Wednesday, April 30, 2008

100K of Skinning

Vermonter Peter Wadsworth sent us an email the other day with a link to a great video slideshow of his season. Peter set a goal of skiing 100,000 vertical feet in the backcountry to push himself this season, and came away from it with a lot of adventures and an awesome record of them. Congrats on hitting your goal, Peter, and thanks for inspiring the rest of us.

(Video courtesy of Peter Wadsworth)

Thinking back on this season I realize that making this seemingly superficial goal got me much more than an arbitrary number. I skied in a way, in places, and at times that I may not have otherwise, and because of this the experience was neither superficial nor arbitrary. Nearly half of the days that I headed out I went to a place I had never been before, as opposed to lapping the same old hill under the lifts. More than half of the days weren’t “days” at all, but were dawn or dusk patrols that accompanied a full day at the office – some including skiing in the dark to earn my vert. Because of the inherent risks with this I also sought out ski partners that I might otherwise have gone without, and developed friendships with some great skiers that I learned a lot from. Now the question is: what is my goal for next season?


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Altai Skis at Powder Creek, BC

(Nils and his touring quiver at Powder Creek, BC. Photos courtesy of Nils Larsen)

Inspired by his trips to the Altai Mountains of China, Nils Larsen began building his own Altai skis over the winter, chronicling his progress here on the blog.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

With the skis completed, Nils brought them up to Powder Creek Lodge, BC to test out on his recent hut trip. Continued from Monday…

I finally got out on the big boards late in the day Thursday and on Friday for some test runs near the cabin. The light was trending to milk bottle but the snow was cold and fairly deep. I had a bit of trouble adjusting the bindings (stiff rawhide is hard to tie) but soon got the hang of them. The skis worked great in my test runs and I quickly got up enough speed to generate several spectacular wipeouts.

Saturday, our last full day there, the weather finally warmed up. All tired from a week of touring, we headed out early for a short tour to the north before the snow warmed up. I strapped on the Altai skis and tagged along, wondering what I was getting myself into. The snow on the north side of the Back Door pass was still cold dense powder. My first run was low angle and I found the snow fast and eminently skiable. My next run was quite steep and I quickly exceeded my comfort level on these skis. I was able to make some modest turns and as the day progressed I got more comfortable with speed and balance.

The snow thickened and warmed though and after lunch we headed back to the lodge. We stopped at the top of the pass and some of the group tried the Altai skis off the north side. Slides were starting to rumble in the warming sun as we skied back to the lodge and the cold beers we had waiting.


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Monday, April 28, 2008

Powder Creek Trip Report

The US/Canadian dollar may be nearly equal, but a hut trip to British Columbia is still the best deal going for ski trips. Karhu’s Minister of Ski Culture, Nils Larsen, is freshly back from one of his favorites:

Powder Creek Lodge is in British Columbia’s Purcell Range – north of Nelson on the east side of Kootenay Lake. We flew in on Sunday, April 6 for a week of touring here in this wild range in central BC. We were blessed with cold weather and occasional snow most of the week, typical of spring in this area. If you have never hut skied, you have to try it. When it comes to backcountry skiing, staying in a comfortable lodge and day touring in spectacular terrain and powder snow is at the very top of the skiing food chain, and Powder Creek ranks high in world of BC lodges.

(Powder Creek Lodge and the view south. Photos by Nils Larsen.)

I had brought my newly finished pair of Altai skis in to try out. But with the skiing as great as it was, they would have to wait for us to tour the goods first. What fantastic skiing and a week with good friends!

(Ridge touring on a snowy day.)

(Bill Love, skiing home.)

(Forrest skis the trees. )

To be continued with a report on skiing the Altai skis on Tuesday…

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Winding Down in the Adirondacks

Keeping it on the theme of spring in the East, Karhu rep Mike “Kaz” Kazmierczak sends us trip report from some XCD skiing in New York’s Adirondack region. Sunny skies, warm weather, good company, soft snow, what’s not to like?

Winter is fading quickly in the Adirondacks, but we still have some skiing opportunities up high. The approaches are muddy and the streams are running, but the temptation of corn snow keeps us trekking into the High Peaks each weekend.

