Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day 60: The Olympus Playground

We wandered around the Cove in the dark this morning trying to find a trail to a sneaky hidden couloir. After wasting an hour, the gang decided enough was enough and JD started grumbling about wanting to see some of these chutes I'd been telling him about.


Here are the pics and play by play.

Up Memorial #5:

Then over to take a peak off the peak - why is JD still skinning?

Not too smoggy yet

Went looking for other options

#4 looked good

Skinny skis are the new rage. 64 under foot.

Then it was up #2 and down into the highly visible highway line; the West Couloir.

Then back up the West, past some interesting stuff...

And out #2, the home run shot

From potential mutiny to squeals of joy... both while skiing and from John when we agreed on Barbacoa for lunch.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 59: Oquirrh Sneak Peak


I walked out of work this morning pretty bummed to see...nothing. The whole valley was engulfed in clouds. Bummer. My plan was to drive out to Toole and look for a way to get up into the Oquirrhs. When I pulled into town, it was obvious that if I insisted on skiing from town, I'd be walking on dirt most of the way up and down. Bummer. So I kept driving.

Long stretches of desert road lead to adventures:

Ophir, UT was the destination. People have been mentioning that there's some decent skiing from Ophir Canyon so I jumped on the interweb while driving and found out that the two highest peaks in the Oquirrhs are accesible from Ophir. The new plan became trying to summit either Lowe Peak, Flat Top Mountain, or both. Flat Top is the highest in the range and stands at 10,620 ft. Not that impressive, but its prominence over the SLC/UT valleys is impressive at over 5,000 feet.

The view from Lowe Peak, looking towards Flat Top (Pic from

I was pretty shocked to see two other skiers at the Ophir Canyon trailhead on a stormy Tuesday morning. Nice enough, they pointed me in the right direction and off I went. A mile or two on a flat road led to a few stream crossings and then another long section up a mellow drainage. I followed an old skin track (also a surprise), and eventually stumbled upon this:

Fearing I'd find a miner with a gun, I bypassed the structure without looking inside. From there on, I broke trail, winding my way through the trees and along sub ridges until topping out what I assumed was the ridge connecting Lowe Peak and Flat Top. I turned south, looking for the big one. Quickly, I summited an unknown peak and this is what I saw:


I waited for about 45 minutes, hoping things would clear enough to figure out where I was. I didn't bring my shovel since I was alone, but was wishing for it so I could build a deluxe snow cave. Unlucky and cold, I followed my up track out and enjoyed 3000+ feet of meadow skipping and tree skiing.

Back in the flats, it looked like the sun might come out and force me to go back up to take a look.

It was just a sneer, and seconds later it was back to poor vis and spitting snow. At least the exit was interesting with some bushwhacking and stream crossings.

So I went up there today just to take a look and see what potential exists for future days. As the pictures attest, I didn't see much. I like the feel of the place though. The desert drive, passing through an old mining town, and the quietness of the range are refreshing. Next time...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day 58: Memorial Chute "Cragging"

After working all night I felt the need for some outdoor time. Luckily, John responded to my 6:30 am text and was up for some adventure. I'm not sure if this is what he had in mind.

We were mostly able to skin from the car, but it was obvious that the way back would require some walking. On the way up, before the destination was visible, John commented that the bushwhacking we were doing reminded him of bird hunting in Maine. That got a laugh and I told him we were hunting...for chutes.

The coverage gradually got better and our main problem became trying to decide which chute to ski. Here's that same pic again of the lovely Memorial Couloirs from the fritzrips site. We kept poking our noses further up the drainage and soon were looking up a foreshortened Couloir #1. Ok by me since last year I had the pleasure of skiing #'s 4 and 5.

We skinned up the chute until we came to a branch point. To the left was a gorgeous tight chute that John and I will refer to as Couloir #0.5 since it branches off of #1 to the looker's left, and in accordance with the numbering in the linked picture, 0.5 seemed fitting.


It was tempting, but we forged ahead and were rewarded with a view neither of us had ever seen before. Well, the mountains were familiar, but the vantage point novel.

Mt Olympus' backside:

John dropping into #1:

We found pretty great skiing back to the fork and laid down a booter through 0.5's skinny belly. On the way up there was courageous talk of straightlining the choke.

On the way down...

John feeling like he found his bird:

The exit wasn't too bad and only required a ten minute walk before clicking back in and skiing to the car.

