Posts Tagged ‘alpine touring’

Dave touring into the shadows of the Jackson Hole periphery

Dave touring into the shadows of the Jackson Hole periphery

Ski-bum, dirt-bag, ticket-flapper, paid-time-off, career. Those words don’t often run side by side in the lexicon of sking lore. But I’m also somewhat of your a-typical ski-bummer. I remember going to grad-school, working two part time jobs, and working my way through what would be my third 100 plus day ski season in a row since returning to skiing 5 years before. “Sometime I forget you’re going to school too…” a ski partner said one night, as I packed it in to go write another paper. It’s been tough at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So when the opportunity to take a week of PTO comes up in March, I take it. Some people think you have to sacrifice a career for skiing, or skiing for a career. Those same people might tell you that the ski-vacation, or skication is expensive. They are wrong of both accounts. 10 days off, 10 days of skiing. It takes dedication, perseverance, diligence, stupidity, and friends. That and thighs of steel and brains of mush.

Big Sky gave way to Jackson, which gave way to the Grand Targhee, which gave way to the Teton Pass. Firm snow gave way to high pressure warm temps, which gave way to spring conditions, which gave way to stable conditions, which gave way to big dumps, which gave way to cliffed out lines and easily triggered slabs. Through it all I rode. 10 days, 170,380 feet of lifts, 12,423 feet of self-propelled. Off the front, back, and side of Jackson Hole, from rowdy trees, to steep chutes, to mellow glades. D-chute, and B-chute. Spacewalk and M&M. Broken Branch and Steve Baugh. Shovel Slide and 1st Turn. Ski cuts and face shots. Thru it all I rode…I crashed on floors, and pull-out couches. I traded for vouchers and bought beers and pizzas for all…and through it all I rode. I punched my virtual check and checked my phone when the direct deposit from the “job” I was “working” went through, I answered a few emails, and let a few co-workers know I was alive…and thru it all I rode.

Life has a way of passing you by if you don’t take stock of it. 81 days into my season I was digging every turn of it. I’m like a dog with a stick sometimes. Sure there might have been bigger sticks, better sticks, but as long as you throw this stick…this one here, today, right now…well then I’m happy. Some people spend their whole lives chasing a dream, working everyday to pay for it. Some people spend their whole lives living a dream, never knowing it’s true cost. Me? I’m working my second year at a full time job in a career I’ve struggled to get. I’m 34 years old, and I’ve skied harder, longer and better this year than I ever have before in my life. I live the dream, and it’s costs.

Thanks to Tele-Dave, who regrettably isn’t pictured in the video, for the vouchers, the crash pad, the laughs, the pb&j’s, and the tour. Thanks to Craig 1 for the vouchers, the crash pad, the laughs, and for being one of the ones who was willing to wait for me those few short years ago. Thanks to Johnney for the crash pad, the laughs, and for being one of the ones from way back who still gets after “it.” Thanks to Jay B. for the vouchers and the talk, and for giving so many “dirt-bags” a shot at it.

 

 

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This year marked a new moment in my (ski)  life. It was the first time I had lived in Billings Montana and not owned a Red Lodge Mountain Resort season pass. In years gone by since I began skiing again for real the winter of 2006/07 I have always owned one. There were the fabled years of 2008/09 where I owned a pass at both Grand Targhee and RLM. I tried this again last year with the Big Sky Resort gold pass and the RLM pass. Dual citizenship as I call it. Last year it did not play out well for me. I logged too few day at Red Lodge to pay for the pass, or justify the purchase again this year. So it was with a heavy heart (ok not that heavy) that I pulled the plug on my Red Lodge season on Thanksgiving Day, 2013. I was destined to retrun, sure, only after the bullwheel ceased spinning.

Mother nature would have other plans for me. With two weeks left on my Big Sky pass winter was becoming hit or miss. Firm chalky conditions on the north slope of Big Sky resort still called my name. But the siren song of Red Lodge’s snow report called louder… A full 5″ in the afternoon with 9″ overnight. NOAA’s website stated “The snow will be heavy at times.” Yeah, sounds like it. I packed up the gear and pulled out the phone. I hadn’t played for a lift ticket yet this year (despite skiing Snowbasin, Snowbird, Traghee, and 5 days at Jackson Hole) so the hunt for a voucher was on. Before I entered the canyon to drive out of Big Sky I re-affirmed my decision. Red Lodge’s facebook had posted a snowfall of 11″ by 7:30pm. It. was. ON!

 

Good things happen for those willing to wait. If you can stand (or in my case relish in) the agony of climbing something for hours at a time the joys of dropping into untracked powder over and over and over again will be yours. Conditions in the Gallatin and Madison Ranges of Montana continue to improve. Stability has risen, giving way to conditions which are low probability, and very high consequence. As the snow pack deepens skiers become way less likely to trigger slides. Still we move cautiously lines will always be there, powder too (if you know where to look). These clips represent a diligent series of moves in the backcountry, and some of them were pulled from days where it just wasn’t happening. The huge slide at the top of Beehive with fellow buzzards Arthur? Well we just turned around and skied back down our own ski track…very, very cautiously.

