Here is a guest post from Andy Roof, a regular Off-Piste contributor (Ask the PT). Andy and friends made a day of it on St. Helens last weekend....
To celebrate Memorial Day, we headed up to Marble Mountain SnoPark on the south side of Mt. St. Helen's on Saturday evening and camped in the lot (along with an entire troop of boy scouts who pitched their tents on top of us). We had a clear, cool night, and got up at 4 AM to be skinning by 4:45. We hopscotched a few bare patches between 2700-3000' before hitting mostly-consistent snow just below treeline. For the most part, the skinning was good, but we did put skiis on the packs for one steep, boot-tracked-to-hell pitch around 4500'. We saw a fair number of climbers (including the 16 boy scouts) but only a handful of skiers. Skies were clear with a steady breeze with periodic gusts that kept the temperature perfect for uphill travel. Our friend Kim is the mother of a six month-old and is still breast feeding. That meant that she had to stop for 25 minutes at 6500' and hand-pump breast milk before continuing to skin. Could this be a first for St. Helen's? We all topped out around 11:30, snapped some pics and then dropped into the wide-open corn window between the summit and 6400'. We stayed right off the south rim and hit the southeast facing bowls to skiers right.
Perfect corn on the descent before hitting consistent mashed potatoes below 6400'. We were able to traverse left and find a little gulley that fed out to the main approach trail. The snow here was slightly less sun-punished and was carvable.
It was a zippy out track for the last two miles with a little bit of dirt skiing and one or two sections where we removed skiis to preserve some base. Back to the car at 2 PM after a great day of skiing.
One other note: I had skiied the same route nine days earlier and was impressed by how much snow had melted in the following week---not only on the trail below treeline, but also on and around all exposed rock and ridgeline. There had previously been no bare patches on the skin in, and the snow was untracked everywhere before the boot-packers turned out with a vengeance.
A couple weeks ago I posted a piece about Bugaboo Dreams, a book about the evolution of the heli-ski industry and Hans Gmoser's role in it. A blog reader turned me on to a new book focused on Gmoser's life and mountain accomplishments by Chic Scott called, Deep Powder and Steep Rock.
The book arrived this week and looks great. Chic Scott, a successful writer and accomplished mountaineer in his own right, published this book himself. He did this because he found it was the only way he could guarantee the quality that he wanted. Well, from the little I have read so far and the books appearance, he set a high standard for quality . Deep Powder and Steep Rock not only looks great, but it is obvious Scott put his heart and soul into reseaching and writing it.
Chic Scott first met Hans Gmoser in 1963. Scott was 18 years old at the time and had the skiing and climbing bug. Gmoser was, at the time, the king of North American mountaineering. As Scott put it, "He put Canadian mountains on the map. He was one of the founders of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and was the founder of the sport of heli-skiing. Everyone working in the mountain adventure business in western Canada today owes their job to Hans."
Following Gmoser's death in 2006, his wife asked Scott to write a biography. Scott spent three years, researching, writing and publishing Deep Powder and Steep Rock. The book is 384 pages with over 380 images, and includes a DVD with three of Gmoser's films made in the fifties and sixties. I will give a full report when I finish reading it. The book is avilable directly from Chic Scott's website.
Spring arrived in force this weekend in the Northwest. The bike was calling so I do not have a snow report, however, the lower elevation mt bike trails around Hood River are primo right now.
Benj Wadsworth from the Friends of the NW Weather and Avalanche Center (FOAC) reports that "...NWAC was able to provide forecasts throught he end of April and is still publishing special warnings as needed. While funding for next season is still somewhat tenuous, we are hopeful that the cooperating government agencies and the ski areas are going to continue to fund the Center at their current levels..."
FOAC was successfulin raising close to $30,000 at their Seattle based Snowball bash in April (check out images and list of supporters for Snowball here), and will be able to help with funding gaps while pursuing permanent funding solutions.
Other news from FOAC is that the new joint NWAC/FOAC website, which previewed at Snowball, will be ready to launch this summer. The summer launch will allow bugs to be worked out before the busy season hits. The new site will provide a more user-friendly interface, and will offer advertising opportunities.
Finally, FOAC has published the 2008-09 avalanche and weather summary. Check it out here. Thanks to NWAC and the FOAC for providing their valuable services.
WyEast Nordic is hosting its 26th season of Summer Tele-Camp June 13-14. Summer on Mt. Hood is an excellent time to take a ski clinic. Creamy corn snow, mild temps and a variety of instructors make for a great weekend of skiing.
The clinic includes tour days before and after that offer a chance to explore some of the summer backcountry skiing on Hood, too.