(Jen Kazmierczak hiking across one of many stream crossings on the approach. Photos by Mike Kaz)

The classic Wright Peak ski trail was the destination for this trip. With its northern exposure and sheltered canopy, we knew it would have easy skiing and hiking up, and by the time the temps rose (almost 75 degrees this trip), the corn was perfect to schuss out on. The summit weather couldn’t have been better. Typically windy, Wright Peak offered us completely calm skies to scout our trips on neighboring peaks for the following week.

(Kaz on the summit of Wright, looking toward Mt Colden and Mt Marcy.)

XCDs are the skis of choice for a bunch of our objectives around here, but especially in the spring when "variable" conditions persist. And really, nothing jump turns on rock quite like the 10th Mountains! Still a couple more weeks left of skiing for us... after a truly stellar winter.

(At snowline, just below Wright Peak's summit, prepping to ski down. 10th Mountains all around.)

(Classic Adirondack Trail skiing on the Wright Peak Ski Trail.)

(Not wanting winter to end, our friend Rob Dross.)

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Monday, April 21, 2008

White Mountain Wandering

With longer sunlight and warm temps, the East Coast corn season is fully in session. Brian Mohr checks in from the White Mountains.

Ahhh spring! Barely fifty miles east of Vermont’s Green Mountains lie the snowcapped ranges and mountain clusters that characterize New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

(Dave Bouchard looking out across the options. Photos by EmberPhoto)

The Whites are significantly higher than the Greens, with the region's highest summit, the infamous Mount Washington, topping out at 6288' – nearly 2000' higher than Vermont's highest. Top to bottom descents of over 4000' vertical lure many skiers to the Whites, while an abundance of challenging alpine terrain, open slide paths and snow-filled cirques (e.g. Tuckerman's Ravine) offers a nice change of scenery for the forest-dwelling Northeastern skier. Mid-winter, the best ski terrain in the highest elevations of the Whites is often plagued by high winds and dangerous – if not totally unskiable – snow conditions. That is not to say that you can't score an incredible day of skiing here in mid-January. However, come early April, when the warmer days of spring begin to consolidate the snowpack, the Whites come into their element.

Although there were still 100" of settled snowpack at treeline in Vermont earlier this month, a stretch of warm, clear days and cool, clear nights made it impossible for many to resist the lure of Whites. Personally, I kicked off the spring with a fun, solo traverse of a good stretch of the region's Presidential Range (from Castle Ravine to Franklin Brook), scoring several runs of beautiful, untracked corn along the way. In the days that followed, with bluebird weather prevailing, I connected with various friends. We shared some truly adventurous turns in some seldom visited places, as well as some great descents right off the popular summit flanks of Mount Washington.

Then, just a few days ago, I finally got to connect with Karhu skier
Dave Bouchard, of Hinesburg, Vermont. Always a joy to ski with, Dave recently scored first place in the men's telemark division of Mad River Glen's annual Triple Crown. Busy all week as a school teacher and busy at home with two growing kids, Dave was psyched to have a whole day to go ski. So we made the most of it, with a 5am start here in Vermont and a tour that included some of our favorite White Mountain gems.

By 9am, we were up high on the White Mountain divide, dropping into our first of many fine lines we planned to ski. A thin coat of fresh snow that had plastered itself to the springtime base was still skiing dry and nearly powder-like in the shadier aspects, while corn was already taking shape in wind-scoured zones and gullies catching the direct morning rays. By noontime, the fresh snow in the direct sun was getting sticky and best avoided, while anything else in the sun was delectable.

After another great day in the mountains, we spotted this beautiful little fox back at the trailhead.

Back home in Vermont, most of the ski areas are now shut down for the season, but an impressive snowpack leaves us with another 1-2 weeks of top to bottom skiing. We'll likely be hopping on the bikes a bit, too – but with the skis in tow – to access some of this skiing, so stay tuned...

Moretown, VT

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Guiding Alaska

With the Jackson Hole season wrapped up, Karhu skier Eric Henderson is once again up in Alaska, guiding with Valdez Heli Ski Guides. With good snow and blue skis last week, he sent along a dispatch from several days of guiding and shooting with Tough Guy Productions.

One of the highlights of my job in Alaska is working with professional athletes and delivering the goods to them. Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to work once again with the Tough Guy Production crew and their selected team of athletes.

