Friday, January 23, 2015

Pinball Wizard Gully

Near the top of the Pinball Wizard.

The Pinball Wizard gully is sort of a local classic, dropping cleanly south into Bass Creek from the large saddle between Big and Little St. Joseph peaks. It has a big, committing starting zone, then funnels into a long clean open gully, before pinching down into a fantastic incised halfpipe for the bottom few hundred vertical feet. All in all, it is one of the more accessible and fun 3,000+ vertical foot peak to creek runs in the Bitterroot. Even though the run can be skied with less than welded avalanche conditions, the entire football field sized southeast facing starting zone slides almost every year, and the run demands respect.

I headed out from the normal Bass Creek trailhead in the dark on a random Thursday to try for a fast car to car outing. I was able to follow a skin track for most of the ascent, and the climb went quickly at a bright but sustainable pace. Sunrise was beautiful. The traverse to the top of the gully is scrappy and fairly long, and I added about 5 minutes of ridgeline traversing at the end in order to climb to the safest possible entry point. I have been really leery of the snowpack this year since it just doesn’t seem to be as stable as what I’m accustomed to in the ‘Roots. Nevertheless, I felt confident dropping into the wind loaded but somewhat vegetated headwall. Once I got into the gully itself, the south facing snow had baked down, and the skiing was fun, if not a bit breakable. The schuss out to the car is a little slower than normal, with an open creek crossing and a few down trees. I skied out to the car at 3 hours 31 minutes.
Sunrise on Little St. Joe.
Shadow closing in on the summit of Little St. Joe.
A little crusty, but it was great to ski a clean 3,000+ vertical foot fall line deep in the Wilderness before work.
I had a pretty clean and fast go at this circuit, but it could probably go 15 minutes faster with better conditions and a little more desire to go hard. I bypassed the little rocky summit knob, but the fastest route comes within about 20 vertical feet of the Little St. Joe summit. Even though nothing was slow, none of the conditions were super fast. Avalanche danger was stout moderate, and the terrain requires some attention to detail, so I stopped worrying about time during the traverse and focused on making safe, calculated route decisions. 

Trail report: Bass Creek is in. Continuous ice and snow all the way to the car and plenty of coverage beyond the Pinball Wizard/Lappi Lake junction. Avy danger is a bit funky, but otherwise go get it!

Route: Park at Bass Creek trailhead. Head straight uphill (usually snow free at car) and climb Little St. Joe via southeast ridge. Traverse west toward St. Joseph peak to top of Pinball Wizard gully. Down gully and out on Bass Creek trail. 

Splits were: Summer trailhead: 1 hour 5 minutes; Leave top: 2 hours 25 minutes; Start descent: 2 hours 50 minutes; Upper Bass Creek crossing; 3 hours 5 minutes. Car 3 hours 31 minutes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2015 Randonee Racing post

Whitefish Whiteout, January 17
Ripping skins at the first transition. Photo: Pete Siudara
After a three year hiatus, I returned to race the Whitefish Whiteout. This race seems to serve as an informal Montana match up, since most of the fastest racers from Bozeman, Missoula, and the Kalispell area were present. It was great to see local professional ultra runner Mike Foote toe the line in his first ever randonee race. I actually felt good at the start, and a hard but sustainable effort had me not too far off the lead pack of Philip, Mike Foote, Ben Parsons, and Travis Brown. At the base of the first run, the order was already set for the remainder of the race, with Phillip way ahead, Mike and Ben battling it out, Travis stubbornly ahead, and John Curry and Alan Adams breathing down my neck. 

I had a clean and even remainder of the race, grinding up and down what ended up being primarily easy groomers at a blistering pace. On the last climb, John slowly gained on me, but I was able to hold him off to the top, if only by 6 seconds! I flopped over the finish line totally spent. With the exception of one bad transition and a poor choice of skins, the race couldn’t have gone much more smoothly. My chief complaint with the course was that the last third is not nearly technical enough. The local flavor of this race is that makes it special for me. It is great to see a large turnout of locals with non-racing gear ready to thrown down, and it is fun to have lots of  great local folks cheering everyone on at the transitions. 

Chasing Travis Brown up the NBC bootpack. Photo: Pete Siudara

Wyo Rando Roundup
This is the fourth consecutive year that I have raced at Jackson, and I always head down for the first race of the year eager and come back beat down. This year was no different.
String of racers on the first climb at Targhee. Photo: USSMA
January 10. Targhee - Slow start, fast finish stage
This course has been slightly modified, and I kind of missed the soul-sucking, straight-up-the-hill first climb. I started slower than normal, and was a little dismayed to top out on the first climb in about 40th place. Over the rest of the race, I was able to advance about 20 positions by skiing aggressively and pushing the second and third climbs as hard as possible.  
Marshall and Lars suffering near the front of the pack. Photo: USSMA.

The skiing was overall fast with some breakable ice at the bottom of the first two runs, which I exploited to pass a few skiers. I started up the last climb right behind Noah Howell and my racing arch-nemesis, John Curry. I couldn’t quite hold their pace, but was able to  pass them both with a fantastic speedy tuck down groomers on the last downhill. I ended up tired but not completely knackered at 1 hour, 52 minutes, in about 23rd place. The rest of the day was spent napping and relaxing in Driggs. On a side note, I don’t think this course is a full 5k of vert, not that it matters.

