Jan 16 2016

Back in the Heli Again…

CMH K2 transport ship

Sure beats Uber…

After my accident in Valdez, one of the questions people most frequently asked me was whether I would ever heliski again. For me, the accident had less to do with heliskiing than with the inherent risks involved in riding big mountains. The big question for me was whether I’d be physically able to ride again at all, not where I would do so if I could. So once the docs gave me the okay and CMH advertised that they were having a half price sale, I didn’t think twice about booking a helitrip in British Columbia where I have had so many great experiences previously.

CMH K2

Home sweet home…

I had never previously been to a CMH operation (they have 11 lodges spread throughout British Columbia) and had always thought of them as the big box store of heliskiing. I had no doubt that they they offered a great experience, but was used to going with smaller operators and smaller groups. However they were making an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we decided to try something different and boy did that turn out to be a great decision.

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The syndicate

The biggest difference between this trip and past ones is that we would be riding in a bigger helicopter with a group of 10. Theoretically, this could have meant fewer untracked lines, and longer wait times but in reality it meant just more folks to celebrate the amazing conditions with that we were fortunate to have all week. BC has had an excellent early season and after a long stretch of on and off snow, we managed to catch the first stretch of sunny days with cold temps and no wind to disturb our precious bounty.

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Before…

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After…

One of our big concerns with any heli operation is whether they “farm” their snow – that is they insist that skiers/riders stay close to one another in order to save as much untracked as possible for future groups. So we were thrilled to discover that our guides had a very much laissez-faire approach to our chosen routes down the hill. Basically all they required was that we meet up at the bottom of the hill so everyone got to enjoy fresh lines no matter when or where they started. And because the snow stability was excellent and their terrain is primarily classic Kootenay tree skiing, we got to ride steep untracked lines all day long. What else could we ask for?

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You don’t always need a helicopter to catch some air…

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Aaron shows how free heelers do it

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Kevin with his usual cat swallowing the canary look…

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Trevor with his V for Victory pose…

Originally, this trip was going to be a reunion of our “core four” – the same group that went to Revelstoke and Valdez together two years ago. Unfortunately, one of the founding members had to drop out but came up with a worthy replacement as seen directly above. We then spread the word and picked up three more associates who ripped along with us.

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Did I mention how beautiful it was…

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everywhere you looked…

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and when you got there…

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there were never any tracks…

Since we had nothing but bluebird days, the scenery was spectacular everywhere you turned and the late December sunlight was glorious all day. This led to an abundance of picture taking of our very photogenic crew.

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Aaron finding his zen…

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What me worry?

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Who took this photo?

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Our staff photographer, Kevin Edwards, of course…

My good buddy Kevin always complains that I never give him photo credit so I’m going to publicly state right now that any good photo of me is his doing and I owe him dearly for that as well as all the times he pulls me out of a flat spot. Who says skiers and snowboarders can’t get along?

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But enough scenery shots…

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let’s get back to why we were really there…

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to find deep powder…

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to rip turns through…

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run after run…

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and I’ve got to say…

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it was absolutely worth…

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every second…

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of my…

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rehab.

Of course, we need to thank all the great folks at the CMH K2 Rotor Lodge for the delicious food, comfy accommodations, rides to the Nakusp Hot Springs after skiing, and most of all the incredible guiding and terrain they provided for four amazing days!

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Cool sign too…

It’s really hard to capture just how fabulous the skiing/riding was with just some still photos especially because when you’re in the middle of an incredible run, stopping to take a photo generally isn’t at the top of your priority list. Fortunately we also shot a ton of video but cutting that into something that someone other than the participants would want to watch is a rather large task. In my past life, I was once a video editor so I may attempt to do just that but for now you’ll just have to settle for this tease.

And yes, my surgically rebuilt knee held up just fine, so there will be more tales from the Gluten Free Snowboarder. I need to thank my surgeon for sewing me back together, my physical therapists for working me hard, my family for helping me in times of need and my friends for telling me I’d be back. It not only takes a village to raise a child, but also to put a broken snowboarder back on the mountain. Thanks everyone, and see you on the slopes!!!


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…


Jan 16 2012

The Great White North

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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.

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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.

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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

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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”.


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 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…