Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The bitch is back

La Nina, that is.

I took the sled up to road's end for a look-see to see how things are shaping up for skiing. The answer - not yet, and likely not soon. :( It doesn't look like the snowmobilers are going up much past the turnaround, and for good reason. There isn't anything close to adequate snow cover yet. It was pretty obvious what I was going to find, but I threw the skins on anyway and headed uphill, more for the exercise than anything else. I turned around just short of the Launching Pad, as it was clear that I was just going to tear up my skis coming back downhill.

Kevin M. was up there too, for much the same reason. He skinned all the way up to Liberty Pass. He said that it never did get any better. He got about six turns in First Dollar, but it was really dicey and not worth skinning up.

He summed it up pretty succinctly: "That sucked."

The good part is that I got that first-day shakeout done, the sled runs, the boots still fit, the new skins stayed where they were supposed to stay, the dog loaded onto the snowmobile willingly, AND I got some exercise. I'll be honest, though - it'll take a fair bit more snow for me to want to bust out the snowmobile again. I'll be sticking to hiking, ice climbing and XC skiing for a while.

I have some old skis that I was going to give to a friend to turn into a fence. I'm thinking they need to be sacrificed to Ullr instead.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Road closed for the winter

Very fast update - the Lamoille Canyon Road is closed for the winter at its usual spot, just past Pete's Corner. I ran into a USFS law enforcement officer (LEO) up there today - he's issuing citations for folks who drive past the closure, so be advised. There's not a whole heck of a lot of snow on the road yet, very drivable, but I guess they're being proactive. Or nanny-statish, take your pick.

Anyway, some friends of mine have been up making turns - skied the Lake Shot on Friday. I was up on XC skis today (sweet!)... busy with work tomorrow but will head up Wednesday for a real ski report.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ice ice baby!

I haven't put anything up on this blog for several months now... for whatever reason, I posted a couple of late, late ski days over on my Trails blog rather than here. People were asking about trail conditions so I posted ski pics for them... think I got the message across?

Anyway, while a couple of people who don't really like their ski bases much have been up there skiing on the rocks, I've been taking a pass and doing some hiking and ice climbing. It's beautiful up there right now, even with the lack of skiable snow.

From an ice climbing trip with friends on Saturday:

Gotta love ice climbing. The approach almost always involves a ridiculously steep walk up AND a bushwhack! Fortunately, this climb, aptly named Season Opener, is one of the easier approaches.

My friend Bruce and my dog Cody got to spend some quality time up there.

Jeff hadn't climbed ice more than once or twice, and hadn't done it at all for a couple of years. My husband Ken gave him a quick "Ice Climbing 101" class.

And then belayed him as he gave it a whirl. Jeff was STOKED to get up there!

Why bother with a rope?

I've never been one for high heels...

Erik showed up just as we were packing up to go drink beer... did a couple of quick rope-free laps since he'd gone to the trouble to get all dressed up and everything...

Sweet canyon view... and one that only the climbers and mountain goats get to see.

I think given the conditions that ice climbing rather than skiing is likely to be in my immediate future. This isn't too terrible in the scheme of things.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sled in Terminal Cancer

Corn season is here, and that means crunchy early AM starts, bluebird skies and a very happy dog. His little short legs have him awfully tired when we're enjoying the powder we've seen this year! Corn snow is much more to his liking.

The snowmobiles have been having a field day up there and I bagged on a trip up Full House because of it... the entire east aspect was tracked up and I couldn't see a decent line from the peak. This week's snow combined with sunshine should heal it all up... hopefully the sledders will get excited about yard work sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I think I'm going to need to shift my ski-day goals to less sled-accessible terrain.

Not that there's much of that to be found these days. On Wednesday, a film crew was up recording a snowmobiler who ripped up Terminal Cancer. We always thought that line would be safe from the snowmobiles... not any more. They hired a helicopter to get him off the top, so hopefully that'll discourage the locals from trying it.

I've pretty much written TC off to the out-of-towners, who have it so tracked up these days bumps are likely forming. Still, though, I always thought that beautiful, beautiful line would be safe from the profane sound of jet-fuel-powered sleds. Not any more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The lowdown on skinning up

I haven't checked in for a while - skied inbounds for a few days, and then torqued my knee taking an ad-hoc trip down a small cliff. So, while I'm a bit laid up, I've been spending more time skiing the computer screen.