January 11. Jackson – Redemption stage
The Montana Crew of Ben, Jon, Dave, and me (in the old blue suit) at the start of Jackson.
Photo: GAS Intrinsic Cycling, Bozeman

I did not do the stage 2 sprint, and it was nice to toe the line feeling wonderful. Last year I got dangerously cold and had to stop in Corbett’s Cabin, so I was eager for another go at this beast of a course. I started slow again, pegging the heart rate just above 160 as the fast guys sprinted away. Unlike yesterday, I was able to slowly pass about six racers on the first climb. The first descent was fast and easy. I stopped to suck down a GU packet at the start of the second climb and lost a few places, but was soon back on track, working up the slippery skin track. I maintained position on this climb. I was hoping to pass Jessie Young on the Tower 3 chute downhill, but she simply out-skied me. After a good transition, I held back a bit on the third climb due to mounting fatigue and worries about cramping. Both Lindsay and Alan Adams came by on the cat track, but I was able to pass them again on the next mini-downhill. I have traditionally been totally spent on the fourth climb, and this time around it was nice to have enough energy reserve to move well and advance one position at a moderately hard effort. The modified booter did not go up Corbett’s, but it was still fun and engaging. I always thrive on the big 4,000 foot top-to bottom downhill and let ‘er rip all the way down, passing about five people in the process. As fate would have it, I transitioned with John Curry and Noah Howell again, and blazed out in pursuit. It was clear that I was going to be able to get through this race cramp free, so I pushed hard on the last climb. We all pulled away from a little chase group of Jessie and Michael Hagan, but I was not able to catch Noah, and John opened a hopelessly large gap. I skied the last run in no-man’s land, crossing the finish line in good spirits at 3 hours, 1 minute, in 23rd place. 

Racers cruising down Tower 3 Chute. Photo: MarkGocke 
In retrospect, I think I could have dug a little deeper and found as much as 5 minutes on the climbs on this course, however such an effort would have taken a lot of mental fortitude, and could have very easily backfired. In the end, I was satisfied to finish both races in solid (for me) times without ever blowing up.
Jackson Men's results

This is the first big ski race of the year, and serves as an informal annual gauge on my high-end fitness. It seems like I have become smarter and slower in equal proportions, yielding no measurable change in overall race times. However, with a more calculated, balanced approach to training, my body is much happier than it was a year ago, and it was nice to feel a little more within my capabilities during the races. So I am happy over all.

Two days after the race, I am largely recovered. What a pleasant change from long running races, which seem to require about a week of recovery before the old pins come around. I really enjoy the endurance component of these two-day stage events.  

It is always good to see the familiar faces at these events – what a great group of people. It was also exciting to see my Montana friends stepping up their game. Go Montana! Also, I had a great time battling the second and third place women at both races, and it was encouraging to see a strong and deep women’s field.

These races are big efforts for the organizers and volunteers, and I can’t thank everyone enough for all the work and encouragement along the course. Of Note, Nate Brown spent a lot of time constructing the last skin track, and it was a pleasant surprise to find it in an easy condition after years of fighting tooth and nail to finish the course. Buy him a beer next time you see him.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

PSA - Marshall Mountain closed

I am not personally at all informed on this issue, but will respect the closure until I hear otherwise. I would encourage everyone to do the same, or get involved to re-establish public access, if such an effort is possible. As the article states, the private landowner has been accomodating in the past, and the reality is that we do live in a country where property rights exist.

May the soul of the vandals be tormented under the crushing weight of countless local skiers who have for years enjoyed the sting of a hard uphill effort, the reward of a return run through fluffy powder (or, as is often the case, breakable refrozen junk), and have reveled in the funky beauty of Marshall.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tetons, Sliver Couloir

The Tetons welcomed in 2015 by dropping a massive slab avalanche off the East face of the Grand.
Can you spot the crown? Photo: Leah Samberg Story
I was able to sneak away to Jackson for a few days with Leah to ring in the New Year and play in the Tetons. While Leah was able to take advantage of a full week of bitter cold blue skies and stable powder, I was only able to ski for three short days. By showing restraint on New Year’s eve, we were able to put in a solid tour on Shadow Peak on New Year’s day, with a tracked out but enjoyable descent of the Four Hour couloir into Avalanche Canyon. The highlight of the trip was a descent of Nez Perce’s Sliver couloir with Leah. We were thrilled to find stable neve, and I was glad to check this little gem off the list. We did not ski the upper 50 feet, however, and I am of course excited to go back and link the complete Sliver with the East and West Hourglass couloirs. Before driving back to Missoula, I was also able to squeeze out a nice quick run in Jenson Canyon, taking advantage of Low/Moderate avalanche danger to gut punch one of the big avalanche paths in stable powder, solo. 

Natalie saluting in front of Teewinot. 
Natalie skiing into Four Hour.
Skiing out is serious business. Photo: Natalie Dawson
Grinding up the Sliver. Photo: Leah Samberg Story
Starting down the Sliver. Photo: Leah Samberg Story
Lower in the Sliver. Photo: Leah Samberg Story
First few powder turns in Jensen Canyon.
I had a full Dynafit binding failure on the first day when the newly repaired toe units on my Speed Superlight bindings would not come unlocked. It turned into a minor epic, but nothing too terrible. This is the fourth malfunction of Dynafit bindings I have had in well over 1,000 days of use, so I can’t complain, but the failure put the durability of the Speed Superlight toe unit into question, which is somewhat unfortunate since the toe units are otherwise a good compromise between the normal Dynafit speed toes (a little too heavy), and the auto locking Dynafit race toes (awesome but do not release).