Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Video from JT Robinson

Great new video today from Karhu athlete JT Robinson. From deep powder to monster front flips and big air, the video showcases some of JT’s best moments from last season, from Utah to Europe. Great stoke to get you pumped up for the New Year and the storms on the way.

J.T. Robinson...Skier from J.T. Robinson on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Loving Old Man Winter

Big snows across the country this week. Seattle has been snowbound for the past week, and skis have been better than cars for getting around town. On the other side of the country, it will be a deep white Christmas in the Northeast this year. Brian Mohr checks in after a winter solstice ski:
He makes us shiver. He makes us sweat. He also brings incredible joy to our lives...

Welcome back Old Man Winter.

We love you.

Brian and Emily
Moretown, VT

(Skiers: Andy Weis, Dylan Crossman, Emily Johnson - Mad River Valley, Vermont - Winter Solstice 2008)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tree Skiing in VT

Forgetting a few days of rain and ice, the Northeast seems to have gotten off to a great start this year. Surfing around last night, I found this recent helmet cam video from Stowe and the Adirondacks last week. Definitely some skilled combat skiing and technical lines up high at Stowe from these guys…

POV Skiing Stowe/Dacks 12/9/08 from Allen Taylor on Vimeo.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cold, Cold Smoke

Things keep getting better up in the Valhallas, where Karhu ambassador Evan Stevens is trying to stay warm in BC.

The arctic air mass has taken over British Columbia. I know what you're thinking. It's Canada, you all live in igloos and it is cold all the time. But alas, no, SW BC is actually quite mild in the winter, and that is what makes skiing here so great-it's not frigidly cold! Right now it is so, so, so bitterly cold here that we can't even really ski on shady slopes. The snow is so cold that your wax just doesn't work.

It has made for some interesting plan changes for me this week. Originally I was supposed to be skiing in Roger's Pass. We did two days there, and it was literally some of the coldest outdoor recreation I have ever taken part in. We skinned up to treeline one day, only to be met by 25km/hr winds at -24 degrees Celsius. For you math majors out there, that equals a -40 degree Celsius wind chill (and -40 is where Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same!). This arctic front also brought with it heinously strong winds, jacking all the snow at treeline and in the alpine.

We decided to pull the plug and head a bit south to the family's lodge in the Valhallas. A bit of protection from the wind and slightly warmer temps tempted us and Valhalla Mountain Touring has delivered yet again. We have just spent the last 2 days tracking out the cold powder, first a bit in the trees, and then today in the blazing sun. I gotta tell ya, it might be freezing cold out, but that is the bet time ever to ski the pow in full sun, the snow just stays as cold smoke all day long!

So, a video here to keep you psyched, and some photos from today as well...

(Benny and Jas racing for freshies. Photos by Evan Stevens.)

(Richard heading towards sunny powder on Rugged Peak.)

(My Karhu Storms getting psyched for 2 grand of cold smoke.)

(Richard steals some of Benny's powder.)

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Monday, December 15, 2008

First Tour in the PNW

Rain was still falling in the pre-dawn darkness on Saturday morning, but the chill in the air confirmed what we’d seen on the mountain telemetry data. The arctic system that blew in on Friday packed a punch, leaving 18” of snow down to mid-elevations and bringing a much-needed start to winter in the Pacific Northwest.

Crystal opened the lifts to the south, but we gathered the troops and swung north to follow the heaviest part of the storm. With little existing base, we headed to the closed Stevens Pass ski area, with the hopes of a tune-up tour and some powder without too much damage.

(Karhu Brand Director Charlie Lozner checks out the liftline on the backside. Photos by Graham Gephart.)

We certainly weren’t the only ones with the idea, but there was enough snow to go around. Winter suddenly felt very real again, and I realized how much I’d missed the patter of snowflakes falling on my steaming head and shoulders while skinning. From the top, we skied a couple laps, the muscles coming back into the groove more and more each time.

(Bruce Jahnke from the test lab crosses a water hazard.)

(Development engineer Chris Barchet goes exstream skiing.)

The lack of base meant enough hazards – rocks, down logs, open water – to break up any real long flow of turns. But there was enough to link a few together, and we even found one little pillowy section that teased at the goods to come.

(Elizabeth Lozner makes short work of the pillows.)

By the time we climbed up for our third lap, the snow picked up again with urgency. In no time flat, we were all climbing with shoulders covered in a solid inch, and a light puff emerged from under step as the skis slid forward on the skintrack. All in all, a great warm up to start the season, and looking forward to more to come.

(Chris leads back up for more turns.)

