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Thread: Fathead Skids Tahoe

  1. #1
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    Fathead Skids Tahoe

    The Loneliest Carver on the Loneliest Road in America

    Not only do I pursue some marginalized niche snow sport where I can be the only carver at any given resort on any given day, but the route I'm taking to the next venue has been nicknamed the "Loneliest Road in America." I'd never taken US 50 across Nevada before, so I thought I'd give it a try. On Saturday I drove all day from Silverthorne to Eureka, NV, where I was overtaken by the sunset and crashed for the night. The drive isn't too bad in snow season, as the temperatures are pleasant and some snow-capped range is always in view. I've seen worse, like the 60-mile unpaved run to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

    On Sunday around Noon I made it to Carson City, then drove up to the town of Stateline, on the NV/CA border where some casinos and the Heavenly gondola are located. I wasn't prepared to actually ride, but I had some time to kill so I hopped on the gondola and bummed around at one of the lodges, just studying the trail map. The snow looks pretty good. The four feet of snow from a week or two ago has certainly helped things out. Back down below I walked around the base village and casinos until my condo was ready.

    The goals for this trip are simply to familiarize myself with the three resorts in the area that my pass works at: Heavenly, Northstar-at-Tahoe, and now with the recent acquisition, Kirkwood.

    On Monday I went up to Northstar, way above the north end of the lake. My condo is near the Nevada Heavenly lifts towards the south end of the lake, so it is actually something of a drive. It snowed a few inches overnight and snowed lightly the whole day, so the roads were covered. On the drive out here I was thinking what a waste it was to be wearing out my soft snow tires on warm, bare pavement, but they were paying off on this morning. The roads that go around the lake are windy and sometimes narrow, so one has to pay attention. When I made it to the north end of the lake and started driving up into the hills, there was a checkpoint where the cops were verifying that each vehicle had at least traction tires or AWD. All commercial vehicles had to chain up. I made it up to the pass no problem, then down to the Northstar access road. Further up the highway connects to I-80 at Truckee, so Northstar is generally easy for people in the Reno area to visit. Northstar is a little upscale in terms of facilities, and normal people park in the free lots then take a shuttle to the village. This all worked out well, with the shuttles coming around very frequently. At the village I get in the Big Springs gondola, which has those smallish, older cabins.

    This is not a carving day. I go up the Arrow Express first then Comstock and Vista looking for anything that might have been groomed right before open. If such a thing existed, it was only the lower green trails like Village Run. Everything else was in some state of being cut up. Drifter was the only blue I found that was marginally carveable. There is plenty of nice terrain here, and it will have to be revisited on a good groomer day.

    Tuesday was Kirkwood day. There has been a brief lull between weather systems, so yesterday's snow has been groomed in, and the weather is just a bit cloudy and windy. From the Heavenly area, Kirkwood is to the south, the opposite direction from Northstar. I drive down through the city of South Lake Tahoe, then take highway 89, and 88 up to Carson Pass and down to Kirkwood. This is a very picturesque drive of around 50 minutes. Kirkwood is remote. It lies on a tiny highway that connects Armpit, Nevada to Lymph Node, California, and isn't near, nor is it convenient to, any population centers. There is no electric grid in the area, so the entire operation runs on its own diesel powerplant, providing electricity to the resort and many residences. Don't go there if you are against the burning of fossil fuels for your wasteful recreational activities. Arriving early, I was able to park right next to the Cornice lift at the main base. Normally a pay area, this lot was free on a low-attendance weekday.

    I started on the Solitude lift, going down Lower Zachary. The snow is a little soft, some six inches of new, fine packed powder on its first overnight groom. Some spots are softer than others, making for occasional scary episodes of near nose-stuffing, but overall it is a great slow, soft carving surface, worthy of all the bad form and fully extended toeside turns I could muster. I went over to the Timber Creek lift to try the easier blues there, but I found that given the soft snow, these runs weren't nearly steep enough to even maintain speed while carving.

    Signage at Kirkwood is sparse. I found few on-hill trail maps even at the base areas, and no posted grooming information. Testament to how laid-back it is, I must have made eight runs before anybody bothered to ask me if I had a lift ticket. I had traversed back to the main cluster of lifts and was now at The Reut, where a liftie examined my Epic Local Pass and gave me a day ticket. I take "The Reut" lift up then try Buckboard, a groomed blue. It is an excellent carvable run, but even for me it is not steep enough for the conditions. I go up again and try Wagon Trail, a single black. This is merely a slightly steeper blue with one steep blackish section. It makes for an excellent variety of terrain on one run, and I end up looping down this run over and over.

