The Vert Top 10 of 2014

Congratulations to Fred Frost for winning his 4th Vert Title in 2014~!  Once again, he is the undisputed “King of the Big Mountain.”

In the 11 seasons of the Vert Era here in Whitefish, no one else has won more than twice. Fred continues to be a pillar of durability and the envy of all who don’t ski as much as they wish.  Once again, Fred averaged over 40,000 vertical feet per day.  He was the sole achiever of the Fred Frost Award, given to those who ski more than 4 million vertical feet in a season.Vert Top 10 of 2014

Also returning to this year’s Top 10, was yours truly, skiing my biggest year yet, in a season where I didn’t win.   I averaged a hair over 30,000 feet per day, while skiing all 121 days.

Last year’s champ, Tony Cooper, followed up his record-breaking season with another podium, finishing a respectable 3rd.

Albin Kwolek, turned in a personal best, joining the ranks of the 3 million feet club, in his 2d consecutive season in the Top 10.

Mark Panicek also turned in a personal best, breaking into the Top 5, for his second consecutive Top 10 finish too.

Steve Calger also skied a personal best.   And wife Kay, earned her 5th Ladies Vert Title.

Joining the Top 10 for the first time, John Sanman beat some seasoned vert veterans and 4 Million Club members to earn 8th place.

R.J. Brewer rejoined the Top 10 for the third time, with a rock solid 2.5 million vert feet skied.

And John Gibson grabbed the final Top 10 spot….earning his 9th year in the Top 10.

This year’s Top 10 endured and persevered through some significant injuries…..from broken ribs, to concussions, MCL sprains, strained backs, and many other ankle-biting and toe-jamming annoyances.  They skied through all of it to make it onto this list.

Getting on this list is not by accident.  You have to want it….and mean it….and probably be a little bit lucky too.

Who’s in for next year?


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Ladies Top 10 of 2014

Lets give it up for the Ladies of the Big in 2014~!

Congratulations to Kay Yobst for winning her 5th Ladies Vert Title~!  But for a late season knee injury, which hobbled her for nearly a week, she would have undoubtedly had a personal best, and maybe even approached the ladies’ record. As it was, she still skied the 3rd most all-time by a lady.

Kay skies so much that she has a fan club of envious, female mountain employees.  They purportedly even named a sandwich after her during Women’s History Month.

I too am a fan.   She and Steve are fun to ski with, especially in the steeps and deep snow. Lets get those knees back to strong by next season.

And without further adieu, here’s the Top 10 Ladies for this eleventh season of the Vert Era.  Congratulations to all of them.Ladies Top 10 - 2014

And to put the numbers up front for those ladies aspiring to compete in the future, here below is the Ladies Top 10 All-Time Vert Season totals.   It takes a full 2.2 million feet to get on this board.Ladies Top Vert - Alltime 2014

As always, constructive inputs to correct the record are welcome.


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Best of the Big 2013

Skiing the Big Mountain

The sun has set on another great ski season here on the Big Mountain.Sunset 2013

The 2012-13 ski year, while under-delivering on the total snowfall front (at 257″), did deliver some distinct highlights and plenty of memorable moments.   Here’s the proof—or at least a few pics that illustrate some of those great moments.

We started the season with three weeks of relentless powder days.   Our legs weren’t ready for off-piste bombing….but we did it nonetheless. Early Season Deep Snow  Skiing above the inversion layer (of clouds) was just an added bonus.  Inversions are God’s way of telling folks to get out of town and up on the mountain.  It’s wet and dreary down there…and it’s glorious up here.

The deep snows early, set us up well for the Christmas hordes from the Canadian steppes.   Whitefish, South Alberta3,000 acres is just enough to accommodate the 7,000 folks who celebrate the holidays in Whitefish and on the mountain. We need all 3,000 acres of Whitefish Mountain Resort to spread everybody out.   And sometimes it still feels like we are stepping on each other’s toes.  Whitefish feels a lot like South Alberta and not Montana over this time—best evidenced by the completely sold out milk racks at Safeway.   All through the holidays, locals are heard saying “its only a week, right?  Next week, it will be just us here.”

