Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Line of the Week: Mt. French Arch Couloir (Hole in the wall)

The French Arch couloir also known as the Hole in the Wall or the French Finger is actually one of many couloirs not only in the French Drainage, but on the North face of Mt. French. The arch couloir is further back in the French drainage, almost to the col with the Haig glacier. In fact on the particular day I skied the Arch couloir proper, my brother and a friend skied the next chute over. Something to keep in mind is that slough from each chute flows out of holes on the climber's right side wall. So slough from the line my brother skied, flowed into my line! Therefore it is important not only be mindful of the slough from you and your group but also the slough from the next couloir over! The dual sloughing also means that the ski through the arch will be firm and scoured! Bring crampons.

Skiing the Arch!
Skiing out the adjacent couloir.
The French drainage is always confusing to navigate and it is recommended that you are familiar with it via a trip beforehand so that you can get to the line efficiently. The upper part of the chute is heavily wind scoured and might not even have coverage. The top out is not really well defined.

Round Trip distance: 16km
Line length: 300m
Top elevation: 3000m
Total elevation gain: 1250m
Other options in the area: Aside from the other couloirs that probably contain heavily wind affected snow, Mt. Maude, and finishing off the rest of the French-Haig-Robertson traverse are two excellent alternatives.

Hillmap route

Fun fact: Not only did we team ski the arch and its adjacent couloir, but I forgot my skins that day and still managed to make my way up the French drainage on foot with crampons and with only minimal wallowing. A legend and mystery to this day!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 Ski Mountaineering World Championships

The 2017 Ski Mountaineering World Championships in Alpago and Piancavallo in Italy were my 3rd trip to Worlds, having gone in 2013 and 2015. 2013 was very enjoyable for me as I found myself in good form while bumming around in Canmore for the winter, while having lots of fun "training". 2015 was more frustrating as I found myself unable to return to that same form while working a full time job in Edmonton. I decided to give worlds another go for 2017, having finally figured it out in the 2016 season. The deep fields at worlds provide an excellent measuring stick: would I be able to return to the same form as 2013 where I finished the individual race in the low 40's?

It wasn't shaping up to be a very good snow year in the southern Dolomites. Webcams were looking brown instead of white. A dump of snow a couple of weeks before the race allowed for some racing on a similar course the week before. But more melting during the week led to organizers moving the start of the Individual and Teams, conveniently accessed via a 40min hike, right from our hotel!

Agriturismo Malga Cate. Our hotel and conveniently located at the trailhead for the hike up to the Individual and Teams race courses. Excellent food and atmosphere!

Individual Race:

It was pouring rain at the start line before we raced along a short snow covered road that funneled us into a steep, single skintrack climb. While the flat road into the singletrack seemed short, it was sufficient enough to string out the field by the singletrack. Up we raced into a thick fog that made it impossible to see even the next switchback above!

Descending was tricky with poor visibility due to the fog and water droplets all over my goggles, complicated by trying to avoid rocks in a thin snowpack. The course was marked very well so I could just ski from flag to flag. I got rocked by the downhill bootpack, but skied strongly on the 2nd half of the race to gain back some spots.

relieved to be almost at the finish of the individual!

Teams Race:

Eager to get a bit of redemption after the individual race, I teamed up with Travis on a beautiful, clear day. The snow had all frozen from the rain, making for slick skintracks and firm descents. It was difficult staying upright on the first two climbs. I skied well in the ice mogul conditions, but disaster struck on the ridgeline bootpack, where my crampons would not stay on my boots! After stopping countless times to put them back on, we were finally off the ridge and back racing. Travis and I struggled together, but we also fought hard in the second half of the race after our mishaps.

At the aid station, ready to put all of our difficulties behind us.

The individual and the teams race really made me respect the composure and the technical mastery of the top guys. They seemed unfazed by the tough conditions. Skills that can only come with spending lots of time practicing with their gear.

Sprint Race:

The sprint race for most of us is typically a "one and done" as only the top 30 skiers qualify. In the end, I was 7 spots, but just 10 seconds away from qualifying. I paced well, holding back at the beginning, and had clean transitions. But I regret not focussing more on transitions and gear (backpack!) while doing hundreds of transitions at Edmonton ski club, or a more thorough inspection of the course beforehand to nail down my pacing strategy.

sprint qualifying. The "diamonds" were steep. I held back here so I could focus on not slipping, and then hammered the bootpack later on.

