Monday, February 25, 2013

Embracing my Inner Dork

I am a dork.  I had a vague, deep-in-the-recesses of my mind inkling of the fact that I was a dork long ago, but it literally took decades for me to actually acknowledge the fact that I was not – nor ever would be – as cool as I was, could be, or should be. 

Looking back at my history one would think that being a cross country runner in high school should have been a strong indicator, but at that time we told ourselves that we were actually cool, almost defiantly so.   Trying in vain to be a cool frat boy in college was a good lesson in dorkdom, but still I thought that I had potential to be cool.   My dad was uber-cool, and I thought I could be like him.  Here he is on top of the Grand Teton in the early 60's, as cool as can be:

And I thought I was cool here, when I was fourteen, at my freestyle ski camp:

But then again, I was being a bumper, so even in being cool, I was a dork. 

And then my first job at Nike made me feel mildly cool – being associated with a decidedly non-dork company, and all – but this was before I realized that I was more than my job and the Nike mystique didn’t really rub off on me the way that it should have. 

Fast forward many jobs, years, relationships, and experiences later to a point – which, to be sure, I can’t really remember – when I said “wow, I am SUCH A DORK!”. 

OMG – what liberation!  I was free!  Dorkdom freed me to not posture among other people to make myself feel better.  Free to back away from doing stupid things because…..they are stupid.  Free to be self-deprecating without being too hard on myself.  Free to make awkward mistakes or comments and laugh them off.  Free to do things that I think are practical or clever when others think they are woefully inefficient!  (like writing a blog!). 

I’m ok with being middle aged and balding (hard to ignore those hard facts of being a dork!), getting old, being faster/better than some and way slower/worse than others, having more money or a better job than some and poorer/less-cool job than others, liking old stuff and hating new stuff, liking new stuff and hating old stuff, shaving my legs or not shaving my legs, wearing a skinsuit or not wearing a skinsuit, skiing on skinny skis or fat skis or a snowboard (or even telemark skis! As the sticker says “no one cares that you tele”).   Even when I’m racing I’m a dork:

And as if snowshoeing weren’t ultimately dorky enough, I actually crashed doing it, with a resulting wound!

Of course, like everything, embracing your inner dork isn’t all good and does have its disadvantages; I often say that I can’t really take myself anywhere, and Ashley usually agrees with me.  Though among the many beauties of Ash is that she has also embraced her inner dork, and actually quite a long time before I did:

And I grew up with Brother Paul, whom I give credit for paving the way for me:

And have friends like this excited young lad - who get all excited about their new beacon – and also long ago embraced their inner dork.

And though I will admit that on this day, at this moment, with this girl, I was feeling pretty awesomely non-dorky:

I am a Dork......

and it’s OK. 

Now I just gotta work on my FOMO…… 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

BCA Float pack - a month in

Ash and I have both had our (matching!  how cute....) BCA Float 32 packs for a month or so and taken them out probably 20+ days each.   Overall I think we both give them a thumbs up. 

I can't say I'm wild about the color choices, but they are distinctive.....
I have always preferred the "sack" type packs, mostly because I feel like zippers are the weak points of packs, and this has born itself out in the fact that I've only had about 3 packs in 25+ years of backcountry skiing.    I have blown zippers on pretty much every zippered product I've ever owned, and pack zippers are far more integral to performance and difficult to replace than jackets.  But the ease of access of the panel-loading type has not been lost on me, and the nature of the Float packs - in that there needs to be access to the air cylinder - lends itself to panel-loading, and the popularity of panel-loaders in general probably made that decision (by BCA) easy.

I really have had no problems with the pack.  As ski packs go it's on the big side, but I like that; I hate having to try to stuff stuff into packs (that's how I blow zippers!), and the truth is that a bigger pack (empty) only weighs ounces more than a smaller pack.  I carry an emergency kit, extra mitts, a puffy jacket, usually a camera (in this pack I carry the camera in the shoulder strap "pocket" that's intended for a hydration tube), a super warm hat with goggles tucked inside (both for extreme days), a lightly insulated shell, and of course my trusty big thermos of tea nnd my plastic gorp container.  This leaves room for my ltwt shell that I peel when I get hot on long climbs and for my skins on the last run of the day. 

 in addition, of course, to probe and shovel, in a separate big, easy-to-access pocket. 

