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Northstar, 3/15/2021-3/19/2021


Angel Diva
Hello again from Truckee, where it’s 27ºF and intermittently snowing! What with COVID and work and everything, plus a recurring weekend commitment, I haven’t been able to make it up much this season; up until this week, it’s only been four days total (reports in other threads). So I decided to take a full week off work and just ski my heart out, in case I don’t make it up again before the end of the season. Although my partner is an emphatic non-skier, R decided to come up with me and work from one of Northstar’s cozy studio apartments a stone’s throw from the village.

Re-introduction to me: Intermediate skier, comfortable on groomed black runs, 5’11” and 190lbs. I ski on Ripstick 94s in a 177cm length after a year on rentals last season, and, thanks to the advice on this forum, have a well-fitted pair of boots. This is my second full year skiing, if you can count last year and its abrupt conclusion, and I really enjoy it. Beyond the physical aspects of the sport, I also appreciate the mental and emotional work it takes to progress. A favorite of this forum, Mermer Blakeslee’s book “A Conversation With Fear”, has helped me understand when and where to push myself—and when to take a step back and say no to something I don’t feel ready for.

Anyway, on to the report.

Day One theme: fear

The first day of the trip was more challenging than I expected. I had planned to just warm up and work on my existing skill set, but the arrival overnight of four inches of fresh powder definitely changed things up. I haven’t skied in powder before; mostly I’ve focused on groomers and have given bump runs a hesitant try or two. Waking up, I wasn’t sure about the extent to which the fresh snow would impact the difficulty of some favorite runs, but I would soon find out.

I quickly realized that the powder coating was enough to take some runs that have become familiar and easy to me to a whole new level. As has become pretty traditional for me, I decided to warm up for the day on Logger’s Loop. LL had been groomed on the second shift last night, packing down the trail, but Cat’s Face, a branching short steep, had a pristine layer of fresh snow, and I decided to give it a try.

I was blown away by the difference in feel, and the difference in my skis’ responsiveness. I’ve come to be pretty comfortable on most groomed trails, but the powder threw me for a loop. My turns didn’t feel nearly as smooth, and I felt much less stable than I typically do. I lapped that run a couple more times, but I didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of it, so decided to move on to Powder Bowl, a favorite. Its steep opening was again blanketed thickly in powder, and while I made it down both times, my confidence was honestly shaken. It felt like all my progression of the last couple seasons was out the window, and I didn’t know why. Plus, the heavily-skied areas at the bottom of both runs were chopped up and didn’t give me the feeling of safety and completion they usually do.

I decided to take a different tack and headed to Northstar’s backside. Last season, I enjoyed the wide open and swooping Castle Peak run, and thought heading to an area with longer runs and fewer skiers might help me find what I was missing. I decided to take on Iron Horse, a black run that had. been groomed on the first shift, leaving most of the overnight snow on the surface. Standing at the top looking down, I was terrified, but I reminded myself that I did have the skill set to slow down and bring myself to a safe stop, meaning that in the worst case scenario, I could slowly side-slip my way to the base of the lift.

That first run was exhausting, and I had to keep reassuring myself aloud as I haltingly made my way down—not even trying to look good, just going a turn or two at a time, trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. I’d mentally mark a particular crest and when I reached it, stop for a minute, breathe, look back up the way I came, and tell myself “you’ve made it this far”. I was repeatedly passed by more skilled skiers, but by the time I reached the bottom, I was in a place where I could do two or three turns without stopping or stalling.

Back up the mountain again. The second run, I was much less afraid of the slope itself, and was able to notice more what felt good, what didn’t, and the length of the trail let me take the time to figure out what I could do differently. I noticed that my inside ski, mostly floating free, kept crashing sideways into piles of powder and flying away from parallel, putting me off balance both physically and emotionally. I focused on deliberately holding my skis parallel, rather than letting the inside ski float, and it definitely made a difference, although the effort was tiring.

On a subsequent run, I noticed that I was following a Z-shaped turn pattern that let me feel more in control of my speed, but which was actually what was causing my skis to crash into piles of powder in the first place. I was so afraid of any speed in conditions I didn’t fully understand that I was actually making those conditions worse for myself! While I wasn’t entirely successful, once I was aware of what I was doing, I was able to consciously choose to let myself gain some speed, making S-shaped turns that let me go directly through piles of snow without my skis deflecting.

Once I was feeling a bit less scared all the time on Iron Horse, I was able to take what I’d learned to a couple other slopes. First, Castle Peak, which had been skied quite a bit less and still had an incredibly thick layer of powder. It was still difficult to get down, but the fear that had been present the first few runs of Iron Horse wasn’t there. Instead of trying to overcome a mental block, I was deliberately practicing a skill that hadn’t been in my toolkit before. And once I was feeling more confident there, I was able to take a couple runs down Burnout, another powder-coated black run, without any trouble—again, just the effort that’s always involved in practicing something that isn’t yet muscle memory.

I had originally planned to ski the whole day, but I was emotionally worn out by one. And that’s okay! Trying to notice what I was doing and how it impacted the feedback I was getting from my skis was a really tiring process! And I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn. My original plan to take lessons this week fell through, but even without an instructor on hand, I was able to listen to my body and make progress in a skill that I didn’t have before. And maybe that’s enough for today.

ski diva

Staff member
What a great write-up, @gingerjess. Your awareness of what you're doing and what you need to do is amazing. It's an essential element in improving, so it looks like you're well on your way. Skiing in conditions you're not used to can be challenging. I'll be interested to hear if it becomes easier for you as the week goes on; I suspect it will.

santacruz skier

Angel Diva
How wonderful that you are staying in the Village... So convenient. You must try Rubicon pizza !