Vertical Race:

The vertical race was a highlight for me. I've done well in Vertical races and on the first climbs of Individual race this season. I didn't get a chance to preview the course, but I was feeling awesome and felt like the shorter, non-technical course that kept changing rhythm suited me. Finished 38th.
Suffering hard in the vertical, just ahead of Nick. Note the skier from an 'alpine' nation on the back of the train getting dusted by the full time engineer!


The relays are always a fun way to wind down the week. I also feel they give a second chance to redeem oneself after a sprint with a botched transition or pacing issues (I had a good sprint race anyways). I took the lead leg, but got completely dusted off of the start, but managed to tag off on the tail end of a chase group. Pacing is important in the relays as the race has 2 sprint courses back to back.

2nd climb in the relay lap on the tail end of a chase group

With Brenda, the superfan!

The team, minus Rob Krar

Another fun world championships trip. Always humbling, but I believe I am the fastest I've ever been. I've got a list of things to work on ready to unleash on the Canadian circuit. My girlfriend was there to cheer me on, welcome when I was suffering!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Line of the Week: Main Chephren Couloir

I don't often make the drive out past Bow Summit, but when I do, I am rewarded with what I believe is the most scenic section of highway around. Mount Patterson, Howse Peak, and Mt. Chephren tower above the road and their large walls are conquered by legendary climbing routes.

More of interest to skiers, Patterson and Chephren are riddled with couloirs of various lengths close to the road.

Climbing routes on Chephren are notorious for their loose rock and the couloir is no exception. Be on the lookout for bowling balls coming down the alley as the sun warms south east facing rocks above the walls of the couloir. Start early, and avoid completely on a warm day!

Total Elevation Gain: 820m
Line Length: 500m
Top Elevation: 2500m
Round Trip Distance: 3.5km

Selfie, with the base of the couloir in the background

Other options in the area: Should there be a party already climbing up the main Chephren Couloir, there are lots of other options:
-other Chephren couloir starting off the glacier just north of the main Chephren Couloir. The Kumbaya Couloir?
-Various couloirs off the north ridge of Mt. Patterson
-The diagonal couloir off Angel Peak, an eastern oultier of Mt. Patterson. This one has lots of overhead hazard, so be careful on a warm day or just after a storm.
-Various routes from Chic Scott's guidebook: Mistaya Traverse, Bow Summit Area, Peyto Glacier, etc...

Hillmap Route

If it were easy, there would be more people doing it.

Early in my cycling career, I had a chance at a spot on the provincial team for the cycling events at Western Canada Summer Games. Ultimately, there were 10 boys battling for 5 or 6 spots and I didn't make it. On the girls side, I think there were only 6 girls battling for the spots and I believe the coaches even asked for the maximum age to be raised so they could include another girl. Obviously I was choked that I didn't make the team and I even thought it was unfair that 7-10th placed boys were training harder than the 6th placed girl who made the squads.

Prize money should reward commitment to the sport. I've always believed that the top male and female athletes in any event are on average equally as dedicated to training and competing and deserve equal prize money. As the prize money trickles down: sure in a deeper men's field, the racers may be more dedicated than the women, but we're getting to the $50 and lower levels of prize money which might cover the entry fee, but not the transportation, accomodation, and maintenance costs. Might as well just keep it equal.

Anyways, back to the team quotas. I now have the opportunity to represent my county at the Ski Mountaineering World Championships. The 6th ranked French skier who trains way harder than me doesn't. But that French skier likely has the opportunity to live and work in the mountains, train on a nearby ski slope and is placed in a culture supportive of his activities, where I live 4hrs from the mountains, work a 9-5, and don't have nearly the same access to ski mountaineering race gear, specific coaching, etc... If it were easy, there would be more Canadians competing for spots.

I've now realized that the 6th placed girl might not have trained as much as I did, but she is more dedicated just to make it to the start line. Cycling and skiing are largely male dominated sports. Male athletes in these sports don't have to put up with nearly the same levels of peer pressure, body image, bullying, abuse, etc... If it were easy, there would be more girls racing.

2017 Schedule

The 2017 ski mountaineering season is already in full swing, and I'm gearing up to head to Italy for World Championships next week!
January 7-8 Castle Mountain Sprint and Individual (4th and 4th)
Januray 21 Fernie Lizard Skinner (1st!)
February 4-5 Panorama Steep Dreams Individual and Vertical (1st and 1st!)
February 23-March 2 Ski Mountaineering World Championships Tambre/Piancavallo, Italy. I'm doing the Individual, Teams race (with Travis), Vertical, and Sprint, and cheering hard for our Relay team!
Ken Jones Classic March 25-26 Individual and Vertical/Sprint?

