Apr 21 2014

Oh how the stream of consciousness flows through the night…


The latest incarnation of the happy boy

April 21 2:00 am – it is now day 26 post accident but only day 6th post surgery. I just awoke from a rousing one hour nap ( the plan had been to so exhaust myself that I couldn’t possibly not sleep at least several hours but that appears to have failed). I immediately felt what I fondly refer to as the glacier that currently resides on my kneecap and thus once again bitterly blamed the 24 hour ice machine that I wear almost all the time, but when I reach inside the cuff I realize it’s not cold at all (it cycles on and off) and the freezing is just my mind’s interpretation of the pain. That there’s any pain at all is quite amazing to me seeing how they’re passing massive amounts of narcotics through my system and that I still have two working pain blockers physically attached to me. All in all I do have a rather pleasant buzz going on at the moment other than the glacier which is more of a distant concern than anything right in my face, but more than enough to squelch any thoughts of sleep at this time. I am now on a self medicating routine (in the hospital they wake you up and give you the drugs whether you want them or not)) and everyone warns you not to let the pain get ahead. This is a hard concept to grasp in the middle of the day when my head is pounding with blood and the drugs are making me nauseous and my knee doesn’t feel particularly bad ( just rather uncomfortable) so my first though is the cure is worse than the disease and maybe I just got particularly lucky in regards to the pain, but at 2:00 in the morning the wisdom of this approach becomes very clear – as if I were not experiencing this discomfort through the veil of the various short term and long term painkillers I would be a very unhappy boy indeed and would be currently screaming for my brother Paul (who is in the other bedroom) to come in here and very quickly end my misery.

My brother graciously agreed to come out and help me with this tricky transition from the hospital back to civilian life and clearly had no idea of what he was getting himself into. If you’ve ever had major surgery to any bendable joint or other painful body part you know exactly what I’m talking about and have probably already given up reading this. This is the second time I’ve damaged my knee and in both case the actually damaging was not, all things considered, particularly painful. The surgery on the other hand is brutally invasive and the post op the part that really smarts. In this case, having gone significantly above and beyond the normal call of damage one typically does in a ski accident (still hate using that term because it wasn’t technically a ski accident since I was not actually skiing nor had my board on at the time, but how else do you quickly explain to people why you were sitting 1000 feet on top of a glacier in Alaska if skiing we’re not a part of the equation) the post op is bound to be particularly nasty.

And just a side note inside a side note inside a side note is that I know I must be telling this story in Colorado because at least half of my listeners ask me how the skiing was before the accident – which if truth be told I would probably get around to eventually  if someone were telling this story to me.

Anyway, I think I was doing my usually ranting about how significant my injury is/was (in terms of knee injuries that is) because this is my one point of honor among the walking wounded and dozens of medical personnel I meet daily. While I much rather have simply blown out one or two or even three (quite typical actually – I believe it’s known as the terrible triad) of my knee ligaments, since I have somehow managed to blow out all four I want my extra credit on the patient rehab sympathy score, so that when someone asks me about the what/when in the PT (Physical Therapy for those who have somehow blessedly skipped this experience) clinic – and this one in Vail is the PT clinic of PT clinics (any professional athlete who has had a serious sports injury and wanted to return to his former job stands a good chance of having been here – I could fish for a few names of current clients but the HEPA act prohibits this kind of conversation so instead I just look at the signed professional sports jerseys on the wall  and try and feel a kind of kindred spirit with them)  – there’s the sick competitive side of me that wants, when I talk to some newly met partner in pain to play my trump card and have them feel sorry for me in comparison to their one measly ligament procedure being a mere walk in the park  (now we all know that that’s a slippery slope that I emailed quite a few of you about right before I went into surgery when I saw a feature on the Today show about a paralyzed Boston Marathon runner which immediately shut down my woe is me act – this is just a knee we’re talking about here)

And of course my big trump card, my can you top this, is the picture of the route we fell down the mountain. This is what I show people, the medical personnel when they ask me how I got here. They are always very impressed and of course the next line is invariably “You’re lucky to be alive”. Now while I will joke about many other things in this post/email – what that means to me, how I got there, and what if anything I will do with that concept is a more serious subject for another time that I will thankfully spare you all from (until at least I have condensed it down from the two hour version I inflicted upon the innocent bystanders Kevin and Beth along with my brother  earlier this evening who certainly got more that they bargained for by asking me how it was going).

So what I want from the clinic if I’m lucky enough to achieve it – since I’m not noteworthy enough for a signed glory shot of me ripping down some vertical face post surgery (more realistically if anything it would be one more shot of me moseying down some leisurely meadow at Wolf Creek – with David Cole right behind me – don’t worry, that’s an inside joke that hopefully will never get old)  is for the clinic to blow up poster of that shot so that in the future somebody else can ask themselves (as several have asked me) I wonder what line those guys were intending to ski anyway?

