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November 20, 2023 – Mt Hood, Southside

For one reason or another, I’d watched the better part of the month of November slip by without finding a worthy opportunity to get our for some turns. I’d missed an opportunity early in the month due to work, and the weather after that was pretty bad, so when finally another storm system moved through I jumped on the chance to get out.

Hood in the early morning

I called up Joe, and he was game to get out, so we met early in the morning at the cop shop in Albany before making the drive north to the mountain. We pulled into the climber’s lot around 7:00 am or so, and after donning skins and packs, we headed up. It was a treat to be able to skin right from the parking lot, and soon we worked our way up towards Silcox under blue skies and sunshine.

Looking back at Timberline
A snowcat at Silcox

We made good time on the approach to Silcox, stopping for a brief break and then continuing on up. Coverage on the lower Palmer was sparse, but there was plenty of snow for turns. Both of us had our hopes on climbing higher than the Palmer however, but weren’t quite sure what the upper mountain would offer in terms of conditions.

Looking back at Silcox
Joe heading up the Palmer

We continued on, making good time to the top of the Palmer, where we stopped to hang out in the sun for a few minutes and enjoy the views. After refueling with a quick snack, it was an easy decision to keep climbing, and see what the conditions above would give us.

At the top shack
Looking down from above the Palmer

We navigated our way through a maze of rocks, rime and firm snow, and skinning was bit difficult at times. Neither of us were sure if it would warm enough to produce corn for the ride down, but I had a feeling we’d be in good shape. We continued on up and worked our way towards the Vietnam couloir, and in places the snow was pretty nice wind buff. In other places though, it was pretty slick and sketch.

Joe heading towards Crater Rock

We met a solo skier named Nikki who we climbed part of the route with. Eventually, we switched to booting, which proved to be much more secure than skinning. I kind of regretted leaving the crampons in the car, but after a few hundred feet kicking steps it was apparent we’d make due without them.

Nikki above Illumination Rock
Nikki booting up towards Crater Rock

It started to warm considerably by the time we reached the bottom part of Crater Rock, and I had to take off my Pendleton wool shirt as we traversed above the White River headwall and continued climbing towards the Devil’s Kitchen and Crater Bowl.

Joe above the White River Headwall
Looking up beyond Devil’s Kitchen

Eventually we worked our way to the Hogsback ridge, and decided to call it there. Both Joe and I were a bit tired from the climb, which was more taxing than it should have been without crampons, and the upper mountain was basically out of the question without them as well. Sitting at the saddle and enjoying the views was easily a great consolation prize to continuing up.

Joe at the Hogsback
Devil’s Churn Imperial Stout

Since we’d reached our high point, it was a fitting time to snap a picture of my beer and get it on ice. The beer I’d brought for the day was aptly named Devil’s Churn Imperial Stout from Yachats Brewing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it while watching the sulfur steam vent from Crater Rock and the Devil’s Kitchen below.

Looking up to the Hogsback and beyond
The view down to Devil’s Kitchen and out to central Oregon

The temperatures had warmed considerably, and it was amazing to sitting there in just a base layer without a breath of wind. I spent several minutes watching and videoing the sulfur coming out of the rocks behind us, and eventually we figured it was a good time to step into the bindings and prepare to head down. It’s always bittersweet leaving the Hogsback — it takes considerable time to get there and the views are so special, however the turns beckon and the pull to put down some smooth tracks is strong.

Hogsback sponsor shot
Joe dropping in off the Hogsback

I dropped in first, and enjoyed some smooth wind buffed turns down a few hundred feet before setting up to shoot some pictures of Joe coming down. The slope didn’t disappoint, and Joe ripped some nice turns down to me and beyond…

November turns high on Mt Hood
Skiing down towards Devil’s Kitchen
Looking back at the Crater Bowl on Mt Hood

Once we descended down off the Hogsback, we continued on down past Devil’s Kitchen and then enjoyed some really nice turns above the White River headwall. The fresh snow was smooth, and with the deep blue sky as a backdrop, it provided for some pretty nice photos.

Turns near Devil’s Kitchen
Matt enjoying a turn above the White River
Joe working his way towards the Vietnam Couloir

Once down to the Vietnam Couloir (so named because it looks like that in the summer), Joe and I both agreed that we definitely needed to ski it and continue down to the Ziggy. As soon as I made my first turn in the couloir I knew we were going to have a few thousand feet of sweet skiing….

Enjoying some quality November chandelier corn
Matt skiing some perfect November corn

The couloir was a “take your pick” between chandelier corn on skier’s right and wind buffed pow on skier’s left. It was baby butt smooth, and Joe and I ripped it from top to bottom. I’d say it was easily some of the smoothest November snow I’d had (at least since last year on Hood hahaha), and we both had huge smiles on our faces by the time we reached the Ziggy below.

