Thursday, June 17, 2021

Mammoth Mountain, CA “Snow Farming:” A Dutiful Art on an Absolutely Massive Scale

This image—captured from an aerial point of view—shows resort snowcats farming snow. | Photo courtesy of pistenteam_andermatt

Give Michaelangelo some marble and you’ll probably get a sculpture. Give him some late-Spring snow and a snowcat and he might just be Mammoth Mountain’s Director of Slope Maintenance and the Unbound Terrain Parks, Scott Cherry.

Cherry organizes the resort crews that keep Mammoth and its terrain parks open long after other ski areas have already shut down and transitioned towards summer activities. This is because Mammoth is not like other ski areas. Most ski areas don’t consistently build terrain parks and maintain ski trails until the end of May.

Mammoth officially stopped spinning its lifts this season on Memorial Day, 2021 (May 31.) From the end of April until that fervent closing day, resort crews were giving every nail, tooth, and tear they had left in an effort to keep the mountain open and the runs skiable. They did a damn good job. Snowcats would push, pull, extract, and chisel snow off some slopes and onto others in a process that Mammoth refers to as “snow farming.” It’s like sculpting but in accordance with nature and on a very large scale with very large machinery. Even airborne tools—strapped onto airplanes—get used in the mountain’s unique snow farming system.

“The one thing we have on our side that’s a game-changer is SNOWsat, which is basically sonar with lidar mapping of our mountain,” Cherry said over the phone. “So they’ll fly a plane over our mountain, map it for us, and then upload it onto their system and create layers. Then they’ll upload that layering onto a tablet-sized screen inside the snowcats which will tell you within a half-an-inch of where your snow’s at. It’s like a fishfinder.”

A snowcat farms snow. | Photo courtesy of prinoth_pistenbully_pics

The technology described by Cherry is not controlled by him and his team but rather by PistenBully, who is contracted with Mammoth. With the use of lidar, cat drivers can see exactly where the snow is—and precisely how much of it is left—on a screen inside of the snowcat. Cherry, simultaneously, can look at another map on his computer screen that shows exactly where every cat has gone and moved snow, and what terrain features are still untouched.

“It’s an ongoing, developing technology. But it’s extremely accurate. It’s awesome,” Cherry said.

Six of Mammoth’s snowcats are equipped with this software. With digital maps uploaded to screens inside the cats, Cherry and his drivers work with that information in a way that mimics chess. They observe, contemplate, and strategize which slopes are still going to hold snow and for how long. Cherry and his team can forecast snow conditions weeks in advance so it becomes apparent which slopes aren’t going to make it. The slopes that are the next to go, Cherry and his team decide, are the ones that drivers will take snow from and redistribute towards those that will still provide decent Spring skiing. It’s challenging work, according to Cherry, and slopes with minimal snow get abandoned all the time—their organs getting transplanted to other, healthier parts of the mountain.

Which is when the magic happens. Snowcat operators will show up at 3 in the afternoon (when the snow is soft from the heat of the sun) and work until midnight before tapering mountain temperatures harden it into firm, fast skiing snow. They’ll follow the lidar maps on their screens and go to the exact pinpoint of snow that needs to get moved. They’ll farm that snow, push it out at night, and then groom it. But the way they farm it is where the process gets especially interesting.

The cut-away section of mountain next to the red lines shows snow farming in action. Cat drivers slice snow off the slope from top to bottom and move it where they want it. In this case, the snow will be moved down the hill in order to house Mammoth’s giant airbag jump. | Photo courtesy of Scott Cherry

Cherry describes the snow farming process as “typewriter-ing.” It starts with finding dirt. Snowcat operators grooming at night will relay to Cherry which slopes are hurting and which need more snow, and then Cherry will go out in a snowcat, typically the next morning, and farm snow for the drivers to shuffle around. He starts with a slope that has both moveable snow and dirt. This allows him to move the snow much more efficiently than if the snow was just sitting on more snow. Working from the top down, Cherry will go back in forth—like he’s driving his cat along the lines of a typewriter’s keyboard—gathering more snow and dirt as he descends each row. By the time he gets to the bottom, he may have a pile of farmed snow that’s 30-feet-high or higher.

