Sunday, February 24, 2013

Powder Day Skiing Saddleback

Before the ski season I purchased a half priced lift ticket to ski Saddleback.  Today was the first day that I was able to get to the mountain with decent snow and no blacked out dates.  I didn't know just how good the conditions were going to be.

Saddleback is the third largest ski area in Maine.  It's summit sits over 4000 feet making it Maine's snowiest ski area.  Located in Rangeley, Maine, it is far away for most people and they often go to Sunday River or Sugarloaf instead for big mountain skiing in Maine.  The mountain has a great variety of terrain for all levels and 2000 foot of vertical and is often less crowded than the other two mountains.  Best of all, lift tickets are a bargain compared to Sugarloaf and Sunday River.

I made the snowy drive to Skowhegan, ME where I  met up with the J Man before heading to Saddleback and we were at the mountain just after it opened.  The skiing gods worked in our favor today.  Overnight snow dumped about four inches of fresh snow overnight and the snow fell throughout the day dumping a few more inches.  For whatever reason there was hardly anybody skiing.  Never did we have to wait more than a couple of chairs on any lift.  That made for some great runs.  We made quite a few runs in the glades as the snow was soft and forgiving.  My second run of the day I skied solo into Casablanca Glade which is 44 acres of fine tree skiing and there was only two tracks in the snow.  It's rare to ski powder that fresh.  As we tired running numerous glades and some trails with fresh powder we mixed it up with some long cruiser runs.  I made at least ten runs in the glades by days end.  The conditions were primo throughout the day.  Late in the afternoon the main lift from the base had technical problems and shut down and we finished with a few passes through the terrain park.
Looking at the trail map some of the best runs were Casablanca Glades, Dark Wizard Glades, Thrombosis Glades, and Intimidator Glades    

The snow continued to fall as I drove home making for a hairy ride the last hour or so as the plows couldn't keep up.  Skiing the trees and powder wears you out compared to skiing groomed trails all day and my legs were feeling, especially after the long cross country ski trip the other day.  I was very happy to dig into the lasagna Puma had made when I got home.

Despite a mediocre snow season I have lucked out with the powder days this year hitting the slopes several times the morning of a storm.

Foggy high up in Casablanca

Open section of Casablanca

Working through Nightmare

Getting into the tight trees on Intimidator

J Man skiing the glades for the first time

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Long Day Cross Country Skiing in 100 Mile Wilderness

A couple of heavy rains eliminated much of the skiable snow in my local area the past few weeks.  About 40 miles away is the AMC  land outside of  Greenville, ME. I talked in prior posts about cross country skiing the AMC trails in the 100 Mile Wilderness section of Maine.  Tucked in between several sets of mountains keeps the temps cooler and they managed to keep more of their snow and even had a couple new snows when it was mostly rain near my house.

I haven't cross country skied in nearly a month and was anxious to get out again.  A sickness last weekend kept me indoors so I finally got  yesterday.  There are many ski options mostly based around the lodges that people use for overnight stays.  Most people ski to one or the other and spend the night.  I wanted to do a big loop that went by both lodges, something most people do in 2-3 days.  This requires skiing about 35km (22 miles).  I did this a few years ago but was eager to try it again.

If interested here is the map for reference to my route:

I started around 745AM at the winter parking lot.  I skied to the Little Lyford Lodge via the Hedgehog Gate Trail (7.0miles)  The Hedgehog trail is considered one of the more challenging trails with numerous steep but short climbs and descents and sometimes windy.  Besides a groomer I didn't see anyone else.  I reached the lodge as breakfast was ending so it was quite crowded.  I chugged a liter of water and refilled my bottle before quickly leaving.

I headed down the Lodge to Lodge Trail to Gorham Chairback Lodge about 6.5 miles away.  I had the trail untracked and to myself for about 5 miles before I passed a few groups that left the lodge for the day.  I had a quick snack at the lodge and rehydrated.  By 1045AM I was on the final leg of my outing, the 8.3 miles to the parking lot via the Long Pond and Trout Brook Trails.  I made it about 5 miles before I started passing a few groups that had left the lodge earlier as well as a few groups just starting out from the parking lot. Despite more than 30 cars in the parking lot, I saw relatively few people. Perhaps the roughest section of the entire trip is the last hill to the parking lot.  It is the longest hill probably on the entire trail system just when you are ready to be done for the day.

I made it to my car about 1225PM after about 21.8 miles.  It was my longest outing of the year on cross country skis.  I was surprised myself that I finished the long loop in less than five hours.  I now have about 150 miles of  cross country skiing this year.  Easily the most I have done in a single season.

Clouds throughout the morning hid most of the mountain views but the trails were pretty with freshly fallen snow hanging on the trees.  As always I saw a wide variety of animal tracks from hare to coyote to rodent to moose.  The only worthwhile sighting I had though was a pileated woodpecker that quickly flew by.

Skiing through tunnel of snow covered trees

More snowy trees

Clouds shrouding Baker Mtn and Lily Bay range

Here are a couple links about the cross country skiing at the AMC 100 Mile Wilderness Trails

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three Day Ski Trip in Vermont and New Hampshire

Before the ski season started this winter I bought a coupon that gave me a bunch of lift tickets for a steal of a price.  January and early February saw little new snow and a couple of big thaws so I was hesitant to plan any trips.  Finally last weekend New England got some decent snow and I immediately planned a three day trip.  I checked the weather maps every hour tracking the storm to see which resorts I wanted to ski.

