| December 2008
08-09 Backcountry Ski Review
I've been getting a lot of requests to load our 0809 ski review on the web. Remember, you can always subscribe and request the October issue, but in the mean time; here is the oft requested 0809 Off-Piste Mag backcountry ski review. Our ski testing is not comprehensive, but we feel we offer a good cross section of the backcountry skis that are available.
2008-09 backcountry ski review
Don't Leave Good Snow to find Good Snow
Like Grandma always said, "Don't leave good snow to find good snow". Following Grandma's advice we headed up the local hills for some more turns.
The snow pack is settling a bit, but the skiing remains remarkable. It is snowing again today . . .
More Snow, more local backcountry skiing
The weather continues to hammer us here in Hood River. I have often said that if the state was just a couple thousand feet higher, there would be so much ski terrain here. Well, the storms this past week have blanketed the entire area with enough snow to open everything to skiing. No sense in driving up to Hood when there is excellent skiing to be had in town.
Here are some shots from an area better known for its mountain biking, than its skiing . . .
Well, ten days ago we had no snow. Today, we have two to three feet in town depending on where you are. Hood has been hammerd with over five feet in four days. The touring in the high country has not been so great given the amount of new snow. Hazard is high, trail breaking difficult at best.
The return for busting out a good track was minilmal as the terrain that is safe to ski is not steep enough to yield good turns.
However, the local hill skiing rarely gets better than it is right now. No drive and no crowds, pretty sweet.
Forecast shows the weather cylce continuing for another week or so. . . looks like a white christmas . . .
Hans Saari Memorial Fund
We just received this note from the good folks at Backbone Media regarding the Hans Saari Memorial Fund. Start planning and get your grant applications in by March.
The Hans Saari Memorial Fund (HSMF), a Bozeman based non-profit, reminds ski mountaineers that the deadline for submitting Ski Exploration Grant applications is March 1, 2009. Information on Grants and the Fund can be found at http://www.hansfund.org.
The HSMF Exploration Grant offers a unique opportunity to receive funding assistance through a program designed exclusively for ski mountaineers. Grants are awarded to projects that expand the realm of ski mountaineering through technically challenging routes or uniquely inspirational exploration. Recipients are individuals whose goals reflect Hans Saari’s belief that mountains are an integral part of the lives of the people who live amongst them and that physical achievement is only one component of the ski mountaineering experience.
For 2008, the Fund awarded four grants totaling $15,000. Expeditions visited the Kamchatka Peninsula, Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains, and the Caucasus Range straddling the Republic of Georgia and Russia.
About the Fund… The mission of the HSMF is to foster an appreciation of skiing by promoting ski exploration and avalanche education. The Hans Saari Memorial Fund was established in 2001, following Hans Saari’s death in the French Alps. Saari had gained an international reputation as a writer and adventure columnist. He was highly regarded for his ski expeditions, many of which yielded first descents from some the world’s most challenging peaks. In addition to its Ski Exploration Program, the Fund provides avalanche education grants and scholarships and runs its Youth Ski Camps in the Tetons and the Sierras, providing young skiers mentoring opportunities with renowned ski mountaineers.
For further information contact:
Hans Saari Memorial Fund
PO Box 10478
Bozeman, MT 59719
Snow, Avalanche Incidents, Backcountry ski report
Old man winter is currently making his presence known around the country. Along with double digit snow totals in the mountains comes news of the season's first avalanche deaths. Sad news at any point in the season, the current reports offer a clear indication of current consitions in parts of the western states. you can read more about the incidents from the following links: snowbird, uac, canyons, aspen, cac, vail
The Pacific Northwest is finally getting the snow that we have been waiting for. I got out to test the conditions yesterday. Skiing was remarkably good considering that seven days ago we had about six old, crusty inches on the ground. Snowpack at five to six thousand feet on Hood varied between about 16 and 36 inches depending on aspect and terrain.
Hopefully the storms keep rolling, the hazard settles out, and folks head their respective avalanche conditions.
