Archive for November, 2011

From dusk till dawn, bent poles and battered wings.

Posted: November 15, 2011 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

Dusk on the Wasatch

What a combo Fri/Sat/Sun for the buzzards, and the tri-canyons. Tris and I ventured up into the higher reaches of Ballroom at Alta Friday afternoon sans Arthur. Racing up with the sun was lowering down was a great way to start the weekend. The snow in the upper Ballroom area below Little Baldy Chute was rot and garbage. Growing up in Eastern Montana, I’m well used to seeking this snow there, but know in areas like the Wasatch, where big storms can roll in over night, I know this to be very, very problematic.

Tris's coat doubles as a sun on cloudy days

The discussion of Saturday’s tour resulted in an immediate roll back. Arthur had sights set on Room Of Doom, an exposed, steep, wide-open face in upper Cardiff. Reports of lingering instability, with the prospects of 6-9” overnight helped all of us reel in those ambitions. A tour up Days Fork, however, wouldn’t prove much better.

The climb up about 2 plus miles from Big Cottonwood Canyon was down right miserable. Blowing wind with sleet and grapple, and more wind pounded us whole way. A brief discussion on how to gain an East running, North facing ridge resulted in the decision to try and move up a steeper, low hill unto a bench which would then provide a more direct route up. This was opposed to the prospect of touring further up into the Days Fork upper bowl and looping back at the ridge. 2 to 1 was the final count. I’ll abstain from point fingers (*sheepish grin*).


I pushed the skin-track up onto the face. 60 feet high, with an angle of about 35 degrees, and little snow created spicy, agonizing conditions. As I moved over a group of snow covered bushes, with Arthur about 20-30 feet behind me I saw the slope propagate about 6” deep, and begin to pull out 60’ or so feet, running mostly behind me. The loose soft slab ran over Arthurs boots and missed my entirely. Tris, making a kick turn behind us was right in a terrain trap. He was swept off his feet and about 20 feet down slope, bending his pole in the process.

After poking around the crown we all agreed the slide had broken on a long ridge of exposed rock, which had been covered, and was retaining no snow at all, filling in again as we stood there, re-setting the mousetrap for the next party of travelers. Evidence of a previous break and slide could be seen about 3 feet above this crown, indicating this is a frequent problem on this slope. This was a first hand look at our own personal glide crack. Taking this as a clear indication of what the snowpack held, the buzzards pulled back for the day, rolling back out to the car, and the warm embrace of SLC.

This skin track brought to you by

Sunday found the crowds returning to Alta. An early start left us alone with first tracks down to the Collins Mid-Mountain station. From there, the Chilkoot Trail had formed. I kicked myself for commenting at the noticeable lack of crowds as we dropped down. Hordes of powder hungry locals were crawling up the hill in a relentless line. Armed with the common sense God gave Lemmings, they skied down on top of each other all day. Injuries off Gunsight from a previous rider being swept down in a slide weren’t enough to give people cause to pause for rescue work. Riders contented to descend, and send down slides onto rescue parties. While skiing a black, heavily treed slope off the Collins lift our group was interrupted by 3 skiers, running a train right down the slope, splitting our group in half, and placing all of their party onto a slope already occupied by one of ours. The Was-Angles was in full effect, all that needed to be add to the mix of un-prepared, un-educated, inconsiderate backcountry riders is a few helicopters rallying touristas to easily accessible backcountry lines and the season would have been in full swing.

Philth and the worm turns

The sad passing of Jamie Pierre serves as a distant trumpet call over a long forgotten battlefield, a call reminding all of us as to what this season holds. Amidst the joys of our turns, frustration, sadness, and harms awaits all of us. People will continue to push the envelope. People will continue to ride terrain they should not be riding, and will often come home with nothing more than an uber-rad story about how sick the snow is. Slope testers will center punch lines all over the Wasatch and beyond, doing so with little more than a cliff bar and some cold green tea in their packs. Even for the pious, well educated, errors in judgment will result in close calls, sobering reminders, and worse.

Winter is calling; as we awaken from our warm summer slumbers, take care to shake the cobwebs out early. The mountains have no respect for your knowledge, ability, sponsorships… Move cautiously, carefully and diligently. Take your time, and choose your actions wisely. Better to come home with no epic story than to not come home at all.


The Great Gig in the Sky...RIP Jamie Pierre


If It’s White, Ski It.

Posted: November 8, 2011 by bcbuzzards in Skiing, Uncategorized

Tris in lower Baldy Main

Baldy Main Chute

What an amazing weekend for the Buzzards.  We were lucky enough to the Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop on Saturday to brush up on some information as well as learn a bit about some accidents that happened here last year.  The presenters were well prepared and managed to convey their messages clearly and in an engaging way.  The title of this post is a not to a joke that was prevalent around the Wasatch last season and for good reason, we had record snowfall and certainly the most snow I’ve ever seen (as it was my first season amongst the Greatest Snow On Earth).  We’re hoping for another awesome year where the phrase will ring true once again.  On to the skiing!

