We had a couple great days in mid-December. Here’s Grady’s account of the runs we skied and the conditions on the mountain for your perusal.
On the 13th, we had an early start (8:30) and an early 1:00 finish. About four to six inches of dry snow had fallen overnight and still fell intermittently, so conditions were fairly good. Luckily, we beat the crowds and headed straight up Chinook and Rainier Express (the gondola hadn’t opened yet).
We skied Memorial Forest for our first run, thinking it would be a reasonably good run to scope out the conditions. Interestingly enough, we encountered variable snow conditions, probably due to the run’s southeast exposure. We moved on to the south end of the resort, off the Forest Queen chair.
After a run through untracked glades near Scotty’s Run, we went up Forest Queen again. we encountered an open Chair 6 and South Backcountry. We immediately headed up and traversed through Campbell Basin, nearly to the ridge underneath the Throne. After a short descent and a cut right, we reached an untracked field of great dry snow for a fast run back down to the chair.
Another lap on Chair 6 and we hiked up into South Backcountry, eventually summiting the King. To our surprise, we actually met Kim Kircher, a well-known ski patroller, at the top–she advised us to watch out for the larger cornices, and descend runs one at a time to minimize avalanche risk.
She also said not to do Pinball Chute, but I think we already knew that.
We went down to Hourglass Chute and found the run was untracked with a sizable amount of new snow. This was easily the best run of the day. We followed it up with a run through the Damn Fine Forest and a slog through snowdrifts past Elizabeth Lake and out to Queen’s Run.
Afterwards, we headed up Rainier Express and decided to ski Banana Chute. It had enough coverage and, while not untracked, plenty of soft snow. Once out of the chute, we traversed skier’s right, under the rockface, to get to Dick’s Face. At this elevation, coverage began to get a little questionable and we found ourselves encountering lots of small trees and plants poking out. Eventually we picked our way out to Exterminator and down to the base.
For one last run, we took the now-open gondola to the top, and traversed over to Otto Bahn, from which we traversed out to Left Angle Trees.
The snow was excellent, though it got heavier as we descended, and we ended the day with a long, tiresome traverse to the base.
A week later, we drove up again. By then, a lot of new snow had fallen but conditions were supposedly variable. We soon found out how: after an initial run down the center of Campbell Basin, we discovered that the snow had formed a heavy crust.
Snow was coming down steadily, though, and it made things softer as the day went on. We skied the gladed chutes off Lucky Shot, which were a little more protected. Later on we skied down Stockholder’s chutes near the Green Valley chair, which held up well to the exposure they had gotten. We also took a nice run down Memorial Forest, which softened up a little as the day went on.
We finished the day off with a run down Silver Basin. The steady wind had formed a sizable cornice over most of the bowl, and we dropped in to the bowl skier’s right of Boxcar Cornice with some apprehension, to find a foot of (fairly heavy) fresh snow.
Silver Basin was most likely the run of the day, as it was fairly untracked. While the snow was heavy, it had no real crust like the rest of the mountain. After cutting right into the Party Knoll Trees for some glades, we traversed out the exit road to the former top of the Quicksilver chair. From there, we cut right into the trees to eventually reach a creek bed technically outside of the boundary (the locals know this as “Fardoggle”). The low elevation was definitely a factor in how heavy the snow was at this point, but we had a few good turns in the glades.
Overall, this year is certainly looking better than the previous season because we actually have a sizable amount of snow. With snow coming pretty consistently and temperatures remaining below freezing, there’s not much more we could ask for.