Like troopers, we pushed through it.   Knowing that at least we had 3,000 acres and we had fresh snow to play in.

Some of that early season pow, had us skiing Evan’s Heaven for last run, day after day. Evan’s is known for being a little softer, a little deeper, a little less-tracked, and since it’s a long cat-track ride back to the chairlifts, we usually save it for last.  The late-afternoon views in Evan’s are often worth the trip.

Evan's at 4:15

The steep terrain of Evan’s Heaven is as challenging as you want to ski it.

Steve in Evan's HeavenOver time, we skied all of it…from the “Back-Door” to Lee’s Way.  If the snow is soft, the lower Evan’s tree-line is one of the mountain’s great joys.  But don’t take my word for it. Come up next season and decide for yourself.

"Buckle Your Boots"Here above is the (east end of the) biggest Evan’s cliff—known locally, colloquially, as “Buckle Your Boots.” We like skiing the chute at skier’s left of the cliff….which offers this view above.   Though, on a particularly foggy day, I did happen upon some other tighter, shorter chutes at skier’s right of the cliff—after skiing upon the “cliff sign” basically mid-rock.   The only way from there, was to turn right and look for a chute I could do, or “huck” it.   Its a “big boy” huck, no question about it, no matter which side you choose.  And people do it.  We watched a snowboarder huck the 25-30 foot portion in early March.  He hucked right off the middle of the biggest drop (seen from a distance in the pic below).  Crazy~!Buckle My Boots

Coming back from Evan’s after last chair, takes you down Russ’s Street toward town.   The town view always give us a lift, knowing that we are still skiing, doing a last lap for those still working down below.   Somebody’s got to represent.  Those stuck in town, or worse, in the flatlands of the plains, require our service, doing one more run for them.  We do our part–such is the service portion of being a full-time ski bum.Whitefish at 4:15

Shortly after seeing town, Russ’ Street turns west toward the main village.   And on nice early season afternoons, you often ski into the setting sun.  As we skied past Hogan’s East one December day, these side-by-side “Sun-Dogs” below were a stunning sight to behold.   Sundogs at 4:15

These “Sun Dogs” looked as if they were lifted from the “Bible Stories” kid’s book at the pediatrician’s office.  They certainly appear to convey divine providence, on some level.

And while the skies often seem to be channelling divine providence, the Jesus statue near the top of Chair 2, remains mired in the court system.  One fellow, who skis maybe a half dozen days a season, is offended by the presence of the statue on Forest Service land.   Big Mountain Jesus - 2013

Save Jesus stickers have become popular enough that they are being sold locally.  Irony and capitalism intersecting for fun and profit.  Save Jesus

Whatever the eventual outcome of the Jesus Statue Case, divine providence didn’t keep the snow-faucet turned on much past the holidays.  The early season snows eventually gave way to some prolonged dry periods.  January, February and March each had long stretches (>7-10 days) without snow.   Droughts in ski-areas wear thin on the powder-hounds.  Even when they are punctuated and highlighted by the proverbial Colorado “Bluebird” (blue sky) days.

Big Mountain Bluebird - Summit House

We made do and suffered through…knowing that life is tough, especially for ski bums.

I used this season to keep plugging away at new terrain–those areas which had previously been above my ability level.  There are still huge swaths of our 3,000 acres that I’ve still left for myself to conquer in the future…but this year I conquered some big ones.  For instance, “Space”–which you won’t find on a map.  It’s the area between Schmidt’s Chute and Elephant’s Graveyard.  Space is steep, tight, and full of drops.  In a word, it’s “gnarly.”Space Annotated

It has to be 5-6 acres at least, featuring it’s own cliff/chute band.  The cliff/chute area is the seemingly small open area seen in the pic above.   As seen below from up close, you can see that it’s a lot bigger than it appears above from the distant shot from the East Rim.Space Cliff Band

And, it used to be, under my old skill-set paradigm, that we would ski Schmidt’s while our more skilled and aggressive friends might ski Space (Doug–you know who you are).   One day last season, Doug entered Space…..and came out sans one ski pole.   This season, we found it for him.  Its hanging in the tree at center right.Doug's Pole

All that was left was to retrieve it.  That may wait another season.  None of us are that comfortable working overhead on an icy ledge.  Doug, you’re probably on your own here.

