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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.”
Days on snow: 6
Storm days: 6
Total snowfall: “53
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With this in mind, Drew Tabke and I set out to ski 17,795’ Cerro El Plomo, the massive glaciated peak east of La Parva Ski Area. Plomo is typically climbed during the summer months over 2-4 days, including the approach. While Drew and I had no shortage of energy and blind ambition, time, however, was one thing we were lacking. We made the call for a one day push, hoping that by saving weight we’d be able to travel a little quicker. We announced our plans to the director of ski patrol and, while he thought that we were crazy and would either fail or die, he happily agreed to let us stay at the refugio at the top of La Parva.
…Or maybe not, I think to myself as we shot the first takes. What seems like a blanketing of fresh powder is nothing more than a wind drift, with the rest of the terrain all but stripped of decent snow. Nonetheless, we work the surrounding terrain that is defined by cartoonish cornices, glaciers, and ramps that, given the right snow conditions, would be right up there with anything in Alaska. After some not-so-impressive attempts at some more ambitious lines I concede to the conditions and tone it down a bit, enjoying the scenery as much as anything. After all, in a place as beautiful as Patagonia, even for me, the skiing is just a bonus.
To paraphrase Thoreau, many men spend their entire lives searching for good snow, when, in the end, it’s not the snow they’re really after
“Brrraaaaapppp,” goes the 900 Polaris RMK as we tear across the frozen lake in a volcanic crater. I watch with amusement as little pieces of white shrapnel eject from beneath the sled, harmlessly hitting the rider I am shuttling to the top of a 3,000-foot face on the Argentina-Chile border. It is September and through some random connections, I am snowmobile skiing. It is the first day of a multi-day commercial shoot for a large South American cell phone carrier. It’s rare that mainstream companies look toward skiing, particularly big-mountain skiing, for their marketing content, and I’m glad I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The e-mail came about a month ago. “Hey, we’re filming this commercial and need an American skier for a few days of sled skiing and heli time. Do you think you can make it?” wrote my friend. Hmm, I think I can make that happen, I thought to myself. After a few weeks of waiting, we are in our own private winter playground just outside of the Argentinean town of Caviahue. Located six hours north of Bariloche, Caviahue is like nowhere else I’ve been on Earth. The combination of the lakes, mountains, and trees creates a prehistoric atmosphere that makes me feel like I’m on the set of The Flintstones. As far as sled skiing goes, the terrain in Caviahue is about as good as it gets. The north- and west-facing aspects are low angle and have harder snow, allowing for easy shuttles to the south faces, which are more sheltered and shaded, holding snow long after storms have moved out.
So, here we are—two skiers and two snowboarders—providing content for an upcoming advertising campaign that will air at the end of the season. For the next two days we ride countless lines accessed by some of the only sleds in Argentina. Secretly, I’m worried that we’d get material that was “too good” and they’d cut the heli out of the budget. However, at the end of the last day of filming I am informed that, while the footage we are getting is good, we really need a heli for the appropriate branding for the ads. So, we have to travel back to Bariloche to meet the heli, and then head deep into Patagonia to finish up the shoot.