Archive for the ‘Skiing’ Category

A Winter Stay on Mt Hood   2 comments

Mount Hood catches alpenglow from a setting winter sun.

Mount Hood catches alpenglow from a setting winter sun.

 

I spent a night on Mount Hood a few days ago, and the weather, people, skiing, everything was perfect.  It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up on the mountain.  It is about an hour and a half to get up to Mt Hood from Portland, so it’s not that far.  But staying up there is a totally different experience.  You get to play in the snow until dusk, mellow out and drink hot chocolate in front of a fireplace, and go out under the stars.  You get to go right from breakfast to skiing or snow-shoeing.  The car can stay parked or you can make very short drives to Timberline Lodge or one of the nearby trailheads.

Two subalpine firs stand out against a purple dusk sky near timberline on Mount Hood, Oregon.

Subalpine firs stand out against a purple dusk sky on Mount Hood, Oregon.

We stayed at Tyee Lodge, a purpose-built place just above Government Camp run by the Trails Club of Oregon.  In wintertime you need to hike from the parking lot up a trail cut into the snow, but since it’s only 200 yards or so that’s certainly no problem.  The lodge is right on a cross-country and snowshoe trail that leads up to Timberline Lodge and Ski Area.  Also, a sledding hill is a short walk away.

If you become a member of the Trails Club, it’s easy to stay here.  If you’re not, get in touch with the Trails Club and if you bring a few guests, you can stay here on weekends when the club opens it to members.  The cost is $25/person per night, and that even includes dinner and breakfast.  Such a deal!  There is a group dining room, and a large living area.  There’s a big stone fireplace, with games, books, all you need to be cozy.

Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood at blue hour.

Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood at blue hour.

Male and female dorms with bunk beds are rustic but easy to handle given the cheap cost.  There is also a large staging room downstairs where skis, snowshoes and sleds are kept, and an adjoining drying room for wet gear.  There’s even a game room with ping-pong table.  The nearby Mazama Lodge, run by the venerable climbing club of the same name, is somewhat bigger and a little fancier.  But Tyee is really perfect, in a perfect spot for all sorts of snow-play.  Try renting a condo or house in Government Camp, or a room at Timberline Lodge, and $25/night looks like a steal.

Looking south from Timberline Lodge, the Cascade Range volcanoes stretch away into a clear dusk sky.

Looking south from Timberline Lodge, the Cascade Range volcanoes stretch away into a clear dusk sky.

I had a great time with a small group of fellow meetup friends.  I cross-country skied up to Timberline one day, and up above tree line the next.  Then I did my first real telemark turns of the season on the descents.  The weather was dominated by an air inversion, where the valleys below are cold while the upper elevations bask under a layer of warm air.  It cracked 50 degrees in the afternoon, and I even took off my shirt while climbing to Timberline.

By the way, the public is welcome in Timberline Lodge, where there’s an enormous multi-story stone fireplace, restaurant, and bar upstairs with a drop-dead view of the mountain.  I’d do this again in a  heartbeat.  What a nice way to spend a weekend.

View across one of Timberline Lodge's snow-covered roofs to the setting January sun.

View across one of Timberline Lodge’s snow-covered roofs to the setting January sun.

Skiing Vs. Snowshoeing   Leave a comment

The LaSalle Mountains in southern Utah are a fantastic place to cross-country ski.

The LaSalle Mountains in southern Utah are a fantastic place to cross-country ski.

I am not used to waiting until the first week of January to get up to the mountains for cross-country skiing.  But the early season saw me in southern latitudes, so I guess it couldn’t be helped.  My recently completed western U.S. odyssey was a loop that was designed to avoid snow.  And except for an October hike in Colorado that traversed early-season snow, and also getting snowed on in Utah’s canyon country (see images below) things went pretty much to plan.

In the first snowfall of winter in the Colorado Rockies, bear tracks mark the animal trail.

In the first snowfall of winter in the Colorado Rockies, bear tracks mark the trail.

The year's first snowfall and a cold morning turns the road trip to one where staying in the sleeping bag seems like a great idea.

The year’s first snowfall and a cold morning makes staying in the sleeping bag a bit longer seem like a great idea.

But once back in real winter-time, I was eager to get up there into the cold air, to find a quiet trail with snow-covered evergreens, to cut long graceful turns down a soft white slope.  Well, you get the idea.  I went up to Mount Hood just an hour east of my house in Portland, arriving in mid-afternoon.  This is too late for most people, but for me, it was perfect.  Firstly, I wanted pictures near sunset.  Also, I know that were I to ski 5 hours or so on this first day of the season, I would end up with painfully sore muscles in strange places.  Cross-country skiing works the muscles of the hip area mercilessly, particularly the adductors.

There had been 4 or 5 inches of new snow over the previous two days.  I headed to the Trillium Lake area, which is a popular area near Hood for both XC skiing and snow-shoeing.  I like Trillium Basin because you can ski relatively easy, skier-groomed “trails” (really snow-covered gravel roads) where there is plenty of room for both snowshoe and ski tracks.  See below section for a discussion on this.  But Trillium is also great ’cause you can explore narrow trails or go off trail using clear-cuts and natural openings.  There are even a few slopes, not very steep, that are great for telemark turns.

I went up the Mud Creek Loop (a road) and did the normally snowshoe-free Lost Man Trail (a fun trail that loops through forest and meadow).  Then I climbed a hill for a view of the Mountain as the sun set (see images below).  In the gathering dusk I descended a large partially cleared area, gliding down through amazingly light & fluffy snow (for the Cascades at least).  I had just under an hour’s ski out using my headlamp.  I like skiing by headlamp, but it does lead to occasional disorientation.  The light tunnel and the rhythm of skiing can sometimes mesmerizes you.  It’s a strange but not really unpleasant feeling.

Mount Hood, Oregon glows as the sun sets in mid-winter.

Mount Hood, Oregon glows as the sun sets in mid-winter.

XC SKIERS VS. SNOWSHOERS

Many cross-country skiers do not like snowshoers because it is easier and MUCH more fun to ski in a ski track than on a trail stomped out by snowshoes.  When you’re snowshoeing, stepping over a ski trail is easier than walking through fresh snow.  So you can see the obvious point of conflict here.  It works best when snowshoers make their own trail whenever possible.  But by the same token, skiers should always try to create a separate trail as well.  Of course this involves a lot of work for the first person down a fresh trail, and it requires a certain zen attitude to plow through deep snow right beside an already broken trail.

It’s especially frustrating to break a ski trail then return on the same trail only to see two snowshoers side by side (so they can chat easily), with one person in the ski tracks you just set, the other person in the snowshoe trail.  Sometimes it seems that you are the only one in the forest who is aware of the etiquette.  But whatever happens, it is never cool to get uptight when people do not know the etiquette, or are unwilling to cooperate.  You are out there to have fun after all!

My attitude towards this conflict has of late become even more mellow than it was; I would even say I’m resigned.  The fact is that these days snowshoers outnumber cross-country skiers by a fairly large margin.  Nobody wants to go to the trouble to learn how to ski anymore.  Walking seems easier, even though in the long run (once you’ve learned) skiing through snow is both more efficient and more fun than walking through it.  I hope if you’re reading this that you take the time to learn how to cross-country ski.  Trust me, it’s WAY better than snowshoeing.  But however you do it, the key is to get out there,  to experience that feeling you can only get in the crystalline air of winter-time.

Mount Hood and fresh powder make the first day skiing a fine one.

Mount Hood and fresh powder make the first day skiing a fine one.

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