Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mammoth and June Powder Daze - February 2019

2/2/19 - Saturday

Storms are forecast to drop 7-10' of snow on Mammoth by Tuesday (2/5).  As I'm planting (or more precisely digging a hole through rocks) a dwarf orange tree in my backyard, this thought will not leave my brain.  Lately, I've been trying to act on my thoughts, rather than ignore them.  A few minutes later, I was on Expedia. Friday/Saturday nights were sold out. Thursday/Friday was not.  Luckily, my work was cooperating and my schedule was clear.  I booked Shilo Inn, which sits right at the base of the town on Main Street.  It's a bit beat-up in typical ski town fashion, but perfect for the ski bum who doesn't have a van, plus it's got a hot tub and covered parking. I returned to battling crushed granite, tuned my skis and then on Sunday, spent the day in the office, paying it forward.

2/6/19 - Thursday

I worked 10-14 hour days Monday through Wednesday, and departed Carlsbad at 2:20 a.m. on Thursday, with 3 hours of sleep in hand.  The drive at this time of night is super-easy and mellow, taking Route 78, I-15, I-215, I-15 and US 395 (parts of which are fantastically beautiful).  I keep it at 74 mph, use radar and obey posted limits in Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and Bishop.  Without snow, it takes about 5 hours and 40 minutes.

This time, "chains" (or snow tires with 4WD), which for the MDX means cables, were required about 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. It is always a fun experience to stick one's head under a SUV to attach the inner portion of the cabling on the side of the road in 11 degrees.  I suited up in my ski pants and waterproof shell, and managed the whole process in about 10 minutes.  Then back to driving, but at no more than 35 mph with the cables.  WOMP BA BUMP BUMP.  WOMP BA BUMP BUMP.

Chair 2 Parking
I pulled into the Mill parking lot around 8:45 a.m., and spots were still available - I was surprised, I thought none would be left.  Parking at the Mill, or Chair 2 as it is called, is a priority for me, as it means a short walk to the lift, and the ability to easily come back to the car as needed, which serves as my ski locker.

The day was perfect.  Fresh, untouched swaths of powder were everywhere. I waited on Chair 9 for a minute or two once or twice, but that was it.  I skied to closing, did 26 lifts and 50 miles and 24,000' all told on Strava. I called it All Time.


Friday was essentially a repeat of Thursday, but colder and the snow a day older.  I was wearing a base layer, a Smartwool sweater, an Arcteryx mid-weight jacket, a Marmot down jacket and an Arcteryx wind-proof shell.  23 lifts, 53 miles and 26,000'.

View from Wazoo looking towards Ricochet (aka Tarantula)


Decision time.  It was five in the morning on Saturday. Manchester United was playing Fulham at Craven Cottage on NBC.  MU won 3-0.  June Mountain or Mammoth?  My internal debate raged on.  It had been snowing all night.  Mammoth got 2'+.  I figured June probably got about the same due to the nature of the storm.  But, the drive to June would require chains, which means slow going, but that might keep the crowds away, as June sits about 20 miles past Mammoth.  At the same time, I was guessing predicted high winds at Mammoth would keep the upper lifts closed, and I knew with all the lodging being sold out it would be crowded.

I had just skied two perfect days at Mammoth, I was not going to sour on it by waiting in lift lines.  If June was crowded, I'd call it and head back home.  I drove to June through mainly un-plowed 395 with a foot of snow on it.

CA-158 to June Lake
The parking lot was mostly empty at June, and I parked close to the ticket office.  At June the J1 chair opens at 8:00 a.m., which takes one up to the real base area, where there is a lodge.  The other chairs open at 8:30 a.m.  Not thinking, I took my time getting ready and realized too late I could have been skiing the Face off of J1 for 30 minutes.  In the scheme of things, I didn't mind, as my legs were fried and I planned by leaving by 2:00 p.m, as I was also concerned that more snow and high winds were coming (whiteout conditions), and that 395 between June and Mammoth might be shut down - it was some time after I left.   
June Mountain parking lot
The day was my 19th on a mountain this season, at it was by far, the best.  I only managed 30 miles and 18,000', not counting a few runs missed due to a paused watch.  However, those were runs with 2-4'+ of powder and my already fatigued lines were being put to the test. The mountain was empty and I waited no more than 60 seconds to get a chair, besides at J1.  Contrast Mammoth, where a friend Facebooked me that five lifts were open and it was so crowded, he was giving up for the day.
View from J2
At the top of J7, which is the June Mountain Summit, I saw a crew cut the rope and go outside the ski boundary.  I didn't see the point.  June was covered in powder.  It was everywhere.  There was no need to search it out.  I found myself laughing as I skied fresh tracks through powder up to my waist.  The tree skiing was ridiculous.  I was catching crazy air and landing in soft powder.  On the chair, I fist bumped a dude I never met, and then we slapped our gloves at one another in childish glee.  It was the best powder day of the season, and we were in the midst of it.

