Swimsuit Season on the Slopes

Spring means it’s party time at Washington state ski areas.

There’s a lot to celebrate. The 2015-16 season was a huge win for the regional ski industry, rebounding from a disastrous drought year in 2014-15.

Most ski areas are planning to close this month. Projected closing dates and celebrations:

Crystal Mountain

2014-Bikini Downhill-Moseley
Crystal’s Bikini Downhill is on April 9.
  • Closing date: April 17. Reopening May 28 with skiing in Green Valley only.
  • Parties: Bikini Downhill on April 9; closing weekend Blast to the Past party April 16-17.

Men2

Stevens Pass

retro
Retro Fools Day party at Stevens Pass.

  • Closing date: April 17.
  • Parties: Springfest on April 17, with a dummy downhill and pond skim.

Summit at Snoqualmie

SpringSplash
A pond skimmer at Summit at Snoqualmie’s Spring Splash 2016.
  • Closing date: TBD
  • Parties: Back Bowls Booter Buddies April 30 at Alpental; Cinco de Mayo at Alpental (snowpack dependent).

Mission Ridge

Mission
Flamingo Days at Mission Ridge.
  • Closing date: April 24.
  • Parties: Wine Tasting at the Top on April 16;  Flamingo Days on the April 23-24 weekend.

White Pass

WhitePassSpray
A skier sprays late-afternoon snow on Roller at White Pass.
  • Closing date: May 1 (projected). 
  • Parties: Swimsuit Run pond skim to benefit the White Pass Ski Patrol on April 16.

Mt. Baker Ski Area

Chair 4 at Mt. Baker
Sunrise at Mt. Baker Ski Area.
  • Closing date: April 24. 

6 Great Cascade Powder Shots

Sure it’s spring and skiers are trading their Gore-Tex for Hawaiian shirts and shorts. The SkiZer isn’t quite ready to give up the best part of ski season — the powder day memories. Check out this list of powder shots from a stellar season of fluff.

RideUp
The Bobby and Nancy Chutes drop under the 7th Heaven chairlift at Stevens Pass.

1. Bobby and Nancy Chutes >> Stevens Pass

Access: Off the top of the 7th Heaven chairlift, take a short hike up to a gate leading to a steep drop that returns to the chair base.

Why it’s great: The harrowing 7th Heaven chairlift seems to go straight up a cliff, which is a thrill in itself. Not many skiers hit the north-facing chutes, where the entry can be a little tricky. Once in, skiers will generally find excellent snow quality and steep, untracked pow.

Throne
Dropping into the Throne Chutes at Crystal Mountain.

2. Throne Chutes >> Crystal Mountain

Access: Take a traverse along the ridge off Chair 6 in Campbell Basin at Crystal Mountain. At the saddle, shoulder your skis for a 10-minute hike to the top of the Throne.

Why it’s great: The chutes are steep, but not too narrow, leaving room to find your own line. Hikers on this route often keep going into the South Backcountry, leaving the Throne just for you.

Pan Face at Mt. Baker
Top of Pan Face overlooking Heather Meadows.

3. Pan Face >> Mt. Baker Ski Area

Access: At the top of Chair 6 and Chair 1 at Mt. Baker, a wide-open face winds around a cliff band overlooking Heather Meadows.

Why it’s great: The face starts as a low-angle glade and gradually gets steeper. Hugging the cliffs (skier’s right) brings you to steep, and often-untouched powder terrain in a picturesque basin.

SkizerTracks
Glades under Bomber Cliffs at Mission Ridge.

4. Bomber Cliffs >> Mission Ridge

Access: Just off the Boundary Road run, a traverse leads skiers along the beautiful cliffs overlooking the ski area. Thrill-seekers drop into the narrow cliff chutes, but keep going and you’ll find a open powder run back into Bomber Bowl.

Why it’s great:  If nothing else, the scenery is spectacular. But the effort to get there is rewarded with freshies at the end of your travels.

HappyFace
A skier shreds the powder off of West Ridge at White Pass.

5. West Ridge >> White Pass

Access: A traverse off the Couloir Express chairlift in Paradise Basin leads skiers into lovely, gladed tree-skiing. From the ridge top, pick your line.

Why it’s great: At the top of Paradise Basin (elevation 6,500 feet), the snow remains cold and protected. The lightly-treed terrain leads skiers into a maze of powder drops that hold their quality days after a storm.

Alpy Schluct
Underneath Schluct at Alpental.

6. Schluct >> Alpental

Access: Just off the top of Chair 2 (Edelweiss).

Why it’s great: This steep, narrow chute is challenging on any day. If you can hit it for first tracks after a storm, the turns down into Edelweiss Bowl will be soft and fluffy. Come back later on a windy day and Schluct will refresh with soft blown-in powder.