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The End Of The Road

Well this marks the end of the road for UnofficialAlpine.com…

It’s an odd time to be pulling the plug, as last month we had nearly 100,000 page views, our biggest ever. But the fact is, running this blog has sucked the last little bit of fun out skiing for me. So it must end.

If you’re looking to stay in the loop with Andy Wertheim’s ski reports, you can follow him on Facebook here.

If you want to know more about Tahoe weather, the number one place to learn more is at the Reno NOAA Forecast Discussion page. While it seems daunting at first, there’s convenient links to define key terms. The Sacramento office has a similar page that covers the west slope of the Sierra.

I’m not sure how long it will be before things disappear here so archive anything you like soon. I’m really looking forward to skiing with no need to say a word about it.

Mark

Added later: It didn’t take long for someone to start to fill the gap…here’s the announcement from a new site run by a few friends: 

Unofficial SquAlpine

We are truly saddened by the loss of Unofficial Alpine, which has served the Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley community as the best source of accurate ski conditions for our beloved ski area. UA kept the community connected to the mountain and allowed those who couldn’t be there to share in the stoke of those who could.

In response, we have launched a new site, UnofficialSquAlpine.com. We endeavor to share timely skier reports of actual conditions, in addition to links to pertinent mountain information. Our mission is to stay focused specifically on the skier experience and mountain conditions. Since we aren’t able to make it to the mountain everyday, we will rely heavily on the active participation of our loyal skier community to help keep us all informed, so please share your photos and observations whenever you can.

Mark set a high bar with Unofficial Alpine. We will do our best to carry on the “unofficial” tradition of quality ski reporting.

Just Like Small Ski Areas, Small Ski Companies Need Our Help

There’s nothing like that feeling you get when you know every nook and cranny of your local ski area, especially on a powder day. Imagine having that same feeling about your skis. While many people are satisfied to ski on mass market skis built half way around the world, some of us want something more. Fortunately there’s a number of smaller ski companies out there willing to meet our needs. There’s just something awesome about being able to walk into the “factory” and talk to the guy that’s going to build your skis.

Josh Bennett started building Slant Skis in his garage in Truckee, California in 2007. Bit by bit, the business has grown and production moved to a small shop just down the road from Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. Slant Skis currently offers nine models of skis, from park models through powder chasers. Each is hand built from sustainable bamboo and materials sourced in the United States. While business has been good, it’s time to take it to the next level. Bennett started a Kickstarter campaign this month to help fund the expansion of his production facility.

We recently had a chance to sit down for a Q&A session with Josh. Here’s the result.

What was the inspiration for Slant Skis?

As a kid, a ski purchase was one of my biggest things each year. I would work and save up all summer for a season pass and a pair of skis. I was always really hard on my skis, and they would almost always break, which was super disappointing. Plus, the ski companies would often refuse my warranty, saying I used the skis for ‘jumping’ and they were not intended for such activities! So when I turned 18, I got a job at a ski shop so I could get deals on skis and learn how to fix and maintain them. My good friend/coworker and I would always daydream about how we would design skis if we ever got the opportunity. So, I decided to try and figure it out. I saved up enough tools and equipment and built a ski press and Slant was born.

How would you describe the difference between locally produced skis versus the big brands?

Big brands treat skis more like a commodity than a crucial piece of ski gear. They are mass-produced in the tens or hundreds of thousands of pairs each year. They are bought by wholesalers at the lowest price possible and marketed to the masses for small margins in large quantities in an effort to make a profit. What’s missing in this equation?  Ski Quality.

The small batch ski maker must care about the ski and the skier first. The small batch ski maker is a skier who understands their product must have superior materials, construction, appeal and skiability than their competition or their skis will not sell. Because offering a unique, high-performance ski that you can’t get anywhere else is what brings skiers back to your brand. That and they need to look cool  🙂

 

How would you describe your typical Slant Skis customer?