The weather is finally beginning to resemble winter around here. If the current storm system tracks as forecasted, we could be skiing any day. The NWAC forecast shows over 2inches of water equivalent in the next two days. We need it, I have boots to test.
I have been tele skiing for about 20 years. Having started in leather boots and experienced the plastic revolution first hand, I have skied just about every plastic tele boot at one time or another over the years.
Right now, the gear room has four different tele boots: the Garmont Synergy, The Garmont Veloce (a discontinued model), a Scarpa T-1, and the new Black Diamond Seeker. My preference in tele boots is for softer three to four buckle varieties, and I keep the Veloce (two buckles) around for lighter xcd gear and longer go light needs. The two-buckle plastic boot category appears to be evaporating as both Scarpa and Garmont (and now BD) seem to devote all their attention to bigger stiffer boots. I find this surprising as the XCD ski category (skis like the Karhu Guide) seems to be growing. It makes me wonder what everyone is using on these skis; a boot like the Veloce (2-buckle 1.33kg/boot) or the now discontinued T-4 are ideal.
The Scarpa T-1 has long been a favorite of mine (3-buckle 1.66kg/boot), but as boots have become bigger and stiffer (the T-1 itself has evolved that direction), I have moved the opposite direction and the Synergy (3-buckle 1.57kg/boot) has become my go-to tele touring boot of choice. It is even in its flex, soft enough for good ankle flex, yet stout enough to drive a 90-100mm waisted ski in variable conditions.
Having looked at the new BD tele boot line, we honed in on the Seeker as the comparable boot from BD. It is a three-buckle boot and weighs in at 1.72kg/boot. The bigger four-buckle boots are helpful for driving bigger skis (100mm+ waist) and aggressive resort skiing, but I find them overkill for most of my touring needs. I will not ramble on about our current lack of snow, but given our current snow conditions (although that could change this weekend), I have not yet skied the Seeker. I look forward to getting some on them soon.
Cascade Carnivore Project
Climbing up to 5,500 feet in the Indian Heaven Wilderness just west of Mt. Adams last week led to breathtaking views, a dusting of snow and the remains of a goose. From our perch we had unobstructed views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Goat Rocks Wilderness and shadowed peak of Mt. Hood, pictured above.
My crew was volunteering for the Cascades Carnivore Project, an initiative aimed at protecting wildlife in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Or, more specifically, “to detect rare and elusive carnivores and monitor resident populations” which is how CCP project coordinator and wildlife biologist Jocelyn Akins explains it. Akins has posted 10 digital cameras in key locations throughout the Pinchot as part of her research, and says volunteers are an important part of her effort. “Citizen science has become a really popular way for research to be done,” she said.
After a white-knuckled, 4-wheeling passage up some rutted-out logging roads (thankfully, I was not driving, so I could hold onto the door with both hands), we hiked up above Lake Comcomly to retrieve the card from the digital camera posted high in pine tree. Removing what was left of last month’s bait (that’s where the goose came in), we rebaited the trap with meat and a 16-scent cocktail that made us want to run for cover but that apparently smells like Thanksgiving dinner to the animals Akins is after.
The Cascade Carnivore Project is funded by the Oregon Zoo Foundation, U.S. Forest Service, Norcross Wildlife Foundation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute.
Backcountry Film Festival In Wenatchee
This is just a reminder to pack yourself up after dinner this Friday, Dec. 12 and come on down to the Cashmere Riverside Center for some dessert, conversation, and entertaining films about snow.
Where: CASHMERE RIVERSIDE CENTER
When: Friday, December 12, 2008
G3 Announces New Ski Program
G3 just announced a new ski program for next season. The program revolves around their new relationship with ski designer Francois Sylvain.
". . . Previously the lead designer of Line and Karhu skis, and most recently a consultant for K2, Francois comes to G3 with more than ten years of extensive ski design, construction, and manufacturing experience.
Francois will design future additions to the G3 ski line-up in...
General Backcountry Ski Chatter
December is here and our latest issue is on the street. Now, if our local hills could only get some more snow.