(All-star line-up in Valdez, AK. Photos courtesy of Eric Henderson)

The weather for the first few weeks of April was milky to say the least. Continued cloud cover, mixed precip and high winds had shut down almost every operator on Thompson Pass. The Tsaina parking lot scene was a well-blended mix of frisbee, early beers, lots of cheese quesadillas and half-crazed heli skiers waiting to see the sun pop. Without fail the first question out of every skier’s mouth was “What’s the forecast?” with the standard refrain of “More of the same.” We have a saying in Valdez, if you want clear skies, then Drink it Blue.

Sure enough the night we decided to close down the Pipeline Bar, the skies cleared and we were flying by 10AM. Load One was Stephane, Kevin and David, with me to guide. Second load was Max, Tyler, JT and Lorenzo. I received both groups on top of Imax, a classic run in the Promise Land with the cameras start rolling. We proceeded to get three more days of flying and skiing, allowing the cameras to capture all of the athletes experiencing some of the Chugach’s magic. This year, unlike others, we combined the one-drop heli touring program with scattered pick-ups throughout the day, allowing us to ski some unlandable peaks and couloirs, then travel a few drainages over and do it again.

(Lorenzo Worster drops in with speed.)

One-drop skiers are groups of four that launch early in the morning before the public skiers, and end up skiing most of the day on their own human power. We land on top of a heli run to start and then proceed to hike and skin for the goods through out the day. The usual day ends up with over 12,000-vertical skied and some tired legs. All groups end by skiing down to the highway for a van pick up. It’s hard to beat a cold beer and a friendly van drive after teeing off in the Chugach for the day.

Working with a crew like this year’s Tough Guy athletes makes my job harder yet extremely satisfying. Having some of the best freeheel skiers in the country as your clients keeps it exciting at all times. I am either opening large slopes for them to ski, setting up for rescue, or standing by as they launch huge air. Not to mention watching some of the most impressive telemark turns on some the country’s biggest freeride lines.

As I have said before, the modern age of freeheel skiing now has a place in the Valdez/Chugach ski culture and should be here till the end.

For more info:

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring Roller Coaster

Well into April and its roller coaster of weather and temperatures, but winter still won’t quite release its grasp here in the Cascades. Steady snow showers last week piled up a foot-plus of new powder at Alpental for their Thursday morning reopening. A couple of us in the office headed up for a morning session .

(Fog lifts from Alpental early on Thursday morning. Photos by Graham Gephart)

(Karhu engineer Eben Sargent dropping down Adrenaline.)

(Finding good powder under International)

Since then, temperatures climbing well into the 50s and 60s in the mountains, and are again cooling back down and leaving snow this week. It’s all setting up for an epic spring of touring, especially as the lifts wind down. The resort is now opening only on weekends through May 5th for a Cinco de Mayo closing celebration. While the resort is closing, with any luck we’ll be holding a special opening celebration of our own on the 5th, up in the North Cascades once again. Fingers are crossed for the road opening, but the progress report from WSDOT looks good for a month or two of good skiing from the passes:

From WSDOT's Jeff Adamson:

Here's what's up there right now, east and west: 4 Kodiak snow blowers, 3 Caterpillars (1 D-8, 2-D-6), 2 snow cats, an excavator, front end loader, and grader.

Weather has been clear or overcast, but temperatures have remained about 40 which kept the avalanche chutes that still have the 10-inches of snow they got a week ago, stable. Becker says they're hoping the warm temperatures forecast for the next several days will either melt it in place or cause the snow to slide by Monday. "We're bringing all our equipment to a site below Cutthroat Ridge so nothing we'll need Monday morning will stranded on the wrong side of a big slide." Don also sent me some new photos which we're posting to the Flickr site:

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hide & Seek in the Adirondacks

One more trip report from Nils Larsen’s swing through the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains in early March…

The Adirondack Backcountry Festival continued on Sunday with another 4-6 inches of low-density snow overnight. Conditions looked stellar and Ron Konowitz - a near legendary local skier who has skied in the ‘Dacks since the late 70s - agreed to take me touring. Ron is also famous for his secrecy about where he skis, something I had heard about from other locals. Maybe it was because I was from across the country, maybe it was because we were both old-time (some might say over the hill) tele/XCD skiers, but Ron led me off to some choice private stashes.