Anyway, I ran across this tutorial by an online friend of mine, Bob Lee, a prolific Santa Fe-area skier who's also a darned nice guy. Most of this is pretty elementary stuff, but if you've never skinned before the first few attempts can be painful. Bob, nice guy that he is, has the info that will let you leave the misery back at home.

If you want to follow up with Bob, the EpicSki forums are a good place to find him. Here's the link to his write up over on Epic.



Skinning Primer
By Bob Lee

Me in my happy place

I’ll take turns pretty much any way that I can get them, but skinning up a hill holds a special place in my heart – skiing down afterwards just seems better somehow. That might be because skinning can take me to a secluded, out-of-the-way place, or because it can be more contemplative and serene than the busy resort scene, or maybe I just get a little endorphin buzz from having some good exercise outdoors in the mountains during the winter.

I have to confess something here – I used to hate skinning. Hate might be too mild a word to describe my feelings – I loathed it and feared it. I’d always loved backcountry skiing, but skinning seemed like torture and if a slope was slightly steep and the snow was firm enough I was generally happier carrying my skis and hiking uphill on foot. I didn’t care if it was slower.

That all changed when I got some mentoring from an accomplished ski mountaineer who taught me about graceful and efficient skinning. These days, while I may not totally love the climb, the tips I got and the things I learned have made it a lot easier to climb steeper slopes…and sometimes it’s even enjoyable. It turns out that skinning is a skill – it isn’t just walking on your skis. To go comfortably up steeper slopes you have to develop a feel for it and know a few tricks. The tricks break down into two categories: equipment and technique.

In the Tetons... the Middle dead ahead

On the equipment side, I like skins that have both a tip and tail attachment. A tail attachment isn’t strictly necessary – the glue will keep the skins well attached if you’re careful and lucky – but it can serve as insurance if you have a glue failure from age or contamination with snow or spruce needles or dog hair.

I also like free-pivot bindings for skinning. All modern Alpine Touring (AT) bindings pivot freely at the toe when the heel is released for skinning, but not all telemark bindings have this feature. I’ve skinned for many years and many miles with conventional tele bindings, but once I tried the newer ones that allow you to raise your heel without resistance on the uptrack I became a convert. The free swing makes it much easier to move your skis forward. If you tele, consider giving them a try.

You’ll want heel lifts. Again, these are built into just about all modern AT bindings, but they’re sometimes sold as “optional” equipment for tele bindings. Heel lifts serve two functions – they provide relief for your calves and Achilles tendons on the uphill and they allow you to pressure the back of the ski while climbing (more on that in a bit).

Keep your boots loose, especially the top buckles, so that you aren’t fighting them while going up. I put my boots into the “walk” mode so that I can have a freer stride.

When going uphill, I like to shorten my adjustable ski poles down quite a bit. This helps keep my hands warm because the blood isn’t draining from raised arms, and it allows me to push instead of pull with my arms. I think we can all agree that push-ups are easier than pull-ups – a little, anyway.

Headed for Sin Nombre in the Sangre de Cristos

Don’t be overdressed at the start – you should feel a little bit cold at the trailhead. You’re going to warm up quickly when you get moving and if you’re overdressed you’ll get hot and have to stop and take clothes off which leads to you getting cold again, especially since you probably got wet from sweating. And stopping to deal with all this will keep you from developing a steady and efficient pace.

Now for some technique tips. Once you’re headed up the hill, a steady pace is key. It takes a while to hit your stride, but if you go slow and steady you’ll go much farther and ultimately faster than if you’re huffing and puffing like you’re in a race. If I can hit a mellow groove, it takes me to “my happy place.” Not stopping to fiddle with your clothing is crucial to maintaining a steady pace, like I mentioned above.

Concentrate on keeping as much contact as possible between your skins and the snow. If your weight is on your edges, you’re more likely to experience some slipping.

Push through your heels. This will keep pressure on the back part of your skis, which really, really helps traction, so try to lean back a bit. To help with that, stand up straight and keep your shoulders back. Leaning forward at the waist puts your weight forward and on the tips, which leads to slipping. If you find you are slipping, shift your weight back. This seems very unintuitive, but it works.

To save energy, slide your skis forward rather than lifting them. If you are right on the edge of traction, giving a micro little “push” down will help set the skins. Stomping doesn’t really work – the little hairs in the skin plush need to be “set” but they can only hold so much. Pick a track that takes advantage of little areas of “lift” like knolls or subtle ribs in the terrain.

Think about your stride and look at the track you leave – it should be straight and parallel. If your boots/ski/bindings are out of alignment, you’ll almost be herringboning instead of gliding. Skinning is the art of the micro. There may not be that big a difference between 50 steps of good form and 50 steps of bad form, but after a few miles there is a huge difference.

