The 2015/2016 North American ski and snow season had much hype due to the return of El Nino and predictions for massive amounts of snowfall across the western portion of the United States and Canada. Being that I had moved away from a ski town and gone to the beach last summer to pursue a huge employment opportunity I began to wonder, being a ski bum at heart, how I would take advantage of all the snow predicted to fall in the western US.
I first cut a deal with my employer that I would work weekends all summer and fall and roll that extra time into vacation hours in order to have an abundance of time off to pursue El Nino. Secondly, I strategized with my best friend and best ski partner in order to make the winter even better, because we all know that skiing powder with your friends is the be all and end of life.
Finally my best friend Dylan and I put together a list of places that predictions favored for deep snow. After doing some research it became clear that buying the Mountain Collective pass offered by Liftopia made the most sense. In this you get 2 full days at some of the best resorts in North America along with 50% day tickets after that. Furthermore many of the resorts on the Mountain Collective were favored for big snow.
The plan was hatched and after I returned from my Japan trip and rested for a few days I took a one way flight to start our tour at the home resort where I grew up, Taos New Mexico. Dylan drove in from Tahoe to meet me and so it began.
Taos New Mexico is a unique place on many levels and carries a ton of culture and spirituality. Taos Ski Valley offers some big terrain and unique features. I grew up skiing here from age five and thus I feel this was greatly influential in shaping my skiing and my life overall. My family has had ties to Taos since the early 70’s and have seen it change over the years. In 2013 Louis Bacon purchased the resort from the Blake’s who owned it since it was founded. Talking with many locals they feel Bacon has completely changed the vibe of Taos in many ways. He first put a chairlift up Kachina peak
Bacon and his team are now building a 6 story condo complex at the base which required tearing down many original buildings. I found valet parking as a new feature as well. Really? In Taos? I thought as I walked through the new village area. This is all strange and weird to me but I guess they say change is a good thing right? Additionally Taos is now on the mountain collective pass and therefore attracting many more people from other areas to explore its great terrain. With this, for the first time in my life, I waited in a lift line at Taos, again with change comes some growing pain. There was a record deep snow pack during our visit, west basin and highline ridge were filled in and super fun (minus the usual 5 minute boot back that was now taking 15 minutes plus due to the influx of new visitors). Overall Taos delivered as it always has for me, but the change in the vibe really left me with a bit a nostalgic feeling missing the old Taos I grew up knowing . Bacon has now got approval for airport expansion at the local airport. Is Taos the next Jackson Hole? Big thanks to the great work at Boot Doctors at the Village for getting my feet dialed for my new boots totally made the trip for me.
We spent the next two days at Aspen Highlands, one of four areas offered by the Aspen ticket. The other three are Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Ajax. This was my first time skiing this resort and I was impressed by the vertical offered at the mountain and the expansive groomers. Dylan and I, both having resort work experience, joked that they must have over 100 groomer drivers every night working the terrain. The highlight of Aspen was the Highland Bowl which is a 15 minute or so hike, at least for Dylan and I, which offers almost 3,000 vertical feet back to the lift service.
In the two days we hiked and skied it six times. Additionally my friend Rogo skied it after some stoke from me. Having moved to Colorado four months prior from the Midwest he had never skied anything west of Michigan before this season.
We next made our way to my old stomping grounds of the mighty Wasatch Mountains in Northern Utah. The SLC valley houses and produces some of the best skiers in the world and with good reason. What I experienced in my time in the Beehive state is that due to the microclimate there, even in bad years, it is pretty good. Last year was the driest year on record and Alta still saw 380in of snowfall. The first day we spent skiing at Snowbird which had its normal deep snow pack and big fun vert. We were hoping to drop the famous Pipeline couloir but it never opened. We settled for two hikes on Mt Baldy and for the 2nd year in a row we got some of the first turns down Main Chute for the season. Additionally the cirque held lots of tight chutes and fast lines.
The next day we decided to step outside the ropes and do a tour up the legendary Mt Superior. We started early due to warm temps and wanted to avoid the wet slide potential and summited the alternate east shoulder by about 11am. We skied the shoulder spine in a mix of chalk up high and corn down low, go figure. This is a legendary mountain with tons of options and many pros have trained and toured this area in preparation for Alaska as the terrain is very similar. A few skiers decided to ski center line proper but after watching them in survival mode I am glad we chose the line we did.
After the tour we jumped over to Alta and lapped the Sugarloaf and High Castle area for a few hours finding good chalk and a few powder turns as well. Being that it was Presidents day weekend on Saturday, the crowds and tourists were out in full force and we called it a day a bit early to beat them down the valley.
