Today Carly and a couple of her friends from her MBA program escaped the heat of the valley–currently sitting at approximately 93°F here in SLC–for a morning of spring skiing in the Uintas. I haven’t done much spring skiing so Carly and I were potentially under prepared without crampons or a piolet. However the snow was forgiving enough that it didn’t become a problem. We skinned and booted up Bald Mountain in the Uintas. As we neared the top the snow was getting less supportable so we switched over a few hundred vertical feet from the summit unfortunately and skied down. The turns were better than expected though and perhaps we should have gone to the top.
In November 2016 I headed to Chamonix, France to feel out a seemingly unbelievable opportunity. That trip was my first to Chamonix and I didn’t get a peek at the riches that the area has for mountain scenery and fun. The clouds hung low for the duration of that trip and snow fell frequently. Since that date things have accelerated significantly and at the beginning of May it was time to return for a longer and more productive trip to solidify the gel that has started setting. In short the opportunity was to work with Blue Ice, a small Chamonix based climbing company. I would go along with Bill Belcourt to discuss opening an additional office in Salt Lake City. We would head the hardgoods design effort here in SLC and softgoods would continue out of Chamonix. Six months after the project kicked off we are six strong in Salt Lake and augmenting the team of 13 in Chamonix. Stay tuned to see what we’re working on…
As for the trip. Adam and I headed out at the beginning of May just as one of the team from France was leaving a visit to the US. The itinerary was to visit a number of suppliers, climb, ski, and live in France for the bulk of May. Check, check, check, and check.
In Nov. ’16 I didn’t get to witness the scale since the place was socked in and we didn’t get out for any climbing. This time however, our ride in from Geneva left us with a clear view of the magnitude of topography that is Chamonix. The elevation at the cable car, téléphérique as it’s called, in town is 3,379′ (1030 m). The top of the Aiguille du Midi which the téléphérique brings you to is 12,604′ (3,842 m). Mont Blanc, the highest point in Europe, is 15,774′ (4,808 m) and only 3.4 mi (5.4km) away. I thought that Salt Lake City had some of the best relief in the world and it is only half of that of Chamonix. The scale is mind blowing. Looking up at the peaks from the center of town almost hurts your neck in how high you have to look.
While there was quite a bit of working on the trip we were able to get out and do some fun in the hills and mountains.
This weekend we got a quick hitting dual cold front. The second of which dropped 12-18″ of right-side up blower powder. Hope you got out there this morning because the sun came out this afternoon and it’s gone now.
Just a quick post to share some images from a recent ski/climbing trip to the desert. Yup, the desert for climbing and skiing. Outside Moab, UT are the La Sal Mountains, with many peaks topping 12,000′ they are even higher than the Wasatch outside our front door. We gambled on the weather and got some fresh snow in the La Sals and enjoyed ourselves exploring a new area. That day after skiing we camped in Moab and enjoyed a desert sunset. Awesome place this UT.
For almost two weeks in mid-February I was a bit worried that our stellar skiing winter had come to an end. Luckily the warm weather seeing temperatures up to the high 50’s and 60’s in the valley, and rain up to 9,000′ came to an end last Tuesday/Wednesday. Winter returned and returned with a vengeance. A storm dropped between 3-4′ of blower powder Wednesday thru Friday. I was able to get out Thursday and ski the deepest powder I’d ever experienced. Because of the amount of light snow it was tough at times to keep the tips up and it was an exhausting day, but it was so good we did a triple lap at Short Swing. I wished I had something wider than 105mm skis. We were in the white room much of the day with the blower pow. :-)
While Carly and I headed out yesterday, Saturday, and the conditions were quite good, both of us were feeling off and on top of that it was cold so we only did a single lap at USA Bowl. Today the weather broke and the sun came out making for a stellar bluebird day for some powder skiing. We headed to Silver Fork, a zone we haven’t been to before. The views were gorgeous and the snow was great. The amount and lightness of the snow from late in the week has settled quite a bit and the powder was much more bouncy.
