Review: Alpental


Summit Elevation: 5,420 ft.
Vertical Drop: 2,280 ft.
Average Annual Snowfall: 400 inches
Skiable Acres: 302

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.


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.


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.


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.


Review: Chicago Ridge SnowCat Tours — Leadville, Colo.

Chicago Ridge SnowCat Tours
Summit Elevation: 12,600 feet
Vertical Drop: Depends on your ability
Average Annual Snowfall: 250 natural inches
Skiable Acres: 2,400


Still Dazed After Chicago Ridge SnowCat Tour
Pretty much all snowcat tours, from Powder Cats in Steamboat, Colo., to the tours offered at Kicking Horse Resort in British Columbia, Canada, provide a mind-blowing, powder experience, unmatched by anything except heli-skiing.

So why Chicago Ridge in tiny Leadville, Colo? Well, if you fall into the same tax bracket my friends and I currently qualify for, wheere spending $600 for a day of thrills just doesn’t get past the wife, then places like Chicago Ridge make sense on both a fiscal, physical, spiritual and emotional level.

Visions of my recent adventure on Chicago Ridge linger in my mind and torture me at work: floating through clouds of the finest fluff on our first run down Frosty’s glades; airborne turn after airborne turn in what we were told was almost eight feet of powder, as our second run, Funnel Shot, housed some of the biggest face shots I’ve ever tasted.


Unfortunately, my photos (or lack thereof) simply don’t do the skiing experience justice. The clouds were low the day I visited and it was snowing, which makes for great skiing, but lousy photos.

Our guide, Ralph Wentz, who has worked the Chicago Ridge for 19 years, told me over lunch that he has skied all over the Rocky Mountain region, and that guiding at Chicago Ridge has allowed him to, “ski one of the best powder stashes in the Rockies for close to two decades, on an almost daily basis.”

There are some who would rather ski via helicopter. Considering the price of heliskiing, coupled with the no fly day policy, the CAT experience seems much more reasonable for for those looking to rack up 15,000 vertical feet in snowy conditions without breaking the bank.


Warm, comfortable and loaded with plenty of bottled water to guzzle between runs, the CAT drove us to untouhed lines all day while its passengers jammed to some old Rolling Stones tunes and high-fived each other. The added comforts, which included a gourmet lunch of salmon steaks, rice, salad, rolls and chocolate cake, and then pitchers of beer at the end of the day in the Ski Cooper lodge, were a major bonus.

For those looking to experience the backcountry in a stash of powder that rivals anything the Rockies have to offer, without dropping big bucks on a helicopter that may, or may not fly each day, the Chicago Ridge SnowCat Tour is the ultimate way to ride.

Cost? $325 January — February 28 (prime time), $290 the rest of the season

Favorite ‘Runs’:

  • Frosty’s — we hit Frosty’s on our first, third and fourth run, following Ralph down a short open section that led to an area of drifts that launched us into a sea of knee-to-waist deep powder.
  • Funnel Shot — uh, did anyone get that on film? Didn’t think so. They should change the name of this run to Face Shot.
  • Sawmill — we took Sawmill from every angle, starting right after lunch. Sawmill is a land like no other, unless of course, you are used to riding in abandoned logging sites. Short stumps protrude from the snow, making the scenery truly unique.


*A Note on Fat Skis
The powder stashes at Chicago Ridge are deep enough that fat skies should be considered mandatory. The Chicago Ridge SnowCat Tours rents Rossignol B3’s to guests at a reasonable rate. For those looking to go even wider, we recommend Christy Sports’ demo program (see for locations in Colorado) where you can try before you buy. Go with the Volkl Gotama, K2 Pontoon, or the Line Prophet. Any of Christy’s demo’s boards will keep you floating.



Cool Website of the Day —

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest from Colorado I’ve experienced some apprehension about my future skiing life.  You see, over the last five years skiing managed to take over my being and I became addicted to ‘the life’. It got even worse when, two years ago, a client engagement landed a job writing reviews for a popular Colorado ski blog, which led to my best friend Chris and I skiing every mountain (at least three times) in the state in one season. 

A job like that can spoil a man: the fresh tracks each morning; the search for freshies each afternoon; followed by some apres beers; some good food; a hot tub and a nice hardy sleep at a ski-in/ski-out condo. Then the next few days the on and off-mountain routine would be repeated until we considered the mountain ‘reviewed’. All during this project our hearts were content, we were in great physical condition and we had the peace of mind of knowing that this was actually our job. Our biggest complaint was having to take ‘cool’ photos.



Last season I skied alone, mostly. My wife was with me a few times and Chris made it up a few times, but really it was just me and my iPod at Copper and Winter Park, hitting my familiar lines and seeking new ones, adrift in tons of light, fluffy powder each time. One morning, I had to boot-pack out of a snowed-in parking lot at Winter Park just to get in the arena to play. It was a 20-plus inch day! In fact, my last ten outings last season were powder days — 8-inches reported, minimum.

Perhaps you can now understand my anxiety facing a new medium in what’s been called Cascade Concrete? A relative of Sierra Cement? And then the terrain! Is it really that much steeper here in the PNW? These questions sent me looking for answers online. And today I found some answers at,  a site which provides literally no insider knowledge about the resort itself, but rather a a plethora of information about Alpental’s immediate backcountry.

For what must have been an hour I studied the Great Scott traverse to Piss Pass and then the Pineapple Pass, all of which leads to what looks like an oasis of snow, the Great Scott Bowl. Getting in and out of the bowl could pose a huge challenge in terms of cliffs and steeps, but oh man, the bowl is a huge, 40-degree face full of fluffy powder turns. It looks inspiring, like some of the lines at Telluride or Crested Butte, but with perhaps even more cliffs, if that is possible.

Bring on the season, be it wet and sloppy or cool and fluffy!