The “Donut Season” is in full effect at Red Lodge Mountain Resort. Sure you can eat donuts from the City Bakery all year long, but you won’t always get the opportunity to burn them off by skinning 10,000 feet worth of vertical up at the hill all year. Red Lodge’s uphill policy during the operating season limits you to uphill travel before the hill opens and after it closes for the day (better than being banished altogether). But the shoulder seasons (the Donut before which the hill is open and after it closes) inconsistently consistently produces some of the best powder turns off Grizzley Peak…or at least some of the least populated ones.

I set out Saturday properly inspired, my normal eastern Montana ski partner having completed over 8k worth of vertical the day before. Why not push myself for 10k, a gold standard for touring days in my mind. My reasoning behind this standard is simple: when it comes to lift service 40,000 feet in a day is “a big day” or the gold standard to me. For alpine touring that similar achievement is 10,000 feet. I think the 4 to 1 ratio works. Typically a leisurely 5,000 foot day touring is about as much work and time as spinning 25,000 feet of lift service. Sure they both get the legs working and lungs pumping, but they are also both pretty boiler plate days. 10k and 40k days are the things dreams (or nightmares) are made of. Early starts, burned out legs, and lap after lap after grueling lap. And tons of turns….O the glorious turns!

Sunrise Over Miami Beach

Sunrise Over Miami Beach

Conditions at Red Lodge were perfect for just such a personal challenge. The turns off the top into “Continental” and “Berry’s” for the first two laps were playful powder turns with some dicey exposures at the road cuts, and frozen goat heads and frozen goat torsos chucks where the snowcat and rolled the cat tracks. Lower mountain north facing shots too continued to provide soft forgiving turns with soft turns through the slag plies on “Bigfoot.” While skinning up for the 2nd and 3rd laps I talked myself into progressively more aggressive terrain. I reasoned that in order to keep finding untracked and non-sunbaked snow I would have to move into steeper, dicier terrain. Cole Creek could have provided the aspects I needed, but might have been tracked out, and also provides less vertical per skin. Or if I did climb all the way from the top to the bottom of Cole Creek certainly the skin track wanders a bit more.

It was under this thought process that I am proud (and mortified) to admit that I opened up “the drain” for the first time this season. One word to describe the experience… “interesting”. Or “scary”, “spicy”, “sketchy”, “foolish” and “terrifying.” That being said I dropped three laps into it, slicing and dicing my way down the “Main Drain” twice, and “Westside Nosedive” once. Tracks weren’t just laid out in the snow, my skis took a fair number of hits as well. The drain was littered with granite shark fins and bulges in the snow that could have been rocks, stumps, snow piles or other various detritus. By the end of the third lap down the drain even in the steep sheltered terrain the snow was becoming clumped and isothermic. It might have been the warming temps, as the sun really wasn’t out in full force anymore. Also the exposed and open creek towards the bottom of the drain may have been adding moisture to the surrounding snowpack (a first time skiing that line with a creek to greet you at the bottom…guess that’s why they call it “the drain”?).

The fifth and sixth laps were the really butt kickers. I figured on the range between the 7,000 to 9,000 foot mark being a trying time. My feet and legs felt like there were in pretty good shape, with no real hot spots in the boots, but thing in general started to slow down. The hill was deserted, the conditions were deteriorating. Most of the snow had been warmed up and was started to set up as it cooled down. Isothermic snow in the Drainage yielded to halfway re-frozen snow on the runout below the “Face of M.” When I slapped the skins on for one last assault up the skin track on Lazy M I figured the last 1,100 feet would be child’s play. That unfounded optimism lasted all the way to the top of the “Chicken Trail”, or about 250 feet. The steeper sections of the skin track were setting back up, and were riddled with boot packs, giving the skins a lot less grip at times. The runs back down Lazy M were garbage, and the only successful way to ski the difficult snow was to charge the turns hard working the slightly frozen mashed over. After 10k of skinning I was only barely up to the task.

Actually it's the "over 10k" day...

Actually it’s the “over 10k” day…

How to properly toast my second 10k day? Well a nighttime drive through the killing fields of Joliet, Montana dodging deer while trying to eat a footlong sub seemed about right. Having survived the drive home (the sub however did not) I rested easy, content that tomorrow my day would be easier.

