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A Tale of Two Seasons

While half the crew enjoyed a second season in AK, the rest of us watched the snow melt as the mountain closed lift by lift, and ultimately, shut down last week for the 2012 season. Good riddance. For the past two months, I had been looking more forward to the sounds of sitars and Thievery Corp than the skiing. Armada Bubbas looking sad and lonely in the corner, maybe next year, friends.

The little bit of last second snow was almost a cruel joke, just covering up fallen trees and dirt patches long enough to get a couple final runs in. And honestly, the first few hours of closing day were some of the best of the year, as sad as that sounds. Why I’m even writing about a 7 inch powder day, I don’t know…other than to summarize the bookend season we had. If last year was the best of times, this was surely the worst of times. Seeing what EV could be on both ends of the precipitation scale told a tale of two seasons.

If anything, a good year to test your snow science skills. If you had none, it was a good year to get some. Silverton Avy School, et al. earned their keep this year, with plenty of examples to show would be snow gurus. EV dictated same, with what seemed like a slide a day. Fortunately, only a few serious injuries in Mushie and no deaths in EV. The rest of Colorado and the ski world as a whole wasn’t as lucky. A constant reminder in skiing, where the crossroads of freewill and inherent risk intersect.

Waxing philosophic aside, a pile of bones was about all that was left to poke at here in Vail. Full on summer now, so enjoy the off season. Get strong, train, ride your bike, go hike, get on the river, get swole, get ready for what will hopefully be a better season next year. If not there’s always the great white North. AK on the mind…see you next year.

3/13/12 Operation Mud Runnel Rescue/ Trip report

I stand on top of the Top of The world and stare in awe at what I see. A mid-May landscape of brown and white stares right back. Barren Vail pass and a rapidly melting east vail are an indicator of just how off this season has been in terms of snow. Nothing to do now but hike and train, ski EVs to get ready for the big game. Nice also to get away from the spring break madness that has taken over the mountain. Good Lord it’s dangerous out there and I’ll take my chances with the backcountry any day.
Thought about my options and realized that with the consistent temps and sun hit, the west wall’s demise was near completion. Probably would be my last chance to rescue my AK JJ that I sacrificed last week during a moment of huberis. A few more days of the above 40 temps and sun would render the isothermic snowpack completely unsupportive and the West Wall starts ripping to the ground, entombing my ski in wet slide debris until late spring. The run to the ground scenario is something reserved usually for late April or May in a typical EV season. This year, March 13? Why not?
Rescue mission time. The only access it was to ski the run I had last time. There was no option to cut over from skier’s right West wall and be high enough to get the ski. Plus, undercutting that entire area to get across wasn’t an option.
Skied to the entrance of the Corner Pocket and thought about my last run, eating it, getting hit and losing a ski in the process. Shut my eyes for a second, deep breath and I push off onto March corn.  I ski the upper, sparsely spaced old growth trees without incident.

Coming to the choke, the place where I failed last time, I stopped behind a large tree and peered in.   I saw that the double stage drop was now a muddy runnel with snowmelt, bushes and mud leading to the runout area. Below  in the debris zone  is where my ski was supposed to be.  I could see two specks of black, and a tip of a ski in the melting carved runout.
Getting down to it was the issue. There was no hucking the drop this time. It would be a tragic irony to land and go through the rest of the snow pack and lose another ski in another tomahawk. The answer lies in the river of water and mud trickling to my right. The next sequence is an ad lib that has no basis in snow science or widley accepted backcountry protocol. I don’t give a shit. Sometimes you have to do what you have to get your ski.
First time for everything. Stood on a bushy bench looking down and considered my future.
Step One. Side Stashes off. (Taking your skis off is a no no, but there was no chance to downclimb mudrunnel on skis.)
Step Two. Throw side stashes like a spear into the debris pile below.
Step Three. Grab slippery root in the mudrunnel and try to down climb over a ledge covered in flowing water and mud.
Step Four. Realize gravity always wins, commit to the muddy ass slide over the ledge and air it.
Step Five. Land onto the debris pile below in a spider monkey position.
Step Six. Wallow/ swim in the snow to find and retrive AK JJ.  Use as a support to get to the Sidestashes. Get on em and get out of there.
Skied out decent corn on the old debris piles next to recent wet slide debris in the mddle of the far left west wall area. The slide went over the first roll and down near the traverse out from Tele Line. The crown was just under the cliffs to the skier’s right of my gully. It was about a foot and a half deep, the debris looked a day or two old.


