Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Flight delay

Last night I was supposed to start my flight to Geneva, Switzerland. My girlfriend and I are planning on spending the next three weeks skiing in Europe. Fortunately for us when we arrived in Reno the attendant at the desk for United airlines told us that our flight was delayed and we were going to miss our connection. Normally I'd have been upset about that, but not last night. It was dumping, and this morning we awoke to 30 inches of new snow at the resorts. Our flight is rescheduled for the first thing tomorrow, with a way better itinerary. We arrive in europe one day later than planned, with one more epic powder day under our belts. We skied Squaw and Alpine today and pillaged the deep fresh snow for as long as we could, but the lifts have to close sometime. Here's a few POV clips from today, it was deep!
In a day and half we'll be in Verbier, Switzerland. Hopefully it is good.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some hidden powder turns

It was another beautiful day in the neighborhood. Sunny skies and high pressure prevailed so my girlfriend Lynn Kennen and I headed down to Mt. Tallac to see if there was any cold snow left after last weeks freak 6 inch storm. While the winds were howling due to the low pressure system that is pushing onshore we made the best of the sunny day and enjoyed comfortable hiking conditions the whole way. In this photo Lynn makes her way accross North Bowl with the west shore and lake Tahoe beaming behind her. It was Lynn's first day on her new Dynafit ski bindings, and a mellow run down something smooth would've been a great way to try them out. I talked her into dropping into the cross and checking out my favorite line on Tallac, the Babycham. She snapped a couple shots of me dropping in, and it was good, real good. This chute is way steeper than you might guess by looking at this photo, note that her ski tip appears in the lower left corner, that is because she is looking straight down... Again I would like to thank everyone that didn't drop in on this line in the last three days, you must know that I love fresh turns.If you look closely in the photo below you can see me further down the chute and in the sun. It was a beautiful day, and a day well spent in the mountains with my lady. Chamonix here we come!

