Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Steep and Cheap Ski Day Theme Alert

Just got the word from the guys and gals running SAC (steepandcheap.com) that they are launching a Bell-to-Bell ski theme day on Wednesday, February 27. They don’t usually announce sport-specific themes, so this outta be good.

In the line up of items for tomorrow is one of my most recent gear purchases - the Westcomb Mirage Jacket made with eVent fabric. I posted a review of the Mirage jacket but in lieu of tomorrow's appearance on SAC they've pulled the page. Here was my review:
I've owned hard shells from most of the other major brands but sought out a shell that was made from eVent and I'm so happy I did. This shell is a solid performer. I wore it while skinning nearly 6000 vertical and then while skiing back down and it was dry inside despite sweating. The cut is perfect for backcountry skiing, ice climbing, etc. No frills, just a solid look at feel. The description says a sleeve pocket but not on this model. The hood covered my helmet when the wind kicked up bigtime. Dry, warm, and it breathes - it's perfect!
Aside from the jacket I know there are some climbing skins from G3, some Legend Pro Plus XXL Alpine Ski, the K2 Phat Luv Women's ski and a butch of other stuff you'll be bummed out on if you miss it.

It's not too late to get a desktop alert tool for SAC.



Monday, February 25, 2008

Colorado Panty Tree Photo Contest

I remember the first time I saw a panty tree at a ski resort. It was 1996 and I had move to Utah from Oregon. I can't really say why Oregon (Mt. Hood to be specific) didn't have panty trees. Lack of anything but evergreen trees? Perhaps. My lack of attention? Unlikely.

But that first view of a well decorated panty tree at then Wolf Mountain which is now The Canyons was one of wonderment, comedy and beauty. I had never considered such a thing and was in awe. Indeed, I was a jong and didn't know it. There adjacent and slightly below the Condor lift was a perfectly placed aspen adorned with bras and panties of all colors, sizes and styles. Beads and other effects rounded out the experience.

A few pairs from that first year lasted into the next season. Even while hunkered down, hood pulled over my head in a raging storm during the eternal ride that was the Condor double chair, I'd manage a glance as we passed over the tree, anxious to see which pairs had withstood the wind's fury.

The next season The Canyons took over and the tree was promptly cut down. Other trees around the resort began to be adorned but the results were sporadic and without reason, much like a lifty on the relationship rebound. It was as if the community couldn't decide upon a single tree. To this day I can't help but remember that amazing sight on the Condor ridge whenever I see a pair of lace panties hanging from a tree.

Colorado Panty Tree Contest

Around the time I was catching my first glimpse of a Panty Tree in Utah a legendary tree in the Back Bowls of Vail was reaching its prime. It was of such legend that the Vail Daily even wrote about it a couple of years ago.

So it was while riding the Pioneer Lift at Park City Mountain Resort the other day that I had the idea. Since I'm sitting on a comp ticket to Arapaho Basin Ski Resort and it's unlikely that I'll make it to Colorado this season it's time for a contest, a photo contest.

With that, I'm stoked to announce the Colorado Panty Tree Contest. That's right, we're giving Colorado their day in the sun. After all, up for grabs is a lift pass to a resort in Colorado. The lift pass was "thanks" for Backcountry.com's sponsorship of the Arapaho Basin Beacon Bowl but it'll be yours as thanks for sending us the best picture of a panty tree in Colorado.

The Contest Details

Images: Images must be taken by yourself and composition is key to winning this contest. Sure, anyone can take a photo from the chair lift but I want to see some creativity and some beauty (on or behind the tree).

Photo Submissions: e-mail all images to backcountryhorde AT gmail DOT com and I will then post them to the Colorado Panty Tree Photo Contest Bubbleshare image slide show which will be to the right. If you can resize the images to something managable, (i.e. - 800 pixels wide for example) it's appreciated but not mandatory.

Contest Dates: February 25 - March 17, 2008

1st prize - A lift ticket to Arapaho Basin valid until the end of this season, a Backcountry.com Wooly Jacket - Men's or Women's (you choose) and a Backcountry.com beanie of your choice.

Runner Up - Backcountry.com Wooly Jacket - Men's or Women's, once again you choose.

Example - Here is an example of a Panty Tree in Vail taken by "BlowSnow" and posted to the Outdoorzy.com Blog.

Panty Tree from Vail Colorado - taken by Outdoorzy.com Blog
I'd suggest taking a picture on a day that hasn't seen 12" of new overnight, but you get the idea. Good luck!

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Little Rippers - Kids are Fearless on Snow

You know the drill. Crusin' down a run at your local ski hill, thinking you're all that and more...or perhaps you're not thinking anything but just crusin. All of the sudden some little ripper on skis or a snowboard comes railing past you, boosts off a wall hit and sails on by like it's second nature. It's in moments like these that I just shake my head, smile and say, "Right on kid!"

The vid below comes from the TackledBox Blog. Not really sure who this blogger is exactly but he did mention hooking up with some of the boys from Backcountry.com at the Snowbasin Demo a few weeks back so he must be a friend of the crew.