    I wanted to try the Happiness Is and Elevator Shaft runs on what they call the "Backside," but that whole area was closed due to the high winds of the approaching weather system. On the front side the winds didn't seem so bad, but I didn't take any of the lifts that go to the top of the hill.

    Kirkwood has a nice vibe. It is not convenient to get to, but I like it.

    Wednesday: First Day at Heavenly

    In the morning the weather looks reasonable. Heavenly is reporting 1" of new, and from looking out the window of my condo, very near the base of the Stagecoach lift, it seems like an accurate representation. I get to the Stagecoach lot early and take some time to check out the lodge there. At 9 the lift opens and up I go. Quickly I find that there is way more than an inch of new up here. It seems like six inches in places. Now it is starting to snow again, and the wind is picking up as I go higher. I make my way over to the Dipper Express which goes to the top of the Nevada portion of the resort. My plan was to go down the California Trail to check out the CA side first. I go by a red warning sign but only read a few words... "Lift Closed... Not be Able to Return..." Suddenly panic sets in and I stop and skate back uphill some 50 feet back to the sign.

    Now I read the sign carefully. The Sky Express (and the gondola from Stateline) were both shut down because of high winds. If the Sky lift goes down, the resort is effectively split into two distinct regions. While it is possible to go down the California Trail from the Nevada side, without the Sky lift there is no way back. Similarly, people who entered from the California Lodge area are stuck on the California side. If I had gone down the California Trail, I would have had to go down to the California base and endure a 10-mile bus ride to get back to my car.

    The snow falls all morning, varying from light to heavy, with the wind constantly blowing things around. There aren't many people around, because all of the people on my side of the resort came from the smallish Nevada-side Stagecoach and Boulder bases. I bomb down a number of blues, all groomed last night and now covered with 2 to 8 inches of powder, depending on how the wind blew it around. Everywhere the snow surface has those scallops that the wind creates. After going down Big Dipper, I continue down Galaxy, getting first tracks on it. All turns are big surfing powder turns. At the Galaxy load I figure out why no one had come down here yet. Galaxy is an old, slow triple and I was the first customer of the day.

    Next up the Comet Express. The Comet run early in the day was the most carveable thing around. Maybe it was groomed later, and maybe its positioning in the wind blew much of the fresh snow off of the top. The groom seemed to be only a couple of inches below the fresh, and it was possible to feel "hooked up" when making turns. Next down Crossover, which is just a slow cat track except for the very end, and this takes one down to the Olympic chair. The Olympic Downhill run isn't very steep at all, and despite the thick powder on it, I managed to make carved turns down the whole way. Thank goodness for the new snow over the past couple of weeks; it has really saved this trip for me. The supports of the Olympic Express base lift terminal are sitting in a frozen pond. Things must have been pretty bleak before the recent wave of new snow.

    After making a couple of loops on the Stagecoach lift I went back up and dove into the East Peak Lodge to unpack my lunch. It is snowing hard now, and visibility is poor. I must have sat in there for almost an hour waiting for things to clear up. Finally around 1 PM the snow lets up a little and I go back out. First I try Comet again, and find that at least three inches of new had fallen on it in less than a couple of hours. It felt bogged down in new snow compared to earlier in the morning. I go back down to Olympic and make my last run down to the Stagecoach base. When I get to my car it is around 2PM, and the sun is starting to come out.

    Heavenly lodges have the most expensive food I've ever seen at a ski resort. I think it is more expensive than Vail, and easily rivals Aspen. So far, the terrain here is impressive but I'll be packing my own lunch. No pictures yet. I misplaced my camera for a couple of days and today was nothing but blowing snow.

  2. #2
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    Art, Thanks for picturesque details of the 'Lonelist Carver Trip'. Can't wait to see next post.

