Day 121: A Elking we go

Went for my last nordic ski at Eldora of the year. A meandering, mellow effort over patchy snow melting way too fast. Lots of nordic this month, intersperced with bigger days in the hills.

We're off the Crested Butte for the Elk Mountain Traverse today. It's kind of been a motivator for us for the entire year, and it's exciting to finally have it here. I'll be honest – it's been hard to motivate for huge backcountry skis with the lousy March we've been having – evidently the warmest and dryest ever – but hopefully our skate skiing sessions will suffice. Either way, we've had a lot of fun.

It's hard to say how we'll do. Our goal is simple – finish, have fun, meet the cut-offs and see some really beautiful places. I'd say our weaknesses going in are a complete lack of course knowledge and some minor but nagging physical problems going on. A season crunched into the TLT-5's has not done wonders for my feet, but I think I've got a system dialed to get through the thing relatively pain free. Needless to say, the TLT-5's will be going away after this season.

I'd list our strengths as being backcountry skiing tested – none of our preparations happened in the gym, and until the last couple weeks or so – was very backcountry ski specific. Doing the Power of Four was invaluable and important lessons were learned. And finally, Elaine and I make a good team. We don't have anywhere close to the lung capacity, strength or experience as Kloser or Wickenhauser, but I'd put our strength of team – meaning understanding each other, in good and adversity, and genuinely putting aside all individual ego for the betterment of the team – up there with anybody. We both love adventure, backcountry skiing and mountains more than just about anything else out there. And we love each other. I didn't want to do the Elk Mountain Traverse…I wanted to do the Elk Mountain Traverse with Elaine. Anybody else would just be silly. There's no searching or dilemna if she is the perfect race partner. I already know she is, and the only way I'd want to do this is with her.

So there you have it. Race starts Friday at 11 pm mountain time. Friends and family can follow the race here:

Wish us luck. We'll probably need it!


Day 117: Skate skiing in wait

March has been a dud. Spring-like, warm…too soon. Our base is still surviving, but it needs to change soon. I'm hoping April will be the snowiest one yet. There is powder still to be skied.

One of the positives of this month has been really teaching Elaine skate skiing. She's getting good. Today up 17th, Twin Twisted, around Phoebe, around Meadows, back up Twin Twisted to the turn for Woodcutter – non-stop. All in a strong V1 and V2 alternate. Had Elaine not had all the shit hit the fan back in 2007, she would have been a star on the team. Her and Mike Vigers are the two most natural skate skiers I've even had the pleasure to ski with. She's not the most experienced or the best, for experience begets skill, but the most natural in terms of balance, quick learning, lung capacity and stength to weight. That's not bragging, that's just what I see. I kind of want to coax her into a race next winter, because I think she'd do well. We'll see.

So for now, we skate ski in wait, until winter decides to come back with a final hurrah.

Day 111: Less is more

We started the day off with a nordic skate ski in the slush at Eldora, and then decided to head over to the lifts and really ski our Ski Trabs – very light weight race skis we're using for the Elk Mountain Traverse – and see what they can do on the down. We already know they're great on the up. Truth be told, they were incredibly fun, and it's good to know their limitations before the race. They are super quick and ski steep stuff really well. They simply slay trees. Hop turns are a dream.  It's a little bit of an act of faith to lay down a hard arc on solid snow, but once I figured out that you want to use more angles and less force, the things laid trenches. Pretty good for a ski that weighs 950 grams and is as skinny as skis from the late 80's. Kind of reminds me of singlespeeding actually – trying to see how much you can do on less. That, and they actually make you ski, and not just rely on technology to plow through stuff.

Fun day. Nearing the end of an easier week, before a hard week next week, followed by an easy week…and then it's a-elking-we-go! I'm excited. Our goal this year is simple – do the best we can and finish. It'll be hard, but getting to ski over some of the best mountains in North America with my girl for 12 hours or so – well, can't really complain about that at all!


Day 109: Skate skiing bliss

We've been having a bit of a warm spell here, and it's been a little bit rough. Yes, I know, these are not big problems in the world, but it is March afterall and March means – to me at least – big snowstorms and powder skiing. We have seen none of that, and it's been a little rougher still because we work in a climbing store (as well as a ski store) and it's hard to put on a bright happy face everyday for all the spring lovers when in reality I'm freaking out about our snow melting away. It's not that I hate summer. We actually plan to dab in climbing this summer, and go full speed ahead into mountain biking (thank you town of Nederland eco-passes). It's just that – I'm craving those deep powder days, and wish summer would take it's time getting here.

