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Archive for October, 2012

Snow levels have hovered at or slightly below Paradise on Mount Rainier, which is at 5,000 feet, for the past week (it got warm today DAMMIT), making it time to go get my annual fall beatdown in the Muir Snowfield area.

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While I’ve certainly had a handful of amazing early days in this area (video proof!), Rainier in the fall in winter tends to be a trip borne of desperation. The stuff worth skiing when the coverage is low in early season is all above treeline, and therefore exposed to the worst of the weather.

The lower elevations are only thinly covered in snow, making them minefields of rocks and stumps waiting to end your season by destroying your ACL.

But, there are few other options this time of year, so on Friday, I drove up to Paradise.

Being able to skin from the parking lot was a huge plus, but the soaking, barely frozen mist was not. Within minutes, I was soaked to the skin.

The climb up to Panaroma Point was straightforward (switchback up to Pan Point seen in photo at right), but just above that, the fun began.

The wind picked up as did the snow.

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Is it worth calling in sick to ski pow? Did it change to rain, or stay snow? Should I bug out of work early to night ski? Webcams can help answer these questions. Here are my top 5, with a bias toward Seattle/Eastside-based people and usefulness for making decisions, not inspiring views:

1. Snoqualmie Pass at I-90. My own traffic would justify a huge ad buy on this page. This cam faces West on the highway. While it points somewhat down, so you can’t see what’s up on the hills, if it’s snowing on the screen, it’s on. There are plenty of times when it’s raining here and snowing at the base of Alpental or slightly above, but if it’s snowing here, it’s snowing everywhere. Added benefit: knowing if the pass is actually open. Backup: The Hyak cam points west and give you a view of Alpental and Central in clear weather, and is a solid backup if the Snoqualmie Pass cam is covered in snow, ice, or is just broken.

2. East Stevens Summit. This is basically the Stevens version of the Snoqualmie cam: No mountain views, but the road conditions are telling: Rain on the camera: hit the snooze button or have another beer.

3. Paradise East. Some might argue that the Mountain cam is better as it shows the upper mountain and meadow just above the lot, but that view if frequently socked in in the fall and early winter when you’re looking for detailed snow level data. The Paradise East view not only provides some depth perception thanks to any car as well as the guide and ranger shacks, but you can the bastards who got the day off and are skiing while you’re at work. The bonus is that Paradise East, in good visibility, also shows a bit of Mazama Ridge, to give you a solid idea of snow levels.

4. Crystal Mountain Gold Hills. Yes, it’s up high enough to be in the clouds quite a bit, but with decent visibility, you get a perfect view of the snow level at the resort across the valley. Probably the best overall view from a web cam of any Washington ski area.

5. Timberline Lodge. This is the lift jockey’s version of Paradise East. It’s a clutch in early and late-season. Facing the upper mountain, this cam can help make the call if it’s going to be worth driving the INSUFFERABLE 4 hours from Seattle to lift-ski the first or last puffs of pow. An aside: Hood might be prettiest of the volcanoes from a distance, a shimmering white pyramid gleaming above the Columbia River. Up close, the upper mountain looks like the leftovers of a mining project that was looking for the shittiest rock on the planet.

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It’s coming…

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This was the Webcam image this morning from Paradise on Mount Rainier. And once I saw it, ski season started. Sure, I won’t be able to actually, you know, actually go there likely for about a week and a half due to work and travel, but seeing snow down to the parking lot at Paradise means fall is dead and winter is here.

What follows will sound a bit dramatic considering that ski season only really ended for me in August. I recognize there are those who live in less temperate areas where the season lasts maybe six months. There are also people who live in the desert, so take your relativity and shove it. I’m used to a 10 or 11-month season. It’s been almost two months, let’s get on with it.

Aside from actually going skiing there are several other important behavioral changes that happen once The Season starts.

  • Checking weather data every 15 minutes even though it updates every hour. In Washington, we’re blessed to have the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, an awesome organization that provides avalanche and weather forecasting as well as avalanche education. You should give them money, as they’re reliant on public funding to maintain their programs, which help keep dumbasses like me alive.Their Web site has all kinds of good stuff, but the true black hole once The Season starts is the mountain weather telemetry. Telemetry is basically just weather data: temperature, wind, precipitation amounts, etc. That data dictates what I do for the next 10 months.The telemetry tells you where the most snow is and how likely it is to be good. Too warm at Snoqualmie Pass? Stevens it is. Surprise wraparound snowstorm at Mission Ridge? Set the alarm for 5 a.m.It’s also like watching a Web gamecast of a storm as you sit there hitting refresh to see how much snow was fallen in the past hour, which is about the interval in which the data updates.

    In mid-winter, that’s relatively rational behavior: “Hey, I’m just trying to stay safe here by trying to find the best place to ski tomorrow so sorry if you need something work-related in the next five hours.”

    However, in October when you can’t even ski for almost two weeks it’s utterly idiotic. And, yet, here I am at the first mention of snow hitting refresh on telemetry. It’s a sickness.

  • Web cam photo Facebook posting. Of course, I posted the photo above on Facebook as soon as I saw it this morning. I’ll do the same damn thing all year at the detection of even the slightest unique image. Oh! The pass is CLOSED! Hey! Snow is COVERING THE CAMERA! It’s sunny out! No one cares, but it’s slightly healthier behavior than printing color copies at work and waving them at colleagues.
  • Gear caressing and fondling. I tell people that all the ski tuning, binding fiddling and edge buffing is a simply a matter of safety and performance. Others will tell you that they want to know their gear as well as their own appendages because their life depends on it. Nice try. It’s simply an excuse to touch gear. Nothing more. And it happens … a lot.
  • “Would a full suit of armor violate the dress code?”Starting in early September, I get incredibly paranoid about getting hurt and missing part or all of The Season. Mountain biking? Not a chance. Help you move? I’ll direct traffic or help pay movers. Jay-run through Boston traffic? I’m not Evel Knievel, buddy. Somehow taking chances while skiing is totally different. But getting hurt not skiing? That’s plain crazy.

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