For my one foible of the day, I cut through two half-buried trees on a vertical portion of Davos Drop under J7 and my right ski went under a buried branch.  I had to clumsily stop against one of the trees, and narrowly avoided slamming my crotch into the trunk.  I fell onto my back, my head pointing downhill, still clipped-in, and my right ski buried past the boot.  I managed to unclip my left boot and then dug out my right ski down to the binding with a ski pole, before popping the binding.  At 10,000', and almost upside down, it was exhausting, and reminded me how easy it is on a big powder day to get buried.
View from Carson

Spike Camp Trail

I bailed at 1:40 p.m., my legs destroyed.  I went home via 395 to CA-14 to I-5 through Los Angeles, which is mostly two lanes or more each way, rather than take the stress inducing one-lane portion of 395 for 80 miles.  It took me 20 extra minutes, but was much more chill.

I can't walk very well today.  My whole body is sore.  I want to sell my house, buy a van and travel around the West skiing.  My wife said no. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tears run down my face

Tears run down my face.  I was thinking about running, one of those moments when fleet of foot, I feel like a knife cutting through the air, and I just started crying.  I haven't really run since June 2018.  Slow-healing tendinitis in the left Achilles.  Perhaps one too many intervals on the track, but in any event the horse has been in the barn.

After  Boston 2015, I had no desire to really run for a long time.  My energies flowed to the bike, the pool, the ocean, my garden and the Eastern Sierras.  However, as the wheel turned round, I found myself running to ski, and then running to run.  And all of a sudden, the desire to run was back, modified, subdued, mellowed, but back.

But, now even a pedestrian effort will leave my Achilles inflamed.  When I arise in the morning, half the time I feel it as I go down the stairs.  "Good morning to you too, sir."

The last few months have found me in the Pacific, returning to my second passion in life - surfing, the first being skiing.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason (too much surfing, too soon), I now have pain in my right foreman/elbow, and lack grip strength.  Please don't shake my hand.

Perhaps the tears come from the realization that I'm 47, and I've finally and truly reached the point I can't hit it like I used too, and when I try too, my body pays a progressively steeper price, e.g. Achilles and forearm pain. 


Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Californian in Wolf Creek, Colorado

Skiing and surfing share a number of similarities.  The feeling of gliding, the requirement of water (albeit frozen vs. liquid) and the chasing of the conditions requiring one to be opportunistic.  When I learned my brother-in-law was getting married in Santa Fe, the ski trip wheels began to turn in my brain . . .

One of my favorite flights to take is SAN to ABQ.   In 90 minutes, we were transported from the hustle and bustle of SoCal to the mellow vibe that is New Mexico.  Southwest is the airline to take if skiing; the first two bags are free; and a ski bag and boot bag count as one piece of luggage. 

On Thursday we flew in and my big decision was whether to upgrade from a SUV with front-wheel drive - why make such a vehicle - to one with AWD.  I hemmed and hawed a bit with the Avis dude, as we talked about how he used to race motorcycles, and he cut me a deal.  We drove up to Santa Fe, and checked in at La Posada, an eclectic hotel, consisting of multiple separate buildings. La Posada has mandatory valet - can't stand mandatory valet.

On Thursday night, my wife mentioned I should go skiing on Friday at Ski Santa Fe.  What was I thinking!?  I hadn't even thought of that.  Why not?  Better than Meow Wolf.  Ski Santa Fe sits about a 40 minute drive from Santa Fe itself.  It has one of my favorite bars, called Totemoff's, which is only accessible by chairlift - I favor barriers to entry.     