  3. #3
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    Makes me want to get in the car and drive... I've got new liners and BTS that I'm dyin' to try out.
    Well done.
    LIVE LIFE- Dave Wilcox
    NASTAR race record.
    Questions-> lonbordin at hot mail dot com

  4. #4
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    Heavenly Day 2

    It is suitably cold in the morning at the Stagecoach lift with broken, fast moving clouds and some sunshine. Today the majority of the lifts are open, so I go up Stagecoach and Dipper, then down the California Trail to see the side of the resort denied to me during yesterday's storm. From the California side of the Heavenly are what might be the greatest ski area views in all of North America. Already things are looking up. The wide cruiser sections of the California Trail are totally smooth and hero. At the bottom I head right for the Sky Express, which promptly breaks down. A short skate to the Canyon Express gets me on to the Ridge Run, a wide easy cruiser that is also totally hero. From edge to edge it is all smooth grip with no hint of layers underneath. Now the Sky lift is running and I go to the top. It is clearly windy up high. I take Ridge Run down again, this time from high up. It is more narrow and shallow up here, but still a good warm up. The lower section is more carveworthy. Again from the top I take High Five, a modest blue which is a total blast. Wide, firm, easy, smooth... everything you could want, including a few moron straightliners. There is an EpicMix Action Photo station here, only the second one I have ever seen at any Vail resort.

    Loading again onto Sky Express, I note that there is a new sign saying that high winds may force a wind hold on the lift. "Plan Accordingly" it says. I decide not to take any risks of being stranded so I take the Skyline Trail back to Nevada. The downside is that I wasn't able to see the lower trails on this side and visit the California Lodge. But the trail map indicates that there isn't likely to be any good carving terrain there, so I blow it off. The Skyline Trail trail dumps me out onto Big Dipper, which is noticeably soft and already quite cut up. Not good. I was starting to wonder if by going to the CA side early, I sacrificed the fresh turns on this side of the hill.

    Down at the East Peak Lodge I run in to take a break. This is an easy ski-in, ski-out stop compared to the lower Stagecoach and Boulder lodges that require more walking to get back to a lift. Coming back out, I hit the Comet lift and try the Comet run. This run is also a little soft, but like yesterday isn't as deeply soft as Big Dipper. I must have found the right place, because I encountered two other hardbooters here: Dave and Tony on an excursion from the Bay Area. Comet is working well, so we make a few loops on it then take Crossover to the Olympic chair. The Olympic run is also a little soft, and isn't quite steep enough for the conditions. After a couple of runs here, we are burned out and carve all the way down to the Stagecoach base to finish at 12:30. It is still a little windy, but sunny and a bit too warm.

    A great day. Given that Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood are included in the Colorado Epic Local passes, this whole thing is a pretty good value. All you have to do is drive out here. Between the I-80 cities of Reno and Truckee, and the dense touristyness of Stateline and South Lake Tahoe, there is huge competition for lodging, food and maybe even some debauchery.

    Now I've got my EpicMix pin for hitting all 6 major Vail resorts in one season. I'm so freakin' cool I can't even believe myself.

    A windblown California Trail from near the top of Dipper Express, the South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Keys area below.
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    A little lower, looking down a nice cruiser section of the CA Trail. To the right in the bowl are the gondola terminus and the Tamarack Lodge. The gondola traverses the top of the hill then drops precariously down to the Stateline base.
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    Looking up High Five from Sky Express.
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  5. #5
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    Those views from upper Heavenly are... how do I say... heavenly.

  6. #6
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    Excellent read almost feels like i've been there. Thanks for taking the time to write this up!

  7. #7
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    Lightbulb Shoulda been a writer

    Awesome write-up as usual Art
    I'm so glad Bryan shamed you in to taking pictures .. Thanks Again -- jp
    Don't tell me, "Show Me"
    765 grams = 1.6865 lbs. or 26.985 oz.

  8. #8
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    Heavenly Day 3

    The unsettled weather of this whole week continues. While there is no precipitation today, the morning starts a little windy with a low cloud deck and modestly warm temperatures. I'm on the 2nd chair up Stagecoach and by the time we get to the top we are completely in clouds. I want to do more exploring of the California side, so I go up Dipper and down the California Trail. Everything up here is totally socked in. The snow feels good, but the vis is awful. I go up Sky Express and down Ridge Run a couple of times. Great snow, no vis. The wind at the top is gusting fairly strong and I have some small concern about the lift being shut down, but I want to check out the lower part of the CA side. So I go down Mombo, a green, and it isn't really a carving run. Then to get down to the California Lodge I take Round-A-Bout which turns out to be an awful cat track. If I had to do it again I would just download on the Gunbarrel chair. The World Cup run at the bottom looks like a nice racing slope, but it is icy and way thin. At the lodge I take the precaution of locking my board and find that there is good signage for everything except how to find a bathroom.

