Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ski Tips

I have had the good fortune of skiing a lot lately; it's been....uh.. "good":

 Actually, some of the best in recent - and beyond - memory.  As I have been wont to say:  Utah has The Greatest Snow on Earth.....until it doesn't, which is a surprisingly large amount of the time!  Weeks of sunny high pressure can be locked in place midwinter, but this year as with many places (aside from New England) God's snow gun turned on late and he's kept it a pretty much full throttle since (musta been all that praying for snow).  So when it's Good, you Gotta Go.  

As I've skied a bunch and wandered around the Wasangeles watching others' and my own habits I've been putting a lot of thought into efficiency; what are the things that I and my pards do/don't do that generate either greater efficiency or are inherent, easy-to-execute safety measures that are pretty subtle that some people may think are completely obvious but other people may not necessarily think of?  So I've been compiling a bit of a list, and thought I'd fire up a quick blawg post with My List....with the caveat that I may sound a bit imperious while doing so.....

First, transitions:

  • One thing that doing silly skimo races teaches you is to develop a transition "system", because systems are more efficient and effective than randomness.   That'll make you both efficient and maybe keep you from pushing off down the hill with one or both skins on!  
  • You got two hands:   use 'em!  When I bend down to buckle my boots I get both my right and left hands going on my (too many) boot buckles and the ski/walk mech.  Most people I see do one boot, then the other, with one hand working on each.  
  • Sink your teeth into your skins:  I like to put the first skin in my teeth while I rip the other skin off, and then - after folding them onto themselves -  fold the two together so they can be stashed simultaneously.  
  • Stash the skins in your jacket:  if you are swifter in your transitions and the weather isn't too harsh you may not otherwise need to swing your pack off, and stashing them close to your body keeps the skins warmer  -to stick better - as well.  You may look a bit pregnant in the sick blower pow photos that your brahs are getting of you, 
  • Along those lines when I snack it's usually low (at the bottom of the run) and - especially if it's cold - I usually keep my skins in my jacket whilst snacking/drinking to give them that much more time to warm up.  
  • I am still seeing people use those stupid black plastic things that companies (Black Diamond) sell to keep skin glue from  -God forbid - touching other skin glue.  Those are for summertime storage, not to try to apply and peel off every run.  
  • I also still see people changing their pole lengths every run for skiing/skinning; another little thing that's mostly unnecessary and adds to your list of things to do and takes time.  
Goggles - a bit of a subcategory of transitions.   It seems to me that most people always wear goggles for descending, regardless of weather.  Digging your goggles out, pulling them out of the goggle bag, putting them on, and reversing the operation at the bottom is another small time suck that again adds to your List of Things To Do every run.  Ashley wears contacts and her eyes tear up easily, so she has - to me - a legitimate excuse, but otherwise, just because they are "ski goggles" doesn't mean that you have to "ski" in them.  I always carry goggles for the burliest snowy/cold days (and super deep blower like the last few days), but even in moderate snowfall I find that glasses work just fine, they are super handy since you can keep them on for the climb, keep them in your pocket, and/or easily clean them off with a pocket-based hankie.  

That said, if you do use goggles a lot, gog-management is key.  Ashley has a great little system where she puts her hankie next to the lens, so on the climb up any moisture on the lens is absorbed by the hankie, leaving her lens nice and dry and thus unlikely to fog up on the descent.  
isn't she cute?  And note her bulkiness is due to her skins inside her jacket.  
And Colin uses a similar-but-different technique of a terry-cloth goggle bag that is super-absorbent:
Colin's mostly a glasses guy but gogs up on storm days
And while on the topic of goggles, I have always used the super-dorky but very effective neoprene patch to protect my nose from frostnip:
As noted above, super dorky!  But really effective.  Just glue it on.  
Helmets are kind of in the same camp as goggles.  "Ski Helmets" are for resorts and suck for backcountry skiing; they are heavy and bulky, but at least they'll make your head catch fire as you march up the skin track!  You've probably seen folks skinning and skiing in lightweight, well-ventilated climbing helmets which are ok, but having broken something like 25 bike helmets with my head I have learned to put a lot of faith in bike helmets which also have much better side and back-of-head protection.  I am using a Giro Time Trial helmet (without the sick fairing sticking out the back, though that would be pretty rad!) that has minimal venting on the top to keep snow off my balding pate, but still has enough venting to be cool on climbs, and in the past I've just put tape over the top vents of regular bike helmets.  If I ski with a helmet I usually keep it off for the approach climb and then put it on and keep it on for the rest of the day so I don't have to futz with it every run.  And in conjunction with goggles, skimo types know that they can put goggles on the solid, non-ventilated "forehead" of their helmets where there's a decent seal between goggle and helmet to keep snow out and don't get steamed up from your own forehead.  