(Acculumation on the skintrack up, can't wait for more.)

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

K2 Tall Mountain – Mixed Emotions

This morning we have a pretty special post from Dave Watson, who spent his summer climbing and skiing abroad in the high mountains of Pakistan. Dave’s K2 Tall Mountain Expedition was covered on the blog throughout the summer, with weekly and sometimes daily reports on the conditions, their adventures on Broad Peak and K2, and general life on a mountaineering expedition. They faced challenging weather, conditions and watched emergencies unravel firsthand. While Dave’s group was preparing to move from Broad Peak to make an attempt on K2, tragedy struck several climbing parties high up on the K2. The K2 Tall Mountain team assisted where they could, and stayed on an empty mountain afterward, hoping for improving conditions that never arose before making the decision to hike out. Dave sent over this entry a couple weeks back, after his return to the States had allowed some reflection on the ever-changing balance of risk and reward as we pursue adventure.

As I start to gather my ski gear and take inventory of what I need for the upcoming winter in the Himalaya, I think back to last winter in Kashmir and the past summer in Pakistan. I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent 6 months of the last year in the Pir Panjal and Karakoram ranges of the Himalaya. And now, 5 weeks away from another 3 month adventure in Kashmir, I can't help but think of how these trips are affecting my life, especially my marriage.

Shane McConkey and Jeremy Jones joke about the Gone Husband Award. They keep track of how many days they are away from their families and my days away equal more than both of theirs combined. Not proud of it, in fact I think it's really lame, leaving my wife to take care of the house, yard, bills, vehicles, food shopping, loneliness, happiness, horniness. She is incredibly supportive and also incredibly busy, working over 100 hours a week. It is so unfair of me to put this on her, to leave yet again. I feel like such a douche. But the mountains, especially the Himalaya, keep calling me back. Is this addiction? The desire to do things in excess, especially when they are potentially harmful to you. The feelings I get in the high mountains are as nourishing as the love of family and friends, feelings so strong they can not be put into words.

(Broad Peak basecamp, K2 in the background. Photo by Dave Watson.)

It used to be that when I got back from a trip I would feel recharged and ready to jump back into the rat race once again. The feelings of renewed motivation and change of perspective have waned over the years and now it is hard to find the motivation to compete even the simple tasks of the western lifestyle. Scrubbing the tub seems so lame as I daydream about skiing breakable crust at 25,000 ft in no-fall terrain or trying to clip into Dynafit bindings while hanging off of an ice screw on a 70 degree slope.

(Dave Watson takes XCD Guides over 20,000 feet on Broad Peak. Photo by Chuck Boyd.)

These expeditions let me experience and explore nature and the human psyche in ways only found in survival situations. As I am not-so-slowly finding out, these incredibly intense situations are becoming the most satisfying moments in my life. I am not a gambler in the traditional sense, and I do have fear, but to be breaking trail at 28,500 ft with the world below gives exhilaration beyond words.

These moments can also have incredible consequences. This past summer on K2, 11 men never went home, and their wives, children, parents and friends must some how come to terms with how a person that they loved had put their own "selfish" desires above the responsibilities and obligations of being an active participant in a life that they themselves had built. Death is a very real possibility when recreating in alpine terrain, it isn't fair that something that gives me so much joy and a feeling of purpose (which is ridiculous) could cause the people I love the most to lay awake at night in fear and worry that I may not come home. If those fears are realized, lives are changed forever.

(Sunrise on K2. Photo by Dave Watson.)

It isn't only those who are left at home who are affected by the loss, witnessing your partners death will have the same outcome. I met an awesome couple this summer, same age as me and my wife, married the day after we were, many common friends and interests. They were climbing K2 together, and he'll never be seen again. I could hardly look her in the eyes, overwhelmed with incredible sadness. I couldn't help but see Audrey's face with same expression of shock and pain, eyes red and rocked to the core. Since then, I've had many nights alone in a tent, thinking about why and how I should change my life, but when I step out of the tent in the morning and look at the South face of K2 in the cold crisp air, I want to ski it even more.

It is almost like a mid-life crisis for my ski mountaineering career. I can see the end closing in on me, babies. Once we have children I've vowed to not attempt extreme lines on 8000 meter peaks. And with children on the horizon I feel this is my only feasible chance to send something this big. I hope the challenges of fatherhood can provide an alternative outlet for my focus and energy, and I'm sure it will. But for now I see the next couple years as my last chance to ski K2. I'll never be younger, stronger and faster than I am now. I just need the opportunity to try it.

(Dave Watson and his Spire BCs in front of K2. Photo by Andy Selters.)