And my wife wonders why I want to live in Olympus Cove.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day 57: Kessler and a missed opportunity

I have a lot of ideas swirling around right now about long link ups and traverses but no time to really get anything done. I have plenty of half days here and there, but no substantial time off until mid February. Sure, one can get a lot done in the Wasatch in a few hours but I liken those days to climbing at the local, but not as inspiring since much of the exploration is lost. It seems a full day (or more) for a big traverse or peak link up, trying to ski as many aesthetic lines as possible, is where the sense of exploration returns - both geographically and mentally.

That said, I had a day off today and wanted to do a little exploring. Too bad that damn OR show was keeping many potential partners from joining me. Lukily, the Samurai and US Skimo National runner up, Luke Nelson let me join them for an early morning foray up Kessler Peak.

In the parking lot, I skinned up two sets of skis, hoping it would be a relaxing tour on regular gear. Out of their cars came two sets of Trab World Cups and I knew right then it was going to be a quick morning. The plan was to skin up Argenta, ski the East Couloir, skin back up the Catcher's Mitt, and then ski out Argenta.

Just over an hour after leaving the car, we were dropping into an untouched East Couloir.

A flying samurai:

Luke enjoying the morning light:

The chute was fantastic, but the apron was pretty pathetic with the stout rain/ice crust very noticeable. Stopping just above the Cardiff road, we turned it around to skin back up. Again, the ice made travel difficult, so we opted to boot/slip/wallow our way back to the top of the chute.

The main Argenta run was in the worst shape I've seen; wind affected, icy in spots, and crusty in others. Conditions improved slightly on the exit and we found ourselves back at the car at 9:40. My plan had been to go back up and ski the other two classic lines on Kessler, God's Lawnmower, and the West Couloir. This Kessler 4x4 as Noah Howell calls it has been something I've wanted to do for a while. I had all day and good weather, but was cold and partnerless. I decided to drive down to a point where I could get cell coverage and tried to dial up a partner. Windows fogging up, my motivation dissipated with the steam from my clothes, and unable to find any immediate company, I found myself back in bed about half an hour later.

Opportunity wasted.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More Skimo: The Heathen Challenge

This last weekend was the Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Mountain outside of Glenwood Springs. It was the last of three qualifiers for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team so the competition was still outstanding. Jessie had the weekend off so we made a little get away out of it.

We left SLC Friday morning and took our time making the 6 hour drive. That afternoon, I went out on a quick preview of the course while JD slept in the car (working nights), then we fittingly (I'm not really of Sherpa descent - just a nickname) found some Nepalese food for dinner.

Saturday morning was perfect for racing; warm, still, and clear. The start was quick as always, but felt rather comfortable.

Eventually, the climb began to wind through the trees, and the skin track deposited us at the high point of the resort. With 2100 feet down, I was in decent position with many of the top guys transitioning around me. By the bottom of the descent, I had been passed a few times, and found myself pretty much in no man's land. Far ahead, I could see Jared looking like he'd moved up a couple spots after a presumably scorching DH.

On the next DH, I actually passed one guy, but leaving the transition, could only catch fleeting glimpses of the next closest competitor. For the next 2000 feet, I tried to put in a solo effort, knowing there were people ahead that might come back to me. A beautiful skin track through a sunlit aspen grove brought us back to our prior high point. Near the top, I looked up and saw Jared about 20 feet from the cat track, post holing with one leg while with a ski on the other. Surmising that he had suffered a skin failure, I did the natural thing and kept pushing to try and take advantage.

As Jared pulled out of the poorly marked transition zone, he mentioned in passing that his boot was broken. That didn't make any sense because on the upper part of the descent, I saw him flying down the groomer, hundreds of yards ahead. When I reached the more technical section of steep bumps, I realized the extent of his misfortune as he was carefully picking his way down with one boot obviously in walk mode. Feeling the race tilt I my favor, I carried on out of control, flailing my way down the mountain.

Maybe, karma struck me for trying to take advantage of my boot crippled friend because I ended up wrecking and losing a ski. Jared said he had to stop skiing because he was laughing so hard watching me try and ski on one leg to go get my lost ski. Two toothpicks are bad is disastrous. Luckily, it didn't go far and I was able to get back on my feet and make it to the last transition first. This was key since the last climb was only 300 feet and was all skin track making a pass near impossible. And, the last descent was a short section of cat track into open groomer to the finish line. That meant I could take advantage of my unfortunate friend because the skiing wouldn't do me in.