Not sure how I got here but I believe I was intending to describe the rather challenging week my brother Paul has gotten to share with me. Now while I know in one way this is something he will treasure and use to his advantage in oh so many future life transactions and birthday cards but I also know the reality of it has not been all that much fun for him and he has certainly stepped up to the plate. I have definitely at times leaned towards making him my manservant because hell, if I’m going to have to pay for this in the future I might as well make the most of it now and he’s never ever (please, please let this be true) going to feel sorrier for me than he does right now. I’ve probably never been more cavalier about my use of niceties like please and thank you so let’s get this out of the way right now; PLEASE and THANK YOU for everything you’ve done for me this week  and my apologies for a couple of those comments about a certain lack of proper focus that in my drug addled mind seemed to crop up during the week.

My brother is a serious smoozer – he loves meeting new people in all sorts of situations and this particular scenario provided all sorts of opportunities. He is also like all the Gilbert boys  a humorist (at least that’s how we like to frame it) and is always looking for opportunities to make people laugh. I assure you this had nothing to do with my drug addled complaints about a certain lack of proper focus at times (and oh yes, we Gilbert boys like to chew on bones a good long while before we bury them). And he has had clearly the best line about my accident in pointing out that I need to rename my blog ligamentfreesnowboarder.com – that’s pretty damn funny if you ask me.

Cause if I can’t laugh at the predicament that I’m now in, I am (excuse my language) seriously fucked. Because according to my calculations I have yet to even graze the hard parts. Maybe I will get lucky or maybe I’m one of the toughest 5’8″ Jewish kids from New Jersey that ever roamed the planet, but for the most part the pain has been conspicuously absent which I think has a lot to do with the pain blocks that are currently attached to me and follow me everywhere because they’re taped on to me with enough tape to prevent what would naturally immediately happen if they weren’t – you would rip them off the the first time you stood up. So while I curse their invasive presence on my body another part of me says be very careful what you wish for because there is some serious pain lurking out there and as far as I can tell it has not raised its head yet (other than the first two nights in the hospital when I begged the nurse to give me Valium and Ambien on top of everything else in my foolish pursuit of sleep or at least temporary relief).

This is not so say I am not miserable and don’t use every occasion to point this out to others. Right now I’m sweating profusely in bed (my kingdom for a shower which can not happen till I lose my blocks), nauseous, bloated with pee and the usual constipation that comes with narcotic use (why people use OxyContin for fun I have no idea although I have heard that if you crush it up and snort it it’s a much better high) and later I will pay dearly for these blissful hours of feverish writing with unbelievable fatigue enhanced by the two PT sessions I have scheduled for later today. But so far, just straight, ” I think I’m going to die and if not wish I would shortly” type of pain – not so much, so keep your fingers crossed because that blog post I think might lack the levity of this one.

I don’t expect anyone to read through all this narcotic drivel (as a matter of fact if you got this far I’m rather impressed) I just knew I wasn’t going to sleep and wanted to do something creative (at least for me) instead of just listening to my oxygen tank drone on like an old B52  bomber. It’s probably time for me to try and either get some more sleep or head to the living room and start the process all over again. As always I want to thank everyone ( and particularly you Paul)  for your help and support and remark again how that has easily been the best part of this experience. I will post this and future writings on glutenfreesnowboarder (at least until I win the big auction for ligamentfreesnowboarder – and oh bless you iPad for auto filling that). So if you’re curious keep checking this blog otherwise you won’t have to worry about getting any more of these novellas in your inbox. I love you all and Happy Easter and Passover everyone!!!

Apr 6 2014

Not every powder tale has a happy ending

photo (10)

Back in the mountains again

I haven’t written much, in fact nothing at all, about this season’s snowboarding. Part of this is due to a certain amount of repetition, I mean how many powder shots from Wolf Creek can one person post. On the other hand, on this year’s trip to BC, while we didn’t have any fresh powder tracks to capture there were so many spectacular scenery shots that I didn’t know where to start. The rest of the season found me mostly skiing alone and more concerned with getting first turns than capturing any of it for posterity. Last week, found me traveling to Alaska for our annual trip and with the cameras rolling I certainly got much more than I bargained for.