Pants with zippers:  I gave up on GoreTex a long time ago; at least in the Wasatch soft shells work just fine at snow-shedding, and I would argue that our weather prognosticating has gotten to the point where it it's too wet.....we just don't go.  It seems to me that GoreTex pants in particular are expensive, heavy, and bulky, but at least they make your legs catch fire on the climbs.  So people understandably unzip them, which is yet another "thing" to do at transitions, or - as I used to do about 3 times a day - leave the zippers down, creating a perfect snow funnel whenst skiing down.  

A lot of these transitions things are sorta stupid, but again they all add up, and one benefit of being efficient at transitions means that your inefficient pards feel self-conscious at holding you up and thus they are far more likely to say "why don't you go first!"  

  • if you use tech-style (ie Dynafit) bindings, use tech-style boots; that is, with a very short "lip" at the front.  Boots like the Scarpa Maestrale/Gea/Freedom, the Dynafit Vulcan, the now-defunct Black Diamond boots (which, to be fair, I still use, but the price was right...), and most of the boots by the alpine boot manufacturers have longer lips to accommodate frame-style AT bindings where the little tech fittings (the pin holes) are about a centimeter farther forward, and thus you have to go that much further over-center to get the rotation with each step.  It may not seem like a big deal, but that subtle difference adds up over a zillion or two steps up steep Wasatch skin tracks (and is really noticeable as compared to the too-far-forward pivot point of old fritschis and the farther-back pivot point of a split board binding).  The manufacturers are basically putting tech fittings into boots designed for frame bindings, and the consumer using those boots for tech bindings is getting unnecessarily overkilled.   
  • along those lines, there are so many great boots out there that ski really well that save over a pound per foot from the likes of the boots above (and that old adage of "1 pound on your foot = 5 pounds on your back" was actually proven in a big military test in the 80's; that and other interesting info along those lines can be found here) .  The Dynafit TLT 6 and 7, the new Arcteryx boot, most of the La Sportiva boots, the Scarpa F1 Evo, the Atomic Backland - all of these have the short lips, somewhat curved soles for easier booting/walking (in the spring), have huge cuff ranges of motion, are pretty warm, and ski really well.. Yeah, I know, you're a badass skier with more resort years than you can count and you need the burliest shit imaginable so you can slay the 32 degree backcountry powder shots like the Big Mountain Ripper (BMR) that you are, but these boots ski really well, and can indeed push around your BMR skis with them just fine.  
  • If you are still on 3-4 buckle boots.....unbuckle them for the climb.  I feel like we blaze past so many folks who are barely moving up skin tracks with their boots firmly clamped down, obviating their ankle's - and the boot's walk mechanism's - ability to flex to get you up the hills efficiently.  Also, the top of your foot (the navicular) is the key zone in keeping your toes warm; if you clamp down there it'll pinch that nerve/main blood supply and make your toes colder.  
  • Power straps - these to me seem like yet another thing to fiddle with at transitions if indeed you loosen and tighten them every run (to get better walkability and skiability), and because they are up under your pant legs and have fabric-catching velcro they are even more fiddlesome than the other things you're fiddling with.  I know that there are plenty of BMR's out there who will think I'm a weenie, but I think that a boot that buckles up - as they all do - should provide plenty of oomph for your skiing.  
Heel risers  - Along the lines of boots, buckles, straps, and range-of-motion cuffs, the new school boots have so much range of motion built into them that you should be able to accommodate every pitch - from flat to steep - on one binding heel riser setting.  As terrain changes or - hopefully not - skin tracks vary in their pitch (more on that later) stopping to change the heel riser setting back and forth between high, medium, and flat is again something I see a lot, and it seems time consuming and unnecessary.  

Skin Tracks - this topic alone has the potential for multiple articles/posts and is hotly contested, but I'm a pretty mellow skin track putter-inner relative to many of our fellow Wasangeleans, and here's a bit of science applied to it by the smart and nice guy who does - appropriately -  Basically, 13-16 degrees is what he found is optimal; I've measured mine at about 20 degrees, and I've seen plenty in the Wasatch that are pushing 30 degrees! (and watched plenty of folks barely moving up these skinners, whether due to their lack of fitness or lack of technique or even a lack of viability at all once a bit of sun or hoar frost gets applied).  
here's a 28 degree skinner that we "fixed" the other day
Keeping the pitch consistent is also important for efficiency, and most of the time if I am faced with going steep or flat to get around a tree or other obstacle I'll usually go low so my pards and I don't flail to get just other foot or two.  