My typical Slant customer is a skier who cares about where their skis come from and the quality of their entire skiing experience. They feel good about supporting a small business rather than a huge corporation. They enjoy skiing on a pair of skis that are more unique and progressive compared to what their friends are skiing on. They also understand that skis don’t need to be made by large companies to be the best ski for them.

Our customer base is growing steadily and we love showing people that their favorite skis can be crafted by a fellow skier running a small business.

Tell us about your new Kickstarter campaign? What’s your favorite “reward”?

I’ve always loved Kickstarter and it’s ability to help the small business or entrepreneur meet the consumer that’s never heard of them. One of the biggest challenges Slant faces is simply getting discovered by more skiers. Ads in large magazines or websites bought by large brands cost thousands of dollars and are usually not cost-effective to small-batch ski companies. Kickstarter not only helps us raise funds, but increases our reach to thousands that have never heard of Slant.

My favorite reward we are offering is to let a small handful of skiers build a pair of skis along side us in the factory. This would have been a dream reward for me before I started Slant. I’m always excited to work with other skiers who are passionate about skiing and care about where their skis come from so much that they actually want to build their own skis.

Is there anything else you want our readers to know?

I feel it should be important to each skier where their skis and equipment comes from. Just like many people prefer to buy local produce and support local businesses, supporting a small ski company should be no different. People are really starting to understand that more and it feeds my energy to grow.

The Kickstarter campaign for Slant Skis ends on June 30th. At Unofficial Alpine we believe in supporting all of those little guys that are keeping skiing and riding fun and affordable for everyone.
Josh Bennett, owner of Slant Skis. Image via the Sierra Sun.

I initially wrote this piece for the Mountain Rider’s Alliance blog…but it seemed like it needed to be here too. Supporting the independents is important to me. I’m not sure what it means beyond that. – Mark

 

Another Day Of Disappointment At Alpine Meadows

Seriously, I have been telling people all week that I thought winds might still be a problem for Saturday at Alpine Meadows. I fully expected that the upper mountains would be closed today at both Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. Even so, with Alpine Meadows showing all lifts scheduled on the app this morning, we dutifully packed in the car and left for Alpine at 7:00 AM, which is the new standard weekend departure time. When the first tweet arrives at 7:18 AM, it’s already too late.

Still, the app was showing lifts on wind hold at Alpine, and not a full on closure, so we pressed on because it was a Saturday and Treats does have the best bacon in town. Experience has also shown, many times, that it can be super windy on the top of the mountain and calm at the base. Today that was not the case, the winds were indeed gusty as we pulled into the parking lot.

We weren’t the only people that assumed that could be the case either. It looked like a typical early Saturday morning with plenty of people ready to wait for an open lift. NOAA had forecast that the High Wind Advisory would expire at 10 AM, leaving a glimmer of hope that some lifts would open eventually. But it wasn’t just that…here’s what the SquAlpine site was showing for lift status, even around noon today:

The Alpine Meadows lift report still showed everything on wind hold, even lifts like Summit and Scott which were just out of the question today. (Yes, please refer to our report yesterday about the confidence levels in the status of operations) The Squaw Valley report did properly indicate that the upper mountain lifts were closed, as well as some lower mountain lifts. So you can see why people were still crowded into the cafeteria and hanging out in locker rooms beyond noon today at Alpine Meadows, waiting for the possibility that something might open.

Nobody is doubting that winds were intense at the ridge lines today. Here’s a post from Squaw today on Facebook:

But I would argue that some of Alpine Meadows lifts are not on ridges and were not subject to the very well advertised 100+ mph winds. Here’s what the NOAA windspeed sensor showed for mid-mountain at Alpine Meadows today:

The latest blog post at the SquAlpine post says winds at the top of Roundhouse were 65 mph. So there seems to be a disconnect there, as in looking at several other remote sensors at similar elevations in Tahoe, they also showed similar numbers. Here’s the one from Squaw Valley at elevation 8000′:

Squaw Valley did run KT-22 today, which is interesting because it terminates at about the same elevation as Roundhouse, on a more exposed ridge. How does that work? What if Alpine Meadows actually had to be competitive with Squaw Valley, like it was for 50 years? What if…

Would you like to look at comparable resorts again?