That was the mindset until a couple days ago when we decided to take the shop Eldora passes and go skate skiing. Since everybody at the shop is in climbing mode, they're not hard to get. Nordic skiing is something that holds a strong place in my heart. I learned very young, raced at CU and coached the local high school team. Yet I really haven't skied much since the winter of 2008-09. Nordic skiing was one of the fallouts in all the crisis, and I think last two winters I nordic skied all of one day each year.

This winter, thanks to benefits of working in a ski shop, we ordered Elaine some skate and classic track gear and have been getting into it. Just one or two days a week, but it's been nice. Still, I don't think Elaine totally fell in love with it until today. We were lazy for the most part today – the warmth demotivates and brings on lethargy – and didn't get out there till about 5:30. I expected frozen slush, but instead we were greeted by perfectly groomed tracks with a light sheen of refreeze on top. Absolutely perfect skating conditions.

We've both gotten a nice fitness bump from the Power of Four and the ski to Winter Park and back, and I noticed it yesterday and today. Yesterday was solid, and I was anxious to see how two days in a row – my first time doing that since March 2009 – would go. It went great. Elaine skied up 17th Avenue and Twin Twisted Tree non-stop, which for me has always been a gauge of if I'm shape or not. It was pretty damned impressive for somebody who hasn't even been skate skiing double digit days yet. We then ripped down Woodcutter and took a couple laps on Buckeye, always following the cordouroy tracks, freshly groomed, it seemed, for us.

Somewhere in the middle of today's ski I felt that rhythm that I have not felt in years. It's the left-right glide, moving light and fast, perfectly in balance. It was awesome, so much so that I'm all packed up for a dawn patrol session tomorrow. I can feel the stoke for that sport swelling up. I think I might try going up Woodcutter. That'll hurt, probably more than three years ago, but it's always been a good test, and I'm looking forward to it.

It's interesting, how in the despondance of winter potentially ending early (and looking at next week's forcast, it seems like false despair) I've refallen in love with one of my favorite winter activities there is. And to share it with somebody else, and see her fall in love with it too is the best part of the equation.

Three days in a row. Hmm…this could become a happy addiction.

Day 102 & 103: Skiing to Winter Park and Back

After a few days of R&R from the Power of Four, it's back at it. We spent a couple days skiing from Nederland to Winter Park, up and over the Continental Divide. Here's the story in photos.


Just starting off, shedding layers for the climb to Rogers Pass.


When we got to Rogers Lake, the clouds socked in. Found a cool snow cave up here and made a mental note…in case we needed it.



Elaine gets ready for the climb to the top of the pass.

Approaching Rogers Pass. That snow section in the middle was absolutely bullet proof. Kinda wish we'd had some crampons for it. It went alright though.

Elaine epic-ing on her way to the summit of Rogers Pass.

At the top of the pass. Clouds were all ethereal and wispy up here.


That's Winter Park ski area up head. Heading west on the Jim Creek trail. The drop from the pass down to here was dicey at best – breakable crust and we were not sure if we were on top of a cliff, but again, it went OK.

Since we had Stella with us, we couldn't ride the shuttle bus. Instead we walked the two miles into town to our lodging for the night. Not sure why we didn't ski this. Checked into the hotel, and first stop was Hernandos Pizza, which we engulfed in five minutes flat.

Not as many photos today, as we were kind of epic-ing out there, figuring out where the hell we were and racing the clock. For some reason we decided to head up Rollins Pass, which was WAY out of the way. We got lost on a maze of snowmobile trails, but finally made it here, to Riflesight Notch on the west side of the pass. That's an old railroad trestle, and this was one steep skin.

Finally reached the top of Rollins Pass around 4:30 pm. We'd been battling icy, sidehilled sastrugi for an hour plus and weren't overly chipper at this point. And we were not sure what was on the other side.

Elaine heads over the trestles. We chose this route cause we figured it would be safer, but in reality it was a series of traverses over bulletproof chutes that dropped 1,500 feet down. Sketchy and mentally challenging so late in the day.

Right before a kind of heinous snow traverse and psuedo rock climb up and over. Girl rocked it though!

Up and over the Needle Eye Tunnel.

The road to the Forest Lakes Trail was broken between dry and snow. And there goes the sun. It got cold when that went down.