My theory about the Wasatch's steep skin tracks is that so many people do so many quick  - ie coupla-hour or half-day outings that they a) don't feel the need to conserve their power - and it is power, on steep skinners - for a long day, and/or b) their enthusiasm to get'er done in a short amount of time translates to a desire/need to go near-as-possible to straightlining up (Tom's Very Scientific Anecdotal Observations have supported this).  I'd like to think that steep skinners aren't a function of people purposely doing so in order to make it more challenging for future followers, but that could be a factor as well....

Additionally, long reaches (ie fewer switchbacks) are more efficient since switchbacks take additional time/energy and longer reaches means you cross skinners fewer times on the descent, and rounded turns should be done where....rounded turns are appropriate, like at tree bases.  We keep seeing rounded turns happening on consistently steep pitches, thus forcing followers to get their skis facing pretty much straight uphill at some point in making the turn.  Note:  true switchbacks are ok!   

Everybody has their little techniques/tips - and strong opinions about them - and these are simply a few of mine, along with a few gleaned from my consistent pards.  And I'm kinda wondering why I'm being so altruistic, because certainly there are already plenty of skiers skiing plenty of lines in the Wasatch and elsewhere plenty efficiently!  

I will likely follow this up with a few subtle safety tips that my pards and I also use....and it probably won't be this long or imperious!  In the meantime, keep those "tips" up.....

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dispatches from New Zealand, Part III

It's been a few weeks now since I've returned to the land of snow and cold, and between skiing a lot and a fun holiday social agenda I haven't taken the time yet to follow up on the most excellent adventures that I had to good fortune to experience in NZ.

After returning from the Coromandel Peninsula the next soiree was to the Motu river.  The Motu is somewhat unusual in that it's a multi-day trip, which is a bit rare in NZ in general and particularly so on the North island.  But it carves a great gorge through the middle of the island and is pretty remote, particularly when the effects of the "native bush" is taken into account; much of NZ was logged/stripped long ago and there's not a lot of what we might call old growth there, but in rainy NZ the woods manifests itself as pretty much impenetrable jungle.  The remoteness and difficulty of the whitewater (back in the day; it's only moderate at class 4) of the Motu kept it unassailable by would-be loggers back in the day, so not only is it thick, but it's only populated by native vegetation, versus much of the rest of the country that  -due to colonization - had a lot of plants introduced.  So the Motu is pretty pristine for most of the 60-odd miles that we paddled.

If you had an issue, hiking out never seemed like it would be very feasible; even if you could move more than 20 feet off the river corridor, there's no where to go. 
it was so thick that I never saw a place to camp; nice lunch beaches like this:
Are appealing, but as with many rainy climes, it's unwise to slumber below the high water mark, no matter what the forecast is.  Just a month prior, this river - that had probably 1 or 2 thousand cfs at the takeout - had flashed to 60,000 cfs.  It was mostly pretty deeply-gorged:

So it was good to have the seasoned Motu vets who knew the secret flat spots, and camping high was fine with me:
And as it turned out, it did rain on us
Andy and I gave Ross and Bruce a bit of a hard time for bringing just a tarp for a multi-day trip in NZ, but it was nice and cozy when it started to pour about the time we were cooking dinner. 
The newness of the country and the big rains in NZ caused a lot of what they call "slips".  I call them really impressive landslides!
These things come down and dam the river every couple of years.  
The whitewater was mostly class 3, with a couple of places where it stepped up a bit:

the lads scouting a slot that hid a pretty nasty little hole right in the middle; we ended up going left of the island of rocks on the left of the picture. 

Andy lining up to shoot left.  
but mostly it was beautiful cruisin
with a few "wildlife" sightings
Wild goats, which the Kiwis consider to be vermin.  One of the Kiwi's paddling pards had seen some on their last trip, whipped out his waterproof shotgun, and killed one from his boat!
There are few people as friendly and stoked to be on water as Ross:

Except maybe Andy!  

Leaving the rivers behind for a bit we became a bit more terrestrial.  Lake Taupo is a ginormous lake (biggest in all of "Oceania:  Australia, NZ, and the part of Asia south of the equator) in the center of the North Island that's an ancient volcanic caldera.  But more importantly, there's a killer singletrack bike ride that ends at the shore of the lake that has water taxi service.