I have participated in and tought clinics for WyEast and should be up teaching and touring this year too. Come on up and hone your freeheel form. Get the full details here
The Bend Backcountry Alliance (BBA) has been working to protect human powered access around Bend, OR with recent efforts focused on a non-motorized Tumalo Butte.
Here is the latest update from the BBA.
We're making headway toward a quieter, cleaner Tumalo. We are writing to thank you for your continued support for the preservation of winter trails and to give you a status update regarding our Kapka Butte efforts.
The Bend Backcountry Alliance recently sat down with Marv Lang of the Forest Service to discuss public comments made on the Kapka Butte recreation plans and we were delighted to learn that our grassroots efforts were very fruitful. Of the 579 comments on record, over 200 were in support of the Backcountry Recreation Zone and a non-motorized Tumalo!
As you know, the Alliance recently launched a substantial grassroots effort to offer guidance to the Forest Service on how to better serve our non-motorized backcountry community. We emphasized the regulation of motorized recreation on Tumalo Mountain and the adoption of the Backcountry Recreation Zone.
The story doesn't end here. There are many steps to this decision making process. The Forest Service must next file an Environmental Impact Statement that includes a list of possible alternatives for the proposed expansion of parking at Kapka Butte. This will include a 45-day public comment period, which will help determine the ultimate decision. As with the initial proposal, we intend to encourage backcountry users to weigh in on the plan with their comments.
In order to make sure the voices of skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and other fans of quiet forest recreation are heard, the Bend Backcountry Alliance will need the continued support of you, our backcountry community. We thank you for your support so far, and look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure our local backcountry is managed for the benefit of all users, not just those with the biggest machines or loudest voices.
Your friends from the Bend Backcountry Alliance
Join their mailing list here (links to constant contact mailing list form)
The weather cooperated the past few days for some time in the hills. I took the opportunity to take a crew of light weight skis and do some head to head tetsing.
I partnered up with Jeremey from the Mountain Shop in Portland and another friend Bruce to partake in some skin powered laps up at the ski hill now that it is closed. We grabbed the following skis - from left to right - Ski Trab Stelvio Freeride, Stelvio Light, Dynafit Manaslu, Stelvio Freeride (notice the Onyx binders), Dynafit Mustagh Ata Superlight, K2 Wayback (based on the Baker Superlight), Dynafit Seven Summits, Ski Trab Free Rando Light. We also had the new Stelvio Light XL ( it looks just like the Stelvio Light but moves to 125/90/112), but it is not pictured here.
The day started with some short laps to ski the boards back to back. I was most keen to run the Mustagh Ata head to head with the Wayback and the Stelvio Lights . Both the Mustagh and the Wayback are 88 underfoot. The Stelvio Light is 84 the Stelvio Light XL is 90. The Wayback is the heaviest of the group (although light when held against any other standard) and skied with the dampest feel. The Mustagh Ata and the Stelvio XL weigh in about the same at, and the 84 waisted Stelvio weighs in just a but lighter, but all handled the firm morning snow very well. The Mustagh Ata moved from edge to edge quickly and confidently, while the Stelvio Light offered up its trademark round medium to small radius turns with ease. The K2 definitely offered the smoothest ride, but it was noticably heavier underfoot than the others, too. The Dyanfit and Stelvio Lights were all fun. The Stelvio's have a smaller turn radius bias, but all of these skis handled a range of conditions well and will run the full range of turn sizes without complaint. Granted, none of them are resort ripper skis. These are skis made for touring and mountaineering.
The snow conditions quickly deteriorated on us as the sun turned the new snow into sticky glaunch as the sun neared midday. Nonetheless, we still rallied for a higher tour on a single pair of skis for the afternoon. I stepped into the G3 Onyx for the tour. It was my first touring experience on the binder. Although I hardly had enough time on it to give any sort of full report, overall, I can say it worked well. Just to set the scene, I am dedicated Dynafit user when it comes to AT gear. I step into the Onyx as a bit of a skeptic, but also with an open mind. I really like the easy action of moving between ski and tour modes. The whole system worked well for me, but as with any new system it requires perfecting new pole tricks to get all the moves down. So far, my biggest criticism of the Onyx is getting in and out of the binding. The toe lever requires a lot of force to open the toe jaws. This is comforting with binding retention in mind, but not so comforting when trying to get into (or out of) the binding on a steep slope of a precarious perch.
As for its ski performance, the attachment feels bomber. I took a digger hopping over a small moat and although I augered pretty good into some deep glop, neither ski released - a good thing as I did not think it was a big enough hit to release them. I look forward to getting a few more days on them, but right now the weather is turning sour again . . .
Spring is up to its usual mixed weather cycle here in the northwest - sun, snow, rain. I am hoping for the weather to settle out a bit so i can get out on a few more test skis.
