Friday, November 13, 2009

Working With My Tools

The Boss called today. He's all pumped because the weather is cooperating with the Snowmaking Plan. He thinks he can beat the Target Opening Date by a week. It depends on those pesky Computer Models they use at the NWS Office to forecast the weather going forward, and a good measure of help from Mother Nature.

After most of the week having trouble with their models diverging all over the map, all the models aligned overnight and voilà, Snowmaking Temps low enough to hang a dream on! Frigid nights ahead bode well for the plan, and now I know when I'll be heading back up the Hill.

My Family's Thanksgiving is safe. I've ordered the Bird, and I'm testing some new recipes this week.

I've got some carpentry jobs to wrap up, and some wrenching on my Pickup still to do. Deadlines are the Ultimate Motivator.

Here at the Ancestral Digs, my tools and toolboxes fill half of the Two Car Garage. They'll be busy for a couple of days before I pack the Pickup full of toolboxes and toys and roll up to the High Sierra.

When I started writing for CorduroyPlanet, I wrote about the Online Tools I use to keep tabs on the Weather Forecasts, Remote Sensors, and Road Conditions. I promised to list those tools, and today I make good on that promise. Behold the "CorduroyPlanet Toolbox"!

I put The Toolbox atop the Right Column so it's easy to use. I'll add Tools as I find more useful ones.

When Thanksgiving Proper rolls around, I'll be climbing back into my favorite tool, my good ol' Prinoth BR350 Groomer. The Boss said "no expense was spared to get the fleet in top shape, and that we'll have a Graveyard Mechanic full time like always...whew!

I love that BR350, it's been a Groomer that just works. It's got a big heart, and rarely did it let me down. It's never lost it's Hydrostatic Fluid, so it's pumps and motors are good and tight...still, having full mechanic coverage will ease my mind cat does have 5000+ hours on her clock. 09/10 will be her last season on my mountain, she'll be traded in next year for a new one.

I've operated some great cats in my time, my favorite old Bombardier had 12K+ hours on it when I finally got in a new rig. Progress is a wonderful thing. That old Bombardier was State of the Art when she was new, her replacement a few years hence was too. My 350 was a revelation when I got it, and I can only hope that next year's model continues the upward arc I've come to expect from the breed.

Model Behavior

I'm torn again. I want Fall to last into December so I can finish my many projects here at the Ancestral Digs, and enjoy some more carefree days fishing and crabbing. Then I look at the webcams with the images of Snowmaking Fans going Full-Bore, blanketing My Mountain's first scheduled trail with a base to open on. My daily cyber-expeditions to weather websites are priming the pump. All this has me feeling like a pinball in a hot game ready to flash *TILT*

This is all new to me, despite the fact that I've anticipated Ski Seasons since the late 70's So, what's different this time around? This Fall I'm writing about it five days a week.

It's like the scene from Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" where Alex is undergoing Aversion Therapy in Prison. In a straitjacket, strapped into a seat in a Movie Theater Seat, Alex is forced to view violent images meant to de-sensitize his psyche's penchant for "a bit of the ol' UltraViolence" The detail that gave me the heebie-geebies was the shiny stainless steel wire devices the Prison Therapists used to keep Alex's eyelids open...the flesh crawls to this day when I recall the images...powerful film making.

I've been the Alex Character in my own production this Fall, focusing daily on the coming season with regimentation like I've never practiced before. Don't look away...keep your eye on the ball, as they say.

Now, I've been your stereotypical "Cockeyed Optimist" my whole life. Save for a period of Teenage Angst, and one rare "Celebrated Blue Period", my world has always been Sunny, the glasses always Half Full, with the road ahead rising up to meet me. I suspect that Optimists by nature subconsciously manage their outlook for Sunshine Daydream Nirvana. No harm, no foul as they say. My beef is just the Timing really...not anything to get high blood pressure over.

