After spending a few weeks touring ski resorts out in the Rockies, we started to wonder if skiing at home will ever be the same. Well, the last couple of days have been gorgeous up at the Summit at Snoqualmie. Both the snow conditions and the endless views at Alpental were at their best to welcome us home. We must admit that after looking at the Rockies for weeks and getting caught up in their grandeur, we began to lose sight of how incredibly vast and beautiful our own Washington Cascade mountains are. As this week’s photos from Alpental into the backcountry show, the Lemah Mountains, Chikamin Peak, Mt. Thomson, etc. are a sight to behold. We are Alpentalics after all and we are proud to call this zone our home. See you out on the snow.
We kicked off our 2016 Idaho ski tour with a detour to Grand Targhee Resort. We say “detour” because the resort is actually located in Alta, WY but the only way to get there is through the town of Driggs, ID. The drive is an hour and a half West of Jackson, WY but it feels a lot shorter. The road from Jackson follows part of the Teton Scenic Byway in ID so as you can imagine, it is filled with stunning views to pass the time. The resort’s location, directly west of Grand Teton National Park, serves up what we think is the most head on, lift-served summit vistas of the Grand Teton, Middle Teton and South Teton’s rocky peaks. That and the resort’s uncrowded skiing and quality light, dry snow make Grand Targhee Resort well worth the trip.
Grand Targhee stays open longer than other Wyoming resorts. This year, it is scheduled to run lifts daily through April 17 and then for a bonus weekend April 22-24 (conditions permitting) so there’s still plenty of time to visit this season. Jackson Hole and Snow King close after April 3rd and Mar. 27th, respectively. It seems that no matter when we visit, Grand Targhee’s 2,602 acres and 2270 ft vertical drop always ski big. With more than 500 inches of light dry snow in an average year, it also gets deep. In fact, Grand Targhee was ranked No. 2 for Best Snow by Ski Magazine this year. The 91″ snow base was the deepest of all the resorts we visited so far on our road trip. Unlike most resorts with comparably big terrain, Grand Targhee remains remarkably uncrowded with no lift lines. We missed the last storm by nearly a week and, yet, plenty of light powder still remained. Amongst the 3 mountains comprising the resort, our steeps seeking team (TNT, Jason Hummel, Jeff Rich, Adam Roberts, Carl & Tara Simpson) found their favorite terrain (seen in below video) off Peaked Mountain (lift served to 9,830 ft but hiked further), Mary’s Nipple (hike in bounds to 9.,920 ft) and in their backcountry.
They were content to lap those zones all day (and had no trouble working off their Wyoming-style Grand Burritos breakfasts -which, by the way, were huge and delicious -try one at Snorkels Coffee House & Bistro located steps across from the ticket office). The upcoming Grand Targhee Junior Freeskiing Open for the top 12-17 skiers from across the western US will be held on the same steeps and cliffy runs off the north side of Peaked Mountain on Mar. 17-20, 2016. For those who prefer riding up, Grand Targhee boasts the only cat skiing operation in all of Wyoming, with a dedicated 602 acres that appeared to be suitable for intermediates and advanced alike.
There’s a lot to like about Grand Targhee. It is a special place and people are taking notice. It ranked No. 7 out of the Top 10 Best Ski Resorts in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice travel contest (Feb. 16, 2016), No. 9 on the list of the Top 10 Best Ski Resorts in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice and No. 7 for Best Value by Ski Magazine. It also holds the No. 7 spot for Not-To-Miss Ski Town Music Festivals by Skiing Magazine and No. 4 for Best Places to Ski in March by ZRankings.
Grand Targhee is an easy day trip from Jackson but we recommend overnighting to enjoy all the activities and events this mountain has to offer -ie, we didn’t have time to cat ski nor explore the fat bike demos even though they were right at the base at Teton Mountain Outfitters. The resort has four slopeside lodges (free wifi and boot dryer in rooms): Teewinot Lodge (where we stayed), Targhee Lodge, Sioux Lodge and the Tower. The resort parking lot accommodates overnight RV camping for $20/nt plus taxes, fees (permits are sold at the lodging check in front desk). At the resort, only AT&T cell service works at the base (the rest of our team on Verizon got service on the summit). There is also lodging in nearby Driggs or a bit further in Victor, ID. Shuttles run regularly between Victor, Driggs and Grand Targhee ($2/ride or free for Resort lodging guests, takes approx. 30min.). There is also an $8/ride Start Bus route between Driggs and Jackson with stop in Victor that takes about 1:07 hrs. From Idaho Falls, it’s an easy 82 miles.
