Skiing with Badass Women

SAFEAS womens avy clinic

Scenes from the S.A.F.E.A.S. womens avy clinic.

There are a lot of badass women in this part of the world.  I’m talking professional skiers & riders, the types that win the Freeskiing World Tour, guide in Alaska, and that you see onscreen when you watch the latest TGR/Warren Miller/etc. production.  There are also a ton of badass women here who aren’t pros, but simply ski, ride, jump off things and go big in the park because they love it.

This past weekend I had a chance to meet a ton of these badass chicks at two separate events.  And I left both feeling inspired.  Inspired to push myself, to learn more, and most importantly, to have fun, whether on my own or with a posse of friends.

On Saturday, my friend Meghan and I drove up to Squaw Valley for the S.A.F.E.A.S. Women’s Avalanche Clinic.  It was a fundraiser for local non-profit, the High Fives Foundation, and was organized by professional skiers Elyse Saugstad and her friends Ingrid Backstrom, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, Sherry McConkey and Squaw avalanche forecaster and ski guide Lel Tone.   This one day event was designed to provide women with basic avalanche awareness training.  It included a morning in the classroom, with lectures on snow safety, communication and proper travel techniques, and an afternoon on-snow practicing what we’d learned.

I’ve taken avalanche awareness courses in the past, but this felt different – in a very good way. Lel, Elyse and the other women made the concepts accessible, kept the pace moving, and were so supportive of all the women there, regardless of backcountry experience – or the clumsiness of their (read: my) shoveling skills.   While this was an overview course, Lel provided us with lots of additional resources for further follow up, and certainly inspired me to belatedly sign up for my AIAIRE Level 1 certification.  I can say without hesitation that it’s a course I would sign up for again in a heartbeat.

After an inspiring day with badass women, it was fortuitous that Meghan, who is involved with SheJumps, an organization whose mission is to encourage women to get outside, had planned the first ‘Get the Girls Out’ meet up the next day, at both Kirkwood and Squaw Valley.  I hit up the Kirkwood event and ended up skiing around with a group of women that kept growing.  I’ll let Meghan tell the story (and share her fun photos), but I’ll say this much – I love to ski, and I love to ski with my boyfriend, but skiing with a group of women is entirely different in a very good way.  And it’s a standing date I’m already looking forward to next month.  All women are welcome, so if you’re interested, the next one will be on January 13th.  You can find out more on Facebook.

I may never be truly badass (snarky seems to come a whole lot easier to me), but hanging out with such women sure encourages me to give it a go.

Early season powder turns

The second real storm of the season moved in on Thursday, bringing over two feet of snow to the Tahoe area. Both N and I took this as a sign that mountain bike season is over, so we spent Friday night digging out the ski gear.

Cold temps meant today’s expedition yielded surprisingly light snow, ensuring the first turns of the 2012/13 ski season were all the more memorable.

With the first Lake Tahoe ski resorts opening next weekend,  I’m definitely ready for winter.
Even if my legs aren’t.

Photos: N Miller

Proof I’m a Ski Nerd

My life has been a bit devoid of adventures worth sharing here, and I’m finding myself getting a bit more bogged down in work and not play.  Heresy, I know.  I’m working on it.

So seeing this in my inbox this morning totally made my week.  I got a retweet from a professional skier, and not just any skier mind you, but Seth Morrison!  He of ski movie fame and infinite Powder Magazine Awards.

Who appears to appreciate my attempt at humor.

Which totally puzzles me, but I’ll take it.

Skiing Freel

That old saying about the third time being a charm rang true this weekend.  Twice before we’ve attempted to ski Freel Peak, and twice before we’ve been stymied.

Yes it’s been a weird season here, but March’s robust snowfall encouraged us to try Freel one last time.  Route finding, time constraints and high winds were the limitations in the past, and with two of the three not a concern, we decided to go for it.    I had very low expectations about the quality of the snow, but as we’ve had little in the way of big backcountry days here, I figured it would be one of the last big days of the season.

Getting to Freel is always a bit of a slog, no matter how you go.  At 10,886 feet, it’s the highest mountain in the Lake Tahoe region, though it doesn’t directly overlook the lake like Mt. Tallac.  As such, it requires an approach.   N suggested a different route than we’ve taken in the past, which ended up saving us time on the traverse and energy on the ascent to Star Lake.  This meant that we both felt fine by the time we hit the ridge just under Freel (and above Star Lake), which has historically been our turnaround point.

Threading the needle

Threading the needle

We gained the ridge, which had more snow than I had seen from afar, and saw a wide and not so steep bowl on the backside of Freel.   It looked totally different than I had envisioned, primarily because my experiences with Freel were either seeing it from the Tahoe Rim Trail or from further away at Heavenly or at lake level.  The side that I’ve seen is the more forbidding front side, which has some interesting looking chutes, but appears to be pretty steep and wind-hammered.  The backside, where we skied, is a gentler, wide open bowl.

