April 24, 2012

Heli-Access Ski Touring with CMH Bugaboos

The ski touring gang on the Bugaboo Glacier with Snowpatch Spire in the background.

Spring ski touring in the Bugaboos is tough to beat and after thirteen weeks of heli-skiing and about 1700 faceshots this season, it's nice to change things up. The past few days have been super warm and we've been battling everything from thunderstorms and high winds to soft and very sticky snow. But really it just keeps things interesting when you take off down a run at warp speed and after seven great turns your skis come to an immediate stop in snow that more closely resembles glue. If you're not expecting it, this experience can be quite entertaining for onlookers. 

Crossing over from the Bugaboo to the Vowell Glacier. The rock in the lookers left is the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire.

Skinning up the Bugaboo-Vowell Glacier with Bugaboo Spire above.

Lunch at the Bugaboo-Crescent Col.

The maestro getting ready for Alaska.

April 20, 2012

Spring Skiing in the Canadian Rockies - Mt. Whymper Etc

Steve H putting in a track to the N. Col of Mt Whymper. The col is in the upper left of the photo.

Someone was recently making fun of me for (among other things)  FOMO - the fear of missing out. While I don't think that I experience this on all levels, I would certainly agree that it does effect me with regards to spring skiing in the Rockies. Which is probably why, after emerging from a five week heli-ski shift on Saturday, I agreed to accompany Steve H on a Chickadee Valley hot lap on Monday. 

It's an interesting experience getting back in to a Rockies frame of mind and I couldn't help but feel slightly threatened while punching in the uptrack on the big, north facing slope. The last time I skied anywhere outside of the Purcells was back in February during a period of  very good stability. Stability is quite good right now too, but mid-April always feels like something of a transition month and I don't think that it would be impossible to get surprised. Steve and I dug two test profiles on the way up and didn't find the buried temperature crust that we thought might be present. So we continued to the top and found ourselves surprised by a grave and unforeseen hazard: Horrendous Hand Odor caused by profuse sweating of the manus. Upon removing our gloves to fiddle with various objects in our packs, I was overcome by the killer aroma and immediately blamed Steve. Of course, he immediately blamed me. I think the real lesson here is that it is important to wash and dry your gloves.

No one likes to be accused of having bad smelling hands... No one.

Aerating the manus

Classic Rockies.

Another one for the list.

On Wednesday, I guided Pat and Susie H on the Surprise Pass loop. We found great snow on the south and north aspects. Here is Pat climbing Surprise Pass with Mt. Aberdeen in the background.

The following day, we parked at Emerald Lake and skinned up the summer trail to Hamilton Lake. From there, we continued up to the col between Emerald Peak and the Top Hat. The ensuing 1000 meter descent to the Emerald Basin was epic! There was a little debris in the creek on the way out...

Next up...

April 15, 2012

Black Diamond Push vs. Scarpa T1 Telemark Boots

The Scarpa T1 (left) and the Black Diamond Push (right).

I know I know, no one cares if you tele. Fair enough. There's not much worse than someone claiming a first telemark descent these days now that big boots and fat skis make alpine and freeheel almost indistinguishable. But for those of you who are in the market for a hefty set of tele boots, I thought I'd shed some light on my experiences with the BD Push and the Scarpa T1.  

Some background. After a few years of heli-skiing with CMH, I wanted to start using my tele set-up at work. I'd been on tele's exclusively since 1994 and went through the ACMG exams on them. But in 2009, when I started with CMH, I didn't want to show up with half a binding and funny boots. So for the past few years, I've been working on alpine boards (K2 Pontoons and Darksides).

This year, I decided to start bringing the funny gear to work and it was a blast. I didn't tele everyday, but I probably logged about 30 days (out of 100+) of heli skiing with a free heel set-up. The average vertical skied was about 7000 meters (23,000 feet) / day with the occasional 10,000 (33,000 feet) meter day. I used a pair of Black Diamond Justice boards mounted with the mid-stiff G3 Targa Ascent bindings. Ideally, I would have liked to be on bigger sticks with a more active binding, but this set-up still worked well.

