Thursday, May 21, 2015

Casual Skiing

It has been game-on in the rockies since the last weekend of February. Sure, the lack of snowfall frustrated powder skiers, but for any ski mountaineer worth his/her weight in snow, it was a glimpse outside of the typical continental snowpack. As long as the weather was good, and fresh snow was given some time to settle, good days in the mountains were pretty much a given. It was hard to avoid the call of the mountains with the conditions .

The crust...er windslab was breakable, but the terrain was impressive. (chick-a-boom)

I think most skiers in the rockies don't get onto steep terrain as much as they would like. The mind has nothing else to think about but making the next turn.

There were weekends where the weather didn't cooperate. Thick clouds would build to the west brought on by strong winds. Progress was made possible by occassional emergence of landmarks. (popes)

Steep terrain, or slogging it out. Early spring stability made both options work out. (pumpkin traverse)
And slog we did. (Kicking Horse pass to Lake Louise via Opabin and Wenkchemna passes)
Spirits were high upon cresting the final col of the day, but were soon shattered by the long road slog on the exit.

Putting a skintrack into the alpine is the essence of ski touring. Until the clouds roll in obscuring any landmarks.


Where to go skiing? I usually have plenty of options rolling around inside my head. Sometimes I just want to return to a spot that I've been to before, but not recently. (Black prince to Sawmill highline)

We were often reminded of the thin snow year and high winds earlier in the season. An early season snowpack on a large slope is not a good thing and we had to pull the plug on this one.
Hitting ice while turning does not inspire the same confidence that a deep snowpack does.

Cloudy again. Well we tried to make the most of that weekend.

High winds here brought in a storm that deposited 30cm of low density blower.


It sure felt good to stand on top of something steep and aesthetic after getting thwarted by weather and shallow snow.

It is always relieving to find myself back on a flat glacier after a couple of minutes making calculated turns on a steep, aesthetic slope. (Mt. Maude).

Still, the mountains never make it too easy. (wind slab on Athabasca).

Except when enjoying mellow turns down the glacier.

Plus there are many more objectives to ski, so why risk it all for one?

My last ski day of the season could not have been more pleasant. We were late on our desired objective, but we ended up spending the morning chasing corn snow on multiple aspects before descending back to the road with minimal struggle.
From March to May long weekend, I skied every weekend but one. My legs are tired and in hindsight I wish I would have stayed home instead of battling the storms on some weekends. While no one day really stands out as a major accomplishment for me: most of these days felt casual, I think that the past couple of months have been my best period of skiing ever. I have made it happen in the storms, the glacier rope has become a staple of my backpack, I backed off of lines that I didn't feel good about, I have explored many areas that I have always had in the back of my mind, and I have found inspiration for future objectives.

Nothing good comes from going east

Head west, young man.

To the west lie the mountains, to the east lies flat plains, ice storms, salted roads, corrupt construction companies, and cities with too many people trying to get to the same place at the same time.

The further west you go into the mountains, the deeper the snowpack. On the east side of the mountains, the wind and the cold leave little quality snow to be skied.

On the west side of the road. glaciers have carved the mountains into bowls that catch the snow. On the opposite side of the road, flat, featureless piles of rock are scoured by prevailing south westerly flows.

The best skiing is often found to the west.

This is the general rules, but as with most rules, there are exceptions. For one, variety and curiosity are forces pushing one to explore unfamiliar areas. And sometimes, it does snow more to the east.

Skiing on the west side of the road the previous day, we struggled through breakable windslab. The next day, we explored east of the road and found soft snow after some tough trailbreaking through facets. 

After skiing what could be the worst snow that I skied all season (sastrugi), we spent the next day on the east side of the road and found untouched snow even a week after the previous snowfall.

Head far enough east and the mountain starts to have features found on the west side of the road. 

Glaciers have left their mark east of the road, but they still struggle to hold snow.


Smoother mountains on the east side of the road allow for skiing on all aspects. Helpful for chasing corn snow as the sun moves across the sky.


It is possible to get surprised by unfamiliar terrain. This run was longer than it looked from the top!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ken Jones Classic, Devon Blizzard, Sunridge Fatbike Race

I was pretty pumped for the concluding race of the 2015 SMCC season. After arriving home from Europe and getting some good rest, I was able to put together a consistent string of good training starting with a couple of fatbike races. I enjoyed the cyclocross style format which had us completing 4-5 laps for a total race duration of ~50minutes. 

Ripping the berms at the Blizzard bike race in Devon. The volunteers at the Devon Bicycle Association did an excellent job of preparing the course: packing it down, and putting sand on the icy sections
The Sunridge race had a little more elevation change and included more singletrack and I really enjoyed it!

