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.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A few nice little tours in the Tetons

The AMGA guiding course has been a great learning experience for me. During the course we discuss techniques and then usually go into the field and practice… and this means we get to ski the Teton backcountry. Thursday the 12th we traveled into Grand Teton National Park and skinned up “25 Short”, which is named for being 25 feet short of 10,000 feet. The skin was about 3,300 feet to the top. We dug pits to analyze the snow pack, did some compression tests, then got to ski down taking turns guiding our groups. The snow was amazing, knee deep powder. This tour is perfectly safe for me to do alone as there is a well treed option with no avalanche danger. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time training here in the next few weeks.

Friday the 13th we skinned up to ski "Wimpies". This meant climbing and skiing Albright Mountain, which is south of 25 Short in the Grand Teton National Park. Almost at the top of Albright however the objective danger became too much for almost everyone in the class. There is a clear avy path from the peak of Albright. When we arrived there were three skiers clearly struggling to skin up this section. Since they were above us, and would be until they summited, then skied down, it was not a good idea to be below them. We crossed below one at a time and skied the ridge and glades all the way down. Amazing turns and incredible snow once again.

Saturday Dec 14th the day before our big “Trans Teton” two day tour our group did a 2,200 foot boot pack up Glory Bowl. Since it’s a boot pack, right off the Teton Pass road and close to Teton Village it’s a heavily traveled ski route for both snowboarders and skiers alike. With that said there a good number of skiing options from the top, so we were all pleasantly surprised to find we could ski untracked shin deep powder the entire way down. Did I mention that Jackson Hole has the best backcountry skiing known to man? On the top we discussed our options belaying clients in sketchy situations, then focused on rescue sleds and practiced lowering and dragging them uphill. These are skills I have never worked on so I learned a good deal.

Trans Teton Ski Tour 1.16.05

Today was the final day of my AMGA Ski Guiding course. The last two days we spent crossing the Teton mountain range. This trip was amazing. Sunday morning we started the tour at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Our group of eight students and two instructors were on our way up the tram a half hour before it opens at 9am. It had snowed three inches the night before and it was extremely windy. I could feel the cumulative concern in the tram that morning. I think we all felt a bit worried as we heard the gusts at the top of the tram were reaching 50 mph and blowing the tram all over the place. It felt like an elevator to the arctic as we got off the tram at the top of Rendezvous... ding. We headed South West out of the ski area boundary above Cody bowl. After a short traverse we had to climb the top of Cody Mountain, it was a rocky and snowy face so we threw our skis on our packs and scrambled up.

From here Hans was our lead guide and he did a great job of getting us some pretty amazing knee deep powder turns in a lightly gladed area (here is a video of me skiing it). The weather was such that we were the only ones in the backcountry and on my own I would not have chosen a two day trans Teton trip in a snow storm and 50 mph winds. Our trip had started out pretty well. We all sort of helped navigate to our traverse. We traveled North West across the Middle and South Fork of Granite Creek and up a little ridge just before the climb to Housetop Mountain.
We had planned on camping around Housetop at 10,537 feet but that with the low visibility and high winds we decided to stop short. We camped below the ridge in a safe batch of trees. Here we ran an avalanche scenario where we had 3 transceivers buried. It was a surprise so after some initial chaos we found them all in 16 minutes or so. It was extremely cold so we got to making our shelters then covering it with our guides’ tarp. We used our skis and poles as the structure then covered it with snow for insulation.

The next morning we started our ski ascent of Housetop Mountain (10,627’) at 8am, it was 4 degrees. I could not warm up. I had every bit of clothing on I brought with me, but it didn’t seem to matter. On top of that we were keeping a clients pace which meant we weren’t skinning as fast as we would on our own. After the initial few hundred feet we were on the ridge to Housetop. This was the hardest most exposed section of the tour. The wind was blowing us off balance as we negotiated this corniced ridge. It wasn’t always obvious how we could progress and we did quite a bit of dropping low to avoid breaking cornices and then climbing back up. The female in our group started to get frost nip and by her moans of pain I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it out. We finally made it to the top of Housetop Mountain and started our mostly downhill traverse along the ridge. At the top of Housetop it was my turn to lead the group. At one point we came upon a knife ridge with 45 degree slopes on both sides and soft cornices on top.
The other group had started to attach their skis to their packs to boot pack it. I thought the snow was way too soft for that so we skinned on. This is where I looked back at Rob our instructor with a “this looks terribly dangerous” expression on my face. He just said “keep going”, you gotta love the seasoned confidence of a weathered mountain man. And so I skinned up the side of this knife ridge with soft snow cornices on one side
and avalanche slide danger on the other. After this assent we got some pretty sweet turns down to the creek before Baldy Knoll. The weather cleared a bit and we could see the Tetons in all their glory. That view made the whole trip worth it.

