Category Archives: Griffin Post

Kirkwood Wrap-up


Inspecting The Cirque, if you listen closely you can hear Cliff Bennett yelling at someone.

Well, what can one say about Kirkwood? The venue is unreal- it’s the only stop on the tour that we’re guaranteed permanently closed terrain. It’s big, the snow’s good, and the vibe is great. Unfortunately, I ended up a less-than-impressive 10th at Kirkwood after a monster back-slap second run. Dylan Crossman and came away with the “W,” which I couldn’t be more stoked about. Janina Kuzma crushed it on the ladies side of things, and took home the sickbird to boot! Of the runs I saw both days, Crossman and Kuzma were the standouts- they crushed it.

Furthermore, Dylan was really skiing big mountain lines- not just hitting a bunch of small features really fluidly- but dropping-in over exposure, being controlled, and airing big out the bottom. Guys like Dylan, Lars Chickering-Ayers, Julien Lopez, and Josh Diek go out there and ski the film line- the lines that aren’t necessarily the highest scoring, but the lines that leave spectator’s jaws dropped. These lines don’t score as high, sometimes, because they’re difficult to execute smoothly, harder to put down that four-point landing, and any mistakes are magnified due to the exposure one’s on. Maybe it is harder to ski a bunch of smaller, well-traveled airs fast and fluidly, but I don’t think that’s really big mountain skiing. I’d rather go ski these exposed, difficult, and rarely skied lines and lose- going home knowing I pushed the sport- than win skiing a run-of-the-mill line quickly that’s still going to leave spectators wondering what big mountain skiing is and why I won.

Way to do both Dylan, cheers to you!

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Later Freeride World Tour- C’est la vie!


An avalanche rips down Tram Face early Monday. I’m watching from the top of the photo.

The idea of skiing the Tram Face is amazing- it’s big, it’s gnarly, and it may have the best spectating of any venue in the world. The reality of skiing tram face is, unfortunately, very difficult. It needs to snow a lot, stabilize over approximately 24 hours, all the while maintaining it’s integrity (not wet slide and pin wheel) in the hot Tahoe sun. The organizers had the ambition and it could have been a phenomenal event, but based on the snow and stability , I can’t say I was disappointed when they called off Tram Face after the slide. Although the avalanche wasnt’t the reason for the event being canceled (it was because of the hard debris piles nearly everywhere), I look at the incident as the mountain simply saying, “no guys, not today.”


I tumbled from about a third of the way down.

So, Monday we headed to Silverado for the second year in a row. I won’t lie, I’m not a huge fan of Silverado for a big mountain competition, but we kinda had to take what we were dealt. I picked a fairly aggressive line- a standard air up top and a tight chute with a mandatory and an incredibly small transition. The air up top went fine, I dropped into the chute- that was tighter than it looked- made a hop turn and then got tip-to-tailed between two rocks. I went to make another turn and my skis stayed put and I just began tomahawking down the chute toward the mandatory. After two rolls I self arrested before I went over the edge. I sent the mandatory and skied to the finish in frustration. I’ve never crashed like that- in rocks in a place you really don’t want to be tumbling. I don’t have too many bad days on skis, but that was a pretty bad day.


Collected myself just in time to send the mandatory.

For sure it’s a bummer that I didn’t once rise to the occasion on this years Freeride World Tour, but truth be told I’m not super worried about it. The tour gave me three years of amazing experiences traveling the world with some of the best people I’ve ever met, skiing some of the greatest mountains I’ve ever skied, and generally having the time of my life. In the end, isn’t that the point anyway?

Bringing Home the Bacon!


After a couple of rough competitions in Europe I was able to bring home the bacon in Crested Butte at the 19th Annual US Extreme Freeskiing Championships. Woot, woot! The win put me atop the Freeskiing World Tour standings, so I have that going for me, which is nice. Check it out here: More photos, video, and details to come- as a lot went down with the new snowfall. Safe to say that the conditions were the best I’ve seen them for the “extremes.”

Russia, by the Numbers

THE GOOD
Days on snow: 6
Storm days: 6
Total snowfall: “53

THE BAD
Days without luggage: 10
People I borrowed clothes/equipment from: 6
Phone calls to Delta regarding luggage: 57
Airports my bags visited: 10
Contest days: 0

THE UGLY
FWT athletes kicked out of official party: 5
Dance-floor related injuries: 1
Scandinavians that missed the last shuttle after the party and stayed in Sochi: 1
People that flew to the wrong airport in Moscow: 4
Angry Russians that thought, by some miracle, I could understand Russian if they just spoke louder and slower: countless

Big Mountain Competition: is this shit for you?