  Andy borrowed a bike from a friend (and wisely rode it, and let me ride his bike, so if/when I broke the bike it'd be his old one, versus his friend's nice bike!) and Kiwis - like all Commonwealth types - have their brake levers mounted on the opposite sides, so the rear brake is on your left hand.  But at least that rear brake on Andy's bike was in bad need of a bleeding, so I basically only had a front brake.  I took it easy on these turns that were hundreds of feet above the lake....

 Eventually we hit the lake, and sure enough, there was our shuttle awaiting us:

He's got a pretty fancy boat-based bike rack:

but for some reason just chucked our bikes over the side:
It's interesting to see that everywhere we went in NZ there were folks around who were keen to facilitate outdoor adventurers with logistic-based businesses, whether guiding, shuttles, etc.  On one hand you didn't get to delve into the research and details of "how are we going to pull this off", but on the other, you didn't have to worry about the details of "how are we going to pull this off?!"

On our way to the next foray we stopped for a gander at Huka Falls, a famous little kayak gorge that ends in an impressive waterfall.  It was at a stompin' level and we weren't keen to fire it, but it's impressive:
It's a famous sight in NZ and there are tour buses around, but once you drop into that little gorge with water thundering through it I think you feel pretty lonely.  

this is the final drop. 
Poached from the interweb, here is a shot of a guy running it at lower water:
and here is a link to a Kiwi hardman kayaker running it.  A good reminder of a classic Greg Hanlon-ism:  If I ever put a Red Bull helmet on my head, stop me from whatever I am about to do!  One of the drops in that gorge is an old weir that tends to grab and trash kayakers, and apparently in the not-to-distant past a couple of hardwomen paddling it both swam out of that and were literally clinging to the cliffs just above the last falls until they were lowered a rope (that would still not be an easy get-out....).  

Another amazing tale that apparently every Kiwi knows is that of a famous cricket umpire (apparently they can become famous?) who solicited a prostitute for a bondage session that got a little out of hand and he asphyxiated, and the freaked out prostitute and her boyfriend chucked the body...into the gorge.  Here's the tale.

But on toward more wholesome endeavors, like hiking and running!  The Tongariro Crossing is a 13 or so mile point to point hike across the biggest mountains on the North Island.  It is billed as "the best one day tramp in the country".  And anything that's called "the best" is bound to be crowded, and indeed it was.  But like the US national parks, it's worthy.  Our plan was for me to drop Andy off at one end, then I'd drive around to the other end and run "backwards", meeting him along the way, and he'd then drive back around and pick me up.  He had to wonder if it was going to work when he had to remind me to get in the right side of the car to then drive on the "wrong" side of the road....

But it worked out just fine.  Like national parks, the trails were pretty well-developed:

reinforced against erosion by this plastic lattice work

And because I was going "backwards" (the normal trail tail was about 1000 feet lower than the trailhead, so everyone goes that way; even Kiwis look for the easy way!) I had the trail to myself
Up to the cabin

I'm not sure why they have a cabin about 4 miles from the trailhead, but whatever; it was a very nice place, that had been rebuilt after a fairly recent eruption:

Would have been a rude awakening
After the hut I started to bump into people
including this guy:
But despite seeing this kind of riff raff, the views were impressive:

As continued to be the crowds:
but I realized that going against the flow of traffic was good, since they could at least see me coming (peaking out from under their hoods), which was good because I probably passed over 500 people.  

Working our way south, we headed for another river:
"River Valley" is a little resort there that is the takeout for a beautiful and fun class 4+ run and the put in for an equally beautiful class 2 run.  
The river was on the low side, but still plenty fun for some good creekin'

Our takeout was about 30 feet from our camp, and our camp was about 50 feet from some nice draft beers. 
The creek was fairly steep but  -again  -the Kiwis have no problem taking people down it in rafts, and were also kind enough to give us shuttles up to the put in.  It was interesting diving back into the world of the young river guides, one of whom was stoked for a day off to paddle with us:
For a long time I had heard stories about the legendary Richard Sage, who was a hardman kayaker in NZ back in the day. Years ago he started up a kayak company called Bliss-Stick, and the factory was....about a mile from this river, literally in the middle of nowhere.  Here is the sign for the factory and the business, on his gravel road:
Not too long ago Richard sold some of the assets to Bliss-Stick, but he still still makes plastic boats for NZ kayak schools, makes molds for the new kayak company that grew out of Bliss-Stick, and the molds are shipped to Europe for the manufacturing of the kayaks. 

After almost 3 weeks on the North Island Andy needed to get back to Tauranga and I felt like it was time to move on to the South.  I wasn't sure that Andy could stand me for 3 weeks, but he's an easy guy to be around and we had a lot of yucks. 

 Thanks again to a great host!