So check out this little kid with skis so small that the are barely past the binding is completely fearless. Fearless indeed.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The High Pressure Set Up

A lot of snow junkies out there might dread the winter forecast that spells the end to fresh powder. Two little words puts your next fix in question: HIGH PRESSURE. I must say though, that I do love a good week or so of high pressure every now and again. Being up here in the heart of snow country, in British Columbia, it sometimes feels non-stop, and you ask yourself, when was the last time I saw the sun? Now that I have escaped the sun-drenched and snow starved former stomping grounds of the southwest, I feel the need for a good week of sunshine every now and again.

And now we have it. The last 4 days have been crystal clear blue sky, calm winds, accompanied by a settling snow pack letting us venture out a bit further and ski a bit more aggressively. Last week, we had a few storms to track, as my assistant guide Jonny Simms and I lead our group of skiers around this corner of the Valhallas for a total of 40,000 feet of ski touring in 6 days.

Jonny checks out the snow at the end of the last storm cycle

As of Sunday, we have a new group of 13 skiers to show around, and we have already done 20 grand of skiing, but its not the same old operating procedures, because those two words are with us, high pressure. So we have been going big, hitting summits, skiing in the alpine and staring down the spine of one of the most impressive and uninhabited mountain ranges accessible to most of us in North America, the Selkirks.

Looking down our skin track to Shannon lake, with the main spine of the Selkirks in the background. Where is everybody else? There is no one else here...ahh...the Selkirks!

This range is unbelievable, and it is really the home to some of the best skiing in the world, hands down. The mountains and snowpack add up for a perfect combination. It is an 'average' winter here, and the snow pack is a well settled 3m/10'. Just the other day we were looking down the bowels of a 6,500' foot descent that maybe 2 people have ever done. Today we were looking out at the Bugaboos, confronted with the 3,000' granite west face of the North Howser Tower, and off behind it the seldom climbed alpine big walls of the Battle Range. This place goes on and on and on. I feel like every mountain range I have been to in the lower 48 states has a limit to its mountain vistas...it is never 360 degrees; humans and their impacts are always visible. But up here, it's different, and it makes you feel good about how much adventure there is to be had so close to home.

And today was a day to check out some of those places so close to home. Even after three years of being up here at Valhalla Mountain Touring full time, there are so many runs I haven't gotten to do. Today I took the group down some 40 degree powder shots, with 15 to 20' pillows around to play on...I have been eyeing the line for 3 years and I finally got to do it now that the time was right...and it was so good, we did it twice!

Well, time to rest up for another big day of high pressure tomorrow. Maybe I will get to ski these lines that have never been done:
The group skins up to the summit of Cariboo Ridge, with the unskied north and west faces of Pyramid Peak, right in my 'backyard'

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gelande Quaffing - Boot Camp Begins

Gelande Quaffing is a "sport" of sorts contrived at the Mangy Moose in Jackson Hole, Wyoming by the Jackson Hole Air Force. On one fateful night a beer slid down the bar unclaimed by anyone as it passed. Just before it hit the ground a skier caught it and downed it. Gelande Quaffing was born.

Cloudveil, in lieu of a new documentary about the Jackson Hole Air Force called Swift.Silent.Deep, has been working hard to bring back this sport to its glory. This past month at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City the Snaz.com was on hand to document the rebirth of gelande quaffing.

In preparation for the Gelande Quaffing World Championships on February 27 in Jackson, team Backcountry.com is stepping up their game with boot camp this past weekend. See you in Jackson.



Monday, February 18, 2008

Classic Route Time in Telluride

Tracks off of Ballard Peak
Some of the most classic backcountry ski mountaineering routes in the Telluride area just got hit this week. Yesterday, my team of three got Ballard Peak in this golden window. The peak gets skied maybe once a season- last year my buddy Erik Larson, a Telluride ski patroller, and I did it in mid-January. This year, due to the heavy snowfall, that first chance finally arrived in mid-February.

The route is comprised of a four hour approach with a skin and ski both over and under multiple summits, with an original departure point from the Telluride Gold Hill backcountry access gate at just over 12,000ft. When we arrived at the summit of Ballard at about 1:30pm, we were graced with powder the entire 4,500ft down.

From the summit of Ballard, you descend from almost 13,000ft straight down into the town of Telluride at 8,750ft Ballard Peak and our tracks from Townvia a series of traverses, cliffbands, couloirs, and bowls. And, after a spectacular day up high, you get the glorious satisfaction of seeing your tracks on the face of the beautiful peak hovering above you when you head back to work.

The past two days have been the first true opportunity all season for attempting the more serious exposed routes higher altitudes in the area. The evaluation to "go" comes down to a delicate balance of the right temperatures, snow stability, and wind effect.

A group of eight of us headed out the gate first thing in the morning and then splintered into three different teams to hit the various classics. Peter Inglis, a legendary ski mountaineer and Denali guide, and his partner Josh Geeter skied the Eleven couloirs- you have to see it to believe it. The Elevens are an ultra classic and only get skied once every couple of years by a handful of people.

Each team made it ouTraversing from No Name Peak to Ballard Peakt safe and soLance negotiating the summit Exit couloirund, and without any rappels, due to the lucky circumstance that most of these technical chutes have filled in nicely so far this year. All of our groups encountered excellent snow conditions and a great powder ski, which is typically a roll of the dice and can be extremely unlikely when conditions are safe.

As another big storm rolls into the San Juans today, we are all anxiously awaiting our next opening.