At the busy Valdez airport

At the busy Valdez airport

This year we decide to head to Valdez Alaska home of the legendary Chugach Range. My three previous trips had been to Haines, Alaska where we had had variable conditions but always a great time. Our group had been culled from people I had met on previous adventures and was the same one I had skied with earlier in the season in BC. David, an incredibly strong snowboarder and all around recreational athlete who I had met on my first heli trip 12 years ago, Kevin, who I met while skiing out of bounds at Keystone and subsequently discovered that we lived less than a half mile away from each other and had kids the same age, and Aaron who I met in Haines two years prior and whose love for the Chugach Range might be the greatest snow passion I have ever seen. All are experienced and strong skiers/boarders whose love of powder and adventure made for strong bonds and quick yeses when an opportunity to go heliskiing presented itself.

My partners in crime

My partners in crime

The first two days of the trip had been nothing to write home about. We thought our timing would be perfect – Valdez had received several feet of snow the preceding weeks and was now under the influence of a massive high pressure system (in other words, nothing but blue skies). However, there had been a big wind event at the end of the storm which had compressed the powder to varying degrees depending upon location. On day one we found some nice if not particularly deep snow but since we were the third group in the lineup we ended up skiing a lot of leftovers and working around the preferred fall lines. On day two we hit almost nothing but severely wind packed snow so got off the mountain as soon as we could to save our heli time.

More tracks than usual but still loads of fun

More tracks than usual but still loads of fun

This is not to say that we weren’t having a damn good time anyway. The operation we were skiing with Black Ops Valdez had it’s own lodge so instead of our usual Alaska routine of staying in dilapidated houses or funky trailers eating lots of PB&J sandwiches we were in a beautiful lodge overlooking Robe Lake and eating delicious multi course meals. The Black Ops crew is a relatively small but experienced group that offers a wide variety of snow activities and was gearing up for Tailgate Alaska, an annual huge celebration that happens at Thompson Pass every year.

The lovely Robe Lake Lodge

The lovely Robe Lake Lodge

The guide assigned to our heli group was particularly noteworthy – Adrian Ballinger – a world class mountain climber who has summited Everest 6 times and works in Valdez in his offseason. Dinner time involved many a fascinating story about adventures of all those around the table – this is traditionally one of the best aspects of one of these trips – swapping tales with kindred spirits around the table while enjoying local food and drink. So regardless of the snow conditions we were very much enjoying ourselves and our new surroundings.

Landing some intentional air

Landing some intentional air

On day three things started to come together as they only can in Alaska. There were only two groups in the field and we immediately found nice snow on steep pitches which is what Alaska is all about. We took turns barreling down untouched slopes and trading off the camera so we could all have pictures to remember it by. After about 6 runs the other group decided to call it a day so we added their guide to our group and headed off for some more runs.

Moments before it all went bad

Moments before it all went bad

We then landed on what appeared to be a typical ridgetop and watched the heli fly off. I was sitting by my gear contemplating my next step when everything changed in a second. I don’t remember hearing any sound but all of a sudden I felt myself falling through space surrounded by snow. The cornice on which we had been sitting had split in half and I was unfortunately on the half that was now careening down the mountain. My first thought was calmly, “this is how you die in Alaska – I am about to be buried in an avalanche.” I was now cartwheeling down the mountain, periodically bouncing off the snow all the while seeing nothing but snow – kind of like being in a washing machine. My mind then shifted into the instructions I had heard in so many avy briefings – swim as hard as you can to stay on top of the surface and try to create an air pocket in front of your mouth if you’re buried. I was just getting my hand in front of my mouth and was reaching upward with my other arm when suddenly we came to a stop.

View from above

At the end of our ride as seen from above

Remarkably we were all on top of the snow. Because the snow was not that deep the minor avalanches that the cornice triggered were relatively shallow. And because we had not been sitting on top of a couloir or any other kind of terrain trap, the debris had a chance to disperse laterally instead of piling on top of us. We had however, tumbled around 1000 feet powered by a chunk of cornice that they later estimated to being 8 feet deep by 20 feet wide.

The cornice that broke

The cornice that broke

When everything stopped moving I found myself laying face down on top of the snow. I still could not move which lead me to hope that my body was merely buried. However as soon as I tried to dig myself out I realized that there was something seriously wrong with my left leg and that not being able to move was a function of the bottom of my leg now being barely attached to the top. As subsequent doctor visits would confirm I had torn all four ligaments in my knee along with numerous other tendons and meniscus and dislocated my kneecap.

 At first this was not all that painful and what I heard next was the sound of our guide Adrian moaning. As he told me later, he is not much a moaner but had sustained a concussion and wasn’t entirely sure of what had happened and asked both Aaron who had fallen with us and the heli pilot to keep an eye on him. I had assumed we had all fallen but quickly discovered it was just the three of us and while Aaron and Adrian both had rib injuries, I was the only one who could not move under my own power. Adrian worked his way over to me and immediately saw from the position of my leg that at best I had a broken leg as my foot was facing in the wrong direction. Aaron soon followed and kept telling me to hang in there while the pain kicked in and I began to realize just how messed up my leg was.