“The better we are at farming the longer we’re able to hold onto our season,” Cherry said.

This blend of science and art—which allows one to move around snow as their mind sees fit—also comes into play with Mammoth’s Unbound terrain parks. Cherry said that it’s rare to see terrain parks open at ski areas this late into the Spring—let alone ones of Mammoth’s caliber with giant jumps and complex jib features. And, only a handful of ski areas still showcase 60 or 70-foot jumps every season.

With a background in building terrain parks, Cherry’s career eventually led him to Mammoth where he got to maximize his potential. When it comes to building a massive park or working with specifics for slopestyle events like Red Bull Recharged, Cherry and his crew will sometimes have to farm snow for 14 days before they can begin sculpting certain features. It takes lasting commitment and astute attention to detail to build Mammoth’s competition-grade features and terrain parks—which may not necessarily be noticeable at first glance when watching these competitions on YouTube.

“When you see those guys enjoy the product that you’ve spent every waking moment trying to get right, that makes it all worth it,” Cherry said.

Scott Cherry loves his job and it shows. How else would Mammoth swindle Mother Nature into staying open for skiing and riding until Memorial Day? 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Orthopedic Surgeon Outlines the Science Behind Shin Bang | Causes, Treatment, Prevention

Shin bang is not sorcery, it’s science. | Photo courtesy Ski Mag

You know, shin bang—that horrid, painful sensation on your shinbone that you get from your boot after skiing hard? Yes, you do.

Although die-hard ski racers in 1 million flex alpine race boots that they can barely walk in might tell you otherwise, shin bang is a real force to reckon with on (and off) the mountain every ski season. And there’s a science behind it.

That’s why SnowBrains reached out to Orthopedic surgeon Dr. William H. Montgomery, III, MD with the Dignity Health Medical Foundation in San Francisco, Calif. to find out what the heck is going on in our ski boots that make our shins hurt so damn bad sometimes, especially after we get new boots.

This image shows the tibia and shin in relation to where shin bang can occur. | Photo courtesy Orthoinfo

So what exactly is shin bang, and what causes it? 

According to Dr. Montgomery (who is an avid skier and has had BAD shin bang before), shin bang is a type of contusion on your tibia’s periosteum, which is “like saran wrap that wraps around your bone, and is really super sensitive,” he said in a phone interview. Most of the time, this contusion to your periosteum is caused by your shin consistently slamming against the top part of your ski boot due to the very small gap that often exists between your shin and your boot liner.

And it freaking hurts. 

After sharing his personal experiences with shin bang and describing the medical language associated with it, Dr. Montgomery outlined potential treatments for shin bang. He said that

“prevention is the cure but the treatment is different,”

meaning that the best way to treat shin bang is to avoid it entirely by having the best possible fit for your ski boots. The solution? Going to an experienced boot fitter and purchasing custom liners.

A good boot fitter will mold custom ski boot liners to the contour of your feet and shins, eliminating any potential gap between the liner and your shin that could cause shin bang. Dr. Montgomery also said that you should put a kind of gel or cork pad—or even a piece of a foam beer koozie—in between your liner and your leg to provide a soft cushion for your already miserable shin.

If it’s too late and you are already experiencing full-on shin bang, even with a good fitting boot (which can still happen as a result of charging hard), then icing, ibuprofen, and rest are likely your best bets.

“There is absolutely nothing more miserable than having painful feet and legs when your skiing. It absolutely stinks,” Dr. Montgomery said. “You need a good boot fitter!”

Shin bang is not sorcery, it’s science. Keep your shins safe this season!

Avoid shin bang at all costs this season! | Photo courtesy

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A warrior dies and the forest cries

I remember vividly the night the Cochise warrior died.

The elk bugled and the coyotes howled in the forest just beyond town. They cried like I've never heard before from the quiet deck at my father's house. 

Perhaps the sorrow in the region was so powerfully felt that night that it rose into the star-studded sky above like a palpable scent, drifting with the wind and through the trees. 