Ron and Nils near an unnamed woods slash. Numerous Adirondack slides in the distance. Photos courtesy of Nils Larsen.

The snow was cold and light, knee-deep in places.

Ron, bringing up the rear and covering tracks.

Our second ski of the day clued me in to the extent of the previously mentioned secrecy. We parked along a main road (I must be ambiguous here as I am sworn to secrecy), quickly grabbed our ski gear and dodged into the bushes. We put our skis on and took a roundabout route up to a well-used snowshoe trail, carefully disguising our tracks entering the trail. We climbed for an hour or so, passing lots of snowshoers but no skiers (the dumbing down of winter sports is a sad thing). Ron was careful - very careful. The trail was narrow and studded with roots and rocks, but we let all questioners know that this was our planned route down. I won some points here for diving into the role, telling people in my folksiest voice that ‘we may be foolish but, hey, what do we know?’ People looked at us strangely and, Ron thought, sometimes suspiciously. He recognized a few folks which made him all the more careful.

Finally, near the top and in what I thought to be an impenetrable thicket of spruce, we stopped. There was no one in sight and Ron and I quickly took off our skis. "Throw your skis as far into the thicket as you can," Ron whispered. There was a sense of urgency as we crawled into the thicket after our skis. While we may have been able to throw the casual snowshoer off our true intentions as we skinned up the trail, throwing our skis into the woods and dog-crawling in after them would be hard to explain. Ron continued to whisper directions. I had just found my skis when he told me, "Throw them again, we're not far enough yet." I hucked them again, and we crawled on. Ron, bringing up the rear was filling in our tracks as we went – erasing tracks in snow is impossible but when you throw snow in them, they could be anything. If anything, they would likely be considered dog tracks... people don't normally crawl into thickets.

Finally we stopped and put our skis on. Ron did a few final loops through the brush and trees to throw off any possible trackers – something I considered highly unlikely at this point. The snow was excellent, deep and light, and we were now scouting for skiable lines. As we dropped a bit things started to open up. This is a relative term, and I use it here measuring with an Eastern yardstick. It seemed unskiable to me, but Ron knew my limitations in Eastern forests and he led onward.

Ron, scoping for good lines.

We finally hit some narrow but skiable slots in the trees, once again in Yellow Birch. These trees were quickly endearing themselves to me.

True to his word, Ron delivered excellent skiing. We did a few laps in here, our private forest. We did see another ski track, though Ron thought he knew who it was. Our ski out was thickety in places, but I had the extended forearm position wired, and combined with the good snow, I almost felt proficient in these Eastern forests.

We circled wide to get back on the trail, again disguising our tracks as we hit the track.

It was a great day of skiing, made all the more interesting by our need for secrecy. The ‘Dacks are a big range, but there is not a lot of good skiable terrain close in. Secrecy is certainly common with backcountry skiers, especially in well-used areas. Out West the landscape is far more open, so it becomes problematic to try and hide your tracks. In the East though, the finding and protecting of secret stashes has been developed into a fine art. Who knows what gems lurk just out of my range of view as I drive through the mountains back insto VT.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

One by the Numbers

Yup, it’s been a great year…

Alpental, WA – 545”
Mount Bachelor, OR – 523”
Timberline, OR – 723”
Alyeska, AK – 815”
Whistler, BC – 382”

Jackson Hole, WY – 605”
Steamboat, CO – 489”
Wolf Creek, CO – 492”
Loveland, CO – 363”
Alta, UT – 641”
Snowbasin, UT – 422”
Bridger Bowl, MT – 394”

Stowe, VT – 371”
Jay Peak, VT – 399”
Sugarloaf, ME – 216”


Squaw Valley, CA – 416”
Sugar Bowl, CA – 462”
Mammoth, CA – 339”

…and in the backcountry, it’s just getting started.

(End of April a couple seasons back in Santa Fe, NM, Peter Kray watches his head at the patrol shack entrance. Photo by Graham Gephart).