The night before a couple of inches of hail-like snow fell on the mountain.  It helped give a little freshness to otherwise poor conditions.  It wasn't crowded and I had fun, but half-a-day was enough.  Saturday was the wedding and Sunday morning I was off to Wolf Creek in southern Colorado.

The trip from Santa Fe to Wolf Creek is an interesting one.  Unparalleled vistas are juxtaposed against dilapidated shacks abutting the road.  On the way up to the mountain, it began to snow.  Good call on the AWD upgrade.  I was on the lifts by 11:00 a.m.  Visibility at points was non-existent, so I stuck mostly to the groomers, which had a foot of powder.  After skiing Santa Fe, which has no wireless service, I finally broke down and got Spotify, so I could store my favorites to my phone and listen to them while skiing.  So glad I did, plus there's a $15.99 family plan, which I didn't know about.  First up, Unforgettable Fire. 

Around 2 pm, I overheard a woman who was leaving remark "tomorrow will be great!"  Yes, but right now it's all-time - why not ski it?  The answer: barriers to entry, people want to ski easy under blue skis and miss out on that feeling of becoming one with a mountain in a snowstorm, hearing only the "tink-tink" of the lift, as the snow muffles noise. 

Wolf Creek was filled with people from Oklahoma, apparently the whole state was on spring break.  I liked the Oklahomans, who were friendly, readily admit they were not the best skiers and tended to stay on the beginner lifts.   

That evening, after wiping off 8" of snow from my windshield, I headed down to Pagosa Springs, where I was staying. Both Ski Santa Fe and Wolf Creek sit in the middle of national forests.  As a result, there are no lodgings near the mountain and it gets a bit old driving back and forth - especially when its snowing.

Even with AWD, my Ford Edge SUV went into two slides.  The first was because I moved from the somewhat plowed right lane into the covered with 4" of snow lane and slid for a few seconds before regaining control.  That one was fine, as I had a 1/2 mile of runway.  The second was a bit more precarious, a hairpin turn that I was taking around 20-25 mph and following two cars.  The SUV went into a slide and I had visions of slow motion crash into the concrete rail.  I regained control, but the euphoria of the day was somewhat dampened, and not counter-balanced by a shot of adrenaline as my body had none left to give. 

That night I stayed in the High Country Lodge.  My rating system for lodging is would I stay there again.  I wouldn't.  Don't advertise Wi-Fi if it's unusable.  By accident, I only booked one night, so I took my chance and spent the next night at Hillside Inn.  It was a bit beat-up, but had better Wi-Fi and I would stay there again.

The second day at Wolf Creek was the closest thing I get to a religious experience.  I spent the entire day on the mountain and mostly on "Alberta", the 12 minute (very slow) quad lift that services tons of tree skiing.  It was empty.  I never waited in a lift line and had fresh tracks through powder all day long.   

To the left is Alberta Peak; to ski this requires a hike
Later that day, I was told by two locals this wasn't even any good.  Like surfing, there are always those who like to say it was better yesterday.  I responded that my home mountain was Mammoth, which got a lot of snow, and a foot and half of untouched powder is always good.  "Yea, but the snow at Mammoth is heavier."  Whatever.  The 5' of 'heavy' powder that just fell at Mammoth is fine with me.  Outside the ski shop, there were a few chairs made with old skis, including the Dynastars I rode when I was 16.

On my final day, it was difficult to get out of bed.  My quads were shot and I was in general pain. Get to the mountain was my mantra; ibuprofen was the other.  Once on Treasure lift, knowing this was my last day, my last few hours, I caught a second wind.  From Treasure, the "Face" can be accessed.  It's a steep, mogul filled section, that is difficult, but not extreme.  For the Oklahomans this was the crucible, as I was asked multiple times if I skied the Face.

The "Face" - Fresh Tracks on Monday morning
On Sunday, as I rode the lift over and over, I watched a snowboarder beneath the lift build a short ramp on the edge of a steep drop with an orange shovel.  I took that ramp 30 times over the next three days, launching myself 10-15' into powder, which tones down the punishment the body takes when skiing, and for me, makes me feel 28.     

