Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mistaya Week!

In February of last year, I made a short compilation out of the best clips that I had gotten up to that point. At that point, I was well into E-SKIMO episode 8 and I had lots of great video to chose from. I ended up winning Backcountry Lodges of British Columbia Association's monthly prize, a week at Mistaya Lodge!

Fast forward to earlier this month and I was pumped, and although the average age of that week's clients would exceed 55 as estimated  by the lodge manager, the weather was looking good. Weather-wise, I picked the perfect week. After a week of frigid weather, the skies opened up and it snowed almost 1m of snow while I was there!

On Sunday the fly-in day, I was a little hungover and I knew I had to bring my 'A' game if I was to sit shotgun in the helicopter for my first ever ride. Fortunately the flight went fairly smoothly, but with some clouds obscuring views of the high peaks of the Freshfields and Mt. Forbes. Mistaya Lodge is just on the other side of the divide from Peyto Hut, in fact it is not uncommon for motivated groups to exit to Bow Lake over the Trapper-Baker col.

Upon arriving at the lodge, I was hit full force with the smell of warm cinnamon buns, in a warm, spacious lodge complete with composting toilets and 4 person bedrooms. A definite step up from the ACC huts.

Delicious breakfasts preceeded days of skiing deep snow that had refilled skintracks intertwined with digging into our lunch bags for home baked goodies, then followed by tasty apetizers, sauna time, massive dinners, and sweet deserts.

We explored zones like Heather Ridge, Mista Vista, Leprechauns, Wildcat Moraines, Grindal Moraines, Red Cliff, Mohawk Ridge, the Abyss, the Waterfall, Shroom Room, Sarah's, and Leah's Lane. Runs below the lodge (Shroom Room, Sarah's, Leah's) were definitely the highlight of the week as they were full of partially submerged boulders where we could bounce over the pillows.

I really enjoyed the skiing, and I found that lodge owner, Dave, and assistant guide Ken had an excellent handle on the area and were able to get us into some fun terrain even during elevated avalanche danger.

I found the guided pace to be almost excruciatingly slow. There were probably some of the best ski conditions that I would find all year (comparable to Valemount), but collectively, we just didn't have the speed, endurance, or quick transitions required to make the most of it. A couple of days into the week, I resorted to breaking my own trail to keep things interesting for me. There was a 6-4 split of slower skiers to "better" skiers, and there were days where we skied as a 10 person group!

Cave at the top of Sarah's

Spacious lodge

After my first heli ride. shot gun!

Skiing to the Shroom Room. I would get to punch this track in on Friday!

Pillows everywhere in the Shroom Room.

Leah's Lane funnels into an avalanche path, very much like a ski run at the hill.

Awesome glacier runs would certainly be a highlight if the weather, group abililty, and stability stars align.

My handiwork. A new track every lap!

Sky cleared up so we could fly home and what did we see!

It does snow in the rockies!
The food and terrain knowledge of the guides has made me a believer in the catered and guided experience, but I think it is important to roll up with at least half the lodge consisting of shredder buddies to make the most out the skiing experience! Or I should check out Selkirk Mountain Experience or CAPOW's Fit and Furious week.

Coldsmoke ROAM Rally

This one was interesting. With both HWY's 3 and 3a scheduled to be shut down on our travel day, we opted to instead head to Nelson via Revelstoke, and unknown route for me, but an excellent adventure.

"3 BONErs is enough for today"
We stopped at a small ski hill just outside of Nakusp with the intent of skiing a couple of laps to keep the legs from getting too stiff. We skied up and down an untracked run on the far side of the ski hill...until we got kicked off! Apparently the run was closed, and an obviously annoyed patroller wanted us to pay to continue to ski there. And she was not impressed that we were from Alberta. Supply of BC bud must be tight! Is Summit Lake on public land? I guess it's better to ask for permission than to beg for forgiveness and we rolled out. Anyways, those were my first real runs on the Gignouxs, they skied awesome, I was stoked to race in them!

Logs coming across one way, logs heading back the other. I guess they are probably 2 different types of wood.

Lots of ski lines visible from the ferry.
At the meeting, we were presented with a course that would avoid the corniced ridgeline skiing and skins-on descents of previous years. And there were lots of big guns attending (except for Nick Elson). Giddy-up!

