Jan 16 2012

The Great White North

20120116-082328.jpg

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.

20120116-083747.jpg

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.

20120116-084831.jpg

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

20111222-202135.jpg

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…


Apr 27 2011

Springtime in the Rockies

Going...

going...

gone...

When I was up in Alaska, everyone kept telling me that I would now be ruined for skiing anywhere else. But for me the exact opposite seems to be true because as with any true addiction, a good dose just makes me want more. Fortunately for me, this April in Colorado has been stellar and provided me with numerous opportunities to get fresh fixes. Yesterday it was Loveland’s turn to deliver the goods – when the morning report said 8″ overnight and snowing hard (16″ by lunchtime) I called everyone on my list but no takers so was forced to shoot the following video of myself just to prove how good it actually was.


Apr 17 2011

Haines – the video

Surfing USA

One thing there was no shortage of on my Haines heli trip was helmet cams. Every one seemed to be sporting one in every shape, size and manufacturer. Because of safety issues, there was no setting up for shots so unless you had a super long telephoto or optical zoom a helmet cam was your best bet. The problem with helmet cams of course, is that without anyone else in the picture they quickly get boring no matter how good the skiing was. So I have a good 30 minutes of endless face shots and untracked terrain which will mean very little to anyone except me in my old age. I did pull still frames out of any good footage I had of others or scenics from my still camera which can be found here. As for the rest of my footage I’ve decided to just post this one little excerpt from a run called T-Top. It wasn’t the steepest or the deepest and it went on for a good 5 minutes longer than this clip, but it’ll give you a good idea of what the riding was like including my favorite new snow terminology – “sluff management”.


Apr 8 2011

Alaska – the last frontier


The view from our cabin - the massive face of "Hangover Helper" (first run day 2) Haines Alaska

For years I’ve been hearing epic tales of  heliskiing in Alaska and seen numerous film segments of mind boggling terrain. I always assumed that terrain would be off limits to me as while I’ve spent a lot of time on a snowboard I’m certainly no alpha dog. But thanks to the prodding of an old heliskiing associate, I decided to give it a shot and boy am I glad I did.

First taste of some Alaskan fresh

The Alaskan heli scene is quite different from your typical heli operation. Out go the luxury lodges, 5 course meals and highly structured schedules. Here everything is about the skiing and everyone is on board with that. We’re staying in what is known as the “plywood palace” where the big challenge is trying to get hot water in the shower. However, the views are spectacular, the company good and as they say in real estate it’s “location, location, location”.

Typical run at Haines - notice guide circled in red

And it’s not just the accommodations in Alaska that are different – what really stands out is the terrain. This is true big mountain, technical skiing the likes of which I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Had they shown me pictures first of where we were going to ski I probably would have passed but once they dropped us off I discovered that not only was it rideable, it was a tremendous amount of fun. If you look closely at the picture above, you will notice a skier circled in red – our guide who is posted up in a place where he can keep an eye on us while we’re doing the run. The guides here are just like the clients in that they are huge powder hounds albeit with a lot more experience and thus would take us to places they wanted to ski – in other words to what is more commonly known as “the goods”.

Scouting from the heli

Where's Waldo - can you spot the two skiers in this photo?

The two pictures above best demonstrates how we worked with our guide. First he would point out potential routes from the helicopter on the way up. Then he would scout the slope, set up in a spot where he could keep an eye on us, and then send us down one at a time giving us instructions via radio when we needed them.  I had never skied terrain like this but was very pleased to discover I could.

Ripping it up on Old Faifthful

Mike avoiding the slough and enjoying some turns

The gods really blessed our group on this trip as we managed to hit the best conditions of the year so far with deep light snow, great stability, and most importantly good visibility.  The forecast before we came called for rain/snow every day and the week before they were down almost all week but fortunately for us the forecasts were wrong and we’ve flown all week till today. But when they are down it usual means it’s dumping up top and that was the bounty we found when we got out there. When our guide warned us to watch out for our “face shots” on a particularly steep run we knew we were in for a good time.

Yes, we really did ski the mountain I'm looking at

And here's what it looked like from above

The two shots above are of a run called “Indy 5000” – the 5000 being a reference to the 5000 vertical feet that the run covers. It is the kind of run you can only find in Alaska and one I never imagined myself riding. But with a couple of feet of fresh snow it was a blast and a learning experience at the same time. I’ve had to totally reorient my skiing up here – back in Colorado you look for the gullys where all the good snow is – in Alaska you have to stay up on the spines and out of the gullys where all the slough runs into. It’s a whole different way of approaching a mountain but is tons of fun once you get on the program.

