True-Blue (Mountain) Powder in Washington Wine Country

The day was going well at Bluewood, a small-but-awesome resort about an hour’s drive from Walla Walla.

About 10 inches of snow had fallen in the Blue Mountains two days previous. The sun was shining, it was about 25 degrees, and there were some very nice turns to be found in the trees. All was good.

But then it got great. The ski patrol opened an area known as Vintner’s Ridge, a 15-minute side-country hike. SkiZer got lucky and did the hike with Jacob Mitchell, director of the Bluewood Ski Patrol, just as he was opening the terrain.

Mitchell graciously showed the way and ended up giving SkiZer a full tour of the ridge. The insider knowledge helped immensely, and SkiZer returned for four more laps on the ridge.

Each run was fantastic, with untracked lines everywhere. Score!

Day 31: Bluewood

  • Vertical: 21,000
  • Vertical for the year: 485,000
jacob1
Jacob Mitchell skis fresh snow off of Vintner’s Ridge at Bluewood.
silhouette
Sunny skies and soft groomers.
droppingin
A boarder drops in on Vintner’s Ridge.

Day 30: Fresh Tracks and Empty Slopes at White Pass

Every time the SkiZer visits White Pass, he’s amazed how empty the slopes are.

On a holiday weekend no less, the SkiZer pulled up for front-row parking on U.S. Highway 12. No lines, of course, anywhere on this mountain.

The few people the SkiZer did run into were uniformly friendly and helpful, offering advice on good runs.

About that: The skiing was great. About nine inches of snow had fallen over the previous two days and the SkiZer’s new K2 Pinnacle 105s chewed up the terrain with ease. Great runs in fresh snow were found on West Ridge in Paradise Basin and on Mach V on the front side.

All in all, a great 30th ski day.

Day 30: White Pass

  • Vertical: 25,000
  • Vertical for the year: 464,000
baseofwhite
The lower mountain is pleasantly uncrowded at White Pass.
frontside
Riders ascend the Great White Express on the front side.
line
What passes for a line at White Pass.
skizer
SkiZer scores day number 30.
drop
A skier drops into Mach V on the front side.
white
Late-afternoon clearing on the front side of White Pass.

Portland Offers Great Access to Wooded Trails

Is there any city in America that has easier access to the outdoors than Portland?

I visited over President’s Day Weekend and hit the trail for three exceptional hikes near downtown. It was easy to take public transportation to reach each trailhead.

Among the hikes:

  • Marquam Trail to Council Crest: Climbing through a rain-foresty wooded ravine to one of Portland’s best viewpoints atop 1,073-foot Marquam Hill. You can see three volcanoes from Council Crest.
  • Mount Tabor: Just east of downtown, check out this park with miles of trails winding through old-growth forest on the flanks of old volcano. It tops out at 636 feet, offering great views of the downtown skyline from the summit.
  • Wildwood Trail through Hoyt Arboretum: This exceptional hike takes in the best of Washington Park and Hoyt Arboretum. You’ll see old-growth forests, get the occasional view of the city and stretch your legs out for nearly five miles.
councilcrest
Council Crest atop Marquam Hill offers exceptional views.
marquamtrail
Hikers head into the ravine on Marquam Hill.
tabor2
Mount Tabor Park is built on top of an old volcano.
wildwood2
Hikers hit the Wildwood Trail in Hoyt Arboretum.

Shredding Like a Youngster with K2 Pinnacle Skis

Advanced skiers won’t find a better age-busting ski than the K2 Pinnacle 105.

By age-busting, I mean this ski makes everything easier — and it made me feel about 20 years younger.

I tested the Pinnacle 105s in wildly different conditions: during a huge powder dump at Crystal Mountain and on a crispy-firm groomer day at Stevens Pass. The skis crushed everything they came up against.

I took them everywhere — on steeps, chutes, bumps, at high speed, in funky avalanche debris — even a nasty rain crust. They offer a level of control I’ve never experienced on any other ski, and at the same time they felt lively, quick and fun.

pinnacle105
Pinnacle 105 profile: 137-105-121.

Stats on the ski

The Pinnacle 105 (MSRP: $900) is part of K2’s freeride line for men. The profile for the ski is 137-105-121 with a pronounced rocker tip, and K2 promises this is your “go anywhere, do everything ski.” I’m 5 foot 11 inches, 150 pounds and skied the 177 centimeter length.

Even though they are much wider than my previous all-mountain ski, the Volkl AC50, they weigh much less. K2 keeps the weight down with what it calls Konic Technology. Without getting too ski-nerdy, this involves reducing the weight of the ski where you don’t need it to be strong (the middle and extremities) and reinforcing the areas where you do need strength (the edges). The overall effect is to reduce what’s called “swing weight” from edge-to-edge.

I’ll admit I was dubious. I figured they would be great in powder, but I’d give up power and stability on firm snow. How wrong I was.

powdayskis
At Crystal Mountain on a big powder day.

