Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 16- Beginner Skinner 1.10.09

The name is accurate because those who chose it consider themselves so. The name is their creation. It rhymes! Why wouldn't I use it? Despite the amalgamation of veterans and newbies and wannabees this was still a good stomp into, for me, new terrain. Drew was the only one who had these shots in his past and now lead this group of eight, the largest group skied in by anyone there that day. We started as far up the road up Lamb's canyon as the plow cleared, and started the trek to some beautiful steep shots that can be seen for a few seconds by drivers on I-80 westbound through Parley's canyon if they are paying attention. I had seen them because someone tld me about them a while ago, so I eye them out when the moments present themselves.

Today we wouldn't appear as more than a small line of ants, definitely not discernable at that distance to the truckers and commuters on their way to SLC. We can occasionally hear this world rushing on down below. My life is at the fringe, and the scenario now with my friends and me peaceful in the trees, and down below people big and small are racing to get ahead of each other to often elusive destinations. It is easy to be present in the backcountry. There isn't much else to do. Finished skiing? Time to put on skins and hike back up for another shot. To the top? Time to take the skins off and suit up for the down hill. Pay attention to the weather, it is changing moment to moment changing the snow, to which you must also pay attention. The panorama of nature interacting with itself is dynamic.

I watch Scotty and Monica from the back of the group. The seem to pull each other up the hill, helping each other and not willing to give up when the other is still going. It was Scotties first tour ever, and Monica's second. As I watch them struggle upward I have time and energy to put together more pieces of the mosaic of this particular experience. They thank me again for taking them out, and again apologize for being so slow. I assure them that I am enjoying the pace and the company, and I am. I didn't like the name of the tour because it sounds a little elitist. Truth be told, I love the pace and it was so cool to see these folks that only hear stories about the backcountry are kicking butt on what I wouldn't have considered and beginner tour. It was full on and the group dynamic was great. I couldn't imagine a better time!

From the summit we were treated to a view of the central Wasatch in winter from the North, the first time for me. Immediately my mind starts to put all the peaks in order by working down all the ridges between the canyons. Kurt and Drew and I discuss secret shots that are visible and rarely skied. Scotty smokes a cigarette to stop the burning. There are only a few clouds. We can see for miles. We see the Powderbirds who see us and fly on by on their way to Bountiful.

We all take fine lines in light and fluffy powder.

We skin back to the top and do it again. Big arcing turns creating rooster-tail curtains that glow with the light of the sun shining through them, that fall to the ground like broken glass then recreated fifty feet down the slope.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day 15- Cutting Cornices

The avalanche danger was high on day 15 of backcountry high life, but Nate and I wanted to get out and poke around a bit, to see what was going on with all the wind we had. I've been interested again this year in learning the snowpack, watching it change. It reminds me of Spock in the Star Trek movie where he died the one before and the was reborn and went from being a baby to a man in the space of a short time. In November we had no snowpack, by June this one will be gone like all the others before it. In that short space in between changes are taking place, and though it looks like just a bunch of snow to some people, the more time you are willing to invest in becoming personal with the snow pack, the more there is to learn about it about. It continues to facinate. While many are concerned about the state of the economy, paying the mortgage or getting a promotion, I'm more interested in whether the steep northies are going to be skiable with the next storm.

We skinned up Flagstaff, across the street from Alta. The whole way up we could see the hordes tearing up the slopes. At first there seemed to be fresh snow, since most of the tracks from yesterday had filled in with the wind and the bit of fresh snow. An hour later it was gone, lapped up by the pole-tapping, elbow-throwing crowds. The holy ground on which we are skinning may soon fall victim to lift skiing. Alta has plans to expand, and put a lift up the same track we are now skiing, opening up the heart of the Wasatch to crowds from New York and Texas, and closing down a thoroughfare for backcountry skiers. This lift would be a travesty were it to come into being.

From Flagstaff we ski across Emma's Ridge, still able to see Alta now with the added view down the other side of the ridge into the Days Fork drainage. Cornices have formed on the ridge from the wind event last night. Nate has a thin section of rope about sixty fett long with small knots tied into it. We both take an end and throw the rope down over the edge of the cornice and begin to saw it off. We pick the cornices over steep slopes so that when we eventually saw through enough of the cornice for it to fall, it drops onto the slope and should release a slide if the conditions are right. We cut through a few of them and only a few small pockets release. We want to see something release all the way to the weak layer on the ground. Just like kids rolling rocks off of cliffs, we want to see some destructive power when these 1500 pound blocks of snow trundle down the side of the mountain. In the end we settled for a shallow slab releasing and running full course to the bottom of the slope. We make monkey sounds in the excitement.

In the video Nate and I are cut most of the way through a cornice before the video starts. The result is a few shallow pockets of snow releasing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

12-14 The Yurt

It's getting late. It has been dark for hours and the number of High Lifes is dwindling, a scenario too saddening to track. There is tension in the air as Danny focuses. Mark comes in with a pot of snow and puts it on the stove to melt. His footsteps send vibrations all the way to the top of the teetering jenga tower, and Danny pulls his hand away, eyes large, hoping the vibraions don't topple blocks on his turn again. They don't.

In the morning we will be riding the southies we checked out the day before. It has been cold and the snow is still in good shape. With all the avalanche danger we are a little on edge, but there are enough covered south-facing beauties below 10,000 ft. to send the endorphins to my brain.

The yurt is a special experience, combining the beauty of the movement of riding snow, with communal living in tight quarters with good people to create an experience that will not be adaquately explained here. With eight people living in a ten foot radius area for multiple days, sharing the cooking, cleaning, eating, skinning and riding, where the joys are well understood within the group and difficult to relay to any outsider, the itricacies of all these relationships, the small things, the nuances, they become a future of good memories.