This morning, I scanned the web for intel on the Snowmaking progress towards My Mountain's Target Opening Date. The Reno NWS Forecast Discussion said their models finally came into alignment or agreement after several days of divergent discord. The next fronts are forecast to miss us to the east, but bring in a colder regime once past. That's good for Snowmaking, bad for Procrastinating Optimists.

I'm an Old School youngster operators probably think I'm a Dinosaur, but I am still into the Battle. Opening the Mountain is work, period. It's not the Heroic Battle with Mother Nature to open at 8:45 on a Big Powder Day.

Pushing whales of sloppy ManMade out onto bare dirt and rock a few feet at a time is back breaking toil, even sitting in the throne of a modern 350HP Snowcat with the stereo blasting. When the pack is measured in inches atop bare ground, it's an all day Geology Lesson. You feel every rock and stone...every grouser transmits the hits to the cat in the cab. Eight hours of this makes me think of Prizefighters absorbing body Rope-A-Dope here. Every move you make is measured, deliberate, you're holding your cat back, and you can't give in to your desire to just "let it fly"

Snowcats do "fly"...when there's plenty of snow under the tracks. Hit a stump or rock, and you get jarred belts mandatory.

Until a couple of feet of "Sierra Cement" falls on the hill, Snowmakers and Groomers grind it out. We earn it, a foot or two at a time...all night, all day until there's enough to open a lift and a trail. Next up, two trails...until Mother Nature kicks down a real snow storm that dumps feet on the Mountain.

Now the fun begins! Phone calls go out to the Crew, cats are warmed up, and the prospecting begins in earnest. Cats head out to every trail and Track-Pack the new snow. Track packing is grooming without no rear implements. The goal it to compact as much new snow on as many trails as conditions will allow. The snow is less likely to blow away when the winds turn North or least in theory...when the East Winds start to howling, the Mountain looks like a National Geographic Cover Photo of the Himalayas, with streams of snow flying off into the sky.

Once there's track-pack on the Homerun Trails, and there's enough snow to push, then the Crew gets to start building stuff. Creeks and rock-lined swales need to be bridged. Building Roads, Ramps and Mazes take lots of snow, so all take lots of farming.

In Groomer-Speak, "Farming" means scraping a little snow off the top of a large area of a run and pushing it to where it's needed. Given enough snow, farming can mean sneaking out into the trees and quarrying snow to push onto trails for coverage or building projects. When I'm doing serious farming, I don't even hear my least not consciously...farming takes 100% concentration on the task at hand...the hours fly get in The Zone.

The Zone is good...time flies when you're having fun. I'm wearing my sly smile just thinking about it. I'll be in The Zone soon, I won't be Alex in a Kubrick Flick, and I wont have to dig for something to write about!

Good Times!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What? Chain Controls?

The Traffic Guy on my radio was reporting Chain Controls over Interstate 80's Donner Summit when the alarm roused me this morning. Nothing like starting your day with Heart Palpitations! Couldn't hit the snooze after that! I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and went surfing for intel.

The 9:45 AM Twitter Feed reported the controls were lifted everywhere save for the Mt Rose Highway over the Summit, and Hwy88 from Ham's Station to Hwy89. I-80 had controls between Kingvale and Truckee for a time early on.

All the Tahoe Basin Resorts tweeted their Joy, and announced their snowfall tallies...Northstar-3in, Squaw Valley-5in, Sierra at Tahoe-"up to 4in, in some sweet spots"... Sugar Bowl reported 5-7in and Boreal checked in with 8-10in...We Have A Winner!

Boreal announced they will be open to the Top on Saturday November 14th.

Even the National Forest Service is on Twitter now! They tweeted their intention to lock their Forest Road Gates for the Winter on November 15th. That sounds kinda final, no?

Looking at the Remote Sensors, the I-80 controls went down just as the mercury went up. At 4PM, there are no Snowmaking Fans running, temps are still hovering around 34F, and low clouds are hanging over Donner Summit.