The buzzards keep reaching new highs for the winter of 2013/14. The snow piles up and the vertical keeps stacking up. While I close in on the 1 million foot mark in lift service I’m happy to take a breather from the lift service hustle and bustle to step out and step up with a few friends in the backcountry. As I crushed past my half way mark for the season in earned turns I’m feeling pretty good about things. 300,000 feet will be my biggest goal yet, all while making my way through the longest, deepest and most challenging (and rewarding) winter yet. This Go Pro edit, shot entirely with self-propelled “earned” turns in Beehive Basin and Lick Creek exemplify what it’s really all about…sometimes steep, sometimes deep, but always untracked….

 

 

Hangfire

Hangfire

The www.mtavalanche.com forecast for the day said it all: “If there was ever a day to stay out of the backcountry – today is it.” Still the intreptied travelers that we are (read: oft thought of as brain-less), Arthur and I skinned up Beehive Basin for an early morning lap before venturing onto the relatively safer confines of Big Sky Resort. The plan was tentatively to make the east Beehive Basin ridge line and ski back down the skin track. Possibly digging a pit up top to add to my developing profile of the upper reaches of Bear/Middle Basin confluence ridge lines.

Strong westerly winds at mid-slope behind Arthur.

Strong westerly winds at mid-slope behind Arthur.

When we arrived on top we were met by strong winds from the west. When I say “met” I mean we had been practically blown up the Beehive Basin skin track by them. Down low the wind effected snow was everywhere. The ava report had placed wind loaded slopes at “high” risk for the day, meaning the descent would be a cautious one, with eyes glued on slopes above, particularly on staying out from under ALL slopes above us, including the recent culprit in a slide a few weeks ago, which covered part of the far left up-track (I tend to stick to the middle benches and avoid that slope before venturing onto the “skinners-right” ridge line above the “Exit Chute”). In addition to high winds Arthur and I found large cornices forming down the ridge line, growing in size. They began just to the left of where the up-track gains the ridge, forming off the steep knob to skinners left of the skin track. They had added a huge amount of size to the large cornice that has been sitting at about mid slope as well as creating a whole slew of new ones.

I moved just the edge of the base of the aforementioned steep knob, at which often people will set the skin track out and around onto the Bear Basin side to continue up the ridge (in the last photo you can see the old small cornice under which this track has been set a few times this year). The snow was firm and there was no new cornice growing at about the spot where the skin track might normally swing off the ridge and onto the east facing slope. I then stepped down about 2-3 feet down the ridge line to a small cornice that I observed as a new growth. I kicked off one small piece of it with ease. (We were the only car in the lot at 7:30am, allowing us the relative certainty that no-one would be below us) The chunk was about 18″ long and 12″ in width, it broke and tumbled down the slope entering only the new snow around it, not running far and not stepping down into old snow at all (new sluff-ing only). I moved down again to break off a piece of about the same size. I stepped with one foot firmly a few times, getting no movement off the cornice chunk. I fastened my heel piece in place (skins still on) and tried again, on the second stomp the (desired) piece broke loose (maybe 24″ by 12-18″) as the entire slope propagated (undesired). About 15 feet up ridge from me to about 100-150 below me the cornice line cracked. The slope below ran in two spots, one immediately below me was about 50 feet wide, with a crown of about 3′ feet

Propagation up-ridge

Propagation up-ridge

Another sympathetic release that was about the same size in width at the crown, but appeared to be smaller in height also went down the ridge (We did not feet comfortable venturing down giving the cracking FAR back from the edges of the cornices).

Sympathetic release further down ridge.

Sympathetic release further down ridge.

Pieces of cornice and wind slabbed snow that ran down to the trees below (50′) were easily 5 feet long and 3 feet in height. Being pinned against the trees by these would have been miserable, and would have resulted in life threatening injuries, if not much worse.

Debris pinned against the trees below

Debris pinned against the trees below

The entire cornice laced ridge line below cracked at the same time, easily a few feet back from what might be considered a “safe” zone. By now, with wind loading we both hopefully predict that these time bombs have collapsed down-slope on their own.

Shooting cracks 150 yards down ridge

Shooting cracks 150 yards down ridge

I am thankful that we paused and didn’t venture onto the lee slope to move up the ridge, a common practice at this feature. I also think in hindsight we were too closely grouped together on the ridge which, had the entire ridge line disintegrated, could have been disastrous. Arthur was back further behind me, and was not next to me on the ridge, but still…better safe than sorry. We took a few photos, conversed about the happenings, stripped our skins, tucked our tails between our legs, made our way to the safety of Big Sky Resort after retreating from Beehive Basin.

3 foot crown where the skin track often wraps around the knob on the ridge.

3 foot crown where the skin track often wraps around the knob on the ridge.

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!