Skimo a ‘No-Go’

Skimo, short for ski mountaineering, combines the sports of Telemark, Alpine and backcountry skiing with that of mountaineering.

A Ski Mountaineering race is a timed event that follows an established trail through challenging winter alpine terrain while passing through a series of checkpoints. Racers climb and descend under their own power using backcountry skiing equipment and techniques.
Basically, it’s like an adventure race on snowy mountains with slightly different gear.  I don’t know about you, but for someone who loves trail running and adventure racing in the warmer seasons this seems like a perfect venue for the winter.
The problem: I DON’T SKI!  I splitboard, which is really just another way of accomplishing the same task… but with style!  
I had no idea this was a problem until I recently tried to sign up for one of these races.  Jess and I went to the Teva Mountain Games last year and ran the night snowshoe race with our dog and really wanted to do the recreational course of the skimo event this year.

Rogue getting warmed up for her race last year

Rogue getting warmed up for her race last year

There was nothing on the website that said I could not use a splitboard, but just to be sure, I emailed the organizer.  This is the response I got:

Ryan,

We’re saying no to splitboards for a couple of reasons:  The biggest is we don’t yet have an appropriate course for it. Most skimo courses (and Vail in particular) are low angle which makes for slow skinning on a splitboard due to the width and nylon skins. (most skimo skis are 64-72 mm underfoot and use mohair). And I’d like to see a board course have more direct (fun) descents as well. When we do it I want it to be a shorter, more fun on the down type course.  Also, splitboards don’t fit in the skin tracks on the narrow sections.   It’s on the list to do a good splitboard course but it’s no for this winter.
Um… I’m not so sure about really any of that actually mattering, in fact a lot of the freeskier types that participate have some pretty darn wide skis and use the exact same skin material I do.  I’ve since replied, but it almost reminds me of the same garbage that you get when you ask skiers at Alta why they don’t allow snowboarders.
As far as I can tell, skimo racers just seem to be a bunch of skinny ski, spandex wearing dopers that can barely ski back down the mountain anyway, so maybe we’re not missing out, but then again, maybe they could use a little “refreshment” from us splitboard types.
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Birthday Boarding: Opening Weekend @ Copper

I don’t think I have EVER been snowboarding ON my birthday before!  It doesn’t seem quite right since November makes it totally possible, but I really don’t think I ever have.  I know what all you August-Born people are thinking (“must be nice”).

Birthday Boarding at Copper

After last years fiasco at Keystone on opening weekend, Jess and I pretty much said “never again” to the weekend-super-early-one-(icy-man-made)-run-one-lift thing, but seeing as it was my birthday, we made an exception.

The key to survival?
Go late!  Seriously, it seems counter-intuitive (the early bird gets the worm) but at this point in the season, it’s not a frickin powder day, and everyone else is so amped up to ski/ride that they are there at the opening bell… and subsequently done by noon.

We rolled in at a comfortable 1130 (partly because Jess was feeling a bit ill) and by the time I grabbed some lunch and hopped on the lift, the numbers were slowly dwindling and by two-thirty there was zero wait in the singles line.

On top of the crowds, showing up late and letting the run get a little chewed up and warmed up can have its benefits.  Sure the first 10 people will get some nice untracked corduroy, but after that its just super-packed base making material.  Stick to the edges or some areas in the very middle and you can find the best stuff later in the day.

Now… snow is looking to come back to the western US possibly next weekend, so maybe this early season one run stuff is on its way out!

Shoulder Season: Storms, Snowmaking and Stoke

If your stoke meter is running around the green or blue level, just give it a few days, cuz things are starting to happen.

The stoke meter climeth

First, there is moisture heading our way from a cut off low pressure system that brought a couple inches to mammoth and is heading our way promising to drop a few inches on our local mountains.  It may be warm, wet stuff (snow levels starting around 10-11k then dropping to around 8k) but snow is snow especially when it makes a base.  [Of course, be careful what you wish for since Early Season Snow can be a curse]

Precipitation totals for the next 24 hrs… Green/Blue=Good

On top of that, Further, the snowboard film by TGR featuring Jeremy Jones premiers tonight in boulder at the Boulder Theater.  I have heard great reviews (except from the folks that are waiting for the DVD’s to ship) and going to see it in a premiere atmosphere should definitely help move that stoke meter needle.  If you need a little pick me up yourself, here is the tour schedule.  If you haven’t seen the trailer, you should:

Finally, while Loveland and A-Basin are waiting to announce their dates to open, it’s getting close as you can see here:

A Basin Blowing Snow on High Noon

Loveland Changing Colors

While we are talking snowmaking, and since I was curious about how it works myself, lets dive in and see why snowmaking isn’t quite as simple as just freezing water and blowing it on a slope.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start talking about snowmaking is this thing called the “wet bulb” temperature.  What the heck is a wet bulb and why do we even care?  Well, the wet bulb, in the simplest form, is a way to relate regular temperature and humidity in the air and gives an idea of what effects evaporation will have on temperatures of air or water vapor.

