Friday, February 03, 2006

Glory Slide - not so Glorious

Today I got a little reminder of how dangerous travel in avalanche terrain is. It’s not that I have gotten comfortable, since my training has ended I have read three books on the subject, so I’m not resting on my laurels… and I consider myself to be very cautious. Today, like most days, we were up at 6am to hike the 1,800 feet to the summit of Mount Glory. However unlike a normal day the avalanche danger has been increasingly concerning. This morning the report said we received 6” of new snow, and it was “Considerable” at mid and high elevations. I knew the wind had been out of the S – SW. I also witnessed the South aspects melt/freeze later mid last week as well as the surface hoar. So I knew there was:
a) loading on E to NE slopes
b) a nice weak layer for a slab to slide on

Today after the requisite 45-60 min hike to the top of Mount Glory I had finished my analysis of the conditions. It went without saying we would not be skiing any open bowls and we would stay out of terrain traps. Second I had decided that SE was obviously the aspect to avoid. My ski partner, we’ll call him Bubba, had been talking about these cliffs we had dropped a few days ago and how he really wanted to hit those same cliffs this morning. As we geared up I verbally went through my logic out loud so he could here it (he has no avy training). It didn’t appear to work… silence. Not only did he not really listen to me, but he was trying to talk me into skiing the SE slope to the cliffs. So I disagreed and went over my reasoning again reminding Bubba that “you can not let your objective get in the way of good decision making”. After that went unheard as well, I put my foot down and said, “I am not skiing that route, I’m heading down this way”, and I skied off. Thankfully he followed.

As we descended the powder was a bit heavier than normal for J-Hole, and it was obvious there was a foot of consolidated slab on the top. Believe me though the turns were still incredible. This ridge however, which I had only skied once before, turned near the end to face SE.
“As it did I started to get nervous and I let Bubby know it. Yes we were on a ridge, and yes we had trees for anchors but they were spaced out enough to allow a considerable amount of snow to slide if it went. I kept thinking about something I had read in Snow Sense, "Even creek banks less than 40 feet (12 meters) high have produced deadly avalanches”. Well that is pretty much exactly what we were on, about 40 x 40 slope into a creek bed (terrain trap). I ski cut the slope and it went. As you can see in the photo the slab was about a foot. As it ran my heart raced and I told Bubby “we gotta get outta here”. I think my avalanche analysis earned me a bit more trust from Bubby today.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Signing up for 24 Hours of Sunlight

My fate is set. I’ve signed up for the 24-Hours of Sunlight, the first ever 24-Hour ski mountaineering race. No matter how many of these 24 hour and longer races that I do there is always a certain amount of anxiety that comes along with signing up. I think this is because I know there is a great deal of pain and suffering that will come along with each event. This race takes place at the Sunlight resort in Glenwood Springs, CO from 10am Saturday Feb 11th to 10am on Sunday the 12th. This type of ski racing, randonee rally racing is relatively new here in the states but in Europe it’s very popular. Here is a great article Tina sent me a while back from the Seattle Times (of all places) about randonee rally racing. If you can’t be bothered here is a quote, “So what the heck does a ski-mountaineering race look like? Imagine a caffeinated hybrid of steeplechase, trail-running and Eco-Challenge. Starting with a jostling LeMans-style start, racers charge uphill to ridgetop waypoints wearing skis equipped with climbing skins, race downhill to the next flag, then zag upward again — often for six miles and a lung-busting 5,000 vertical feet of climbing. Then instead of the race being 1.5 hours.. this one is 24 hours. Here is a couple on this race in particular, from the Denver Post and Ski Magazine.

These are my picks for dominating this 24 hour race: Greg Hil (current record holder with 40,000 vertical feet skied in one day), Andrew McClean (45 year old ski mountaineering god), Steve Romeo (Jackson Hole hot shot, in this months Backcountry magazine he says if you can beat him in this 24 hour race he'll buy you a case of beer). Since I already know I'm going to get spanked by pretty much every dude in this race I've adopted this quote as my mantra. “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” -Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Skinning 10 Grand

I am considering racing in a 24 hour ski mountaineering race on Feb 10th. Yep that’s right, 24 hours non stop of skinning up, and skiing down. The race sounds awesome but it’s very expensive at $316 per solo. To race without a crew I would also need to spend at the least $95/night for a pit/room at the base of the mountain. Otherwise I’d probably freeze to death. So now we’re talking around $700 plus the 450 mile drive to Glenwood Springs, CO from Jackson Hole. With all that said it’s the first ever 24 hour randonee rally race. It will be an amazing challenge for me, especially being new to this type of ski racing.