The photos above and below are of the route and my ski partners Lance McDonald and Steve Root on our adventure to and from Ballard.

Lower exit from Ballard Peak


Adventures in the World of Comps

Well, I jumped back in to the comp scene again after a two year hiatus. The only thing holding me back was fear of failure, so why not sign up at the last minute again and go for it?
US Freeskiing Logo
To quote some greats:

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you must stop and look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Mark Twain: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear— not absence of fear.”

Herodotus: “Great deeds are usually wrought at great risk”
Get the idea?

So many people never achieve what they are truly capable of because they never get started, mostly due to fear. The fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of the unknown, all seem to be an inhibitor- but learning to face our fears and to then take action anyway, is the foundation of success in anything we do.

Just a day after getting word that our Pakistan- Gasherbrum II ski expedition is a go for this spring, I decided to tackle the Subaru Freeskiing Comp with my new found optimism. The first and last time I competed in a freeski comp was two years ago in the Telluride event- I finished 7th. This time I was cut-off, to my surprise- which happens in judged sporting events. In the 2006 comp, I skied a fast, fluid line and qualified for the finals going in at 8th place; I moved up one spot in the superfinals to 7th. This year, I tried to take advice from a previous judge who told me to incorporate more airs to podium. I did three small airs, with a technical start, and two more then most of the ladies, but was eliminated, I think, due to a long traverse to my last air. No falls, no weird moves, I just didn’t ski a line that the judges liked this time.

To succeed in these type of judged competition forums, it seems wise to sign up for the whole series and thereby learn and apply knowledge gained from one event to the next. You also get to know the other competitors, judges, and venues so as to improve as you go along. The periodic appearance does not bode well for even the best skiers out there. Flipping through result archives, you see that the #1 skier this year could have had 2-3 low finishes in past year. The "it" skier changes every time, and every year.

You learn so much every time you step up to the plate, and this time was no different. You have to learn to fail in order to understand success, but disappointment sure can be a tough pill to swallow, especially in your hometown. I placed behind girls who fell, who have been skiing for only a few years, and other interesting scenarios-- but now I am just hungry for redemption. Maybe Crested Butte’s wait list?

A few of us that competed on Friday had missed the boat on the original sign up for the Subaru Freekskiing Comp events, which filled up in a mere two hours in late November. If you think you want to give this type of competition a shot, it is a very worthy experience and can be invigorating and humbling at the same time. You also come out a better skier every time just from the experience itself, and with new friends and new perspective.

The event organizers appear to be able to get people in off the wait-list…but this is absolutely no guarantee. To sign up for an event- http://www.usfreeskiing.com/ and it is also highly recommended to become a member of the International Freeskiers’ Association to support the “club”-http://www.freeskiers.org/


Friday, February 15, 2008

The BEST Ski Run in North America

Yesterday, February 12th, 2008, Telluride Ski Resort opened access to Palmyra Peak- 13,320ft, therein providing the BEST lift-served, hike-to, in bounds terrain in North America. It is first time in history that the hike is open, legally, from the resort side. Palmyra Peak in Telluride

Telluride now has 4,600 vertical feet of skiing from the top to bottom.

For a lucky few of us who happened to get “the call”, check the website, or call the snow report, we were able to make the mad dash up to the peak before Patrol closed the hike at 12:30pm. Telluride’s Ski Patrol director Pat Ahern has been trying to open the terrain all season, but with the abundant snowfall, has encountered numerous obstacles in the form of snow safety and labor intensive control work to make it safe for the public. Yesterday’s opening served as a trial run on how operations would handle skiers making the trek up to this kind of terrain.

From the peak, there are 4 different exit couloirs, 3 shoulders/ramps, and then 3 different faces to traverse to from those couloirs. Once off the peak proper, the terrain opens up into 2 large bowls with further exit gulleys, and multiple features from which to huck your rad self. Snow gets loaded into this terrain as the bigger San Juan storm systems usually come from the South and drift in on the North side of the Peak, which is the aspect that is now open. The hike takes skiers anywhere from 40 minutes to 90 minutes from the lift- depending on from where you come- mountains vs sea level, respectively. The hike is not a walk in the park, and depending on wind effect and snow pack, offers slightly technical maneuvers and some healthy exposure.

Rumor has it that rest of the upper Gold Hill ridge, across from Palmyra, will also be opened westwards into the resort later this February. If that happens this season, there is no other place you want to be for varied incredible extreme skiing then Telluride. Lastly, slated for additional Palmyra Peak in Tellurideopening next year, via direct lift service off the top of the mountain aka Gold Hill, is Revelation Bowl, which will create up to five more runs for intermediate skiers… so, a little something for everyone.

This is the inside scoop on one of the ski industry’s best expansions in years. Come visit- http://www.tellurideskiresort.com/.



Backcountry.com T-Shirt of the Month

Ok, so this may not become as anticipated as Playmate of the Month but my interest piqued to see what designs the product development team will come up with for the Backcountry.com T-Shirt of the Month. Each month a new design will appear and then 30 days later, disappear. Sort of like SAC, but not. You follow?