Joe enjoying the smooth snow in the Couloir
November corn turns on Mt Hood

Once down to the Ziggy, we continued descending and the snow conditions continued to be perfect. We worked our way down to the normal summer get-back spot, and ended up hitting it perfectly so that it spit us out right back at the top of the Palmer after a hard traverse.

Skiing the upper Zigzag

Back at the Palmer, we enjoyed a well earned break and talked to a few rookie splitboarders who were up for their first ever spiltboard outing. The conditions continued to be beautiful and warm, and it felt good to soak up the rays and enjoy the views. Eventually, we started down, and Joe grabbed the camera and took several photos of me enjoying the turns on the upper Palmer.

Coming down from the top of the Palmer
Cruising down the Palmer snowfield

The snow on the Palmer was in pretty good shape — not quite as nice as the upper mountain but still really nice nonetheless. We continued on down and I took a few pictures of Joe as we worked down towards the Mile chairlift.

Cruising down the Palmer
Working our way towards the Mile

Once down to the Mile, we elected to head skier’s left and followed our noses down some fun lines towards the car. The snow had melted out quite a bit down low from earlier in the day, but there was no need to take the skis off and we enjoyed some pretty nice turns that spit us out right at the climber’s lot.

Skiing back to the climber’s lot

Once back at the car, it felt good to get out of ski boots and take the packs off. Joe and I were looking forward to some apres’ grilling, so Joe fired up the grill and we got them cooking as soon as it was hot. A few minutes later, we were enjoying some tasty ‘brats along with some garden fresh chips and salsa to put the cap on what was a pretty great day of riding.

Apres in the climber’s lot

All in all, it was a perfect way to spend a late November day, and a day that neither Joe nor I will likely soon forget. Until next time, here’s a parting shot from the day…

Parting shot of Joe


October 21, 2023 – Cutting at the Pass

Summer like weather was holding into late October, and conditions were looking favorable for a day of cutting at the Pass, so I made plans with Dan, Joe and John to head up for some saw time. The plan was to meet early at the Pass and work on the RTS area. Laurie, Matt and Austin were also planning on coming, so we left early from Dan’s house and made our way up Highway 58.

Morning pit stop at Gold Lake

After a quick pit stop at Gold Lake, Dan and I pulled in and opened the gate. A few minutes later, the rest of the crew showed up and we drove our way up the haul road to the top of Twilight. At the top Twilight we scoped out the approach via Lois Lane but decided that Amber’s would be the better choice. There were some fresh elk tracks at the top of Duck Soup, and after cutting a couple of logs out of the way were parked the rigs and were ready to go.

At the Pass ready for a day of cutting
Ready to go on Amber’s Way

The plan for the day was to head up hill and work on cutting some of the endless trees that seem to grow on the run (even with our work over the last several years) and then spend some time in the afternoon on the runout. Packing the saw and gear up the steep slope is always fun, and soon we were working away…

Ready to work on RTS
Dan cutting on RTS
Austin and Dan taking a break from cutting
Laurie, Dan and Matt

We cut until about noon or so and then headed down to take a break and enjoy some lunch and a well-deserved break. After lunch, John, Dan and I headed down to the runout to open a few lanes that would hopefully pay dividends later in the year. It got pretty warm in the afternoon, and I had to remember to hydrate as well as take my helmet off multiple times to dump the sweat out of it!

Dan and Laurie heading in for lunch
Fischer working on the runout

Around 3pm or so we called a day and headed back up the hill to the trucks. It was time to enjoy a cold beverage and I didn’t turn Dan down when he offered me a cold Ninkasi Hazy IPA from his cooler.

Ninkasi Hazy IPA

The next order of business was to get brats on the grill, so we pulled out the grill, meats and condiments right at the pickups and decided to grill right on Amber’s. It wasn’t long before they were ready, and we quickly devoured them after a hard day working on the hill. I grabbed the tripod from my bag and snapped a few photos of the group, including the shots below.

The crew relaxing after a hard day’s work
Grilling brats on Amber’s Way

A bit later, it was time to head down, so we loaded in the truck and drove down from Amber’s. Dan and I wanted to drive around towards the big corner, so we turned left below the top of Twilight and worked our way up the haul road. The mountain was looking good from the truck as we drove up and then back down, with the only ingredient needed for opening being snow. All in all, it was a great day to be on the mountain, and I hope the next time I head up it’s to make turns! Until then, here’s a parting shot from the day of a tasty Pumpkin Patch Ale from Rogue Brewing.