All that brings me to what I did today, in preparation for a race I might do.. I climbed 10,050 vertical feet on my skis non stop. This is the most vertical I’ve ever done in one shot, and to be honest it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, although 24 hours of it will put me in the pain dojo for sure.

The day started at 9:10am at the Snow King resort right in Jackson. My first lap was awful as I tried to figure out the ‘correct’ way up the mountain to avoid the ski patrol. The first lap of the 1,600 foot climb took me 1:03 as I fiddled with my mp3 player, tried to get comfy and figure the best way up the mountain. The next climb was much better as I ditched the mp3 player for the sounds of the mountains and got to this zenful place where I was alright with sweating like a crack head. This one took me just :43 minutes. One thing became apparent: I need a softshell breathable outfit to race in. No one climbs in their Gore-Tex like this kid was doing. I must look like a new school dork trying to climb with all my roomy Gore-Tex gear on.

It took me 7:09 but I skinned 10,050 vertical feet, and of course I got to ski down the same amount. This was my last chance at a big training day before the race. Hopefully the day in and day out of hiking and skinning will have prepared me... we'll see on Feb 10th.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Is there a better place on earth?

This past week in Jackson have been a blur of backcountry skiing. I ski in the backcountry every day. My rule is I don’t pay the $56 to ski JHR unless it’s snowed more than one foot. There is so much great terrain that is easily accessible off Teton Pass, and in the Grand Teton National Park that it’s really not necessary to pay for the lift… plus it’s more fun to earn your turns.

Yesterday morning Brandon (snowboarder), Lasse (skier), Mike (snowboarder) and I woke up at 4:30am for Dawn Patrol at Glory Bowl. There were a few reasons for this; Lasse needed to be to work by 11am but still wanted to ski; it’s a fun adventurous way to start a day of skiing, in the dark climbing with a headlamp on; and most importantly it SNOWED 11”. We were the first up Glory Bowl and the first to enjoy it’s treasures.. although we worked for it. The old boot-pack was filled in by the new snow, so we made our own. At times we were crawling on hands and knees up 10 foot wind drifts during the 1,600 foot climb. By the time the sun was high enough to help light the way, around 7:15am, we were already past the worst of it and relatively close to the 10,086 foot summit.

Before this new snow fell the avy danger hasn't been that much of a concern. Before yesterday's snow we had two blue bird days. The first of which, Thursday Jan 26th, I dug a pit and could get only Q3 sheers on both shovel and tap tests - not very concerning. But the sun, although great to have around, can create scary layers in the snow. I noticed some large surface hoar on the way out to Avalanche Bowl on Friday. Yesterdays 11" on some aspects fell on surface hoar and/or a melt/freeze layer. Perfect layers to slide on. On top of that, today's snow is denser than Saturdays' snowfall. Anyway you cut it there are going to be some natural slides, skiers beware.

In the last week or so I’ve explore most of the routes on Teton Pass, here are the ones I remember the names off:
  • Glory Bowl obviously (Slope 2, Coal Creek, NW Ridge, Twin Slides and a few other slopes I don’t know the names off)
  • TittyMouse Ridge down Trail Creek to Wilson
  • Avalanche Bowl (some of the best turns I’ve ever made on two different days)
  • Elly Mountain (the Claw – epic steeps shots through the trees)
  • Eidleweiss Mountain and the Nose
Yesterday Lasse and I enjoyed some demo skis. On our hitchhike back up to the top of Teton Pass the day before we got a ride from some of the woodworkers at
Igneous Skis. If you are serious about your powder skiing, and you live in Jackson Hole you ski on some double or triple fat Igneous skis. They are everywhere, you can tell them by their wood grain top sheet design. So we stopped by after our day of skiing to see what they had for us to demo. The skis on the left are not a production ski, more of a concept ski. The ski on the right is the single fat GS 175cm. I skied this to get an idea of what their skis are like. I would prefer the double fat, GS (FFGS) in a 180. But borrowers can’t be too choosey.