Word from Tannis at Sorcerer Lodge in the Selkirks and Aaron up at Sol Mountain in the Monashees is that the high elevation snowpack is coming along, albeit slowly. Tannis shared this image of skiing at Rogers Pass this week and reports that Rogers Pass has received 65cm of new snow the past few days! If only the flow would drop a little further south.
A few interesting news stories related to skiing and climbing have come accross my desk recently including this piece in the NY Times about high elevation climbing and brain cells. Seems like I have heard this before, but I have trouble recalling. Also interesting for anyone who has kept abreast of the controversial development plans at Wolf Creek Pass, the USFS recently suspended the EIS process for the development when they did not receive a new propoasl for the EIS by Nov 20th - a few more details are here.
Although not backcontry ski related, word is that Crested Butte Mountain Resort recently sold to a Florida based company. The purchase will likely not mean too much to skiers, but may facilitate new lodge construction. - read more
Other cool news reports that scientists have found some great Dinosaur tracks in Utah near the Arizona border within Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The Jurassic era foot prints are upwards of 190 million years old and so plentiful, it is being described as a "dance floor" - read more here.
Finally, I will wrap up with a plu for our new ball caps - 100% organic cotton - low key earthtone color (jungle) and only $16, shipping included!
Although we may not be making turns yet, we have had a good flow of gear in the office the past few weeks and I thought I would offer a look inside our gear room for the season. I will go through everything over the next couple of weeks, but I will start with the big one, skis.
I field ski questions daily, and I try to get to know a large number of skis pretty well each season. The ski room has a few holdovers from last season: the K2 Work Stinx with Voile Switchbacks, Karhu Jak BC with Dynafit TLT comforts, and the Ski Trab Stelvio Freeride with Dynafits.
This season, we add the following skis: Karhu Storm BC, Dynafit Manaslu, and the K2 Coomba, Ski Trab Stelvio Light. I spent some time on all of these skis last winter and spring, but there is nothing like getting to know a ski all season long.
The Manaslu (5lbs 12oz / 2.64kg) and the Stelvio light (5lbs 14oz / 2.68kg) take the awards for lightweight. Considering that the Manaslu is about a cm wider underfoot, its weight is impressive. Our experience with the Manaslu has been great, goes up easy and skis well. Its early rise tips keep it afloat in all conditions; it is especially adept at mixed/variable snow. Dynafit introduces its new binding insert program on the Manaslu. The inserts are set up for Dynafit binders only and I have a set of the Vertical TLT's to use on these. The ski performed incredibly well last season in a wide range of snow. Its long rise tip stays afloat in everything and it was one of our top picks in the ski review for a dedicated touring board. Depending on ski length, the Manaslu comes in at 95 or 92 underfoot, and although it may not be one of the widest skis available, it is incredibly versatile and capable. The Stelvio is narrower but has been a favorite for boot top and spring days. It is lighter and a little less beefy than the regular stelvio freeride, but we feel it skis backcountry snows every bit as well.
The Karhu Storm BC takes the place of the Jak BC in Karhu's line up, a ski that has been my go-to touring board for several years in both tele and AT. The Storm BC weighs in at 6lbs 10oz (3kg). I have not had enough time on the Storm BC to fully define its personality yet, but given its 96mm waist and 128mm tip it is a hair fatter than the Manaslu and full pound per pair heavier. The Storm BC and the Manaslu will go head to head to replace the Jak BC as my go-to touring board of choice.
I see the Coomba from K2 as a slightly different beast. It weighs in at 8lbs 10oz (3.68kg) and offers 102mm underfoot and 135mm at the tip. Given its size and weight, I see the Coomba fitting into the mechanized access end of my quiver. I am relatively lightweight at 135lbs, and although big skis are loads of fun, I have yet to move to 100mm+ underfoot for touring. I know there are plenty of folks who will suggest that I am missing out, but for now I am satisfied with the mid 90's underfoot for touring. Maybe, what I need to do is fit a pair of Voile Insanes into the quiver, and I will change my mind about touring with 100mm+ . . .
Next up, boots.