Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wapta Traverse, Part 2

Ok, so I have been a slacker with part 2, but that is because I got to the coast of BC and the weather went splitter for 36 I rallied a crew and we punched the Garibaldi Neve Traverse in a day. Oh well, like any good mountain person, responsibilities get thrown out the window for fun. But here is part two, with another post to come about the Neve Traverse!

The next day dawned cold with an arctic haze. When it gets to be below zero farenheit, any moisture in the air tends to freeze pretty quickly, and today was no exception. With a low of around -30 celsius there was no rush on getting out the door. At those temps your skins and ski wax don't really work that well.

We spent the morning brushing up on the essential skills for the terrain we were travelling in. Avalanche and crevasse rescue in and near the Peyto Hut was definitely in order. Everyone needs to review their rope systems and knots from time to time, and there was no better excuse to wait for it to warm up then practicing essential skills!

Knot Practice at Peyto Hut

Finally, around midday we mustered up the courage to brave the cold and headed for a day trip up the north summit of Mt. Rhondda. Sitting across the glacier from the hut, it is an easy day trip, with about 2,000' of elevation gain up glaciers all the way to the summit ridge. The cool thing about the summit ridge is that it is the continental divide, at roughly 10,500', as well as the border of BC and Alberta, and on a good day the views are amazing.

Up and Down Mount Rhondda

We retreated back to the warmth of the hut, and got ready for the 8km traverse over to the Bow Hut for the next 2 days. This is a pretty simple leg that takes you up about 600 vertical feet to the broad col between 2 summits and then down the Bow Glacier to the Bow Hut. You spend virtually your entire time on the glacier, just getting off to basically go to the hut. The nice thing about the Bow Hut is that it is fairly popular (meaning social) and stocked with fire wood, so you actually have quite the warm and cozy atmosphere there.

Skiing down to the Bow Hut

We settled in for 2 nights, with the plan for the next day being a day trip to the summits of Mt. Gordon and possibly St. Nicolas. Things were starting to warm up, and overnight the temps only dipped down to the mid -20s celsius. Inspired by our new found warmth we got ready for a great day of ski mountaineering...

Part 3 on Monday!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wapta Traverse, Part 1

Last week I was fortunate enough to guide the Wapta Traverse for the Alpine Club of Canada. If you haven't heard of the Wapta Traverse, it is by far the most classic ski mountaineering traverse in North America, and I would say it is our version of the famous Haute Route in Europe. The traverse can take parties anywhere from a day(the super-humans), to an average 4 days, or a leisurely 5-7. The longer you take on the traverse, the more time you have to summit numerous peaks enroute.

The route starts via the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta, where you climb up from the 'highway' (it is a loose term for a 2 lane road that is barely plowed in winter!) to the continental divide, where a high plateau of interconnected ice fields and glaciers weaves its way back down to the trans-canada highway. You average about 7-10km of travel a day, with about 2-4 thousand vertical feet to get from hut to hut.

We were going for the classic Wapta Traverse, which starts via Peyto Hut. Upon starting our journey, the weather forecast was looking frighteningly cold. I don't mean chilly, I mean forecasted daytime highs of -25c and lows of -35c. For those of you on the farenheit scale, -40 is where both celsius and farenheit are the same. These temps are with out wind chill. COLD.

So of course it all starts with some gear sorting andpacking, making sure we have the essentials. We met in Lake Louise the night before and divided the group gear and checked our equipment to make sure we had it all.

Gear Packing in the Lake Louise Hostel

There are a few key essentials to remember about this trip. First is that it is glaciated, so we need to carry harnesses, ropes, and ice axes as well as the necessary crevasse rescue gear. Second is that it is a hut trip, so we don't have to carry too much excess stuff, and can try and go with lighter packs! Stoves, cooking utensils and foam mattresses are all provided, so basically food, spare clothes, sleeping bag and down booties are all you really need to add to your day pack. Don't get me wrong, the food weight adds up, but it is a lot easier than carrying a stove and tent!

The next morning we began our journey at Peyto Lake with our 10km and 2,000' slow climb to the hut.
Skiing across Peyto Lake.

We spent about 5 hours making the journey into Peyto Hut and settled in for a cold cold week on the Wapta...

Part 2 tomorrow!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

(Taos 03/2009) Extreme Freeride Championships

---Update: Ollie Bell uploaded the video of my qualifier run to Vimeo for me!---

Thanks Ollie Bell!

Last week came and went in a blur. The six day journey Nik and I took to New Mexico for the Freeride Championships was completely uncharted territory. New ski area, new event (Freeride World Tour), and a new judging system. Overall it was a very fun experience and something I'd like to do again next season.

Day 1: Leaving Salt Lake
The drive down opened my eyes to a few things:
-There is a 3:1 ratio of Wal-Marts to people in Southern Colorado
-Never eat at the Moab Diner, no matter how good the prices are
-After 8 hours in a car with no radio, you will be convinced that every car on the road is following you
-The night-shift employees at the Chama, NM Chevron station will force you to take magazine surveys if you want to charge your cell phone at the register
-The internet doesn't exist after you pass the La Sal Junction
This doesn't look sketchy at all...