In addition to Space, I also began systematically conquering the skier’s left chutes of Haskill’s Slide (our signature Double-Black Diamond run on the mountain).  Known to the resort’s activities crew as the “Kings and Aces” chutes, these are short, narrow and steep enough to (borrowing the phrase from Powder Magazine) “weed out the wussies.”  Haskills Kings and Aces

I was plugging away at these chutes, picking them off one by one, on good snow days…only to go “over the handlebars” one day in one of the bigger chutes.   I was sliding down headfirst, on my back, knowing a rock/cliff was immediately below me.   Somehow, I got my feet back around and underneath me….and skied away to tell about it, here and now.Haskill's Over the Handlebars

As I made it back to my feet unscathed, I said my thanks for being “lucky to be alive” still. Nothing reinforces humility like going headfirst down a chute, in a run known to have killed multiple skiers over the years.  I now ski Haskill’s with even more respect.

Likewise, Picture Chutes, in Hellroaring Basin (aka the “West Bowl”) offers continuing challenges.   This year I began skiing the larger chutes at skier’s right.   You ski right up to the cliff sign and drop in, working skier’s right into the open spaces to avoid the cliffs/rocks. Picture Chutes

Much of the terrain within the Picture Chutes cliff band, is still unskiable to me and most of my friends….but I did see a number of folks this season skiing areas that I had previously labeled unskiable.  It’s all in the eye of the skier.  If you see it and think you can do it, then “Have at it, hoss!” is the appropriate exhortation.

Most of the new terrain I have conquered over the last few years has occurred just like that.   I ski up to something, look it over, and just “know” that I can do it.  At that point, I just do it.  And life is good.  And flatlanders and locals alike hate me—for living their dream. Everybody hates the guy who skis more than they do.  Its simply human nature.

Much of the mountain has become “within my ability level” over the last few seasons.  I’ve worked very hard to get to an improved level.  But, I can’t claim all the credit.  I also have to give it up to Andy Pollard and Sam Cordi–two of the most well-regarded instructors on the mountain. Andy Pollard - Men's Day

I spent 3 years in Sam’s ski group (one day a week for eight weeks during the season) and each of the last two seasons, I’ve been under Andy’s tutelage.   Below is what I call Andy’s “Elite Group” seen after just coming out of Stumptown–accessed from Goat Haunt.  Andy's Ski Group

He tells us we are the envy of the ski school.  I know we are an adventurous and improving bunch.  Understanding the science of skiing is critical–at least as much so as putting in the time required for recognizing and realizing improvements.  We’ve had some tremendous days in Group….and when you see us watch out, we can, in short order, track out a powder run.   Here below, we were doing our part to shred Gray’s Golf Course.Men's Day - Gray's Golf Course

And like Men’s Day Ski Group has become routine since moving here, I similarly feel privileged to see wildlife routinely on the mountain.

It’s always scary, seeing deer up close on a ski run.  When they cross closely in front of you, you realize how badly you would lose in the collision damage assessment.  Fortunately, deer sightings only usually happen during the early season and this year offered no close calls.

Other animals bring a real charge when you see them.   At or near the top of the list are the ermine sightings.   ErmineErmine are basically, prolific hunting snow-weasels.  They feed on mountain field mice.   All of them live under the snowpack….and you only see them while they are out hunting.   I saw two this season.   Sadly, I couldn’t get a photo.  It will be a particularly lucky day if and when I eventually do.  Above is a reference pic, I pulled off of via Google.