The course at Lake Louise is dialed in and after being cancelled in 2014 due to cold temperatures, I was looking forward to racing there again. Rain falling overnight with the freezing level somewhere around mid mountain meant that we wouldn't have to deal with the cold. 
Lots of race suits out today. There were a bunch of people chomping at my heels on the first 2 climbs.

The race starts early in the morning and I was not disciplined enough to grab an adequate warmup after the race briefing and morning uplift. That said, after a couple of weeks of ski-mo intervals on Edmonton ski club, I felt really good for the first 5 minutes of the race! My shins really started aching as the groomed trail got steeper and I  settled into 3rd place occasionally looking back to see an epic back and forth battle happening behind me. In addition to many faces that are starting to become regulars in the race series, it was impressive to see Jakub Sumbera not far behind, even though he was racing on much heavier touring gear.

Looking ahead to the 2nd climb, I saw just a single set of ski pole marks in the snow. Travis was breaking trail. Extremely impressive. I upped my cadence through the soft track and distanced myself from the chasers. I skied smooth but really suffered when the final climb steepened. This year, I didn't have Eric Carter chasing me down the final descent so I skied more relaxed to the finish.

Race notes:
-Travis did a lot of trailbreaking
-Jakub is pretty fit to be able to hang in there on heavier touring gear
-There is a big chase pack of skiers brewing up behind me. They are already chomping at Steve Sellers' heels. 
-The Zamzow kid puked on the first climb. Now that's dedication!
-Only 7 females total raced. Anna Sellers had an impressive race in the Junior category. Kylee had to abandon the race early on with some lung issues, leaving only Martha and Michelle to contest the elite race.
-Junior Kevin Hinni put down the 3rd fastest rec course time and emerged from the epic back and forth junior battle for the overall. Hope he sticks with it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Poles for Ski Mountaineering Racing

I don’t come from a ski racing background (cross country or downhill). I didn’t know that you could spend $100 on a small brick of wax that makes ski bases so slippery that skins can’t stick to them. And I certainly didn’t know that you could spend $500 on a pair of poles! Frankly, I didn’t see the point of spending more than $40 on a pair of sticks that get bashed and crashed or lost, stolen, and forgotten. Fancy grips, pole straps, baskets, adjustment systems, and exotic materials promising greater strength, stiffness, and lighter weight don’t really justify the additional cost. I just wish that cheaper poles came with powder baskets, especially since everyone and their dog is now skiing on fast skis and should theoretically be chasing after scarce powder, not bashing gates on groomed runs.

Lately, I’ve been using cheap but flexy $20 Komperdell xc poles for my backcountry skiing. I don’t have much desire to change the length of my pole throughout the day. The skinny xc grips are pretty good for plunging into the snow, and the xc basket and tip provide enough float and don’t get in the way when I’m scratching across an icy sidehill.

But skimo racing is different. The clock is ticking. Each time I lift the ski poles up to plant them again further up the mountain costs me energy. I’m not a double-poling xc skier reaching high and crunching down low demanding ultimate stiffness, but I prefer not to have to think about my poles bowing under my measly single pole plants. So I use my trusty Dynafit SR Race poles. But like any concerning ski mountaineering racer, I’m wondering if they present the best bang for the buck, and what sort of performance advantages I can obtain for minimal costs.
This scale shot had me curious. Here Yannick Ecoeur's Swix Triax 1.0 ($400+) poles are shown to weigh 146g in what I am assuming is a 140cm length. XC poles are often quoted in g/m without grips and baskets, so it is nice to see a real world weight.
Ski mountaineering poles are nothing more than xc poles with larger baskets and straps that are easy to get in and out of (Leki’s shark system is also very popular for ski-mo), possibly with reinforcement. One can buy ski-mo poles off the shelf…er web from Dynafit, Ski Trab, La Sportiva, ATK-Race, Crazy Idea, Gabel, Komperdell, and Leki among others, but I wondered how the value of these compared to much more common xc poles, especially if they were placed on sale!

So I looked into the weights and costs of various ski-mo and xc poles. Many of these weights are claimed, some are verified by others, and some are estimated by comparing a verified or claimed weight of one pole to the unit tube weight (g/cm) of a pole from the same manufacturer. The measured and claimed weights (from skimo.co) were for lengths varying from 125-140cm, so to make for a fairer comparison of weight, I scaled them (g/cm, including grip/basket, although actual g/cm goes down as poles get longer). So after checking Skintrack.com for your optimum pole length, the DyNA will probably be the lightest out of the poles on this list. Lighter than many $300+ xc poles! Those black diamond traverse adjustable poles will be more than twice as heavy. Generic alpine poles (Komperdell Carv Pro) are also  near the top of the list of the worst g/cm.
XC and ski-mo poles ranked in terms of g/cm (less is better), either based on measured or claimed  weights(at 125,130,135,140cm) or estimated  from the claimed g/cm of the pole and adding the basket and grip (usually 60-65g). Note how there is a slight jump between the carbon Komperdell nordic classic and the aluminum Dynafit SR Race (although the aluminum Gabel Mezzalama and ATK Race Tour are on the carbon side of the jump!)