  • Alpine Meadows: Big Carpet and Small Carpet
  • Squaw Valley: KT-22, Far East, Exhibition
  • Sugar Bowl: All lifts except Crow’s Nest (s0me delayed openings)
  • Kirkwood: All major lifts (some delayed openings)
  • Mount Rose: Limited operations in the morning then opened all lifts except Chuter in afternoon. 

We don’t know how to explain this special little vortex that is Alpine Meadows. Once again, we are not blaming mountain ops or patrollers. These decisions are being made at some different level. We know that when the mountain does not open, that many employees only receive limited pay and frequent mountain closures are hurting their paychecks. I fully expect that the usual suspects will continue to attack the customers and tell us that we should just shut up. It’s an interesting world that we live in where businesses now feel it is right to just tell people to go somewhere else…

If today is any indication, then lifts at Alpine Meadows will not be in operation tomorrow or Monday, as NOAA indicates more wind for each of those days. Ugh. Trust me, we would rather be sharing stoke too.

Editorial: A Morning Of Frustration

Let’s be clear here. This post is not about second guessing operations calls. It was dang windy out there today. It’s about communications and earning the respect of your customers. I know I am not the only one that thinks something is broken at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.

This morning started out a little bit rough, with yet another incident that closed local roads. So far this winter we have seen multiple closures from high winds and heavy rain, a fallen tree on Highway 89, an avalanche on Alpine Meadows road that travelled far beyond “our little corner of the internet”, an avalanche on Highway 89 that trapped 2 cars…and today, an “officer involved shooting” that closed Highway 89 for a police investigation. There’s been a lot of opportunities for SquAlpine folk to practice their communications game!

On the Squaw side, communications were loud and clear. The first tweet arrived shortly after 6:30 AM advising of high winds and possible lift closures. That was already obvious to us, starting with forecasts we made on Monday.  Then followed a series of confusing tweets about the Highway 89 road closure, leaving people completely mystified if you could even get to Alpine Meadows. There also was a tweet about the expected lifts for Squaw Valley.

Sometime after 8 AM the official app was updated to say that Summit and other upper mountain lifts would be on hold. Having never had trouble finding fun on Roundhouse, I set off for Alpine Meadows via Highway 267, enduring Northstar traffic and all of the continuing traffic into Kings Beach and Tahoe City. As I pulled into Kings Beach, I noted the tweet sent around 8:30 indicating that only the magic carpets would be opening. With blue skies peeking out, I found my “I Believe” button and pressed on to Alpine Meadows.

You know things are not good when the traffic coming down Alpine Meadows Road exceeds the traffic going up. It was the typical scene of  a whole lot of confused tourists standing around in the breezeway wondering why they came to Alpine Meadows today. The winds were definitely blowing and the consistency of the snow in the parking lot was something like molten lead. So I called it a day and headed home (with a nice stop at Rosie’s Cafe for breakfast).

That’s as close as I got to a lift today…

With Highway 89 still closed, and a temporary closure on Highway 267, it was indeed complete gridlock in Kings Beach. I can only imagine what it may have looked like on a weekend day. But no, Placer County has assured us that there is not a traffic problem in Lake Tahoe!

Eventually, around 2 pm, Alpine Meadows did spin Hot Wheels, Subway and Meadow chairs.  It’s tough to tell when that happened as the app always indicates that it was updated at the same minute you opened the lift status page. I guess that’s what they mean by “real time updates”? No tweet was ever sent indicating lifts opened. I wonder how many people waited it out.

