Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy Valenmetime's Weekend!!

Jesper and I love skiing and we love each other. What better way to celebrate Valenmetime's Weekend than skiing together?!?!?

(BTW - don't ask about the special spelling of Valentine's - it's a long story rooted in high school silliness and will make some old friends giggle when they read this, especially if they are eating a sammich with mamonaise on da half side).

We were so excited to hit the slopes before the anticipated Prez Day/V-Day crowds, we got to Mary Jane on Saturday morning 45 minutes before the lifts were even running!! We scored a parking spot within spitting distance of the Super Gauge Express Lift! Guess we didn't have to get up at 5:15 am afterall.

Proof that we parked right next to the Super Gauge Express, which is in the background!

I brought Flat Ben Jr. along - I fear I will need to mail him back to Ohio soon. He tagged along safely tucked into my pack. He's been having a great time skiing Colorado's fine resorts.

FBJ peeking out of my pack

Jesper and I skied Winter Park/Mary Jane on Saturday and finally made it over to the Vasquez Cirque. We had wanted to get over to this area for a couple of years, ever since we felt our skills could handle it. The Vasquez Cirque is a hike-in double black diamond EX area accessed off the top of the Parsenn Bowl at over 12,000 feet. The skiable terrain is reached by a long hike or skate ski in along a ridge; skins might not be a bad idea. Steep open bowls that drop into pine glades can be accessed after a mile long hike. Or, the hike can be made quite a bit longer with another mile of drop-in points along some cliffed out chutes that dump into the same trees. All the "runs" funnel onto a flat but winding traverse through the trees to the bottom of the Eagle Wind lift.

The Cirque is considered part of the resort in that it is avalanche controlled. However, it's a big area and not routinely patrolled. Due to the remoteness and the round trip time it takes to make it through this area, the Vasquez Cirque is frequently closed when the weather is even the teensiest bit foul.

And for the last two years, it has either been closed for weather when we have been there or we have been skiing with friends who would not appreciate the long hike in or the challenging terrain (or both). When we saw the OPEN sign on Saturday, we were stoked!!

We skate skied out along the ridge, trying to decide how far to go before we dropped in.

Jesper standing near the first drop-in point: let's go further!

We opted to continue further past the first drop-in opportunity, mostly because we both needed to pee and we had to make it to a clump of trees just past the West Headwall for some privacy. You can see the cornice along the edge of the Cirque in the photo above and the rocks between the West Headwall and the Alphabet Chutes. It is there that we eventually made our way. With a rock outcropping immediately to skiers left, we eyeballed a drop-in that appeared less steep than some of the other approaches.

Jesper checking out our point of entry down the Cirque

OK - it was pretty steep, but the snow looked very nice. Jesper went in first.

The trees down below look like those fake ones on a model train set

It was a long run down to the trees.

Now Jesper looks like a tiny toy

We alternated going down. You'll have to check out Jesper's pics to see the ones of me. I got a sweet shot of Jesper from a vantage point below him. Look how nice his form is - shoulders pointed straight down the fall line!

Jesper charging the slope head on!

But we're still not down yet!

Jesper almost down to the trees

As we approached the tree line, we poked down into a little mini bowl ringed with trees and large rock out croppings. It was beyond beautiful.

Jesper with the Big Hard Sun behind him

Jesper smiling BIG!

The snow was so deep, you can't see Jesper's legs below the knees!

We dumped out onto the traverse and took the Eagle Wind Lift up, then skied down the side of the Parsenn Bowl back to the bottom of the Sunny Side lift. After all that hiking and powder skiing, it was time for lunch!

Although the clouds were moving in, we decided to see if we could get one more try at the Vasquez Cirque after eating. Surprisingly, it was still open! I am glad we had good visibility on our first outing, since we couldn't see a thing on our second trip; it was snowing pretty hard. We dropped in almost as soon as we saw the OPEN signs between the South and West Headwalls.

Jesper skiing down in a white out

Although we couldn't see very far, we found some fantastic POW and took some cool video. We finished up the day with a cold 1554 at the Jane.

YUM 1554 - foggy effect courtesy of thawing camera

The next day, we once again got up at 5:15 am, this time for a day of skiing at Copper with our friend Tim Shanahan. Tim is the most enthusiastic skier I have ever met. He bounces and smiles all the way down the slope and you can't help but feel energized when you ski with him. Except when your legs are wonked from 2 trips to the Vasque Cirque the day before.

Once again, we beat imagined crowds to the resort and were among the first people in line for the lift. We did one warm up and then took Tim up the Storm King pommel lift, with the intention of heading down Spaulding Bowl.

Tim at the top of the Storm King lift - amazing white snowiness (or is that snowy whiteness?) everywhere!

Spaulding was not open yet, so we entered Copper Bowl for a couple of rough runs. It was really cold and the snow was funky because of it; very slow in places and then faster where the sun was warming it up. It was going to be a blue bird day, so I was confident the snow would soften and get faster, which it eventually did.

As soon as we saw the Cat running, we coerced Tim to ski down to it for a run down Tucker (OK - Tim was game for absolutely everything we suggested the entire day; no coercion necessary). The Cat at Copper is free and takes 10-12 skiers at a time up to a ridge line on Tucker Mountain. From the ridge line, you hike (yes- more hiking) up the ridge to one of several drop-in points. On the picture below, the Cat deposits you off to the right side of the picture, and you hike to one of many drop-in opportunities; we hiked out as far to the left as we could that day, to Freemont Glade 2. All the runs off Tucker are considered double black diamonds, with the Freemont Glades also being designated EX. It's steep and remote.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before we could even get to the hiking and skiing, we had some waiting to do. The Avie Control guys were still finishing up their patrol of Tucker and then we had to wait for room in the Cat.

There were 43 people in this line! Good thing we were near the front!

We entertained ourselves with FBJ while we waited and used the time to get some food down.

Jesper, FBJ and Tim hanging out in line for the Cat up Tucker

Jesper having a snack and FBJ enjoying the mountain views

The Cat ride is kinda cool. We got a little briefing on the conditions from a patroller while riding up. The snow was reported to be variable and challenging to ski. Hmmm.. hadn't softened up completely yet.

Tim, wondering why I'm disturbing him from the patroller's briefing

It's a lot of work getting up to these runs. After the hike, we put our skis back on for the downhill fun!

The views are pretty amazing up here! (photo credit Jesper Kristensen)

The run down was totally worth the wait and the hike, according to Tim.

Tim coming down Tucker like Tigger on skis (photo credit Jesper Kristensen)

I think Jesper might be enjoying himself coming down Freemont 2!

Me, throwing chunks of "variable and challenging" snow on Tucker (photo credit Jesper Kristensen)

After all that hiking and challenging skiing, we needed sustenance! We did a couple more runs in the Copper Bowl and then we skied down Gold Digger (very nice) to the T-Rex grill. Believe me, hot dogs are delicious at 10,000 feet!

Jesper inhaling one of two gourmet hot dogs

Flat Ben Junior came out of the pack to hang out again with his buddies.

Tim, Flat Ben Junior and Jesper, messing with FBJ at lunch

We kept on skiing, despite Tim's earlier prediction that he would only make it to 10:30! Jesper lead us all over the mountain. We only stopped after I hyper-extended my thumb on the icy, rocky, "single track" to Lower Enchanted Forest. Despite the injury (I HOPE it's just sprained), it was still a great day and a great weekend filled with skiing.

Did I mention that I love skiing? Happy Valenmetime's Day!

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