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The Bec- the premier face of Big Mountain Competition

With IFSA registration about a week off and FWT registration ongoing, I felt obliged to give my $0.02 on big mountain competitions (BMC). With the perceived reward of money, sponsors, and film time, BMC seems like the way to go, right? The competitions have helped launched the careers of Chris Davenport, Shane McConkey, Seth Morrison, Hugo Harrison, and Ingrid Backstrom, among others. With open qualifiers, it seems that fame is a mere four runs (and often less) away. However, before entering said competition, there are a few things you should probably consider.

First off, subjectivity is a bitch. Get it through your head that sometimes you’re going to get hooked up, and sometimes you’re going to get burned- that’s just the way it goes. Yes, as bad as it sounds, the more recognizable names will usually get the benefit of the doubt. If you’re going to pout when you get burned, have the dignity to concede a bit when you get hooked up- your peers will appreciate it.

Second, there may be no other skiing event that provides the opportunity to ski beyond one’s ability like a BMC. For instance, in slopestyle, one is pretty aware of their abilities- odds are if you can only through a switch nine you’re probably not going to drop the hammer and try your first double cork ten- you either have the trick in your pocket or you don’t. However, the terrain and airs in BMC are more subjective. Sure you’ve stuck a twenty footer, but can you do it today, on this take off, with this landing, after ten people have hit it? Err (no pun intended) on the side of caution.

Also, if you’re looking for a straight-line to the limelight, this is probably not the place. Yes, the aforementioned people got their start on the tour, but this was a long time ago- before the age of self-edits, social media, and shameless (sigh) internet self-promotion. Since Ian McIntosh in 2004, no one has come off a winning season and went straight into filming with a major production crew. Even before then, a winning season didn’t translate into the silver screen the following year. Yes, a lot of the filming talent competed at one point, but not all of them (surprisingly few actually) dominated, particularly recently.

Next, sure you’re a good skier, but the game’s a little different when you have judges watching every move and several hundred people screaming, ringing cowbells, and lighting off fireworks. If you get nervous on shooting the final cup in beer pong- you should probably ask yourself if this sport is really for you. On that point- being a good skier doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good competition skier. There are some amazing skiers out there that just don’t compete well.

So, if you understand that competition success doesn’t translate into film segments, are realistic about your skiing ability given the conditions, are cool under pressure, and understand it’s a judged sport, than, yes, this shit is for you and you’re going to love it.

First, if you pay attention to the top riders you’ll learn a ton- how to inspect, how to create a line, how to keep cool under pressure, etc. I mentioned how a lot of guys that film now never dominated competitions- but they sure as shit learned a lot through them, helping them become the skiers they are today. Next, although it might not be a fast track to the silver screen, it will get you noticed, in a timely fashion as well. Take all the photos and video you want, and maybe next season it will get you somewhere. Win a competition; it will get you noticed that day. I’m not saying you’re going to get put on an international team for getting third, but it will at the very least give you some in roads with sponsors. Lastly, and most importantly (i.e. this is why you should be doing it in the first place) you’re going to meet some of the coolest, hardcore yet down to earth people in the world. The family on tour is like nothing else in sports. Yes it’s a competition, but everyone is cheering each other on and helping them out. If you really want to see the soul of skiing, come to a tour stop.

The Devil’s Bedstead (Shredstead)

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The Devil’s Bedstead

Unfortunately, I was relieved of much of my camera equipment in Argentina, so I had to scrape together some pictures from the few I had uploaded on other sites.  (I am aware there are no pictures of us actually skiing):

 

I’m already regretting my decision to bivy at the base of the Devil’s Bedstead and I haven’t even fallen asleep.  While the freezing temperatures ease my concerns about skiing in the morning, the temps aren’t doing a whole lot for my current sleeping situation.   Located in the Pioneer Mountains, the Devil’s Bedstead rises roughly 4,800’ from the valley floor and is defined by a 2,800’ face that looms over the Kane Creek drainage.

 

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The view from the headwaters of Park Creek

Despite the cold temperatures, I manage to sleep until just after 3am.  With a rather leisurly start to the day, we begin the bushwhack to the base of the mountain just after five.  The route up the Bedstead is pretty straightforward, with the exception of gaining the basin at the bottom of the face. For anyone trying to replicate this here’s the key: go several hundred yards pass the drainage that, on the map, gives access to the basin (there’s a faint trail). At this point start heading up, through steep, yet open forests. Going directly up the drainage is possible, but it’s steep, heavily wooded, and pretty much fubar.