Got a chance to get out skiing over the weekend with some pretty awesome conditions. It stormed Wednesday-Friday and there wasn’t much wind for Saturday and Sunday. This lead to the great conditions we found in the backcountry over the weekend. Almost no wind at 10,000′, plenty of sun and fresh powder to be found. Saturday just Carly and I got out in Grizzly Gulch and East Bowl. Sunday we went out with Della and Kevin and had a pretty long day. We scoped out Wolverine Cirque but passed on it for the bowl off the top of Mt. Wolverine. Perhaps one day I’ll feel good about dropping into a steep chute in Wolverine Cirque.
In other news I’ve got two new cameras, to some degree anyway. I’m planning to get rid of my SLR and my high-end compact in favor of a more all around solution. The SLR (Canon 50D) takes great photos and I’ve got a great line-up of lenses for it. However it is too big and bulky to bring around most of the time on skiing or climbing trips. It is also over 8 years old so the focusing and low light performance can’t measure up even close to newer stuff. My compact (Canon G12) is 6 years old and has a really small sensor. While small, light, and taking some great photos of mine over the years, it doesn’t have the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. It can’t match up to the newer cameras out there either in focusing, frames per second or responsiveness. All that said I’ve been very happy with both of these cameras. They have been on countless trips and taken some amazing shots I will remember for many, many years.
Technology moves along and today there are a lot of options out there for taking pictures. My iPhone 7 takes some amazingly good shots now that the OS allows RAW image storage. Obviously these are on a tiny sensor, fixed lens, and limited control over the settings. Nevertheless my phone takes some really nice shots and the bonus is I rarely do not have it on my person. SLR, compact and the hybrid of them, mirrorless 4/3s take some amazingly high quality photos. I’m pointing my attention to mirrorless cameras because they offer a bit of both worlds, interchangeable lenses but still small size.
The two contenders I’ve got at my disposal right now are a Fuji X-T1 on loan from Ben with an 18-55mm f/2.8 lens. The other is a Sony a6000 with the kit lenses, 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 and 55-210mm f/4.5/6.3, which I found for a good price on KSL. My intent is to give these two cameras some field time to see how they work for my needs. My first field days with these cameras are below. I took one each on the two skiing days. I won’t spoil which is which. Try and guess without looking at the EXIF data.
Carly and I have been out skiing basically every weekend the last few weeks of December and the first couple of January. The snow in the Wasatch has been fabulous this year. While not every storm has been cold smoke, many of them have and they have been coming through between 5-7 days between each. This has kept the snow awesome in the backcountry with constant refreshes of even the most popular areas. We also had one ski day in Red Mountain Pass Colorado on our New Year’s trip to Ouray. While the snow sucked at the top of Mt. McMillan the views were good and the wind blown hard snow of CO made us appreciate the Wasatch a little more.
In mid-January I was asked by a couple CT friends to join in on a short notice trip to British Columbia for some skiing, hot-tubbing, and general good times. It seemed a bit short notice and I sort of had other stuff planned, but a few days later my schedule opened up and I decided to go in on the fun.
Thursday the 21st I flew up to Calgary where Christina arrived only an hour before I did. We met up, caught up and headed outside to be picked up by Drew. His Forester pulled up horns blaring and music thumping. I’m pretty sure the security crew thought they had a live one on their hands, but once seeing Drew they realized it was just an American over-stoker. Cramming all our stuff into the car and roof box we headed off on an awesome impromptu adventure across British Columbia.
That afternoon we headed west through Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise to stay in Golden, BC, home of Kicking Horse resort. Snow the previous night and that night gave us great conditions the next day. While we never caught a rope drop we did have plenty of soft turns in whiteout conditions all day. That evening we decided to check out the hot tub and indoor pool at the Holiday Inn Express we were staying at. It was surprisingly good and included a short water slide going into the pool!
The next day we hit Revelstoke resort. Revelstoke’s claim to fame is the largest vertical relief in North America, 5620′. It is a former heli and cat skiing area that only turned into a resort in 2007. There are only three lifts serving a majority of the terrain. We stuck to the upper portions of the mountain as the temperatures at the base were very warm and it was drizzling at times down there. Conditions on the upper half of the mountain were good though. We didn’t get any fresh turns, but there was stuff soft stuff in the innumerable glades and on the sides of the established trails. If you like glades they have an entire half of the mountain more or less dedicated to it.
