Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Avalanche Rescue

When we arrived at the Valhalla lodge a couple of Saturdays ago our group of 10 started our week with avalanche rescue practice and -  as always - it was a great learning experience for all.  Subsequent to that brother Paul spent a day in the Uintas with a snowmobile avalanche class doing the same.  We agreed that a bit of a discussion regarding avy rescue practice was worth a blog post. 

It is important to shift the discussion from “beacon search” to “avalanche rescue”. New beacons are good enough that people with no experience with avalanche beacons are able to find transmitting beacons pretty easily, so given the limited amount of time available for succesful rescues there is an increasing emphasis on the other critical aspects of rescues.  And executing observing avalanche rescue scenarios is always a great – and humbling – learning experience. 

Taking a cue from Wilderness First Responder instructors who take great pride in their abilities to create frighteningly-realistic scenarios, we try to make avy rescue practice as real as possible. So instead of a putting a beacon under a foot of snow, bury a pack – containing a transmitting beacon! - as deeply as possible; it’s amazing how difficult it is to “rescue” a pack that’s 5’ deep, and then muck up the snow in the surrounding area to simulate avalanche debris and not make the burial spot too obvious.  Putting the “victim” on the uphill side of a tree adds much to the complexity, even as it’s a very real possibility.  And we always time the rescues, annoyingly calling out the elapsed time every thirty seconds. 

Below are some issues with regards to these rescue simulations that seem to come up pretty consistently:

  • The first two moves of a rescue team is for all the rescuers to look for and investigate surface clues and turn their beacons to receive. However, a common practice is for ALL the rescuers to start searching with their beacons simultaneously (sometimes so focused on their beacons that they miss the surface clues).  Theoretically, however, if the group of skiers has executed decent on-slope protocol and skied one at a time and kept the skiers in sight there should be at least a trajectory of the ride and one or two beacon searchers is all that is needed if a signal is acquired right away.  If there’s no signal, then all do the macro search until a signal is acquired.

  • If everyone is searching with their beacons no one is busting out their probes and shovels for the next phase of the rescue.  When brain cells are dying, every second counts, so those need to be deployed as the (hopefully quick) search is in progress.   Even in a group of three, where there’s one down and two searchers, there should be one person searching and one person prepping the probe/shovel.  Maybe even the beacon-searcher’s shovel also, since that will definitely be needed. 

  • Many times at least one person seems to get flummoxed by their beacon.  It’s out of batteries, they are following the distance readout but not the arrows (or vice versa), or the fragile gizmo that rarely gets tested in the receive mode is simply out of whack.  If this beacon-bumbler is you, recognize it quickly and let it go; let others search and get out your rescue gear.  If you see a fellow rescuer who appears to be way off, holler at them to let it go and get their gear ready. 

  • Most of us buy a probe, look at it, deploy it once in the yard in October of 2010, and then put it in the pack, never to be seen or touched again until…..someone is buried. Rare is the rescue scenario where someone doesn’t plunge in their probe and yank it out only to have the probe come apart; a discouraging development.  Make sure that you know how to assemble and latch your probe. 

  • Shovel deployment – fortunately, shovels are typically more easily deployed than probes, but shoveling is the most important and physically hardest aspect of a rescue. Know how to extend your shovel if it has that capability.

  • First aid instructors always make a point  of  avoiding the cry of “someone call 911’” because the automatic human response is “someone else will do it”.  The same goes for an avy rescue.  Instead of a general shout of:  “Someone get a probe out” make eye contact and say “Jonny – get your probe out!”

  • Which leads to the concept of leadership.  High tension situations demand leadership, and usually the most experienced people are immediately deferred to as the leader.   But this can be tricky:  what if the “most experienced” is buried?  What if the amount of “experience” in each of the individuals is equal?  What if the most generally-alpha individual actually is not experienced?  And does the perceived “experience” come from skiing ability, years of resort skiing, or the fact that someone medical professional?  Someone needs to step up and take charge, and if you practice enough – or even at all – it will likely be you.  The group needs and wants a leader. So be prepared for this role.  Most people are not. 