The backpanel material is fairly snow-phobic - which is important to me - and the shape - while not as "innovative" or ergonomic as some other packs on the market now - is fine. 

The little convenient goggle pouch offers up a nice fleece-lined pocket that keeps my sandwich and other snacks nice and comfy:

I have foregone my old standard 90' of 7mm cord for unexpected belays and raps, but I think that with a bit of stuffin' that will fit (I tend to get more use out of that in the spring). 

The important bit:  the balloon and the exploding part....the system is quite easy to hook up (ie the trigger to the cylinder, and the cylinder to the balloon) despite my trepidation that I was going to blow the thing up in my face, because the cylinder comes pre-pressurized.  The red pull-tab is very prominent and easy to grab/yank; I was able to give one a yank at the trade show (well out in the hallway so as to make as impressive a display as possible) and it ballooned up ;oudly and well. I was disappointed that it's not nearly as convenient on Ash due to her smaller stature; on me the yanker is right at my chest, but on her it's down closer to her waist.  BCA is  - I think - working on a smaller torso size for the bigger pack (fwiw - our comparably-sized friend Megan got the 22L version and she finds it to fit her well, but I don't think that pack would be big enough for Ash and I).  Ash is determined to do a test blast of the pack, which I think is probably wise, and apparently a nearby scuba shop is well-accustomed to refilling these by now and it's cheap and easy. 

The way the balloon comes out is pretty clever; a velcro-closed flap protects a zipper part that is purposely un-attached:

so it guarantees an instantaneous foolproof exit of the balloon.

The waist belt uses an aluminum buckle that is quite a bit more robust than a plastic fastex buckle; it's a little awkward at first but once you get accustomed to it, it's quite user-friendly. 

The pack also comes with a strap that is intended to go around your butt/leg/crotch, but according to BCA, that's superfluous, esp given their more-robust waist buckle. 

Ash made the good point that the very-squared off top of the pack is a bit of a snow-catcher in storms and going under trees, and the snow comes off onto your neck at inopportune times......

I did a booter a few weeks ago and the slant carry system works fine.  Apparently there's a snowboard carry system - and there's a few elastic cords and toggles that may hold other things that I sorta ignore - but most b/c snowboarders are on splits and they can carry them on a slant just like the ski system. 

A lot of the airbag packs coming out now have the ability to detach the system; I understand the theory of this feature, but for us the reality is that we ski in avy terrain most of the time, and the few periods where we don't (spring corn) we barely bring a beacon and we - along with most other folks - have other packs that we can use.  As it turns out, I'm flying to ski twice in the next coupla weeks (Tahoe then Japan!) and won't be able to take it on these trips, but flying to ski is - for us - fairly rare, and to me the non-flyability is not a reason to not get one of these (and I suspect that as time goes on and these become more popular dealers will start getting wise to the opportunity of renting cannisters, or at least getting the ability to fill them). 

 Do I notice the extra weight?  Not really.  Does Ash with all of her 115 lbs?  not really.  An 3 extra pounds is chump change when it comes to what I feel is significantly higher odds of surviving a slide. 

There was some talk at the OR show about the concept of feeling somewhat bolder and taking more risks with an airbag pack vs not having one, and Ash admitted that she felt more comfortable skinning up the very-exposed Bonkers with it a few weeks ago.  But I think that adorning yourself with safety gear is natural; it's why I carry a beacon, probe, and shovel, it's why I ride (and now ski) with a helmet, I buckle my seat belt in my car, etc.  And if you use the rationale that an airbag pack will make you bolder, you should be re-thinking your decision-making process (though I do really like the concept that - unlike a beacon, probe, and shovel - with the balloon pack you are taking your safety/survival somewhat out of the hands of your partners; that's a large burden to put on them, and the odds of a successful burial recover is not only low, the prospect of a full-burial is not that appealing to me anyway; I panic when simply breathing air while scuba diving!). 