Maybe even the forest creatures could smell the pain that floated in the sharp mountain air.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Ruidoso, New Mexico's Best Skier Dies in Tragic Accident: Fundraiser Organized to Help Family

The late and great Alex Robert Davis: December 25, 1999 — September 21, 2020. | Photo courtesy Martin Kuprianowicz

It's never a good day when you've learned you just outlived your brother.

But it was always a good day with Alex Davis. 

Because I think if life had a flavor it'd be bittersweet. 

Bitter, when you're living in a world where you can't go skiing with your brother anymore or do all the things you loved doing with him. 

But sweet when you think about all those incredible memories and good times you were lucky enough to have shared with him. 

Sweet, when you see people come together in such a beautiful way in the face of such a great tragedy. 

And even sweeter when you know the bond shared by Alex's brothers and yourself has only grown firmer and will continue to do so. 

Because it's all up from here — that's the way you go to get to the top of the mountain. 

Alex understood this better than anybody I've ever met. 

And so we will all just have to meet him there, where he'll be waiting — eager and smiling. 

I wrote that poem an hour before I spoke at Alex's funeral. Until last week, Alex had been Ruidoso, New Mexico's best skier. Everyone here knows this. He was killed tragically on September 21, 2020, in an accident. He was my best friend whom I call my brother and my favorite person to ski with in this bittersweet world.

"All Day" Alex Davis doing what he does best in Apache Bowl at Ski Apache, New Mexico! | Photo courtesy Alex Davis

I first met Alex Robert Davis over a basket of chicken strips at Ski Apache's cafe at the base of the mountain when I was about 12 years old. He couldn't have been more than about four feet tall at the time and had the same shit-eating-grin that stayed engraved on his face until his final days.

More than a lifetime's worth of skiing with Alex and his beautiful brother Israel is what followed after meeting this incredible human over a decade ago. We skied together every winter as much as we could. We felt like we owned our humble, sometimes powder-charged home mountain of Ski Apache. The snow-induced friendships we made along the way quickly turned into brotherhoods that only solidify as time slips on by.

Alex putting in work at the boulder spot! | Photo courtesy Martin Kuprianowicz

When I met that reggae-rockin, wild-haired kid he was still a snowboarder. Israel and I skied, and Alex was always right there with us on his board. He was several years younger than Izzy and me, but that never once was an issue after I saw how the kid rode. As days skiing with Alex turned into years, his legs got stronger and his stoke grew rowdier. At some point during my teenage years, Alex broke his board so I lent him a pair of skis. He had never skied a day in his life but after that fateful day, he was soon better than any of us. I think in about three days on skis he was already throwing spins and it wasn't long at all before he started stomping backflips in Ski Apache's icy, neglected terrain parks.


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Sweet shot on my last hit yesterday coming down 5th chute, I didn’t land It but it was still an awesome day competing with some other great skiers! #taosfreeride

A post shared by Alex Davis (@alexdavis.__) on

Alex moved to Utah last season for a month after I had been nagging him on for a few seasons to get out of Ruidoso and come ski some 'real' mountains. After one visit during an exceptionally snowy week in March of 2018, he was hooked on the idea and I offered to help him find a place to live in Salt Lake City.

That month of skiing in Utah with Alex was one of the best of my life. I could barely walk upon a week of his arrival from how hard we were skiing, which mainly consisted of me chasing after his tails at Alta Ski Area and following him off big cliffs that he always hit first because he knew we were too scared to. Alex wanted to come back this winter for the whole shebang — not just a month. So he did what he often did and went back to Ruidoso to get to work and save money for winter. He always worked so hard.