Surprisingly, the Face, on Tuesday, two days after the storm, was still not skied out.  Although, the snow got soft by 11:30, with the tops of the untouched powder melting.  Exiting Treasure to the right leads to the option of a steep glade of trees.  It was largely untouched.  Game on.  I stayed on Treasure, a 5 minute ride versus the 12 on Alberta, taking 20 rides in under 3 1/2 hours. My penultimate ride of the day, I took a wrong turn and had to take the Elma lift.  Riding up, I knew I was done.  My legs had no strength left.  Time to head back, time to go home.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mammoth Mountain & June Mountain - Be at the lift when it opens

Number One Rule

The number one rule for skiing on a crowded weekend is to be at the chairlift when it opens.  This rule works, because most don't follow it.  Instead, people seem to show up around 10:00 a.m., then take an hour lunch at noon and leave by 3:00 p.m.  At best, they get in four hours.  This makes the first 90 minutes the best skiing of the day, as the lifts are uncrowded and the corduroy is still intact. 

A slightly lesser known rule is to go up Thursday night with your daughter (who feigns sickness on Friday) and ski all day, attempting to exhaust yourself into looking for a slower paced Saturday, which is what we did President's Day weekend.    

Whispering Pines Motel

When getting lodging for mini-ski trips, my primary considerations are cost, location and cleanliness.  From a cost perspective, Mammoth is usually out - especially on a holiday weekend, due to its good location.  Whereas, June Lake, which is a 25 minute drive from Mammoth and has a lack of eateries, is significantly cheaper.   We picked Whispering Pines Motel in June Lake, which for the holiday weekend required a three-night stay, checking in 2/16, out 2/18, for a total cost of $413.28.  We stayed in room 126, which is inexplicably on the second floor. 

The room consists of a bedroom, bathroom (shower, no bath) and small kitchenette, with sink, microwave, refrigerator and a non-functioning Keurig, which is fine, as I'm not a fan of pod coffee.  Think 1970s motel, with almost no updates.  The bed was ridiculously wavy and while we had Wi-Fi, I was unable to connect to my work VPN.  But hey, I'm just looking for a step-up from camping and it was clean enough.  

Mammoth Mountain - Day One

On Friday, we hit Mammoth and "skiboarded", my term for me skiing and Kat boarding.  Per Strava, we rode 28 lifts, and did 50 miles with 25,000 feet of gain.  The mileage includes lifts, but it's a good metric and anything above 40 is solid day.  The hill, for the most part, was empty, and we barely had any line waits.

We began the day with Chair 10 (Goldrush Express) and Kat was looking good. I then suggested we take Chair 5 (High Five Express) and come down Solitude, a "More Difficult" run that is steep, but not technical.  Kat, looking up at the incline, suggested tomorrow.  Believing Kat was ready for it, we proceeded to take it four times that morning.  And Kat, getting comfortable with the incline, started to get fast.  I prefer to carve turns, but Kat, like most thirteen-year-olds, prefers to bomb downhill. The awakening had begun.

In contrast, after lunch I went to the MDX, aka the "locker", which was parked 150 meters from Chair 2 , and pulled my snowboard out.

A few runs later, I was putting it back, having decided I no longer want to snowboard.  I just don't feel as  comfortable on a board like I do skis, the difference between starting something at age 7 versus 27.  (Although, I started surfing at 17.)  After a few runs, the skis were back on and the board will henceforth be gathering dust in my garage - a man's got to know his limitations. In the afternoon, Kat got a taste of Unbound, the terrain park with jumps and rails, and we hit it seven times in a row.  Kat charged the jumps, ate it a few times, but got some decent air on a few of them.  We skied to the lifts closed.

June Mountain - Day Two

Between Probowl and Sunset
Untouched Powder
The big decision of the trip was whether to hit Mammoth or June on Saturday.  We choose June, and it was awesome.  Earlier that week, both mountains had gotten 5-7 inches of snow.  A local told me all the snow blew off Mammoth, while at June it stuck.  I think he was right, as the snow at June was pretty fresh, and better than at Mammoth the day before.
 I was able to find a foot of powder on some runs through the trees - not a crazy amount mind you - but powder nonetheless. 