Which it was not…after attempting to push Craig’s Yaris up a substantial portion of Ski Hill Road (a great workout to warm up the quads and calves) we abandoned the vehicle and it’s balding summer tires in favor of hiking the few remaining mere miles. About 5″ of wet warm snow blanketed out approach. As luck would have it no sooner had we strapped on our ski boots then our ride appeared, providing us with a lift to the parking lot, and my with my 1st chance to ski some lift(ed) assist vert. The 1st lap was the best of the bunch in terms of consistent snow. “2nd St.” to “Upper Limited” was a nice fresh white carpet of untracked pow. “Upper Limited” was slightly less blanketed in the shelted lower half, and “Lower Limited” while untracked was showing signs of warming 20% denisty snow already. Creating turns that may have looked effortless in the spooned signatures we left behind…but were far from effortless in their making. The warming temps and wet heavy snow marched up the mountain behind us in our next two consecutive laps. After a slog on tired legs through some of the deepest snow on the mountain on “Upper Continental” and “Boomerang” I knew I was done for the weekend.

The Donut season at RLM has been absolutely going off. It feels like it’s high tide for the touring season, and in reality things are just teeing off. I’ve still got some bugs to work out the system, as my lackluster skin glue, and blistered toe will account for. Still it’s been a great start for the northern-most bcbuzzard…and I’ve got the smiles (and videos) to prove it…

-Phil

YTD stats: Days skied: 6, YTD self propelled vert: 31,526, YTD lift(ed) assist: 741

***Editors Note*** The following post, penned by the illustrious Tris T. was logged back in the drafts section of the bcbuzzards blog. In hopes the remembrance of how bad the ski conditions were when the buzzards formed leads to many deep days in our scattered but singularly combined future winter days…we offer this blast from our initial collective year in the Wasatch….Your’s Truly….

                                                                                                                                                                                             –Phil–

Well it looks like mother nature has dashed our hopes for a bountiful early season snow pack. The Buzzards have been scavenging the Wasatch for fun, mostly rock free, skiing on stable snow. Generally, not too much to ask for. But with the stability of the snow pack being a bit on the touchy side we have found ourselves in less than inspiring terrain more often than we care to.

Arthur making his life difficult.

This past weekend, in light of  the meager coverage on most aspects,  Arthur Debowski, Phil Santala and I  decided to do some exploring.  With the stability this last week improving a bit we set our sights on Wolverine Cirque. The concept was to dedicate a day circumnavigating the Cirque while scouting all the little nooks and crannies for lines that could be skiable in better conditions. With massive cornices guarding the entrances of the chutes most of of the season we thought it might be worth trying to sneak in early before access becomes difficult.

The Brighton parking lot has become an all too familiar starting point this season and this day was no different. We parked below Milli and skinned past Twin Lake in route to Patsy Marley making up the southern terminus of the cirque.  Initially the skinning was cruiser on  surprisingly well covered terrain. Once on top of Patsy Marley the snow thinned quickly and we soon found ourselves skinning on rocks and a thick carpet of shrubbery. Stopping frequently, peering over the lip,  sussing out some tasty lines and mulling over the possibilities a few feet of snow would unlock.

We did a lap off Wolverine peak towards Brighton on  3-6 inches of super light pow over breaking crust. Turns out 3-6 inches is just enough snow to cloak some massive rocks. I started making my way down a little shot then blew up when my ski made contact with a large rock. One of my skis decided to continue down to where Arthur and Phil were waiting. After gathering my belongings and dusting myself off I awkwardly skied, as I often do, down to collect the other 50% of my rig.

Into the Mystic

Wonder what’s going on at Alta today?

While cruising back back up the ridge to Wolverine Peak we heard a disturbingly loud low rumbling of a slide in the distance, a humbling reminder of mother natures power. Dropping back down the ridge to the entrance of Grannys Chute. It was really the only option with enough snow to drop into the Cirque. Phil eased into the chute and ski cut the top to try to get something to release to no avail. Then it was game on and Phil laid down a fine line of his patted
“worm turns.” Arthur was next then I brought up the rear.  The bottom of the Cirque is still a rock garden so picking our way through was time consuming.