I found further solace in the Reno NWS Office's Forecast Discussion. They report some trouble with the Models going forward, saying in essence that the solutions are all over the place for the next week. My most significant Take-Away is the trending to warmer temps, poor airmass mixing, and likely Inversion formation...Nothing for Snowmakers there...the Resorts need an extended period of 24/7 Snowmaking Weather. Two weeks of Around the Clock snowmaking would get plenty of trails open in time for the Thanksgiving Holiday Period.

That doesn't seem likely today. Perhaps next week the Jetstream will begin to migrate south far enough for some Arctic Air to find it's way into the High Sierra, so the Snowmaking Crews can start logging some overtime. Millions of gallons of water need to be transformed into ManMade before there's enough terrain for more than one Part Time Groomer out there.

I ordered the Turkey for the Family Feast guess is no new terrain save for Boreal's new longer trail will have opened by the time I'm carving that bird.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Goin' My Way?

I'm kinda torn tonight. My weekend was nice, the weather better than pleasant, and looking ahead doesn't suck in the least. So why do I feel this bitter churn of conflict? It was something I read on My Mountain's Homepage this evening...the Marketing Department has posted a "Target Opening Date"...not a Headline per se, just a link at the bottom of a short list of links, but a Date all the same. Subtle to the casual observer, unseen by the disinterested, but right on target to one who doesn't want a date with my snowcat until after Thanksgiving.

Until I viewed said post, I was Master of the resonated with my sunny outlook, and the world would wait for me to have my fill, basking in my endless Fall of warm treks to the Farmer's Market, pleasant days floating around San Francisco Bay in search of Halibut, and weekends with family dinners and a movie. That little link crashed that Dream World in a millisecond.

What to do? First, I looked to hard facts for solace...Remote Sensors, IP Weather Station Data, and Mountain Webcams provided the unvarnished data points. Delving into a few day's worth of NWS Forecast Discussions, armed with a fresh brain-full of up to the second data, calmed the choppy waters some, but the taste of churn will be with me for the duration now....even though the signs don't point to the Target Opening Day's Bullseye.

Mother Nature will have to join the Team if My Mountain is going to hit that target...It's just too warm...the Jetstream doesn't seem to care if it migrates south to it's Winter Home any time soon, and even the Dungeness Crabs are running behind schedule! Most of the Crab Reports on my Club's Fishing Report Page mention Soft Shelled Crabs being returned to the ocean to "Harden-Up" and fill out. This "Pacific Ocean Running Behind Schedule" meme has become a regular part of the Local Weathersphere these last five or so years...coinciding with the later openings of My Mountain. I've heard the same story from the Columbia River in the North, to the very tip of the Baja Peninsula.

This morning, I was blissfully writing a Fishing Report telling of our successful day of Halibut Fishing on a wonderfully calm San Francisco Bay, enjoying the afterglow of events and the Dungeness Crab Dinner SturgeUrge and I enjoyed afterwards. The Bay was ours alone to enjoy for two reasons.

The last storm to disappoint the Local TV Weatherfolks turned into a big wind and swell event with only trace amounts of precip ashore, but the wind's effects on the Sport Dungeness Crab Opener made any fisherman worth his salt stay safely in Port. The swell abated Monday enough for Sport Crabbers to head out under the Golden Gate Bridge to the Big Briny to set their traps for the season's first dungees...the seas were big enough Saturday and Sunday to discourage all but the most foolhardy, or those with big boats...25ft and up only!

It's November...Halibut Fishing is usually over by's that Tardy Pacific Ocean thing again. The SturgeUrge is a big 17ft, so our crab came from the 99 Ranch Market in Richmond, two pounders with hard shells...the fish monger didn't know if the crabs were from Oregon or Washington, but they steamed up nicely and were sweet and delicious as all Dungeness are early-season. SturgeUrge did all the catching Monday..two Halibut and a Red Hot Striped Bass from the Bay that was so glassy that it reminded us of the "Greasy" conditions we see on Baja's Sea of Cortez (without the Tropical Humidity!)