The last transition was a frantic tearing of skins and trying to skate away to stay out in front. Neither of us took time to lock our cuffs (one of Jared's was broken anyway) but I locked my heels while he did not. I skated down the cat track and then tried to tuck it to the finish. Milliseconds after crossing the line, a blur to my left passed me and then blew up in a cloud of snow. I turned around and saw Jared crumpled in a mess under an ill placed ski rack. Somehow, with broken boots and unlocked heels while trying to stop, he violently went down and slid into a metal post. A rush of people were coming to his aid as he was voicing concern over the possibility of a neck injury. If the situation didn't seem serious, I probably would have stopped to laugh as one patroller mistook him for a female (likely due to his powder blue suit and svelte build) and called him sweetie. Luckily, everyone seemed capable and cautious. A quick replay revealed no LOC, no other injuries, no neuro deficits, and a cold guy in spandex shivering in the snow. Nonetheless, patrol wanted to send him to the ER, so I held his C-spine while a C-collar was placed and he was transferred to a backboard.

Sorry buddy, I had to take some pics (Jared OK'd the use of this picture but if at any time he wants it taken down that's his right).

The next couple hours were spent gathering all our stuff and hanging out in the ER at Glenwood Springs. Then, in spite of our protest, but being the stand up guy that he is, Jared took Jessie and me to lunch before he had to drive back to SLC alone.

So, the results (through the top 11) ended up as follows:

Pete Swenson 1:48
Scott Simmons 1:49
Jan Koles 1:50:43
Max Tamm 1:50:53
Travis Schafer 1:51:09
Greg Ruckman 1:51:28
Chris Kroger 1:51:34
Marshal Thomson 1:53
Jon Brown 1:57
Andy Dorais 1:58:53
Jared Inouye 1:58:54

In many ways, this was the most fun race I've done. I'm feeling stronger on the climbs and putting some distance on people later in the race. However, the down hill continues to cost me minutes and keeps me from being competivie, but at one point Jared joked that he'd give me some skiing lessons. That seems fitting since pretty much everything I do skiing related is because of his influence - either directly or through his little brother Sam. Even this blog is a near knock off of the better known

Saturday I nipped the poor guy at the line, but if it weren't for some serious equipment malfunction, I think he'd be laughing his way to Italy next month for the World Championships.

Any thoughts on the new blog format?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 50:Finding the Whipple Couloir

Today was all about exploration. I met Bart at 7:30 and as usual, he jumped out of his car, ski boots on, ready to go. It was cold and I was completely unprepared. The batteries in my beacon were dead so I changed them. I took some time to get into my boots, skin up, pack my pack, put on a few extra layers, and lock the car. When I looked up, Bart was gone. Up the trail, I'm sure in an effort to warm up, he was ambling along, allowing me to catch up. I like this about these guys. Better be efficient or you're gonna get punished. I spent the next 5 minutes near full speed to reel him in. Luckily, I was on my race set up.

The plan for the day was to poke around Neff's and look for the "hardest to find" chute in the Wasatch. The views of Triangle Peak and Mount Olympus inspired talk of future adventures.

To keep the mystery and the sense of adventure going, I'll just say that somewhere up there we stumbled onto this:

So we snuck around and found the entrance:

Noah Howell found himself in the same place last year and has declared this the true Whipple. The one depicted in the Chuting Gallery is apparently a misprint and may be known as the Whiffle.

As the picture may portray, the chute was full of crusted up old avy debris. As is always the case, we didn't care and skied it anyway.

Bart getting crusty:

However, lacking a car shuttle or the will to battle scrub oak and the creek, we alternated skinning and booting back out. High on Wildcat Ridge, we found another tasty treat to end the morning:

So there it is. The Whipple was found again.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Skimo Racing: U.S. Nationals and Grand Targhee

Well, I just got back from two days of racing and I think I'm feeling better now than when I started. Maybe I'm racing my way into shape? I'll have to if I want to be competitive since this weekend was a bit of an eye opener. I've skied a lot this year (around 213,000 vertical) but very little has been at a race pace. Turns out that was a mistake (maybe not though, since I've had a ton of fun and training by skinning a resort to ski bumps is about as fun as it sounds...see the bartman for more).