It was cold the next morning and it took a while for everyone to get lined up so I was freezing in my skinsuit! I got my trademark fast start, but lost some places where the track steepened after leaving the groomed run. I skied the next descents well and enjoyed the climb up to the aesthetic bootpack. Things unraveled when I lost the flags on the 2nd to last descent, skied by the unmanned checkpoint and lost some time (but caught the guys in front of me, who also got lost) skinning up then descending back down to the checkpoint once we finally found it.

Fortunately that extra transition didn't lead to any skin failure issues as I was prepared with my secret weapon but knowing that the people who I had put some time into at the top of climb #4 were now well ahead of me, I mentally shut down, and went into "get to the finish mode". I ended up 7th whereas I was sitting in 5th before that mishap. Fortunately, I snagged a good draw prize from ROAM for my troubles!
Gignouxs. Enough to drive some 187 G3 Districts. Note the G3 ion binding. The toepieces did not play well with the Gignouxs.
On the way home, we stopped at Kootenay pass for a couple laps in the Baldy rocks area. We enjoyed our day, but that enjoyment was short lived after we arrived home and learned that there had been a fatality on the adjacent Lightning Ridge. So sad.

Valemount long weekend

After the cold snap, the high pressure was pushed out and it started dumping. With the family day long weekend upon us, I thought it would be a good opportunity to check out Valemount instead of scouring my brain looking for places to find good, safe skiing around Canmore. Clear skies and moonlight through Jasper was great for staring at mountains I haven't seen for almost 10 years. It started dumping as soon as we crossed the BC border but we arrived in Valemount late with the full moon showing. Reiner and Karen played wonderful hosts, showings us the goods, and good food.

Heavy trailbreaking slowed Reiner down...for the first lap!

A 3000m day, deep snow, and steep trees. My best day of ski touring ever?

Out of the parks and into heli ski territory!

Monday in the Rockies. Skiing 3 different mountain ranges in 3 days. Monashees, Cariboos, Rockies!

Stoking the fire
Delicious homemade sushi, not as hard to make as you think!

2014 Schedule and Results

Castle Mountain Ski-mo January 11. 4th
Whitefish Whiteout January 25. 5th
Whitewater ROAM Rally February 22. 7th
Dogtooth Dash Vertical and Individual March 21, 22.
Vert 180 April 5

Royal River Valley Rumble XC May 24, 25
Deadgoat Summer Solstace XC May 31
Iron Maiden XC June 7 or MS150 Leduc to Camrose. Sadly I will miss the Kootenay Krusher, also on June 7th
Canmore Enduro June 15
Stoke to Get Spanked June 22
Fernie 3 June 28-30
Devon River Raid XC July 5-6

Kicking Horse Cup July 19-20
Perogy XC July 27

Canmore MTB Festival August 9-10

100k Galena Ghost ride August 31

Monday, February 10, 2014

Into the icebox

Of the 4 ski mountaineering races that I have wanted to do so far this year, 2 have been cancelled while the other two have gone on with some course modifications. This time the Ken Jones Classic was postponed due to cold temperatures.

Doing some urban skimo training!
 With a relatively stable but thin snowpack, we had some options. With the cold temperatures and crust on the solar aspects, a traverse involving climbing the south slopes and descending the north seemed like the best way to make use of the conditions.
The top of climb 1.

crossing tracks where the descent funneled.

Staying in the sun on climb 2.

Getting a little zesty in the scree!

Downclimbing on belay into descent number 2. Prime conditions!

Craig slaying the excellent conditions on his new skis!

Descent 3. Craig had to sit this one out with skin failure that can be traced back to the EU limiting imports on toluene.
Great day, although we were not able to complete the full traverse as intended and missed out on the last climb. I was struggling to come up with more options, so day 2 was a bit of a bust, though nice to get out and be comfortable in the cold.

I've been quiet for the past little while
3rd time in this zone this season. The snow makes the slog worth it!

Skiing off the top on Super Bowl Sunday!

Getting some deep turns in the same spot earlier in January.
And how could I forget, some real Edmonton skiing!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Whitefish Whiteout 2014

Once again, I made the long solo pilgrimage to another race. The Whitefish Whiteout is always a good time, the resort and the community really stand behind the event, the fields are always deep and full of "wild cards", and I like the layout of the course with decreasing climb lengths, which makes it easy to mentally break the race down.

Thick "low cloud" "adverse visibility" blanketed the mountain, and lack of precipitation and warm temperatures in the weeks preceding the race meant more bootpacks and dodging glide cracks.