The last tip for you is to learn the uphill kick turn, where you do a 180 turn by kicking your uphill ski out and around to point the other way, then bring the downhill ski around and it becomes the new uphill ski as you motor on up the slope. Uphill kick turns are more efficient than downhill kick turns – maybe trickier to learn, but worth it.

And a last word: Sometimes it might get a little weird. Just press on:

This made sense at the time...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An amazing March

It's hard to believe it's the end of March, at least when you're up in the mountains. Down here in the valley it's full-on mud season, and I wish it would either dry up or freeze solid. Anything but mud. Up in the mountains, though, Old Man Winter is giving it all he's worth.

Conditions were a little "wonky" today, to use Kevin L.'s term... there's been a lot of wind with all of this new snow and it was easy to set off some soft wind slabs. I set off one that didn't run anywhere, Kevin set one off that ran for 80 feet or so. Enough to get a person's attention, at any rate. There were long-running sluffs coming off of steeper, rocky terrain, with a few crowns evident in the usual places.

It's all making for excellent, fluffy skiing, just not a day for taking chances with steeper, more windloaded stuff.

Can't take credit for this photo... Brett took this great photo of Kevin L.:

Dave in Mini-Me:

and into the trees...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Powder everywhere

Amazing up there today. Light was flat so pix aren't up to standard.

Skiing was off the hook.

Dave and I took a few laps in the Dollars, waiting for the light to get good enough for a shot at Liberty Peak. No such luck, I'm afraid. We did take one run off of the shoulder into a steep little chute, but other than that stayed a bit lower where the light was sorta kinda better.

Man - the snow this AM was amazingly light and non-wind-affected. It was snowing with enthusiasm when we left... should be untracked again tomorrow.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ridiculously good out there

The ongoing wind and the sketch avalanche conditions have made this an interesting season, to say the least. Sometimes, though, God just sends us a big old pile of powder, as if to say "stick it out, you know the great days make it so worth it."


We had quite a bit of new snow last night... the skin track was knee deep, with 325 cm at the snow stake. There was 311 cm when I was up there on Tuesday. It wasn't the lightest snow we've ever had but it was quite skiable and neither the wind nor the snowmobiles had torn it up. There were a lot of sluffs everywhere, a few crowns but mostly on very steep rocky terrain with thin snow.

Brett and I had a ball. What a day to catch it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lots of snow

Some pics from a fluffy day. 311 cm at the snow stake.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chututorial 101

Had a fun day skiing in Ely on Sunday - location undisclosed in an attempt to keep it open for skier access. There's been some talk about this area potentially being closed to the public because of concerns from the private property owner at the base - it's his right to keep people out if he wants but I sure as hell hope he doesn't follow through, that's some of my favorite spring skiing anywhere.

I shot video rather than stills, and so will post up when I get a vid of the day put together. In the meantime, here's this:

Andrew McLean put this together and posted it on his Straight Chuter blog - a well-done look at the thought process of an excellent skier in very technical terrain.

The nice part about that video for a weekend warrior like me is that it reaffirms some of the choices I make and techniques I use when I'm out there. Thanks, Andrew, for sharing - I for one am happy to learn at your knee.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I don't know if it was the conditions, or the avalanche rating from the Utah Avalanche Center, or if it was the story I posted up yesterday... but it was a spooky day for me in the Rubies today.

Mike and I headed up to Madigan's Chutes, with an idea of peeking over the top of the second chute into the Colonel Moore drainage... some good spring skiing in there and plans are cooking. We saw a little slide activity on the way up - a crown on Flake Off, a new slide in Terminal Cancer, several small fractures and sluffs on both sides of the road as we headed up. The wind had hit the snow and turned it into a foot-thick slab, on top of some weaker layers, with January's death layer lurking underneath.

I used my poles on the way up to test the snow, and we took precautions on the uptrack with routing and spacing. No whoomps... but still... while it was safe for today I was spooked enough to be happy to switch locations after the first run.

Gorgeous place, though, and decent but stiff skiing, even on a flat-light windblown day.

I took my time on the way down and had my spookiness confirmed... Ice Capades had slid big while we were up there. Mike later heard from the heliski guys that there are huge natural slides all over the range right now.

Think it's a good time to take a short break from skiing and ride my road bike for a while, give the snowpack a chance to settle down.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sobering write-up

This didn't happen here, but it could. The Rubies are slide terrain, and as such can be a dangerous place to visit.