Spider monkey pentrometer confirmed that the snow pack on the west wall was being bridged by a rapidly weakening mid pack crust layer being saturated with melt water. Underneath is loose and unconsolidated to the ground. The end is near.
Rescue mission a success. I skied out with three, being careful not to clothes line myself on the traverese out. Another first in my fifteen seasons here. Prouldy displayed my hard earned, slightly muddy trophy on the bus.
Sam, a EVI follower who I didn’t know, aked me if that was the indeed the rogue JJ from EVI. I laughed and confirmed. Talked about the state of EV and the crazy year on the way in.
EV season started two months late and ends a month early. Not much left in between.

Natus Pulveris

3/4/12 SnowBalls/ Trip Report 3/4/12

Bluebird weekend with the Snowball festival.  EV saw big numbers. 140 by two o’clock yesterday, 90 by noon today.  Top of the World today reveals tracks everywhere. Temperatures rising again over 30 degrees.

Saw  JD the Poma. He mentioned  that  he has seen plenty of large groups yesterday teeing it up everywhere.  Tracks in the middle of west wall with no slide activity. Tweeners was stomped and Abe’s as well, confirming JD’s story.   Met up with Law at the top by chance, grouped up with  MFD and Atomic Mid Fat. Followed them down to Old Man’s.  Cornice had risen dramatically with the wind arriving with the clearing storm.

Waited and watched the first two try to attack the cornice with a rope.  Without the proper weight  in the middle of the rope the rope cut nothing but plate sized chunks of snow while exposing them both to the edge of the overhang. They inched their way off the Old Man’s entrance with every rope toss and ended up over King Tut’s still trying to lasso a part of the cornice. I waited with Law above and watched.  Good to leave a person in a safe area if you decide to tackle a cornice.  I learned that lesson after my turn at cornice stomping left me with a ski in midair.  A pole from Law  behind me helped me back up to solid ground.

Skied lower down above the entrance proper as the calf roping continued.  I asked them to back off a second.  I probed the edge of the new cornice section at the entrance with my pole and gave a few good stomps.  A sizable chunk of the newly formed section of cornice dropped and  impacted the crown area of last weeks slide, the old bed surface in the middle of Old Mans almost completely filled in with the recent new snow. The chunks exploded on the scarp and ran through the frying pan.  No step down, the new snow in the middle of the bowl held tough. Even with three hundred tracks in EV the last couple days, the rest of Old Mans was a blank canvas.

Dropped the entrance, skirted the debris and skied a surprisingly good Olds tree chute far right.  Exited through lower trees where the snow was rapidly warming.

2/26/12 Strip Club

Headed out into the moonscape of the scoured world.  Wind event 2012 is in full swing and EV is not immune. One look at the Gore Range says it all.   Mountains bathed in white a few days ago are stripped bare, the precious  contents transferred to Nebraska.  Flagging on the peaks yesterday was huge, clouds of snow pluming off anything above 10000 feet.  Really a sense of deja vu, the Poma hike scoured, the anti-tracks of travelers past sticking out in relief, exposed by the winds.  It reminded me of  early December conditions. DPS and I headed out just to see what the results of the wind, not expecting any phenomenal skiing.  There has really been no periods of consistency with weather or snow this year and everyday seems to bring something new.

Steps In Relief

Not much traffic, no surprise there. Top of the World really wasn’t that bad wind wise, the worst of the event is hopefully over.  Snow conditions were variable, meaning I skied seven different kinds of snow during our Tweeners run.  Rock hard scarp gave way to thin window pane like wind slab.  Old pow in the trees, old pow with a cracker crust in any sun hit lowers out of the wind.  East facing sun crust of different variations. It was a snow condition buffet, and I had my plate full.  I survival skied the run, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Hanging out with DPS on the ridge, looking around and shooting the shit is always a good time.

The run out to the water tank was the capper. The wind had brought down smaller limbs and pine cones and scattered them like confetti on the run-out.  Flying through the luge on a mostly brown carpet with the crunching of the pine cones under the skis capped a strange, otherworldly run in a otherworldly year.