My last report was full of plenty of excuses, most of them not holding much water. In the days before this race, I would wake up with a sore throat, and I'm not sure my legs appreciated a day of inactivity + a long drive the day before the race. But, hey, why not try to throw down!

I started hard, making sure I was at the front of what was a long line of skiers on light gear. A couple of steep sections later, the pack was whittled down to just 3 with newbie Travis Brown (not to be confused with mountain biking legend Travis Brown) lurking behind. Everything was going well for me according to plan until we hit a flatter section near the top. My legs (noteably my right hip flexor) was screaming, and I watched Ben and Eric creep away from me.

I started the first descent cautiously to make sure I dropped into the crunchy chunder at the right spot. The hip flexor cramped up in the transition. Fortunately, maybe halfway up the climb, I was back in race mode engaged in a solid battle for 3rd place. In the end, I slid into 5th place pushing through the screaming legs.

After another night in the 2nd biggest house up at the mountian, which was packed full of young adults consuming adult beverages, I woke up early to go for a short tour just past the ski area boundary. Carl showed us the goods, which delivered some surfy snow, even on the race skis.

Pete Siudara's Pictures

Myke Hermsmeyer's pictures

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Anatomy of a mountain bike group ride

Riding with others can be fun. On group rides, I have met new people and bettered myself as a rider. I have also been extremely frustrated, as I have watched the group ride off into the distance as I have to pick myself out of the bushes. Winter riding can get ugly near the back of the pack as the trail gets rutted and chewed up by the riders ahead.

Of all the group rides that I have participated in, there is usually a set of characters who fit some sort of template.

The fearless leader: An excellent leader is a key to having an awesome group ride. One who knows the trails and the current conditions well, one who picks the right pace at the right time. Those leaders are not very memorable. The fearless leader (FL). FL can take a couple of forms, maybe he's the guy who goes mach chicken on the busy multi-use path, but most of the time he'll head straight for the trails that probably shouldn't be ridden on that given date by that group. The FL finds a sick enjoyment in the overgrowth, mud puddles, deep snow, anti-flow, and ultimately walking that his chosen trails usually involve. His dismounts and remounts are more fluid than even the most seasoned cyclo-cross racer. He must be fueled by the cursing from the other participants on his group ride. 

The successful businessman: The successful businessman (SB) will be easy to pick out as he will show up to the group ride in some high end German SUV and then unload his wünderbike from the tailgate. However, once the group hits the trail or the climbs, SB shoots right out the back. After a lengthly wait at the next trail intersection, SB shows up gasping "I've been working too much", "I've been on business trips sleeping in hotels and eating in restaurants". While slow, the SB enjoys his freedom, not even a fearless leader can ruin his day. And hey, be greateful that he is spending his rare time off with you guys, his family is probably more neglected than his bike riding.

The shop rat: Most people ride their bikes to get away from the stresses of work, the shop rat seemingly never stops working. A group of mountain bikers is exactly his target demographic and he is not afraid to throw out some advice to the other participants: "hey, you totally would have cleaned that climb if you were on a 29er", "yo, check out my 1x11 drivetrain, no more front derailleur, no dropped chains". Hilarity ensues when the product the shop rat has been plugging the entire group ride fails.

The wheelsuck: What is seen but never heard? The wheelsuck (WS). He doesn't talk much, but he is seemingly always locked on your wheel. Descents, climbs, he impossible to shake, and is just begging you to sink to his level and attack. You don't want to get dusted by a midpack novice rider do you? Take it as a sign of admiration. Accelerating out of corners and over hills is a great way tire out the WS, who after a couple furious efforts to close the gap, will eventually tire out like a dog. 

The World Champion of Training: Similar to the WS, except the World Champion of Training (WC) has accepted that even though he is strong enough to stick with the top guns on the group ride, his race results show a different story, and he is willing to joke about it at his expense. As humiliating as it it is to have some midpack novice rider ride you off his wheel, you have to feel for the poor fellow who just can't put it all together on race day.

Mechanical: This guy's path has been crossed by one too many black cats. Pretty self explanatory.

The Panacouke: I think it's Dutch for "pancake" and I've heard of a certain Dutchman describe some riders as pancakes. I prefer to use the term for that guy who crashes on every descent, dabs on every climb, and instead of taking a fiver, he holds up the group and wobbles back onto the trail. He's probably semi concussed or at least winded, but being in the 4th position on the group ride is very important to him.

And then there's everyone else. People who are just out there to go for a rip!