The next stop on our tour was Jackson Hole. On the way to Jackson we stopped at the top of the Teton Pass and did a quick ski tour off the North East side power plant chutes. With a few inches overnight it was really fun but we stuck to the low angle as best we could not knowing the snow pack well enough. We have both skied here a fair amount and know the mountain and resort well. With more snowfall overnight this was our first legit powder day of the trip and thus we charged hard. We made first tracks at rope drop down Tower 3 chute and Mushroom off the Thunder Chair which provided steep sustained pitches.
We then tried out the new Teton chair having just opened this year but we were not impressed with the terrain it accessed at least for expert skiers such as ourselves, but for intermediate or beginners it could be a blast. The headwall remained closed and the sublet chair opened in the afternoon, but only with Alta 5 chutes, no 0-4. We found a few fun hucks and I found a hidden 5ft rock that launched me into orbit followed by a tomahawk.
The second day we put our patience pants on to wait for the tram and at the top we headed straight for Corbet’s Couloir. Neither of us had ever skied it and being we had something to prove (yeah we ski Squaw haha) it was a must do. Plus it was another pow day so we figured it would be a go. The marketing team was there shooting photos and providing hype for their Facebook page. Dylan and I both became a bit restless with the wait but as soon as the rope dropped Dylan, with zero hesitation, dropped into the chute, made one clean right turn, and out the bottom. This gave me motivation and so I followed. With no new terrain opening we lapped most of the day off the Sublet chair and watched as only the marketing team and a few pros got to ski the Alta chutes. If you’re going to hype it you should open it, right? Haha, None the less a great time at JHMR and with all powder days we can’t complain. Jackson still holds to its legacy.
Our next stop was Sun Valley Idaho. Neither of us had ever skied here but had seen some of the park from videos and photos. The town of Ketchum is great and unique. Unfortunately both Smith Optics and Scott Sports, each head quartered there, moved to new locations out of state this year leaving the legendary ski town a bit out of place. None the less we were excited to explore a new town and terrain. What surprised us most was that Sun Valley has big stats and is a big mountain. They have 3,400 feet of vertical which is more than Snowbird
What made this stop amazing is that it dumped the whole time we were there. The first night was about 8 inches overnight and the second was an additional 10 inches or so. Furthermore it was mid-week and hardly anyone was there. To sweeten the deal even more, apart from a few locals, most of the people were tourists from out of state and spent the day riding groomers. Both days we got first chair no issue and both days we never really crossed another track when off piste.
I was pleasantly surprise by the terrain as well, lots of consistent steeps, some legit pillows, and big open bowls. This was a surprise highlight of the trip.
We then made it back to our old stomping grounds of Tahoe. Dylan and I both rode and lived in North Lake Tahoe for 3 plus seasons and thus know this terrain as good as anyone. I met him working at Squaw and from this we became best friends and ski partners. Our first day at Squaw proved to be epic. After a big storm the day before we lapped some classics on the West Face of KT followed by the Light Towers and The Slot off Headwall, and finally some steep lines on China Wall and Iron Curtain in Silverado.
The highlight was that Granite Chief Peak had been closed all weekend and we got 3rd or 4th hike up the peak and had the whole choice of lines to ourselves. Dylan scoped an alternate line off Christmas Tree chute, a mandatory straight-line for about 1000 feet. He dropped it with no hesitation, per usual, and skied it beautifully. I dropped in after except somehow lost a ski exiting the straight-line and ended up doing four full tomahawks followed by a full yard sale. I was ok but a bit shaken up and patrol then closed the peak. Some may say I caused this, haha sorry for being a Gaper.
The following day we lapped Alpine Meadows where Idiots, the Sisters, and Beaver Bowl were skiing great with lots of chalk and fun things to jump off. The highlight was High Yellow and Keyhole chute. Dylan and I got 2nd line through the Keyhole and then lapped it 3 times. By far one of the most fun and demanding lines at the resort.
The final stop together on our tour was Mammoth. I had ridden here a few times in the early season and it is always amazing to see how much things fill in here. The recent storms filled in the entire mountain and everything was skiing great. The park was dialed, per usual Mammoth, with everything from beginner jump lines and rails to full on pro level 40ft step downs.
We lapped all the Avalanche chutes off chair 22 in the morning which provide steep sustained chalk along with sections of choke to make things interesting. We even ran into Glen Plake at the top of the chair giving tips to Patrol on ski belays and rope techniques. Chatting with him for a bit was awesome. For all that he has accomplished in skiing he is still a super friendly and nice guy. In the afternoon we hit up the legendary chair 23 for some fast steep skiing in the Wipeout chutes along with Paranoids. We even got into Philippe’s which choked to a mandatory air. Finally a few laps through the big park to really do Mammoth justice.
Dylan and I parted ways. I headed back to SoCal to rest, surf, work, and train mentally and physically for my upcoming Alaska Heli skiing trip, while Dylan continued on the journey to Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana enjoying the extended best of North America tour.
While I took on Alaska from a Heli (separate article coming soon) together we conquered North America and came out alive. What’s next? Europe? Stay tuned.