The highlight of Revelstoke was booting up to the top of a sub-peak (7677′) of Mt. Mackenzie (8058′). From here we skiied well skier’s left along the resort boundary and got an amazingly long shot of wind buffed creamy goodness. From here we went through the boundary into the sidecountry and got some more fresh turns in the trees. On our second lap through this area we put the skins on and had another great section of buffed turns before making the epicly long trek down the mountain to finish up the day. In all we stayed on our feet for the entire day of skiing. Our last run went from powder at the top in the sidecountry to hard packed, east coast style snow in the middle, to smooth corn at the bottom.
In Revelstoke we hit the aquatic center in town. This complex is a massive indoor water center with a large pool with lanes, diving board, short climbing soloing wall, lazy river floating, hot tub, sauna, steam room, AND a massive fully enclosed waterslide that goes outside the building before dropping you back into the landing zone next to the pool.
Our third day brought us back into Roger’s Pass, which separates Revelstoke and Golden. This area is a wilderness area comprised largely of Canada’s Glacier Provincial Park. The backcountry skiing, ski-mountaineering, and hut hopping are known far and wide. We picked up the beta via a great guidebook and map. Given it was a Sunday we were able to get a reservation in a hut not far from the road to base our Monday ski tour from. I’ve been in a couple huts before and this one is by far the nicest I’ve been in. It sleeps about 24 and is only a casual 30 minute skin in from the road along a railroad bed. The cabin itself has a massive kitchen fully furnished with utensils, plates, bowls, mugs, fully draining sinks, and two stoves. All you have to bring is your food and sleeping bag. The only other cabin goers Sunday night were a group of snowboarders from Hood River, OR. We had a blast shooting the breeze and sipping whiskey (thanks guys!) for the evening.
Our tour Monday unfortunately had to be cut slightly short because we needed to be in Nelson, BC later that night so we could make the next leg of our journey. Nevertheless we headed out to a popular and mellow Perly’s Rock. The views along the way were beautiful and much different that the Wasatch touring I’m used to. Here in in the Wasatch you more or less can pick your elevation, terrain, aspect, and just go towards it. In Roger’s pass the terrain is typically steeper, more complex (many slope angles on the same aspect), and the trees are brutally tight in most places. There are also glaciers to consider as well. Our skin up towards Perly’s had some great views and Christina and Drew ate up every minute of it. I’m a little spoiled coming from SLC since I get to ski snow like that before work–even so it ranked up high on my list of all-time tours.
Our ski out was pretty great, particularly the first leg of it. The lower sections got super pillowy and the terrain a little more complex as we had cliffbands to negotiate. We made it down just fine and were envious of the French-canadian girls who passed us on the skin track and made it all the way to Perly’s Rock. From there they had an epically long, wide open untracked run down a glacier.
Back at the car we hustled towards Nelson. Along the way we planned to hit a hot spring, but we really didn’t know which one, or where. Luckily there is a hot-spring tour and they have their own signs along the road. We followed one sign up a narrow winding road for what seemed like ages and into nowhere. Eventually we got to the end of the road and saw a large mostly round building with steam rising into the night. We paid our $6 and got to soak outside with dim lights, the stars overhead, and Enya on the sound system. It was a pretty awesome soak near the end of a great few days of skiing. Proceeding on we hit Nelson and enjoyed a night on the town and some good food at a sports bar.
Tuesday was half of our big drive day. Once you pass west through Revelstoke and beyond, you end up in the Okanagan Valley which is part of the desert of eastern Washington. Osoyoos, was our eventual stop. First though, we hit a well recommended hot-spring in Ainsworth. This spring was also developed like the one in Nakusp, but it had a tunnel. The hot tub lead into the mountain in waist deep water. The natural calcified rocks formed the ceiling and hot water dripped or rushed from the ceiling. Since it was a confined area it also was super steaming making for a natural sauna. Adjacent to the hot tub (~40C) was the 3C glacially fed pool. We played around with jumping from the hot water into the cold and stayed as long as we could, usually only 10-15 seconds, before jumping back into the hot. This actually was quite refreshing and felt therapeutic.