We had a few more good little sections and hit plenty more rocks before skinning up Milly then dropping back to the car. All in all another great day in the mountains with good friends and garbage snow.

Tris dropping

Tris

Job well done boys!

Once more unto the breech

Once more unto the breech

And so….it begins. While the late September fizzler left me salivating and cursing NOAA last weekend, this weekend produced big time. The Cole Creek snotel was reading 16 or so inches when I awoke Friday morning. Being long on time (I work 4-tens) and short on common sense (as many who know me will attest) I pulled out the biggest rock boards I could find and headed up to the hill to see what I could ski.

The roads up were a clear indication of my potential mistake. The highway was littered with broken tree limbs and spun of cars. The town of Red Lodge was a mess. My normal stop for bathroom facilities was an unpowed mess of at least 12″ of wet heavy snow. This was simultaneously envigerating and horrifying. After spinning the car out of the lot I reasoned that my chances of making it up Ski Hill Road weer about 50/50. If the road was not plowed, I was 50 precent sure I would end up 100% trying and about 100% stuck as well. I contempated parking and skinning, sure that if I needed to someone in a massive truck would offer me a ride, or at least lob an empty rockstar at me. But being persistent (and sleeping in a bit) prevailied, and the road was plowed all the way up.

Conditions Friday were brutal, just the way I like ’em! Cold, windy, snowy, simply sublime for a couple laps. Saturday’s weather was much more mild, a serious drawback. While the company was vastly improved (I was skiing with a friend vs. by myself) the actual weekend (remember I work 4-10s) meant the crowds were out in full force. While the lower hill seemed to get decimated, the greener pastures Craig and I had moved onto were significantly less crowded. Hard for the “one-and-dones” to get back that far, let alone all the “1/2-one-and-dones.”

Sunday featured Saturday’s weather (warm) and Friday’s crowds (non-exhistant). In my typical progressively poor decision making pattern I moved from mostly blue runs (with some greens and a few blacks) too “Upper Bucking Chute”, a double black diamond (with some rocks/stumps/slag piles). I’m happy to report that the decision proved worthwhile giving up some of the deepest turns and certainly the steepest terrain I rode all weekend (and the most foreign objects I connected with too) . It’s the occasional pay-off like that one which continues to push me to ski terrain that people who value their equipment and physical well being generally shy away from.

While I’d like to continue to wax Phil-Low-Sofically on the skiing and conditions, I’m wiped out having thrown together the following tasty edit. All the skiing (falling, crashing, and gear damage)  was done at Red Lodge Mountain over the weekend of Oct 4-6, 2013. So enjoy:

 

Phil

YTD Stats:

Days skied: 3

YTD self propelled vert: 14,728

Video  —  Posted: October 7, 2013 by bcbuzzards in Skiing
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Under Way

Posted: March 12, 2013 by bcbuzzards in Surf/Sail
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Enroute to the Islands

Enroute to the Islands

Departing from San Francisco we encountered many firsts. First night sail, first gale beat down, first time drifting in open ocean for 2 days while the winds were dead. We made good time heading south, survived our first nights on watch with only mild discomfort and quickly fell into a comfort able rhythm with most aspects of boat handling and living at sea.

As we approached Point Conception the winds stiffened, as is normal for the area, but there was an associated weather system that kicked the winds into high gear. We had sustained 30 knot winds (with gusts to 35) for about 36 hours which whipped the seas into a frothy mess. We settled on a course to the west that the boat happy on and when all was said and done we found ourselves 200+ miles offshore. We headed east to make use of the lightening winds and slightly more organized sea state as night fell. When dawn broke we ran out of wind and found ourselves seven miles east of San Clemente Island.

Enjoying a post breakfast swim

Enjoying a post breakfast swim

After getting over the initial short-lived frustration of having no wind we quickly fell into a routine. Sleeping and eating seemed to occupy most of our time followed by swimming. Turns out sailing is tiring. What little time was left in the day went to working on the never-ending projects list. Since we were going nowhere fast we stopped standing watch and opted to stick our heads out the hatch a few times each night to check our location. The only disturbing thing we noticed were creepy light less silhouettes of Navy ships against the night sky. Turns out that San Clemente is used by the Navy for training exercises (including strafing runs)and not open to the public. After being becalmed for 2 days we finally got underway.