What I did get a photo of, while skiing one March afternoon, was a series of pics of two Big Mountain Grouse.   I was skiing Fault 2 toward the Elkweed sign, when I see the two birds, about 15 feet apart, about 30 feet in front of me.Grouse Apart

As they saw me and perceived a threat, the one in the tree stayed put, while her partner, closed ranks.Grouse Closing Ranks

At the time I was seeing this, it seemed like nature’s answer to a burning question.   When faced with a perceived threat in life, what should you do?  By their actions these grouse demonstrated the simple answer.  The one that is exposed should move toward its already covered friend.  In closing ranks, you will find a degree of comfort–in that you are sharing the risk and not facing it alone.   The tree offered cover, the partner offered comfort. Its win-win for the grouse.Grouse Together

Though I wasn’t a real threat in any event.

Bird sightings are more prevalent than mammals…but it isn’t the fauna that keeps us skiing, its the snow.  As the season bore on, we eventually got enough snow to carry us through–mostly anyhow.   There were some dirt spots emerging all over the lower, south-facing terrain over the last couple of weeks of the season.   Six “bluebird” days over the final two weeks, softened the snow into  slush (known as “corn” snow).   It skied nice….so long as you waxed right.   50 or more SPF was a requirement for multiple 3-day periods.   And if you’ve been here more than once, you know that’s a Big Mountain rarity.  I got a sunburned face, twice over this time.

I also used these Bluebird days to do some photo-reconnaissance for next season.   Chicken Nuggets, another name you won’t see on a trail map, in the East Rim area, is one of next year’s quests. Chicken Nuggets

I’m pretty sure I’ve got a route that will get me down without any mandatory airs.   It will just take the right day, with soft snow and good visibility.  I was fortunate to see two guys ski my route one afternoon in late March.   They never hucked anything, just skied a gnarly, technical line.

At 50 now, that seems to be my lane…technical – yes; gnarly – maybe; hucking (jumping, dropping off of cliffs, trees, etc) – absolutely not.   I like the challenge of skiing difficult terrain…and the “being able to ski again tomorrow” imperative is the most important part of that whole equation.

The more I ski, the more philosophical I become about it.   But, that’s a luxury I usually only attend to in the off-season.  During the season, its all “get up there and get busy” putting in an honest day—in the interests of being the ski bum with the best work ethic.

Before we knew it, the honest days came to an end, and another season was in the books. It was a season for the record-books, with numerous folks setting personal bests.  For me, I skied more consecutive days than ever–at 121 straight.  Those days gave me every opportunity to witness the magnificent skies that grace our mountain, town and valley.   I don’t know where Montana’s “Big Sky” moniker was coined….but the Big Mountain definitely gives us a big enough sky to see just about every color of the rainbow and every cloud type known to science.   The distances visible are quite impressive.

This view below illustrates what Lloyd “Mully” Muldown–the man for which this run was named–saw and wanted to share with the rest of us.   In the far distance, is Flathead Lake aglow,  in the near portion of the valley, is Whitefish, adjacent to Whitefish Lake, which serves as the backdrop for the grown-up Big Mountain Village area.   All under another magnificent sky.Ed's View

The sunsets on the mountain are quite often reason enough to night ski.   They can be quite spectacular.   And we always appreciate their inherent beauty.Big Mountain Sunset

They are a fitting way to finish a nice ski day…..and an apt representation to wrap up a Ski Season remembrance.  May we have many, many more.Another Big Mountain Sunset

Another great season indeed~!  JDPF

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The Vert Top 10 of 2013

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

A hearty congratulations to your All-Time Vert Single-Season Leader, Tony Cooper.

Here are your Overall Top 10 of 2012-13.

