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The Inside Line: Kirkwood, CA

Inside Line
posted: 06/30/2004

Elevation: 9,800 feet
Vertical Drop: 2,000 feet
Snowfall: 466 inches
Getting There: From Reno, it's a 90-minute drive via 395 South and 88 West over Carson Pass. From the Bay Area, take I-580 to 88 East over Carson Spur (3 1/2 hours). The drive can be hairy in storms.
Info: 877-547-5966, kirkwood.com

Beta: The dumps at Kirkwood are legendary. In the 1999-00 season, 76 out of 158 days were powder days. Situated farther west and higher than its Tahoe neighbors, Kirkwood has dibs on Pacific-born storms. That means your odds of untracked are way better than your odds of throwing a boxcar on the craps table in nearby South Lake Tahoe. The bulk of the mountain is an amphitheater of bowls, ridges, glades, chutes, and rock playgrounds that spread out in seemingly plain view from the base. In reality, the terrain has a Rube Goldbergian complexity. Choose to arc right instead of left around that Sierra juniper and you end up on a different line, in a different drainage.

Powder Day
Oddly enough, the powder frenzy can be less rabid on weekends because so many local powder junkies have midweek passes. Though avalanche-control work dictates your strategy, the smart money is on Chair 6. (Line up at 7:30 a.m.) From the top, traverse either direction along the 1.5-mile ridge and peel off when you spy untracked. Next, watch for Chair 10 to start loading and head for The Wall.

3 Days Later
If it's a 900-inch year like 1995, three days after a storm, there will be another storm. If not, look for untrammeled stashes in Thunder Saddle. Then head for the trees off Fawn Ridge.

Spring Day
Start in Sunrise Bowl and make your way back to the front side, hitting east-facing slopes like Palisades Bowl.

The Riding
Kirkwood is filled with natural gullies for snowboarders to play in. There are lots of ridgetop traverses, but you can drop in whenever the toe-side calf cramp nails you.

Proving Grounds
Marquee route: From the top of Chair 10, free fall off the cornice onto The Wall, a steep, treeless north-facing slab of snow.

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