From the site:
Shirt of the Month: For a limited time, Backcountry.com is kicking out a brand new shirt on the first of each month. These made-in-the-USA tops feature organic cotton and customized graphics created by local artists. You'll have a month to snag one … but don't wait too long—when the calendar turns, the shirt disappears. And then a new one appears …
I'm going to feature each shirt as it's released, which starting in March will be the first of the month. The designs will change each month and will revolve around an outdoor activity.

Meet Mr. February (sorry ladies, this one's for the guys): The Avalauncher

Go get your Backcountry.com Avalauncher T before they're gone.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Watching Liquid Sky in Indian Creek Utah

Another installment from the Kim Havell files as she hits Indian Creek, Utah for more crack climbing. Photos by Mark Fischer - www.markfisherphoto.com

One of the most exhilarating aspects of climbing can be ascending and descending a tower. A couple of weekends ago, Ren Terquile and I headed up to the North Six Shooter desert tower in Indian Creek, UT. On the tower are two classic routes- a 5.11a called the Lighting Bolt Crack, and then an off-width variation called Liquid Sky- 5.11c/d.

The approach is half the battle as it is an adventure to get to these places, get up to the climbs and to meet their various tests. It is a humbling experience for many and a different level of exposure and commitment for most.

That morning at camp, Ren and I got to chatting with Andres, a dynamo Columbian with a penchant for wide crack climbs. He mentioned he was headed up to the Liquid Sky challenge and we said we'd see him up there. Several hours later, Ren and I did the tricky four wheel drive access in - lucky for us, this was his fifth time climbing the tower and so his memory of the access and route served us well.

As we approached the cliffs, we noted the dangling individual, photog Mark Fisher, off the roof of the tower, and above the crux section, in position to shoot Andres on his attempt at Liquid Sky. From our perspective, it looked like a pretty exciting position from which to capture Andres’s progress.

Ren and I assembled our gear, and prepared for our tower approach, a tricky scramble through cliff bands and alleuvial fans. With us were our pets- Scout and Tarzan- both of whom are advancing in age and adventure capabilities. We carefully progressed up the route with awesome views of Andres making his way up the first pitch.

When we arrived to the base of the climb, Andres was belaying his partner, Mary, from the base and had combined two pitches from his anchor position on the face. As Mary moved upwards, Ren and I got ourselves situated for the four pitches ahead and he took off on the first pitch. Due to another party behind us, Ren combined two and half pitches before setting up an anchor to belay me up.

From our anchor at about one hundred and fifty feet up the Lightening Bolt route, we watched Andres maneuver his way through the strenuous and difficult off-width section and crux of the Liquid Sky Variation. There is no better all body work-out then an off-width struggle, and Andres used his strength and incredible off-width technique to flow his way through the challenges of the pitch.

Ren and I progressed upwards through the last two pitches, grunting through the final chimney at the top- giving us a slight taste of Andres’s neighboring route’s adventure. We met up with both him and Mark on the summit, and took in the fabulous views of the Canyonlands, stretching for miles around us, and the abrupt angle of the neighboring South Six Shooter tower from our unique perspective.

Photo credit - Mark Fisher - www.markfisherphoto.com



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Day at the Office

For those of you who have been coming back to this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I have been away from work for a few weeks, playing down in Salt Lake City, skiing the amazing snow cycle in the Wasatch.

Well, now I am back to work up here at Valhalla Mountain Touring, tucked away in a secluded powder skiing paradise. Getting here wasn't with out its adventures though, so here is a bit of a recap, and an insight look into the guide's life.

I flew in to Spokane, Washington to pick up my car, and make the 4 hour drive north via Rossland, BC. I must have brought the snow with me from SLC, because it stopped snowing there and started dumping up here, which is all great and dandy, unless you have to drive at night through it. I know you have all been there, trying hard to get to your destination, but being hypnotized by the Millenium Falcon hyper speed snowy night driving. Luckily in this part of the world 1 car passes you in the other direction every hour!

Night Driving BC Style - should I be on a snowmobile?!?!?

I made it to my destination safe and sound and unloaded my gear on to the snowmobile for my 'commute'. A little bit later I am back at the lodge, my office if you will, unloading, unpacking and getting ready for the next 28 days in a row of ski touring guiding. At an average of 5,500' vertical of touring per day, I am glad my fitness level is high, and that I have been resting for a few days, and eating as much as humanly possibly-kind of funny that I spend my days off sometimes resting and eating...

1 pm and the new group of 12 skiers are at the lodge. The frenzy begins: unpack, eat lunch, beacon practice, rescue drill, and a quick 1,200 foot lap of powder bliss out the lodge's front door to whet the appetite for things to come. Everyone is psyched, the snow is good, and more is on the way, time to ski!

Luckily with this job I don't have to fly solo, and I have an ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) Assistant Ski Guide with me - Jonny Simms. He is also one of my good friends and climbing and skiing partners. With our level of training and certification and high amount of trust in each other, it is easy to keep safety as priority number one. And right now there is a lot on our plates in that department. 6 am and we are up talking snow and weather observations for the day to come. The snowpack in British Columbia is plagued by some persistant weak layers right now, and we need to map them out and keep track of their relative strength all week. So while one of us is up front route finding and trail breaking the other one has their nose in the snow, digging pits, poking around and radioing the other guide with the latest scoop on conditions. Decisions have to be made about where and what to ski, as we try and track down the best and safest runs we can all week.