On the ridge we watched Benchie and Old Mans reloading, the plumes of snow cartwheeling into the scarps.  The crown in Olds is still visible.  The fracture profile looks pretty similar to the slide I set off with the ski cut heard round the world early in the year.  Strip on the right side of Old Mans is holding tough.

Old Mans Watch Continues

I’ve chosen a couple of strip runs next to old slide paths this year.  These strips of snow have provided good skiing, while mitigating the danger with the old slide path interrupting the open faces.   Pow strips have provided this year when we couldn’t step out into the open faces we wanted to ski.  Can’t ever remember choosing runs in EV this way during any other year.

East faces are crusted from sun and warm temps. Upper north aspects are cross-loaded or slid out.   Lower protected trees are the best skiing at the moment, out of the sun and wind.

Bottom line in EV,  we need the reset button pushed in a bad way.

2/24/2012 Beaver’s Baldy, Fire and Brimstone!

Fire was falling from the sky, locusts clouding the air, frogs and toads eclipsing the streets…  Satan’s Etch-a-Sketch was in full effect with winds of ash and red hot glowing embers!!

Got everyone checked out of my building and finished dealing with a livid Big Appler who’s ski bags have sat in my lobby since Tuesday, unbeknownst to me with no pick-up scheduled.  Okay Chief, I’m sure you need them over-nighted to go rip your non-existant snowpack on your local landfill with a chairlift on it… cry me a river.

Lunch, time to un-plug, tune out and head in the great blue yonder, sans the mob scene traveling from lift to lift.  Up Centennial, Cinch and out the gate at the tip top of BC.  Signs painted in red blood, screaming murder and suicide!! High Danger…probably for good reason.  Took heed, said my prayers and calculated my chances as being safer outside the resort rather than inside it.

A solo skin up Beaver’s “Baldy” and the amusement of a ridiculously useless skin/boot track on a sub-15 degree slope that would burn five times the calories than any of my A-to-B “Crow-Flies” routes.  I was beside myself, laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes…  See for yourself.  Not to knock on good ‘ol fashioned route-taking skills, but this is the most conservative example I have ever seen, you might as well go run on the hamster wheel for a couple hours.  I would say that this is a very appropriate pattern for beacon searching that particular stretch, but I’m always trying to look on the sunny side I guess.  Thanks for breaking trail… or I guess, you’re welcome, but thanks for the laugh, I needed it.

Shot up lookers left ridge, blowing through big wind rolls and baking soda deposition in between.  Cleared the trees and was in the midst of a cross-loaded moonscape of Sastrugi and wind scraped rocks.  Made it to the most accessible drop-in point at the lookers right side of the “Baldness” and sat to enjoy the solitude, scenery and  the distance between myself and the rest of the world’s insanity.  It’s enlightening that one can find moments of true inner peace surrounded by “hell-fire”.  Goes to show one can still enjoy the backcountry on “High” Danger days, all it takes is the right route planning, slope and aspect and ice cream dreams can become a reality.

Made my peace with the afternoon and looked down onto a completely blank canvass.  Unmolested and untainted the Beaver’s “Baldy” was good to shred.  Stomped around the top higher angle wind slabs with no results.  Dropped in and had the best run at Beaver Creek all year.

Skied my choice line and the snow pack never budged, even got to send a couple of the medium sized cliffs lower down by the trees and finally put some air under the skis.  Felt great to have a slope to myself and not have to deal with the Presidents’ Week Holiday madness.  Short lived, it was time to plug back in and get the game face on… after all that was just a “ski lunch break”, back to reality whatever that may be.

2/19/12 New York State…of mind

It’s been a New York state of mind weekend, if you know what I mean.  Took the lead from Deuce and started my lap today with a stop at the beacon park to work on multiple burials.  That little SP button is a world of its own and finally after a few practice sessions, I feel solid about using it, although a mark function would be useful.

The procession down the groomed section of Poppyfields to 21 from Two Elk was endless. Our fearless guests ski like they drive, work and live in their home towns, all together, right next to each other, up in each other’s business.  I made it through the human slalom, up and out and head back for a Mushroom Bowl revisit.

Wanted to dig a pit in Mushie, albeit far away from the Kitchen, to see what was going on. The tally is now four burials past the gate at the Poma this week as told by the new signs up at the hike.  A viable option for EV access might be to install a beacon triggered access gate like ones used around in other resorts in the West, just a thought.