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Making Skis Part IV

The final installment from Nils Larsen, as he finishes building his own pair of traditional Altai skis:

After the skis had dried for about 10 days I did a little clean up with the plane and a knife and then prepped them for the bindings. The skis are mounted on balance point and the bindings go through four vertical holes in the skis (this four-hole pattern corresponds with some of the oldest bog skis found in Scandinavia and Russia). The bindings are rawhide, from some fresh cowhide I picked up a month ago. Now dried and dehaired, I sliced it in strips and softened it by working it over a bar and rubbing it with oil.

Cutting rawhide for the bindings.

Burning holes for the bindings. After I dug out the holes with an awl, I cleaned them up with a heated steel rod.

Building the bindings. I followed the binding design that was most common on the Altai skis, basically a rawhide 'X' that the toe of the shoe went through and a strap around the heel to hold the shoe in.

Putting the skins on. The last big step was putting the horsehide skins on the bottom. I soaked them overnight so I could stretch them over the skis. They will dry tight as the skin shrinks when it dries. I used tacks to hold the skins on, as they do now in the Altai. Traditionally they would lace the skins on the skis with rawhide but I have not seen this in my visits.

As a final touch, I cut up some old rubber boots to put in the foot area. This is common now in the Altai and reduces icing under the foot. I will take these into Powder Creek with me this week and try them in there!

For more on Nils' project, read Making Skis Part I, Part II and Part III, and watch a clip from Journey to the Source.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Video

After epic powder descents just last weekend, Mother Nature brought a long spell of warm sun to the mountains and got us thinking about traveling light. The shoulder season of winter into spring is often the perfect season for XCD exploration. The right aspects keep soft snow tucked into trees, while longer daylight and warmer temperatures make it easy to cover a lot of ground and see new sights. The possibilities challenge us to ski lighter, be quicker with the footwork, and to smile at the kind of turns – dancing through a short slope of trees, lapping quick corn laps on a sunny mountainside – that we often neglect in the middle of winter.

I recently stumbled across a couple XCD ski videos online. One trying XCD gear for the first time, another who seems to have a bit of experience – both bound together by great big smiles and the sounds.

(YouTube video from orangerider1)

(YouTube video from distantfellow1)

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Thank You Old Man Winter

After an epic weekend in the Northwest, a dispatch from EmberPhoto on New England's winter, still going strong:

Old Man Winter has been especially generous with us here in the Northeast this winter, and although spring is creeping into the valleys and up the warmer hillsides, Old Man Winter seems to have no intentions of letting up. Over the last two weeks, the snow stake that marks the depth of settled snowpack at treeline on Vermont's highest summit, Mount Mansfield, topped the 100-inch mark! And a weekend storm pushed us even closer to the 12-foot limit of the old wooden stake – to 110 inches. To put this in perspective, a snow stake reading of 110 inches indicates that we are enjoying 40-50% more snowpack in the mountains around here than we normally do in late March. For this, we can thank the steady string of storms that Old Man Winter has been throwing our way since October.

The storm from a week ago Friday (we've been calling it "Really Good Friday") not only produced 10-20" of Vermont Grade A powder, and thus some fine powder skiing...

(Photos courtesy of

...but it also cushioned the snowpack that had been crusted over in most areas a few days earlier. With the Really Good Friday storm, and then another 6-8 inches last weekend, we've been able to take full advantage of our unusually deep snowpack, and ski safely and smoothly into many beautiful gullies, creekbeds and alpine zones that during many winters don't get a chance to fill in.

We've had little new snow this week, but temps are preserving the fresh snow up high. Down low and in the sun, the maple sap is running and the corn cycle is in effect. As nice as the powder touring high in the mountains has been, we've also been scoring some beautiful sunset corn runs in our local farm fields with the XCD skis... We step into our skis on the porch, climb through a beautiful hardwood glade, and slide into one of many pastures that leans toward the setting sun and the higher Green Mountains across the valley...

Spring approaches, but the prospect of another dose of Vermont Grade A is still there. Last early April, Old Man Winter blessed us with over six feet of snow in the mountains. By morning, we were skiing powder under the shelter of the forest canopy. By evening, we were carving sunset turns in the alpine, in the calm before the next storm.

Maybe he's is the same mood this year. We will soon find out...

Happy spring!
Brian and Emily
Green Mountains, Vermont
March 26, 2008

Link: Mount Mansfield Snow Stake

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