June actually consists of two summits: June and Rainbow.   The top of June is all Blacks and is reached by J7, a high speed quad.  The top of Rainbow is all Blues and is either reached by J6, a high speed quad, or J4, a very slow two-seater.  However, four of the five Rainbow trails terminate at J4, so I avoid Rainbow and ski June summit.
Looking at Rainbow Summit (10,040') from June Summit (10,090') at top of Schatzi

Kat was ready.  We headed to J7 and Kat proceeded to charge Schatzi, a Black with a steep drop, like there was no tomorrow.  After a few runs, Kat was released into the wild, free to board on her own.  Occasionally, as I was riding up the chair, I'd spot Kat, straight-lining it down the hill.  Kat also did Sunset, a mogul filled Black.
Looking up Sunset - windblown powder
We met up for lunch at Stew Pot Slim's, which sits near the base of J7.  Kat had a vegetarian sandwich, I drank an IPA, having already feasted on my smushed up P&Js.  We did a few more runs together, but our skiboarding styles had become incongruent, as my carving no longer kept pace with Kat's bombing and we separated.  J7 got a little busy from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., but was otherwise lineless.  At one point, I took a trip back down to the base of the mountain and back up J4 to allow the line to dissipate a bit.  Kat and I met up around 3:30 p.m., and skiboarded another hour together, as the mountain let the lifts run an extra 30 minutes.
Stew Pot Slim's (looking at June summit)
However, when we dropped down into the main ski area, we were met with a huge line to take J1 down to the parking lot.  June Mountain, for the most part, sits mid-mountain and skiboarders need to take a lift (J1) up from the parking lot to get to the ski area proper.  When the snow is good, riders can take Canyon Trail back to the parking lot, when not so good the trail is nothing but dirt and J1 needs to be taken back down.   

We went into the lodge for about 40 minutes and had a bit to drink and eat, but then still had to wait another 20 minutes in line to take the lift down.  All said, I put in a ridiculous 55 miles with 28 lifts and 30,000 feet of gain and Kat probably put in another 5 miles over that. I'll take the wait. 

June Mountain - Day Three

Overnight, the wind had come up and was howling.  We decided to hit June and head back to Carlsbad around noon.  We were on J4 by 8:40 a.m., and took Rainbow Ridge to Spike Camp to Sunrise to J7.
The ride up J4; Comstock directly below
We were first tracks on all three runs.  I did 10 lifts, 17 miles and 10,000 feet of gain in a little over two hours.  However, the wind had picked and all but essentially one lift, J2, was closed.  As a result, when we headed back down from the June summit to the base there was an enormous line to get on the one open lift.  Kat and I quickly bailed, fearing the line to get on J1 to exit the mountain would balloon within moments.

No matter, we had skied over 120 miles in three days, and were ready to head out. In the parking lot, I was approached by a father of three, who asked me if it was cold up top.  I told him, no, but that it was windy and they had closed all but one lift.  He stated his family had come over from Mammoth, which was also windy, to escape the crowds.  As it was, it was 11:30 a.m., he hadn't skied a lick and he was faced with the choice of either writing off the day as a sunk cost, or waiting in an hour-long lift line.  That's why the number one rule for skiing on a busy weekend is to be at the chairlift when it opens. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Legs Feed the Skiing

There is a saying that the legs feed the wolf.  Likewise, the legs feed the skiing and in order to feast on the mountain, I run the hills.   At the same time, like a runner training for a race, my focus has heightened, with the goal being to get to Mammoth Mountain as often and as easily as possible.

Season Pass

The best way to ski Mammoth is with a season pass.  At $100+ a day for lift ticket, buying a season pass in the spring for $700-800 is a no-brainer.

Get and Tune Your Own Equipment

To get on the mountain fast, get your own equipment.  Skip the hassle of renting, and buy your own equipment.  If new to skiing, take a look at, which is one of the few online ski shops that sells a complete package of boots, binding, skis and poles.  Wait for a sale, and buy last's years models.  Decent packages can be had for around $400 with free shipping.

The second thing is to tune your own equipment.  Don't waste time and money paying someone to tune your skis - it's easy and meditative.   To get a ski vise, ski iron, edger, brushes, scrappers, files,  gummi stones and wax will run around $250-300.  But, is well worth it.  I wax and edge my skis before every trip and it makes a huge difference in the speed and handling of the skis.