Moving on we eventually got to Osoyoos which is almost in Washington State. The area is the warmest in Canada and attracts snowbirds (the old people, not actual birds) from all over Canada who winter there. The area is also known for their winemaking. Usually any “winemaking” area that you haven’t heard of typically has crap fruit wines and things. This is a legitimate winemaking area with varieties you’ve heard of. We sampled all 20 wines at one place and were very entertained with the friendly woman who served us. Of course three Americans showing up at 10am on a Wednesday in late January isn’t the norm, but we benefited from it by tasting all the wines “on the house”. We reciprocated the favor and got a few bottles for ourselves.
As the day wound on and the miles rolled underneath us, we dropped in altitude and the rain came. By the time we reached Vancouver it was raining steadily. Drew, who’s been in Vancouver for many months off and on, gave us the full tour. After the tour we headed to a great restaurant in a warehouse and ate tapas and discussed life changes well into the evening. It was a great finish to an unexpected journey with two good friends.
Today Carly and I headed out for a tour with Adam from work and his girlfriend, Stephie. We headed to Porter Fork off of Millcreek Canyon, a place none of us had visited before. The weather was bluebird but cold, similar to the last day Carly and I went out. We got a good start for New Year’s Day, leaving my house around 9:15. The first leg of the skin was easy and up a road that has had some snowmobile traffic. The second section was a bit more technical and primarily involved Adam breaking trail to gain a ridge below Gobbler’s Knob which we figured was Cabin Run. Carly and I were tuckered from the 5 mile and almost 3900 foot skin so we dropped in a little farther down the face than Adam and Stephie.
The snow was pretty good. Not quite as soft as the last day we were out, but still pretty good in spots. There was a bit of a sun crust in spots so it required a little more backseat style. I have to say that during those turns down untracked snow makes all the time spent getting there go away. The next section brought us through some great trees, nicely spaced and good snow. At the bottom of the trees we entered the survival ski portion of the tour. Pole Canyon was a heinous death march through bushes and downed trees across the drainage. Definitely the worst ski out I’ve had as in addition to the schwack it also had a couple steep sections that were a bit technical. We eventually all persevered and made it back to the snowmobile road and out to the car 5 hours and 45 minutes after we started. Garmin track here.
Carly and I stuck around Salt Lake rather than going back to the East Coast for Christmas. We lucked out and were blessed with a Christmas Eve storm that made it a White Christmas down in the valley with 4″ and upwards of 20″ in the mountains. Christmas Day we headed up to Snowbird for some skiing. It was perhaps the best skiing I’ve had thus far at the resort. While we never got completely untracked runs, we did get some great turns on mostly fresh and certainly soft snow. We were to meet some friends, Aaron and Tina, for dinner and hated to leave. So we did what every good skier would do, we made a few more short runs before heading down canyon. That night we feasted on lamb, couscous, and spinach salad, finished with some apple-cranberry pie. A spectacular day.
We skied the 26th, but the conditions were not as good as the previous day. While the snow was still soft, it was chopped up and wasn’t quite as fun–at least in comparison to the previous day. We made a run and got mired in a Mineral Basin terrain opening lift line so we headed out after only a couple of runs.
Yesterday we weren’t interested in heading back to the resort as we didn’t think the conditions could be any better. We also didn’t want to get caught in the gnarly traffic going up LCC. Instead we headed towards Big Cottonwood for some backcountry skiing. Mill D and Spruces trailhead seemed to be the ticket. We analyzed the avy report and picked some lower angle terrain and favorable aspects to shoot for. The day was cold and bluebird. The approach felt good so we decided to head much farther than we’d anticipated. We spied a relatively open knoll with some gently spaced trees that faced a safer aspect and headed up. We were the first ones up there that day and had to break trail through a drifted skin track. We stopped short of the summit as the snow was starting to thin out. The turns were untracked for the first shot and were awesome! We headed down through the trees to the next open section to enjoy more shin deep settled powder and weightless turns before catching the skin track back out. Spectacular day in the backcountry.