Thanks to Danny, Glenda, Drew, Tara, Nate, Mark and Romero!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 11- Anaerobic Short Swing

This season is proving not as good as the last. Oh well, says I. There is always something to do in the backcountry. One of my faves, especially when I don't have the time for a propoer tour or when conditions are sub-stellar, is the anaerobic jaunt. Actually it isn't a jaunt at all. Does it count as an eating disorder if you work so hard that you vomit? I dn't know, but there is probably an argument for some kind of disorder at least, though I am convicned that there are benefits to taxing your cardiovascular system by redlining it for an hour or so.

Last year my best time on Short Swing road-to-road was 75 mins. I recruited Nate to the idea of trying it out. He and I did a run a few months ago of about the same exertion and had good pace with each other. Plus, I've been talking smack to him about how much faster I am than he is, and how he should train as much as he can beforehand so that I beat him by less when we race each other in the Powderkeg. He's a youngster. I'm trying to keep him in line. I'm planning on bringing him to his knees, puking in the snow.

At the start, less than a few minutes into the skinning, he is going for the pass. I push it to the next level to keep up, not knowing if I'll be able to sustain that rate for the steep uphill coming soon. I want to talk more smack, but I am gasping for air and know that I will fall further behind if I waste my breath choking out words that he won't hear anyway because of the headphones. Once we hit the uphill, one of his earbuds falls out, and I pass him, needlessly, since once I am past him he is right on me again. I let him pass. His pace is brutal, but that is what today is about. I hold back the vomit, and try not to let the pace slack as Nate gets a bit further and further ahead.

I won't bother with an explanation of the downhill, other than to say I probably looked like a drunk clown flopping through the aspens, as my legs couldn't operate normally. I met up with Nate at the road, he was a few minutes ahead of me, but my time was 58:04, seventeen minutes off of last year's best. I attribute that to the power of group dynamic and synergy, when you add one and one and get 2.3, or maybe even 2.4. Thanks for pulling me along Master Nater! I'm still going to kick your trash when it comes to a real race! (I was just holding back this time to boost your young ego!)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day 9- Reynolds

After the unfortunate avalanche death at a resort and repeated warnings of a dire nature from the avalanche forecast center, a lot of folks stayed home or skied low-angle trees. We went lower elevation south face. The south face doesn't have much of the layer that is producing slides, and there has been a lot of snow lately that is building up on these slopes and hasn't seen too much sun. We skied the south face of Mt. Reynolds. A first for all of us in the group. It was pretty good, and would be better with a few more feet of snow. So, check out the video of Andrew and listen to him hack off the tops of scrub oak with his board. Unfortunately this clip doesn't have the upper section, which was purdy darn deep and velvety and worth the hike, but not really worth a second round I guess because we up and went to a different shot afterward without any hesitation. Those shots are in the photo, along with an avalanche that was sympatheically released by a skier named Tyler who reportedly outran the avalanche.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 7- Montreal Hill

Even though we started skinning around 8 AM, there was already a skintrack all the way to the top. On the way up, we analyzed the number of pole holes trying to determine the size of the party, as well as any down tracks to subtract from that number. I can't remember what we deduced. I know that I was wrong, but that's nothing new. It was obvious once we reached the bottom of the run, and could see the entirety of Montreal Hill. There were two skiers, and they we just starting down their run. They saw us as well. Next thing I knew it was mad dash to get up the trail first.

Of course, the skiers were cool and there was no need to rush. The coolest part was when the guy started telling us what a good skintrack they had put up. I know where the guy is coming from. Everyone likes to have his/her work admired and respected. It was a good skintrack, for the most part, except for where it went through the trees and the roots pushed you one way and the braches the other. Drew said the hardest part of the day was getting out of the tree pit when the awkward V3 skin move pushed him down. I wish I could have seen it. There are few funnier things than someone stuck in a tree pit.

We hear them on top of our second lap. The ceaseless "wup-wup-wup-wup" of the rotors send anger from my brain to every part of my body. This was the first time for any of us on Montreal Hill, mainly because this is the first stop on the Powderbirds Heliskiing tour. Now, they were coming to poach our lines. I see them coming over Poleline Pass, and with a few quick switchbacks I am standing on the ridgetop at the start of the run, giving them the single-finger salute at full attention. They fly over, see us, and fly off to another spot in the drainage. We know they'll be back. The avalanche danger today is high, leaving few spots that are safe for them to ski. The favorite one of the heli-maggots is the one we are standing over. The group of Drew, Tyler, Jade and me regroup on the ridge. We take our time with the change-over, and are still on top when they make the next fly-by. We salute again, this time from a relaxed position.

We ride the snow and it is beautiful. This is the pinnacle of existence, to ski untracked, soft and fluffy powder snow. I can hear the snow collapse under me with the tell-tale "whoopf," but this slope is not steep enough to slide, and the sound propels me down a little faster.

Day 5- Upper Days


I recognize the sound. Knowing I was on a steep slope I was already moving when I heard Drew's voice yelling, "Avalanche!!!" Three quick steps and I was behind a big pine, leaning into it, waiting. Only a few seconds pass before snow is tumbling past my ski tips on its quick trip to the bottom of the run.

It was the second of three that we knocked off that day. This one was bigger and faster than we had expected. Our protocol wasn't perfect. Luckily it was all still managable and gave us the head check we needed to ski smart to stay alive. This year's snowpack will prove to be exciting, and we will need to have our heads about us!

Check out the video of the third one on my face book page.