Aaron talking me through it

Aaron talking me through it

Of course, my usual glass half full attitude immediately kicked into gear and rather than celebrate the fact that I was still alive and apparently not paralyzed, I was furious at the gods for tearing up my knee and sending me once again down that long road to recovery. From there it was one long, painful slog to the helicopter, to the base, to the bus, to the hospital where they got my pants off and I could see the misshapen balloon where my knee used to be. At that point my kneecap was still way off to the side so after a quick shot of morphine they moved it back to where it more rightly belonged and now had plenty of time to calmly consider what had just happened.

I guess I had always thought it was an all or nothing proposition. Either I’d be the statistically unlucky person who got caught in an avalanche and died in which case it would not be a problem for me – just my friends and family (admittedly a very selfish proposition) or I would be in the vast majority who heliski in Alaska and come home with great tales of big mountains and deep powder. I had done three heli trips to Alaska before and while had seen numerous slides and heard about plenty of accidents I was in the usual denial of a recreational heli skier – that the heli ops are always going to err on the side of caution as killing your customers is very bad for business. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the fact that my guide from the first season I was in Alaska had subsequently died in an avalanche the next season but we had heard rumors that it was a guest’s fault for pushing limits so that wouldn’t happen to our well behaved group. Or perhaps I was thinking the odds were in our favor when we heard about the numerous accidents that had happened recently included a guide death in Haines – surely this would make everyone more cautious and the snow had had a lot more time to settle.

The slide path

The slide path

And yet our accident had nothing to do with avalanche conditions or pushing our luck on the steeps. After all a very heavy helicopter had just landed on the ridge which collapsed and you can see from the photos that we were not close to the edge. As a group we had been in many, many potentially more hazardous landings spots – this one did not set off any internal alarms for any of us and at the time we had a guide with us who had 20 plus years guiding in the area and was a local legend as well as our own guide who was used to taking people to the summit of the highest mountains in the world – this was no hot shot – johnny come lately crew.

The thing is that random unexpected stuff does happen in the mountains and if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time the consequences are likely to be very high. All of us that were involved in the accident were sure things were going to turn out much worse while it was happening. When I look at the pictures and show them to other folks almost everyone’s immediate response it that I’m lucky to be alive. And yes, it is very hard for me to reconcile the word “lucky” with the conversation I had with the first doc who saw my knee and said that the damage was “catastrophic”, as “bad as it could be” and that “my knee would haunt me for the rest of my life” – no sugar coating for him. I’m also a tad bitter that the fall was no fault of mine other than making the decision to go snowboard Alaska. But this is how it works in the big mountains – you don’t have to personally screw up in order to end up in serious trouble – I decided to spin the wheel of fate by being there in the first place.

The Heli to the rescue

The Heli to the rescue

The good news regarding my knee is that I did not sustain any arterial damage and that I live only two hours away from the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado where one of the best knee doctors in the world resides. This is where I will be spending the next to last week of the ski season (while celebrating my 55th birthday) instead of on the nearby slopes I know so well. While I am certainly nervous about the operation, at least I’m confident that if anyone can fix me up, these guys can do it.

In a quieter moment

In a quieter moment

So what have I learned from this experience? That when I was falling there was no panic just a resignation that this was it? That a matter of inches can make all the difference in the world (David who was sitting right next to me on the snow ended up with one leg hanging over the new lip but did not fall)? That “lucky” is a very relative term? It’s certainly reinforced a belief that I’ve long had – that you never know what’s going to happen and your life can change in a second and there’s no going back once it does. But oddly enough it has been that thought which has driven me to go explore big hills and chase my dreams whenever I had the opportunity – it’s just that when I was considering the “you never knows” they were usually in the context of random disease or car accidents, not an avalanche or cornice failure.

So while it may be too early to say whether it was all worth it (though I don’t see how it couldn’t be given the amazing times I’ve had in the mountains) – it is most certainly too late to do anything about it other than buck up and make the best of it. And one thing that I’ve learned for sure is that a lot of people care about me which is one thing to know in the abstract and quite another to experience first hand. All my friends and family have been incredibly helpful and Benita (the daughter of a nurse) has been a godsend without whom I would have not gotten through the first week. I am not one who finds it easy to ask others for help – I’ve always prided myself on self sufficiency but this is not something I can get through alone nor would I want to even if I could. So thank you all for your support now and in the future and hopefully this will not be the last post from the gluten free snowboarder…

























May 3 2013

Mayday! Mayday!

