Friday, December 17, 2010


Two recent Milestones for me and they're not related running.

500th all-time bike race on Saturday 12/18/2010
First Backcountry ski tour 12/16/2010

A few weeks back I had an old cycling friend of mine ask me how many bike races I had done (he happened to know that I track everything).  So I did a little digging and came up with 499.  The majority of those were on the road, but it does include cyclocross, a couple of MTB races and even a couple track races on the San Diego Velodrome.  Saturday will mark number 500 at the Utah Cyclocross series final, so what did I do to prepare for it?  Read below.

It's been at least three years in the making and this last Thursday it finally happened, my first backcountry ski tour.  The trip wasn't dramatic and it didn't even come close to being a dawn patrol since we started at 1pm, but it was damn fun.  It probably seems silly that it took me so long to get it going but I have a long list of reasons why and they are mostly related to intimidation and financing.  I thought I would document what I've learned thus far and why it took so long.

1. Pick a sliding method:
Telemark, Alpine Touring, or Splitboard are your choices for travel.  I picked AT since I suck at snowboarding and learning to telemark would take more time.  I really waffled on this for a while because Tele is quite versatile, but AT won out because I'm just getting proficient at skiing and dropping a knee would just be something else I would have to overcome.  Each one of them has it's merits and I think it's safe to say that one of them doesn't rule supreme over the other two.

2. Obtain Equipment:
The list is long, expensive and intimidating.  I spent most of the 3 years cobbling together bits and pieces, using it as an excuse for why "I will just have to wait until next year".  Finally I had all the pieces I needed when I went to mount my Fritschi bindings (that were given to me) and discovered they were too small for my boots.  I was immediately crushed, but decided to liquidate the bindings as well as some other equipment I had laying around for the bindings I really wanted - Dynafit.  The feebay sale was a success and I was able to procure the bindings I really wanted all along.  I will also say here that it helps to have some friends with experience that can "guide" you down the equipment path and be willing to show you the ropes (thanks Jared! and Matt).  Without further ado, here's the list without clothing and AT specific:
  • Skis - $100 - You can go wild of course, mine are Rossignol T3's, purchased used from the UofU rec dept - These are tele skis that I mounted AT bindings on. They are really the weakest part of my package, but the easiest to upgrade and they float in the powder.
  • Bindings - $300 - Dynafit TLT Speeds - With respect to AT bindings there are really quite a few choices but Dynafit's are light, durable and hard to find in the used market (which should tell you they are in high demand).  The other popular name brand is Fritschi, but one of the downsides with them is that you have to lift a good portion of the heel piece every time you lift your heel, which is less efficient.
  • Boots - $530 - Black Diamond Methods - Again lots of choices, but just like running shoes, I was told I  should go with the pair that fit my feet.  I tried on Scarpa's, Dynafit's and Garmont's.  The BD methods aren't exactly the lightest boot around but after my first tour my feet were still happy after 4+ hours  I should also point out that you might want to choose a boot that has the Dynafit inserts in case you change your mind down the road, as happened to me.
  • Poles - $0 - Not even sure of the brand as they came with the skis.  They are adjustable, as touring poles should be, but I didn't adjust them a single time the other day.  If I had to purchase some, I would probably just go with a longer, standard ski pole.  Less moving parts means less chance of breakage.
  • Skins - $140 - G3 Nylon - I had planned on getting Black Diamond skins (the price listed) but I found a deal I just couldn't pass up and found these in good condition from a friend.
Safety Gear (UAC has a great list):
  • Avalanche Beacon - $300 - Pieps DSP - I acquired mine from a friend that no longer uses his.  The price I listed is what I had planned on spending.  Ortovox and Backcountry Access are the other popular brands.  From what I've learned thus far frequent practice is necessary and practice sites are located in the following locations: Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude, The Canyons, Deer Valley and Snowbasin.
  • Shovel - $50 - Still unsure which one I have as I believe mine is sitting under the Christmas tree (I borrowed one for my first adventure).
  • Probe - $40 - Ditto from above.
  • Backpack - $200 - Black Diamond Avalung - Not my current pack but the one I hope to obtain for next season.  My current pack is an older pack that is just big enough for an overnighter and has very easy access to the shovel and probe.
  • Avalanche Class - $250 - Level 1 certification - I'm taking this class in January.
3. Getting over The Fear Factor
Running as we do in the mountains comes with a certain amount of risk, albeit low, but covering the same terrain with snow on it increases the risk tenfold in my mind.  Education has been my tool in getting over this hurdle.  First, I have learned about much of the terrain by running over it multiple times in the last five years.  When I'm looking up at a ridge or peak I know what's on the other side or where a certain drainage empties.  Second, I'm learning about avalanche safety.  I mentioned the class above, but in addition to that, I have been checking the Avalanche Report every day since it has snowed.  Just by reading each day's forecast I have learned quite a bit about temperature gradients, wind loading etc.  Of course I have much to learn on this subject and I am an eager student.  I have had a couple of friends get caught in two different avalanches, one of them survived, while the other did not.  The threat is always there and I plan on respecting it all the time.

Finally, the actual tour.  I headed up Big Cottonwood with my friends, Clark and Jess to the Butler Fork trailhead.  From there we skinned up to Baker Pass then hit the ridge leading up to the summit of Mt. Raymond.  
Clark with Gobbler's Knob in the background.  Yes, that is a cycling team jacket from the Belgian powerhouse Mapei.  Hideous colors, but easy to spot!
I'll stop here and say, I would have never dreamed that my first tracks in the backcountry would be on the east face of Mt. Raymond. Getting there was nothing short of  a crash course in alpine touring.  Learning the little things like putting skins on, adjusting bindings for climbing and the kick turn at switchbacks.  The good news is that all that stuff got easier the more I encountered it.  
Me, with Grandeur in the Background

Jess, with Mt. Raymond in the upper right
Back to the ridge on Mt. Raymond and we finally decided to ski down once we reached a spot about 2/3 the way up.  After locking my heels down I peered over the edge and felt instant anxiety.  It looked steep and intimidating, but after Jess went and arrived at a safe spot I dropped in.  I made my first turn and the snow felt heavenly as I started bouncing from turn to turn.  By the time I stopped my face was frozen with a grin and that's when I got it.  What my friends have been telling me about for so long and why it's so much fun.  
I'm so anxious to go again I'm considering skipping the 'cross race on Saturday...


weather said...

weather maps from Global Forecast System

Chuck said...

Chritian, I'm glad you finally "got it" I've not thought to add up my ski tours. I'm not sure if I've done more trail runs or ski tours. Keep reading the avi report!

Mike said...

I just did my first one two weeks ago, as well. I had no idea what I'd been missing!