This is a thread from TGR (Teton Gravity Research) started by a gentleman who was part of a party involved in a recent fatal avalanche incident. He was the only member of the group not buried. Two people died; he was able to save one life through level-headed thinking and action.

A note that he had written to the families of the dead was circulated rather quickly around the Internet, and as such he thought it appropriate to give people the opportunity to learn from his experience. A brave choice.

Anyway, read this:

Smithers BC Avalanche Fatality Incident Report

A good opportunity to assess the choices we make every day in the backcountry, and to do some very sober introspection about what any of us would do in that man's boots.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Another day, another Dollar

Took a short tour up to the Dollars today with Mike and Kevin - hard to argue with beautiful fluffy snow, glorious sunshine, and NO (count 'em) NO snowmobiles, other than those using sleds to get to the bottom of ski terrain. Didn't take many pictures as I've posted a lot of them over the years of the Dollar Chutes. Just a couple for fun. The last shot, down Ambrosia, lived up to the name in every single respect. Blower face-shot powder on a steepish pitch. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.........

Here's the real news of the day, though -Terminal Cancer slid yesterday. Pretty big. Big enough to kill somebody, if they were in TC when it went.

A lot of folks are pretty damned cavalier about this shot, and it pisses me off because it's going to get somebody killed someday. Hell, somebody was even making their way up it today, even with first hand evidence that conditions were unstable above the couloir! They were above the debris, below the huge cornice and ice-crusted rocks, late in the day while the temperature went up, just asking for it IMHO.

Darwin Award candidates. Maybe it'll take killing somebody to give this terrain trap the respect it deserves.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Headed up today for Snake, one of my favorite tours, with my friend Kasen. She'd not done this trip before.

I kind of set myself up for a tough day today... I usually wait until I'm in mid-season condition for this one. It's a very enjoyable climb in the scheme of things, but I'm not as young or fast as I used to be and it seems to go better if I have a few weeks of climbing under my belt before I head up this way. Unfortunately, with having been out of the country for six weeks, it's mid-season but I'm in early-season shape. Should think about these things.

With the wind-buffed, icy conditions and the thin snow, the up was pretty onerous. I finally gave up trying to get some sort of purchase with my too-small skins and bootpacked most of the way up.

It was hard to get too annoyed, though, with the gorgeous Great Basin views, sunshine and wind-free day.

As we approached the top, the heli-ski guys came up behind us and crested the ridge right below. I found out later that they'd circled around to get another look at my husband and our friend Tyler, who were ice climbing upcanyon. Clearly everybody was having a great day in the Rubies.

Kasen was enjoying the day. So was I.

The wind had really done a number up there, and had scoured the place right off the top. The trees skiers right, though, were filled with absolutely gorgeous fluff.

I'll be honest, I was really wishing we were on the chopper today so we could have kept that gorgeous line all the way down to their pickup zone. Unfortunately, we had to bail out of it to avoid one of the nastier bushwhacks in the Rubies - at least in my experience - which led to chunky snow. Lots of it. Thick crust breaking into chunks the size of dinner plates in some spots.

Little bit of everything out there today... we put the adventure into adventure skiing. What a blast!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On the road again...

With wind whipping on the ridges but an otherwise beautiful day, I figured I'd break out the XC skis and see how Lamoille Canyon held up for the six weeks I was gone.

No real surprise... it got along just fine without me, thanks. ;)

The road is in reasonable shape for XC skiing... soft-ish snow, not the icy garbage that it can occasionally be. There are plenty of whoops from all the sled traffic, as would be expected this time of year.

The wind and clouds and sunshine made for some dramatic views.

Ice Capades, a semi-regular ice climbing destination. I've often thought I ought to haul skis up there in addition to all of my ice climbing crap. At this point I'm tempted to leave the ice climbing crap at home and just bring the skis.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Powder day at the SnoBowl. Really.

So... when I can't come up with an alibi and the weight of responsibility finally crushes my will to ski uphill, I pick up a day ski patrolling at the Elko SnoBowl. Today was one of those days.

This isn't as onerous a duty as it might sound. And some days it's even an excellently good time.

For those unfamiliar with the Elko SnoBowl, it's a little community ski hill (emphasis on the words "community" and "hill" about five miles north of Elko, in the Adobe Hills. The top elevation is at something like 7500', so you can pretty well assume that there isn't towering vertical to be had. That said, SnoBowl rocks. Why? Because it has more soul than any one of those uber-yuppified bastardizations of somebody's old ski-hill dream will ever have. I mean... Northstar? Are you kidding me? That base area should be razed, pronto, and those six-pack lifts should be ripped out and shipped to Japan.

