Tuesday, March 13, 2012

South Lone and Bighorn...Again

This winter has sucked.  I haven't cared to look at the numbers but the snowpack has been shallow and dangerous.  Too many people have been hurt or worse.  I'm still feeling upset and disheartened that one of my skiing inspirations, Steve Romeo, was killed last week in a large avalanche in the Tetons.  I hope his friends and family are finding solace in the knowledge that Steve was an inspiration to the entire community as has been evidenced by the outpouring of emotion and kind words in virtually every backcountry internet outlet.  

That said, like Steve, I find myself "living to ski" amongst a couple other pursuits.  So today, I donned my TetonAT visor, picked up the ever sanguine Jon Swain, and went looking for snow.  We wanted to stand on a summit and ski something "big".  Mr. Swain had never been up Lone Peak so the car found it's way to Alpine after an alpine start, leaving my warm bed at 5:15 AM.  

We hiked up the dirt road by headlamp until the clouds were splashed pink above Box Elder Peak.  Finding snow after an hour of hiking, we moved steadily and efficiently in skis over the firm textured surface.  Jon stopped once to choke down a hard Powerbar, but pretty quickly we found ourselves chilled to the bone by 50 mph winds as we stood on the ridge looking into Bell's Canyon.  We sought shelter on the leeward side and debated our next move.

Jon skinning along a firm side hill, high above Utah Valley
Bighorn in the immediate background, Timp beyond
It was readily apparent that with the high clouds and nuking winds, we wouldn't be enjoying any corn any time soon.  Too bad.  But, we both agreed that boilerplate is better than breakable and we still had a summit to stand on.  Reluctantly leaving our hiding spot, we descended with skins until we could circumnavigate a bump on the ridge line and gain the South Summit of Lone Peak.  We snapped a few photos and chewed some food with frozen jaws before descending our ascent path down the popular "Heaven's Halfpipe".  
Nearing the ridge between Alpine and Bell's Canyon
Jon Swain stylin' while escaping the wind.  Note the goggles, snorkel, and headlamp.
Lone Peak Cirque from the South Summit
JS on the South Summit
JS, Question Mark Wall, Utah Valley, and the Oquirrhs

Near the bottom, Jon decided to rally for one more summit and we turned it around and headed up Bighorn's South Ridge.  Again, the wind limited our summit stay and after some more bone jarring boilerplate skiing, we found ourselves trying to avoid scrub oak as the snow turned isothermic below the Second Hammongog.  A few minutes later and we were back at our shoes sharing a Snickers bar while Jon was commenting on how great it is to ski something new (this was a repeat day for me but traded out the other guys for Swain).  A few more minutes of hiking brought us to the only car at the trailhead.  And, since it was lunch time, we then made a stop at Fong's Chinese Restaurant in American Fork.  It's housed in an old American style diner but the food was top notch American style Chinese!  You can never go wrong with rice.  Check it out!
From the summit of Bighorn Peak

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wasatch PowderKeg Recap

Saturday was the 10th annual PowderKeg and I think it's the finest race in the country.  The race started with a sprint across the parking lot to a transition zone where we put on our skis for the first climb up to Clayton Peak.  Jason and Jared had recon'ed the course the day before and were right on when they recommended full coverage skins.  The first climb ascended a mogul field that was locked up from the recent melt/freeze.  The stupid climb was an accident as Chad got the idea to route the PKeg up that slope when we went off course and ascended it during one of the Citizen races.  Anyway, my Pomoca skins were inadequate for the steep ice and I quickly was dropped.  A couple others in the lead pack also had similar issues and fell back.  Jared however, donned ski crampons and blew through the field passing everyone but Jason.  Sneaky guy.  

The first descent held the worst snow of the day but there were no major mishaps.  In the transition with Jon Brown and Tom Diegle, I could see the leaders moving out of sight.  It was to remain that way all morning with the gaps growing slightly at every checkpoint.  At times I felt like people were coming back to me and at others I contemplated switching into the rec race so I could be done sooner.  With 6 climbs and around 6500 vertical gained, the course was challenging, beautiful, and interesting as it meandered through the Brighton side country.  

