skiing: mellow Kirkwood

Continued use of has certain requirements…

I got a notice from the Department of Internet Money that I risk losing the skierpage domain if I only ski once a season, so despite a poorly elderly dog we drove the (relative) backroads to Kirkwood, a return after 30 years. Past industrial cherry orchards, the smallish Tesla Megapack factory in Lathrop (“expected to produce 40 GWh of battery systems annually” to provide a few hours of power to the grid after the sun goes down or the wind isn’t blowing), vineyards, and the gold rush town of Jackson (where Mel and Faye’s Diner has 5 recent pinball machines in perfect condition and a row of Tesla Superchargers in the back).

Kirkwood, the least Vail-like resort in the Epic system

Kirkwood was ridiculously chill, probably less than 200 people on the slopes. Most things were closed including the ski school and the Timber Creek beginner area. The backside (really the side-side) was only open Fri-Sun 😢.

One irritation is we bought 3-day passes at Kirkwood for $306 per adult ($102/day), but an Epic day pass granting one three days at Kirkwood, and 31 other resorts, and bigger discounts on ski rental, was only $223 ($74/day). That’s still a lot for five chairlifts, only one a fast detachable quad.

A lot of snow

Global surface temperature anomalies for the first three months of 2023 compared to a 1951-1980 baseline period, taken from Berkeley Earth
The one cool ski region on Earth!

I was in Tahoe for 2010-2011’s mammoth snow year (810 inches – 67 feet! – of snow at Squ— uhh, Palisades Tahoe), but this season was still impressive. The US West was one of the few places on Earth that had a cooler than normal winter, and it snowed and snowed. The garage in the picture is below grade but look at how high that snow bank extends: we heard the faint wails of people who have been trapped in the ground floor units for months.

Kirkwood building showing snow bank extended far above fround floor windows.


As a result of all the snow, double black-diamond ◆◆ routes like “THE WALL” (normally an intense 8-foot drop-in) were mellow snow fields. Skiing the cream on great all-mountain skis (the Völkl M6 Mantra, the Blizzard Black Pearl for shred Betty) was a pleasurable echo of making turns in powder.

"Experts Only" sign at the top of Cornice chair.
not with this much snow

Banked trench madness

We saw an intriguing ‘S’ shape cut into the snow in the distance and skied over to it. It was a ridiculously tight channel with banked walls. I tried skiing it and immediately was out of control, unable to slow down, and had to fly out. A lift operator said it was from a banked slalom contest earlier in the season, but Kirkwood’s Annual Banked Slalom “held in Snow Snake Gully” seems different, way bigger turns in a wide gully lower down that was fun and fairly easy to ski.

view of Wagon Wheel Bowl and Cornice Express chair, with crazy S-shaped trench in snow field highlighted
view down the S-shaped trench, possibly on Lost Cabin run

Carving camp

Ted Ligety displaying carving turn mastery while winning the 2015 men's giant slalom world championships on Birds of Prey racecourse
how?!!!??! ©Eric Bolte USA TODAY Sports

I tried to improve my carving. I learned to do true carves by making railroad tracks on the Mountain Run at Palisades Tahoe: “just” pull up on a big toe+little toe pair to put both skis on edge, and hold it as your skis start to turn. You can either wiggle side-to-side or blast into huge radius turns. Fun, but it meant I never got used to being in extreme extension carved position with hip and knuckles dragging in the snow like the Giant Slalom champ and turn genius Ted Ligety (this New York Times video segment is sensational); and I never learned to punch into carved turns on steeper slopes. So I watched a bunch of YouTube videos that purported to teach carving. Many were promoting the CARV bluetooth footplates (??!), many went on and on about the position you need to be in without giving any drills to get into that position; many gave useless techno-spiel advice like “straighten the new outside leg to apply pressure early in the turn and keep moving your Center of Mass down the hill.” Arggh. I found a few drills that helped a little, and I think I got a little better.

Runaway ski

In the old days you would hear “Runaway ski!” with some 204cm missile hurtling down the slope. Now ski brakes pop out to slow down skis that come off, but when shred Betty launches a ski like a javelin down a steep slope in a patented “ass over teakettle” maneuver, it can take a while. Sideslipping down a steep ungroomed slope on one ski is a great drill…

Blizzard Black Pearl is ONE fast ski

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One Response to skiing: mellow Kirkwood

  1. Tony says:

    You packed (note snow terminology) a lot into your 3 days, S. Glad to hear about your continuous improvement. Happy that Nuala lived to tell the tale.

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