Tracks & trees on Freel

Winds had picked up by the time we approached the summit, so we opted to stop at a protected rock outcropping at 10,600’ and then do a high traverse into the bowl and ski from there.  After savoring the views, naturally!

Wet powder descending Freel

Spring powder?

Snow conditions on the descent were variable, and included windboard snow at upper elevations, ‘warming’ winter powder above 8200’ and then gluelike “snow” the rest of the way down.   We had a few chuckles over our need to pole downhill in a few places, and my power wedge moves in the super sticky snow.    Suffice to say not many photos were taken during that part of the descent.

Consolidated snow above High Meadows

Below Freel, above High Meadows

Actually getting to Freel was the day’s objective, which we did. That was what made the day so awesome.  Knowing what we know now, our next goal is to do this trip in much better snow conditions.  After all, that could be an awfully long powder run if timed right.

No April Fool’s Joke

April powder snow at Lake Tahoe

Best April Fool's day ever.

12-21 inches of powder – the light and dry ‘white room’ kind- fell at Lake Tahoe yesterday, making today a very memorable (if busy) day at the ski resorts. Despite the hoards of hungry powder-seekers, we were able to find fresh tracks most of the day, though admittedly we did spend our afternoon in a secluded backcountry location.

This storm – heck, this week’s storms – have helped make March a true miracle this year. Snow totals for the month are upwards of 100 inches, making up for some of the pain felt here this season. And with a few more weeks to the ski season (first resort closings are April 15), it’s not a bad time to make hay (or ski tracks) while the ski lifts are still running.

Miracle March Delivers

Tree skiing at Heavenly

Miracle March indeed.

It’s not unusual for the Sierra to see some huge storms in March.  After a less than stellar snow season, all eyes were on this month to deliver.  Mother Nature (or the jet stream, depending on your beliefs) did not disappoint.

Powder Skiing Lake Tahoe

N testing his fat skis out during Miracle March.

We saw rain and snow all last week, with the big storm arriving Friday.  By Saturday morning the resorts were reporting between 30-48 inches in a 24 hour period, with another 2-15 inches by Sunday morning. Storm totals for the week were as high as 7 feet.

Light powder snow at Tahoe?

Light powder snow at Tahoe?

This was the storm that many of us had been waiting for, and no doubt there were loud hollers of powder joy at ski resorts throughout the area.  N and I are sporting the tired, silly grins of two people who skied a lot of deep snow this weekend.

Fresh powder even on the last run of the day at Kirkwood.

Fresh powder even on the last run of the day at Kirkwood.

While spring technically begins in a few days,  it feels like winter just arrived.  And as far as I’m concerned, it’s welcome to stay awhile.

Risks and rewards

This video of a badass (and adorable) fourth grade girl on her first ‘big’ ski jump is awesome on so many levels.  For me it serves as a powerful reminder that taking risks does pay off, and that I’m capable of much more than I think I am.

I’ll be keeping this video in the back of my mind later this month as I compete as part of the SheJumps team at the Ability Challenge (a Disabled Sports USA Far West fundraiser, which you should totally donate to if you have not already) at Alpine Meadows.

Rock on Zia!

Snow, cougars and the hope for a big March

Fresh snow and Sierra views

It was worth the climb.

Lake Tahoe hasn’t caught much of a break this winter.  First there was no snow.  Then there was snow, but not enough to make up for a dry December (and November).  Then came more snow, followed by spring, followed by cold, then more snow, followed by hellacious winds.   Backcountry conditions here, which are typically stable, have been anything but of late.  As a result, there have been two rare fatalities within the last week.  And a lot more digging of snow pits.

So, this winter.  It’s not over yet.  And many of us are holding onto the hopes that March comes in like a cougar and leaves like a lion.  Or something like that.  Next week is already looking promising.

Despite my natural tendency towards pessimism, I’ve made a conscious effort to make the most of the snow when it hits, and today was no exception.  Yes, high winds had affected the snow and lift operations at many local ski resorts, but we knew that moderate angle north facing trees would probably deliver.  And they did.  Boot top powder, deeper in places, and super light thanks to overnight temps that hit the low teens and didn’t really feel much warmer by the time we got out there.

N making steezy hippie powder turns

N making steezy hippie powder turns

It was just a quick morning lap, but the snow was good, the rocks were few, and I actually passed a few folks on the uptrack, confirming that maybe I don’t suck as much as I think I do.

Here’s to next week delivering even more snow. With far less wind.

Skiing excitement

Tele turns & lake views

I did get out today, and was surprised at how giddily excited I was at the prospect of being on snow.   Especially since I missed all the untracked fun yesterday.   But tracked out snow is still a treat this year (especially now that there’s so much coverage), so the stupid smile stayed on my face all morning.

And I even stopped to take a photo! It’s rare that any attempt at an action shot is successful on my iPhone, but this one of N in front of the lake works for me.