Vert Top 10 2012-13

Topping the list, with your newly created All-Time Single-Season Record, Tony Cooper bombed his way to 5,612,746 vertical feet.  Tony skied as quickly and efficiently as one could possibly ski, skiing day after day in the 55,000-60,000 feet range down the stretch.   He turned in multiple 70,000+ feet days, working the night-skiing opportunities to full advantage.   Tony skied fast and wasn’t appreciably slowed down by adverse ski conditions.  He averaged 47,972 feet per day, over the 117 days he skied.  He devised and executed a strategy that gave him a chance.  And he stayed healthy enough to keep pushing and get it done.  It took a monumental and determined effort for Tony to set the new mark.  The record is now yours.  Enjoy it~!

Fred Frost continued his remarkable run of 10 consecutive Overall Top 3 finishes, with a 10th Place All-Time season himself, at 4,343,300′.   This year gives him a whopping 41,135,472 vertical feet over the last decade.   He is unquestionably the King of the Mountain for the decade.   There’s no question in my mind, this total is in the Top 3 worldwide over the past 10 years.  I’d love for the editors at one of the Ski Magazines to take a stab at determining if anybody else has skied more.

Your’s truly had my 6th consecutive Top 3 finish.   And while this was only my 3rd best season total, it was easily my best year skiing the Big Mountain.  Less total vert, more quality skiing.   That seems to be the progression and trend I’m working on.  This year, I also notched my first season of skiing every day—all 121 days.  Rick Sawyer and Russ Carpenter, I don’t know how you do it, year-in and year-out.

John Gibson topped 3 million feet again, doing it around working full-time and traveling all over the place.   He gets more done, with more constraints, than anybody else in the Top 10.  And he still rides with more skill and grace than I do, especially in tight-treed spaces. Sorry to slow you down in Connie’s at 4:00.  I’m working on being quicker about it.  Next year, you can show me Area 51 and Gate 6.

Russ Carpenter surged his way into another Top 5 performance with another impressive March and April.  Ten years straight in the Top 10.  And amazingly to me, Russ doesn’t ever miss a day.  Not to my knowledge, over any of the years since I moved here in 2006, has he ever missed a day.

Albin Kwolek is a newcomer to our Top 10.  Welcome.  He skied the 53rd highest season total ever skied on the Big Mountain.  Not too bad a way to break in.

Kay Yobst was your Ladies Number 1 and overall number 7.   She skied a personal best 2,712,322 vertical feet, earning her 4th Ladies Title and 4th Overall Top 10. And she did it skiing all over the place.  Thanks for showing me the left side of Haskill’s and Back-Door to Evan’s.   Seems like a fair exchange for the Picture Chutes and “Space” routes that I shared with you and Steve.  Next year, its Chicken Nuggets, with no huck(s) required.

Tom McCrea rejoined the Top 10 after a one year hiatus.   Welcome Back.  One of these years, I’m bound to meet you and will learn to recognize you.

Steve Calger is again back in the Top 10, for his 4th time.  Steve also set a personal best at 2,663,000′ in 103 days.  Nicely done.  We’ve come along way over the last few years–learning our way around this Big Mountain.  And we’ve done it the old-fashioned way–one run at a time, without anybody guiding us into the “gnar.”  Just poking our way a little left and right of the main routes, and voila, we’ve got “Space” figured out.  Thanks for sharing the powder stashes.  It’s a bigger mountain now for each of us.  Next year, we branch out further.

Finally, a hearty welcome to Mark Panicek–my fellow Army Veteran, and retired Coast Guard Officer, and fellow student of one each Andy Pollard, Ski Instructor Extraordinaire. Mark is earning his chops and made his first Overall Top 10.  He is putting in the mileage, “looking the enemy in the eye,” getting it done.   Time on skis, coupled with applying the sound science that Andy is imparting, are the keys to significant skill gains.  That’s certainly been true for me.  Good on you for working diligently at your craft~! And thank you for your service~!  On behalf of the Top 10 Club Veterans, welcome to the club.

That’s your Top 10 for 2012-13.   Who’s in for next season?