Near the end of the race, I tried to open it up as I could see 4th-7th right in front, but had nothing.  The power was lacking.  Once when asked about how they are able to free climb El Capitan in Yosemite, the Huber brothers said, "we have power to spare."  I could have used some Saturday.  Ultimately, I finished 8th, which was disappointing but a testament to how this race is becoming more and more competitive.  I have gotten faster each year and keep slipping in the standings. 
Jason, Luke Nelson, and Brian Wickenhauser on top of the Men's Race Division Podium
Team Wasatch Skimo

Jason on the other hand has shed weight off his feet, become a better skier, and trained more diligently this year.  The result?  A dominant performance which saw him take the lead from start to finish.  Many others from the Wasatch (adopted member Luke Nelson was 2nd!) also had strong days including Tom Goth and Tom Diegle.  Tom Goth is a relative new comer who finished a very strong 5th.  Tom Diegle is immortal, finished 7th, and continues to shame men half his age.   Teague Holmes and Jared Inouye finished in 9th and 10th respectively.  Teague was also close enough to never let me relax, and Jared was battling up ahead in the race to determine 4th, 5th, and 6th before he broke his boot and had to make a moderately challenging descent in full walk mode.  I know he was disappointed with the result but we all know how it would have turned out.  Many others experienced their own victories or moral defeats but not being able to see the drama, I'll let them tell their own tales.  

The Sprint Race

This year there was also an encore race that was held right at the base of the resort.  The format was a team sprint relay, with 6 people to a team all having to complete one short climb/descent.  It was spectator friendly with family and friends finally able to see what goes on.  The mood was lighthearted as the teams were all randomly assigned and at least half the competitors had already downed burgers and their beverage of choice.  My team wasn't the fastest but we also didn't lose as I was able to pass Aaron Inouye in the transition to sneak ahead.  That felt good beating an Inouye even if it wasn't their ring leader, Jared. 

Final Thoughts

Again, I think this race is the finest in the country. And by finest, I mean the most fun.  With 162 racers this year it is likely the biggest as well.  One unique aspect is the insane amount of local support.  Local companies donated prizes and local ski celebrities were involved by racing, emceeing, or volunteering.  But mainly, it's the people of all abilities and backgrounds that come out with enthusiasm and make the race special.  I saw truly fruity spandex suits, skirts, costumes, and a horribly awkward tandem tele set up. This year was also remarkable for the increasing number of high end racers that showed up, with Luke Nelson returning and a strong contingent from Colorado making the drive (Wick, JB, and Gaston).  Brighton deserves special mention as they play host to the event and really stepped up this year by allowing us to grow the sport through our Thursday night series.  An award was given to the three people that have competed in all 10 PowderKegs thus far.  I've now done three and hope to make it another 30.  So huge thanks to Andrew, Collen and Co for starting up the race 10 years ago.  And lastly, I can't forget about Chad and Emily who deserve a big hug, slap on the butt, and a high five for the immense amount of work they put into this great annual Wasatch tradition.  

Women's Rec Podium

Men's Heavy Metal Podium

Women's Race Podium

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mount Nebo 50K

Last Saturday Sam and I went out for a long walk as a training session for the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. With the danger level still hovering in the red, we tried to come up with something in the 30 mile range that wouldn't ever leave the green zone.  Keep the slope angles low enough and not only are the physics of an avalanche impossible, but it's also impossible to make a turn.
So Sam suggested the Mount Nebo loop road which is around 38 miles and connects Payson and Nephi.  In the winter, the initial few miles are plowed on both ends shortening the total distance to an estimated 31 miles or 50 kilometers.  We thought we would use the day as a training session and to spark our imaginations while gazing at some of the more impressive lines in the area.  The hope was to skin at a moderate pace to the top of the loop, play around, and then ski down the road cutting the switchbacks to make some fun turns.  The reality was the skin to the summit went as planned but the descent was too low angle to ski and required skating/poling through manky snowmobile tracks.  Who cares though?  It was a fun mellow tour with a jolly partner through beautiful country side. 