The recent avalanche statistics are sobering, not only for East Vail and Mushie, but for the rest of the state as well. as fatalities and incidents are spiking as new storms roll through, dumping new snow on top of facet world.  With another system rolling up on us, the avalanche activity doesn’t seem to be coming to and end anytime soon.  Interesting week ahead.

Headed even further up the line than yesterday, as I was solo and not willing to even come close to a unskied tree chute over 30 degrees.  Greybird and snow starting to fall, I found a cool low angle stumpline to bound around on. Sunk the tips on the last pillow before the small shelf and a did a spectacular ground flip, stopping on my tails. Looked over to my right and saw my huckleberry, a small unskied patch of snow, surrounded by trees.

Here’s what I saw.

Air temp: 3 C

Surface temp: 3 C

Incline: 25 degrees

Aspect: N

0 to 65 cms: 3mm loose facets fist – Depth Hoar

75 to 85 cms: 1 mm rounds 4finger/fist- Old Storm Snow

85 to 95 2 mm stellars fist – New Snow

Cut two columns and did two CT tests.

First column: CT-14 at 35 cms Q1

Second column: CT-12 at 25 cms Q1

No real suprise, but confirmation that with added steepness, snow load and the pressure of a 180 pound person impacting this snow pack off a twenty foot cliff (one incident in the Kitchen area went down this way), there is no way the snow could support it.

The real question is why, after one or two incidents  in the same area, people still continue to ski in the same exact spot.  A question for forensic psychologists, not EVI.

Last day in Mushroom, back out to EV tommorow to check it out.

Be the Hawk…

Featured in ODD’s post from the other day…a track from a small mouse enters from the right only to have a life changing event occur courtesy of a bird of prey.  The lesson here: be the hawk.  You never know when you’re gonna get caught.

Sick Bird 2/17/12 Paulie’s Report

I arrived at the village this morning along with all twenty thousand of my closest friends. The transportation center looked like a scene from a zombie movie with bodies slowly moving in all directions, no one really knowing what to do. The scene at the Vista Bahn was not much better so I made my way to Golden Peak to avoid the masses.

Having an hour until my partner was free to ski, I opted to head to beacon basin to do some drills. At the beacon park I was approached by a man in red named Bill who is the individual responsible for maintaning the park. We discussed the great facility that BCA and Vail have teamed up to provide the skiing community with. He was gracious enough to spend some time explaining and demonstrating the proper use of the SP function on my new Tracker 2.

The Tracker 2 is a three antenna beacon, extremely fast in locating single burials. The SP function is used for multiple burials and takes more practice and skill to master.

After a good session at beacon basin, Martineast showed up and we began our jaunt out to the Vail sidecountry. The plan was to go checkout the snow around the Mushroom Bowl area and find a safe line to ski, keeping in mind that if things seemed nasty we would turn around and ski some low angle pow through Outer Mongolia.

Since 21 was closed we started our skin at the back of Two Elk through the lunch crowd, always an entertaining show. The longer skin was welcome, stretching out the legs and getting away from the crowds.

At the Orient Express summit we were shocked to spot a group of five sneaking behind China Wall. With all the action happening lately in the Kitchen area of Mushroom Bowl, I was surprised to see a group entering such a loaded high energy slope. It is very hot in the kitchen and will most likely remain that way for the remainder of the season.

After looking into the slice of the bowl where the travelers’ disappeared and seeing and hearing nothing incriminating, we continued our ski out to the Poma. We were greeted by the pleasant site of an empty back of the resort as 21 and 22 were closed for the day. We took a few moments to enjoy the Gore view and continued our way up.
I reached the crest of the skin Marty waved me over and showed me what is to date one of the most impressive things i have seen. If you look closely you will see the line from a mouse and then the mark from a bird of preys’ wings, a true “sick bird”. After examining the natural art work, it was just a few more strides before we arrived at our decision point.

Don't be the mouse

We were far away from the Kitchen and into the lower angle section of the bowl that lacks the steep open tree chutes The top turns were low angle and we had no indicators in the upper twenty degree mellow section, so we continued our run.

We skied from high point to high point, avoiding extended straight, open fall lines, which were few and far between in this section of the bowl.

Our biggest concern was the low snow and the endless pits, covered logs and traps along the way. Ended the run hooting down the to the track, groomed from the recent rescues and fast.