A snow beard in May?

A powder beard in May?

My trip to Alaska let me know my knee was ok and got me pumped for the rest of the season. The only problem was that it had not been snowing much in Colorado and last year there was no snow after mid March so there were lots of fears that 2013 would be a repeat. However, if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that nobody knows what mother nature will do. This year in Colorado, she decided to play a mean trick and wait till most resorts closed before turning on the snow spigot. The biggest snow cycle of the year started the day after Vail shut down for the season and continued till they reopened a week later – the first time they’ve done that in 26 years. I was lucky enough to catch the reopening which was quite spectacular and like all good days at Vail, very well attended as you can see from the photo below.

3 feet of untracked tends to draw a crowd

For those who can’t bear for the season to end both Loveland and A-Basin stay open till at least May and tend to do well in spring storms. This year has proven to be a stellar example as Loveland has received over 100 inches since April 1st – no fooling! I was fortunate to catch three days during that stretch – all of which were at least a foot with the last on May 2 being a 17″ in 24/24″ in 48 extravaganza. I was too busy snarfing powder to take many pictures but did record the clip below for authentication purposes.

So sadly it seems like another season has come to an end (at least the powder chasing part). This one had it’s ups (BC, Alaska, powder days in May) and downs (MCL tear, another below average snow year for Colorado) but all in all just thankful that I get to play in the first place. And hell, October is just 6 short months away…

Apr 3 2013

The rain in Haines falls mainly on the plains (in the mountains, it’s all snow)


It’s been a slow year for me riding wise. Between another below normal Colorado snowpack and a partially torn MCL ligament, I’ve been on the sidelines for a good chunk of the winter. And between being out of shape and overloaded at work I even considered skipping Alaska this year but fortunately for me the plane tickets were not refundable so staying at home was not an option.


Mike doing some preliminary research…


David working the hill…


Me, stiff arming the snowpack…

After a long painful odyssey involving extended quality time in the Seattle airport, we finally made it to the promised land. There the dominant color had been grey for several days so there was a lot of pent up demand among the troops when the skies finally cleared. The first day was spent exploring the close in terrain and sussing out the snowpack but there was still plenty of fun to be had.


The hangover I can never get enough of…

On morning two we headed straight for an old favorite, “Hangover Helper” (pictured above). We were supposed to save it for the Nike film crew but we decided to help them out by checking for stability – turns out there was nothing to worry about.


Clears my head right up every time…

Hangover is a classic AK run – a 4500’+ vertical run with that starts with a huge steep face, narrows through a gully and then has a playful and totally delicious spine at the bottom – and since we were the first ones through, we got to enjoy it in all its pristine glory.


Doing a little recon on the “Dragon’s Spine”

I could have left then and felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth but that was only the beginning. We were now in that sweet spot, where blue skies, deep snow and stable conditions combine to make the mountains your playground.

We left a little something for the film crew…

The snowpack was a little thin this year so not a lot of technical spine skiing but the big open faces were more than open for business.


Kevin about to have some real fun…


Cause, look where he’s headed…

By Day Three, we were in the groove and knew we had to move fast because of incoming weather. We went back to Hangover for another helping and then moved on to “Deflower” which was still quite the virgin.


Getting it while the getting’s good…


No shortage of lines here…

With the clouds closing fast we headed for a hill we had often admired but never skied – Flower Mountain.


Ain’t she a beaut…

Two untracked runs from the top allowed us to finish on a high note. We didn’t want it to end but felt blessed to get what we got.


And it’s not just the mountains that are big…

As much fun as the mountains are, the people who get you there are just as special. As always the folks at Alaska Heliskiing were unbelievably helpful and welcoming (thank you Sunny, Gabe, Vicki and company). The picture above is from a King Crab Bake held at the owner Sean Dog’s house on Saturday night. And yes, that’s the legendary “Stifler” holding his latest conquest.


My kind of gang…

I also need to acknowledge my partners in powder without whom the down days would have been much duller (they also took most of the photos in this post). The old saying “no friends on a powder day” doesn’t hold true when a helicopter and thousands of acres are involved. As a matter of fact, friends who you see primarily in a helicopter, tend to have very positive memories associated with them.


No place I’d rather be…

So once again, I need to thank my lucky stars (as well as my family and coworkers) for letting me have the opportunity to experience such grandeur. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to get to Haines, but one spectacular landing on the top of a mountain makes it all worth while. Because only in AK can you have a once in a lifetime experience several times a day…






Jan 14 2013

When in Doubt, Head North!