Ski Tuning Equipment

Pack Your Bags 
Chasing snow is like chasing waves, it's unpredictable.  Therefore, its best to be prepared to ski at a moment's notice. To that end, my ski stuff is always ready to go.  I keep a bag with my hat, gloves, googles, socks, long underwear and face mask packed.  To skip the mental anguish of remembering what to bring, I look at a photograph of a typical set of ski clothing for the day: 

Ski clothing for a day
Carpe Diem

Seize the moment.  Have a meeting in Los Angeles, which is 60-90 minutes closer to Mammoth than San Diego?  Did it just snow a foot two days before?  Then go skiing.  On the left is the view from my office in LA.  I prefer the view on the right, which is 395 North, with the Eastern Sierras in the foreground.


Lodging in and around Mammoth is varied.  I've stayed in condos on the mountain, houses in June Lake and dive motels in Bishop.  My favorite, from a cost perspective, is the Double Eagle Resort & Spa in June Lake.  Yes, it's a 25 minute drive to the mountain, but it's quiet, clean and the rooms are spacious.  This trip, a two-night stay cost $412.61, all in. 

The Payoff

Friday, 1/12/18 was a good day.  Mammoth was empty.  I was the first skier on the Gold Rush Express, which opened at 8:26 a.m.  I finished my last run around 4:15 p.m.  Strava put me at a personal best of 56.6 miles, which includes going up the chair lifts.  Saturday was crowded.  However, I stayed up on the higher lifts, then drifted over to the Backside around 11:00.  I then made my way back to the Mill, where I was parked, around 1:00 p.m.  I was about to split, when I noticed that while the Stump Alley Express was super-crowded, no one was waiting for Gold Rush.  Once at mid-mountain, the line for the High Five Express was almost non-existent, so I kept skiing at notched another 40 miles on burning quads.      

Friday, July 15, 2016

Soccer Intervals

Today I did a new workout of my own invention.  I warmed up for a bit and then accelerated for ten seconds, followed by ten seconds at a more relaxed pace.  I estimate I accelerated twenty times during the workout.  Total time, 19:40.  Total distance, 2.6 mi.  Fastest pace, 4:29.

I like to run fast and during my last round of training, I just wasn't getting in the speed workouts, turning running from a joy into a chore.  At the moment, I'm just running.  I'm not training for anything in particular and have nothing on the horizon.  I'm not concerned about peaking, injury or tomorrow's workout.  I run when I want, how I want.  This may not be the best way to nail down PRs, but it's fun.  I also believe intervals are absolutely necessary to achieve PRs at any distance, be that 100 meters or 10 miles.  

During the run, I began to think about what type of athlete would benefit from such a workout. Soccer players instantly popped into my mind.  Soccer players make repeated sprints lasting no more than ten seconds while running 5-8 miles during a game.  At the same time, the players tend not to sprint from a hard stop, as they are already moving.    

Therefore, the workout replicates and intensifies what happens on the field.  I'm guessing the average period of acceleration is more like 3-5 seconds (I say this from watching hundreds of games), not 10. As such, running at speed for 10 seconds is pushing the athlete beyond game conditions.  Moreover, I'm guessing the average rest after a sprinting foray is at least 30 seconds, not 10, again pushing the athlete beyond game conditions.  

The benefits of this workout include:
  • Physiological: the athlete will push their heart rate close to the maximum repeatedly, with a short period of recovery in between;
  • Mental: the athlete becomes accustomed to willing themselves to sprint repeatedly for short burts; and
  • Mechanics: the athlete (hopefully) begins to naturally learn the running mechanics necessary to transition from a jog to a sprint on the soccer field by doing it over and over again during training
After looking online, I've seen somewhat similar workouts specifically designed for soccer players, but with the athletes running for 30 seconds or more, with recovery periods of 60 seconds or more. Without having any science behind me, I have to scratch my head.  If the average sprint on the field is only 3-5 seconds, why have the player sprint for ten times that amount? It makes no sense.  Do 200 meter sprinters do repeated intervals of 2,000 meters? Certainly not. Point is, design the workout to replicate the action of the athlete on the field.