  • You don’t need to be a great rider, strong trail breaker, savvy terrain-reader, or  snow scientist to be a good rescue person. You need to practice rescuing enough  to be confident that the decisions that you make and the commands that you order in the heat of the moment will be the correct ones. 

  • Back to the specifics of the rescue – as the beacon searcher hones in, the prober and shovelers should be ready to probe hard and make snow fly.    Again – especially on the fine search – only one beacon should be necessary; more and people are just dundering into each other. 

  • If you are on skis, when do you take them off?  A common mistake is for people to leave them on too long.  Skis were meant to keep you on the surface, and burials by definition mean you need to get deep, and quickly. And avalanche debris sets up remarkably quickly, so chances are you won’t be plunging in to your hips.  So as the beacon is showing sub-2 meters, it’s probably time to get your skis off to a) do the fine search on the snow surface, b) be nimble enough without your skis to do a systematic probe, and c) be ready to bend over and dig.

  • Pack and gear:  do not take off your gloves or your pack and leave them somewhere; both common rescuer actions.  Again taking a cue from WFR instructors, your safety as a rescuer is paramount.  A rescuer with cold hands becomes nearly worthless and potentially a liability.  Your pack has everything that both the victim and you will need post-extraction.  If you have to slog back uphill to get your pack to get your first aid kit or puffy coat (likely both will be needed) that’s extra time and energy that is ill-afforded.

  • Practice rescue scenarios equipped exactly as you would be on a slope:  gloves, goggles, and helmet on, jacket zipped, skins tucked in your jacket, etc.  Are you able to deploy your probe and shovel with your mitts on?  Can you see your beacon readout with your goggles on? 

  • Keep your gear together; if any formal rescue is needed, the pros will be looking for surface clues and they may have dogs who will need to isolate scents.

  • Probing – it seems common that the searcher declares “probe here!” and the probing commences with great gusto….but it’s random probe thrusts in the general area.  Concentric circles around the hot spot is best.  One person only; if the beacon search is decent that’s all that’s needed and two will just be bumping into each other.  No digging at the snow while the probe effort is taking place.   And when there’s a strike (since you’ve practiced a lot you know the difference between the ground or a log and a pack) the common reaction is to yank out the probe and yell “dig there!” .  But the probe strike is – at this point – your only marker on the victim so keep the probe in place. 

  • Shoveling – it’s time to Move The Earth .  There’s a great video on digging on the BCA website worth watching because – as they say – “there’s a lot more to shoveling than you might think.”  Start digging towards the tip of your probe 1.5 times downhill from it. This is pretty counterintuitive; that means if you get a strike 2m deep then you need to start digging nine feet below the strike for efficient extraction!  It might feel too far away. 

  • It’s hard to comprehend how hard shoveling is, especially in hardening avalanche debris.  Elmo, the venerable BD warranty guy, was buried deeply in a slide in BC a few years ago and his buddy – a big, strapping lad   was ready to chew up the entire mountain on the searchers’ word.  And he did….for about one minute before he blew up in desperate exhaustion.  So the effort needs to be a good combination of high, but sustainable output, and – if possible – good teamwork to trade off. 

  • And “trading off’ doesn’t mean sitting back and catching your breath, it means clearing the area behind the diggers for their debris to pile up on.  Again, watch the video link above for more on good team-shoveling techniques. 

  • If you can’t go downhill from the strike (victim is up against a tree), go in from the side.  And this is where coordinated teamwork – clearing the lateral trenches – becomes even more critical.  Digging is so hard that you must make it as easy as possible. 

  • Extraction – keep in mind as you’re digging that the odds of going straight to the face are relatively low and once the victim is seen it’ll still take extra time to fully extract them (especially if they are on non-releasable tele or snowboard bindings or wrapped around a tree). Don’t yank the victim – real or simulated; be prepared for an injured victim and don’t tear apart the buried pack in your zeal!