Believe it or not, snowmaking CAN occur at temperatures above freezing and it can sometimes NOT occur even below freezing.  So why don’t resorts just crank the guns up whenever they want… $ and limited resources (water supply).  Especially in this economy and after last years dismal season, efficiency is the name of the game.  Basically, the drier the air (low Relative Humidity) and the colder the temperatures the more efficient.

The Efficiency Chart for Snowmaking. Green=Good Yellow=Marginal Red=Go Biking

This is all based off of how snowmaking equipment functions.  There are varying types of snowmakers but in general, they work on the same principles and need the following:

Cold Ambient Temperatures:
The Colder outside the better, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be below freezing and even if it is below freezing it’s not always ideal.

Evaporation:
Some of the heat is lost through the evaporation of molecules on the surface of the water drops that can help the water reach freezing and solidify.  Think of how cold your skin gets if you rub a little alcohol on it (not that kind of alcohol).  This is where relative humidity and the wet bulb come into play.  The more dry the air is, the easier it is to evaporate and cool the water drops.

Surface Area:
The smaller they can make each water droplet come out of the nozzle the greater surface area is exposed to the cold air and evaporation process, therefore more of the water turns to snow.

Supercooling:
Yeah, snow is pretty supercool but what they mean here is that if you use a compressed gas (like compressed air) and let it rapidly expand, it cools the air around it and helps to cool the water droplets to freezing.

Nucleation:
Not like nuclear bomb radiation or anything.  Even with natural snow from the clouds, water needs stuff to cling onto in order to really make good snow.  They call these nucleation sites and sometimes additives are used to help make this happen.  Ever heard of Cloud Seeding?

So there you have it, now you can sound super smart when you and your buddies are riding the WROD and someone asks why the joint is or isn’t making snow.

Snowmaking at A Basin Last Weekend

Early Season Snow… blessing or curse?

I get pretty excited when temps start to drop, leaves start to fall and talk of snowflakes picks up.  After all, this is one of the prettiest times of the year in the high country:

Dogs enjoying the fall colors.. oh wait, they’re color blind

I used to spend hours watching satellite loops, anticipating when snow would start falling on my fave Mammoth Mountain.  That attitude didn’t change when I moved here to Colorado, but should it?

Last season I took my AIARE Level I avalanche class and I have shifted my focus to the backcountry.  In terms of avalanche safety and backcountry snowboarding, early season snow is typically a BAD thing… WHAT!!!!  “How can that be?” you ask.  Well, let’s talk snow science:

Snow is good, but snow doesn’t just fall from the sky lay on the ground and stay there.  It is constantly changing (snow geeks call this metamorphism).  Those little flakes that you see in a snowstorm are great, they typically bond well together and make for a pretty good snow layer, but what tends to happen early season is that they begin to “facet.” These facets do not bond well to each other or other layers and become little ball bearings for avalanches to slide on.

Facets!

If you’ve been in the game long enough, you’ve heard the term facets before, but what causes them and why is it so bad with an early season snowpack?

1.  Facets are caused by temperature differences between lower and upper layers of the snowpack (geek speak = temperature gradient).   Check out this site for a cool video and a ton more info.

Temperature Gradients that cause facets.

2.  These gradients are especially bad with a thin snowpack (like early season).

3.  Facets forming from this temperature gradient in the lower snowpack is called depth hoar.  It sticks around and causes problems for a long time through the season (persistent) and is one of the major causes of injury/fatality causing avalanches

“Never trust a depth hoar snowpack, no matter how deep you bury her”
-Unknown Smart Dude

Overall, for resort riders, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!  For the backcountry types out there, let’s be a little more patient, if it’s going to snow, let it snow hard and keep snowing for months, otherwise lets hold off until it’s ready to dump.
So, in conclusion:  Am I going to stop obsessing over early season snow? Probably not.  Am I going to pay attention to what it does to the avalanche hazard in the backcountry… hell yes and so should you.