OK...I'm feeling much better now. Writing and proofreading the above allowed me to slip back into my Master Of The Universe costume again...I'm warm inside again too. Warm like the temperature readings in the High Sierra over the past two nights...the Halibut will head back out of the Bay and into the ocean until next spring...My Mountain will open, and when it does I'll climb into my favorite BR350, set up the iPod, and crank up the cab heater...I'll get that nice warm all over feeling I always get when I start grooming for another season. Cue the Narrator from Steinbeck's "Cannery Row": "Once again, the World was spinning in greased grooves"

I'm pretty sure SturgeUrge and I will launch the SturgeUrge onto Tomales Bay at least one more time before I head back up the Hill to get after it. We'll chow down on the freshest steamed Dungeness Crab, with a side of San Francisco Sourdough...and wash it down with a nice fat chardonnay. That's when that good warm feeling inside will be impossible to ignore again.

The churn is just a wake-up call...I get to hit the snooze for a few more weeks.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This Ain't Easy

The sun is setting here in the Inland Valley. I've been doing my best sloth impersonation all day. The extent of my real exertion has been clicking on websites, save for a quick blast through the local Farmer's Market to grab another week's worth of Vine Ripe Heirloom Tomatoes. Did I mention that BLTs are Proof that God Exists?

The morning dawned cold here at the Ancestral Digs, the normal low overcast here was replaced by the fog in my head...owing to a late night fascination of Tech Video Podcast viewing, and too much catching up on the Blogs in the wake of the House vote on Government Healthcare.

Today, while watching the last MotoGP motorcycle road race of the 2009 season with one eye, I was researching the Marine Weather Prospects for Monday's Crab Trip with SturgeUrge with the other eye. Generally, the local weather people are looking more upbeat today than they have for several least they have some hazardous weather to report!

Small Craft Advisories are posted for Hazardous Seas in the waters outside of the Golden Gate. Wouldn't you know it? SturgeUrge and I planned to be on a Party Boat tomorrow to head out for the first Dungeness Crab Hunt of the season. There's precious little else to fish for on the ocean now. We were hoping to get on a Big Boat for a quick blast out the Gate to pick a quick limit of Dungees, and then back into the Bay to knock out the rest of the trip live bait fishing for Halibut.

The Landings weren't offering this option, so we'll put off the crab for another week. The Tides tomorrow are the best looking Halibut Tides we've seen since Mid-Summer, so we'll be launching out of Richmond in the morning for what will undoubtedly be our last halibut Trip of 2009.

Once tomorrow's plan was squared away, I started reading the Sunday Chronicle Online. The Travel Section today is the Annual Skiing Edition, and there was a Winter Weather Feature. Local weather Guru, Mike Pechner was interviewed for his take on the upcoming season's likely weather picture. My heart was warmed as I read his prediction...the same one I made a couple months back. It's common sense really...odds are it'll be a normal or above normal winter.

The local Surfing Weatherman, KTVU's Bill Martin was the cooler head prevailing in the story, echoing CorduroyPlanet's mantra: Let's not get excited...Martin went on to say: "there's no indication of anything big happening"

So there it is. I get the discomfort the Local Weather Guys in, day out needing to say something for their Four Minutes of Airtime. The Doldrums are hell. Boring and they make for a thankless job...trying to hold a jaded TV Audience rapt every evening. It ain't easy.

The Big Swells will abate, starting tonight. The Snowmaking Fans were running overnight in the High Sierra, and for the next few nights, Snowmaking Temps will prevail. The Forecast Discussions point to some warming ahead, and a couple of "Slight Chances of Precipitation" scudding by to the north.

When I did get out today, the Sun warmed my face like the Sun does in Cabo San Lucas. That Sunshine warms more than your warms the Heart, too. Mmm, mmm, good!