Monday, March 24, 2008

Yurts and Peaks

The fact that I haven't updated the blog in awhile should not be taken as evidence that I have been leading a boring existence with nothing to report. Actually, my computer has been neglected while I traipse around the mountains with my mt. guide husband who was home for the week. Plus, it was SPRING BREAK 2008 so I could neglect the thesis with impunity.

Less than 24 hours after starting the Powder Keg, I was off on an adventure to a yurt in the mountains near Logan, UT with expert photographer Tommy Chandler (photo editor for and the person responsible for the fact that there are actually nice images in this post for a change) and fellow poseurs Evan Stevens and Sarah Budge. After slogging in for a few hours with a pack full of food and wine, we reached our humble abode for the next three days.

Tommy, Sarah and I got in some afternoon skiing while Evan slept off his wicked flu. Afternoon sunlight made for pleasant temps and great views of all sorts of fun terrain that we did our best to track out on day 2. Being a photo model has never seemed like a good fit for me, but now that I realize it can just mean going skiing I think I found my dream career. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a big market for people who can only ski well in 30 degree hero snow. Oh well, guess I will finish grad school after all. Day three dawned with stormy weather so we packed up and skied out early, stopping on the way out to session some cool pillow lines and random limestone spire lines. We called it ski bouldering, because the lines basically involved a few really technical moves and were over before you knew it. It also seemed like bouldering because I was really, really bad at it. Falling into the soft snow was a lot more fun than decking in the talus though. Anyways... I digress. All in all, a great trip in a cool mountain niche that I probably never would have made it to on my own.

Spring Break 2008 went out with a bang when Evan and I went for the morning jaunt to the summit of Mt. Superior and skied the south face back to the road. The National Freeskiing championships were going on across the street at Snowbird, but I am still convinced that all that cheering was from people looking across at the little yellow speck picking her way down the massive white, imposing face of Superior. OK, OK, they probably weren't cheering for me because I sidestepped the most intimidating part through some rocks, but Evan bravely made jump turns on the slightly-too-firm to f@#* up snow so maybe they were cheering for him. Classically, we forgot the camera on one of the most clear and beautiful days of the winter, but let's face it, this post looks a lot better with Tommy's photos than it ever would with mine.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Powdery Powder Keg

All my "training" (ok ok, it was really just going skiing, which I would have been doing anyways) paid off on Saturday, March 15. After a sleepless night and a jittery early morning, the starting gun finally went off and I was participating in the first race of my life, the Black Diamond Wasatch Powder Keg. It was a beautiful, clear and very cold morning at Alta, and around 2 feet of snow had fallen in the preceding two days, giving everything a great wintry feeling.

Before the race I watched all the people who really looked like they knew what they were doing... mostly gaunt, spandex clad men with seriously customized ski boots and skis that looked like they would blow away if a good gust came through. I learned to tape energy gel packets to my pack straps and to wax my skins for uber-glide. Mostly I just tried to hold down my breakfast as my pre-race nerves made my stomach do flip flops.

The first climb was quite an experience. I started too fast and after a few minutes thought maybe I would throw up or pass out. Pain and discomfort invaded every centimeter of my body. Towards the top of that first climb, I started to feel better, and by the time I was peeling my skins I was having fun. The skiing was actually really good, and I only wished I could have enjoyed it. It was all about speed though, which meant good form and sweet turns went out the window in favor of wide-stanced, pole outrigger, screaming quads, get to the bottom ASAP style.
Things were going great until the third climb, when my old skins started acting up. I was using my older pair of skis, some really beat up Black Diamond Havocs, because they were a bit lighter than my current skis, the BD Verdicts. This meant that my skins were old (actually much older than the Havocs) and the glue was tired and iced up easily in cold temps. The left skin betrayed me on that third climb, when my ski slid forward and the skin stayed put, getting snowy where it should be sticky and leaving me scrambling and cursing beside the uptrack, rubbing the glue in an effort to revitalize it. The same thing happened twice on the final, fourth climb, adding to my anxiety and frustration, not to mention minutes onto my time!

I skated across the finish line, legs and lungs burning, and knew I was hooked. I didn't know what my time was, or how I had placed, but I knew I had just pushed myself in a different way than ever before, and I LIKED IT! I was already mentally shopping for some light boots and race skis before I even caught my breath.

Well it turned out I placed second, and my time was better than anything I had done in training, despite my skin issues, so I was really happy. I rewarded myself with a gigantic cheeseburger and beer before noon.

As I mounted the podium I was impressed and inspired by my race-mates. The woman in first place, Wendy Wagner, beat me by almost 20 minutes and is a former US Olympic Team cross country skier, while the woman in third, was not far behind and mounted the podium with her baby on her back!

