We arrived at Longmire to find the gate closed and it was not set to open for another 90 minutes. We lounged around the inn for a while and then decided to get something to eat in the restaurant to pass the time. Even after breakfast, we still had 25 minutes to go before the gate opened. We read some magazines, and then it was 10am, and the gate opened right on time. Unfortunately, we headed down to the park with the thought of a 8am opening time. This was based on the information that the road opens at 8am if there is six inches or less of snowfall the previous night. According to the weather telemetry, Paradise saw around 6" of snow that night. But I guess the telemetry was wrong, because the gate opened at 10am and when we arrived in Paradise, I'd say there were at least 8" of new snow.
So when we finally arrived in the upper parking lot we were the second car there. We opted to skin out Valley Road. This would mean actually going back uphill slightly at the end of the day, but would be an easy skin in to where we wanted to head. We left the road just before Myrtle Falls and headed up into the slopes north of the road. We skinned up to the Skyline Trail and used it to cross a creek that was not well snow covered. We then left the trail and headed uphill again. This is when the sun came out. (Something we were not expecting.) This is also where we started noticing some wind affected snow. There were sections where there was little more than 2" of fresh on a hard base, while other areas had over a foot of deposited snow. The wind was blowing a little more the higher we went, but we wanted to top this slope to get an idea of what was above it.
At the top of the slope, the terrain leveled out for a bit. Mt. Rainier was out of the clouds and we made the decision to transition there as we would have to traverse flats a bit before reaching steeper terrain, that may not have had as good of snow. Our transition spot was quite windy, and we were sure the wind was worse higher up. So we transitioned and headed down. My first set of turns were good on powdery snow. I made a bunch of turns and then signaled for Dan to head down. He stopped at my location and then headed through some short trees to a stopping point. He signaled me to follow, and I immediately fell when transitioning from firmer windswept snow into a depression with deep powder. It took me a while to get up as my legs were crossed. After that embarrassment, I skied down to Dan and we both headed down to the trail.
We skinned back up our skin track and opted to descend a little further east where the terrain looked good. Once we left our initial transition spot, we experienced much more wind affected snow. There were sections of hard snow with no powder on top and we were starting to see sections with a wind crust as well. Once at the top we headed down. The conditions were not as nice as we saw on our first run with a breakable crust and sections of hard snow. After coming down a bunch of turns we decided to make this our last run and head out to the road. Closer to the trail and road, the snow was better and less wind affected, but the lower angle didn't warrant trying to do another lap. So we reached the road, and skinned back out.
Overall it was nice to get out. I had a terrible time skiing the conditions on the second run, and was slow and fell because of it. This made the decision easy not to do another lap as we felt assured we would run into those variable conditions again. While the Paradise area has the most reliable snow pack for winter enthusiasts, it is just too exposed and rarely offers up ideal conditions for skiing in the winter. Also, the road opening at 10am really put a limit on what we would be able to do. It eliminated a trip up to Camp Muir, although neither Dan or I were interested in that objective anyway. Dan and I vowed to head somewhere else the next chance we get.
My pics are here.