Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hooray for Spring!

After a long, cold rainy winter, BAM! - two weeks ago everything started blooming at once.  Daffodils opened their yellow faces and all the trees in Portland suddenly burst into full flower mode.

It was actually sunny this morning, so I took advantage of the good light to capture a few images of the flowers now blooming in my neighborhood.

I know you're probably getting tired of my endless skiing posts, so hopefully these photos are a pleasant alternative.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Skiing With the Boys

As I've mentioned before, Thursdays during ski season I play hooky from work and head up to the local ski resort on a bus.  There I meet my skiing buddies Glen, Pat, and Brian.  Or, as I like to call them, "the men in red."

Let's go ski!

All three guys ride up on another bus that hails from Vancouver.  But each week we all manage to find each other at the bottom of the main lift.  Once reunited, it's off in search of the run with the best snow.

My "men in red" from the Vancouver bus

Although I love my ski girlfriends, I really look forward to making tracks with the boys.  These guys aren't afraid to tackle the steep, gnarly stuff.  And they all ski my speed - fast.

It's snowing!

One particular Thursday, wet weather was predicted.  My friends and I were afraid our buses would be rained out.  But after a couple of  hours on the slopes snow began to fall.  Huge, heavy, wet flakes. 

The sky was dumping heavy, wet flakes

We were so happy it wasn't rain!  And the big snowflakes were mighty pretty.

Wet pow

Instantly the ski runs were transformed into a winter wonderland.

We got covered with snow on the ride up

The snow began falling so heavily, the short chairlift ride left us coated us in white.  Instead of skiers, Pat and I resembled two snow persons!

Two snow people

As with many PNW snowstorms, the heavy, wet snow left my friends and I soaking wet, forcing an early quitting time.  Sigh.....guess that means we gotta  hit the bar early.  (It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it!)

Happy faces on the ski bus

On the bus ride home, my bus buddies and I celebrated a late Valentine's Day.  And my friend and co-bathroom monitor Kerry made a cameo appearance.  Bad knees curtailed this year's skiing fun, but he missed his bus friends so much that he rode up anyway and hung out in the lodge.

And just for old times sake, Kerry donned his "special hat" and resumed his bathroom monitor duties.  (Check out the end of this post from last year for the story behind that).

Our bathroom monitor was back!

The midweek ski crowd is a great community.  I always look forward to meeting up with my bus friends on Thursdays, and of course, to ski with the boys.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend at Crystal

Crystal Mountain.....the largest ski area in Washington State....known for it's steep, gnarly terrain and breathtaking mountain views.  For years I've wanted to come here.

Crystal Mountain base area

This season I tried to convince one of my friends to join me for a mid-February trip, but she was busy.  Then I decided why not go by myself?  Coincidentally, the weekend of choice also happened to land on my birthday, so I told the hubby this could be my gift.

Rainier Express lift

In the days leading up to my ski trip weekend, I watched the weather like a hawk.  Although the Cascade Mountains suffered a bout of rain all week, Saturday promised clearing skies.  That morning, I loaded my car and pointed it north, hoping for the best.

Mt. Rainier Gondola

Located in the Northeast corner of Mt. Rainier National Park, Crystal is a 4-hour drive from Portland (roughly the same distance as my fave Oregon ski area, Mt Bachelor)  Aside from some traffic through Olympia and Puyallup, it was a fairly uneventful trip.  I arrived at the resort with enough time to check into my hotel and drop off my skis to be waxed.  Then I chilled slopeside on the base area's large covered patio, listened to a good live band, people-watched, and enjoyed a cold Porter.  Aaahhh!

And the grand mountain herself!

Although I studied the resort's trail map that evening, the following morning I boarded the Chinook Express Lift with no concrete plan.  Luckily, I got buddied up with one of the resort's volunteer hosts, and he was more than happy to share recommendations.  Head swimming with information, I disembarked and decided to check out the Forest Queen Express.

Fancy restaurant on the mountaintop

Although today's weather was mild, a week of rain and overnight cold temperatures had frozen the snow into an icy crust.  I found the first few runs fast and challenging.  Luckily, most everything had been groomed.

Spectacular views everywhere!

One of my first impressions of Crystal - their runs were steep!  What's considered an intermediate (blue) run here would be classified a black diamond (expert) trail at my home hill.  Now I'm not one to shy from a gnarly slope, but the day's icy conditions (and the fact I was by myself) made me a bit more cautious.