My second favorite mode of transportation

It’s been another rough year in Colorado for powder hounds. Yes, Wolf Creek has been getting it as usual and Steamboat has had it’s moments, but for Front Range skiers and riders the pickings have been slim. Fortunately, there’s a cure for that – what I like to call the BC solution – packing your bags and heading to our neighbors to the north where the snow is deep and the living easy.

All by my lonesome…

For this year’s BC adventure we choose Valhalla Powdercats, the sister company to Snowwater Heli-Skiing who we visited with a few year’s back. While the snowcat is a more earthbound creature than the helicopter, it still has the ability to transport you to magical places full of bountiful powder and untracked lines.

Dave dropping in

But while lots of places have deep untracked snow, what Vahalla also offers is super fun dynamic terrain with guides who love nothing more than showing it off. Cliffs, chutes, glades, meadows – you name it, they got it. And with only 12 guests and no snow farming it’s your own personal playground – pick a line, any line.

Aaron airing it out

Mira demonstrating that “anything you can do, I can do better”

While down in the states I generally try to stay close to the ground, up in BC, the sky’s the limit. Perfect hero snow tends to encourage launching and Valhalla had both the terrain and the soft landings to spur us all on.

Of course, just regular old ripping is fun too…

It also helps to have a great group of riders to enjoy all that snow with. And for once, the boarders outnumbered the skiers. But if nothing else, we certainly proved that we can all get along just fine.

Gary says “full speed ahead”

and “may I have some more, please”

The one variable on every ski trip is of course the weather. On this trip, the gods decided to bless us with snow every night, as a matter of fact, we didn’t see the sun till the last day. And frankly, none of us missed it.

Snow, snow and more snow…

Of course, blue sky does make for good photos…

All in all it was an immensely satisfying trip that will keep my powder fever at bay for at least a week or so. Can’t thank the folks at Valhalla enough for all their fine work and the happy crew below who certainly know how to have a good time.

Now that’s a lineup…

So once again, I thank my lucky stars for having the good fortune to experience all that the mixture of deep powder, wicked terrain and good friends has to offer. For the beautiful photos in this blog post I’d like to thank Melissa Welsh Photography who did a great job of covering the action and can be your personal photographer if you ever make it up that way. And as you can tell from the photo below, for me, there’s no business like snow business…

Life is good…

Apr 16 2012

Spring Skiing in Haines Alaska

The sleepy little town of Haines, Alaska

Not that I need any encouragement to go heliskiing, but after the horrible season we had in Colorado this year I definitely needed a snow fix by the time April rolled around. And what better place to get some spring skiing in than Haines, Alaska where April is prime time as the temps get milder and the days longer.

The featured item on Day One's menu

The season in Haines doesn’t start till mid February and I had been following the reports since. While Alaska had record snows early, by the time we arrived it hadn’t snowed in two weeks so we weren’t sure what to expect. We soon found there was nothing to worry about as is usually the case when you have tens of thousands of acres in your permit area.

The run above, as seen from below

We spent most of the first day on a run called Canadian Buns, so named because it butts up against the Canadian border. It’s actually part of an area known as Buns of Steel because that’s what you need to negotiate the 4000 vertical feet from the top. On this day we called it pure heaven as it was covered with lovely soft powder and totally untracked (at least when we started – almost all the tracks above were made by our group).

Check out the plush carpeting

As you can see from the pic above, the snow was very user friendly so even though the helicopter could have taken us anywhere we wanted to go, we stayed put and would still be there if we hadn’t run out of daylight.

David enjoying a taste of the fresh

Every day it got a little warmer but it didn’t matter as while the runs happily transitioned from sweet powder to perfect ripping corn they all retained the same basic characteristics – steep sustained pitches with lots of untracked lines, and really, what else do you need?

Yes, they really do ski stuff like this in Alaska - this one's called Tomahawk

Fortunately I had a great crew to enjoy this all with led by David Cole, the man who (thankfully) convinced me that I really needed to check out Alaska last year and who I now wouldn’t consider visiting Haines without. He brought another steep freak fiend named Aaron who brought another friend named Justin and were joined by two Taos vets, Keith and the Flying Frenchman, Eric. See the happy family below.

What's not to smile about?

As usual we stayed at the luxurious Plywood Palace which this year had been stripped of every non essential item and even some essential ones like silverware and lightbulbs – but hey, it’s a step up from a lot of the other lodging like the employee housing below.

Prime Haines real estate - location, location, location

But of course no one visits Haines for the indoor accommodations – it’s the stuff outside that makes any of the comfort sacrifices seem trivial. People come from all over the world and sit for weeks just to get a couple of days and once you’ve been there when it’s good, it’s not hard to understand why.