Skinning up amongst the BC snow ghosts

Jonny and I work together to keep each other in check and make sure neither of us are missing the million little things we need to watch in the snowpack, weather and terrain to make the right decisions. But after all, that is our job and that is what we love to do: be out in the mountains and make it happen for these folks skiing with us.

Delivering the goods-25cms of boot top cold smoke

Today we woke up to 25cms of new snow with a bit of wind. Up here there is no avalanche bulletin to check out, or at least it covers an area the size of Utah, and is only updated every 3 or 4 days-we are our own avalanche forecasters. So, we venture out to see how the snowpack is acting and figure out what we can ski. More pits, some ski cuts, and careful poking around lead us to the goods, as we skied 6 grand today in boot top cold smoke. Jonny and I even found time to sneak in a few pillow lines and 20 foot cliff drops with the stronger skiers in the group.

Pillows - so soft and nice

Ho hum, another day at the office...

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Loudest Show on Snow

Yet another report from Backcountry.com athlete Kim Havell as she raises the roof in Telluride during the Jeep King of the Mountain Ski Tour.

This is the best thing that has happened to the ski industry in a long time…probably since Greg Stump was making films. With Kipp Nelson’s new vision of the ski and snowboard industry woven into one of the best ski party scenes know to any resort in the lower 48, the Jeep King of the Mountain (JKOM) Ski Tour will bring skiing back to the forefront of the American sports watching obsession.

The Tour has revitalized the ski world, breathing new life into the personalities behind skiing and snowboarding. We get to see many of our favorite winter Olympic heros racing neck and neck in a high velocity crowd pleasing discipline otherwise known as Skier-Cross/Snow-Cross. It is bringing some of our true sports stars back into the spot light in the likes of Jonny Moseley (as MC of some of the event activities & CBS broadcasting), the Crist bros, Casey Puckett, Daron Rahlves, Seth Westcott, Shaun Palmer, Lindsey Jacobellis, top notch internationals and many more. And now that Skier-Cross is to be an Olympic Event in 2010, the JKOM is educating all of us on this relatively new twist on downhill ski racing, and it seems to be a natural transition for some of these former superstar race athletes.

Along with action packed on snow events, Kipp also brings new life to the party scene… “Snow Angels” fresh from their portfolio selection in LA by Kipp’s side kick “Bunta” (probably one of the best jobs of anyone on the tour- from a male perspective), adorn every corner of every hopping segment of the schedule. They are there to snuggle with athletes, bring Moon Boots back, and show us all that you really don’t have to ski to be cool at a ski event. Topping the accessory element of the tour, is one of the most popular live musical events around- Michael Franti & Spearhead. At the Telluride tour stop this past weekend, Michael brought out Macy Gray for one incredible song that had the crowd roaring for more. Her voice has a rare passion that resonates deep into the crevices of the music lovin’ souls.

So, on Saturday night, after a high octane day on the slopes, as we all wandered into the 15,000sf tent erected in downtown Telluride, it felt much like stepping onto the planet Krypton- Lights darting all around, music pumping throughout, VIP corners & lounges, and all sorts of characters charged with good energy from the Spearhead movement on stage. With close to zero degree temps that night, once the show was over, the party attempted to converge on main street in downtown Telluride. It felt like transitioning from Krypton to that bar in the Alderon Galexy with Hans Solo & Chewie—there were fire dancers, fire breathers, strange characters on stilts, DJs, Bands, and all sorts of variable “Monster” drinking, cocktail swilling colorful folk wandering up and down the avenue.

With two more stops to go, make sure you get out there and find some of that love..next stop is happening now in Squaw Valley. You really don’t want to miss this.

Go to www.jeepsports.com for more information.

In Closing, to quote the founder and godfather of the Tour- Kipp Nelson- “This is the loudest show on snow”.

Footage from Squaw Valley's Pipe



Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Carrabassett Ski Academy Regrets

From Backcountry.com sponsored athlete Kim Havell comes this report of her experience coaching a big mountain/freeride camp in British Columbia. She not only had a great experience but came away with a couple of "what if's"

If I could do it all over, I definitely should have gone to ski academy.

This past week, I traveled up to British Columbia, by way of Calgary, to help coach a free ride/big mountain program from Carrabassett Valley Academy. The program is known as ALPS- Alpine Leadership Pursuits for Skiers and Riders.

Program Director Sam Punderson and I had met doing a backcountry ski test for Skiing Magazine last spring in Winter Park, had hit it off in a fairly sarcastic manner, and stayed in touch. Sam was looking for a guest female coach to come work with the girls in the program, and offered me the spot.

Sam aka “Dad”, assistant coach Bushy “Mom”, and Mike “Big Bro” comprise the all-star coaching staff of this fabulous newer twist on the ski school program. The kids are divided into three different groups according to level of skiing and motivation/passion for their sport. The coaches rotate through each group, and each group rotates through different activities including avalanche training, sled skiing, “slack” country touring, wilderness medicine and more. To think that most of us could have gotten this type of training ten years before moving to a ski town is quite regretful.

Back in Maine, these kids ski six days a week for a least four hours a day. The team also travels several times a year to such exotic locations as France, New Zealand, and Chile. On trips such as this one, they are away from school for three weeks on the road, learning to balance all day ski adventures with the discipline of studying in the morning, lunchtime and at night.