Lots of people taking in the scenery

Riding single, I got paired up with lots of interesting people.  I learned very quickly asking my lift-mates "Where have you been skiing today?" brought a plethora of trail recommendations, snow condition reports, and valuable local advice.  Plus I enjoyed some great conversations.

After spending most of the morning exploring the terrain off of Forest Queen, I decided to broaden my horizons.  A man on the lift recommended riding the Rainier Express, which took you to the very summit.  He said the views on top were amazing.  So off I went!

Nice place to mountain-gaze

Although the forecast was for sunshine, skies remained overcast most of the morning.  By the time I disembarked from the Rainier Lift, things were just starting to clear.  And there on top, staring me in the face, was massive Mt. Rainier.  My oh my, what an incredible view!  

Cool cloud beside Rainier

A fancy restaurant was perched on the summit.  On one side of the building was a snowy patio area offering low-slung lounge chairs.  Chairs and people lined the edge, all taking in the amazing mountain panorama.  Snowy peaks stretched out in all directions.  It was totally breathtaking.

Apres-ski action

After soaking in the scenery (followed by copious photo-taking) I followed the crowd down Lucky Shot trail.  After a couple of laps on that and a super-steep black diamond run called "Middle Ferk," I could feel my tummy rumbling.  Time to break for lunch.

The Alpine Inn

Taking a long, winding cat track back to the base area, I skirted a steep slope with three tiny avalanches, and ended up barrelling down another steep bump run (but it was fun!).  After a bowl of chowder from the outside dining area, I hoofed it back to my room at the Alpine Inn to shed a layer and use the bathroom.  My hotel was a mere 200 yards from the lifts.  I've only ever booked slopeslide lodging once before and I must say, it was worth the extra bucks.

Morning gondola ride

Then I hopped on the Mt Rainier gondola for a cushy ride back to the top.  I spent the afternoon exploring more trails both off the Rainier Express and Green Valley lifts.  Although the sun finally made an appearance, it wasn't enough solar power to soften the snow much, and by 3:00 the trails were beginning to ice back over.  Deciding my legs had had enough for one day (and wanting to save something for tomorrow) I decided it was time for beer-o-thirty.

Had the views all to myself

I enjoyed yet another good glass of Porter on the base area sundeck before heading back to my room for a shower.  The Alpine Inn offered both a nice German-themed restaurant and a casual bar and deli on the premises.  I chose a burger and beer in the bar, and both were quite tasty.  Before heading back to my room, I was tempted enough to grab one of the deli's  huge brownies for dessert (hey, it was my birthday!)

Looking down on Silver Queen

After a good night's rest, I was up and at 'em the next morning for more skiing.  The day dawned with clear skies and sunshine.  Perfect!

Good morning, Mt Rainier!

First thing I jumped on the gondola for another scenery-packed ride to the top.  Taking advantage of the morning light, I wasted no time capturing a few more mountain photos, especially of massive Mt Rainier. 

Looking towards Green Valley

Then it was back down Lucky Shot for a few laps.  The adjacent peak, Silver Queen, had a recent avalanche on one of it's slopes which was quite visible from above.  As a matter of fact, one of the trails went right by it's debris field.  Very sobering to stop and look uphill at the huge volume of snow that came crashing down!  Some of Crystal's slopes are so steep that inbounds avalanches are quite common.  As a matter of fact, an avalanche in March 2014 took out one of Crystal's chairlifts (luckily no one was hurt and the lift has since been replaced).

Lucky Shot run

The day's copious sunshine quickly turned icy groomed runs into wonderful soft snow.  Perfect for carving some turns!

Avalanche aftermath

I played all morning, alternating between Rainier Express and the Green Valley lifts.  Since it was a Monday, the slopes were practically deserted.  Sunshine, good snow, fabulous views, and no people.  Happy birthday to me!

Gondola car

Towards late morning, the winds picked up on top, and blew hard enough to shut down the gondola.  Luckily, it didn't affect the slopes much - just at the very top.  I had to batten down the hatches for the first couple of feet, but once I'd skied a short distance, the wind quickly died down.

Lots of photo ops for this mountain

For today's lunch, I decided to check out the Campbell Basin Lodge, an on-mountain cafeteria located atop of the Forest Queen lift.  A beautiful structure, it appeared to be quite new.  I loved the inside decor, with rustic log furniture and Warren Miller cartoons adorning its walls.  I especially liked the drawing titled "Northwest Skier" showing a man skiing on ice in a rain slicker.