Alex always loved throwing terrifying backflips. | Photo courtesy Alex Davis

I don't spend much time in Ruidoso anymore since I moved to Utah several years ago outside of holidays with the family, but this summer I got to spend a lot of time with Alex. I only realize how lucky I am to have done so now. Escaping the bustle of the city and impulsively coming home to spend more time with family after COVID-19 hit, Alex was my partner in crime when it came to doing anything worth doing this summer. After work, we'd both link up and go climb, hike, bike, fish, or whatever the hell would get us our fix for the day in the outdoors. I've always really related to Alex because we're the same in the fact that were both snow junkies and don't really feel right unless we've put in some sort of physical exercise outside in the mountains. I always pictured him skiing with me into our old age and I never once thought he'd be snatched from my life so suddenly.


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Fun little park edit #ski#tinypark#patch

A post shared by Alex Davis (@alexdavis.__) on

He died on a sunny Monday morning. He was 20 years young. I got the call from our best friend and excellent human Gage Whipple, who said that something bad had happened to Alex at work. I was on the deck working on my computer, the same place where I had seen Alex last a little over a week ago. I didn't believe it — I refused to. There was no way that a freak of an athletic human such as Alex could die — he was way too tough, way too resilient! But it was confirmed a few moments later that there had been an accident and that he had left this plane of existence. And then all of our worlds turned upside down.

"Alex was an angel in disguise," Kevin Hester said after the funeral, an old-time ski bum who often skied with Alex at Ski Apache. "Whether you shook his hand or he looked you in the eye, he was an angel in disguise. That's just what he was." Kevin had been texting Alex the day of his passing, and Alex wished him well as he enjoyed a vacation at Lake Powell in Utah. Alex would do this with everybody because that's just the type of man he was.

Alex and I seen before going on a hike in Lincoln National Forest in summer 2018. | Photo courtesy Martin Kuprianowicz

Alex was a man who made you better just by being around you, whether it was with kindness, athletic prowess, or just listening to you and offering his opinion on something. He was wise beyond his years and truly got what it meant to love everyone and every moment to the utmost because he knew time here on earth is limited. Too limited.


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Fun little park edit #ski#tinypark#patch

A post shared by Alex Davis (@alexdavis.__) on

Alex is the glue that brought our friend group together (99% of the time while skiing) and kept it that way. He was a lot of people's favorite person, including my own, and damn sure the best skier I'd ever met. I always knew he was going all the way to the top, especially after watching his Freeride World Tour Qualifier video from Taos last season. But life had other plans.

It's important now, I think, to recognize that Alex is not in pain. He has left this world but his energy remains, dispersed among the trees and the snow. He is eternally free and it is only us — his friends and his beautiful family — who suffer on.

I just suppose these mountains got themselves a real snow god now.  

Alex's family has organized a Gofundme page to help pay some of his bills, fix his Subaru, and help cover the costs of attorney fees. The page reads:

"Alex was the guy who would dream something so big, and then wake up the next morning and fulfill it just so he could live in the moment. There isn't anything that anybody could say or do to help heal the hearts of many in our small community. However, Alex’s family is looking forward to keeping his spirit alive, and finishing a few things he had started before this year is over. We are asking donations to fix Alex’s Subaru WRX, pay off his new vehicle, and any extra for attorney fees. The family also has a donation account set up at  Washington Federal Bank in Ruidoso, for those who would rather donate there. All checks and donations at the bank have to be made out to Michelle Elwell (Mother of Alex, and account holder) and in the memo, box be sure to write “For Alex Davis”. The family will also be accepting donations in person."

No monetary sum will ever bring Alex back or mend the wound that gapes in all of our hearts. But anything will help his family in this trying, transitional period — anything.

To donate, please click here or go to the fundraiser webpage at

If you decide to donate, thank you. Or if you don't and you just read this article, also thank you. But above all, THANK YOU ALEX for everything you've taught me and all that amazing powder we skied while we were both young. Love you and miss you always brother, I'll see you at the chair.

Alex took me on my first real shed hunt this summer in New Mexico. Rest in Powder brother! | Photo courtesy Martin Kuprianowicz

Monday, August 10, 2020

7 Amazing New Mexico Ski Areas You've Never Even Heard Of

A view of the gondola at Ski Apache, one of New Mexico’s premier yet still relatively unheard of ski areas. | Photo courtesy OnTheSnow.