More fun on the East Side

Ah the East Side. There's really not quite any place else like it on earth. For the past 2 weeks my friends and I have taken full advantage of the mild high pressure conditions and have gone after some of the loftiest summits in the state of California. This weeks goals were Split Mountain and Birch Mountain. Both located just outside of Big Pine, CA, these peaks are separated by only a couple of miles. Basically, Split is west of Mt. Tenemaha, and Birch is north of Tenemaha. You even use the same system of dirt roads to reach both "parking areas". In the photo below my friend Oscar sets out on the "trail" toward Red Lake on our way to Split Mountain, 14,058 ft. I always love the juxtaposition of the desert and the snow, it wouldn't be the east side if you didn't do a little desert walking...About three hours, and a variety of minor issues, we reach Red Lake and catch the first glimpse of our objective. From here the summit is only a mere 4,000 vertical feet away... We came to ski the fabled East Couloir, which becomes visible as you approach the base of the peak. Our ascent route is visible in this photo, and it is the very thin ribbon of snow on the lookers right of the peak, known as the St. Jean couloir.
About an hour later we're still about an hour from the bottom of the couloirs. The East Couloir coming into view on the lookers left, and the St. Jean, in the center of the photo. The scale of things down here is really deceptive. What looks like a short distance often turns out to be much farther and steeper than it seems...Here is a view of our primary descent objective, the East Couloir. On a big year this line has a 70 foot rappel over an ice bulge at the bottom, this year it has about a 400 foot rappel over ice, rock, more ice, more rock... it just isn't that filled in, so we changed our plan. Maybe we'll come back and tag this classic line another year. So we head up the St. Jean couloir in hopes that the snow will be good in this aesthetic, steep, skinny couloir. About a quarter of the way up we find about a half inch of water ice on top of the snow in the chute, fine conditions for climbing in crampons, not so sweet for attempting to ski down. Here's a view looking up the chute....
And here's my view looking down. This chute was no joke, really steep, pretty narrow, and with beautiful rock walls top to bottom. You can also see the Owens Valley, only 9,000 feet below us here.
Eventually the crew made it to the summit of Split Mountain. Andrew, Oscar, Duncan and myself are all pretty wiped out at this point. We'd explored all of the ways down the mountain that we weren't willing to go down, so we opted for the "easy" way down, which we had to pretty much figure out as we went. It turned out to be pretty decent skiing, and far less life threatening than either of the other options we'd explored that day. About 11 hours after leaving the car that morning we returned safe and sound. 7,500 vertical foot runs are lots of fun, especially when you carry ropes and harnesses most of the way for no good reason, I guess we all could use a little extra exercise... In any event, skiing Split Mountain was something I've wanted to do for a while, and I'm thankful to my friend Andrew for providing the motivation I needed. Hopefully the next time I head that way there will be appropriate snow conditions for getting after the more aggressive lines.
One of the best parts of spring skiing down on the east side of the Sierra is the camping. Camping in the desert way out on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere at the base of beautiful 13 and 14 thousand foot peaks just can't be beat. In this shot Mt. Tenemaha dominates the evening skyline. Split Mountain sits just behind that, and Birch Mountain is just visible on the right of the photo.
Our next objective was the summit of Birch Mountain, and as usual this mission started with a healthy little dose of desert walking. In the photo below Oscar makes his way towards the snow just after leaving the car at the end of the dirt road at 6,500 feet. The summit of Birch Mountain is 13,658 ft., so the climb and the ski run are 7,000 vertical feet. Unlike Split Mountain, Birch is not set back on the crest, so the fall line is quite a bit more direct making for a quicker climb and a much quicker descent, depending on your route. Birch Mountain is on the right, Mt. Tenemaha is on the left. Its hard to tell from the photo, but Birch is 1,000 feet taller than Tenemaha. About a third of the way up the mountain and I can't get over the contrast of the snow and the desert. Here Oscar is bootpacking up with the snow and the desert making things interesting in the background.
Our goal on Birch Mountain was to get a 7,000 foot corn run. The south facing slopes were nice and smooth and the winds were out of the north keeping our chances for excellent conditions high. We'd viewed the south side of Birch Mountain from the summit of Split 2 days earlier and this is what we saw. In the photo below you can see the south side of Birch, the peak on the right. We ascended roughly on the lookers right skyline to the summit, and dropped in just to the lookers left down the really aesthetic 3,000 foot long south facing gully. The rest of our run is obscured by ridgelines in this photo, but it was really fun.
Near the top of Birch the views were pretty phenomenal, here Oscar skins with Split Mountain dominating the skyline behind him. Our descent route from two days earlier is visible in this shot. Again, it is hard to capture the scale of everything in a photo, these mountains are absolutely enormous...After about 5 and half hours we reached the summit of Birch Mountain and were awed by the view. The Palisades to the North, Split Mountain and the other high peaks to the south was just too much for my camera to take in. My computer almost exploded when I downloaded all the photos, and in fact I lost about 40 shots in the process. Oh well. Luckily, Oscar captured a shot of me on the summit of Birch scoping out the downclimb to get into the line we wanted to ski.
The High Sierra is a great place to call home, if only for a few days at a time....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Double the pleasure, double the pain