We then skinned around Baldy Knoll and out Fox Creek. We started at 9am on Sunday and finished the tour on the other side of the Tetons around 2:30pm on Monday, all told going clients pace we most likely spent 9 hours on skis.
We ascended 3,500 feet, descended 7,383 feet and our maximum elevation was 10,627. This route could be done in one day at a fast pace. Hopefully I’ll be able to find someone to journey out there with me before it’s time to leave this wonderful hole.
Click this image to see a larger version of the TOPO’s route – it’s pretty cool.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Guide class day one and an epic day on the hill

My AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) Ski Guiding course started today. Our instructor is Rob Hess, CEO and owner of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. Our morning session was in the classroom. We got oriented, did a course overview, discussed navigation a bit and reviewed what happens at a morning “guides meeting”. A typical morning for a ski guide obviously starts with a review of the weather, avalanche danger and current conditions. Rob took us into an office to show us some of the data. Turns out it was Doug Coomb’s office, as he strolled in later. I've also seen Olypic Gold medalist Tommy Moe, more confirmation that this is the best place on earth to ski.

Sunday was one of the best days of skiing I’ve had in my life.. quite possibly THE best. Without some local knowledge there is only so much you can do, and skiing the backcountry alone is not even an option. So I asked my classmate Bryan from my level II avy course who works at the JHR to show me around on his day off. Well his day off was Sunday. We discussed options and he said if the storm drops a foot or more we’ll ski the resort, if not we tour into the backcountry. I knew right then this was a good guy to ski with. Turns out he and his boys are pretty sick, hard chargin’, cliff droppin’ freaks. Just the way I like it. The storm dropped a foot and we skied perfect powder all day. The best runs were in the afternoon when we climbed the headwall to ski the Crags, 10-20 foot pillow drops into perfect snow.. unreal. I think I now know why people give up everything to become ski bums. I wish I had taken some photos but there are no friends on a powder day and apparently no cameras either.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Disaster Strikes

When you live in your car, you are very dependent on that car running.

So when that car breaks down on you it gets scary. Yesterday I quit skiing early just to get the slow leak tire fixed. After buying the new headlight, and getting the tire fixed the Eurovan just died. I thought I stalled it but after trying to jump it I realized it was something way worse… and as always it was going to be very expensive – turns out about $400. The worst part is everything I own is in the van, which is now at the garage until at earliest Monday. I packed a bag and grabbed my skis for the next few days not sure where I would stay or what I would do. Luckily I had met a dude named Dave earlier that day. He’s working at the mountain and lives in a condo in Teton Village (5 minute walk to the lifts). After a short conversation with him about how cold out it was and how I live in my van, he offered me a floor space in the condo for $10/night. So I knocked on the door last night and took him up on the offer.

I’m off for a night time skin tour of JHR’s cross country trails.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Snow Science

Well I’ve been living in the van at various locations in Jackson proper. Because I can easily get snowed in at the Park and Ride I have taken to parking in hotel lots. Although there are signs everywhere about not parking basically anywhere over-night, no one seems to really care. Sleeping is the hardest part of living in the van. It’s so cold at night that I don’t want to move, and getting up to pee (which if you know me happens a lot) is not an option. The worst part though is the split finger tips from the cold. They are killing me.

Since I’ve been here in Jackson Hole I’ve been spending my days in the American Avalanche Institute’s Level II Avalanche Course. Today was our last day. I have to say I’ve learned a TON in this course. Snow science is amazing. If only the teachers in high school could have explained to me the metamorphasis a snow grain goes through after it falls and how it affects the stability of that layer I would have actually liked science. Too bad.

The course is taught by Rod Newcomb, Exum Guide, former snow ranger at Jackson Hole and the Director of the American Avalanche Institute. He's an amazing guy, in his 70s and still sharp as a tack and so many stories your head would spin. All the instructors are Exum Mountain Guides. If you haven't heard about Exum read this article from Outside Magazine.