It’s the Final Countdown…

First things first, push play on this and let it roll:

Okay, now we can get down to business.  It’s a little crazy, waking up this morning I could just feel that it had snowed in the mountains.  Something about the chill, the clouds, the humidity? I don’t know but I just had this feeling that I needed to go check the webcams and, sure enough, BAM! White up on top of A basin this morning:

Snow at the Base of A Basin 9/17

Now, I should warn you that there is no reason to get over excited about this little dusting (too late, I know).  This is because the weather outlook is not too promising for natural snow in the next week or so.  Basically, the forecast calls for a couple of shallow cold fronts to push by but not create too much weather.

“CHANCE OF ANY PRECIPITATION TUESDAY THROUGH NEXT SUNDAY IS VIRTUALLY NIL”   – NWS Weenies

So, here is the deal Nature: I’m going out of town this Friday and when I come back, I want full-on-winter snow dumpage… got it?

A Weekend To Save Your Life: Avalanche Level I Training

I have been told that learning to backcountry snowboard in Colorado is like learning to swim in shark infested waters, or learning to hike on everest.  Basically, we’re in expert territory as noobs.  It IS the most deadly state in the US for backcountry enthusiasts.

Basically, we don’t want to see this and then decide its time to learn something:

Not where you want to get your experience about avalanches

With that in mind we decided we really have to do this “right.”  What is “Right” you ask? Well from our research it goes something like this:

1. Read, read, read as much as you can on avalanche safety.  This book is awesome, if not a little advanced.
2. Attend a few free Avalanche Awareness courses and Backcountry/Winter education classes.  (Lots of shops have these like REI, check your local shop)
3. Buy the gear you plan to use in the field so you can practice with what you will be playing with.
2. Take a multiday avalanche course – (This is the step we’re talking about now!)
3. Find, travel and learn with experienced mentors
3. Start in low consequence, low danger terrain
4. Continue to progress in your avalanche knowledge and education

Jess and I made a rule that we would not go into the backcountry until we had our level I class done and we stuck to it.

First you have to find a reputable course.  That’s where AIARE comes in.  They are the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and they set the curriculum for avy education throughout the nation.  If you are interested in a course go to their website and find a provider near you.  They do one just about every week somewhere in CO.

After some research we decided to go with the fine folks at Colorado Mountain School.  They were very professional and highly knowledgeable, plus they were just cool guys to spend a day in the backcountry with AND the course is set in beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park… win-win-win!

Jess Outside CMS Estes Park

Day 1 started with some classroom time followed by a little companion rescue practice.

Our fearless guides showing us how its done.

"How does this thing work again?"

Day 2 started via classroom but by the afternoon we were out in the field digging pits and observing conditions.

Jess in the Pit

Day 3 was the culmination of everything we had learned and began with reading the avy bulletin and doing some trip planning.  After that we headed back to Rocky Mountain National Park to do a full day tour with the objective of assessing and possibly riding some terrain west of Bear Lake.

Our group touring in RMNP

Overall, an awesome weekend out in RMNP and on top of that we got a ton of really useful info on making decisions in avalanche terrain.  Thanks to Mike and Nate (our guides) for the awesome experience.

Nate making some earned turns

Now, the snow is flying, time to plan some backcountry tours! …safely of course.

DIY Board Repair: Base Patching – Part II

This is part II of a DIY tutorial on Base Patching.  If you haven’t read it already, read Part I then come on back here.

Alright, so you’ve let the epoxy dry and your ready for the next steps.  Well, it gets easier from here so don’t worry.
Step 5: Flatten the Patch

This is where a certain tool that I don’t have but would like would come in handy.  If you can, get something like the Surform Versaplane Tool (less than $10).  If you can’t, then do like I did and use some sandpaper, a metal scraper and a dremel tool to flatten and smooth the patch until it is flush with the rest of the base.

Step 6: PTex the surrounding flaws

So the pesky rock probably wasn’t considerate enough to make a nice little isolated gouge on your base.  Now is the time to fix up the non core shot scrapes that are probably surrounding your big patched area.  There is a lot of info on DIY Ptex out there so check out a site like this or wait a while and I will be doing a post about that soon (just have to go ride some more and work up some more dings to PTex).

Step 7: Wax and Tune your board

At the very least, rewax the area that was effected by the repair and overspray from the base cleaner.  The beauty of a patch is that it (unlike some other repairs) should hold wax, so wax it up, run a file down the edges.  There you are.  A base patched and ready to shred.  As you can see, it’s not the prettiest thing, but my board is not quite white and not quite black anywhere so any repairs stand out.  Plus, when they say “clear” they don’t really mean transparent so whatever, I’m not trying to win a board beauty contest, I’m trying to make my board rip especially since tomorrow (1/22/12) is going to be a POW day in CO!