But what poles give you the best bang for the buck? I then compared the online sale price (retail is for suckers) multiplied by the g/cm. 
XC and ski-mo poles ranked in terms of $*g/cm (lower is better). Many aluminum poles have good $*g/cm as Aluminum is light and cheap! This high end XC poles have high $*g/cm.
Here my $20 Komperdells lead the pack. The Dynafit PDG pole seems to offer competitive value and light weight. My SR Race poles give up ~90grams to Dynafit’s best offering. And if you are interested in buying new poles, note that skimo poles like the Movement X-race carbon, Komperdell Nepal 10, Dynafit PDG Expert, and Gabel Piera Menta carbon give you pretty good bang for the buck, along with being pretty light!

What is the relationship between pole price and unit weight? One would expect that as you spend more and more, you are saving less and less weight. This is an exponential relationship and it is plotted below.
But how does ski pole weight affect exertion and overall race times? What about breakage? I've only seen/heard of carbon poles breaking (PDG, RSR, DyNA).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Vertical Race video

Lots of suffering going on

2015 Ski Mountaineering World Championships: Races

Sprint:

Things kicked off with the sprint races. I raced the sprint event back in 2013 and I was surprised when I saw this course. I remembered the course in Pelvoux being shorter, and with its position at the base of a ski hill, the downhill skiing was down through gates on a groomed run. This descent consisted of a taped lane, more reminiscent of a bike race, and had some rocks poking out. Fortunately after more work on the course, the snow hardened up for race day.

The course with its flat start, kick turns, bootpack, and downhill through a taped off lane.
For the men and women, top 30 qualify to move on to the 6 person heats. I qualified in 50th place after fading a little towards the top of the course, missing qualifying by a distant 38 seconds. Unfortunately other Canadian men Nick Elson, Travis Brown and Junior Oliver Bibby also missed qualifying.

Mel, Kylee, and Michelle moved on to the heats, which was a great experience for them.
Melanie ended up moving into the finals with some exciting racing. She had to fight for her position against an aggressive Spaniard in her quarterfinals. In the semis, she paced herself well and moved up through the group at the top of the climb and in the top transition to move on to the finals. The finals happened soon after her semi and unfortunately with some mistakes in transition, she watched a potential 3rd or 4th place slip from her grip and she settled for 5th.

Post elimination spectating.
Vertical:

The vertical took place the day after the sprint. Starting below the Verbier village in an open field. I had a bit of last minute panic as my race gear was locked inside a car, when in retrospect, I should have stored it in the race hall at Espace St. Marc.

Skinning through the Verbier village, the wet, brown snow soaking our skins.
The course had some steep sections right off the bat before passing through Verbier on lower angled roads. Once onto the pistes, the course was steep on the switchbacks of the cattracks, but flatter on the traversing sections. Travis reported issues with wet skins from the Verbier section icing up and reducing glide on the traversing pistes. If felt good on the steep parts coming out of Verbier, but I had to really push myself to keep the speed going on the flats to stay ahead of racers behind me. I got to the final steep section with enough of a gap and plodded up to finish 70th, 12.5minutes behind the winner.
Good crowd at the top of the vertical to watch me suffer.

Individual:

I spent the day off between the vertical and the individual race previewing the individual race descents, and I was stoked about the ski quality. My legs were still heavy from the vertical race and during the warmup I checked out the first part of the initial climb. It was up a steep groomer, something resembling the tales of American skimo races. This was followed by some steep mogul skinning, also reminiscent of American skimo races (or what I've heard about them!). Grippy skins were must for this first climb. After a short crusty descent, the skiing was more pleasant, aside from some stepped, blownout skintracks to take us up the ridge for our first summit of 6 Blanc. My descending was weak and I was not consistently nailing my binding step ins and I got caught by 2 racers. As we descended beside the next climb's uptrack, it was interesting to see the race ahead playing out with Nick Elson right there in the mix, and Travis racing stronger after suffering hard on the first climb. I was strong on the bootpacks relative to my companions and clawed back on the final 2 climbs. The final descent was down your classic liftline mogul run and while 2 skied away from me, I was able to snag another spot by carrying more speed into the finish line. 72nd and 37minutes behind the winner. 

Teams:

The teams race course is longer and more technical than the individual race and skiers are required to partner up with someone of the same nationality and remain together for the entire race. I was partnered up with Oliver Bibby, a junior who had competed in his individual race just the day before. I had a "rest" day between the races, which I used to pre-ski the course!