    This is the lowest skiable elevation in the resort, and it is just a slushpile with some bare areas. The steep black runs that drop down the face are not carving runs by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe on a deep snow year, but certainly not now. I don't see any reason for a carver on the CA side to drop below the elevation of the Sky/Canyon chairs unless there is some super bumper crop of snow, lower temperatues, and grooming.

    So back up I go, taking Gunbarrel and Powderbowl Express, then down to Canyon Express. It is around 10:30 and the cloud deck has risen most of the way up the Canyon lift. I go down High Five and find it to be pretty good. It seems a little soft and cut up, but as long as you are on edge, it isn't bumpy and holds a carve well. Interestingly, this run has been groomed on the past two days, but doesn't show up on the grooming map. Inaccurate information makes me sad. I wonder if there were other places that were groomed but not reported. High Five is working well and I make four leg-burning runs. Now there is some intermittent sunshine, and the warmth is getting worrisome. Now I return to the NV side on the Skyline Trail. The snow feel is getting a bit slushy, and flat areas feel like riding on an air hockey table with the pump running in reverse. The top of Big Dipper is mushy but carveable. The lower part is slow. I made a few runs on Comet but found it to be annoyingly slushy and slow. Finally I take the annoyingly flat Crossover trail to get out and find myself annoyingly running out of speed because of the vac-u-suck slush effect. I hunch over like a gorilla and flap my hands on the ground to keep up enough momentum to get onto the Olympic run. I could tell that it was too mushy to bother with, so I blew by the lift terminal and headed all the way out to the Stagecoach base. It is before 1 PM when I drive out.

    Under slow conditions like these, the one thing that Heavenly sorely lacks are truly steep blues or groomed single blacks. Under good conditions, I could see that some skilled riders who really like steeps might not find enough challenge here. One of the most mouth-watering runs is Little Dipper, directly under the Comet chair. This is a steep but wide single black that I understand is almost never groomed, in favor of giving bump run people a place to go. Every time I went up the Comet lift my heart was filled with lament over this injustice.

    As long as I have my own car when visiting, my preference will always be to park at the 900 foot-higher Stagecoach base where the vibe is more of older experienced skiers and fewer teenagers. Driving to the Stagecoach lodge for the first time is a little disorienting as you have to wind up a steep hill to the top of the Kingsbury Grade, then turn on Tramway Drive (named for a tram that no longer exists). You maneuver through a forest of condos that sprout along a narrow road. Near the top the road becomes a one-way loop. You go to the top and down the other side until you reach the lift. The Boulder lodge is also nearby on this road, but it seems to close on many weekdays. If the Stagecoach lot fills up, they overflow into the Boulder lot and shuttle people up.

    I'm driving out tomorrow morning. For Saturday the temperature will drop by 20 degrees or more and nearly a foot of new snow is forecast.

    Looking up from the East Peak Lodge, Comet lift on the right, Dipper on the left. The lower Comet run is flowing in on the right. In the middle is the Little Dipper run, wasted on moguls. Big Dipper, Nova and Orion all flow in through slots under the Dipper chair. Where's the Coiler 171 AMT-Narrow?
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  9. #9
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    Thanks Art, great job all around!! Living the Life!. Do you plan to return to the PNW this summer? Or??
    SEARCHING TIP: go to GOOGLE and add this to the end of your search terms- site:bomberonline.com

  10. #10
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    The Heave report today:

    The season is extended two extra weeks ( 2 weekends past the original mid-April close)

    18" of fresh, bluebird, windless.

    And more sun than we need
    Embrace the Face.
    Hook it Up, Crank it Over, Lay it Down... repeat as necessary.
    Carve all ways.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by www.oldsnowboards.com View Post
    Thanks Art, great job all around!! Living the Life!. Do you plan to return to the PNW this summer? Or??
    If those Timberline folks firm up their Billy Bordy schedule, I'm sorta considering heading up to check out the race camp. I suppose I'd continue up to WA to visit with friends. I just got back to Colorado this evening after staying a day in SLC just to bum around. That's a long drive.

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