  • Once you have exposed your victim is when the hard part really starts.  In simulations I like to throw out real scenarios that I’ve heard about to the already-exhausted and wet rescuers:  victim is blue and unresponsive!   Pulse/no pulse!  Broken femur!  One victim broken femur and the other blue and unresponsive!  Husband dead and friend bleeding badly!  One foot doesn’t have a boot on it and it’s zero degrees and 4:30pm in early January!  Two blown ACL’s!  Major laceration from a tree/rock/ski! Inexplicable but acute pain! HYPOTHERMIA!!!!  

  • Other questions:  numb toes/fingers (cold or broken neck?)!  Broken helmet and victim asking same questions over and over! Who you gonna call?!  Where from? There’s no cell coverage!  Where’s the heli going to land?  How will the heli pilot spot you?  What do you have to extend the life/comfort of the victim (puffy jacket, hot liquids, fire-making capabilities, big drugs, little drugs) if – as is likely – it will be many hours before help will arrive? 

  • Lastly, hysteria rarely makes a good bedfellow to an emergency.  Legend has it that Paul Petzoldt, the founder of NOLS and patriarch of mountain medicine, proclaimed that the first thing to do when coming upon an accident scene is to…..have a smoke.  While that’s pretty unrealistic - as is the total suppression of totally freaking out  - the ability to be sort of cold, calculating, and mechanical can go a long ways towards an effective rescue (in fact, if you have the numbers, taking the leader completely out of the rescue operations to act solely as an overseer is ideal).  And fellow rescuers rarely perform best when screamed at. 

Weeks after Elmo’s burial I asked the our friend Russ  -who was the leader of the rescue - how he felt as the intense, difficult situation was going down. He just sorta shrugged and said “we just executed what we practice every week, and it worked out.”  Words to live by…..literally.    

I’m no avalanche expert, and this is more amateur opinion than professionally-generated or well-researched facts, so comments/suggestions/abuse are welcome. 

And thanks to brother Paul for his great help with this…..

Friday, February 21, 2014

Valhalla Lodge

In order to fulfill our eternal Quest for Perfection, last week we leapt into the car and drove 2000 miles round trip to....go ski powder in nice terrain with good friends, very much like we do.....20 miles from our house!  But it's a Canadian hut trip, which  - if I've counted right - I've now done almost 20 of, and they never get less awesome!

This year was a new one for our gang:  the Valhalla Lodge, located a couple of hours north of the border that's north of Spokane.  We'd always heard great things about the terrain and the nice folks who run the place, and our friends Matt and Leigh - who have moved up to that area more or less for the skiing - have been there 6 times, so we gave it a go.

BC had been in an unusual dry spell:  it hadn't snowed for 3 weeks prior to our arrival. But at least it was cold:  the highs for the area the week prior were still well below zero F and nights were getting down to the minus 20's.  But that didn't phase the folks flying out, who had spent their 19th week in there!  So it must be good.  The temps warmed a little - still cold for us weeny Utards - for the first couple of days of good visibility with equally good windjack up high, then it started to snow and blow.  It was hard to tell how much snow actually fell while we were there, because the snow stake kept blowing off, but over the next few days it generally snowed a foot+, and blew enough to both give us a nice refresher and spice up the avy conditions.

Our days pretty much consisted of wake, eat copious breakfast, break into groups, ski hard all day, come back, sauna and appetizer, play dumb games, eat stellar dinner, laugh, laugh, and laugh some more, repeat the next day.  Standard fare.  Fortunately Valhalla has a ton of tree skiing in awesome old growth, which is good because we pretty much tree skied every day while it snowed.  The valley floor was nearly 2000' below the hut, so each day ended with a long grind out of The Hole back up to the treeline hut, but it made the awaiting appies that much better.