Around 30 minutes into the day Sam developed a hot spot

Leaving Juab County

Hello Utah County

Nebo refused to show us her big beautiful bowls...better saved for another day anyway

Summit of the Nebo Scenic Loop

Utah County 

We didn't encounter any red necks until over the top and heading down to Payson.  Note the rolled sled. 

Old habits die hard

Friday, March 2, 2012

Citizen Series Finale and Season Summary

Last night we held the final race of our inaugural season of racing.  Some 50ish hearty souls came out with enthusiasm to win the Sportiva skis and to once again get some exercise and ski by headlamp while the rest of America sat at home and watched something stupid like the Bachelor.

Pre race instructions
The format was a two person team relay, with each person being required to complete two circuits on a figure of eight course (two climbs with shared descent).  Each circuit seemed to take from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the person, gear, and motivation.

Teams were decided by once again having the "fast folks" step forward and then having everyone on regular gear claim their partner.  Once that was settled, we stepped forward to the straightest starting line of the year and then the drag race was off.  The course began with a couple hundred meters of low angle cat track before tucking into the trees for steep technical skinning.  With the pack strung out along the double track, Jason tried to drop the field but Jared hung on.  My skins were starting to fail as were many others given the cold temps and the unsettled skinner.

Jake and Blake on the final booter
After the first descent, sneaky little Jared managed to jump into a second set of skis and was off before Jason and I had even skinned up one.  Everyone was fighting their own battles though.  I was chasing Jason and trying to avoid being caught by Teague.  Teague was chasing me and trying not to get caught by Chad and Courtney.  They in turn had their own pursuers.

But the evening was determined by those on the heavy gear.  My partner Jake was locked up in a contest with Teague's partner, Blake.  Those two guys went back and forth and both put in gutsy performances.  In the end, Blake lost a skin and Jake took advantage, pulling away for the win.

Psyched to beat Jared's team.  

The victor's pie

Raffling PW gear
After the racing, we made our way to Molly Green's for food, beverage, and prizes.  This time there was a bit more energy as everyone was anxious to win the Sportiva GTR skis, which were being raffled off as our Series grand prize.  The customary pumpkin pies were given to Blake and Jake and then a couple more large pies were passed out to share amongst everyone for all being "winners".  Then, for each of the nine races attended, people placed their names in the lucky boot and Jared drew the winners.  Noah Howell of the Powder Whore Nation also kindly contributed some PW gear and movies, which we raffled off first (Surprisingly, Jared's name didn't come up every time).  Then, a very befitting winner took home the new skis.  Tim White has come to almost all of the races and has been an ardent supporter of the new series.


Series in Review:

So what started as a casual get together of friends on Thanksgiving morning has turned into a wonderful tradition of more friends, skiing, suffering, pies, and prizes.  In all, we had 9 races this year, all of which where held in the Brighton Ski area and the surrounding backcountry.  I estimate that over 80 people came out and participated in at least one race and many many folks raced multiple times.  The format varied and we tried out a few different styles of races ranging from vert style (as many laps as one can do in an hour or two), team relay, hill climb, standard Skimo course, and a four lap short course.  We had current and former US Skimo National Champions (both mens and womens), local hardmen such as Tom Diegle, weekend warriors, newcomers to the sport, people on carbon boots, tele boots, race skis, mega watts, and everything in between.  Many companies rose up to show support including Kirkham's, Minus 33, the Powderwhores, and main sponsor, La Sportiva.  Brighton was a gracious host all series long and allowed us to use their terrain free of charge to pursue our shenanigans.  Jared Winkler, Brandon Dodge, and Greg the cat driver all deserve special mention for giving the OK from an administration, patrol, and driver perspective.  

My goals at the beginning were many fold:

1. Get faster
2. Get others involved in this great sport 
3. Preach the "light is right" philosophy
    a. Help point others in the right direction gear wise as others have done for me
4. Have fun

I think all four were accomplished and hope to grow the series next year and continue our relationship with the above mentioned great companies.  Special thanks to La Sportiva for contributing the grand prize. And, special thanks to all of you who competed and made the series a success.  

Comments and suggestions on how to make things better are welcome.