Pumpkin Patch Ale by Rogue Brewing

October 8, 2023 – On-Hill Refresher

As hard as it was to believe, summer had passed and fall was here, which meant it was time for the refresher weekend with the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol. After a full day of refreshing OEC skills on Saturday in town, I woke early Sunday morning and grabbed Shaun to head up for the on-hill. We made a brief stop to pick up Dan in Springfield, and then we all headed up highway 58 in my new Tesla (a purchase inspired from the numerous trips in Dan’s Tesla on previous ski trips). We pulled into the pass outside the patrol room and it looked like it was going to be a nice day.

The new ride parked at the Pass

Everyone gathered in the lodge to debrief the day’s activities, and after some announcements from the area we broke into groups and headed out to do some refreshing. It was good to hear from MCP about the changes made to the area, and everyone was stoked for coming season.

Orientation in the lodge

As usual, I was in charge of chairlift evacuation, and this year we went back to doing evac in three rotations instead of putting everyone through it at once. I headed out to Twilight with group 1 and after talking over the evacuation plan, we loaded folks on the chair.

Brian & lift ops surveying the scene
Harwood on the belay

There were a few of us on the ground to ensure things operated smoothly from a safety standpoint, and managed the span between towers two and three, and sent Brian and Hutch up to keep tabs on the span between towers three and four. Once everyone was on the chair, it was locked out and the area’s tower climbers fixed the ropes in place for us.

Devin getting lowered
Shaun and Scarlett watching Silas get lowered

The process went smoothly and we worked our way down the line, lowering folks out of each chair. Passing the rope over the chair also went smoothly thanks to the use of carabiner-boo, and soon we were down to a chair full of SPY, including Shaun. Like the last year, I was able to snap a few photos of him getting lowered, and I think his smile indicates that even though it’s a refresher it’s still fun!

Joe and Andy on Twilight
Shaun coming down
Anna flipping the rope over the chair

Once we had everyone lowered from group 1, there was a little bit of time before our next session so I headed over and snapped a few photos of the technical rescue setup that Laurie rigged up on the Midway lift with Chanlin’s truck as well as a couple other photos of the patrol…

Chanlin’s truck staged for technical rescue
Tyler and Bryan enjoying a break
Mindy and Fischer tending the ropes
Laurie leading the technical rescue component

From there I wandered over to the mass casualty incident and snapped some pics of patrollers working on various OEC scenarios to hone skills for the upcoming season.

Kerstin, Dave and Ian working an OEC scenario
Matt Wade and Rob honing their OEC skills
Toby and crew analyzing their next steps

By then it was time to head back to Twilight and lead group 2 through a round of chairlift evacuation. That process went smoothly and by then it was time for lunch. It was nice to spend a few minutes on the lodge steps with the rest of the patrol and catch up on past times, dream about the upcoming season, and enjoy the warmth of the sun.

Devin and Brian at lunch

After lunch, it was time for the final round rotation, and I headed back over to Twilight to lead the last group through chair evac. By this time of day, the sun was in a pretty good position to make for some good photos, so I pulled out my camera, and after putting the wide-angle lens on, fired away.

Brad dropping out of the sky
Shannon being lowered
Shannon lowering a patroller on Twilight

As the patrol was lowered, they would move into the belayer position, then communicator position, and then out. It’s slow going having to move everyone into the rotation, but worthwhile training in the event we ever need to do a lift evacuation for real. As the afternoon wore on, the thermometer rose and it became downright warm. Several folks stripped down to shorts, and it definitely felt more like summer than fall…

Steffan coming down
Simon being lowered through a sunburst
Meghan coming down

Eventually we worked our way through everyone on group 3 and it was time to wrap up. I headed over and observed a little bit of the final OEC scenarios, and then it was time for self evacuation for those of us who were qualified. We did that on Sleepy, similar to the year before, and that went off without a hitch. Finally, it was time to put the gear away and be done with the long refresher weekend.

More OEC scenarios

Dan, Joe, Shaun and I headed out, and made the short drive down to Gold Lake to enjoy a well-deserved beer along with some brats. I’d been looking forward to this point in time all weekend long, and it didn’t disappoint! My beer of choice for the day was a refreshing Hazy ’96 from Elysian Brewing, and it hit the spot!

Hazy ’96 by Elysian Brewing
Post refresher grilling with the crew

A bit later the brats were done and we were enjoying them along with some fresh chips and garden salsa — the perfect way to end a long weekend. With the refresher weekend in the books, I’m ready for the shorter days of winter to arrive, hopefully filled with lots of snow and fresh pow turns. Until then, here’s a parting shot from the day of Shaun being lowered off the Twilight Lift during chair evacuation…

Parting shot from the day