Sunday I decided to hit Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire.  They did the best in the snowstorm picking up as much as 18 inches.  I got up at 3AM Sunday morning allowing extra time for travel in case the roads were in rough shape.  I made the four hour drive without any serious snow on the road stopping briefly for breakfast and was at the mountain early enough to be in line when the lifts started spinning.
The weather and skiing was wonderful.  Despite starting out around 0F first thing in the morning, the temps warmed up to near freezing without a cloud in the sky and absolutely no wind.  The snow conditions stayed pretty good throughout the day.  Despite being fairly busy I had hardly any wait in the lift lines.  I think I hit nearly every trail that was open.  Except for about 15 minutes for a quick lunch I skied from 830 when the lifts opened and finished my last run a few minutes after 4 when the lifts closed.

I wasn't sure where I was headed for the next day.  I called home to Puma to get trail and weather updates to plan my next days.  After a quick dinner at Subway I headed to Smugglers Notch in Vermont.  To save money I decided to make reservations at the Subaru Motel...that is sleep in the back of Outback.  I arrived at Smugglers Notch around 9PM and headed to one of the outlying parking lots that was dark and empty and set up camp.  I fold down the back seat, lay down a sleeping pad, and crawled into my zero degree sleeping bag.  It was 0F at a bank thermometer I passed so I was in good shape.  I fell asleep quickly since I was awake at 3AM and skied hard all day.  About 1215AM  I was awakened by a knock on my door and a flashlight by security making me move.  I drove three miles down the road and parked at a roadside picnic area and slept uninterrupted until morning.

I was back at Smugglers Notch by 8AM.  I ate some packed breakfast and was on the slopes by 830.  The weather was not quite as nice.  The wind was howling and it was very gloomy.  Soon it started snowing.  Smugglers Notch did not do as well as Cannon with snow.  The trails had lots of thin cover and bare spots.   Not long after it started spinning one of the main lifts closed due to windy conditions.  I did have fun on the remaining trails again hitting every trail that was open.  The wind was raw especially with the snow pellets.  As the day went on the top of the mountain was completely socked in the clouds making the visibility tough at the summit.  I skied again until 4 when the lifts closed.  It was far from the best conditions I have skied.  More than a few times I skied over bare spot with visible ground.  It was fun nonetheless.

I headed to Jay Peak in northern Vermont for my last day.  The Subaru Motel this time was located about a mile from the ski area at a parking area for the Long Trail hiking trail.  When I got there it was snowing heavy  and calling for a couple inches.  Through the night I heard a plow truck pass numerous times and figured it was a good sign.  When I got to the ski area there was at least four inches of new snow and coming down hard.

I was on the trails at 830.  The snow was piling up and the wind howling.  Part of the mountain was closed due to winds making the lifts unsafe.  I stayed on the remaining lifts which cover a lot of the tougher terrain.  By lunch the other lift opened and the snow was still coming down.  If I had to guess there was at least 8 inches of new snow.  Jay Peak claimed there was 14 inches by the next morning.  The conditions were about as good as they get.  The steepest trails skied easily in the deep powder.  I skied more than a half dozen runs in the trees.  Jay is known for its glade skiing and I could see why, the glades were abundant and skied nicely.  The deep powder made for fresh tracks all day in the trees.  Near the summit the visibility was so bad from fog and snow you couldn't see the next chair on the lift and it was so windy I was actually a little nervous how the chair swayed.  About 3PM I made my final run.  Skiing in the powder is a lot more work.  I had skied about 20 hours in three days and my upper legs were fried.

I made the five hour trip home through lonely back country in VT, NH, and Maine.  The first half of the drive was in snow.  By the time I got to Maine it was dark and the snow was piling on the road making driving a treat.  Shortly after 8PM I was happy to be back home and see Puma...and rest my legs.

The tram at Cannon Mountain

Franconia Ridge and Mt. Lafayette from Cannon 

Very scratchy and skiable Upper Exhibition at Smugglers Notch

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Icy Day in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is one of my favorite spots to hike in Maine with 125 miles of trails traversing nearly twenty mountains and endless ocean views.  They aren't the highest mountains but they are quite rugged.  I usually hike in the park a handful of times every year the scenery never disappoints.
After a major warm up and heavy rain this past week the snow pack took a major hit and the cross country skiing came to an end for now and downhill skiing conditions aren't the best.  It looks more like April than early February.  I thought Acadia would be a good place to hike and J Man agreed.
We decided on a route that covered five of the parks highest peaks.  The trip traversed Bald Peak, Parkman Mtn, Gilmore Mtn, Sargent Mtn, and Penobscot Mtn.  The hiking was treacherous.  A fresh inch or two of snow fell on the park overnight.  The snow itself wasn't an issue but it covered some thick hard ice making it a surprise when you hit the icy stretches of trail.  We both were equipped with traction devices that cover the  bottom of our boots but the fresh snow clogged the cleats and made for some extremely slick conditions.
Despite the iciness, it was a beautiful hike.  Majority of the trails were completely untracked..  We didn't see another person the entire outing.  The trees had a nice coating of new snow.  And as always,  the views were stunning from every summit with mountain seemingly falling into the ocean.
View over Gilmore Mtn and Bald Peak looking towards the ocean.
Notice the thick ice which we faced throughout the hike.

Climbing the snowy slope approaching Sargent Mtn.

Traversing Sargent Mtn towards the ocean and the Cranberry Isles nearly 1300 vertical feet below.

Frozen Hadlock Brook Falls.  About 40ft tall and highest falls in Acadia National Park.