March days at the Pass

Winter decided to make a return to the northwest, and Dan and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for powder at the Pass, especially since neither of us were on duty on Sunday. We hit the road early, and made it to the Pass before the lifts were spinning. 8-10 inches of fresh snow greeted us, however it was warmer and heavier than expected. Nevertheless, we made a couple of fun runs on RTS, with ample face shots the reward for our efforts. Due to all the new snow from the previous day and night, we headed over to Peak 2 to help out with opening. The run down Northern was nice, and then after a bit of avy control, shoveling and fencing work, Peak 2 was open to the public. We made pow runs until it became tracked up around 11:00, then headed down for lunch. After lunch, I grabbed the split and we headed out for the backcountry, with it still snowing hard…

Patrol Room
Patrol Room

We skinned out to our destination, and discussed which line to drop first. We decided on a line near the trees in case there was any lurking wind slab avalanche danger. The turns were fun, albeit a bit heavy. Dan and I took turns on the camera snapping photos…

Pow surfing
Matt surfing the pow
Dan on the uptrack

After our first lap, we elected to skin rather than boot given the depth of the new snow. Back at the top, we enjoyed a cold beverage before dropping in for laps number 2 and 3…

Dan getting some
Matt slashing the mank

We skinned out to the area around 3:00, and were just in time to enjoy a nice pow lap down SDN. Our timing wasn’t too great however, as we ended up getting roped in to a search with patrol for a lost party. Dan and I ended up with the assignment of breaking trail along the cross country trails towards Gold Lake since we had our backcountry gear. Around 7:30, after several hours of searching and wading through waist deep snow, the lost skier was found (he’d somehow skied out of the area to the Waldo Road, then walked out to Highway 58 and hitched a ride back to the area). A snowcat from the area picked Dan and I up and gave us a heated ride a couple of miles back to the lodge, where cold beer was waiting.

Dan skinning out through the woods

The following weekend I found myself back at the Pass for a Level 2 avalanche class. The weather was nice on Saturday, so we toured out to West Peak with the group and charted the area, testing the snowpack with various snow pit tests, and generally had a good time.

Avy 2 Class
Avy 2 Class atop West Peak

The snow was deep, and in one place I lost a 230 cm probe and had to dig down 4 feet to find the top! We skied a few lines on West Peak in marginal snow conditions, and enjoyed touring outside the area.

Brian & Moth
Brian & Moth in the pit

The remainder of the class went well, with beacon drills and organized rescue scenarios on Sunday. It’s a relief that the training is finally over, and the end of the lift serviced ski season is in sight. While it may be bittersweet, I’m already looking forward to my most favorite season of all — volcano season! Here’s to a great spring!

February 17, 2011 – Willamette Pass (epic pow)

Andy, Todd and I had watched the weather forecast all week with the intention of taking Thursday off to ride at Willamette Pass.  Things were shaping up to be awesome by Thursday morning when I met Andy and we headed up to the pass.  After a stop in Oakridge for some breakfast, we arrived at the Pass and it was deep.  The pass doesn’t operate on Monday-Wednesday, so the 35 inches or so of new snow that had fallen over the past three days was untracked and unconsolidated.  There was already a line of powder hounds forming at the bottom of the EPA lift, and we strapped in to join them.  We ended up being seven or eight chairs back from first chair, and made our first run down High Lead.  It was DEEP!  I couldn’t find the bottom on my K2 Gryator and the snow was very unconsolidated.  I ended up having to wait down at the flats for some others to break a trail so I wouldn’t get stuck.  After a few more runs of epic pow, we joined up with Todd who drove up separately.  Several patrolers were up playing hooky as well, and we spent the morning making runs with Dan on the frontside.  After a very quick hasty lunch, we headed back out for some more pow.  It took Patrol 4 awhile, and it was a lot of work, but they finally got the backside open around 12:30, just as things on the front were getting tracked out, which worked out perfectly.

Andy getting face shots on the backside!

As soon as the backside opened, the three of us hiked to the top of Peak 2 and dropped into Northern, which yielded excellent deep powder and more face shots.  After suffering through a long dry January, this was the kind of relief we were in need of.  On the next run, we headed over to June’s, and snapped a few pictures of the action.

Andy on June's w/Todd in the background

We ended up making several thousand vertical for the day, all in over your head powder!  As the backside started to get a bit tracked, we made three or four laps on Destiny, which for some reason, wasn’t getting pounded too hard.  Destiny yielded nice turns and face shots on the steeper pitch, but I had to straight line it at the bottom to not get stuck.

Matt riding on Destiny

After a few more runs, Todd headed back to the front to get ready to leave.  Andy and I made some more runs on the back, finding some nice untracked powder near the cliff.  For our final run, we headed back through SDS directly off the top of the Peak 2 chair.  By the time we made it down Swoosh on the front side and were back to the car, my legs were feeling pretty worked.  The drive back was uneventful, and we made it home around the same time as people were getting off work.  It was an excellent way to spend a day, and when the powder’s fresh and deep, you do what it takes to get to the slopes!  here’s a parting shot of Todd riding on the backside…..

Todd tele-ing in the deep stuff



Month 1 – December 2005, Willamette Pass

This was the month that started my passion for making turns all year. Willamette Pass was open and rumor had it that the snow was in pretty good shape. So, my buddy Andy and I headed out to see what was up. I was just coming off a minor back surgery due to a herniated disc (which is why I didn’t get November turns) and didn’t want to hit it too hard, so we stuck mostly to the  groomers, which were in nice condition. We did manage to get down SDN a time or two though, as the snow was in decent enough shape that I didn’t jar my body around too badly. It so happens that this was also the day I met Todd, whom I knew from work, but had never rode with. Todd and I would later become good friends and backcountry partners as a result of this meeting. Overall, it was a good day, and very refreshing to be back in the winter environment after another long hot summer (which was made longer by injury). It was also the start of something special…..month one of Turns All Year….

Note: I only have one photo from the day which survived my computer crash from a few years ago, and it is of the ski run from the bottom of SDN. Due to it’s unimpressive nature, I substituted this shot of me in the very same place from a few years ago, after a 30 inch powder dump in March.  Photo taken by Andrew Sahalie.


Hitting a nice kicker at the bottom of SDN


Month 3 – February 5, 2006 – Willamette Pass

Andy and I met early in the morning in Eugene and headed up to the Pass for what turned out to be a great day of riding. The sun was shining all day, and the backside, which apparently was closed on Saturday, was open with fresh snow. There was about a foot of fresh dry powder over the top of a bit of crust, which made for fun turns on the board. The steep tree runs west of the EPA lift were in decent shape, although the trees immediately adjacent to RTS were pretty crusty. SDS proved to have some of the best snow on the mountain, and was where we spent most of our time riding. It was an excellent day to be at the mountain, and marked the 3rd consecutive month of riding for me. I even got home in time to catch some of the super bowl.

Riding the trees on SDN