Anyway, the race at Jackson was stacked, with the best field ever assembled in North America. Last year there were maybe 8 or 9 guys in speed suits (think fast). This year there were more like 30. The whole 2010 US National Team was there along with half of the Canadian team and a few other Olympic caliber athletes making the transition from other sports. The weather was worse but the snow better, but still with HUGE steep moguls. And, the course was more or less the same with the main difference being a climb through moguls rather than up the groomer to the side.

The start was frantic as always (see here for a write up and pic of the Samurai flying). Partway up the first climb, I felt my arms tying up and had to settle down a bit. I found a rhythm with the Canadians, James and Ian, and was able to top the first climb just as Bart and co were pulling out of the transition to drop down the Alta Chute(?). Then, I was exposed for a fraud. Although I'm skiing better this year then last, I continued to lose what seemed like minutes on each descent. I'd catch back up on the climbs and fall back on the DH. Then at the top of Corbet's with winds NUKING and about to lose my mind and fingers, I stopped to put on a jacket. My plight wasn't nearly as bad as Bart's, who had a gear malfunction in the thick of the storm and was forced out of the race to save his fingers. On the last descent I was passed again and then again before the misery was over.

The result? 11 minutes faster than last year, but 8 places worse. The rest of the SLC crew didn't fare too well either. Jared was looking like he might be in form to win the whole damn thing earlier in the year before illness derailed him and he finished uncharacteristically in the teens. Tim and Layne put in their biggest day of the year, in a race setting, and probably suffered for not being on full race gear.

The top three Americans qualified for the US team. They were Brandon French of Whitefish, Luke Nelson of Pocatello, and Pete Swenson of Colorado. However, Reiner Thoni of Canada stole the show by winning the US National Championships. The 2nd race of the weekend was also a qualifier so the whole spandex clad crew drove over the pass to Alta, Wyoming for the Grand Targhee race. Hints of sun this morning promised good weather but it's January and the temps were in the single digits. Strangely, I felt stronger than the day before, in spite of being on the heels of an 8,000 ft race. The first climb was competitive with the usual suspects taking it out in front and I found my self at the top, still in the thick of it. The skiing was mellower, with lower angled slopes and more powder, but continued to be my achilles heel. At one point, I looked to my right and saw Jan Koles, strait lining past me with a huge powder plume behind him. Then it was Pete, then James, then Chis, amongst others throughout the race.

Other mishaps included not eating anything over the near three hour race the first day, leading to cramping legs, not drinking until the end of the Targhee race secondary to a frozen bottle, and losing my sunglasses turning bad visibility to near blindness.

It's smoothing out these mistakes and feeling myself become more efficient that makes the sport fun. Adding measurable racing goals to backcountry skiing keeps me motivated. However, the main motivation of having fun by simple exploration seems to win out over the goal to get faster. I talked with a number of the top finishers, and it seems a certain level of dedication to structured workouts is necessary to excel. It would be easy to get caught up in that routine, but then I hear about days like this or remember days like this and my imagination starts running wild. Lessons learned racing and preparing for races certainly apply to doing big things in the mountains though. In the end, I'll keep searching for balance and speed, in the backcountry and on the bumps.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Days 43-46: Wasatch Potpourri

The last week or so I've been busy at work and missed out on some great skiing. Brother JD and co, tagged Timp, Box Elder, Kessler and more while I for once got to find out about it on the phone. My week was a little more tame, consisting of powder skiing in Mill D, a New Year's Fail up Broad's Fork, some resort laps and some bad snow on Superior, and finally Argenta trees and the West Couloir off Kesler. Jason is back in Indiana so I guess for now I get the last laugh.

Jason on New Year's, cold and about to turn around just below the saddle between Sunrise and the Twins b/c of sporadic wind pockets that threatened our line of choice (Broad Fork Twins, East Face)

Drom and Sunrise, impressive as always


Lucas, pretty in green:

Looking toward the high peaks:

Bonkers and the Twins:

John having a blast in the West Couloir of Kessler:

Today was a great day. Tanner, John, Adam, Graham, and I leap frogged each other and at times gang skied the chute, enjoying the first good snow I've found since last Thursday (a series of bad choices led to a series of bad runs). With a couple races this weekend, things will likely stay mellow for the rest of the week.