Friday, February 22, 2013

Powder in the Kootenays

Leah and I celebrated President's day by heading north over the border into Canada in search of powder.  We ended up skiing around Kootenay pass and in the Goat range, and were not dissapointed.  The first day was spent driving leisurely to Kaslo, with a quick spin at Kootenay pass to start things off right.
Oh, Canada!  Kootenay pass on day one.

The second and third days were both spent failing to ski Mount Brennan.  We turned around due to poor visibility on day one, and instability on day two.  Both days were salvaged by skiing excellent powder in the trees well below the peak.  In fact, we agreed that this was probably the best powder skiing of the year so far.
Leah skis powder.
Brian skis powder.
Leah skinning in front of Mount Brennan.
Our last day was spent exploring couloirs and enjoying stable snow around Kootenay pass.  We skied off Lightening ridge, climbed the Muffin and skied LSD couloir, then skied two striking couloirs to the south of the Muffin.  The second couloir was particularly enjoyable, with good soft snow and a sustained 50 degree pitch.  I didn't want to return home, and am excited to get back to Canada as soon as possible!
Approaching our third run at Kootenay pass  - the skinny couloir.
Leah carving out a platform at the top of the skinny couloir.
First turn.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blodgett canyon peak to creeks

Skiing powder in upper Blodgett creek.

John and I teamed up on Sunday for an exploratory day in Blodgett canyon.  We hit the trail a little before first light, with an agenda to head up canyon until the skiing looked good.  The lower canyon has plenty of snow on the trail, but the skiing doesn't become acceptable until hitting Mill 3.  Having skied Mill 3, the Blue Ice bowl, and the smaller avalanche patch sandwiched in between, we continued up past the pinch into the upper canyon.  We skinned about a half mile past the High lake trail junction before heading up to the north with plans to look at the Sears lake couloir.  A long climb put us on top of the couloir, but the entrance wasn't filled in, so we skipped it.  This is a little unfortunate, because the couloir is one of the better lines in the Bitterroot.  We continued up to near the summit of what we are calling Sears peak.  From near the summit, we skied the excellent peak-to-creek avalanche path which had powder for it's entire 3,200' drop.
John steep skinning up to Sears Lake peak.
John in the upper half of the Sears peak south gully.
Cruising the lower half of the Sears peak south gully.
Back on the trail, we ventured about half a mile further up canyon to the intimidating north-north west face on the back side of the Caesar's Palace buttress.  We climbed up into a broad couloir on the left side of the face, hoping to find a sneak line through a prominent cliff band.  The sneak didn't materialize, so we switched plans and climbed a semi-hanging snow ramp in the center of the face, turning around at a convenient point about 500 vertical feet below the summit.  The ensuing run was fantastic, with shallow, stable powder all the way down to the creek.
John at the top of our second run.  My final run
is the obvious looker's left gully in the background.
John at the bottom of our second run.
We had hoots, hollers and high fives, and John settled in for some blister treatment before skiing out to meet family obligations.  I couldn't resist one more run, and took a spin on an excellent peak to creek run directly across canyon from Caesar's Palace (Plum bob left?).  The run ended up harboring perfect powder all the way back to the creek, and I arrived back at my pack giggling with delight.  I had no idea these avalanche paths existed before today, but with the consistent fall line and clean runouts, I think the twin plum bob gullies are among the very best peak to creeks in Blodgett.

It is uncommon to be able to catch the big south facing peak to creek runs with good powder from top to bottom, and I was excited to find such exceptional conditions, and to be able to share the day with an exceptional partner.  The ski out was fast, and I was back at the car well before dark.  About 8,700 vertical feet with 12 flat trail miles, and done in 11 hours, 20 minutes car-to-car.  For future reference, the approach trail took 3 hours at a bright pace, and the exit took 1 hour and 40 minutes at an average pace with tricks (kicker skins to the bridge, normal schussing from the bridge to the car).  I think the effort is similar to the approach to Bass lake in Bass creek.
Powder and sunshine on my final run.
Looking back to Caesar's Palace and Canyon peak.
3,000' of stable powder from the ridgeline to the creek..
Remote, wild, and beautiful.
This is why I ski in the Bitterroot.
Opening turns on my final run.
Motivation for the ski out.
As a side note, Joshua, Leah and I attempted Greywolf peak the previous day.  As is the tradition for Leah and me, we got skunked by weather, and spent an hour sitting around shivering on the lower flanks of St. Mary's peak waiting for some visibility before skiing powder on the way out.  It is worth noting that the road to St. Mary's lake is plowed all the way to the trailhead.
Joshua skiing powder in the Missions during a failed attempt on Greywolf peak.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bass Creek, Party in the couloir

Following Nick up Party in the Couloir.
I headed up Bass Creek in late January with a party of five of Missoula's finest plus long-time Bozeman friend Nick.  We had an excellent day, skiing and naming Party in the Couloir on Stormy Joe.  We stopped before the top of the couloir due to avalanche danger. Nick triggered a 4" slab on the first turn, a sign that maybe we should have stopped even earlier. At the bottom of the couloir, we crossed the creek and skied the final run of the Bowl bounce tour before schussing out.  The snow was good, and we were treated to much better weather than forecast.  Bass creek is skiing quite well, and the trail is fully snow covered.  Most of the exits low in the canyon are still pretty thin, however.  All photos were taken by Nick Vandenbos.
I was very excited to ski .
Discussing options for a second run.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bridger Bowl Skin to Win race report 2013

Ripping skins in hot pursuit.  Photo: Bridger Bowl
After skipping both the Targhee and Whitefish races in exchange for two days of touring, it was time to get back to racing.  This is my fourth consecutive year at the Skin to Win race, and I always enjoy the community spirit and exceptional course at Bridger Bowl.  This year the field was thin, and it ended up being a battle between me and John Curry.  The condensed blow-by-blow was as follows:

The race kicks off with a LeMans start, which I botched.  A hard sprint put me just behind John Curry and just in front of Dave and a few other competitors.  By the time we hit the steep hill below the North Bowl road, the pack was John, me, and Dave within about 20 seconds of each other, then a large gap.  Dave fell off the back by about a minute on the North Bowl road, and I slowly fell behind John despite pushing about as hard as possible.  The ridge booter went OK, and I was about 45 seconds behind John at the top of Hidden Couloir.  I skied with semi-reckless abandon down Hidden and the Apron, and managed to catch John at the transition.  It was glaringly obvious that this would be a 2-man race, and John was proving to be a tough competitor.  
Women's winner Nikki Kimball cranking turns in Sluice Box.  Photo: Bridger Bowl

Unknown racers heading north - fun, technical ridge traversing is
one of the hilights of the race.  Photo: Bridger Bowl
John had a great transition, and booted out of sight up the Motor Room as I put my skins on and took in some calories.  Somehow, John levitated up the booter, emerging with a 90 second lead.  The skin track was (too) steep, and I made up some time on the skin back to the ridge.  During the climb to the ridge, I looked back and saw Dave about 2 minutes back - this is before his skins failed, and I would not see him again for the rest of the race.  I skied upper Sluice Box quickly, and came into the second transition as John was skinning out.  The second climb was also too steep, and I used all my steep skinning and reckless skiing tricks to close the gap to about 20 seconds at the third transition.  Keeping with the theme, the third skin track was steep and challenging, and I finally caught and briefly passed John on the ridge.  We traded spots again on the ridge, and I emerged at the top of the final short bootpack about 40 seconds behind.  My skis got caught in my pack, and I lost another 30 seconds fiddling with them before starting down the final run.  I was able to pass John at the bottom of the run, but he skated by me on the short uphill past the Slushman's lift, and I was never quite able to catch him.  In the end, John skated over the finish line 10 seconds ahead of me, and we both collapsed in exhaustion.  What a great battle, and a big congrats to John for pushing hard for the win.

John's account of the race can be found here.
Sporting a new pair of skis on the men's podium.  
Women's podium.  Nice job Leah!

This is the hardest I have ever raced, yet it was not quite enough to win.  Obviously, a little extra fitness would help, but I had several small gaffes which cost me the race.  First, I stepped out of my ski at the LeMans start.  Bad form.  Second and most significantly, my skis got caught below the lower loop of the ski carrying device twice, which cost me 1-2 minutes.  Nothing some climber's tape couldn't solve, but I should have addressed this issue prior to the race.  Finally, I lost a lot of time on the bootpacks.  This happened at Jackson as well.  Probably a combination of sub-par poling technique and sub-par aerobic animal status. 

There were a bunch of things which went extremely well.  First, I pushed hard the entire race, and felt I was moving much faster over the last third of the course than in the past.  Second, I added 1 cm of rise to my race bindings, and I think that payed off.  Most US race courses have long sections of too-steep groomers and skin tracks, and I think a little additional rise well offsets the sub-10 gram weight penalty and any loss of stride on the flats.  Finally, the new Dynafit race skis ski MUCH better than my old SR 7.0's.  As a non-mutant uphiller, it is nice to be able to make up a little time on the downhills.  

In the end, I shaved about 5 minutes off my previous best time.  I think with all the wallowing and steep skinning, the course was a little (3 minutes?) slower than in the past.  Not a bad showing, but I am convinced that there are a few minutes in there for improvement in the future.  

The women's field was fairly strong.  Nikki Kimball had a good showing despite just coming off surgery and fighting through some skin issues.  And a big congrats to Leah who had a great race and placed third.

The overall showing was quite small this year, with only about 15 racers in the pro division.  Many past racers were absent (the entire Jackson crew, Luke Nelson, and the entire Kalispell crew including Ben Parsons, Erich Peitzsch, and both Katie and Brandon French), and there presence was missed.  Also, Blake from Missoula opted out in favor of ski touring in the Bitterroot.  In retrospect, it looks like postponing the race by a day was detrimental to turnout.  Which is too bad, because this is one of the best courses in the US, and the folks at Bridger do a great job hosing the event.