No other U.S. ski resort destination caters to the refined, high end crowd like Aspen, CO. With 5 star hotels, private jets, celebrities, designer stores, award winning dining, beautiful people and nightlife, Aspen sounded to our team like it might be more exciting off mountain, than on. From town, the team stared up at the impeccably groomed runs. They thought about a leisurely ski day and looked forward to having plenty of energy to rally for Aspen’s big nightlife. But hold that thought because we were about to meet up with 2x World Extreme Skiing Champion and Aspen resident, Chris Davenport and ski “his” Mountain (known to locals as Ajax).
Exiting the gondola towards the Sun Deck Lodge (at an elevation of 11, 212 ft), there’s a display about Chris. Entitled “Skiing Colorado’s Fourteeners“, it’s a tribute to Chris becoming the first to ski all 54 of CO’s 14,000 ft peaks in less than a year. His book “Ski the 14ers” details the 363 day mission. In addition to pioneering big lines, he’s also a World Champion skier. Chris undoubtedly knows every steep line on Ajax. Chris also knows where to find the stashes. We were surprised to find so much untracked in bounds. After all, three days had already passed since early February’s winter storm Kayla. Granted, it dumped more than 3 feet in 3 days during the biggest storm since winter 2007-08, but we had expected 675 acres would be tracked out by now – especially, given how the high speed chairs and gondola made getting to them virtually effortless. This is perhaps the most efficiently designed steep, long mountain: 3,267 ft sustained vert. And without a doubt, it is the most well maintained – grooming and coverage is perfect.
It’s no wonder Aspen is home to such ski icons as Chris, and his friends Ted and Christy Mahon and is host venue for World Cup alpine ski racing, X Games (on nearby Buttermilk) and so much more. Speaking of Chris, Ted and Christy – this illustrious trio was recently nominated for National Geographic’s 2016 Adventurers of the Year award for becoming the first to complete successful ski descents of Colorado’s hundred tallest peaks in 2015 – an objective that was hatched while crushing our Pacific NW Ring of Fire volcanoes (15 of them in 14 days!). So skiing Aspen (and managing to keep up) with Chris is an exceptionally special experience. We thank you Chris for showing us Ajax’s best kept steepests – among them (and our team’s favorites): the gated Cone Dumps, Bingo Glades and Traynor runs. Watch the video and head for these same zones if you’re looking for the most challenging terrain on Ajax. You’ll come to understand why our stoke about Aspen was off the charts…and that’s without venturing into Ajax’s vast side or backcountry –nor experiencing their nightlife. Be sure to follow Chris on Facebook.
Tips: (1) if you’re looking to demo skis, treat yourself to some Kastle skis (Chris Davenport’s go to line of skis) at Hamilton Sports (middle of the block across from the Aspen Gondola), (2) avoid the morning traffic by staying in the town of Aspen or taking the very frequent buses which bypass stop & go traffic in their own dedicated bus lane, (3) we stayed at the new Element Hotel in Basalt (thumbs way up!) across from Whole Foods, with the VelociRFTA bus rapid transit (BRT) “Willits” stop half a block out front (these express, wifi-enabled buses run every 10 min. weekdays, every 15min. weekends – it’s 38min. (22 mile) $5 one way [or $3.50 if prepaid at the machine] to Aspen’s Ruby Park Transit Center, 2 blocks from the gondola) or Buttermilk, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands (for Snowmass or Highlands, change buses at the Brush Creek stop or the stop after Buttermilk & cross the street), (4) if you’re driving a camper RV, park free at the Buttermilk ski area’s main lot or Tiehack lift lot, (5) plan to spend at least 3 days – there’s so much to do and see.