Were push notifications sent via the SquAlpine official app today? That’s a good question. When the app is not open on my phone, the notifications do appear momentarily on the screen. Push one button and they are gone forever. We’re still waiting for an update to the official app that brings back the ability to see notifications that you might have missed. Since not everyone does Twitter, it’s an important feature which was removed from the “beta version”.  At least the last update to the app brought us those cute little falling snowflakes! I am sharing the stoke on those!

Overall, it was a frustrating day. The skiing that was missed…yeah, I don’t think I missed much. But the clear communication that might have made decision making easier for many people was lacking. For what it’s worth, if the amount of traffic around Tahoe today is any indication, it’s going to be another very crowded weekend.

It Snowed…Kind Of Snowed

It looked like snow but felt like rain…note the lack of snow sticking to cars!

We were obligated to at least try skiing today, even though we knew it might not be so good. With a couple of inches of new snow showing on the remote sensors this morning, it seemed plausible that there could be some interesting cream cheese skiing to be done.

Temperatures climbed as you went up Alpine Meadows road, reaching 34° in the parking lot when I arrived. Although it did look like snow was falling from the sky, the fact that it was not sticking to vehicles or trees is a sign that you’re about to be wet.

Visibility at the top of the mountain looked non-existent, and with 65 mph wind gusts, I headed to Roundhouse. Fortunately some areas of the mountain were groomed just before opening. Rock Garden and Dance Floor and Weasel skied like warm butter, as long as you didn’t stray off the edge of the run. Where there was an accumulation of new snow, amounting to a few inches, it was like skiing into a patch of Elmer’s Glue. We watched people attempting to ski Charity and Yellow today and things would look fine for a turn or two, and suddenly they would be doing the “herky jerky head bob maneuver” as they suddenly hit a sticky patch.

That’s what it looked like “through the goggles” today…

We are guessing that the snow was better higher on the mountain, but visibility was non-existent. More than one employee cautioned that it was vertigo inspiring up top. That said, Summit did spin all day, even with gusts running 55-75 mph throughout the day. Go figure, because most of the upper mountain was closed at Squaw Valley, and the Sierra Crest sensor was showing about the same winds there.

It was a five run day for me. There are definitely people that toughed it out longer and probably really enjoyed themselves, and that’s okay too. I got to spend some time chipping a month’s accumulation of ice out of my driveway while the rain was loosening it up a bit. Mission accomplished.

Here’s the weather update in brief:

• Snow should return tonight. Snow levels should start around lake level tomorrow and drop to about 5500 feet by tomorrow night. 1-2 feet of snow is expected. That will make the weekend commute people a bit frustrated…

• Winds may continue to be a problem for Friday and maybe into Saturday, according to the Euro forecast.

• We’re back to the idea of another storm Sunday into Monday staying reasonably cold and all snow. Again, the Sunday commute may be challenging.

• The warm AR event now is pushed into the Tuesday-Thursday timeframe. Rain amounts have been upped and snow levels still look to go above resort levels except for Mount Rose.

Firm, Fast, Flat…And The Future

There’s three parts to today’s report: Mark’s report from the morning, Andy’s report from the afternoon and another look at our weather future, which is getting real interesting.

Somehow I managed to ski the better part of the day. I made a lazy departure for the mountain today, fully expecting flat light conditions. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the skies were still relatively sunny this morning. The wind was also blowing strong in the parking lot, which did not match up with the lack of tweets indicating wind holds at Alpine. But Phil and JD gave the personal report in the breezeway and indicated that indeed, Summit and ABC were on windhold, and Roundhouse had just been added. “Real time updates” via the app or Twitter were definitely not happening today on the Alpine Meadows front. It was another twenty minutes before notifications were delivered. The app also indicated that those lifts were closed, not just on hold.

Given the very gusty nature of the winds, the holds were certainly justified. It’s all about the communication though. As often happens, a number of tourists came through the breezeway, only to drop their equipment and groan when they saw that Summit and Roundhouse had closed. You wonder if they came to Alpine because they saw the early tweets about holds at Squaw.

