Monday, January 15, 2018

A Flask Counts as First Aid, Right?

Jared gets video of AirMed landing in the backcountry
I want to talk this week about Leo DiCaprio's "Possibles Bag". [Stop snickering!] Well, more specifically, Hugh Glass's "Possibles Bag". For me, "The Revenant" was more than a voyeuristic 3 hours of backcountry trauma with a grizzly bear snuff film thrown in; I also saw in this story of man surviving against the odds of nature, a lesson for backcountry skiing.

It wasn't as apparent in the movie, but when I read Michael Punke's book, I learned the magnitude of the moment when Tom Hardy's character takes not only Leo's gun, but the small leather bag around his neck. That "Possibles Bag" (everything a trapper could "possibly" need) was essentially the difference between life and death for a trapper-- a small bag containing a little food, a way to start fire, a knife and ammo-- the essence of ultralight.

Still a few bridges out on the High T and
climb to Greely (skier Jeff Monroe)
In many ways, this was the first weekend that really felt like a typical ski weekend. Skied both days. A pretty good backcountry day Saturday on the relatively safe, low angle slopes of Powder Park. Then spent a short day at Alta on Sunday where I was finally able to ski the High T. I didn't take all the way, and we had to side step over enough geological specimens on the way to Thirds that I felt like I was mining, but the turns in Greely and Backside almost felt like I remembered to this powder starved skier. Every chair loaded on Supreme and I was able to ski Catherines without my Prophets taking any shots. (Yes, I'm still on my rock skis, but I think we're getting close!) Catherines being covered is a good and bad thing since it also means that the furlined jacketed tourists bootpacking all the way out can get another season out of their east coast planks. But even though it seemed like a typical ski weekend, events on Saturday carried a little more weight and made me question what possibly do I need to carry with me?

I've always struggled balancing weight savings with having everything I might possibly need; my 32 liter backpack fills up quick, even for a day ski tour in the Wasatch. When scrutinizing my supplies, I think "Mountain men got by with far less, you don't need it" but it never fails that I'm reminded later of something else I should have squeezed in.

At first, this could have been a blog about how ill-prepared I am for "nature's call". When I saw a skier wandering around the trails of Mill D with a roll of TP, looking for a place to squat, tt occurred to me, "I don't have toilet paper!"  That should demonstrate how ingrained my need to be prepared is. In my whole 13 years of backcountry skiing, I have had to drop trow in the backcountry a whopping total of two times-- that's it. Hey, it probably means I'm due. Being without some Charmin might just be my personal version of a grizzly attack.
Playing it safe in Powder Park (photo Jared Hargrave)

But I don't think it was any coincidence that earlier that morning as I looked at other skiers in the Spruces parking and questioned how much gear they were toting, that my need to have a Kate Moss pack collided with the need to be prepared. Because for the second time in my life (hey, same as the number of times I've number two'ed, coincident?!), I was involved in a true backcountry emergency requiring an air lift.

A young woman broke her leg while skiing in the Powder Park area of the Mill D drainage. Jared and I, with the assistance of a local guide educated in outdoor emergency care and another skier assisted her boyfriend in stabilizing her for rescue. While I watched the guide pull a SAM splint and "Eskimo Rescue Sled" from his pack, I realized how meager my first aid kit was. Tape, bandaids and moleskin wasn't going to do shit for her, or me for that matter if I ever got into trouble.

Now, the best equipment you can have in those situations is probably your brain. Knowing what to do goes a lot further than just having all the gear. Somewhere I have my thick Outdoor Emergency Care manual that I used when training for ski patrol over 10 years ago. I should crack it open and review a few things, provided I avoid that picture of the fishook in the eye. (Let me tell you, if that happened to Leo, it would have been over for me-- walking out of the movie.)

When I was 12 years old, I remember going to Boy Scout summer camp and for some odd reason (probably because I was an odd kid), feeling the need to bring my first aid kit to breakfast. Strapping that tin box to my belt like some kind of khaki batman was probably more about expressing character than any expectation that I would need to perform frontier medicine in the Bear Paw mess hall, but it was a microcosm of a tug of war I still have now: questioning what really is appropriate to carry for First Aid? Short of staying at home and drinking a beer instead of skiing, I don't think you can ever know what all you'll need in your First Aid kit.

So I'll probably make a few edits to my pack. Squeeze in that SAM splint, a few extra Voile straps, maybe even my CPR mask. But I'm also taking a somewhat spiritual approach to this, and that is in my concept of Backcountry Karma. That's the bank in which we, as members of the alpine touring community (the Backcountry Sangha as I call it), need to make deposit whenever possible. What happened to that skier on Saturday could have happened to any one of us who skis, and thankfully for her, some of us willing to help; but that has to just be an extension of the golden rule. We would want someone to help us. I know that won't always be enough when the grizzly rolls on top of you, but it has to count for something, it's definitely not a situation where you can ski on by.

Unless you get a fishhook in the eye, then sorry, you're on your own.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Couple Things This Week as Winter Returns

A Note About Drinking or, "Mason's Running Inner Monologue Rotation"

The calendar is against me. First of all, calendars are, as I've pointed out in previous blogs, just a construct to make us feel like we have control... and for that I thank them. But my control freak-ness aside, the concept of a 5 day work week within a 7 day shell is frustrating me as I try to cut back on alcohol. The math balance the scales of dry and wet days just doesn't add up. Hear me out.
A completely normal way of consuming
beer when you aren't sure what to drink.

First of all, this is NOT a New Years Resolution thing; it's a getting old thing. I'm coming to grips with the fact that at 41, I just can't maintain a svelte figure the way I used to. As my doctor told me, "Everything gets harder when you get old." (Although, that axiom can't be entirely true or Viagra is just a really well done con.) So I've looked for ways to trim back calories, which has always been more easily accomplished when I reduce the beer intake. So, a few days without drinking can really make a difference when it comes to building up some nice calorie deficits.

Now, before you start the, "Mason, why not just spread your beers out over the week? A little every day wouldn't hurt." So here's one way the math doesn't work out. "School nights" (as I call them) are often the easiest candidates to be dry. Think about it, 8+ of your waking hours are spent in an environment where drinking is frowned upon. Seems like a waste to blow that head start in the race for restraint.

And secondly, I have never finished a long weekend tour in the backcountry or endured a 4 hour bike ride and said, "That one, 4% beer is really going to make all this worth it."

No way! When you do a soggy, grueling tour up White Pine, you are sipping Zirbenz (or my new fave, Snow Angel) on the summit, drinking whiskey while you post your gear at home, quaffing a brew while you're in the shower, and pairing a nice "light" Melvin 2x4 with the whole burrito you get at Lonestar. That, my friends, is how weekend drinking trends for me.

If I tried to meter out my beer evenly throughout the week, let's just say that my ski partners would endure the wrath of my grumpiness. By staying dry on work days, only my co-workers have to deal with my unpleasantness... and they already think I'm a prick.

But here's another way the calendar works against me. Three days in a row without drinking is tough, but I can do it. Some nights are easier than others. (Sometimes, around 8:30pm, when I see the finish line in sight but I'm feeling weak, I think, "Maybe if I brush my teeth and go to bed now, I can make it?") But three days is the limit. Not because I'm an alcoholic, but because of the stupid, awesome weekends and the power of beer.

Yes, I could do Monday through Thursday, there's 4 days, but it's in a row. There is no way. I'm sorry, it is like saying, "To get to Empire Strikes Back, you have to watch Episodes 1-3..."

"Ok, I think I ca..."

"...and the JarJar Binks Christmas Special."

"Padme, NOOOOOO."

Sorry, there's just a limit.

The other alternative is to give myself and "islands of pleasure" during the week, so it's never more than 3 in a row. But that means at least one of Friday, Saturday or Sunday will have to be dry. That just seems wrong. I've done a dry Friday here and there, but it feels like doing your homework on Friday, weekend homework was not meant to be done right away, it's supposed to be done Sunday night in the dark of your friends family conversion van while you drive back from skiing in Upper Michigan.

"This means something. This is important"

"Wait, don't tell me, it's Sam? No,
Steve. No. Ohhhh, snow, that's right. I knew
it was an S"
So that's what's going on in my life, but let's get to the skiing this week, or more accurately, last week.

There was something strange falling from the skies Saturday afternoon. I was up at Alta partaking this sport I love. It's kind of new to Utah, maybe you're heard of it, it's called "lawn and gravel skidding". When mother nature offered the most unusual supplement to this activity, a somewhat soft, flaky and friction-less surface that made my skis travel much more efficiently. Then more came this week. I'm really hoping we get more. I like it! Although, if enough falls, I'll have to find something else to spend my money on since I won't have to spend $70 monthly to mend my bases.

I think I mentioned last week how, unlike some snooty, spoiled skiers who have avoided Alta due to the poor conditions, I try to find ways of entertaining myself during these low-tide days. For instance, 2 weekends ago, I found a sneak around from Catherine's that I wasn't aware of. It's at the bottom and totally avoids hitting that garbage above the road near the cabins. It goes to show, when East Coast Tourists complain about the lack of terrain that's open or wish the resort would expand, there is always a way to find a new route in familiar terrain. 

Anyway, n case you are looking for ways to distract you from the absence of powder (trust me, we have a long way to go), try these little games:
  • See if you can position your skis in the UTA rack just perfectly so that they don't slam against the door on the slightest curve.
  • Try not to get your arm pinched when some tourist slams the bar down on the chairlift.
  • With same tourist, watch them look surprised when you ask them where they're visiting from, even though they haven't spoken a word to you. 
  • See how many people get faked out by the opposing swings of the doors leading into Watson. One pushes in, the other swings out... it gets me at least once a week.
  • Instead of dreading the runout through Corkscrew, pretend your James Bond in the beginning of A View to a Kill (which I totally did when I was 13).
  • Reminisce about last season when you could actually get to Eddies without damaging your skis. This season, your edges get gouged even considering skiing a run like Challenger. That's right, just the intent of skiing certain runs now results in a core shot. It's like a Catholic thing where even the though of sinning is a sin.
  • Enjoy the smug satisfaction that any damage to your skis sustained in Catherine's at least came with the aerobic rewards of herring-boning your way up to the traverse... bootpackers, eat my gravel!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Dirty Turns

Jared does some "low-tide" skiing at Alta
The end and the beginning-- isn't that what all of us were contemplating this last weekend-- the end of 2017 and the start of 2018? For skiers in the Wasatch contemplating the 2017-18 ski season, it's difficult to see any beginning in sight. While I have logged 6 days so far, I still find myself wondering, "When is the season actually going to start?"

Maybe some creative perspective is needed... some marketing spin. Through my rose-colored goggles, I've always thought of the calendar year as just one big ski season with an approximately 6 month intermission. So let's do some creative re-defining of what a ski season is and just call these "low tide" days a coda to last ski season. Let's see if that lifts our spirits any... not likely.

Ullr doesn't appear to be in any rush to toss out the confetti to welcome 2018, so all I'm trying to do is make the best of the little snow Alta has. Doing so requires squeezing as much life out of my nearly 10 year old Line Prophets as I can, just so I can avoid exposing my Superchargers to the peppery traverses and bony runs that are frankly, the norm at Alta right now. It truly feels like the mountain is craving ski bottoms and P-tex like it's heroine. While I'm sure it's not a first, I don't ever remember seeing legitimate bootpacks up Jitterbug or East Greely just to get at some decent snow on Stonecrusher or Eddies.

"Oh that will buff right out"
After my rock skis took a particularly nasty gash that created a keel-like snag of HDPE that acted like a rudder, I decided to actually spend money on tuning my sacrificial skis rather than try to tune them myself.  I was hoping the guys at Alta Ski Shop could resuscitate what little life was left in my boards, especially because it looked like I might be skiing them for at least another month. Their prognosis was grim. Years of base grinding had left the prophets close to the limit on what could be done-- any future welds might not hold in the now dangerously shallow bases. I had them work their magic anyway. It pained me knowing that these skis, these trusty, non-rockered Prophets, which have served me so well, were giving everything they had just to buy my precious, less than a year old, Volie Superchargers a little extra time. The Prophets are certainly earning a Jedi farewell for their transcendental effort.

But, let's not forget the upside, the "end-of-life" for a pair of skis always brings with it a happy beginning: the spousal justification for another pair of skis!
If I'm in the trees, I'm having fun

So I guess it was fitting that I spent the last day of 2017 trying to scrape as much ski-Nutella from the bottom of the Alta-jar as possible by skiing 25k on my rejuvenated Line Prophets. I didn't take it easy on them. A trip into Catherines, multiple laps across the Ballroom traverse that was starting to get a little "chocolate-chippy" and one rather sublime excursion into the Outer Limits under Devil's Castle. It was there, looking up through the trees at the geological medieval structure in the dimming afternoon light I recalled some absolutely ugly runs I used to make through the trees in my boyhood days at Porcupine Mountain, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After most of those runs, my jacket would be covered in tree sap, my shins and arms were battered by saplings, and of course, my edges were dulled by both vegetable and mineral. Yet I loved it... I was skiing. Those were the things I did to entertain myself on those characterless, cloned slopes of midwest ski resorts. 

Skis, sadly, are a disposable item. When I checked the Prophets at the end of the day, they hadn't taken any major damage and looked like they would live to fight another day. Skis were made to ski, not stay protected on the groomers. Like a Jedi would say, "Ski or ski not, there is no try [to save your bases].

While I wrote this, I unintentionally had two bi-polar songs playing, "It's Not Dark Yet" by Bob Dylan, in which he sings, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there," and "All Things Must Pass" by George Harrison. Let's hope the latter turns out to be the anthem for this season.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ain't Wastin' Time No More

How could anyone view
this as a waste of time?
"Skiing is the best way in the world to waste time." That quote is true if Glen Plake, the mohawked skier who set my young mouth agape in ski movies like the Maltese Flamingo, is to be believed, skiing is the best way in the world to waste time. I couldn't directly attribute that quote to him anywhere, but it sounds like something he would say. I read it on Instagram, a fun way to quickly share the things that make us thankful to be alive, all at the cost of increasing the average time spent on the toilet by 20%. (Seriously, if you are waiting for a stall in my office building, I bet jamming the 4G signal would be the best way to get one to open up faster.) The quote was posted by one of the many agents working for the winter rec hype machine, and even though I often question the journalism creds of those in social media, I feel like it should be linked to Plake, someone who I think of as the Hemingway Code Skier: wearing dayglow 90s threads, acting irreverent, sporting a hairdo occasionally under the performance enhancement of Elmer's wood glue and ripping nasty French couloirs on 210cm skis.

One Man's Wasted Time Is Another's Opportunity to Ridicule

The quote itself is pretty universal; it works for anything that gives you pleasure. We all end up as worm food, so aren't our lives really just one continuous search for the best way to "waste" time? For some, scrapbooking is how they burn the remaining minutes they have for themselves, others brew beer during the precious grains of hourglass sand that they call their own, a select and fortunate few of us get to play in the incredible landscape of Utah when we aren't telling people to, "clear their cache and try it again", and amazingly, an unfortunate group of people seem to while their time destroying that precious Utah landscape (for reasons I'll speculate on in future blogs). In all those cases, the common thread is that, for each person partaking in said activity, 10 more are wondering, "Why the hell would you want to do that?!"

With the last out of the World Series last Wednesday, I wrapped up another 6 months of my life "wasted" watching baseball. And before the end of the this month, I will start another 6 month interval of time "wasted" skiing. This blog is really the byproduct of that winter activity; a way for me to channel some of the passion stirred up by skiing into a creative outlet. But I'm talking about more than just face shots, first tracks and filtered photos. In a larger context, I'm talking about skiing as a means to access the wild, both internally and externally. As writer and environmentalist Jack Turner said:
...what has contributed most to our love of wild places, animals, plants -- and even, perhaps, to our love of wild nature, our sense of citizenship-- is the art, literature, myth and lore of nature.
--Jack Turner, from The Abstract Wild

Mountain Stoke is Not a New Thing

It was worth the extra 8 grams
in my pack for this picture.
I believe that quote was from Turner's book The Abstract Wild; although the quote first appeared to me in a another book, a translation and commentary of an ancient Zen sutra, written by monk and author, John Daido Loori. Earlier in this blog, I made a somewhat sneering comment about the "winter rec hype machine". As a perpetual skeptic, I tend to have a bit of distaste for anyone who is way too interested in getting me excited about something. Yes, my Instagram feed is dominated by skiing... and hot women... and hot women skiing, but I do get sick of reading how "stoked" I should be, that this winter will be "epic" and that I'll never grow old as a "child of winter." Cliche's aside, creating poetic and passionate art around skiing is not a new development that burst from the loins of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It existed back when I watched those ski movies by Warren Miller and Greg Stumpf. Stoke, for me, started with Miller's Steep and Deep. And, as I realized when reading Loori's The Way of Mountains and Rivers, it existed in the 13th century teachings of Zen Master Eihei Dogen.

Dogen used mountains, not as a metaphor for enlightenment, but part of enlightenment; actual actors in the process of our existence. And teaching that connection to nature, he raises some truly spiritual themes:
Although it is generally said that mountains belong to the countryside, actually, they belong to those who love them. When the mountains love their master, the wise and virtuous inevitably enter the mountains. When sages and wise ones live in the mountains, the mountains belong to them, trees and rocks flourish and abound, birds and beasts take on a mystical excellence. This is because the sages and wise ones have touched them with their virtue. We should realize that the mountains actually delight in the presence of wise ones and sages.
--Dogen, Rivers and Mountains Sutra
I sincerely hope I fall into the category of the "wise ones and sages".

Does Anyone Want to Read What I Have to Say?

Here's my pretentious writer shot.
Looking towards another season "wasted" skiing, I'm rebooting another waste of my time-- writing about skiing. Writing essays on anything in this age of 120 character aphorisms seems like pursuing a degree in Latin, but I'm going to proceed with my prose anyway. My last blog post was in March, and it was one of only a few that I wrote all of last season. Over the last 9 months, I've collected quite a few notes and photos from both adventurous and mundane experiences alike. Some of those experiences were documented on Instagram, but I want to do more with them. I want to tell a story, convey a spirit, relate a value and maybe (get ready to digest some hubris) make a difference. The irony here is that "wasting time" is something my wife will tell you is akin to my kryptonite. I calculate, plan, allocate and organize even the most impulsive and euphoric events. And finding time to "waste" can be hard when there is a lot on which I want to waste time. But I do truly believe the mountains, and all the wonders of nature belong to those of us who love them, and I want to continue writing about them.

I asked a good friend of mine, a talented and published author the very question posed in the header above this section. His answer was pretty prophetic, "You just can't care about that." So I'm going to not care and write. If you choose to follow me, I'll arc from the ephemeral to the concrete-- part sutra, part trail beta, part social activism. Yet, it's all done with the humility that I can't do justice to the real thing.
Clever talk--how can it compare
to the sounds of the river valley,
the form of the mountain?
--Loori, from The Way of Mountains and Rivers

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

An Inheritance that Can't be Taxed

I barely remember the hill. I think it was called Sunburst and it may have been out of business the next season. What I do remember though is, by the end of that awkward and probably frustrating first day, thanks to my dad, I became passionate about skiing. Through the years, I found that same ardor in almost everyone I met who also skied. Most skiers are "disciples", not fair weather fans. Religious parallels aside, one of those devotees I had the pleasure of meeting was an affable coworker that was the first friend I made upon moving to Idaho in 1999.  Rod was an Idaho native who worked at the TV station with me. While his skills weren't typical of my usual ski partners, his passion was, and I always enjoyed skiing with him.
Rod and I at Brighton in 2002

Rod left us too soon-- a year ago this month. But in addition putting a smile on the face of all those those lucky enough to call him a friend, he also passed on his passion for skiing to his daughter Maci. Lexi and I had the privilege of skiing with Maci last weekend at Bogus Basin and her love of skiing was no different than any other skier I've met.

Rod got into skiing relatively late in life, and by today's standards, so has Maci, but like most 13 year-olds, enthusiasm is a great tonic for inexperience. The night before we planned to ski, I texted her and said we would pick her up at 8:30. When she suggested that we might want an earlier start due to traffic, I realized her desire to get up to the mountain early was about more than beating the red snake like it is for me in the Wasatch, she was genuinely excited. While winding our way up Bogus Basin road, she shared a story about the last day on the mountain with her dad. Rod forgot to put in his contacts and when he realized he didn't have them, they had to turn around halfway up the road, delaying their day of skiing by a few hours. When Maci told me that, I could tell she wanted to make the most of our day skiing together. I had to smile after hearing the story too. I could just picture the look of "doh" on Rod's face when he had to turn his Blazer around. Probably in his haste to get up to them mountain, something as simple as putting in his contacts was easy to forget.

Maci's energy persisted as we walked through the parking lot. Her days skiing were low, and I woud have excused her for lagging behind as she walked in ski boots while carrying her skis, but she was outpacing Lexi. And before I could even get into my bindings, she was ready to go, asking to do a warmup lap on the bunny hill.
You can't teach fun.
 Unsure of her ability, I tried tempering her bravado, but from the moment we got off the Deer Point quad, she knew exactly where she wanted to go. In low visibility, I had to make sure I kept her in sight as she zipped down the long cat track that led to the backside of the mountain. Skiing didn't seem uncomfortable to her. Throughout the day, I tried to provide some instruction and guidance, but I have to admit, it felt a little unnatural doing so. I've never really felt comfortable instructing people on the finer points of skiing anyway. Plus, she was having fun. Why try to teach "fun"?

As the skies cleared in the afternoon, Maci started eyeing more advanced terrain from the lift. I would relate. At her age, I wanted to challenge myself too. I might see an awesome looking glade from above and feel like I had to ski it. Never mind the sharp, off camber fall line leading into the glade, or the narrow gully at the bottom of it. For Michelle, Maci's mother's sake, I suggest alternatives, but we did make one rather challenging run off the top of the Pine Creek chair. In order to get to the long, ridge top track, we traversed across a slope where Maci learned the value of side slipping. Lexi and I talked her through it, and she did great. Then, when the remaining part of the run was more at her skill, she asked if she could ski straight for the rest of it. I think was most fun, seeing her work hard to get herself through a difficult part of the slop and then, when she realized that the worst was behind her, open it back up and get back into her comfort zone.

A great day to be above Boise
It was a long day with all sorts of snow conditions, visibility and challenges. When she started turning with her upper body more and more, I got the idea she was getting tired and I  knew we needed to call it a day soon. That was pretty tough, but I think she would have skied until they turned on the lights for night skiing if I let her. Unlike the original trip through the parking lot, now those ski boots seemed like they weighed 50 lbs on her feet. Maybe because she was tired, maybe because leaving the mountain is always tough.

I thought back to my days skiing at age 13. So many things I remember. Some clear, some unclear. But while many of us may struggle with the hazy memories of those early days on the slopes, one memory is crystal clear in both my mind, and I'm assuming Maci's mind, and that is, how grateful we were that our fathers' introduced us to skiing.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Slackwater Time in Ski Season

The hasty flow chart below best plots my weekend routine since December. 

That simple, three letter word in the middle rectangle is all that matters in this diagram. It represents an activity so euphoric that all the connected objects, and their associated anxiety, disappear as quickly as I can link a turn down Gunsight. This loop, however, comes with collateral damage: weekend exhaustion. "Hectic" should not be an adjective tied to "skiing", but when the Wasatch is less than an hour's reach from a million plus people, I find that by 9pm on a Saturday night, I'm barely able finish my whiskey let alone partake in another euphoric, three letter word activity. The last month at work resulted in some major PPTSD (PowerPoint Traumatic Stress Disorder) and I needed to escape to nature without everyone else in the Salt Lake Valley. So, before Moab fell prey to their own incursion of tourists, I decided to go down there with Lexi and introduce her to mountain biking.
Lexi pedals along the Moab Brand trails.

