17 Down Under:
17 DOWN UNDER. "A celebration of moderate grade climbing in Victoria". 184 pages. 285 images. Father & son team, Steve & John Morris, embark on a journey to climb and photograph 50 of the best rock climbs in Victoria, grade 17 & under. Inc bookmark $50.00
So the last couple of winters the family has been hitting Kirkwood, since snowsports are where it's at in CA between late November and mid April. It's basically the perfect ski resort if you're at all serious about the outdoors - it offers a large amount of steep and complex terrain, very few lifts (and they're old and slow), it's remote enough that a lot of people can't be bothered going there, and it has consistently the most and best snow of the CA resorts. The "village" is also pretty ramshackle and gives zero fscks - the food is mediocre at best and the nearest Starbucks is almost an hour's drive away. In short, it's awesome and unashamed grunge!
As you may have heard, northern CA has finally broken the 5 year long drought with a vengeance, with a seemingly endless succession of storms hitting the state since November, and more expected before the "water year" officially ends in May. For Kirkwood, that means more than 15m of snow has already fallen, with a solid 10m of snow still on the ground as of early March. They've even permanently shut some of the lifts, since they're so buried at this point there's no way to dig them out before the season ends.
It just so happened that one of these storms struck during the kids "ski week" break back in February, and so we'd planned on being up there for the week anyway. The bad news was that the storm struck early in the week instead of before, and the main highway connecting Kirkwood to civilisation (both to the East and West) was shut for 4 days due to snow buildup and avalanche danger (they've had real trouble keeping it open this year, due to the massive amount of snowfall). Highway 88 finally opened on Thursday 23rd, and suffering from a fair bit of cabin fever we got up there early and managed to hit first chairs. Some of the kids' friends from school were also there, so we skied as a large group, enjoying the fresh snow that the storm had dropped, and finding fresh stashes here and there in the trees and chutes all day. It was already up there amongst the best days of riding I've ever had.
Now one of the famous runs at Kirkwood is a face called "Eagle Bowl", which drops steeply off the right side of a ridge beside "The Wall" (itself one of the best steep runs in CA). It has a habit of avalanching however, and often it'll remain shut for a day or two after a storm, just so they can get it under control before letting anyone in. This was the case this day, so we'd been doing laps of The Wall most of the afternoon, doing a bit of hiking to find untracked stashes, and generally having a great time. We were up the top again getting on towards closing time, when a ski patroller shouted out that he was about to open Eagle Bowl and might we be interested in joining him? Now it's pretty unusual to open a run that late in the day, especially mid-week, when they can save it for the bigger crowds of a Friday or weekend. But I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I told the kids to follow the patroller as fast as they could.
Here's a little pano of the face:
The ski patroller opened it up just as we got there, and along with maybe 5 other people who'd been within earshot, we immediately took off down the steepest part of the face (skier's-right line, in the animation above), in a metre and a half of cold, dry, untracked, blower pow.
Now I'm not a religious person, but I'm pretty sure I had a religious experience on this run. To say it was AWESOME is like saying that Pauline Hanson is mildly bigoted. The 350m descent only took a minute or two, but it felt like forever. I could barely see most of the time, since the powder getting kicked up by the front of my board was lofted in the air and sprayed over my head. It felt like one of those dreams where you're flying effortlessly, but without the unpleasant ending when you crash into the floor and realise you've fallen out of bed and landed on the empty tinnies from the binge the night before.
Even the 30 minutes of postholing out of the valley at the base (normally they groom a trail into it, but they hadn't done that yet) didn't detract from it, and we ended up squeezing in two more laps of almost the same quality (despite it getting played quicker than Trump by Putin) before the lifts closed.
Here's a video of someone skiing the skier's-left line, within a few minutes of us: