Ironing Out the Kinks: A Splitboard Tour at Jenny Creek / Eldora

This last weekend, J and I headed out for, what we hoped was, a relaxing splitboard tour on the Jenny Creek Trail that starts right around the base area of the Eldora Ski Resort.  Unlike last time at Caribou, we actually had some sunshine and no wind and could focus on just being outside on the snow and not getting blown off the mountains.

We actually had sun this time.

We actually had sun this time.

The trail started off a little tricky.  I mean, I LOVE maps, and think I can read them pretty well, but unfortunately for us, all the nordic and snowshoe trails for Eldora ARE NOT on the standard topo maps.  Needless to say, we (I mean I) got pretty lost until a friendly nordic skier pointed us in the right direction and gave us a trail map.

"Are you sure this is the way Ry?"

“Are you sure this is the way Ry?”

Poles are nice.

Sure… just another quarter mile (I think)

After a good half mile detour and a bunch of stops to iron out our setups, we finally found the start of the Jenny Creek trail.

Finally... the trail!

Finally… the trail!

We continued on the trail for a little while as it pushed further away from the ski resort itself, and finally decided to turn around.  J and I were both STARVING at this point and were seriously craving some french fries.

Caution, smaution, Full Speed Ahead!

Caution, Smaution, Full Speed Ahead!

On the way back, we took the correct trail that basically skirts the lower bunny hill of the ski resort.  That meant that we got to “practice” our splitboard skiing, which, I must say, isn’t too pretty just yet.

Descending on the edge of the ski resort.

Descending on the edge of the ski resort.

Overall, we went about 2.5 miles and gained around 500′ on our little outing, but it was great to get the setup dialed and just to work up a good appetite.  Oh yeah, and we totally demolished some Five Guys fries when we got back to Boulder!

Google Earth RouteWEB PM

Breaking Trails and Breaking In

When your season starts as horribly as ours, you tend to go a while without getting out and splitboarding.  What also happens, is you end up getting a lot of new gear without getting a chance to try it out as you get it.  That was the case for us as we finally had enough snow here in the Front Range to go get on it and break in some of our gear.

We didn’t have much time and weren’t in the mood for much of a drive so we went to check out one of the closer local spots up past Nederland – Caribou.

As usual, a little windy up there.

"Nice" day for a split tour

“Nice” day for a split tour

Jess getting out on the Voile Mojo RX that we picked up in the off season, and me on my DIY splitty.

The quiver

The quiver

Felt really good just to get out on some snow again.  The frustration of this early season is unreal, and the best way to cure it, I’ve found, is to get out there when the going gets good.  (BTW, pretty obvious that we haven’t been out much since I FORGOT OUR FRICKIN POLES!)

Awww, snow.

Awww, snow.

Jess is sporting a whole new setup including the Voile MojoRX split, Voile Lightrail bindings, new G3 High Traction skins and Black Diamond Covert Avalung pack.  That means: lots of GEAR REVIEWS on the way.

Testing out the new Voile and G3's

Testing out the new Voile and G3’s

So nice to be able to actually dig in the snow.  What did I find?  About 1-2ft of soft slab on top of rotten depth hoar, yup, not too good.

Cocaine... so much cocaine!

Cocaine… so much cocaine!

AND, some new gear of my own to test out including the Ortovox Haute Route pack, some Arcteryx Theta AR bibs and a new Lowe Pro camera bag setup for backcountry photo shoots.

Satisfaction!

Satisfaction!

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.

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.