As soon as we left Friday night, I was already seeing incredible images on Instagram of skiers pitted on one of the deepest days of the season. It was tough to stomach, but sometimes you just need to pedal. And in retrospect, the fact that I still had an incredible weekend proves how important it was to escape the Wasatch.

As a little background, back in September, I bid on an off-peak Moab condo stay to benefit the Utah Avy Center. When we won the auction, I capitalized on Lexi's growing curiosity about mountain biking and planned the stay for her birthday. Moab was the first trip we made together and we hadn't been there in a while. Plus, I knew they had a much better selection of beginner trails in than when I had ridden there last. 

Still, as if it wasn't bad enough knowing there was incredible skiing happening in the Wasatch, I woke up Saturday morning and had to deal with the snow covered LaSals taunting me from Moab's eastern horizon. Like a summer flame at camp, skiing is that girl you know will be gone all too soon, but I also knew that with the girl, there was also clogged canyons, overloaded lift lines and lemmings lined up and waiting for patrol to drop the gates on Ballroom. I needed a break from that, a little slackwater amidst the whitewater rapids of the ski season, if you will. I've had some good ski days this year, so while all that blower was being tracked in the Wasatch, I was enjoying a birthday weekend with my wife. Instead of rousting her at 6:30 so we could get up the canyon before the horde, she had the privilege of sleeping in while I made her breakfast. I never felt flake of regret for giving up skiing, because ultimately, I was getting to mountain bike.
Pay no attention to that snow in the background!

Last weekend reminded me that mountain biking is a gateway drug for cycling-- because it's fun. It's ultimately why I got into cycling as a whole. I mean, I love road biking, but it's not fun. And with empty trails and a full-suspension 27.5" mountain bike, Lex probably felt the difference between mountain biking and road biking. She rode at her own pace without worrying about traffic. She struggled a bit, but in the good way. 

We started with the Moab Brand trails which were perfect for a beginner. The initial mile on the EZ trail had some novice "mountain bike" elements (embedded rocks and mild trail twists) where Lex got a taste of terrain without having to do a lot of climbing. The EZ trail runs below a low, rocky ridge that can be seen from highway 191 and I couldn't have picked a better primer for her first day of real riding. After nearly two miles on EZ, we got a break on some double-track heading south on Rusty Spur. Our 5 mile loop eventually ended on Lazy. The return route followed the low rocky ridge above EZ and provided additional single track punctuated with some sharper turns and little climbs before hitting some cruiser sections on the back of the ridge. 

Seeing Lexi struggle without excessive frustration was pretty rewarding and the next day she got challenged a little bit more at Klonzo. The weather was perfect late winter Moab: sunny with no wind. Even though our route up Borderline to Zoltar was shorter than Saturday's ride, the compression of climbing all within the first mile added a cardio element to her learning curve. But once we hit Zoltar, Lexi discovered the fun of riding slickrock. The short, mile plus stretch gained a little elevation while rolling over grey sandstone. A few quick drop and climbs required some ratcheting, but all in all, I was amazed at how determined Lexi was to improve. 

I was also kind of surprised with my instructional advice for her. Unlike skiing, I found myself actually trying to teach. With skiing, I've never really tried to help teach Lexi, mainly because  I don't know if I could really "teach" skiing. I started skiing around the same time I learned to ride a bike, and for some reason, the old, second nature adage about something being like "riding a bike" always seemed more applicable to skiing in my life. I just sort of feel what it takes to ski, unlike mountain biking, which is something I've scrutinized. And even though a lot of what I do on a bike is somatic, I found myself more able to translate my techniques to Lexi. With few people on the trail, we were able to stop, walk back, and have her work on tools like keeping the wheels moving while rocking your weight back and forth. I also realized that, much like skiing, movement and speed, are your friends.

By the time we closed our insouciant weekend with a short, Monday ride, she was already planning a bike fund. She was convinced that when the time came to buy a bike, she had to get the same one she rented from Chile Pepper. The rash idea of falling in love with the first bike you ride resonated with how I felt the first time I tried a full-suspension bike nearly 20 years ago. It made me made me happy, not just because I'm aroused by buying bikes, even bikes for someone else, but because she had ridden just three days and experienced the euphoria of mountain biking. 

