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Review: Alpental

alpental-bridge

Alpental
Summit Elevation: 5,420 ft.
Vertical Drop: 2,280 ft.
Average Annual Snowfall: 400 inches
Skiable Acres: 302
http://www.summitatsnoqualmie.com/info/winter/alpental.asp

My wife and I skied at Alpental for the first time in January. It was on our first ride on the Edelweiss chairlift, to the 5,420-foot summit, that my jaw dropped while taking in the terrain surrounding us. It looked exactly what I imagined the Swiss Alps must look like, only smaller in scale.

The thought, I’ve got to ride this place on a powder day first escaped my lips on the chair that day, and then dominated my mind until our Steamboat trip a couple of weeks ago, where we were assaulted with oodles of champagne powder. Somehow, in the process of floating deep stashes between the ‘Boat’s Aspen trees, I had forgotten about Alpental.

That is, until I woke up early yesterday and noticed Alpental was reporting 14-inches of fresh snow on top of the mountain, up in that crazy playground I had observed from the Edelweiss chair earlier in the season. And to boot, it looked like it might be a bluebird, sunny day.

I got my gear on, and raced to the car and then to the ferry, where the boat crossed the Puget Sound in record time. I blasted up I-90 in the WRX, benefiting from a fast car and amazingly clear roads, and arrived at Alpental at 8:30, a half-hour before the lifts opened. It was 32-degrees outside, but felt like 50-degrees in the warm sunshine. There was mid-boot-level, fluffy powder in the parking lot and the sky was 501-blue.

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After a two-second walk to Alpental’s miniature base area, I was in line for the opening of the Armstrong Express; my egs shaking, stomach turning and brain breaking trying to organize my thoughts around the camera situation. And the backpack. I think a fart slipped out when the wheels of the lift started turning.

My mouth watered on the Amstrong lift as I spied an untracked lower International, while we drifted over Alpental’s groomed, intermediate terrain, to the drop-off point at mid-mountain. 30-yards from the Armstrong’s exit ramp is the Edelweiss lift, where I paired up with a Japanese man, and we sidestepped our way up the Edelweiss ramp to a ‘pole-in -the-middle’ two-seater. And no, this lift is not ghetto. It’s rustic, classic and authentic. It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting.

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After exiting the lift, I took a right and followed a single set of tracks to the mountain’s signature slope, International. I hadn’t skied since Steamboat, since that 18-inch day, and was a little nervous about the snow quality, about the sketchy traverse, and about the steepness I had heard about from locals. The traverse was soft and flat, however, and fed me nicely onto International’s top flank for about eight dreamy and steep turns.

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So much for my worries about the snow quality! This stuff was Cool Whip, Dream Whip, whatever, it felt like butter under my boards as I cut to the right beneath Alpental’s massive cliff, and floated seven, or eight more huge turns on International’s lower section.

In terms of steepness, International is up there with Arapahoe Basin’s Pallavicini area. Just don’t fall and everything should be fine.

The only bummer with taking the International route is that it takes two lifts to get back to the top. If lapping the untracked in a beautiful bowl is more your style, head left at the top of the Edelweiss lift into Edelweiss bowl, where the terrain varies incredibly. The potential for exploration in Edelweiss bowl is huge, especially on a powder day. After only two runs on International, which got tracked out quickly, I spent the rest of the day shralping Edelweiss.

Alpental is not a beginner-friendly mountain, but then it wasn’t designed to serve the average Joe. It is designed for advanced riders and experts who do not get intimidated by steep and rocky terrain, and who, in fact, thrive in it. Beginners have a friendly mountain to learn on just down the street at the Summit at Snoqualmie. For those looking to forget the big-mountain skiing available in Colorado and Utah, at least for a little while, there’s Alpental.

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