A few pics:
Jonny, our erstwhile Trip Leader and human furnace, on our first, cold day
Moments later, his uh....bubble burst.....when his airbag violently deployed when hoisting his airbag pack to his shoulder.....
It took a team of engineers to figure out how to not only deflate it but also detach it from the pack.  
but on to the skiing.  Here's Jeannie in the upper reaches of "Praise Alley"
Praise Allah for Praise Alley.  3000 feet of this with nary a track.
Ash high on Sunlight pass, after grinding back out of the depths attained on Praise Alley 
Coupla Buddies on Sunlight Pass
Most of the time we split into groups, but there were a couple of magnetic places that drew the groups together. 
The Valhalla mountains proper.  Pretty craggy, cool peaks.  
another great run name:  Valhallaluja.  And another 2500' grind out.  
Is that Ted Liggety?  
Ah, no.  Just another Middle Aged Powder Pussy!  
MAPPs are easily identified by their distinctive facial lichen 
Tom Orsini taking "a rest".  Yes it's as dead flat as it looks!  
but he made up for it with a true Face Shot!  
The gratuitous "alpenglow with moonrise" shot from the hut
Mike banging his shins
Our stability was.....ok.  this was a sympathetic trigger from a sick huck on an adjacent slope.  
the game of "Pigs" is not that exciting, until Greg gets involved and winds people up.  Here Ash celebrates her come-from-behind, game-winning throw.....
which game is more fun?  
Margaret and JB lapping it up
Forget Ted Liggety; is that Alf Engen? 
You can take the country boy out of rural New Hampshire, but you can't take the desire to cut wood products out of the country boy
Alas, the flight out.  Michelin Man is ready for flight.  
Of course, I hate helicopters, but they are a pretty fun toy!  I think the pilot's ears are still ringing from this shoutout!  
And our return to Zion, the Promised Land......
Which - contrary to popular belief - actually has some decent skiing.  And only 20 miles away!  
On the way home we spent a day and a half with our great friends Leigh and Matt in Rossland, which has some great skiing very nearby; the quality and proximity rivals anywhere we've been.  And then on the way home we did probably the best roadside tour anywhere; Lookout Pass on the Idaho/Montana border has a 1200' run through a burn that ends 200 yards from the exit off I-90!  An awesome mid-drive leg-stretcher.

thanks again to Jonny for putting together the trip and to The Gang for making the trip worth the drive and more!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Makin' it easy?

The Outdoor Retailer show was in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago; that semi-annual orgy of gear, gear, gear.  As a longtime member of that industy I should fully embrace it since it’s what has brought home my bacon for most of my career, but every January and August I come away from the show with a niggling question in the back of my mind:  what, exactly, are “we”  - the outdoor industry – actually doing?  And part of the answer is always this:  we are making these interesting and – here’s the crux – challenging – activities easier, through gear-related innovations.  And I ask myself:  is  - or should – our goal actually be making our little activities “easier”? 

Long ago I was a resort skier at the venerable Mount Hood Meadows. I skied there both days every weekend all season and could not get enough.  But over time, as I skied the same runs that I loved over and over I realized that….I actually could get enough; in fact, too much.   I got bored; bored of my most favorite of things. It was about that time that brother Paul was out in Utah getting into telemark skiing, and while visiting him out there I took a couple of days off shredding Snowbird to go out into the backcountry and take the requisite ass-kicking that 3 pin bindings, 2-sizes-too-big borrowed tele boots, and stiff, skinny 205 cm “telemark skis” were guaranteed to dish out.  But a light bulb had gone on for me; this was a way to make skiing challenging again, and it literally re-opened Mount Hood Meadows for me. The game was on:  could I ski as well as I could on alpine gear on this compromised tele gear?  I attacked the terrain with new vigor, (with only a minor setback when I broke my fibula in a classic “tele break” at the boot top).  

I soon relished skiing hard on tele gear with my alpine friends and was lapping up the concept that I was cooler because I was doing the same thing on “harder” gear.  But at the same  time, I began the inevitable gear-creep: building a cuff out of an old alpine boot (telling myself it was because of my leg) and eventually getting plastic Scarpa T2 boots (tho to try to cement my cool-guy status, I held out for a long time!), “fatter” skis (that were still way skinny!), graduating from 3 pins to cables to Voile plates to cabled/cartridge bindings, etc.  And yes indeed, I could eventually shred as well on my tele gear as I could on alpine stuff.  But was that the point?  At the time it was.  And at that time I didn’t think about the paradox that is thus:  we try new, challenging activities in part because they are indeed challenging, and learning the activities and rising to meet the  challenges of the activities is part – sometimes a large part – of the fun, but then we embark on a journey to make those activities easier and actively take out the challenge, despite the fun associated with the challenge. 