Had a great day out there as a result of confidence in my skiing, partner, equipment, and decisions. Mushroom Bowl is a large area and the stability of the snow varies from spot to spot. We chose a low angle, heavily treed area and had a decent run. We stayed far away from the steep open chutes and significant cliff drops that have resulted in the two recent accidents and one close call that the CAIC has reported on.(EVI note, the number of caught and buried is up to four according to the temporary info boards set up at the Poma)

With much of Vail’s side country suspect, other avenues of adventure await. Try going for a skin on Meadow Mountain or practice your beacon skills. Read a snow safety book; “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” my personal favorite. Maybe ski with your girlfriend. Remember there has been a ton of activity in the last few days, no need for more.

If you go make sure you are confident in not only your skiing but also your partner and usage of your gear most importantly your brain the most important piece of safety equipment. One more thing dont be a dick out there no more yelling its skiing theres no yelling in skiing.

2/16/12 Hey Buddy/West Wall Revisit

Saw a two guys I recognized from yesterday at the Pitkin stop again today.  Geared up, waiting for the bus  and ready for battle in EV.  MFD all-time/ Pontoons and his buddy mid-fat Atomics/ Naxos (the worst AT binding of all-time, sent myself to VVMC on those things).  Asked them about yesterday, what they saw and such. Just interested in their observations from a big cycle day.

Didn’t think anything of it until I got to the bus stop after my lap. Saw MFD Pontoons standing alone. Said hey and inquired about the whereabouts of mid -fat Atomic.  MFD said that his buddy kicked off and lost a ski. He was now alone in the Racquet Club chute.  I asked him, matter-of – fact, why he wasn’t he with him? The answer.

MFD said that mid-fat didn’t know where he was exactly in the chute, but MFD had a good idea where he was.  He was in touch by cell phone and was going to go around, find him then render aid.(Really?)

MFD said Mid-fat knew from yesterday that his bindings were “loose”, and he should’ve cranked them down, but ignored his advice. (punishment for using Naxos?)

Loaded the bus and sat watching MFD render aid by text.

When it hits the fan, who do you know that you can trust to keep their head and help you? How do you know?  Solo missions might get a bad rap, but is it better than having a useless partner? Finding able partners isn’t the easiest thing, and might not be the buddy who is leading you into EV.  No easy answer.

Went to check out the West Wall slide from yesterday. My personal powder hunting tempered by the recent events.  Hit the ridge on a beautiful sparkling morning, with a couple of inches of fresh again as the snow cycle remnants moved through. Not many people out.

Checked out the track in the skier’s right side of the Wall that was put down by the skier who triggered the slide.  He skied the first gully skier’s right  in the Wall where you can sneak through through cliff band with minimal/ no air.  A small sluff on the line, but that seemed to not relate to the actual avalanche.   The actual slide was remotely triggered 75 feet to the skier’s left of the track towards the middle of the bowl. The crown was a foot to two feet deep.

West Wall Crown

Dug a pit on the 25 degree lead in to the roll over in the middle of the Wall, above the small, butried rock band that lines the top. Representative of the E aspect, but not the incline, as the face below the band rolls into the  thirties at least and gets more sun than where I was going to dig.  Heres what I saw.

Air temp: 3 C

Surface temp: 3 C

0-60 cms: 3mm facets/ fist –

60-70cms: melt/freeze crust/ pencil

70-80 cms: .5 mm facets(coulmns?) fist –

80-145 cms : .5 mm sintered rounds/ 4 finger

145-160 cms: .5 to 1mm stellars (new snow)/fist –

Thick crust with small, loose facets above the crust, below the dense, sintered old storm snow. Significant temp gradient around the crust.

West Wall Pit

Did a couple CT tests.

Here’s what I saw.

First column: CT-12 at 65cms Q1.  Ran on the facets above the MF crust.

Second column: CT-2 Q2 at 35 cms. This column ended up next to an evergreen shrub. Broke within the depth hoar. Interesting the crust was knife hard around the shrub area.

Filled in my pit and headed out to the bus on a Tele Line ridge run.  No obvious new activity.

Another Mushroom burial/injury on 2/16, not sure of all the details.  Heard that the Kitchen was the place of the first accident a couple of days ago, not sure the exact location of this one, but Mushie strikes again.

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