This weekend, Feb. 13-14, Alpental will host Vertfest 2016, the festival celebrating backcountry skiing and riding. On Saturday, over a dozen companies will be on hand to offer free demos of backcountry skis, split boards, alpine touring bindings and more. Saturday is also the day to participate in half or full day steep skiing, alpine touring, split boarding, avalanche awareness and ski photography clinics. Return on Sunday for more free demos and the Vertfest uphill race. There is something for everyone interested in backcountry skiing/riding, ski touring or mountaineering. See you at Vertfest.
Wanted to share this one from Josh Langdon out of Flagstaff, AZ, skiing his home stomping grounds of Arizona Snowbowl! If you didn’t know there was skiing to be had in Arizona, be sure to check out Josh’s “Season Edit 2016 Part 1″ for a little pre-Super Bowl stoke.
This past week, Jeff Rich, Tara and Carl Simpson, Jason Hummel, Adam Roberts and myself, packed up two RVs to start making our way for SIA 2016 in Denver. We made our 1st “rest” stop at a super fun mountain based in Idaho with terrain that extends into Montana. Nothing trumps a lift served, skiable border crossing. The mountain I’m speaking of is Lookout Pass, ID. Being on the I-90 corridor, just under 6 hours East of Seattle, this is a mountain that gets a lot of annual snowfall. 400″ is the average at Lookout Mountain, making it one of the leaders of Idaho snowfall. As you will see in the video below, we didn’t hit this on one of their many epic powder dayz but we did have a blast skiing the “Spring like” snow -and doing so, pretty much all by ourselves. This mountain is very easy to access by a short flight into Spokane. From there make the 1.5 hr drive East on I-90 to Lookout Pass. I’d recommend staying in the really cool town of Wallace, ID, which is just 20 minutes West of the ski area, on I-90. Be sure to check out the Wallace Inn, which I noticed is offering this great deal:
1 Night deluxe room, double occupancy
2 Adult lift tickets to Lookout Pass Ski Resort
1 Craft brew flight from Wallace Brewing Company or North Idaho Mountain Brewery
Another killer deal, I heard about while skiing Lookout, was the Season Pass offer, which will be available later this month. 199 bucks gets you next season’s pass plus skiing for the remainder of this season! Smoking deal! So be sure to check back to Lookout’s website later this month to find out all of the fine details. Also, while checking out their site, be sure to look at the 2,000 acre expansion which is in the not too far off future.
Blizzard’s Zero G backcountry touring skis have received much praise for their light weight and performance. We visited their booth at the SIA Snow Show to get a preview of their 2016/2017 Zero G skis. The product line incorporates Carbon Drive technology -the integration of the market’s first 3D unidirectional carbon fiber frame, with an ultra-lightweight paulownia woodcore construction. The result is industry leading, lightweight products that don’t sacrifice performance. The Zero G 108cm wide skis weigh in at 1750g for 185cm. That’s light! Watch the video below to preview that and the rest of the Zero G skis with Carbon Drive.
“Huge Winter Storm to Hit Utah and Colorado this Weekend?” That’s the headline NOAA’s going with today. They are forecasting heavy snow for eastern UT and western CO beginning Friday night. Thank the wet Pacific wave that’s drenching (and flooding parts of) WA at this moment. NOAA states that this winter storm may be a prolonged event that could continue into Tuesday. Over the weekend, the strengthening winter storm could bring widespread heavy snow that targets southwest Colorado, but may extend as far north as the I70 corridor. If so, we will be demoing powder skis at the SIA On the Snow demo days for sure. The images below show the precipitation probability of 0.25″ or more for a 24 hour period. The shaded blue region is 50% to 70% – note it covers Copper Mountain (where the show is headed), Summit County and a lot of Colorado.
SnowSports Industries America (SIA), the snow sports industry’s member-owned trade association, kicked off the 2016 SIA Snow Show in Denver today. 18,000 snow sports retailers, reps, media, and manufacturers, including 1,000 brands and 530 total exhibitors and a mix of athletes and industry professionals, will be in attendance at this 62nd annual Snow Show. The show is the single largest global snow sports trade event. It’s followed by the On-Snow Demo/Ski-Ride Fest (Feb. 1-2) at Copper Mountain Resort . We’ll be there to preview 2016 gear so check back often for a peek at what’s in store for next season.