And we do so by upgrading the gear.  To be sure, the activities become easier with experience and skill as well, but we – as good ol’ fashioned, we-can-buy-anything ‘Merican consumers – also have the ability and desire to buy our way to improvement, and we exercise that…..a lot. 

Eventually I gravitated towards AT ski gear, but that was more a function of safety because I got too paranoid about the concept of burly telemark bindings that didn’t release, both out of fear for my ACL’s/MCL’s and the implications of getting dragged down by skis in avalanche debris.  But it was also because….it just didn’t matter any more.  Telemark gear had evolved to the point where it was virtually indistinguishable from AT gear – and these days is actually burlier – and the fact that, as the bumper sticker goes:

Over time, the same thing happened to me with bicycling: I wouldn’t say that I was “bored” with it per se, but when I saw the opportunity for making it more challenging vis a vis’ single speeds and fixies, I jumped on these, and I found that challenge to be really fulfilling.  Riding a too-big gear on a fixy cross bike on our Shoreline trail is hard, stupid, slow, mildly dangerous……and really fun.  And singlespeeds in general are very much the telemark skis of the bike world; no real reason to imbibe other than for the esoteric “feel” of it.  And despite my friend Alex’s great blog post “Why Singlespeeders Are Like Jesus Freaks”  ( where I think he was talking about me because I think I was the only SS-er he knew, and my BD colleague Paul was kind enough to get me this sticker:

I’d like to think that I’m not (quite) a righteous zealot. 

But recently, I had a good viewing of the anti-me’s, and wondered about this concept of inconsistent zealotry.  As Ash was pondering which bike to buy our erstwhile friends Joe and Emma were horrified to hear that she was  - gasp! - considering a hard tail mtb!  “Let technology be your friend!”  was their memorable quote. And yet……they are both avid telemarkers  - the hard-tailin' single speeders of the ski world - who scoff at AT gear!  Ash and I talked about this concept a lot, and she ultimately bought what she calls “the ‘ultimate Middle Aged Powder Pussy (MAPP) of bikes”  and has been perpetually tickled by her decision. But she gave the whole spectrum of options a lot of thought, and in doing so brought clarity to her fundamental desires in that activity.  

So here’s my theory:  we are all in our own little arms-races of the Cold War of Gear with our peers, and if we all did our activities alone, we would not be the gear-hogs that we are.  Our friends get skis that are 120 underfoot and are rippin', so we gotta get skis that are 120 underfoot so that not only are we rippin’ too but – God forbid – our partners won’t chide us for bumbling on our typical 30 degree open powder runs.  Or – worse – we perceive that they are silently judging/mocking us for our potential dundering!  What’s interesting about backcountry skiing is that about 99% of your time is actually NOT skiing (if you ski fast!), yet many folks buy gear almost exclusively for that 1%. 

For sure, it’s a quality vs quantity thing.  For the SLC Sherpas, Samurais, Sherpitas, and Vikings it’s about quantity, and the turns….whatever! Fast, furious, barely controlled, powder/crust/ice, thrashing, etc.  For our friend TJ (for example) – who sports Big Boots, Big Skis, and Big Bindings – the amount of vertical/runs doesn’t matter, but those turns are so precious - so exquisite -  that they need to be perfect, and perfection is – in part – achieved by the gear.  And so our Quests for Perfection can lead us in multiple directions, depending on the desires. 