 They don't call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment for nothing. It's wild. It's ancient. It's culturally-inclined. It's serene. It's a place I could die in and one where I nearly have.

But most importantly, it's a place with some of the most amazing skiing in the Rockies, given that the snow gods are playing ball that year. Just take a look at their ski areas.

The locations of all of New Mexico’s lovely ski areas. | Photo courtesy New Mexico Tourism.

And I'm not just talking about Taos, which, you've probably heard of if you even give a fraction-of-a-damn about skiing anything steep. That place is like a far-off, lucrative, steep skiing paradise. World-famous, too. Or maybe I'm just biased(in love)?

But Taos isn't all New Mexico is hiding from you. The primordial land's other ski areas — of which I can bet many of you have never even heard of — have so much to show for. Check out the list:

Angel Fire trail map. | Photo courtesy Ski Central.

Angel Fire Resort 

Angel Fire Resort began in 1966, as a small ski destination in Northern New Mexico. They have since grown into a four-season resort offering a memorable Rocky Mountain experience for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and groups. The resort is located 8,600-feet above sea level in the Southern Rockies and has views of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. Angel Fire also has one of the best mountain bike parks in the United States which operates every summer.

  • Location: Angel Fire, New Mexico
  • Top elevation: 10,677 feet
  • Base elevation: 8,600 feet
  • Vertical drop: 2,077 feet
  • Skiable area: 560 acres
  • Runs: 80 total — 21% beginner, 56% intermediate, 23% expert
  • Longest run: 3.2 miles
  • Lifts: 7
  • Terrain parks: 3
  • Average annual snowfall: 210 inches
  • Snowmaking: Yes

Ski Santa Fe trail map. | Photo courtesy

Ski Sante Fe

Ski Santa Fe is located just 16 miles from the town of Santa Fe, one of the most popular destinations in the US. The ski area is tucked away high in the stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains and it has a base area elevation of 10,350 feet, putting it among the highest ski areas in the continental United States. The Millennium Triple Chairlift takes skiers and riders to a height of 12,075 feet with some of the Southwest's finest skiing. The vistas atop Ski Santa Fe are unsurpassed and act as the gateway for thrills including steep mogul runs, powder-filled chutes, gladed tree-skiing, and more than plenty groomed trails.

  • Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Top elevation: 12,075 feet
  • Base elevation: 10,350 feet
  • Vertical drop: 1,725 feet
  • Skiable area: 660 acres
  • Runs: 86 total — 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% expert
  • Longest run: 3 miles
  • Lifts: 7
  • Terrain parks: 1
  • Average annual snowfall: 225 inches
  • Snowmaking: Yes

Pajarito Trail Map. | Photo courtesy Pajarito Mountain Ski Area.

Pajarito Mountain Ski Area

Located on the eastern edge of the Jemez Mountains in north-central New Mexico, Pajarito Mountain Ski Area is five miles west of Los Alamos. Its 750 acres of land are privately owned by Los Alamos Ski Club and were developed as a ski area in the late 1950s. The mountain has spectacular views east over the Rio Grande Valley towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and west over the Valle Grande from the peak.

Pajarito Mountain boasts 300 acres of skiable terrain, not counting its renowned tree skiing, plus some of the best bump skiing in the state. It is rarely crowded, and guests seldom need wait in lift lines. It is open to the public, selling both day tickets and season passes. There is no on-mountain lodging, however, hotels and other lodging options are available in nearby Los Alamos and Santa Fe.

  • Location: Los Alamos County, New Mexico
  • Top elevation: 10,440 feet
  • Base elevation: 9,000 feet
  • Vertical drop: 1,200 feet
  • Skiable area: 280 acres
  • Runs: 40 total — 20% beginner, 50% intermediate, 30% expert
  • Longest run: 0.6 miles
  • Lifts: 7
  • Terrain parks: 2
  • Average annual snowfall: 125 inches
  • Snowmaking: Yes

Red River trail map. | Photo courtesy Snow-Online.