 

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The face of the beast

Scrambling through the loose rock and dirt, we eventually make it to the subtle basin below the daunting face.  Any concerns about the snow setting up are immediately dismissed once we reach snowline.  The snow froze, and it froze deep, allowing for a long, but essentially straightforward route up the face.  As we gain elevation, our crampons and ice axes provide less and less purchase, and I can’t help but think how good an idea not falling is.  After a scramble over a windswept scree field, we eventually reach the summit, just as we think the snow is beginning to warm.  Relaxing on the summit, we predict that the snow should be turning to corn in the next hour, considering the face has been catching light since six thirty.

 

Devil'sBS
Ketchum from the summit

When it comes to skiing (and most other things I suppose) I have the patience of a virgin on prom night, which is probably not the best quality given our current situation. So, after a casual lunch on the summit, I deemed the snow had reached sufficient softness and it was time to drop in. Wrong.  The first mid radius turn I ambitiously made was nothing short of terrifying- I thought the teeth were going to chatter out of my jaw. Time to safety ski again…super. Luckily, midway down the face the snow began to soften and we got some of the steep, spring turns we came for.

 

In retrospect, it’d be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get the entire 4,000’+ descent in good condition. Had we waited for the top to corn up, I think we’d be in real trouble at the bottom- both in terms of snow quality and stability. I think in this case, being impatient wasn’t the worst thing.

The Sickle Couloir on Horstman Peak

Pretty belated, but I was just going through some pics and it reminded me of how cool this line is- despite skiing it in less than all-time conditions.

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The Sickle from the Fish Hook drainage

Approximate date: May 26, 2009

There are a lot of epics in the Sawtooths, but for whatever reason the Sickle has always stuck out in my mind a bit.  Maybe it’s because you can see it from Stanley, or maybe because it’s such an awesome sliver- either way, it’s a good one for the Idaho hit list.

Drew and I set out one day in late May to see if we couldn’t find some descent snow still remaining in the upper reaches of the ‘tooths.

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The approach

Referred to as the most aesthetic peak in the Sawtooths, Horstman Peak rises to 10,470’ and is defined by the Sickle Couloir.  Usually conquered in two days in the winter, the couloir provides a rather lengthy day in the spring due to the approach.  Highlights of the five-mile walk into the basin included me collapsing a snow bridge and falling into a creek up to my waist, countless post-holes in isothermic snow, and Drew loosing his balance and testing his self-arresting skills.

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Base of the couloir. Things look good, right?

At the base of the couloir things looked promising: it seemed that the snow in the shade was still frozen and there was what looked like a previous boot pack.  Once we got inside the couloir, however, things were not so reassuring.  What we perceived to be an old boot pack was nothing more than a debris trails from a large rocks that had rolled down the couloir- this was both frustrating and unnerving.  To make matters worse, snow had frozen, but only the top couple of inches.  Thus, while you could kick-in with your boot, the moment you transferred weight you’d immediately post-hole.

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Half way up the couloir, when things start getting really harry

We pushed on despite the marginal conditions.  Midway up the couloir things went from bad to worse.  The snow had frozen much deeper and, while it would now support weight, it was virtually impenetrable- even with an ice axe..  Scrambling up the 45 plus-degree top section, the light was just beginning to heat up the snow on the top twenty feet of the couloir- we’d at least have one good turn.

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The final steps where we started getting purchase again.

The Sickle Couloir is walled in for about 1,000’, varying between 45 and 55 degrees.  Given that sections of it were so frozen they were impermeable with an ice axe, I’ll admit that we were a bit puckered as we dropped in.

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The first, and only good turn.

Dropping in, I admit I was pretty puckered. The majority of the couloir was steep, narrow, had few safety zones, and was made up of coral. Needless to say, if you fell, you were going for a ride, probably pin-balling to the apron. We made the call to ski with ice axes in hand for self-arresting reasons.

The first turn, which had been baking in the sun for about an hour, was buttery.  The next twenty turns, however, were nothing short of terrifying.  The combination of steep, runneled, and boilerplate snow through a walled-in couloir tested our survival skiing skills.  We eventually made it to the apron that had been heating up in the sun for quite some time now, and made some more natural turns to the base of the snowfield.