Cheers JDPF

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The Top 100 Vert Seasons

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

Here it is, new in 2013, your Top 100 Vert-Seasons, in rank order.  From Tony Cooper’s brand new record 5,612,746 vertical feet, down to John Gibson’s 2,183,608′ done in 2008-09.  It’s number 1 to 100 baby.  The 100 biggest seasons skied in the first decade of the Big Mountain/Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Vert Era, begun in 2003-04.

Clearly, Vertmania has been manifest on the Big Mountain over the last decade.   This is true whether prizes and incentives were awarded or not.   The first few seasons offered free passes and skis to the winners.  The last several years have been “just for fun.”

To many, vert is a “way of life.”  Skiing regularly is its own reward, but skiing more than your peers gives you more than just bragging rights.  You get more time on the Big…and you might just wind up on a list like this.

This year’s Overall Top 12 skiers/boarders all made this Top 100 list.   It looks like the ante for entry into this club will easily climb over 2.2 million next season.

Congratulations to all who appear here below~!   And to those who haven’t, but aspire to, here’s the bar.   Come and get it.  Top 100 2013Top 100 pg2Top 100 pg3Top 100 pg4Top 100 pg5Top 100 pg6Top 100 pg7

As always, I welcome your constructive inputs to correcting or completing the record. Stats are inherently pesky and can be difficult to keep accurately.  Additional eyes on the data doesn’t seem to hurt anything.   Aside from that, I say “let the record speak for itself.”

I am not affiliated with Whitefish Mountain Resort in any way, though I am arguably among its most dedicated patrons.  Come join us and give it your best shot.  R/JDPF

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Ten Biggest Vert Single Seasons

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

It was an epic, record-setting year for Vert on the Big Mountain.  A hearty congratulations to Tony Cooper, your new all-time Vert Single-Season Record Holder~! He skied an amazing 5,612,746 vertical feet.Ten Biggest Vert Seasons 2013

Tony broke Chappy’s long-standing record of 5,306,096′, set back in 2003-04.

And to put things in perspective, Chappy skied his record year in a 139-day season.  Tony had 121 days to work with.  Chappy had more days.  Tony had faster, more efficient chair-lifts.  Chappy had monthly and seasonal prizes as incentives driving the competition upward.  Tony had no similar incentives.  In both cases, the records were extraordinary feats of endurance and persistence, working thru whatever conditions the Big Mountain threw at them.   They both skied thru the blisters, hot-spots, the aches and pains that skiing 50,000+ feet days, day after day, bring as a normal by-product.  My hat is off to both of them.

And while I’m at it, my hat is also off to Fred Frost.  He joined the ranks of the “skiing for free” crowd (as a Super Senior) this season and promptly bumped my 2007-08 season out of the Top 10 Biggest Vert Single-Seasons.  Congratulations~!  You now own four of the Top 10.   I assure you, the rest of us can only dream of being that prolific over time.

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The Top 10 Club

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

The Top 10 Club proudly welcomes two new members in Albin Kwolek and Mark Panicek! The next round is on you.  The Top 10 Club includes those people who have finished in the Overall Top 10 of the Vertical Competition at Whitefish Mountain Resort, since the inception of the program in 2003-04.

We have just completed the tenth season of the Big Vertical Competition.   Ten seasons with 10 places each year, it all adds up to 100 spots.   Those 100 spots are owned by just 32 people.  The charts below show just how prolific some of our skiers have been over time.Top 10 Club - 2013

At the top of the List, All-Time Big Mountain Vert King, Fred Frost, just finished his Tenth Consecutive Top 3 Overall finish.

Joining him with his tenth Consecutive Top 10 Overall finish is Russ Carpenter.

John Gibson notched his 8th Top 10.   Yours truly, my 6th.

Steve (Calger) and Kay (Yobst) earned their 4th.    Vert Champ and Single-Season Record-holder Tony Cooper got his 3rd Consecutive Top 10.Top 10 Club - 2013 pg2

Welcome back to Tom McCrea–earning his 2d Top 10 over the last three years.

And Congrats to our new members—Albin Kwolek and Mark Panicek.  Nicely done~!

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