Aaron shows how real men do it

As I’ve mentioned before, even if you didn’t ski it would be worth visiting just for the scenery. You hear a lot about global warming these days but up there there are glaciers as far as you can see in every direction. All I can say is we better not be ruining it for future generations…

Typical heli landing pad view

Hitching a ride back up the mountain

And of course I need to give a big shout out to the folks at Alaska Heliskiing. As always they took care of everything we needed as I personally went through several rolls of duct tape in a somewhat futile effort to keep all my gear functioning. No one is there for the money or the fame, just the opportunity to do some of the best skiing in the world and help others enjoy it at the same time.

Once more into the fray...

So once again I come back from a helitrip and feel like one of the luckiest men in the world. We skied 6 days in a row which is highly unusual up there as all it takes are some clouds and flat light to ground you. We had blue skies, mild temps and no wind – the perfect recipe for spring skiing. And as always I’ve never felt more alive than when I was on the top of one of those mountains testing my skills and becoming one with the hill. That may sound a little new agey but if you’ve ever been there I’m sure you know what I mean. If there is a god, I’m sure he’s spent some time in Haines, Alaska…

Feb 25 2012

Working the Winter


Nothing like a winter wonderland

It’s been a tricky winter for Colorado Front Range powder hounds. Unlike last year, when there was record breaking snow totals close by, this year has required some real effort to find the fresh. Fortunately for me I’ve had the flexibility to chase some storms and good luck when the snow did fall locally.


Morning alpenglow on the way to Silverton

One part of Colorado that has not lacked for snow has been the Southwest. Silverton Mountain seems to do well no matter where the storms are coming from but does particularly well in southwest flow which has been our main weather pattern this year. Having not been there for several years and desperate for some deep I headed there in late January to see what was new in their world.


It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Silverton's latest toy...

As it turns they have added some major additions to their repertoire. The milk truck has been replaced by buses with comfy seats but more notable is the helicopter that now permanently resides there. This allows access to terrain which previously would have been unreachable unless you wanted to hike the entire day.


Nothing like a little morning stroll...

As you can see from the photo below Silverton has some excellent sustained pitch and plenty of snow. My issue has always been the required group guiding – invariably I end up with some folks who don’t belong on the mountain and this trip was no exception. We started our day with a 1000′ vertical hike (photo above – we hiked to just below the billboard at top) which led to the terrain in the photo below. The hike was challenging and the run fun but by 2:00 I had only gotten in one other run and was a tad frustrated. At that point I switched to the helicopter (they were running a two for one special) which got me to some new terrain but nothing to write home about (or more accurately, not necessarily worth driving 7 hours for).


Been there, done that...

I was supposed to spend two days at Silverton but couldn’t bear to spend another full day getting just 5 runs and besides there was a storm coming from the north so I decided to head back. I originally intended to check out Powderhorn but when Vail called 12″ and still snowing I changed tracks and drove like a madman to catch the opening of the back bowls. I don’t have any footage or pics from that day because the snow was so sweet and deep that no one wanted to waste time taking footage so you’ll just have to believe when I tell you it was truly epic.

Eldora Rules Again 2/3/12

And speaking of epic, while I have flown all over North America sampling powder I have never ridden any better snow than the 24″ in 24 hours that Eldora got on February 3rd. The video above doesn’t do it justice but anyone who was there will surely agree that it was as light as it gets. This was my third great day at Eldora this season as those same storms that pound the southern mountains often deliver big upslope snows to the front range.


It's good to be home...

One place that had been notably missing from my usual winter rotation was Berthoud Pass. Besides the fact there has been very little snow, what did fall in the early season has become a very shaky and dangerous base in the backcountry. By this time I would normally have quite a few days on the pass but this year my first was in mid February when the avy report finally lowered the danger rating to a tolerable level. As always, like the picture above indicates, there was fun to be had but the terrain options were severely limited. It still was mighty nice to visit one of my favorite spots and the photo below gives you a good idea of why I keep going back there.

In the white room

But no matter what the year there is always one place that comes through for me and that is Wolf Creek. This year of course every one has heard about the great snow that falls during a southwest storm track and I have never seen so many front rangers on the mountain. Still if you’re willing to hike there are always fresh lines to be had so my friend Kevin and I made a pilgrimage to the shrine to pay our respects.


Bitten by the Wolf once again...