In short, I've been waiting for an airbag pack that fulfills my desires for a ski pack for a while, and the BCA Float 32 fulfills them.  There are some nuances that I've not had in a pack in the past but I'm quickly becoming accustomed to, and it's become quite natural to me already.  The BCA seems to be noticeably less-expensive than the others (Da Kine, North Face, Mammut, Ortovox, and a couple others) yet seems to provide comparable performance at a larger size.   I realized that I'd been "waiting" for a good pack that incorporated the system in a manner that was appropriate for me, and that time has come.  The only limitation that I see is that - as noted above - I think the manufacturers (and the dealers) are a little leery of investing in the inventory burden of different sizes other than those for medium-sized men.  When a more-Ash-height-appropriate torso length pack comes out we will take a close look at that. 

There is another inflation technology that is in the works now but it won't be out until Fall 2014 at the earliest and is progged to be the same weight and likely comparably-priced, so if you think you'll be skiing in avalanche terrain between now and November of 2014 these things are worth a look.

Basically, if I'm getting rolled in an avy, I don't want to feel like this guy:
so I think it's a worthy investment in money and weight to stack the odds a bit more. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

cougar sighting!

I have literally been wanting to see a mountain lion in the wild my whole life.  I've spent a fair bit of time wandering terrain where they've been known to hang out, and literally the prospect of seeing one is in the back of my head all the time (admittedly, mostly deep in the recesses of the back of my head, esp when I'm raging through blower powder!).  Last spring down in the desert we happened to notice a handwritten note at a trailhead saying that there had been a sighting in the area, and Greg caught a glimpse of something that "could" have been a cougar, and even though I sprinted in that direction to catch my own glimpse, it was for naught. 

And today, it happened.  Ash and I were driving down from a hike in Mill Creek and just above the kiosk at the mouth a full-grown cat crossed the road in front of us!  It waren't no big golden retriever, it wasn't a bobcat (though Paul said he's seen two of those at that same spot), it was most definitely a mountain lion. I didn't get a photo, of course, but as you can imagine, it looked similar to this:

I was and am so stoked.  Especially after being sickened by the news that last week the "authorities" tracked and killed two cats in the Park City because of reports of pets being killed.  As the Salt Lake Tribune said in its "thumbs down" editorial, there are not many cougars and lots of pets, and living on the edge of "wilderness" has its natural perils. 

It was interesting to note that despite the fact that I would sort of imagine a lion being able to sort of effortlessly slither across the snow in a menacing feline way or bound up and through it with it's incredible power, it was actually struggling to get through the couple of feet of sugary snow about as much as a dog would, which makes a lot more sense.   This winter - with an unusual amount of low-elevation snow - is probably a bit hard on all wildlife.  But he wasn't too worried; he unhurridely went about 20-30 feet into the brush, then stopped and looked over at his shoulder at us; which was pretty cool.  There are few moments one gets in life to lock eyes with a lion....

I of course am eternally indebted to Ash, because I wanted to turn around early on our hike because my toes were going numb - and I already frostbit my toes this winter and they are still not healed, after a month - but she talked me into continuing.  If we'd have been on my weenyboy schedule we would have missed the sighting! 

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Fred Beckey sighting

Almost exactly a year ago I got a message from Roch Horton at Black Diamond saying Fred Beckey was in town looking for some skiing and/or a partner.  I don't  remember exactly the details, but somehow I met up with the legend at Einstein's.  I didn't ski with him, but we had a nice chat, I gave him some beta, and we went our ways. 

Yesterday I had my total Groundhog Day experience, a few days late.  I had been out skiing and stopped at Einstein's on my way back - probably the 2nd time I'd been there since I'd seen Fred a year ago - and when I walked in there.....was Fred Beckey. 

If you don't know who Fred is,  in a nutshell he's arguably (barely) the most prolific climber in history, and really not even arguably has the most first ascents.  According to Wikipedia (  his first first ascent was in 1940, and since then he has made literally countless first ascents (the wiki site lists only the majors).  He turned 90 a few weeks ago, and not only does he still climb, he also still skis. 