Dave airing it out on Old Faithful

There were mellower runs too but what they all had in common was a thick layer of fresh light snow. This provided plenty of opportunities for enjoying the natural features of the terrain as Dave demonstrates above. By day 4 we are all fine with the weather turning funky as our legs were all ready for some rest.

The scenery isn't bad either

What is also hard to imagine even with the help of cameras is how spectacularly beautiful and impressive the Chilkat Range is. Ragged peaks, huge spires and glaciers everywhere you looked. It would have been worth the trip just to see these mountains no less to get to ski down them.

Guide shack at Alaska Heliskiing - note the pirate flag

Of course none of this would be possible without the tremendous folks at Alaska Heliskiing. From the office folk to the guides to Jack who gives us rides everywhere – everyone is super nice and more importantly on top of their game. I had anticipated maybe some attitude since this is one the premier heli spots in the world but no attitude here just a bunch of folks chasing the best skiing in the world.

My partners in crime

Also have to give a big shout out to David Cole (the guy on the right) who convinced me to come up here and his buddy Mike who is more than happy to share any and all beta on a run (and cooks a mean piece of salmon). One of the really fun things about these trips are the people you meet and this one is no exception. I’ve made a bunch of new friends up here in Haines and any time someone leaves the closing line always seems to be “see you up here next year…”


Mar 25 2011

Helmet Cam Fun – Berthoud Pass 3/23/11

Who needs a photographer?

Got to admit I’ve been slacking lately on updating this blog. It’s been a combination of less than epic conditions and spending time breaking in new gear. I finally broke down and bought a split board (Voile Mojo RX 66) after one too many post holing sessions in the backcountry. It’s a lot of fun and lot easier to use than I thought and is opening up a whole new range of possibilities. So between testing out the new board and my lack of luck at the resorts I’ve been spending a lot of time at my favorite local haunt – Berthoud Pass.

Laying tracks on "Outlaw" - Current Creek, Berthoud Pass

The other piece of gear I’ve been experimenting with lately is my helmet cam (Contour HD). What I quickly discovered is that without a person in the shot the helmet cam footage gets old quickly – you really need to be following someone else or get yourself in the picture somehow to give some perspective and visual contrast. In looking around the web, I saw all sorts of clever ways to do this including Joel Bettner’s reflective googles trick. But clearly the most frequently seen approach to better utilizing a helmet camera is mounting it on the end of a ski pole like I do in the video below.

Berthoud was fun as always even though it was probably the least snow I’ve ridden there all season (that’s the other problem with the helmet mount – the face shots on a good powder day obliterate most of the footage). But now that I’ve got my equipment dialed in all I need is a good storm which could happen as soon as this weekend. Worse case, I’m headed up to Alaska in a week so with any luck I should get some good footage there – I’ll keep you posted…


Feb 22 2011

Hail to the Wolf – President’s Day 2011

Hi Mom

It’s been a tough season for Wolf Creek. Their ski patrol director died in an avalanche back in November and seemingly in remorse the snow gods have been withholding their usual bounty from the area. Although I did not know him personally, I’m sure I had met him because I’ve always made it a point to thank the patrollers there for the incredible effort they put in keeping open the entire area for what is often only a few people. This includes extensive hike to terrain where my friend Kevin and I spent most of our weekend enjoying turn after turn of deep untracked snow despite the presence of several thousand Texans who were enjoying the President’s Day Weekend.

A typical turn at the Wolf

If you’ve followed my blog at all you know that Wolf Creek has a special place in my heart. I have had more epic days there than anywhere else but more than that it’s just got a relaxed vibe that you can’t find at the major ski areas. The lifts may be slow and the runs short but few other places can deliver the powder as consistently as the Wolf. This weekend was no exception but the irony was that the supposed bigger snow day (Sunday – 14″ new) was just a tease for Monday (a supposed 6″ in 24 but more realistically overnight) when the sun came out and the crowds went home. We worked hard for our turns but boy were we rewarded as the video below can testify.

So once again we left the mountain shaking our heads at how good the skiing and riding was and how lucky we were to be there. Long live the Wolf!