Saturday morning began with with a trip up to Brighton to sample the conditions and get a feel for what the season was going to look like when they opened later this week.  There was loose talk of picking up our passes but that was not to be due to the time constraints of USAW later that morning.  We weren’t the first on scene today as a party of 2 were heading out to the lot at first light.  We made relatively quick work of the skin up to Pioneer Ridge where some thing coverage and windy traversing found us above a pretty decent face that we ended up skiing 2x that morning since it was pretty darn good the first time around.  We have to constantly remember that it is early November and not the heart of the season so there will be stumps, rocks, ice, trees, and dirt that will be hit if we aren’t pretty careful.  As a matter of fact I think all of those were nailed this weekend and some of that resulted in a few tumbles but no serious damage to any of us or our equipment.  Today’s true delight (not counting the skiing which goes without saying) was Phil’s deployment of his personal signature move, the MS!  The Manger’s Special is a day old rack found at Smith’s Grocery store around here and its bountiful delights blessed us with Mini Pecan Pies to fuel the second lap.  Little treats go a long way.

Sunday was the best day of the season so far with us finding ourselves with French Toast in our bellies, coffee in our mugs, an extra hour of rest, and a close call on the slippery road up Little Cottonwood Canyon!  All this before 6am.  We ended up at the Alta area before the lot was opened since they were still moving snow from the previous days.  We ended up parking on the road which worked out well since we are all eternal optimists so that meant that we would get a few extra feet of vert walking back up to the road, I’ll take em’ where we can get em’!  On Saturday night, I was thinking about the Lone Ranger from Wednesday morning and it got me thinking, we should ski Baldy Main on Sunday.  And as you get to know the Buzzards, you will know that the prospect of an adventure or a good time fraught with some sweat and hard work will almost always be met with grins and nods of approval.  We fired up the mountain passing the snow guns to gain the ridge beyond the Wildcat Chair we made quick and windy work up to the drop in.  Some wind loading on the Northern aspects had set up some interesting snow on the way up and we were interested what it would look like in the chute.

The last time Phil and I were up here it was early August and the coverage was thin… now it was early November and the coverage was inviting.  But like all things, the past links to the present and we found an icy bench just below the first drop that might be problematic later in the season as it gets covered over and new snow forms on this garbage ice bench.  Just below the ice bench there is maybe a 10-15′ icy headwall at this time which we rightly thought would be crux of the pitch.  Phil dropped in first and found that his beater rock skis weren’t up to the task of biting into that headwall and he ended up slipping down it before firing right back into form and shooting down to the safe zone and calling Tris down.  He picked his way down past the ice as well to the good stuff below, and finally I did the same.  The advantage of being 3rd in the lineup is I was able to figure out where most of the rocks were so I could link turns without much concern.  After regrouping at the safe zone we again leap frogged to the exit and then blasted out onto the apron into the first of the sunshine we’d seen all day.  Those were some amazing turns and plastered smiles on our face for the rest of the day.  We had time for one more lap before Phil had to get to work so we made quick work of a skin up the Collins chair from the angle station just as the hoardes were beginning to descend upon the area.

Always a great feeling to be finishing up with your tracks the lone ones on the snow from a great line on a great day, when others are just rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

"It seems so easy climbing to the top, you better know the way back down..."

Predawn Delights

Posted: November 3, 2011 by tnt141 in Skiing
Tags: , ,

Under cover of darkness, the Buzzards unite!

The sleepy hamlet of SLC, somewhere below us.

I finally made it to Salt Lake City and am ampped to join the Buzzards in sampling some of the tasty treats this region has to offer. Winter has been kind enough to join us this week and deliver a dusting to the Wasatch. True to form we took it upon ourselves to be some of the first folks to exercise poor judgement and start the season by skiing on an entirely unsuitable sub strait.

On the way up, under the cover of darkness.

Under the heavy cover of darkness fueled by one of Arthur’s fine roasts we rallied to our rendezvous point at the mouth of Little Cottonwood. We found Phil chomping at the bit and ready to continue the quest for early season freshies. We headed up canyon to Alta to see what mother nature had delivered. We were not disappointed.

The 1800′ skin up to the top of the Collins Chair went fairly smoothly and provided us an opportunity to survey the myriad of combos that lay under the 4-8 inches of fresh.  All the key players for a good time were there: consolidated 3 week old snow, bulletproof man made, rocks, gravel, stumps, stones, and tall weeds. By the time we arrived at the top ( still pitch black )we all knew that we were in for a disturbingly good time.

After stripping the skins and locking our heels Phil stepped up to the plate and headed down first. Almost immediately the surrounding area lit up like the 4th of July as his edges raked across rocks and threw up a rooster tail of sparks! As the light of his headlamp disappeared down the canyon I heard him make almost every turn. Arthur followed and quickly initiated his Mantras into the “Used” phase of ski’s life. This was to be the theme of the day.

The only real casualty of the day was Phil’s elbow.  He initiated a turn and caught an edge on a rock sending him over the handlebars and  straight onto another thinly veiled rock. Sparks flew and curse words rained down upon all. The elbow locked up for a few seconds but he worked out the kinks and got it working again shortly. Rumor has it that there is more snow on its way for the weekend!

foggy, rather groggy...

We’ll keep you posted.


Home in time for breakfast round 2, and the sunrise (round1)!