Starting in Kicking Horse, we spent a couple of days gliding around the mountain, and exploring the vast hike to terrain options. We were hammered with snow the entire time and there was great fresh every day. The third day we headed up to Revelstoke by way of Roger’s Pass- a must hit touring area for the backcountry aficionado. With a new gondola and lift, 4,700 vert, incredible annual snowfall, and incredible “slack” country access, Revelstoke is positioned to be the next “it” resort.

Blowing through faceshots that morning with the girls, we watched some of the guys hucking off 40-50 footers into the deep new powder. With grads such as Jeremy Jones “93 setting a standard, these kids will be feeding directly into the bigger comps and probably begin a serious domination at some these events. Watch out pros, these ski academy kids are the very real deal...

For more information on how to send yourself (or your kids) to this great ski academy, visit the Carrabassett Ski Academy Big Mountain Program:

Sam would be glad to hear from you.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Drew Tabke takes 2nd in Russian Freeride Comp

More Backcountry, er rather Tramdock.com news.
Tramdock.com athlete Drew Tabke took second place in the Russian leg of the Freeride World Tour.

From Drew:
"Hello! I just got back from 11 days in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia where I competed and took second place in the Freeride World Tour Russian Adventure.

Everything about the trip was amazing. It was a string of wild travel experiences with a great group of ski and snowboard competitors from all over the world. Sweden, Switzerland, France, Argentina, Norway, Canada Austria, The United Kingdom, and Russia all had competitors present.

Krasnaya Polyana is an amazing ski area. The chairlifts are four old doubles that go one right after another straight to the top. Not having much area accessed by lifts to either side of this central line might seem like a bad thing, that is until you take a short hike or traverse into an untracked canyon that goes 4,000 vertical feet back down to the valley floor.

The organizers wanted to hold the competition on a heli-accessed face adjacent to the resort. However due to very unsafe avalanche conditions (4 competitors were caught and carried, but luckily not buried, by avalanches prior to and after the competition while skiing on their own!!) the exposed faces were ruled to be too dangerous. Also, Russian president Vladamir Putin was in town, and he grounded all air traffic in the area during his visit, which meant no heli-skiing during the competition. Despite these setbacks, the lift-accessed terrain chosen for the event was amazing. It hadn't been skied by anyone, and on competition day, we got to make first tracks down amazingly steep pillows and flutes. It was some of the most fun terrain I've ever gotten to ski, and getting to compete on it was even better. I tied for second place in the competition with Frenchman Sebastien Michaud. Swedish skier Henrik Windstedt took the $10,000 first prize.

Now I get to hang out and ski the amazing snow we have in Utah now for two weeks before heading back to Europe for a month. I will compete in the Big Mountain Pro in the Alps, The Freeride of Tignes in France, and the Extreme Verbier in Switzerland. I am currently ranked 3rd overall in the Freeride World Tour and these next three stops will decide the overall champion."

Nice work Drew and good luck on the rest of the tour!


Photography at Backcountry.com

Here at Backcountry we often use high quality outdoor imagery for our various print and web projects. I wanted to give our blog readers a sneak preview of an image we just purchased for an upcoming mailer, as well as highlight the photographer, Jonny Copp.

The image was used for the inside spread of a flyer and is from a trip Jonny took last spring to the Swiss Alps with four friends.

"5 Americans on a 6 day ski traverse of the Swiss Alps. We skied across the Berner Oberland from Jungfraughjoch to Muenster. We encountered a beautiful storm along the way which dropped a foot of fresh, and saw the marks of glacial recession when we had to climb 400 feet up to a hut which used to be camped at glacier level. We ate fine food in the middle of the mountains, and we navigated the craggy, fantastic highlands of Europe's most famous mountains: Days of sun, sliding and sweat, and nights of toasting to friends and the mountain life."
"I was lucky enough to climb the Eiger North Face just after the traverse!"

Jonny is a widely talented mountain man. He's an accomplished writer and photographer with many articles and images published in all major climbing magazines, as well as Outside, Hooked on the Outdoors, and National Geographic Adventure. He's a standard setting rock and alpine climber, and is sponsored by Patagonia, LaSportiva, and Black Diamond. Jonny is also the founder and director of the Boulder Advenure Film Fest, which is in its third year and going strong.

Keep an eye out for more photographer profiles and image highlights in the future.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Jess McMillan Wins Freeskiing Comp in Mammoth

In more Backcountry.com Athlete news, Jess McMillan won the first stop of the Freeride World Tour in Mammoth last week. Check out the full report on her blog. Nice work Jess!

Photo by: Tommy Chandler


Jeremy Jones : Origins of Snowboarding

Backcountry.com sponsored Athlete Jeremy Jones has been in Turkey recently and posted this amazing story on his blog. Seems they stumbled upon a village in the mountains where people have been pracitcing a form of snowboarding for a long, long time.