Reading your TR, interesting that you hit Loggers Loop first. I might have suggested West Ridge and either Axe Handle or Luggi's for a good warmup, especially with nice powder coverage. Although LL is a great end of the day run and if you take "The Woods", you will end up in the village and bypass the Village Run. So I do recommend it.

The flume and Powder Bowl are usually very nice runs. Most off the East Bowl maintain the snow very well. Also, Try Drifter on the backside (the only intermediate other than Castle Peak) .... it can be a nice warm up.

Powder is a game changer even if groomed overnight. Once skied over will change the lovely powder into something not so great! Don't be hard on yourself. Most of those black runs on the backside can vary from wonderful to challenging given the type of snow coverage. Iron Horse is a gem and one of my favorites. I literally skied that run and Rail Splitter recently and was the only person on the run the entire time. The other backside runs are very good but get a variety of skiers and snowboarders.

Lookout is good but more advanced. Even Washoe (the blue run) is a bit advanced. You might want to try it though. Similar to Iron Horse but longer.

Keep having fun !


Angel Diva
What a trip report! We want more. And pictures!

I noticed that my inside ski, mostly floating free, kept crashing sideways into piles of powder and flying away from parallel, putting me off balance both physically and emotionally. I focused on deliberately holding my skis parallel, rather than letting the inside ski float, and it definitely made a difference, although the effort was tiring.

When I first read this, I thought maybe this is the reason I've read one should keep the weight on each ski relatively the same. (I think that's what I've read.) But later you describe making wide turns and how much that helped. I have close to zero experience on powder so I'm an armchair tourist in this regard!


Angel Diva
How wonderful that you are staying in the Village... So convenient. You must try Rubicon pizza !

Reading your TR, interesting that you hit Loggers Loop first.

We took out their roasted veggie pizza tonight! So tasty with the goat cheese! Re LL as a warmup... really what I want most from my first run of the day is a chance to reintegrate with my boots and skis and make any adjustments I need to. LL is nice and long with plenty of opportunities for that... plus if you upload on the Village Express, you'll end up right at Vista to start.

What a trip report! We want more. And pictures!

Hopefully pictures soon! My phone was NOT happy in the cold today; it kept telling me it was at 1%... but it was lying; once I got it back to the condo and turned back on it was at 70%!

santacruz skier

Angel Diva
We took out their roasted veggie pizza tonight! So tasty with the goat cheese!
That's the pizza I always get ! Sometimes add chicken too. Did you know Base Camp Pizza at Heavenly Village has the same owner? and menu ....

Good point on LL access via Vista Chair. For some reason, I rarely ski Vista Chair as not that much there IMO...... I do like LL at the end of day from the top of Comstock down East Ridge to LL and then The Woods.....

Love to hear more reports........... Sorry I will miss you as leaving Sunday for Northstar and Heavenly......


Angel Diva
It's 100% Flouro. Isn't that the environmentally-unfriendly type of wax, the waxes with flouro in them?

I didn't want to be a downer! Sorry, @Amie H


Angel Diva
It’s time for today’s report!

Day Two theme: pushing

Naturally, overnight, Northstar groomed most of the mountain, and so most of the powder that caused me so much consternation yesterday just went away (although the softness of groomed pressed powder is delightful). Heading back to the Backside, Burnout and Iron Horse were pretty straightforward and I had a lot of fun zooming down them.

And that’s probably how my day would’ve gone, and that would’ve been plenty of fun! But I managed to have a bit of luck that changed the shape of it.

Current COVID restrictions allow singles to ride alone, but they can also pair up with other singles as long as they remain on opposite ends of the chair. And it so happened that I had a delightful conversation with another skier on the way up the Backside Express lift. When we ended up at the bottom around the same time, we decided to just pair off, and after that spent the day skiing together!

It turned out that this was her first season skiing... but she’d already racked up 36 days on the mountain! As a result, she was far more comfortable on terrain I was scared of (bumps. I mean bumps), and also had the relatively recent experience of learning how to handle it! After we skied a couple runs, she suggested we try out The Rapids, a long and steep field of moguls with a number of potential early exit points to groomed terrain. I decided to give it a go... in the worst case, it’d turn out that I couldn’t do something I already thought I couldn’t do, and would just go ski something else.

And with some guidance, I was able to make my way down the trail! Slowly, to be sure, and extremely sweaty by the time we reached the bottom (lesson for me: powder takes learning, but bumps take learning PLUS serious exertion), but I did it! It was honestly tiring enough that I didn’t want to do more bumps afterwards, but it felt good to know that I was able to navigate my way down.

After a quick lunch at the summit, we took one last run on the backside (Sierra Grande for me; The Rapids for her) and, at my new friend’s suggestion, headed over to Lookout Mountain; entirely new terrain for me. The trails there are incredibly steep, and it takes a lot of control to make your way down. They’re also a bit remote, and so once you make your way to Lookout Mountain, traffic on the trails is really light, and you can ski directly onto the chair.

I practiced some things I learned on this forum—for example, taking a steep trail as slowly as you can manage to build better control—on Prosser (a steep black run) and Washoe (a slightly mellower and longer blue) while my ski buddy alternated between taking Prosser with me and running Stampede (a heavily-iced bump run that I didn’t really feel like trying) on her own.

By the end of the day, I was happily exhausted, the day having been defined by pushing boundaries of where I was comfortable and coming out ahead. Like yesterday, I had originally planned to take it a bit easy, but again, my plans were thwarted for the better: not by snow, this time, but by a new friend who pushed me out of my complacency and asked me to do more than what I necessarily thought I could.

Hope everyone is having a great week; more tomorrow!

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