So off I went to Kangaroo, where the corduroy was perfect, albeit a bit firm. Eventually I spun that extra long lap on Chair To Nowhere and then onward to Yellow. Both chairs were in molasses mode due to the high winds. But if you could tolerate the numb buttocks from long rides, the skiing on groomers was excellent. It was a “Groomers Gone Wild” day. Many places were groomed wider than ever, and other places that are rarely groomed got a few passes overnight: the north part of Skadi Hill and The Face come to mind.

Around 11 AM Roundhouse reopened, also in molasses mode. That allowed for some very uncrowded laps down perfect grooming in Rock Garden and Dance Floor. Yesterday I said a lot of nice things about the new park features on Red Ridge. I have to throw out a caveat today. The rope line between Red Ridge and Dance Floor takes way too big of a bite out of Dance Floor, which has to have some of the highest skier traffic on the mountain. The rope line currently cuts off the entire right shoulder of the run, which provides an excellent escape route when things get crazy on the main part of the the run. With the sidehill nature of the fenced in terrain, it’s hard to imagine that many useful park features can be built there, and the new rope line makes Dance Floor look like Highway 80 during peak construction season. We hope somebody reconsiders that rope line and moves it back toward the trees, keeping that sidehill terrain in play for Dance Floor.

That rope line takes a big bite out of Dance Floor…it will be interesting on the next busy day.

I had every intention of coming back out for more after a quick lunch from Treats…but the light got flat, flatter and flattest. That did not stop Andy Wertheim from coming out for an afternoon session. Here’s what Andy reported:

Photo by Andy Wertheim

This afternoon I thought I would head out for an hour or so to clear my head and check out the conditions.  The sun was poking through a rather dark high cloud layer which quickly flattened out lighting.  Temperatures are on the warm side, at over 40 degrees.  North facing slopes seemed to remain in chalky condition, but a bit more firm than in past days. Slopes that have received sun the past few days appeared to be firm and not very pleasant for skiing this afternoon.  Winds were whipping around with snow racing across slopes as it is picked up in one spot and deposited on another.  Lifts were running on slow including Scott which was receiving heavy winds at the top making me feel uncomfortable on the chair.  Bobby’s Run was groomed but contained a mixture of slippery smooth spots and softer chewed up corduroy.  Gentian Gully remains chalky in most areas with the ground covered in pine tree debris.  I was not out long as the flat light and winds were not appealing to me today.  I notice the sun is now out again, at least at my office on the Truckee River.

The weather forecast for the next few days is still looking about the same. Here’s the highlights to consider:

• The snow should roll in overnight, with snow levels creeping up to 7000 feet by tomorrow afternoon. That means that although it may look like snow falling at the base, it will likely be mixed with a lot of clear powder flakes. It’s going to be a soggy day on the lower mountain Thursday.

• Winds will likely be problematic for Thursday and Friday, with ridge gusts at 90 mph. That means upper mountain closures are likely over the next two days.

• The Winter Storm Warning expires at 4 am Saturday and by that time 1-3 feet of new snow is expected above 7,ooo feet. Only about 6 inches of snow is expected at lake level, which will be a welcome change for those that have nowhere to put new snow accumulations.

The rest of the weekend will be relatively quiet with just snow showers expected.

It’s the next storm that has changed quite a bit over the last few model runs. It looks like it will pick up a lot of tropical moisture; and the supporting cold low from the north retrogrades back into the Pacific. The weather bloggers are abuzz today with talk of snow levels again running to 8-9K early next week. The most recent GFS shows the potential for 9 or more inches of precipitation along the west slope of the Sierra, and more along the north coast. If that comes to fruition, we’re bound to see a new round of hydrological problems in California. It’s a good time to start looking at where your runoff will flow if we see a big rain event next week.

Yikes!