Shortly after our departure we lost control of our rudder. Thankfully we  quickly found the cause and Ralph weaseld his compact frame into contorted positions to reach the steering quadrant and fix it. About 2 hours later our auto pilot failed. Deep in the night we lost our GPS. Thankfully we were able to fall back onto traditional navigation techniques to keep us on course. Ralph woke me at dawn to let me know that we were getting ready to pull into San Diego. The failure of the auto pilot and GPS were good reminders that they are just luxuries and not necessities. After 7 days on the water we took our first wabbly steps on land.

For the next week San Diego would be our base of operations for working on the boat. We made a ton of progress on the magic to do list and the only casualty was a cut on Ralph’s finger requiring a few stitches.During this period we came to the realization that though we could still make out final destination, La Paz, with the time left  but it would be hurried and defeat the purpose of taking our time scouring the Pacific coast of Baja for surf. So I canceled my return flight from La Paz and we sailed back north to spend our final 10 days poking around the northern Channel Island group.

The Channel Islands proved to be well worth the visit. While we didn’t find much surf, mainly due to lack of swell, we spent a lot of time in the water snorkeling. We rowed ashore daily to  stretch our legs and sample the islands offerings. Lots of rad wildlife sightings from owls and octopus to bison. Thats right, I said bison. What was just going to be a brief overview of the islands turned into us planning a return visit before heading down through Baja. We jammed back to the mainland to find a slip for the boat to stay in until the next leg begins. We got the slip and spent the next day cleaning and packing.

DCIM100GOPRO

Landing at Santa Barbara Island

Sadly the end was upon us and the responsibilities of life were looming. Ralph flew out and I had a ticket on the train early the next morning. I headed to the beach with a surfboard and 2 beautifully crafted handboards (by Benjamin Barnhart, http://www.etsy.com/shop/CACoastalWoodCraft). I arrived at the beach as a light rain started to fall, quickly donned my wetsuit, stashed my pack in the jetty and got in the water. The last two surfers had just gone in. The rain became steady but clear skies to the west provided an epic backdrop  and sunset. I spent the last hour and a half of waning light playing alone in perfectly mediocre 3-4′ surf, switching surfcraft about every 30 minutes. All was right in the world.

Not so Fast

Posted: March 12, 2013 by bcbuzzards in Surf/Sail
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Departure

Departing familiar territory

THE PLAN

It was known from the day that Ralph got his boat that it was going to be used as an escape pod. A vehicle to transport body,mind, and spirit into personally uncharted realms. An instrument to purge some of life’s venom from ones system. To that end we decided that the only way we would ever leave was to put a date on the calendar and go.

It doesn’t get much more simple, throw the boards into the boat head out the Golden Gate and turn left. That is all we had to do. We both had 4 weeks off work and unlimited psych to get some real sailing experience under our belts. We had done some local trips like a sail out and around the Farallon Islands and a sail up the coast to surf for the day but neither of us had all that much sailing experience. Certainly no long passages or seemingly endless nights spent on watch in foul weather. What we lacked in experience we certainly made up for in optimism and naivety. What could possibly go wrong?

PREPARATION

I was able to show up a couple of days early to tie up a few loose end projects on the boat. Upon arrival I learned the mast step (where the mast attaches to the boat) had basically disintegrated over the past 35 years. Therefore the mast was out of the boat. In classic boat maintenance fashion when you do something you do it right. So we stripped the paint, repainted, rewired, added a new wind gauge, and rebuilt the winches. It turns out all these things take time, apparently much more than we thought it would. Additionally shipping delays for roller furler parts were not readily available and the boat yard was closed when they arrived, so more delays ensued. This was in addition to the projects that we had planned to complete before departure.

Amigos del mar

Amigos del mar

We had two dauntingly full pages of projects that needed attention. Some were quick, some were immense multi day clusters. Crossing anything off the list was cause for celebration. But alas there was no time to celebrate for there were dozens of other projects to work on.