Like any good morning down on the east side, ours started with a pre-dawn wake up in the desert. We had arrived at the Shepherd Pass trailhead, just west of Independence, CA, around midnight the night before. We knew we had a big day ahead of us, so we got up early and got on the trail as soon as we could. Our goal was the summit of Mt. Tyndall, one of the thirteen 14,000+ foot peaks in the state of California. Tyndall's summit sits at 14,018 feet above sea level and is the western-most 14 er of the bunch, meaning that it is the farthest away from any road. Lucky for us the summit was only 8 miles and 8,000 vertical feet from where we parked and the sunrise is always beautiful on the east side.Since the distance to our objective was so great we decided that it would be a good idea to spend the night out there. We figured that we could ski a couple things, instead of just having one massive day we could have two. After hiking for a couple hours we crested the ridge from Symmes creek into Shepherd Creek and we were awed by the scale of the mountains. It might be hard to tell from the pictures, but these mountains are huge, really huge. Mt Williamson is on the left, and on the far right of the picture you can just see Shepherd Pass, only 5 and a half more hours away. To access Mt. Tyndall it is easiest to follow the Shepherd Creek Drainage up to Shepherd Pass at 12,000 feet. From there it is only a mile and 2,000 more feet to the summit.
5 hours later and the rest of the crew, Andrew E., Andrew P., and Duncan are about to crest the top of Shepherd Pass. The drainage we ascended is behind them with Mt. Keith off to the left. At this point we'd already been hiking for 7 hours and calling it a day certainly would've been pretty awesome, but our objective had finally come into view so there was really no stopping now.
As we crested the Pass we saw the hulking mass of the north face of Mt. Tyndall. We also entered into the boundary of Sequoia National Park, which was a first for me. At this point we are a mile from the base of the face we want to ski the weather is perfect and we're all feeling pretty good, and happy that we're not trying to return to the car tonight.
About two hours later I'm on the front of the bootpack heading to the summit of Tyndall. Shepherd Pass is the low spot behind us and Mt. Keith is the huge peak in the distance. We made it to the summit, took in the sights and wondered at the scale of it all. The mountains in this area are so massive it is hard to even imagine until you see them for yourself.
After skiing the variable cold snow conditions down the north face of Tyndall we set up a camp in some of the talus on the plateau at about 12,000 feet. Camping on dry ground is a little easier than camping on snow and having a bunch of loose rocks around to build a small wind shelter to sleep behind is always nice. It was a cool night for us, but a warm night by mid-winter high elevation standards. In the photo below we prepare for day two in the early morning sun under the north face of Mt. Tyndall.
Our original plan was to ski the west face of Mt. Williamson on day 2. After reconsidering the logistics and timing we modified our plan to ski the inviting south face of Mt. Keith. While Mt. Keith doesn't top out above 14 thousand feet it comes in just shy at 13,977 feet. Due to its lack of height it is often overlooked and I had never even heard of this mountain before attempting to ski it. Mt Keith was also kind of on the way back to the car so we just had to check it out. In the photo below Andrew E. approaches the south face of Mt. Keith with some nameless 13,000+ foot peaks in the background. You could easily spend a week skiing back here and have barely scratched the surface...
As we ascend the couloir the views just get better and better. Andrew P. and Duncan are the two dots below with Tyndall and Shepherd Pass in the background. The south facing snow was softening up quite nicely by now...
Crazily enough I even got one of those guys to take a picture of me on the summit of Mt. Keith. Mt Tyndall, Mt. Whitney, and Kings Canyon in the background. An amazing area to say the least. I'll be venturing back this way very soon.
And dropping! Duncan drops into the line we just climbed, and shreds it. He's got 3,000 vertical feet of fall line skiing before the first bench and the beginning of the ski/hike back out.
Andrew P. drops in for some hard earned corn turns down the south flank of Mt. Keith. Once we gathered our stashed gear at the bottom of this run it was a 3 and a half hour ski/ hike/survival skiing slog back to the car. The only reasonable way out of this area is the way we came in and it wasn't that much easier on the way out, other than it being slightly downhill. There was lots of skis off, skis on, walking on dirt, walking on snow, etc. This area is deep!
By doubling up on peaks we also doubled up on the pain. Carrying your winter overnight gear deep into the high sierra certainly puts the hurt on. But what made us hurt only made for an epic adventure the likes of which I've never been on before. While I was aware of the possibilities in this area I had never realized the true potential, until now. I'll be back down there soon, really soon.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Milking it.

With daytime highs forecasted in the mid to upper fifties our most recent snow is changing quickly from powder to something other than powder. This transitional phase began in earnest yesterday and is going to continue for the next several days. Never one to give up on the remaining powder I headed up to Mt. Tallac today with my buddy Jon to see if we could find any of that vanishing powder. Lucky for us the Emerald Bay road had been closed and nobody had gone anywhere near any of the lines we wanted to ski today. 2 days after the storm and we had our pick of all of our favorite lines. In the photo below, Jon drops into a completely fresh Babycham with possibly the most heroic powder conditions I've ever seen. We followed that up with the Hanging snowfield and corkscrew, respectively, and both enjoyed more perfect conditions down each line.
After skiing such incredible snow we decided on another lap off the top and headed back up. We dropped into the steep entrance of the Cross and enjoyed a continuous 3,000 foot run of creamy but somewhat variable powder. It was especially fun for me since I have never entered the Cross from this particular spot, and doing something new is always fun for me. The cold powder snow changed significantly throughout the course of our day on Tallac, and unfortunately it seems like we may have milked it for all that it was worth. However, all is not lost, since we live in California we'll be skiing corn in just a matter of days....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another 18 inches?