Day 2: Inspection
Any first day at a ski resort is weird, especially when it is for a competition.  You really only ski one area and you analyze it a bunch trying to figure out the best places to score big.  Taos was no exception, especially when the venue changed the first day from West Basin to Kachina Peak.  This changed the hike to the start gate from a 10-minute walk to a 45-minute assault up a ridgeline with 50+ mph winds.  Also, any ski event sponsored by Red Bull is a very good thing.
This hike got old real fast…

Day 3: Qualifier
Qualifier day provided some cool things and some less cool things.
-Kachina Peak is an awesome venue
-Sunshine during your run is always nice
Less Cool:
-Inspecting at 8:00a and having to be back on top of the peak at 9:00a
-Trying to find a place to pee on an exposed ridge with heavy winds
My run went more or less according to plan and I finished 16th (of 54 or so) overall.  Nik got hung up a bit, but managed to beat the cut and finish 35th.
Now that's what I call a Big Mountain Venue!

Day 4: Weather Day
Day 4 was kind of a junk show as it began dumping heavy snow early in the morning and it became clear that it would be next to impossible to run a comp in those conditions.  A weather day was called and ultimately the venue was moved back to West Basin, which left those of us unfamiliar with that area a bit bewildered.
Nik wishing he’d taken more pictures of West Basin when there was sunshine…

Day 5: Finals
Finals was a bit hectic as the conditions kept going from blue bird to complete flat light.  That being said, there was still some major gnar thrown down.
Snowbird local Cliff Bennett took 1st for the men and Michelle Gmitro finished in top position for the women.
I ended up skiing a line in a bit tamer section of the venue as I didn’t know the area too well and ended up 27th.  Nik took his go-to approach for top finishes and hucked about 30 feet off an air at the top and straight-lined the rest of the venue.  He earned himself 19th.

Flat light conditions and tricky snow conditions didn’t stop the event from being an all out throw down-fest.
Day 6: Junk Show Home
Nik and I left Taos, New Mexico around 8:30am with roughly 12 Red Bulls (thanks Taos for having a kick ass sponsor).  We arrived back in Salt Lake City, Utah at about 10:30pm with 2 Red Bulls.
It started fairly normal with a stop over the huge Rio Grande on the way out of town.
If I'd had my skis on I totally could have stomped this.

Nik looking away from the camera all emo and stuff

We took an unscheduled ski break on the way home at Durango’s local ski hill

I sent it in jeans

Nik points it, East Coast style

I make some restricted movement turns

I nail a 10-point spread

Nik goes for a car jib

Thank you for daylight savings for allowing us to get lost in Arches National Park

It the end, it turned out to be a pretty fun journey.  I’ll have some video of the Snowbird comp that just wrapped up a little bit later and I’m considering going for one more this season at Kirkwood this weekend!  Hopefully that will yield some equally cool/weird/crazy photos…


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring is in the Air

Winter has been interesting this year in Wyoming. Powder has been plentiful, avalanches abundant, and politics have been ripe. I definitely have had my share of ice cream headaches and pow-face burn (all with smiles), but I am ready for spring to refresh all of the above and a little, no a lot, of sunshine for a change. 

Spring is the time to leave behind so much worry about questionable mid-winter snowpacks, and head for your nearest couloir. Longer days bring helmets, crampons, ice axes, a little ambition for early mornings, and great times with your friends. I know I am ready! I hope you enjoy a couple of our classic Absaroka lines from this pre-spring.
Chockstone Dogleg (looker's left) and the Diagonal Couloir:
Our line for the day, Chockstone Dogleg:
Aesthetic pyroclastic walls rising high above:
View down the couloir:
Matt Lloyd tests the waters in Chockstone Dogleg couloir:
Airing it out in the apron with spring pow and plenty more vert down:

Radio Tower Couloir (upper left)
Brad Douglass and Bryan Gleason near the top pitch:
Would conditions be good or cause variable Havoc?
Brad Douglass teles it up on the down:
Bryan Gleason sets an edge in Radio Tower:
More love in the apron:
Time to start getting out and enjoying those longer and warmer days! I know I am amped!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

US Freeskiing Nationals Live Webcast at Snowbird

Today is the first day of the Freeskiing World Tour event at Snowbird, Utah. The event will be broadcasted live via webcast today and Saturday. The webcast will be going live at 12pm MST.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing

February 26 - 28, went in with Black Diamond to bring Dudeness to the people. The Big LePowSki was a clinic-with-the-pros event at Brighton that benefited The Billy Poole Fund and the Winter Wildlands Alliance.

The Powderwhores were there. Check it.

The Big LePowSki from Noah howell on Vimeo.

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End of the Good Stability

I took advantage of the last day of our 3 week high pressure and bomber snowpack at Valhalla Mountain Touring, here is a video of the day...enjoy!

Lots of other good time wasting material on my blog at

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