The great thing about the outdoor industry is that this mature market does indeed offer something for everyone, from the technoid, gram-countin', nuanced geek to the luddite to the bro brah to the gnarly chicks to the newbies.  But given the incredible array of choices that we have, it’s so easy to get caught up in the gear that at times I feel like there’s the possibility to have our activities actually be about the gear itself:   “My skis are too skinny for this deep stuff”, “My skis are too fat for this icy couloir”, “My tire tread isn’t deep enough for this mud”, “My tire tread is too deep and slow for these dry trails”.  The industry has created these expectations for us that ALL of our experiences must ALWAYS be maximized, and we have the gear/clothes to maximize, but the truth is that absolute maximization really only “should” matter to those who are competing (but competing…where?  In a race? With your buddies on a “friendly” outing?”).  As I learned from this commencement speech:  “the key to happiness is…..lowering your expectations”.  Is this gizmo I am using today perfect?  Perhaps not, but the experience I’m having with it is sublime…..unless my expectations are too high, and then I let that cloud my subliminity.    
Ultimately, of course, it’s all about fun; that’s why we devote so much of our money, time, mental energy, and lifestyle towards doing all these silly activities anyway.  But as the cool new shit comes out season after season and the improvements are increasingly nuanced, how much difference do they really make when trying to peg the fun meter? And if indeed, as they say:
then whatever was less easy would also be subject to derision?  And if everything that we did was indeed “easy”, would it be as much fun and have the same appeal?  Most of what we do outside is rooted around a challenge, whether hiking up Olympus or climbing the Eiger. Nailing the line in a big, scary rapid, firing a committing technical section, climbing quickly through the unprotected crux, or dancing down a steep, narrow couloir successfully..…all at – or even past – the limits of our skill and/or our gear generate the best, most addictive adrenaline rushes in our lives.  So should we – as gear producers and consumers – indeed strive to make all of those things easier?  

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Mountain Warfare Training Center

I am winging my way to Korea at the moment to wrap up a year-long project that began at the Mountain Warfare Training Center on the east side of the Sierras last February.  As I reflect back on that experience and where it has taken the poject, I think it’s worth recounting.

In a nutshell, we were asked to design and develop a new winter boot for the US Marine Corps, and in order for us to know what the performance needs were, we got invited to spend a couple of days at the MWTC, a pretty sizable facilitity nestled in the mountains near Bridgeport, about halfway between Reno and Mammoth.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s apparently fairly rare for civilians to be able to spend time there, and what we saw and learned was fascinating. 

Our visit started with a shakedown meeting to get an overview of the project.  About 12-15 people – some in uniform, some not – crowded into a small meeting room and we started talking about boots.  Basically, we realized that our task was to replace the venerable “Bunny Boot”; a boot that was developed after the disastrous campaign at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean war.  
Really heavy, but really warm.  Note the pressure relief valve for when the boot goes up into high elevations (there are two layers of sealed off rubber inside) to keep them from expanding/cutting off circulation. 

Apparently the winter of 1953 was brutally cold, so in addition to fighting a way, the American troops had big problems with frostbite and infection that winter, so over the summer they hastily developed a burly, waterproof, and super warm boot.  The following winter was apparently quite mild, but the boot stayed inline for……60 years!   Actually, they were last produced in the early 80’s, but they are so robust that they just keep lasting and lasting through annual cycles of Marine recruits coming up to spend a couple of weeks learning mountain/winter skills. 

They also use a winterized version of the "Rat Boot"
pretty weak outsole for winter use
 As the meeting progressed there was a lot of discussion about the performance characteristics that the boot needed to have.  A British guy who was there on a “trade” was clearly an enthusiastic mountaineer and was a big fan of the La Sportiva mountaineering boots, and initially he drove a lot of the discussion that revolved around climbing ice, climbing mountains, skiing, etc.  However, there was a very distinct moment when the conversation changed.