SnoBowl's base area is a construction trailer-cum-rental shop and a vendor shack (Skip's Snack Shack) that sells lift tickets, Coke and bad hot dogs. Bring your own tailgate party. There's a creaky old double chair lift and a rope tow. The place is staffed by volunteers - people who love skiing, people who love kids, people who love to see kids skiing. Among today's crop of guests, we had three folks who are in town working on a huge pipeline project, two of whom had never been on skis before. They had a blast! And so did we, introducing them to the best sport in the world.

The fact that we had a powder day and I was finding untracked lines as late as 2PM didn't suck much, either.

Sure, the Rubies have the goods. But today's powder stash was at the SnoBowl. I didn't even have to ski uphill to cash in.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Me 'N the Beav

I haven't been up Beaver Tail (to ski) for a couple of years, largely because my last trip up there featured crotch-deep breakable crust over sugar (ugh) as well as a misadventure where I ended up standing on top of a waterfall with my edges digging in trying to figure out how to safely exit from where I was standing. We climb that waterfall - called Scout Camp - repeatedly and happily during ice climbing season. I never really figured it to be a favorite ski destination for me.

Anyway, this summer I spent some time up there with friends cleaning out an old trail in an effort to improve access up there. I heard from Mike that it skied well on Monday and figured it was time to see for myself.

Beaver Tail is kind of a west-southwest aspect and so can get pretty cooked. We had about a foot of freshies up top, but lower down it was a couple of inches of new over the hard-as-nails-baked-out-January-hate-garbage... ugh. Skinning up was a real chore in a few places, and I ended up taking off my skis and bootpacking over a couple of particularly ugly spots.

Once up top, though... wow.

So much skiing... so little access. :(

Mt. Gilbert, with Ruby Dome peeking behind a couple of ridgelines.

Self portrait, with my ski partner Cody.

What goes up must come down.

In all honesty, north was the aspect of the day - the shots of north that I enjoyed were absolutely orgasmic, uber-light boot-deep fluff. Unfortunately, today's ski partner didn't have a drivers' license - and never will, so my north aspect shuttle destinations were out of the question. And, (excuses excuses), I really didn't have time for a long tour.

I'm bummed I have to work tomorrow because the skiing is going to be stellar.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Back for seconds...

... because the first serving was so tasty.

Headed up to Tuesday's destination for another shot at bluebird skies and mellow terrain with a sweet serving of freshies. The wind had blown a bit and there was a touch or two of crustiness, easily resolved by minute changes of line.

Beats going to the gym all to hell. Bonus - my dog gets some exercise, too.

Saw some tracks from the heliski... looks like they were up there yesterday. Didn't see them up high, just at the pick-up point.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cold bluebird day in the Rubies

I've taken a few weeks off from updating this blog, but now am back at the computer. I was pretty fed up with having to share snow with way too many snowmobiles, and didn't bother to take pictures of my ski days. And then, of course, I spent a month in Patagonia. My life surely doesn't suck.

Some Patagonia stoke:

But I digress.

Since I'm still not all that interested in competing with motorized yo-yos for snow, I've started thinking in terms of other places to go for my skiing fun. Leaving the sleds behind means long approaches and, in some cases, the need to bring a tent along. Fortunately for me, there are reasonable options if I'm willing to put some uphill time into it.

Today's tour - case in point: three hours up for some absolutely stellar skiing.

I was a little concerned when I got back from Patagonia that the huge January melt-out would have ruined the skiing. I had a couple of reports, though, that that wasn't the case. A couple of days of light snow on top of the warmed-up stuff could have led to some pretty sketch conditions. As it turned out, it was rocking good - well worth the uphill, the cold, and the thin, bitter wind.

Up again with Mike - who is very patient. I'm slow anyway, and a month of hiking at 1000' doesn't help much when your usual playground is at 10K.

This is Mike's photo of the day's destination. Note the spindrift - not a great day to be up on the ridge.

Beautiful beyond belief up there.

After we got through a ridiculous sagebrush traverse that I ended up bootpacking, Mike put in a very sweet uptrack. He got quite a bit ahead of me while I was fighting with the traverse. Of course, he gets quite a bit ahead of me most days.

Still smiling at the top, though. Hell, who WOULDN'T smile on a day like this?

And down. And down, and down, and down...