Monday, March 10, 2008

A canadian, a photographer and the NE Couloir of Lone Peak

Today I embarked on an adventure tour with my buddy, the esteemed photographer Andrew Burr (the mediocre photos in this posting are definitely mine, not his). Despite the fact that I was coughing up rainbow phlegm all day yesterday, I couldn't resist the temptation to ski a new line with a friend I hadn't caught up with in awhile. The day began with some good old fashioned slogging up, up, and up some more from the quaint little town of Alpine, where cute little cottages the size of Walmart dot the countryside. Andy's pack was bigger than I am, filled with all sorts of photographer gadgetry, yet somehow he managed to set a pace that I could barely keep up with... it was going to be quite the day. We slogged up south facing snow slopes for hours, floored by the unbelievable heat of the sun but pacified by ever-increasing views of granite spires ahead.

After catching some novelty turns right underneath the Lone Peak Cirque, an alpine rock climbing haven perched high above the Salt Lake Valley, we finally gained the ridge on Lone Peak. It was quite exposed; a knife-edge ridge separated cornices of unknown width stretched over the east face and hanging snowfields above what we knew were vertical rock climbs on the west face. Yikes! We got to a small saddle in the ridge and knew we were uncomfortable continuing without a rope. Oops, we hadn't brought one. After consulting with the photograph of the NE face that Andy had wisely brought along, we realized we were right where we needed to be, perched above the unbelievably steep NE couloir. The snow looked wind hammered and I was definitely nervous about strapping my boards on and jumping into a line that looked really steep and really firm. Luckily, Andy was a willing slope poodle, and wandered cautiously down into the entrance of the couloir. The snow was much softer than it looked, and we agreed it was time to "GIVER". As I skied the top pitch, adrenaline pumped through my body. This was definitely steeper than anything I had ever skied, even Andy agreed it was "real" 50 degrees. But the snow was forgiving and it was actually really FUN! The lower section of the couloir got progressively firmer. The exit was cliffed, but we knew from beta in Andrew McLean's steep skiing guide book "The Chuting Gallery" that on fat winters you could traverse right and avoid the cliffs. Well, it was looking a little hairy. We traversed a bit, but were still over cliffs and ended up doing some wild downclimbing and traversing to exit WAY right. Pretty exciting stuff, and the bootpacking on the way down didn't detract much from the day at all.

A bit of scrub oak ducking and isothermal snow skiing out Bell's Canyon kept us honest. All in all a great day.
Ummm... where are we?

Does this line even go???

Andy, the avalanche poodle, scoping out snow conditions.

The line

Friday, March 7, 2008

One of these days it will be time to start climbing again.... but not YET!

Another amazing week has passed in a flash. Although I made some serious progress at school (really, a few chapters completed on my thesis), the week seemed more about lots and lots of turns, and most of them were even in pretty good snow.

It all started with a seriously miserable day in the mountains on Saturday, with some friends visiting from Seattle. As 80 mph gusts threatened to knock our sorry souls off the steep icy uptrack, conversation and morale were somewhat.... reduced. Things looked up when we found some recycled facets in a sheltered treed area which we sessioned for a few laps until the 4 cm/hr deluge of snow and graupel sent us scooting for the ski bus, wet, tired and ready for a hot toddy. On the upside, we were not terrorized by any moose on the ski out despite tracks and scat everywhere and reports of some unpleasant human-moose conflicts in the area recently.

Sunday was looking up, way up. 15 inches of Wasatch fluff and a mostly sunny day meant it was time to charge. Lap after lap on all kinds of terrain meant I racked up over 8000 vertical feet with my visiting buddies, you can check out a video (mediocre filming courtesy of yours truly) on youtube of one of our runs:

Monday was a short one since my friends were leaving town, but we managed to rake in some of the best turns of their trip and even managed to take advantage of the calm sunny conditions by eating a leisurely lunch on the ridge.

Friends from Seattle enjoying the Wasatch

Wednesday AM saw me on a solo "training" mission to see how close I could come to puking voluntarily in preparation for the Black Diamond Powder Keg race coming up in just over a week. I knew things were going sour when my ipod crapped the bed half way up my first lap... it's just hard for me to push myself when I am not listening to loud, angry music... call me crazy. While my time was far from fantastic, the skiing was truly great, which is what matters MUCH more to me anyways.

This morning it was time for the weekly ladies of the night (well, early morning I suppose) gathering to chat, gossip and yes, ski. Unfortunately the ranks are dwindling and it was just me and one other hardy soul in the Big Cottonwood Canyon parking lot at WAY TOO F-ING early in the morning. But we made the best of it, yelling our way up the uptrack and swooping our way down with not another soul in sight. Saw some serious glide cracks from afar that almost made these cute little Wasatch mountains look glaciated. Also noted some pretty generously sized surface hoar growing right up on the ridge tops that could make things interesting next time it snows.

Overall, not too bad of a week for a grad student. Except, now that it's the weekend I am ready for a rest day. Good thing I am teaching an avalanche course for Exum tonight and tomorrow. Standing around in a snow pit and some mellow touring feels right up my alley!