One of the uniformed guys very much caught my eye when he came in; a classic, chiseled GI Joe who, despite his big smile and hearty handshake, also had a bit of a menacing feel to him.  Sergeant Nelson had so much confidence that it was a bit unnerving.  And it manifested itself in a dramatic fashion.  After what was probably one too many comments on climbing ice, Sergeant Nelson leaned forward and in a low voice that still commanded everyone’s attention:  “Look. I do not care at all about any of these frivolous civilian recreational activities.  What I want is a boot that I can wear during cold conditions to go in,  engage the enemy, kill him, and quickly and safely return without freezing my men’s toes.  That is all that I need, and we do not have that now.”  Gulp.  This guy clearly would snap my pencil neck in half with his bare hands as he would slam down a beer and probably think equally of those two activities.  And as I am now wrapping up the project, I am hoping that he likes what we have done, and if he doesn’t, I’d rather not meet with him again! 
Sergeant Nelson behind the bunny boot, preparing to lay it down
 Our next move was the “Rope Room”; I can’t remember why it has that name, but it’s basically the most well-organized and comprehensive gear rental program I’ve ever seen.  There were hundreds each of skis (with tele bindings on them), snowshoes, ice axes, rock protection, boots, clothes, rock shoes, etc.  All perfectly organized in .…uh,  “military” precision

The marines would show up from Camp Pendeleton (San Diego) or Le Jeune (North Carolina) and pretty much make the rounds getting one of each.  And then head up into the mountains for two solid weeks of training.  Most of the kids – and they were indeed kids – had barely seen snow before, much less winter camped and skied, so it was very much a crash course (the MWTC has taken on a lot more importance over the last 10+ years due to the Afghan war and the severe weather and big mountains that the soldiers have been facing there). 

After getting the rental gear tour we headed into the mountains. We were plunked into these crazy little snowcats that apparently were also relics from some ancient war
I was happy to get into the gunless version; figured there was loss opportunity to get killed in a skirmish
and we rode in these noisy, slow, and rattly snowcats up for maybe 45 minutes and a couple thousand feet into the mountains to get up close and personal with the recruits and their experience up there. 
Some nice ski terrain not too far away  Maybe I can use my newfound sway with the military to do some product testing up there?  
We had been warned that we would likely get barraged with info by the drill instructors, who  -like the British bloke – fancied themselves as mountaineers, but that we should really try to listen to the recruits themselves, because while the recruits would retire to their canvas tents at night and the temps plunged, the instructors would hop back into the snowcats and head for home, where they’d kick off their boots, take a warm shower, and sip some scotch while the recruits took turns “guarding” their tents.  And that’s what transpired; the instructors were telling us what the kids wanted, but when I was able to get a couple of the exhausted recruits alone and ask them about their shoes, they just gave me a sullen look and said “dude, I don’t care.  Just make them warm. That’s all I want.”  But they did need to have at least some semblance of “performance”; these kids had just returned from two weeks in the mountains and were literally skiing with cable bindings grabbing onto those bunny boots. 

But at least they didn’t know how to ski in the first place!  And the amount of gear and weight was extraordinary:  not only did they have big heavy boots and too much camping gear, they also had a flak jacket that was 30 pounds itself, and a 12 pound gun!  

The guys were literally toting 90 pounds worth of gear.  I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or horrified.  But it was clear that if we could shave some weight off their feet – which didn’t seem hard to do, since the Bunny Boots are as heavy as they are Goofy (or is that Mickey Mousey?)  -we’d be doing these guys a big favor. 

After hanging out up in the hills for a couple of hours (where, incidentally, my toes got pretty cold in the Sportiva mountaineering boots) 

we headed back down the hill.  On the way the call came in on the radio that there was a problem; a soldier was down.  “What’s the problem?”  barked into his radio.  “Charly Joe Infantryman fell and broke his back”  My eyes got a bit wide at that, and then even more so when the officer guy pretty much just brushed it off and said “Well, deal with it!”  Wow, really?  A broken back, and “just deal with it?” Ok, I guess we are in the military now.   Ah well, head back down, it's cocktail hour!

In the year since we have worked with a good factory partner and Gore, 3M (thinsulate), and Vibram to design and develop a boot that we think should address the needs of the recruits.  Eventually – because of the Berry Amendment – they will need to be made in the US, but for now we are doing a run of test samples in Korea.  Winter is unfortunately nearly half over,  and “winter” has not really even come to the Sierras yet, but hopefully there will be at least some opportunity for the recruits to get some cold feet.  And we’ll see how the boots go.  And hope that Sergeant Nelson likes ‘em!