Anyway here are the basics of what we did in the course (this is for you Copson, Riley and Parker).
Day 1: Review of metamorphosis, plotting snowpack from weather data, litigation, field – full data pit at Phillips Bench on Teton Pass, plotted pit data.
Day 2: Review weather and stability, snow mechanics, review shear tests and shear quality, field – shear tests at Phillips Bench again, review of surface hoar.
Day 3: Toured up and out Snow King Ski Resort, dug 2 pits and did every test imaginable, Rutschblock, all compaction tests, analyzed grains and tested density, then kicked off a few cornices.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Driving Seattle to Jackson

Driving to Jackson, WY - Dec 29-31, 2005
I left Seattle, WA thinking I'd drive my VW EuroeVan to Jackson in 13-15 hours, no problem. I couldn't have been more wrong. Where to begin? Well I left Seattle around 5:30pm Friday. I had planned on a bit earlier but I had to drive up to GI Joe's to get that heater for the van, in rush hour traffic. Once out of Seattle I got stuck in more traffic at Snoqualmie Pass. The storm has shut down the pass for a few hours, so I sat there. What is worse is I started to feel sick. First a sore throat, then a fever, and sore back and neck, and it got progressively worse. While I wait I tried to put my tire chains on for the drive over the pass. Come to find out that the guy at Fred Myer who helped me had no idea what he was talking about and the chains were too small. Long story short, I turn around, buy new chains, and make it over the pass 5 hours later than planned. I had no problem going slow while I drove in the snow because periodically I'd see a semi-truck off the road, tipped over. Somewhere in Idaho I realize how bad I felt. I was full blown sick now. After sleeping at a rest stop for 4 hours I came back to get in the van and I hear the front tire hissing at me. It's a slow leak, but I was super paranoid. I had nightmare visions of being stranded.

The luck I had had thus far in the trip made my mind wonder. "Maybe I wasn't supposed to do this", I thought, "Maybe this is a sign". Pushing those thoughts out of my head I dreamed of the Jackson powder.

The rest of the trip I kept an eye on the leak, the tire doesn't seem to be getting flat, but I convince myself that it was... and that incessant hissing drove my fear. At one point I checked the pressure and it was almost double the recommended pressure. My paranoia was getting the best of me. The two passes in Idaho were snowy, but not bad enough for chains and I had the luxury of daylight.

The last obstacle to tackle is driving over the pass to Jackson Hole itself in the dead of night. I decided to go for it in the dark as the New Year approached. I arrived in Jackson just as the clock struck 12! It was pretty sweet (well as sweet as it could be, alone on New Years in a van). I toured downtown Jackson and watched the party people. I also kept and eye out for a spot to park the van to sleep for the night. Cops followed me multiple times as I slowed and gawked. One of them pulled me over. I tried a jedi mind trick on him saying, "I am not the drunkard you are looking for". He laughed, checked my license and let me go. I luckily found a Park and Ride in town and pulled in to sleep for the night. I slept about 11 hours I was so tired and sick... but I was in Jackson - the promise land.

Day One - Jackson Hole, Wy

I had been thinking a lot about where I would live when I arrived in Jackson. I knew the "Hostel" at the base of the Jackson Hole (ski) Resort (JHR) was $58/night. This was WAY too much. I also knew that I might be able to find a rental in the town of Jackson for around $700-$1,000/month for the month I will be here. Still too much. I was thinking I would sleep in the van some nights, at the hostel others and maybe meet someone in my Avy II or AMGA Ski Guiding class that would let me crash on their floor. It wasn't until Chantrelle said "you gotta live in the van, like a real ski bum" that I realized that was the answer. She had done this for a summer on the Cape and said that as long as you have access to a gym (shower) it's not that bad. I had already been planning on getting a gym membership for training. So I have decided to live like a "real ski bum" and live in my van. I checked out the two gym options in Jackson today, and will get a month long membership just down the road from the Park and Ride that I call home for $75. This will allow me to train, and to shower.

I felt a bit guilty today as I got out of bed in the Park and Ride at noon, but hell I needed the rest. Being sick and driving for 30 hours took it's toll on me. The Park and Ride is sweet and I'm the only one there. I half expected a cop to knock on my window at some point and tell me to leave. The only noise to bother me was the occasional bus that came through starting at 5am.

Jackson is the the epicenter of this area and the biggest town around. This is where my Park and Ride and gym are. Teton Village is at the base of JHR and is where I would stay if I could afford it. But there are no gyms, no grocery stores, etc... so most of the time I'll stay in Jackson and drive to the resort to ski.

I can't wait to get on skis! It's unreal here and the backcountry appears to be limitless.

The approach to Teton Village

The famous clock tower at JHR

The tram at JHR - this is the last year it will run