I enjoyed the more relaxed pace at the start, which was good because I wouldn't have wanted to be too deep in the pain cave while trying to thrash my way up the icy skintrack of the first climb!

Teams race during the 4th climb. I got a break from towing as there were more kickturns which were hard to coordinate during towing.
The third descent was sketchy! Down an icy couloir and icy bed surface and through debris at the bottom. I was glad to have survived that and get out of the bowling alley of ice balls sent down the couloir by skiers above me. OThe liver started to fade on the 4th climb and I put him on the tow rope as 2 teams passed us and skied away. He was really struggling on the 5th climb and I could hear him dry heaving. The tow rope was stretched pretty tight at this point. When I topped out the climb, I looked over and saw Ben Ohler cheering for us, while crouched over a stretcher, some Dynafit One boots sticking out. Oh no, is that Brent?

For once, I was the faster on the descents as Oliver's tired legs were not up for the demands of the top part of the 5th descent. He caught back up at the bottom before the long skating section. This was slow going with the warm snow and we were glad to not be in a close battle with other teams. Near the end of the skate, Oliver was feeling better and started charging towards the final part of the descent. I lost sight of him ahead, and then I kind of shut it down on a piste section right before the finish. I coasted across the line and the only two Canada suits I could see were of Michelle and Kylee, who had finished just before us. Then I looked down and saw Oliver on the ground and people rushing to get blankets on him and setting up an oxygen mask. I found Dave Dornian and got him to call Ben to ask about Brent. Brent had collapsed at the top of Mt. Gele at 3000m after stepping off the tram. He was airlifted out quickly.

I was assured that he would be okay, but to be honest I was pissed that he had just left me in his dust, pretty much breaking the main rule of teams racing. 

Relay:

The relay was exciting. The course added another climb to the sprint course, so I knew pacing would be important. Word was that Brent was okay, but he would have to remain in hospital so we would not be able to hear his encouragement during the relay.

There is always a bit of a rivalry (some people take it more seriously than others) between Canada and US, although the US never sends their top guns (except this year, when their selection was not solely based on 3 individual races, but a sprint and a vertical as well?). I say that out of respect as the fields in the US are incredibly deep and that I would be in a tough battle for the top 20 if I ever showed up to Jackson.

Anyways, the US women had just beaten the Canadian women, and Nick Elson handed off to me with a bit of a gap over the American starter, Andy Dorais. As I chilled out on the first part of the first climb, American Colin Cares closed in on me, but I eeked out some gaps with some solid transitions and had something left in the tank for the top of the 2nd climb. I held a gap as I handed off to Oliver, who going against doctor's orders, raced. Oliver botched some transitions and was caught by Teague, who paced smartly for the 2nd climb. However, instead of heading into the lap lane to give the American anchor Billy a head start over our anchor Travis, Teague skied through to the finish chute and once he realized his mistake, he had to ski back around to the lap lane. Billy and Travis left for the final lap at the same time.

Travis raced with some smart pacing and clean transitions and we finished in 9th place, almost 50 seconds up on the Americans. That battle was the subject of many drunken ramblings at that night's closing ceremonies.


It was frustrating that I was not able to build on my successes in Pelvoux/Puy St. Vincent in 2013, and I'm sure friends and family members will come up with some excuses to help comfort me.  I had a lot of fun training for Pelvoux and I never really felt like I was pushing myself too hard. To get back to that level while training in Edmonton and working full time is going to require greater discipline (specifically the ability to push myself harder on flat terrain and to find an analog for a climb longer than 2minutes), time management, and diet (can I afford to be lugging more weight up the hill than I need to?). I think it will take a lifestyle change before I am ready to attend another World Championships.

2015 Ski Mountaineering World Championships

Pretty uneventful travel, except a baggage handler strike at the Geneva  Airport. They were demanding 2 more Toblerone sections per shift.

Vertical Race Recon. The lift accessed ski terrain here is incredible, though it is uncontrolled.

We will summit Mt. 6 Blanc 2 times during the individual race.

Alpenhorns at the opening ceremonies

Chenegouga Marching band having way too much fun.

Verbier is an uber expensive ski resort in an uber expensive country and attracts the likes of people willing to pay $4000 for a Bogner ski suit!

St. Bernards
Team Canada
Team China
Grand Combin
View from the hotel down the valley in Martigny
Verbier Extreme comp face. Yes, people ski down that!
Looking towards Mt. Blanc from the summit of the teams race course, Mt. Gele.
Mt. Blanc
Taking the tram up to the 3300m summit of Mt. Fort provides a view towards Zermatt with the Matterhorn and Dent Blanche visible.

Local flag of 2 naked women in a hot tub. Although we did not see any hot tubs there, these flags were the subject of closing ceremony shenanigans.