In powder

I hit perhaps the best day of the year at Crystal Mountain. Overnight, 12 inches had fallen on top of 40 inches the previous two days.

Talk about epic.

My first turns were amazing. The wide profile gave the ski incredible float and control. No need to stay back — I found myself charging all the time with ease, subtly controlling speed with simple edging and weight shifts.

On steeps, it was truly eye-opening. I could fly when I wanted, slow down to negotiate a chute or a drop, then turn on the gas and start flying again.

As slopes became skied out, broken snow was easily blasted away by these powder monsters. It was all too fun and easy.

steep-and-firm
On the Double Diamond Chair at Stevens Pass.

Firm and fast

During a second day of testing at Stevens Pass, things couldn’t have been different. Rain had fallen several days previous, then frozen into a crust. On top of the rain crust, a little new snow had fallen and been skied off.

It was a groomer day for most skiers, but I took the Pinnacles off-piste into bumps and steeps. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous on my first turn over a crusty bump on a double-black diamond drop, but the Pinnacles dug in with surprising power.

But it wasn’t all about the power — they could also be incredibly quick edge-to-edge. Whether I was carving wide-radius or fast, snappy turns, the overall feeling was of incredible control.

Next, I went for speed. Most of the freeride skis I’ve tried don’t track when you turn up the speed, but the Pinnacles were nothing short of amazing. Arcing at high-speed, or making short radius turns felt equally stable.

Bottom line: Who will love this ski? The Pinnacle 105 excels for advanced skiers who spend most of their time off-piste. For all-mountain skiing, also consider the 105’s cousin, the K2 Pinnacle 95.

skizerturn
SkiZer at speed at Stevens Pass.

Day 27: Crystal Mountain

  • Vertical: 31,000
  • Vertical for the year: 410,000

Day 29: Stevens Pass

  • Vertical: 29,000
  • Vertical for the year: 439,000

 

Flying High After Some Race-Day Inspiration

The SkiZer arrived for a day of skate-skiing at Cabin Creek Sno-Park feeling a little uninspired. It was a gloomy day, and the snow was crusty after a major rain storm hit late last week.

Those ski blues all changed as soon as he hit the trails. Kongsberger Ski Club was hosting the Stampede 15K Freestyle, and it was hard not to get a little pumped watching the skiers rock the course.

Conditions for skate-skiing turned out to be great — the icy, granular snow was rocket-fast — and the SkiZer completed 12K in no time. As the racers finished up, SkiZer went for another lap, flying faster this time.

Day 28: Cabin Creek

  • Distance skied: 20K
  • Distance for the year: 98K
race1
Skiers round a turn at Cabin Creek.
race3
Racers climb a hill on the Viking course at Cabin Creek.

DIY: How to Heat-Mold Your Ski Boots

Boot-fitting is an art. Great boot-fitters can really help your aching feet, and let’s face it: ski boots can be pretty uncomfortable.

But not all boot adjustments have to be done at the ski shop. Some things can be fixed with a little DIY know-how.

The SkiZer just got a new pair of K2 Spyne 110 boots and decided to heat-mold the liners himself. Turns out it’s not that hard.

Heat-moldable Intuition liners are a feature of most boots on the market. You don’t have to heat-mold your liners — they’ll eventually mold to your foot shape after use. But if you heat-mold them, you’ll get a custom fit from the start.

Here’s what you’ll need for the job:rice

  • A pair of old socks you can cut up.
  • A pair of old tube socks
  • About 4 lbs. of rice
  • A board
  • Access to a microwave

Step 1: Prepare your rice heaters

Fill your tube socks with the rice. Tie knots on the ends and place them in  a microwave oven on high for about five minutes. Less powerful microwaves may take a minute or two longer.

Step 2: Get ready

While the microwave is running, cut off the toes from a pair of old socks. These are toe-caps. Place both of them over the toes of one foot and put a ski sock on over them. You’ll heat-mold one foot at a time, but you’ll need to wear both boots during the process, so put a ski sock (without toe-caps) on your other foot. Remove the foot-bed from the liner of the boot you’ll be heat-molding.

Step 3: Heat the boot liners

After the rice is hot, take the filled tube socks and place both of them inside the boot. Buckle it, and wait 10 minutes for it to heat. While you’re waiting, put on your other boot.

Step 4: Mold the liner

Once the liner is hot (after 10 minutes), remove the rice socks, return the foot-bed to the liner and put on the warmed boot. Buckle it loosely. Stand for 10 minutes with the toes of your boots elevated on a 2″x 4″ board. If you don’t have a 2″x 4,” a couple of cutting boards stacked on top of each other work just as well. Stand for 10 minutes.

Step 5: Repeat on the other foot

Take off both boots, reheat the rice, heat the other liner, transfer the toe caps to your other foot. By this time, the steps should go a little faster. After molding your second boot, you’re all set.

alldone
All done! Your feet will thank you.