I walked up and said hullo, and though I'm certain that he didn't remember me, he was quite gracious, and was actually happy to see me because he correctly anticipated that I'd be willing to yard on his belt hard enough to actually get it tight around his extraordinarily skinny waist since he couldn't see the belt holes below his equally-floppy flannel shirt (he clearly needs a rando race skinsuit!) .  As anyone who has met Fred before knows, he's pretty much deaf as a post, and though I noticed a hearing aid under his wispy hair, either it was not turned on or it's woefully underpowered.  So I yelled at him about skiing, making sure that everyone in Einsteins was acutely aware of our "conversation".  He was keen to know where he could go to find some "good snow" and I hate to admit that I was at a bit of a loss; it hasn't snowed for over a week and it was hard for me to imagine him being able to get into the backcountry far enough to find some untracked powder, so I reassured him that a storm loomed for the weekend. 

I told him about a couple of nice hike-up and ski-down road options in nearby Mill Creek, and went to the register to get a pen and paper to draw him a map.  While I was there the cashier handed me a little envelope with some cash in it and said "One of the other patrons wanted your friend there to have this."  I was a bit taken aback; was this because he was Fred Beckey, one of the most famous climbers in the world and also a legendary dirtbag, or simply because he looked like a homeless skier?  In any case, I gave it back to her and asked her to give it to him after I left because I wanted him to know that it wasn't from me but from an anonymous someone else. 

So I gave him a map of the Mill Creek options and he said "I'm not goin' there today!"  Ah, ok, well then, you should - and will - go wherever you want! 

He had his Garmont AT boots and was struggling to get them on.  His ankles appear to have gotten a bit puffy with (over) use, which clearly exacerbates the already-challenging putting-on of ski boots.  He didn't have socks on, which I've always found to be pretty challenging, since feet tend to stick on the lining of the boots, but when I suggested he put his sock on he bellowed "Then they'll be even tighter!"   Of course.  How could I be so stupid?  So he stood up and started pounding his half-on boot on the floor, with the rhythmic "thud thud" echoing throughout the Einsteins.  It seemed too complicated to ask him why he was putting his boots on in the restaurant and how he was getting to whatever trailhead he was heading for and Oh My was this 90 year old guy going to be driving there in his ski boots?  so I didn't.....

But I did ask Fred what brought him to town, to which he replied "The OR show!".  I was a bit surprised, because I had known that he was in Salt Lake for the trade show to receive an unusual Lifetime Achievement Award (and his famously craggy mug was on the cover of the daily show magazine), but that was two weeks ago!  I didn't bother to confirm what he had been doing for the last couple of weeks; I just imagined him wobbling around the Wasatch, perhaps doing a winter ascent of his namesake climb in Little Cottonwood canyon, or otherwise simply reveling in the mountains, in the way that he has for....nearly eighty years.   I hope we can all be so lucky.  Keep it up Fred.  You are (sort of!) an inspiration to us all! 

a terrible photo, but it was far too complicated to get him to face the windows.....

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Things I don't do when skiing

I spend a lot of time doing things that I do do, and not a lot of time doing things that I see others doing that I typically don't do.  I've been seeing some good examples of that lately out skiing. 

Example 1:  Putting in a skin track directly across a steep, exposed line on a due north facing, leeward side - like these guys inexplicably did:

when there's a nice, unexposed ridge with a treed slope on the windward side. 

Example 2:
I also don't typically whizz RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SKIN TRACK! 

Come come now, People!  I'm not that psyched to skin through your piss, and it's not that hard to move ever-so-slightly off the track and punch a small hole with your pole basket!  I know, it's just urine, but....right in the track!?!? 
As Ash memorably said upon seeing skin track whizz one too many times:  "What are you, a f*#king horse?!!?"  (note that the esteemed Friends of the Utah Avalanche Director sporting the custom UAC graphics on his Black Diamond Drift skis was NOT the horse in this particular incident......he just kindly posed for effect...)

Even this guy knows to whizz on the side of the trail:

Example 3:  Put in a 30 degree skin track:

I'd love to say that I'm all burly Wasatch skimo guy and it's so efficient to put in steep skinnners because you get there faster and who gives a shit about the people coming up behind you when it gets slicker and maybe it'll weed out the riffraff and if you can't hang on the skin track bro well maybe you should just stay at the resort....but I am not, and I don't say any of that.    Putting in a thoughtful, elegant, and efficient skin track is an art, and since none of those words really apply to me in any other aspect of my life, I try to embrace the concepts when marching uphill.  And we seem to get up the hills just fine without a 30 degree pitch. 