At this point, over a week past our original departure date, all we were hoping for was to depart the morning after the yard dropped the mast back in. On a Monday morning with a heavy rain falling, the boat yard was finally ready to reinstall our mast. As they began to raise the mast the crane ran out of fuel. Yet another delay. Once the mast was finally reinstalled we put on the new sail and… it didn’t fit.  After nine very full days and very little sleep we were both at wit’s end and wanted nothing more than to leave. Thankfully a quick call to Pineapple Sails put our frustration back in check. They would be able to trim the sail for us today. Ralph leapt into action getting the sail to Pineapple and I started packing the boat. Darkness fell and with it Ralph returned triumphant with the sail. We spent the rest of the night mired in pre departure minutia.

Master and Commander

Master and Commander. Ralph at the helm.

The long-awaited day had finally arrived! After a few hours of sleep we woke to clean smelling post storm conditions.  With a huge breakfast in the belly and goodbyes said and were able to cast off. The relief to have finally left was overwhelming. The rejoicing was short-lived for there were still many small projects to complete. Twenty minutes after departure from Berkeley Marina Ralph was at the helm and I was back in the bilge wiring a pump, but it didn’t matter, we were on the way.

Origins

Posted: March 12, 2013 by bcbuzzards in Surf/Sail
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Lost Coast

Solo mission on the Lost Coast

SURF

At the awkward age of thirteen I went on a weekend trip to Santa Cruz with my dad. It was a typical trip that included play time at the beach, enjoying the rides at the Boardwalk, and stuffing my face with funnel cake. On the way out of town we dropped into an antiques store where I found a fulcrum that would shift my life onto a different path. It stood in a dark corner covered in dust and dirty half melted  sand encrusted wax. It stood tall at 6’1″ and it drew me in with the luminescence of its yellow UV damaged foam. My dad continued to browse while I lurked hard next to my coveted discovery. We left the store empty handed despite my clear desire for the board.

After a week of incessant pestering my dad caved and we made the two hour drive south and he forked over $25 for the board. It was another year before my mom would actually let me take it to the beach. Fifteen years later after surviving a tortuous life being dropped, crushed, operated on, having all the fins snapped off, and being ridden in powder that was not deep enough we parted ways and the board now hangs on the wall of a ski patrol room in Tahoe. That board provided my first real connection with the ocean.

SAIL

Ready to launch

Ready to launch

At the age of 28 out of the blue I received a call from my uncle with a request for me to swing by for a visit.  After lunch on his 33′ sailboat/ home we walked down the dock until we got to a small wooden sailboat that belonged to a friend of his. I was told that it would go cheaply to a good home, I stated that I had only sailed once and that ended with me clutching to a capsized catamaran. After 20 minutes and multiple failed attempts to right it the Avila Harbor Patrol showed up and helped us right it. He told me to not rush my decision, spend the night on it and give my answer in the morning. As the evening went on my thoughts turned to using the boat as a platform to access waves.

The next day I was the proud and clueless owner of an 80+ year old wooden sail boat that “only needed a coat of paint”. Three brutal months spent in the boatyard  full of scraping, sanding, painting, and extensive repair work I had a boat that was sea worthy. Now I had to learn how to sail. Fortunately my buddy Ralph was a game to get some more water time and we fumbled through the learning process together with only a few near misses. Over the 3 years that I had the boat it became a trusted companion who provided me with shelter and another toy to enjoy the ocean with. I eventually passed the reins of the boat to friend, master craftsman, and boatwright, Benjamin Barnhart. While I am no longer the caretaker, the lessons learned remain and have provided the foundation for to start the sail/surf trip that I’ve dreamed of.

Finally on the water

Finally on the water

-TRIS

Scattered but not distant

Posted: March 12, 2013 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

While the buzzards are currently scattered, geographically speaking, they continue to remain close to their core values and up to mischief regardless of their location. The next few posts are updates on what we have been up to in our particular place of residency (regardless of how temporary). Despite the many miles between us the bonds forged during past exploits remain stronger than ever and plans are constantly being hatched for future jaunts. Hope you enjoy.

Ratio of man meat to sq/ft of ledge is way to high. Palisade Traverse

Ratio of man meat to sq/ft of ledge is way to high. Palisade Traverse

Tris