Jan 23 2011

An East Vail powder tale – 1/20/11

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Joel Bettner

After the first big snow of the season I saw a blog post about skiing at Berthoud by Joel Bettner that both warmed my heart and made me jealous. Since then I had seen several of his videos that were posted on everyone’s favorite forecast site, Colorado Powder Forecast. When Joel Gratz, the forecaster himself, invited me on a East Vail tour with his namesake I jumped at the chance since I’d had never done any of the terrain but had always looked at it longingly whenever I drove by on the way to Vail.

The two Joels - just follow the guy in red and blue...

You get to the East Vail terrain by hiking off the top of the Siberia Bowl poma. There were lots of folks headed out on Thursday as Vail had gotten more than 30″ in the previous 3 days. As usual there were folks who didn’t belong out there and in particular one gentleman who had no idea of where he was going (right towards the most avalanche prone area) and fortunately for him several folks yelled for him to come back before we ended up reading about him in the paper the next day. Joel Bettner is a former Alaska heli guide and is incredibly knowledgeable with a very healthy respect for the mountains which is the only reason I was comfortable being out there in the first place. The Vail sidecountry is no joke and just because it’s relatively easy to get to and lots of people do it doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

The view from the top - East Vail sidecountry

Since Joel  was giving the tour it was totally up to him what terrain we were going to ski and it turns out he has a little thing for cliffs (check out the January highlight video on his blog which includes footage from this trip). Now I like to catch a little air now and then but wasn’t quite ready for the 20 to 30 footer that started the tour. Joel, on the other hand was primed to go and we captured the moment in a variety of ways.

Joel B coming off the top

Jeff follows suit...

But doesn't quite stick the landing

Seeing the boys go for big air (not to mention the three feet of powder you were landing in) encouraged me to do a little launching of my own.

it's fun to fly...

and meanwhile when the other Joel wasn’t honing his photograph skills (all the photos in this post except for this next one are his) he was showing us that he was just as good at shredding the powder as predicting it

Joel G coming up for air

All in all, a fabulous tour that left me wanting more and knowing that I would be back sometime in the future. Many thanks to the two Joels for making it happen and capturing the action – otherwise it could all be just another tall tale…about East Vail…


Jan 19 2011

I-70 Savior – Loveland saves the day 1/18/11

The (patient) powder hounds reap their rewards

Any skier who has spent a  winter in the Denver/Boulder area is almost certain to have has an I-70 horror story. For a front range skier there’s no escaping the terrain trap that is the main thoroughfare through the mountains. When I woke up Tuesday morning to find out that Vail had called 16″ and Breckenridge 26″ (roll eyes here) my first thought as always was “time to get moving”. My second unfortunately was “better check on I-70” and sure enough it was closed. I had planned to go to Vail with everyone’s favorite forecaster Joel Gratz who immediately suggested we leave right away and take 285 to get around the closure but this had the potential of breaking my hard and fast rule that I must spend more time on the hill then in the car on any given ski day.

Does this look familiar - I-70 Georgetown exit

Since only a relatively small portion of the road was closed (Georgetown to Silverthorne) we decided to take a chance and head up hoping the road would open by the time we got there. No such luck however, so we sat in the car for two hours searching the web in a futile attempt to get some info all the while being greatly entertained by the CDOT phone road report which told us that the road was closed so we “should plan accordingly” without giving us any indication of why it was closed or when by chance it might reopen.  Just as we were about to give up and head home the road reopened and now our only option for first tracks was Loveland.

Who needs a queue when there's powder to be had

We certainly weren’t the only ones whose plans had changed to Loveland but news of the road closure had discouraged a lot of folks so while they were quite a few powder hounds out, there was plenty to go around. Loveland had also called 16″ but with the high winds the day before (a 100 mph gust was recorded the previous morning)  I assumed the snow would either be in Kansas or heavily wind packed so was very pleasantly surprised to find a legitimate foot plus of high quality Colorado snow. In the last year, Loveland has opened almost the entire East Wall you see above the tunnel which has steeps, cliffs and lovely glades so we spent most of the day there getting fresh tracks and face shots as evidenced by the video below.

Loveland Powder Day

The Loveland ski patrol did a hell of a job getting things open considering they were also stuck in traffic and opened all of the ridge by mid day. There was quite a crowd hiking up the hill and they were all rewarded for their efforts. They say good things come to those who wait and on this day that was certainly the case…