Looks like an action packed ABA calendar with a couple of new events. The highlight has to be XC Nationals in Canmore. I wonder if I'll get swindled into doing another 24hr relay.

Kokanee Klassic May 27
Mountain Maiden June 3
Fluffy Bunny Marathon June 11 (the Marathon course is much better than the XC)
XC Nationals July 22, 23
Dawn of the Tread July 30
Race the Ridge August 19 (I should be out heckling with my vuvuzela for the Hardcore marathon the next day)
August 27 XCX Marathon (Kettle cross, but at the Nordic Centre!)

And then maybe a couple of Edmonton Cyclocross races if the city doesn't cancel them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Steep Dreams ski mountaineering festival

Matt and Caroline Reid had put in lots of effort leading up to the inaugural skimo race at Panorama, working with the resort to optimise the courses, wrangle up sponsors, gifts, and prizes, and come up with innovative formats. Aside from standard individual and vertical ski mountaineering race formats, Steep Dreams introduced a race within a race: using the BC Enduro Series timing system, the 3 descents within the race were timed and bragging rights were on the line. And to cap it all off, a free skiing competition!

It is common to joke about Panorama being inside the hole of the "snow donut", meaning that while surrounding mountains in the Purcell ranges are getting pounded, Panorama is just getting a dusting. That might have still been the case this weekend, but Panorama was also getting pounded! And on top of that, the area skis pretty well anyways for not getting as much snow, although I smoked a rock pretty hard on the 2nd descent. This was also a bonus for ski conditions during and after the race. Most Calgary-based "powderhounds" head elsewhere: Fernie, Castle, Kicking Horse, and Revelstoke, the latter two of which got completely skunked, to drive in shitty conditions, then wait in long lineups.

The fresh snow was a blessing and a curse. In addition to Matt's work organizing the race, he was also the forerunner of the course, but with only one set of tracks from race skis, the track was still quite soft as I followed while leading the race. But the steep groomer on the first climb was more pleasant with a skintrack set through the powder switch backing up its slope. I had first tracks on the descents! Matt put in a valiant effort, but I eventually passed him and did some trailbreaking on the 2nd climb (he did something like 3500m of trailbreaking over the weekend!). Travis and Joel were lurking behind the whole time and it was critical to not panic when things got tough and to hammer when back on the set tracks!

I was able to hold on to the win, and was also 3rd fastest on the descents. And yes, I went skiing after the race, but my legs were screaming during the final run down Tayton bowl.

It snowed even more the next day before the early morning vertical race, but fortunately a snowcat taking our warm clothes up the mountain also groomed an ascent route for us. The legs were a little tired, but I was able to climb almost at a blazing fast 1500m/hr, even with a couple of very minor route bobbles.

But unfortunately, I was not able to get RAD enough in the freeski competition to make up for my deficit on the skiduro and had to settle for 2nd overall. Feeling fast leading up to Europe!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Line of the Week: Mt. Maude

The French-Haig-Robertson traverse is a Kananaskis classic. Pick a day with great weather and you will be rewarded with views and easier navigation once up on the Haig glacier. And the slog up the French glacier is downright miserable with the wind blowing in your face. When you get on the wind scoop at the base of Mt. Robertson, look across the glacier and gaze at the aesthetic line coming off the north ridge of Mt. Maude.

The line is another couple of kilometers from the French-Robertson col and it "grows' to its full 300m as you approach it. Put the skis on the backpack and boot up the face until it thins out near the upper ridge. As this is a steep, high, north face, the skiing should be committing, but soft.

Looking down the line to the Haig Glacier
Top elevation: 2900m
Line Length: 300m
Total Vertical: 1300m
Round Trip Distance: 21km

Other skiing in the area: Aside from the classic French-Haig-Robertson circuit, which also makes a fantastic finish to Mt. Maude, there are numerous couloirs in the French glacier drainage. Mt. Jellicoe also holds some potential as a ski descent though it is hard to make it to the south facing line before the sun. Otherwise the skiing in the French drainage or Burstall Pass is fairly mellow should you find conditions are not up to your liking.

hillmap link

Other "Lines of the Week"