As I said, the Sickle is one of many epics in the Sawtooths, particularly if the conditions are right…or so I hear, as I’ve never come close to hitting it right.

Griffin goes to Solden, finds people that actually care about skiing.

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Like virtually all other Europeans I’ve met, Daniel thinks he’s god’s gift to driving. Racing up to Solden in a KTM X-Bow (a watered down Formula 1 racecar that’s only available in Europe), I’m so puckered I’m on the verge of tears. There are no lines on the road (nor guardrails), but if there were I’m sure they’d be double yellow. With only Daniel’s reflexes preventing us from a several thousand foot vehicular tomahawk to the valley, at times I just close my eyes.

We’re headed up to watch the kick off of the 2009/2010 World Cup season at Solden. If you’re looking for a recap of the races, you won’t find it here. Although I’m a racing fan, the matter’s been covered ad nauseam. Instead, I’ll focus on the second (debatably) most important aspect of this Austrian mainstay: the party.

We arrive at the glacier and it’s nothing short of pandemonium. Fueled by beer and schnapps, the crowd of thousands is approaching mob mentality, particularly when Austrians are on course. The flag waving, smoke bomb bearing, air horn blasting fans make every other skiing event I’ve witnessed seem like a Michele Bolton concert. It’s refreshing to see people with such unbridled passion for skiing.

After another heart-pounding ride back from the glacier, I was eager to see how the relatively small town of Solden was going to handle the tens of thousands of fans that were about to descend on it. Apparently this wasn’t Solden’s first rodeo. Between the live concerts, beer gardens, clubs, bars, and strip clubs (yes, plural) there was no shortage of entertainment options. The Europeans were combatively drinking- attacking their beer, schnapps, and red bull vodkas with the same enthusiasm that they spectated with. Needless to say I was a bit out gunned, although I like to think I held my own.

Surprisingly, throughout the evening I rarely met anyone that was only there for the party. Like an annoying Red Sox fan, the more they partied, the more they wanted to talk about their team. Who knew skiing could have such fans?

My advice: regardless of how big a fan of ski racing you are, should you ever have the opportunity to watch World Cup in a country that treats their ski racers like national heroes, I suggest you take it- if for no other reason than to be around a group of people that truly love skiing.

Snowing In Austria!

pfarre-lech-live

I poached the above pic off the Lech-Zurs website, it’s from this afternoon.  So, maybe it’s not epic, mid winter conditions, but I’m sure some of the other areas with glaciers should have the goods.  I’m over here testing some new skis and working with the guys at Kastle, the brand sewn into the fabric of the Arlberg.  For those of you who don’t know the about the Arlberg, it’s one of the places that modern skiing was born.  I’m not talking about the fat ski revolution either.  I’m talking born as in when people started using skis for recreational purposes, not just transportation, at the turn of the 20th century. If you want to go to a place where people truly breathe skiing, go to the Arlberg, it’s amazing.

For once, it appears, I have brought the snow somewhere.  I’m the guy that usually shows up to, “oh, man, you should have been here this morning/yesterday/last week, it was really good then.”  But alas, the day I touched down in Austria winter struck and dumped over a meter of snow in parts of the country.  And guess who’s here to shred it?  As much as I’ll miss shredding the ribbon of death at A-Basin and Loveland, I think I’ll stick with the real stuff.

Sichuan, China

Blue Moon Valley

My friend Drew Tabke first raised my awareness of this area.  It’s the Eastern Terminus of the Himalaya- essentially the area where Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet come together.  Since then I’ve wasted, erg, invested countless hours on google earth exploring the area.  It’s absolutely fascinating.  While the area is gaining popularity amongst climbers, it’s still largely unexplored, particularly by skeirs.  The photo above is taken from the Blue Moon Valley in the Sichuan provence.  Sichuan is the area that most interests me.  Without giving away all my research, that’s kind of been a pain in the ass to come across, I think this area is most intriguing to me for multiple reasons.  However, it’s pretty hard to go wrong in any of the aforementioned areas.

These zones contain countless 5,000 and 6,000 meter peaks, few of which have seen crampons, let alone ski tracks.  I think only a small portion of these peaks possess viable ski descents, however, I’m almost sure they can be found.  My friend Julia and some other TNF peeps’ are currently exploring the Yunnan provence, doing just that.  I’d love to put together a ski-focused expedition for the spring or fall of 2010 that further explores this area- which undoubtedly holds countless hidden treasures.