So in a few weeks, Moab mountain bikers can swap many of the objects in the above flowchart with Moab specific entanglements: crowded trailheads, limited campsites, packed restaurants, but for one mellow weekend in February, Lex and I were able to focus on a single 4 letter word in the middle, RIDE. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Finally, the Last Holiday of Winter

The rain/snow line seemed low on Sunday morning. As the UTA passed the soggy dark embankments around Tanner's Flat, it's windshield flattening big drops of rain, I remembered how spring skiing, from a Wasatch perspective, is already here. Just above that however, the precip began flecking the windshield. That dendrit-ic transformation is what I wanted to seed. Once the Birds were dropped off at the compound, the bus emptied out and its temperature dropped considerably. I was back in winter.

Riding the bus to Alta changes something in me. Driving my car up the canyon has become like spending the night with a beautiful woman that happens to have hairy armpits. Regardless of how great she is, there is no way possible I am looking forward to that part of her. So even though riding UTA burns an extra 30 minutes in stops and the ski rack seemed to be designed by someone under the impression that Little Cottonwood is straight-- with zero incline-- and that skis possess a physics-defying quality of inertia, I love it. I realized it adds a little bit of anticipatory euphoria. If you've ever been to Disney World as a child, you have likely ridden the monorail from the parking lot or your lodging, into the park. Is there any greater build up in a young mind? Knowing at the end of that monorail will be a life-size Goofy, idiot proof cars you can kind-of drive and the philosophical realization that it is a small world after all.

I still couldn't seem to
stay high enough.

Somehow, the Wildcat gods smiled on me this past Sunday morning. Because about 5 minutes after I got into line, the rubes began to figure out the line at Collins was exponentially longer than what as building up at Alta's quaint little fixed double. And in fact, a rather saintly local identified a single near the top of the cue for me and I jumped all the way up to 3rd position, easily the highest I have ever been at a lift at Alta. The snow was falling, everything looked pretty well covered in cream and after the two chairs in front of me unloaded and took the path of least resistance down the runs directly under the top of the chair, I had the rare pleasure of being the first one down Punch Bowl and into the western perimeters of Wildcat. The initial turns were a little rough; the heavily trafficked areas had some lumps, but as I cut my route into Wildcat Bowl I realized that more snow fell overnight than I expected. I was worried I was going to regret not skiing Saturday, and since I can only tolerate so much of a holiday crowd, I chose to ski Sunday, and that choice seemed just fine.

I began to feel the effects of Saturday's bike ride, my first of 2017, in my legs after I incredibly had to be the first one to put in a high traverse across Punch Bowl to get to the ridge that follows the resort boundary. There were some covered tracks that looked like they were set down by patrol in the AM, but they must have come down from the ammo shack on the knob above. So I trudged through, raised my heart rate and was rewarded with the pleasure of swooping in like a hawk on the skiers taking the low route.

The new skis should not get used to this much
snow on this stretch.
After two laps like that where I felt like I was in my own little tree house, I took a break and then took a lap up Collins. Gunsight sounded good, and since the diminishing visibility and new snow might make it hard for me to approach the notch from the High T, I decided I would take the Backside traverse which instead requires an immediate side-step right from the lift ramp, but the ability to ski down to the Gunsight climb instead of trying to step up to the climb. I've been doing this more lately, even though it requires using a rope to circumnavigate a small cliff band that has a two ski width passage along the rock. Once again, no one seemed interested in doing this, so I was shocked by two things. One, that in the section on the cliff band where I had to hold on to the rope for balance, I could actually ski instead of gently tiptoe along with my skis-- there was enough snow. And the second surprise is that no one had been up Gunsight in a while. There were some tracks on the uptrack, but they looked like they had been covered for most of the day. Once again, I was sitting on top of the world while rats raced below me. Once I got the top of Gunsight, the winds kicked up. Alone.

The day before, my father-in-law was skiing at Alta and sent me this picture of the rubes lined up for Devil's Castle. Glad that I can still find my way to a few spots that need to be earned.