Photo: Bernard Ritzer

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Storm Skiing Just Like the Old Days

I've heard more than a dozen times from the "old timers" that this season is "just like the old days". You know, back when it snowed in earnest and the low elevations enjoyed the bounty. It's not that the last few years have been all that bad. Some of my best days ever have been within the past couple of seasons. But when the lower elevations don't establish a good snowpack it forces all of us backcountry skiers into the higher elevations (or to the resorts - eek)

I compare skiing in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah to a lake. 100 boats on a full lake may not be a big deal. Drain the lake to 50% capacity and the same 100 boats become a mess of wakes, loss of etiquette and a general declining of enjoyment. So while last season was sub par at lower elevation stashes this winter has been off the charts.

With yet another storm knocking at the door, Josh (from the design dept at Backcountry.com) and I headed out to our favorite lower elevation stash. Most years skiing this stash requires waiting until at least early to mid February before doing our first recon. This year we did that back in December. Yes, it's the kind of place that doesn't get the rave reviews among the "core locals" and without at least 36" of base depth it's better skied with a machete than ski poles. But when it's good, like it was yesterday as the storm arrived in force when we were skinning up, it's SOOOOO good.

Our first lap was down a line that I've skied dozens of times but yesterday it was essentially unrecognizable as trees were buried and bushes obsolete. The normally short shot was extended well beyond it's typical length. We didn't stop for photos, I couldn't. Back in the skin track we found a couple more inches had fallen.

Although some of the images below are blurry there is an image in my mind that I'll not soon forget. Halfway down our second lap on a ridge that I would seldom consider skiing due to coverage concerns I pulled off to watch Josh ski from above and then descend over a roll onto a lower face. As he came past me with the wind whipping and the snow falling at a 2"/hour rate I watched my friend make turns in the knee deep blower powder. As he did so the wind would pick up the trail of powder and whip it over his head forming a tube like wave through which I could see Josh skiing.

I wish I could share this image with you but unfortunately I can't. It's this kind of image that keeps me going back, waking up at an early hour to "get mine" before I give the man his.

There's something tremendously satisfying about skiing in the midst of a storm.
I think I can see a smile in there somewhere (click it and you'll see one)
Nah, this place isn't on your radar. Better stay in Little Cottonwood Canyon.A subie, a pair of powder sticks and fresh snow. What else do you need?

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Skiing Powder at the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Race

This post is from Kim Havell, Backcountry.com sponsored athlete.

7am and -5 degrees make for an interesting combination when you are wearing a lycra/spandex suit on the mountain- Luckily I was not.

This past Saturday morning, I warmed up next to some pro ski randonee racers attempting to qualify for the US National Team in Snowmass, CO. This was my first COSMIC (Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup) race and I felt quite unprepared as I squinted in the darkness of early morning and took in my fellow competitors, in their skin tight race suits, who were literally running up hill on mini race skis to get warmed up for the start. I did a bit of stretching, tried to feel good about my cumbersome powder ski/fritschi binding set up, and focused on figuring out the best layer combination so that it wouldn’t cost me valuable time to change later on. When you have not done one of these events, it is really hard to know what combination of gear, food, water, and transition systems to have in place. Pacing yourself when you don’t know the route is another major challenge to this race.

A girlfriend of mine, Karen Kingsley, from Ophir, CO, won the series last year. I called her on Friday morning just before I left Telluride for the Snowmass Winter Wild race for a few pointers. Much of the beta was Greek to me but she did caution me on the downhills, where you can lose sight of the markers if you go too fast. That was a disappointment, as the descent sections were the aspects of the race that I was hoping to cruise, especially due to my fat ski situation, and boy was I surprised.

The race started in darkness and the sun rose slowly with us through the first big climb. We gained about 3-4,000 vertical in the first 45 minutes or so, to reach the first transition point. I elected to keep on my skins for the short downhill stretch of powder skiing, and then began the next ascent of about 2,000 vertical to the summit of the ridge. Though I had studied the trail map and topo maps provided on the website, it was still surprisingly difficult to gauge what to do at each transition point. You are not always around other people so it takes a bit of guess work to make the right choices e.g. remove your skins or ski downhill with them on.

The wind was whipping, and it was freezing cold on the ridge line. My mouth and chin were numb. I had chosen warmer gloves to wear and so had to remove them to take off my skins. Thus, some freezing digits as well. Karen had advised me to stuff the skins in my jacket to save time but since I was racing on powder skis, my skins were far too big to put inside my coat and I had to take off my pack to get situated. The next downhill, during which I was looking forward to making up more time, was not a fast endeavor. There was lots of good snow to ski but the flags were covered by the tracks from previous racers. I had to continually stop to search for the right tracks and route to follow. Thus, one of the the biggest descent sections did not allow for the gain in time for which I was hoping.

The final climb and ski traverse were great fun, as it was quite satisfying to be nearing the end of the vertical gains. The climb took us up to the far boundary of Snowmass and into the backcountry. The skiing out the backside was excellent and I got about 15-20 powder turns (which was a nice surprise) in the process. Most of the earlier racers avoided the deep snow due to their lighter gear. Luckily, I got to enjoy the fruits of my labor a bit more, and to revel in the weight of my powder skis with some blower powders shots in that section of descent on the course.

The final stretch to the finish was exhilarating, but also a disappointment in terms of speed. Being a rule follower, generally speaking, I ended up skiing out a bump run to the final finish gate, as per the instructions at the race meeting the previous evening, instead of bombing down the race hill on the groomed slope. I lost valuable minutes as all the other racers opted out of the new variation and glided into the finish. Lots to learn with a new experience!