BD Push:
Before I write anything, it's probably good to admit that I'm a believer in free gear = good gear. That said, I didn't get the BD or Scarpa boots for free, but the BD prodeal is probably the next best thing, especially when they have a sale that knocks 20% off the already reduced prodeal price. Plus, I also believe that if it takes more than a few turns to get used to a pair of boots, there's probably something out there that would suit me better. 

I ordered the boots sight unseen and hoped for the best. I'm generally a size 26.5 in all ski foot wear and this was in line the Push. The boots fit nicely out of the box although the toebox on my right foot - which is slightly bigger - required a punch. No big deal. I have a medium volume foot and the Push felt like a solid fit. I also set the boots up with the most upright stance available which actually requires taking off the walk lever and making an internal adjustment. Again, not a big deal but a good thing to know before taking them in to the field.

It took about two days of skiing to get used  to the boots (which was a little frustrating). At first, they seemed slow to initiate and I struggled to figure out how much pressure to apply to the bellows. But on the third day of use, something clicked and I really started liking the boot. They provide a ton of support for alpine turns in funky conditions and are awesome for ripping the freeheel style. I'm not going to comment on tourability because I haven't used them for anything but down (although the touring mode does seem to provide excellent flexibility).

Otherwise, I have kept the stock liner and they seem a little cold (especially compared to an Intuition). 

All in all, I really like the BD Push and would recommend it to anyone looking for a big 4-buckle tele boot.

Scarpa T1:
The Scarpa T1 is a beautiful rig and it's hard not to see them and think, "dam that will make me a better skier!" And that's exactly what I thought when I saw them in the shop last year. After checking out the pro deal price and realizing that the Scarpa prodeal is practically a no-deal, I decided to pay retail and have them right away. The boot fit like a glove and apart from cooking the Intuition liner, it did not require any punching.

So it was with great excitement that I took them up to Rogers Pass and skinned up McGill Shoulder. The boot toured really well on the up and I was stoked with my purchase... Until I started down. Have you ever had a day when you felt that you couldn't ski? Well this was my day. I must have fallen every third turn and had more Hulk Moments (read: tantrums) than I care to remember. It was all I could do keep my tips up and not go head over heels over and over and over again. It was the most frustrating ski day I can remember. To make matters worse, I couldn't blame the snow conditions because they were light and fluffy. I tried adjusting the forward lean on the boots to put them in a more upright stance but this didn't have any positive effect. I still could not ski the boot.

A few days later, I took the boot to the hill and figured I'd try them out there. This wasn't as bad because I couldn't sink my tips into the corduroy, but I still felt that the boot's forward lean was way too much for me. I tried them again on another day and after three days of frustration, tantrums and modest humiliation, I brought the boots to the second hand store and sold them for a nice loss. Before selling the boot, I contemplated drilling a new hole in the ski / walk mechanism to allow for a more upright stance, but that idea didn't last long. I've read on a few forums that other people have experienced this with the Scarpa T1 boots and the solution seems to be keep skiing it and eventually you will get used to it. Kinda reminds me of:  The floggings shall continue until morale improves!

I really wanted to like the Scarpa T1's. They are such a good looking and well crafted boot that I was tempted to keep them and put them up on the mantle place as an addition to the house art work. But after too many days of getting tossed around in the snow, my ego was not strong enough and we were forced to go our separate ways.

I hope this helps someone out there!

April 08, 2012

Photos From a Large Avalanche

A size 3.5 avalanche that came down today while we were checking nearby runs. The slide was triggered by a cornice fall off Mount MacCarthy  in East Creek.

For the second time this year, I've been fortunate to have my camera handy while a large natural avalanche let loose close by. This time, I was checking a run in East Creek called Unbelievable when a cornice fall triggered the monster. 

If you look really close, you might be able to see Andi K digging out a landing on the prominent moraine on the looker's right.

Beautiful from afar.

Can you spot the helicopter?

Probably a good time to stay away from overhead hazard.