Red River Ski Area

Located in the self-proclaimed "Ski Town of the Southwest," Red River Ski Area is a family-owned and operated mountain in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of the southern Rockies of New Mexico. The ski area is positioned along the famed Enchanted Circle near Texas, Albuquerque, Taos, and Santa Fe, and has a base elevation of 8,750 feet along with 209 skiable acres. The mountain is steeper than first meets the eye and has some epic tree skiing.

  • Location: Red River, New Mexico
  • Top elevation: 10,350 feet
  • Base elevation: 8,750 feet
  • Vertical drop: 1,600 feet
  • Skiable area: 209 acres
  • Runs: 64 total — 31% beginner, 31% intermediate, 38% expert
  • Longest run: 2.5 miles
  • Lifts: 7
  • Terrain parks: 3
  • Average annual snowfall: 214 inches
  • Snowmaking: Yes
  • Average days of sunshine: 300+

Sandia Peak trail map. | Photo courtesy

Sandia Peak Ski Area

Sandia Peak is perched above Albuquerque in the Sandia Mountains and is arguably the nation's easiest accessible ski resort from a major city due to its 60 person aerial tram that rises more than 4,000 vertical feet in less than 20 minutes. It is New Mexico's oldest ski area since 1937 and offers beginner and intermediate terrain. Weekends can get crowded and lifts are old, but a weekday powder dump is never something anybody living in or around Albuquerque can complain about.

  • Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Top elevation: 10,378 feet
  • Base elevation: 8,678 feet
  • Vertical drop: 1,700 feet
  • Skiable area: 200 acres
  • Runs: 39 total — 31% beginner, 46% intermediate, 23% expert
  • Longest run: 2 miles
  • Lifts: 5
  • Terrain parks: 1
  • Average annual snowfall: 100 inches
  • Snowmaking: Yes

Sipapu Ski Resort trail map. | Photo courtesy Sipapu Ski Resort.

Sipapu Ski Resort

Sipapu is the definition of a "family-oriented mountain," but one with some actually GREAT skiing. Family owned and operated since 1952, everything at this ski area seems to have been designed to please families and protect their budgets, from lodging to terrain, according to OnTheSnow. There are 41 runs, a vertical drop of 1,055 feet, an average snowfall of 190 inches, and a snowmaking system that covers 70 percent of Sipapu's 200 acres. There's also plenty of diversity in its terrain. Here you'll find some of the best tree skiing in the state, a couple of terrain parks, some long cruising trails, and an abundance of novice and beginner terrain.

  • Location: Vadito, New Mexico
  • Top elevation: 9,255 feet
  • Base elevation: 8,200 feet
  • Vertical drop: 1,055 feet
  • Skiable area: 200 acres
  • Runs: 41 total — 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% expert
  • Longest run: 0.5 miles
  • Lifts: 6
  • Terrain parks: 4
  • Average annual snowfall: 190 inches
  • Snowmaking: Yes

A photo from the historic 45″ powder day at Ski Apache, New Mexico in 2018. Photo: SnowBrains.

Ski Apache

I saved the best for last. Well, not really. You can't say that this ski area is the best ski area on this list in terms of mountain stats. But I can, because I grew up skiing here and it will always be one of the best ski areas ever to me. Ski Apache has seven chairs, a high-speed gondola, wicked tree skiing, bowls and glades and mogul fields, and fun, flowy terrain that is exceptional on powder days. With 750 skiable acres and a 1,900-foot vertical drop, this mountain is seriously slept on. It doesn't get as many big dumps as it did in the good ol' days, but when it does — like when they got a historic 45 inches in 24 hours in December of 2018 — there's no other place I'd rather be skiing.

  • Location: Ruidoso, New Mexico
  • Top elevation: 11,500 feet
  • Base elevation: 9,600 feet
  • Vertical drop: 1,900 feet
  • Skiable area: 750 acres
  • Runs: 55 total — 20% beginner, 60% intermediate, 20% expert
  • Longest run: 2.5 miles
  • Lifts: 8 + 1 gondola
  • Terrain parks: 3
  • Average annual snowfall: 185 inches
  • Snowmaking: Yes
Ski Apache trail map.