Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Skiing Stevens Pass: Plenty of Snow, Plenty of Fun

Having a blast skiing ungroomed fresh snow in Tye Bowl
While Stevens Pass needs no introduction to the thousands of Puget Sound and Wenatchee skiers and riders who go there regularly,  some of us might need reminding about what a great day skiing you can have there.

Last Friday I met some friends from Wenatchee at Stevens, my first trip there in several years.  It was snowing  like crazy, with about 7 inches of new snow and more coming down all day and filling in our tracks.

At about 1,000 feet higher than Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens generally gets more snow than Crystal and Snoqualmie, although not quite as much as Mount Baker to the north.  But the point is, Stevens usually has plenty of snow. And if this season is like many years past, some of our biggest snowstorms will blanket the slopes in March.

I like to start my ski day with a mellow warm-up run, but my friends Linda and Don headed straight to black diamond runs on the back side of the mountain (Mill Valley).  All that fresh snow, fluffy and light, needed to be explored and enjoyed before too many others followed suit.

So we whooped and glided and charged down through clusters of snow-coated fir trees and glades layered with pillowy soft snow (in Polaris Bowl, then the open Andromeda Face).  Very fun. On the lift rides up, our hoods went up but the nonstop snow didn't dampen our smiles.

Riding the Southern Cross chairlift

After a couple hours,  we popped over the ridge to the front side of the mountain and down into Tye Bowl, off the Tye Mill chairlift.  During our four runs there, we saw hardly any other skiers. It was our own private stash of fresh pow, a nice open pitch that ends with a narrow trail through the evergreen forest back out to Promenade, a main run.

Wide open Tye Bowl, all to ourselves

A quick stop before heading down through the forest below

After lunch, we made our way up to the top of Seventh Heaven, gateway to the most expert terrain on the mountain. This short double chairlift is always a scary, steep little ride up.  Never want to be evacuated off that chair!

To avoid having to go all the way down to the base after our first ride, Don suggests we hike up immediately to the right after offloading the chair.  It's a short hike to pretty steep terrain, and we find some sweet, untracked snow directly beneath the lift on Bobby Chute.

On this classic Cascade snow day, visibility is poor at the top as we head down Rock Garden.  "I feel like I'm skiing by Braille," I complain.  The foggy new goggles don't help.  

But the snow is light and oh-so sliceable.  

Skiing down Rock Garden off Seventh Heaven lift

Pleading leg cramps and fatigue, I'm pooped by mid-afternoon and call it a day with a last run down Big Chief, while Don and Linda take another lap in Mill Valley.  I think this mountain whipped me today, although it probably was keeping up with Don and Linda.  But what a fun day!

I like the old Pacific Northwest vibe I feel at Stevens Pass.  This ski area has been operating in some fashion for 75 years, and I sense the history when I'm there. Are you a Stevens Pass skier?  Any favorite, off-the-beaten path runs you care to divulge?

When You Go
Stevens Pass is about 80 miles east of Seattle on  US Highway 2, a scenic drive past rapids on the Skykomish River and craggy Mount Index. From Wenatchee, the drive is 58 miles up Highway 2. Stevens is open at 9 am seven days a week during the season, with night skiing until 10 pm on Friday and Saturday nights after March 3. Day adult lift tickets are $65. Big kudos to Stevens for recently being rated the #2 best ski area in the USA for environmental stewardship and sustainable and green practices. And thanks to my friend Linda for taking a few of the shots on this post (of me in the red parka).

Sunday, February 24, 2013


What more is there to say? More Pacific Northwest Seasons adventures soon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Turn Turn Turn

On this brilliant and breezy late winter day, the promise of renewal and new beginnings is all around: tender green shoots bursting skyward from the ground, seasonal bird songs that signal the coming spring, the delicate white snowdrop flowers I spied in the woods the other day, and much much more.

As goes the cycle of the seasons, and life in general, we all know that endings must come also.

Today's post is in remembrance of three lovely women recently deceased.  One death followed a long life, and two were lives cut short by illness.

My Aunt Lindabel was the maiden auntie, unencumbered by a husband and children, but great fun for us nieces and nephews.  In her prime, Lindy was petite, stylish, a bit racy (she smoked! she wore pants instead of skirts! she wore bright red lipstick!), funny, and adventurous.  She swam across Lake Washington here in Seattle well before there were organized events for that sort of thing. I'll always remember riding the backroads of Snohomish County in Lindy's vintage red Volkswagen Beetle convertible with the top down on summer days, laughing and singing.

Lindy was a great gardener and a member of the Begonia Club. She called them the "Begoniacs."

Jean was a kind, very smart, and nurturing soul with a sly sense of humor, a former colleague whom I met while working on a project at Yosemite National Park.  We struck up a cross-state friendship (she in San Francisco, me in Seattle), referred work to each other and collaborated on more projects, and shared a love of cats and dangley earrings. I teased her about being a "low talker," but whatever she had to say was well worth hearing. Jean also loved roses, gardening, dancing, Michael Jackson's music, her friends and family, and especially her husband Matt.

The temple bell stops ringing, but the song keeps coming out of the flowers.  -Basho 

Jean was passionate about roses and edited a scholarly rose journal.

The youngest of these three women was Mary, a gifted healer and physical therapist who stretched and moved beyond the conventional confines of her profession and broke new ground by combining Eastern and Western practices.  She was a  raven-haired beauty, a determined, brilliant, caring, adventurous, fun, and multi-talented woman who I and many others trusted implicitly with our injured and broken bodies. Mary leaves behind a legion of grieving friends, clients, fellow artists, fellow pracitioners, a big  family, her husband Steve, and her black lab Jacque II.