In addition to skis, we recently got a pair of the new G3 Onyx binders in the office. I mounted them up on a pair of Ski Trab Stelvio Freerides. The mount was relatively painless. No trauma or problems. The binders use the same jig as the Dynafits, but they actually use a mounting plate that allows for the binding to be moved fore and aft to accomodate different boot sizes without a full remount - not a big deal for most users, but nice for testing. The plate system also potentially allows you to run one binder on more than one pair of skis if you have multiple sets of mount plates.
Because the binders can be moved foreward and back, I was able to mount them in some existing Dynafit binding holes and still match boot center. Again, not a big deal for most users, but nice for testing as I did not have to redrill the ski.
The binding is built on the fundamental Dynafit attachment concept. The biggest operational differences between the Onyx and the Dynafit are: 1.) The Onyx toe piece always reverts to locked and requires constant downward pressure to open versus the Dynafit that locks into open mode. 2.) The Onyx heel piece switches between ski and tour mode by moving backward and forward versus spinning like the Dynafit. 3.)The heel lifters for climbing are seperate from the heel unit and engage by pivoting forward versus the integrated lifters that require spinning the heel on the Dynafit.
There are numerous design differences between the two binders as well. G3's web site does a good job of explaining the ins and outs of their binding. Gram counters will take note that the Onyx weighs in at 1,430 grams/pair (no brakes) versus about 1,000g for the Dynafit Vertical ST with brakes (I did not actually have an unmounted pair to weigh). G3 definitely stepped out on a limb being the first company to go head-to-head with the Dynafit program and deserves some recognition for doing so. However, seasoned Dynafit users are a loyal bunch. It will be interesting to see how the Onyx takes hold next season, and where it fits into the user hierarchy for bindings.
Here are a few shots of the mounting process . . . hopefully, the weather settles out a bit and I can get some spring volcano fun in on the Onyx in the next few days and report back on touring with the Onyx. In the meantime, you can (if you have not already been there) visit G3's dedicated and informative web site for the binders where you will find video and dialog highlighting the operation of the Onyx - www.g3onyx.com
Bugaboo Dreams A Story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains
I just finished reading Bugaboo Dreams A Story of Skiers, Helicopters & Mountains by Topher Donahue. The book is full of history and general mountain adventure that surround Hans Gmoser, a pioneering mountaineer and skier who pushed the limits of skiing and climbing in the Canadian Rockies and beyond, as well as having started the world's first heli-skiing operation in the 1960's. The spirit of adventure and passion for skiing that gave way to the heli-ski biz make for a pretty interesting read. I recommend it for anyone with an interest in ski history. Here is the review from the December 2008 issue of Off-Piste (OP39).
It’s easy to understand Topher Donahue’s fascination with Canadian heli-skiing, which began as a half-baked idea between two broke Austrian skier friends in the 1950’s and became a $100-million industry. It continues today in the form of Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), a powerhouse of a business with 12 luxury lodges and access to the remote reaches of the Columbia Mountains in British Columbia.
Donahue lays out the history of heli-skiing in Bugaboo Dreams — A Story of Skiers, Helicopters & Mountains, which recounts the 44-year (and counting) legacy of Hans Gmoser and Leo Grillmair, who launched heli-skiing out of a desire to help people experience the wilderness.
A journalist and mountaineer, Donahue casts a wide net based on a promise to Gmoser that the story would not be solely about him. The result is comprehensive as Donahue recounts the history of heli-skiing through its founders, first guests, first guides (nicknamed “The Swiss Mafia” for their unique approach to guest service), and the remote, pristine beauty of the Columbia Mountains.
In the early days, guests slept in a rustic sawmill camp after a 43-kilometer tow behind a snowmobile. Donahue paints a picture of hard skiing, harder partying, camaraderie, and dedication to the mountains. Although the accommodations have improved dramatically along with the etiquette of guests and staff, the mission appears to remain the same: to provide the best skiing in the world.
Some of the most hilarious and gripping stories come from the early years as Gmoser, Grillmair, and their staff experienced the evolution of the industry they were creating — avalanche safety, guiding, customer service, and continuous expansion to include lodges, heli-hiking and heli-climbing in the Bugaboos, Adamants, Cariboos, Purcells, and other Columbia ranges.
Despite Donahue’s promise, I found myself wanting to hear more about Gmoser, who died at the age of 74 in a bicycling accident a few years ago. I also wondered about the critics of heli-skiing’s environmental impact and how CMH has responded to them. However, without sensationalism Donahue captures the powerful mystique of these mountains, which ensnare visitors and staff alike.
Describing the first trip that started it all, Donahue writes, “It was about summits, big features, new terrain, long runs, and adventure.” Anyone who appreciates that sentiment will enjoy this book. — Eileen Garvin