Just to remind myself that these trips don’t always work out as planned I tried to go to Vail this past Thursday when they called 12″ at 5:00 am. The only catch was that I-70 was closed at various spots but managed to make it to the tunnel before being shut down for 90 minutes. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Vail later downgraded their report to 2″ (never seen that before). Instead I ended up at Loveland where the snow was sweet but was so damn windy and cold that there was no chance I’d be taking off my gloves for any pictures. All in all it’s been quite a month, full of long road trips, a small taste of the backcountry and some amazing (but infrequent) local powder and as always, well worth the effort…

Jan 16 2012

The Great White North


I recently had the tremendous good fortune to spend five days heliboarding at Great Canadian Heliskiing located near Rogers Pass in my favorite Canadian province, British Columbia. While I have visited GCH numerous times before, this was my first trip there in three years and an excellent reminder of why I keep coming back.


As any skier/rider who lives in the US knows, it’s been a bad year for snow in the lower 48. As a result, I wasn’t exactly in mid season shape when I started this trip. However there’s nothing like a helicopter to really get your legs cooking. Fortunately the exhaustion I felt by the fourth day was easily overcome by the adrenaline that the terrain and snow quality sent coursing through my veins.


You’ve probably also noticed that there seems to be an awful lot of teletubbies on the hills these days thanks to the ubiquitous GoPro cameras that you see perched on everyone’s helmet. I personally prefer the Contour HD which is the round tube you see attached to my googles in the picture above. I did however have access to an extra GoPro which I convinced those riding with me to strap on their heads backward so I could work on my form. Check out the video below for the results

As you might be able to tell from the video, it was an incredibly good time. I can not count the number of times I thanked the gods, the guides and my own good fortune to have been there. I will post more about the trip in coming days, as I accumulated enough footage and photos for a small miniseries. Fortunately the weather seems to be turning down here in Colorado so my local friend reading these posts won’t hate me…

Dec 22 2011

Eldora to the rescue 12/22/11


Kevin sampling the goods...

It’s been a funny season for me. Although there’s been very little snow in Northern Colorado I’ve somehow managed to get in enough powder days to keep me sane. Mostly this has been accomplished by driving to Wolf Creek regularly but I’ve also lucked out and made the most of the snow that’s fallen locally. Today was no exception as Eldora was the prime spot in the state with 10″ overnight and 15″ by noon making for some awesome skiing and riding for several thousand Boulderites. Fortunately I know some good stashes on the mountain and have a blind spot for ropes so between those two factors a very fine day was had. Please see my video report below for details…

Nov 8 2011

Let’s get it on – Wolf Creek 11/5-6/11

Back in the powder again

While I had a great summer and a beautiful fall, when the snow starts flying in town my mind turns to winter with its’ many delights. Some years the gods can be cruel and make us snow obsessed folks wait till winter officially starts before delivering natures precious white fluffiness. Fortunately this is not one of those years – at least not at my favorite family owned ski hill better known as Wolf Creek.

Colorado's finest forecaster out doing field work

For two year’s now I’ve been trying to convince Joel Gratz, the man behind OpenSnow (formerly known as Colorado Powder Forecast) that he really needed to check out the mountain that consistently gets the most snow in Colorado. But being a full time meteorologist/web site developer/business owner doesn’t leave a lot of time for long road trips so the timing had to be just right to make it happen. Thankfully, weather and work finally aligned properly and I had the pleasure of having my own personal forecaster for a classic Wolf weekend. I’ll let Joel’s video report tell the story of day one.

Wolf Creek powder on November 5, 2011

Day two promised more of the same.  While Saturday definitely featured some early season conditions by Sunday we were in full winter mode. The ski patrol at Wolf is all about customer service so in no time at all they had all the ridgelines open for our hiking pleasure.

Wolf Creek's version of the Ho Chi Minh trail

The best terrain at Wolf can only be reached by hiking which often makes the mountain feel more like lift accessed backcountry than a traditional ski hill. I personally don’t mind having to earn my turns – if nothing else it helps the endorphins kick in earlier.

On the stairway to heaven...

I tried my best to give Joel the full tour but a patrol induced slide knocked Horseshoe Bowl out of contention. So we had to settle for just ripping up the lovely glades that are everywhere on the mountain. We shot a ton of video, but like most helmet cam footage it’s only really worth watching if you experienced it the first time. Suffice to say, it was well worth the effort.

No place I'd rather be...

The picture above says it all for me. I’m headed into a nice steep pitch in dynamic terrain filled with pristine snow – I couldn’t really have asked for anything for more especially considering it was November 6th! But in fact it wasn’ t that surprising as this was far from the first time that I had the pleasure of bountiful early season freshies at the Wolf and hopefully won’t be the last.

And the scenery on the ride home wasn't bad either...

All in all, it was a great start to what hopefully will be another great season. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it certainly felt good to be back on the snow again. No matter what, I feel blessed to have even one day in these incredible mountains and hope you all feel the same. Happy trails, everyone…