Powder encounters | VailDaily.com

Powder encounters

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Photo Special to the Daily/ Vail Resorts, Cody Downard

Anybody in the valley or on the mountain already this year surely has gazed upon the pristine slopes of Beaver Creek’s Grouse Mountain and Larkspur Bowl, wishing, just wishing they could be airlifted to the top, alone or with a close companion.

Tuesday, with 6 inches of new powder reported on top of Monday’s 9 inches, those bastions of virgin white stuff beckoned lucky members of the local media to share it – photo-journalistically, of course – with the rest of the valley.

“Grouse is all about steeps, bumps, speed and trees,” Jason Roberts, 27, a free-skier from Eagle-Vail, said at about 8:50 a.m. as ski patrollers gave the go-ahead for the Grouse Mountain Lift, Chair 10, to roll. “It’s fun looking up from Avon and reminiscing about where you’ve been before.”

Roberts was one of a pair of local skiers invited along as “ski models” for the small contingent of journalists lucky enough to get the call. The other was Jason Lance, a seven-year local and a new member of the Vail Freeride Team. Fledgling stars on the ski slopes, they were especially “pumped” to be able to bomb down Grouse Mountain’s waist-deep powder and leave behind a wispy cloud of powder when they weren’t taking to the air entirely.

“The place to be’

“Grouse? It’s a good pitch, and a lot of snow has been piling up. Today, it’s all smiles all day,” Lance said, looking over at his tracks on Grouse Mountain from the Larkspur Lift, Chair 11. “That was some of the best snow I’ve hit in a long time, 3 to 4 feet of untouched powder. With snow like that, you don’t have to worry about anybody’s tracks or moguls. It’s just perfectly smooth.”

For Lance, Grouse Mountain lives up to its billing as home to some of the longest, steepest ski runs in North America.

“There’s nothing else like it with the pitch the whole way, top to bottom. Even the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin in Vail don’t compare,” he said. “And on a day like today – opening day with no lift line? – this is the place to be.”

To tell the truth, most of the time photographing ski models jumping off cliffs and “getting face shots” is spent standing in cold, deep snow, yelling and pointing … and waiting. Tuesday’s early light, meanwhile, illuminated only the top quarter of Grouse’s Screech Owl, where both Roberts and Lance first took to the air for the cameras. Later, Larkspur Bowl, basking full-on in the morning sun, offered the wide expanses of Yarrow for those classic, wide-open powder shots one typically only sees in magazines.

Local hero

As if by magic, who shows up to add his own expertise to the mix? – none other than local extreme-skiing hero Chris Anthony, of Warren Miller fame. The “thirty-something” Avon resident said he was going to sleep in Tuesday morning, as he felt exhausted from “skiing my butt off the past few days.” But when the phone rang before sun up, he somehow felt compelled to get to the The Beav’ any way he could.

“I got a ride on the “trash-cat,'” he said at the base of Grouse, referring to the first snowcat up the hill in the morning.

Anthony, who has been filmed skiing in some of the most exotic places – and faces – in the world, joined the group for one last bomb down Yarrow before the masses were allowed to ascend the Larkspur Lift on their own quests to fulfill powder dreams. Then, with all the film exposed and the cameras stowed, it was back to Grouse for one last descent of the slopes upon which he often gazes from his balcony at home.

“Grouse Mountain is still the hidden secret of the valley,” Anthony said, adding he’d received other calls Tuesday inviting him to ski the Back Bowls. “Not many people think of coming to Grouse Mountain, even though it’s the best sustained slope in the valley – and with a high-speed lift.”

Anthony then took off, literally, taking upper Raven’s Ridge and Ruffed Grouse at speed before launching himself, literally, out across Osprey.

“Today was definitely worth it,” he said.


Blue Sky Basin opens today

The final major piece to Vail’s powder puzzle falls into place today as the resort opens the Blue Sky Basin area for the season.

With much of the area’s 645 acres open to the public, Vail offers a total of 4,306 acres of accessible terrain and 175 trails served by 31 lifts.

For more information, visit http://www.vail.com or call the Vail Activities Desk at 476-9090.

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