Last summer I went to try it, but because of the weather, I never got a shot at it. In the three months spent on the Godwin-Austen below K2 and Broad Peak there were only about 10 days of good weather. Much of that was spent acclimatizing to the extreme altitudes only found in the Himalaya, the other days were spent making an attempt on the summit of Broad Peak.

(Sunrise in the Karakoram Mountains, Broad Peak summit day. Camp 3 (7000m) is visible in the distance. Photo by Dave Watson.)

I didn't summit Broad due to fatigue. That fatigue made me concerned for my safety. Trying to ski the summit ridge in a tired state would be a mistake, so I decided it wasn't the right time and I turned around for the first time in a really long time. I had 1 more month in the area, more than enough time to make and attempt again on Broad Peak and on K2. The weather never allowed another day of skiing.

So as I gather my gear and tune some skis in anticipation of another awesome winter of powder skiing in the Himalaya, I have mixed emotions. My last run started at over 25,000 ft on the 12th tallest mountain in the world, and was AWESOME! Huffing and puffing while negotiating breakable crust and 2-foot-high sastrugi on 50-60 degrees then onto wet cement "powder" at 30-40 degrees then to frozen corn at 50-70 degrees then to shave-able corn at 50 degrees and then to rock strewn slop and cramponing down another 3000 ft to the bottom. So epic! So enjoyable! A true BIG mountain line.

I also think about Audrey, as I gather my Avie gear. Where I'll ski this winter has incredibly huge and destructive slides that go every storm cycle. The risk is manageable and acceptable. But the thoughts of her working 16 hour days then having to shovel snow, do the food shopping and all else that I can barely muster the motivation to tackle, it doesn't seem fair. I go from the high of reminiscing of high-mountain skiing to the lows and feelings of lameness for putting such a burden on my awesome partner.

I don't know if I'll ever get comfortable with these feelings or situations, I'm sure things will change, they always do. Will I find some other, safer and more responsible way to fulfill the need to be satisfied with my youth? We'll see, but for now I just want to ride powder.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Finally, Winter in BC

From the office in Seattle, we were greeted by a glimpse of new snow blanketing up high this morning. It looks like the snow line is still too high to make good use of yet, but perhaps the season is getting closer to its start. After a few weeks in Coastal BC, Karhu ambassador Evan Stevens apparently got too antsy and headed inland for snow at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Here’s an entry from him:

Living on the coast of British Columbia has its pluses and its minuses. The rainy fall, when the snow line hasn't lowered down, can be quite tough. I have spent the last two weeks desperately trying to find some winter outdoor recreation: 3 skiing attempts, and 1 ice climbing attempt. Actually, the 2 days of clear and dry weather were some of the best days of bouldering I have had in Squamish!

(First turns at Valhalla Mountain Touring for 2008-2009. Video courtesy of Evan Stevens.)

But quietly in the interior of British Columbia, winter has started, and about a meter to a meter and a half (3 to 5 feet for the yanks) has slowly started to pile up, and just this last storm cycle a good half a meter has just been added. I did all that I could in the face of more rainy weather on the coast and packed up my truck to drive to the interior.

As my friend pointed out today, I luckily married into a backcountry ski lodge in this zone, and guide their full time in the winter. So I took advantage of that with my wife, father-in-law and dog to go test out the ski legs in our own private backcountry ski paradise at Valhalla Mountain Touring. I shot some video of the day, so I will let that speak for itself. Winter is in full swing here, and the powder is dry and fluffy. Besides we have to start training our new puppy for his winter of ski touring - as you can hear from his yelping in the video, he was having fun.

Come join the fun! We still have a few spaces left on trips this winter...

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Avalanche Risk Study

Interesting news story on Ski Press this morning on a recent study completed by Albi Sole at the University of Calgary Outdoor Center. From the story:

…Albi Sole, program co-ordinator for Public Avalanche Awareness Programs at the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre, has just completed his masters degree research profiling who’s at the highest risk of being involved in an avalanche incident. According to Sole, the most likely subject is a male backcountry skier, 25-29 years old, with a bachelor’s degree or higher and earning about $10,000 over the provincial Alberta average. Being accompanied by a woman tends to reduce the risk, while having taken avalanche training does not.

“The risk was at least as high among those who had training as those who didn’t,” says Sole. “The message here isn’t that avalanche training is the problem. It’s just that training opens the door to a recreational activity that is very valuable to this group. For these people the risk they take is more than compensated by the rewards they get. It would obviously be far more dangerous to do these sports without proper training.”

Read the full story at Ski Press here.


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