It didn't take long for our most recent storm to drop another 12-18 overnight last night. Coupled with our already excellent conditions this made for another awesome powder day at Alpine Meadows.
I broke out the GoPro POV cam for most of the day and captured an inordinate number of full arm pumps while in the air off cliffs. I found myself going for some airs that had steep, tricky, spiny take-offs, and maybe that had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, hopefully I met my yearly quota for rolling up the windows and I can move on.
The snow quality was amazing and it seemed like everyone was taking full advantage of the great conditions. Supposed to be a high of 57 degrees by Monday! Get it while you can because this powder isn't going to last long....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Surprise powder!

The past several days have been full of surprises, most notably surprise powder. After my last post and a few laps up on Mt. Tallac it snowed another 8-10 inches of super light fluffy snow. This light snow on top of good cold snow made for even more incredible skiing in Lake Tahoe. We took advantage of these surprisingly good conditions and shot photos over the past 2 days. On Wednesday Alpine Meadows was deserted and we took full advantage of the blower pow. We shot with Kevin Klein for part of the morning and took the rest of the day to pillage the goods out in Munchkins. Possibly one of the best days of the season.
Yesterday I got up a 5:45 am and met up with Kevin Klein again to hike out to Little Alaska and Ward Valley to shoot some more pics of this incredible snow. We shot a couple laps in Little Alaska, see photo above, and then proceeded to find some more steeps. The photo below shows one of the most aesthetic spines in the area, and unfortunately the mega-huge cornice guarding its entrance kept me out of there. Having skied this particular spine before I was keen to try it again, but that cornice was really, really big. We found some similar but significantly less death-defying terrain to shoot, and we had a another great day out in my big backyard...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More exceptional conditions in Lake Tahoe

That's right, more great skiing in Lake Tahoe. While I might have missed the storm that rolled through here last week when I was in Utah, I won't be missing any more. Some of the snow that fell last week has stayed cold and dry in the high north facing areas, that coupled with the 6 inches of cold fluffy snow we got last night has made for great ski conditions all over the Lake Tahoe backcountry. Today I headed up to Mt. Tallac with Andrew and his buddy Matt. In the photo above they scope their line with Angora and the Hall of the Gods in the background.
Here we're getting ready to drop into another perfect pow run after skiing the line on the left in the background. It was a beautiful day out there today, sunny all morning with some high clouds moving in this afternoon bringing another overnight refresher... It has actually already started snowing again...
I've been having fun playing with the angles on my GoPro POV camera and here's another video from the pole cam. We had some great conditions out there today, and possibly the best run down the Corkscrew that I've ever had. Later in the video I picked my way down into the S-chute which is still pretty narrow, and incredibly steep...

Friday, March 5, 2010

2010 Skiing Magazine Ski Test

For the past 4 days I've been attending the 2010 Skiing Magazine Ski Test at Snowbird, UT. This was my fourth consecutive year testing skis for Skiing Magazine and one of my favorite events of the year. I'm always excited when I get invited back, even though I know how challenging it can be to ski on 60 different pairs of skis in 4 days. Luckily I enjoy skiing, testing, and giving my opinion on skis, so it all works out.
We arrived last Sunday to the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird, met up with the folks from Skiing Magazine and hung out with the 15 or so other testers. One of the perks of testing is that they put you up at the Cliff Lodge, something I could never afford, and feed you for the duration of your stay. We also get hooked up with a bunch of swag from companies that sponsor the test.
All of the major brands are represented in the test like K2, Volkl, Elan, Rossignol, Dynastar, Head, Black Diamond, Nordica, etc, and a number of boutique ski manufacturers like Liberty, Faty-pus, and Bluehouse. I find it incredibly interesting to see what different ski companies are putting out there since all I ever ski on are Elans. This year rocker was the name of the game and almost every ski I tested had some kind of rocker, or reverse camber. This type of "technology" isn't exactly new, but is finally being brought to the masses by all of the major brands. A big thanks to Shane McConkey for being the mastermind behind what is now seen as the most innovative advancement in ski design for the past several decades.
We skied as hard as we could and put all of the new skis through the wringer. Check out the September issue of Skiing Magazine for next years gear guide, and hopefully a picture or two of me...