For Mary

a bird cries out
wind sweeps through a tree
I hold still and listen
for I realize
every blade of grass
in the field
every leaf in the forest
lays down its life
in its season
as earnestly as it began.

-Sarah Hart

Mary loved the Methow Valley and spent much time there.

Mt. Rainier was among the peaks that Mary climbed.
 And here is a link to a solo performance of Turn! Turn! Turn! by Roger McGuinn.

And now I'm headed outside to breathe in this beautiful sunny day.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Northwest Snapshot: Seattle Center's Chihuly Garden and Glass

What's not to love about a museum where the staff  encourages you to take pictures instead of scolding you for sneaking a few shots?

One of Seattle's newest museums, the Chihuly Garden and Glass is a colorful, delightful, and impeccably designed oasis tucked in the shadow of the Space Needle at Seattle Center, which is going through a bit of a renaissance itself.

Stop by for a cruise through the exhibition, a compact series of galleries featuring highlights of local and world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly's work. 

My personal favorite is the Northwest Room, the first main gallery, which  highlights early works by Chihuly that were inspired by Native American arts such as basketry and weaving.  In addition to the glass art, many of Chihuly's personal collection of Pendleton Indian trade blankets cover almost a whole wall in this room, and another wall features historic Edward S. Curtis photographs of Native Americans. 

And I am as awed by the stunning piece of wood that serves as a foundation for some glass work in the Northwest Room as I am awed by the art.  I can only imagine the size of the old growth tree it came from.

Progressing through the eight galleries, the colors and shapes get more elaborate and fanciful, reflecting Chihuly's evolution as an artist who continues to get commissions from around the globe.

The Glass Forest, one of Chihuly's earliest installations from 1971.

Native American basket and Chihuly glass work in Northwest Room

Detail of a Tower in the Sealife Room.

Glass balls blown in Finland for the Chihuly Over Venice exhibit.
 After enjoying the exhibition galleries, stop in the sophisticated Collections Cafe for a bite.  With an emphasis on local and seasonal fare, the menu offerings are quite tasty.  When I was there recently for lunch, I enjoyed the excellent spicy prawns and a big green salad spiked with nuts, fruit, and fine cheese.

Collections Cafe

A bit of whimsy adorns each table, which have pieces of knick knacks that Chihuly collected as a boy inset below glass in the middle of the table.  They hint at the creative and tireless eye and mind of this unique, pioneering glass artist.

A visit isn't complete without a stroll through the Glass House, inspired by two of Chihuly's favorite buildings - Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the former Crystal Palace in London, and then the garden.  Alas my shots here are from a particularly drab and dreary Seattle winter day.  I'd like to be here just before sunset.

Looking skyward in the Glass House. Recognize the famous Seattle landmark?

When You Go
The Chihuly Garden and Glass is open seven days a week, from 11 am to 6 pm, and until 7 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  Adult tickets are $26.  Click here for more details.  They also have lots of cool special events (check their website).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cross Country Skiing the Iron Horse Trail: The Cruising Corridor

Got some new cross-country skis you want to try out on a forgiving but scenic trail?  Just want a workout sprinting on a smooth, groomed, and tracked ski trail?  Or maybe you're in the Seattle area and want a few hours of good exercise and need to be home for the afternoon?

Yes, it's uber popular on the weekends, but you can't go wrong with skiing the Iron Horse Trail at Snoqualmie Pass, which offers 7+ miles of mostly flat trail following a former Milwaukee Road railroad bed. The full trail extends from North Bend to Yakima, but the portion east from the Hyak Sno-Park Permit is groomed for cross-country skiing for 13 kilometers, about 7.5 miles, toward Stampede Pass.  Beyond that the trail is open to snowmobiles.

I head up to the Hyak Sno-Park a few times a season to ski the portion of the Iron Horse Trail that skirts Keechelus Lake, like I did recently with my new skate skis. From Seattle it's not much more than an hour drive, except when there's lots of new snow at the pass and avalanche control is underway.

On this day the lake was frozen over, and while we started skiing in fog and low clouds, within an hour it cleared to powder blue sky and sunshine.  We got to the Hyak Sno-Park just below the Summit East ski area (formerly Hyak) around 9 a.m. on a Sunday, before the crowds arrived. 

When not traversing Keechelus Lake, the tree-lined trail passes through forest.

You'll find a more wide open trail if you go early on the weekends.

Looking across Keechelus Lake as the cloud layer dissipates

We like blue skies and good ski conditions.

Looking up lake

So basically we just cruised along the trail for a few hours, with breaks to take pictures, sip water and hot tea, and nibble snacks.  A few miles from Hyak the trail passes through a signed avalanche-risk zone along the trail, so be aware of the avalanche potential.

By the end of our ski, around noon, lots more skiers littered the trail. But Nordic skiers are generally a friendly and courteous bunch. Exercise and fresh air in the mountains makes everyone nicer anyway.

This is not really a wilderness trail, but it's an excellent place to go burn lots of calories while enjoying the lake views and the pleasure of being in snow-covered mountains.

Where are you favorite places to cross-country ski?

When You Go 
Here's a link to a map showing the Hyak Sno-Park Permit location in relation to Keechelus Lake and I-90. The trail skirts along the left (west) side of the lake.  Go with a friend if you can to split the $20 Sno-Park Permit day fee, or buy an annual pass. While there are a few entry points to the trail, I've always started at the Hyak Sno-Park, which is the beginning of the groomed trail.  There are several heated restrooms in a replica of an old train depot at Hyak, but this is also the location of a popular sledding hill full of families with small children on winter weekends so you might have to wait in line at the peak of the day.