Example 4:
Dunder down steep, wind-loaded committing lines that are known frequent fliers when the snowpack is just barely coming off a wild and wacky week of big changes:

That said, good-on these folks for getting first tracks on these high-value lines without getting avalanched. 

But people will do what they do, and undoubtedly when I do what I do some people complain about it and probably spray on their own blogs about what I do! 

Friday, February 1, 2013

OR show - it ain't about the UP

Last week was the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake, and as ever it was a bit of a frenzy of business and socializing, with both happening in the morning (ski tours), during the show (both scheduled and chance meetings), and after-hours (dinners).  The most common question people seem to ask is some variation of "have you seen anything cool?" and the truth is that I rarely do, partly because my time there is spent mostly talking to people and also because....there's not a lot that is truly "cool" in an industry that's pretty mature already.  But because of my personal passion and professional involvement, I was able to glean a bit about the current state of the ski boot market (and shoe market; fodder for a later post).  I didn't take pictures's not really politically correct to do so (unless of course you are The Whizz......)

If last year was about lightweight - with the buzz about the Dynafit TLT 5 and the introduction (finally!) of La Sportiva's boot line, this year (actually, next year) is definitely "all about the down".  K2 finally introduced their AT boot (that's distinct from their park-popular Full Tilt boots, which are actually the old Raichle Flexon 5's) and it's pretty impressive, though wow is it heavy!  But at least the range of motion is nearly nil.  Atomic and Salomon (owned by the same company) also both have huge, burly AT boots that are very similar to the K2, and even Sportiva took their innovative boot and made it 4-buckle and burlier, as did Dynafit.  The latter did make the TLT 6, which was made on a new, wider last (which was mandatory) and they improved some of the mechanical shortcomings of the TLT 5, with some nice design flair as well. 

The new Black Diamond Factor FMX definitely held its own and then some alongside these impressive boots, despite the fact that I had a hand in the development!   The original Factor arguably defined this genre and Thomas Laakso (BD ski line manager) correctly anticipated that there was going to be intense competition for this side/slackcountry market.  The BD Team Boot responded well with a boot that is every bit as good as the offerings from the established Alpine bootmakers, with a fit that is "right on" and a surprising range of motion for a big boot.  Scarpa introduced a very nice-looking new big freeride boot in two versions (peebax and PU) that are very similar, but the FMX is $100 cheaper than the Scarpa peebax boot and lighter than the PU version at a comparable price.  And I just got word that the FMX won a best-of-show type of award at ISPO, the European sports trade show held this week. 

Scott USA purchased Garmont this fall and re-branded all the existing Garmont boots as Scott.   According to a Scott guy I talked to they will spend the next year working on their own new designs. He was mum about the possibility of resurrecting the original Scott boot, which I actually think has some potential as a lightweight AT boot!

Anyone figure out a way to make this Dynafit binding compatible?  And warm?
So despite my and others' enthusiasm for the super light, super-range of motion Scarpa Aliens and their Dynafit anmd La Sportiva counterparts that hit the market last year and this year and Brother Paul's impression from a fall ski industry meeting in Denver that indicated that speedy Rando was seen as the Next Big Thing by a (desperate, if so!) ski industry, big and burly was the deal for the immediate future.  Even the Dynafit bindings went burly:  the new "Beast" looks relatively ginormous (I guess it has to in order to have a DIN of 16? Or maybe they just made it big to.....make it BIG) for the low, low price of only $1000 (for bindings??!!?  are you kidding me??)  and Fritschi unveiled a Fritschi-like tech binding. 

All mostly total overkill in my humble opinion (are people buying this stuff to make up for their lack of skiing ability on the mostly 30-degree untracked powder that most snow-snobs ski in the backcountry?), but that's ok; the more people buy that stuff the less likely it is that they'll go deeper into the backcountry. 

Oh, and telemark boots.....huh?  Does anyone still care about telemark?  According to one industry rag I read, apparently the shops don't.....and therefore the companies don't......