Campbell Basin lodge

Although it was a fabulous day, I had to cut my afternoon short.  Not only fatigued from yesterday's full day of skiing, I had a long drive back to Portland and hoped to beat some of the traffic.

Warren Miller artwork

So what did I think of Crystal Mountain?  Loved the variety of trails, but the weekend's icy conditions kept me from trying some of the super steeps.  I'd love to come back on a powder day and explore more terrain.  But on the flip side, the sunny weather enabled me to enjoy the fabulous mountain panoramas Crystal is famous for - totally one of the better ski area views I've seen.

I thought the on-slope lodging was expensive for what you got.  I paid big bucks for a tiny single room.  And the Alpine Inn, although clean and cozy, was sort of run-down and noisy (my room was right next to the stairway - thump, thump, thump all night!)  Crystal being a remote location, is a 45 minute drive from the nearest town, and a two hour drive from Seattle.  Visitors can either spend their money on lodging, or spend time driving back and forth down a sometimes treacherous road.

I'll be back!

But I was thrilled to finally experience Crystal Mountain for myself.  A perfect way to spend my birthday weekend.  Two ski poles up - I'll be back!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Video Bombed!

So there I was a couple of weeks ago, minding my own business, skiing down a run at Mt Hood Meadows.  Hoping to capture some action, I was holding my GoPro camera on a selfie pole, my friend following me down the slope.  I thought I heard a skier close behind, but didn't think much of it, as it was a busy Sunday on the hill.  When I finally slid to a stop, my friend pulled up behind me and said: "I can't wait to see that clip!"

Yep - I'd been video bombed.  Unbeknownst to me, some guy got within camera range and started waving his arms wildly as I was skiing along. 

What can I say?  Guess some people just can't resist mugging for the camera!

Hope this footage brings a smile to your day.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Beer in the Bra Tree

My ski bus season got off to a slow start.  The first Thursday of January, the bus was cancelled due to high winds at the resort.  The second week was the day after Portland's huge snowstorm, and crummy road conditions kept all buses in the barn.  The third week, a full load at work forced me to grudgingly stay in town.

By the time the fourth week rolled around, I was more than ready for a midweek ski break!

My "Men in Red" skiing companions

Boy, had I missed my ski bus buddies!  Upon arrival at Mt Hood Meadows, I connected with my good friend and ex-coworker Glen.  Midweek ski days are the only time I get to see him anymore and we instantly picked up where we'd left off last winter.

Hood emerges from the clouds

Glen introduced me to Brian, a new guy on his bus.  Brian fit right in to our little group - he even wore the correct jacket color.  (Yes, I only ski with men who wear red!)

Fantastic view of Hood from Cascade Lift

It was a gorgeous blue-sky morning.  Mt Hood emerged from the early cloud cover, showing off her full snowy glory.  Made for some stunning views from the chairlift.

Our sunny skies did not last

Sadly, after lunch we found conditions had changed dramatically.  Our bluebird skies had vanished, replaced by low, gray clouds. 

It's starting to snow!

 And what's this?  Huge snowflakes began to fly through the air.

Snow-crusted trees

 Well, if you can't have blue skies, some fresh powder would be okay.

Huge flakes began to fall

 My friends and I watched the storm roll in.  The clouds and swirling snow were lovely.

The storm moves in

By now you're probably wondering....why is this post titled "Beer in the Bra Tree?"  Well, a couple of years ago my friends and I discovered a few tattered bras hanging from an old, weathered tree off one of the resort's main runs.  Last year someone (who shall remain nameless) added a few more to the collection.  It became a Thursday tradition to stop by and pay homage to the Bra Tree.

But late last season, all the "decorations" suddenly vanished from it's branches.  (Apparently not everyone shared our sense of humor..... )

Enjoying the beauty

So late that day, as my friends and I made our way down a run, I decided to make our traditional stop at the Bra Tree.  Approaching, I noticed something poking out of the snow on one of it's branches. 

What's in that tree??

Shuffling over to investigate, I realized it was a bottle of beer!  Someone had left their beer chilling in the snow.  And it was nearly full.  I've seen plenty of weird things on my local ski hill, but this was definitely the first time I'd found beer in a tree.

An offering for the Bra Tree

After my friends and I had a good laugh, we left the beer alone (surely whoever placed it there would get thirsty and return!)  It seemed someone had decided the Bra Tree now has other uses.  Maybe next time instead of more bras, we'll find it's branches graced with a round of cold microbrews. 

We certainly hope so!