The race was a great mental and physical adventure with exciting elements, beautiful backcountry scenery, and remarkable strategy processes. It is a great experience for anyone who enjoys touring, aerobic exercise, and taking on new challenges. There are 4 more races to come in the series- try one near you!!

Check out www.cosmicski.com to find out more about ski mountaineering races in Colorado.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The 10,000 Foot Day

It seems to me that almost every outdoor activity that I partake in has a certain benchmark challenge associated with it. For backcountry skiing, I would have to say that it is the 10,000 vertical foot day of touring. Sure, there are plenty of superstars out there that have pounded out 50 grand in 24 hours (www.greghill.ca), but to go out and get 10,000 feet of turns under human power is a great achievable goal for everyone (well, almost everyone).

Although to make it a spectacular experience, a bunch of key ingredients have to come together and today was one of those truly amazing Wasatch ski days. It has been puking non-stop here in Utah for weeks now. Alta's base is in the 150" range, the snowpack doesn't have many funky layers in it, and it just finished storming about 3 feet in the last 2 days. Of course I haven't been letting the snow settle for the last two days, with all of the new accumulation, I had to get out on Sunday and Monday, and logged in 14 grand over those two days. But today, Tuesday, was coming together to be the day. Storm snow and avalanche danger was settling down, blue skies were forecast, and the partners, Jasmin (my wife) and Adam were very keen. So the plan was simple, a variation on the famous "Northern Powder Circuit," starting in Alta and skiing down into Big Cottonwood Canyon. We met at 7am at Adam's house, loaded up the car, and bolted for Big Cottonwood Canyon's park and ride lot to stash the car. We geared up and by 7:30am we were thumbing it for a ride up to Alta.

I barely had time to snap a photo, as the first car that pulled over was heading to Alta and had room for the three of us! Perfect.

8 am and we were at Alta, witnessing the results of a classic Wasatch dawn patrol. A handfull of my buddies had just ripped down Little Superior, and we chatted at the cars as they got ready to go to work. They didn't have to say a word about the quality of the skiing, as snow plastered all over their hats was a true indicator. Not to mention the state of a few cars in the parking lot. Check out the antennae I circled:

Time for the first stage of the plan to take effect. Up Flagstaff, back down in the sun to Alta, back up Flagstaff, down Day's Fork. Wow. The powder was deep and light and turns came easy, except for cold faces.

In classic Wasatch style, the backcountry enthusiasts were out in force...bonus for us for the big day, as we didn't have to break too much trail in the 3 feet of unsettled cold smoke. Not to mention the fact that there was tons of room for us to make turns.

Stage 2 of the day got us away from the crowds a little more-but with a catch. We got to the top of a run called 'Banana Days' and skied that shot down another 1,500 feet. As a testament to the beauty of the day, we ran into the Powderwhores film crew getting some shots for their next installment. We pulled onto the summit with a few of that crew, just in time to watch the infamous heli ski operation of the Wasatch, Wasatch Powder Birds, land nearby to ski the same shot as us. Fast transitions were pulled off, and before I knew it Jasmin was ripping down the run, not about to be smoked by some heli-skiers after we had earned our turns!

We skied the lap, and busted a heavy track back up to Banana Days for the next segment of our 10,000 foot operation: The Hallway Couloir, one of my favorite runs in the Wasatch! We worked our way down and found the entrance to the line and enjoyed 1,800' of tight chute and open apron powder bliss down into Cardiff Fork. Here's a shot of Jasmin dropping into the Hallway with a few feet of fresh and a few thousand feet of it below her skis!

We hit the valley bottom and were in the Powder Birds frenzy as helicopters, and heli-skiers were everywhere, skiing the same lines we were enjoying under human power. It was hard not to feel self-righteous - wouldn't you? We stumbled onto another group's track up George's Bowl, as we neared 7,000' for the day. Ahead of us lay 1,500' of more powder bliss, so we took our only double lap of the day on George's bowl...it was just too good to be true. We managed to find some room for turns, despite the heli-traffic, but it was hard for us not to get into the debate about whether or not heli-skiing should be allowed in the central Wasatch...I would love to hear some opinions on this one.

On top of the second lap, the helicopter flew up, spotted us in the landing zone and turned around...at least they respected our space a bit.

After two runs, and a climb back to the top of George's bowl, our mission was accomplished: 10 grand (and 50 extra feet!). Here's where my Suunto S6 watch is super handy...I can track the vertical all day, while running my log book. Handy mountain guide geek tool altimeter watch that every backcountry skier should have!

Now it was 4pm, we had been at it for 8 hours and reached our goal. It was time for one last rip down Mineral Fork, with a few grand of blower powder waiting to get some tracks in it. The sun was still out, the city was in the distance, and the mission was accomplished. The pub was calling us for some nachos and beverages!
Or so we thought...one more adventure besides hitchhiking down to our cars awaited. The trail out Mineral Fork was being guarded by Bullwinkle. And he was pissed off with all this snow, because life is tough when you can't go to the pub for nachos.

We teamed up, tried to scare him down the trail, but he charged us and we skied down into the creek as fast as we could, forcing an unplanned stream crossing, and post hole up to the road.

10 grand don't come easy.

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