We found the Forest Lakes Trail, which was bulletproof but well packed. The luge run out was actually fun, despite being teeth rattling. We got to the car just as the last light of day set. All in all a rad two days, but very different. Day one was a straight shot – five hours from Moffat to the hotel. Day two was a winding cluster – 8 hours and fifteen minutes of snowmobile trails, sastrugi and icy ravines. We're going to take a couple days off, and then it's back at it! Fun times with the best wife in the world, and the most bad ass dog ever.


Day 100: Power of Four

“Hey babe, how would you like to do the Power of Four?” My husband asked me – while my mind was probably somewhere else. I either wasn’t paying that much attention, or am just plain insane, because I answered in the positive.

“It will be more of a training session for the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse,” he reassured me.

What was going through my head when I said yes to a race with 12,000’ elevation gain over 26 miles – up and down all four Aspen mountains – I wonder to myself as Dan and I are riding the racer transportation bus to the base of Snowmass at four A.M., gazing in a stupor around me at the people I was supposed to be competing against. Dan and I have good, light gear, but these people’s gear quite clearly put us in the “heavy metal” category. I thought about reading how over half of the teams who started last year hadn’t finished. I was shaking with nerves as I put my boots on, slipping toe warmers into the iceboxes. Glancing around the bus again, I realized that I was going to be one of about 15 women – and yes, these were most certainly women. Women who have done the unthinkable, like the Leadville 100 and Montezuma’s Revenge. Women, burly and weather worn, arms and legs like tanks, lungs unstoppable. And I was but a mere little girl amongst them.

What had I been thinking?

At the start, we realized that we were even more out of our league than I thought. People were standing around in the dark, like ogres almost, monstrous beasts who did this kind of thing every day. Dan and I huddled in the back of the unlit room, pinning our numbers on, me worrying about the fact that I hadn’t pooped. I thought of the biggest day I had done on skis: a mere 3,500’ day.

Then it was time to put our skis on, Dan and I trying to sneak into the back of the pack, but our packs were huge and I wasn’t feeling all that agile so early in the morning. And then we started! Neither of us were ready – Dan’s poles were off, and my pack was on the ground, so we hoisted everything, and started off.
As we started, I felt okay. My mind was still hazy that early, and I knew I didn’t want to blow up, so I paced. And skinned. We skinned and skinned and skinned. The vast majority of teams had exploded out of the start and pulled ahead very quickly, a mass of dark moving up the sweeping slopes of Snowmass in the pre-dawn light. Dan and I plodded along.

And then we were ripping skins at the top, and skiing. And what skiing! Pretty? No. Survival skiing? Yes. Extremely tight trees, marred with branches and rocks sticking up through the snow. It had snowed 72” before our race (they had to do avy control before we started), but the mob of racers before us had swept it all off the ridge. There were race marshals all along the ridge, warning us not to drop down either side. I didn’t tell them that my legs weren’t really up to skiing through powder. I was going to stay in the track.

Then it was back on with the skins, and I was glad. Skinning, while hard, was not nearly the painful endeavor that skiing was, so we once again started trudging. This was one of the best parts of the race, we were in true backcountry, following a simple skin track.

When we reached the base of Buttermilk, I was disappointed to learn that I had entered myself into a skate skiing race as well, as the transfer from the base of Buttermilk to the bottom of Aspen Highlands was long and flat. As I skated along, every muscle in my body screamed and I had the first sensation of crying, but I held it back and kept lifting first the left, than the right leg, and repeating. At the bottom of Aspen Highlands was the first Aid Station. Dan and I refilled water, and I chugged an Ensure, trying not to gag and puke as I drank it. Then it was off up the slope. As we skinned, we passed downhill racers setting up a slalom course, and I had a vague notion that these people were much, much saner than I. As we continued up the seemingly vertical wall, a massive wave of nausea slammed into me, and I wretched several times. The Ensure was not happy in my not happy stomach.

The climb up Aspen Highlands hurt. I was fighting back crying all the time. I wanted to just collapse and cry, I wanted to curl up in bed and sleep – I wanted to be doing absolutely anything except doing what I was doing – an endless slog up an endless mountain. Dan and I went into a 5 minutes on, 1 minute off pattern, and I left my body to do its thing, trying to suppress the nausea building up in me. Spewing the contents of my stomach was going to nothing good for helping us finish the course. I recall it hurt, it hurt a lot, and then I realized I couldn’t feel my toes. I started frantically trying to move them, even though I wasn’t entirely sure if I was moving them or not, as I had no feeling in them. We passed a race official who told us that racers were getting frostbite on the ridge, and I nodded. I was pretty sure I was getting frost nip already.

But we were doing okay time wise – we were still close to being able to make the 2PM time cut off. So we continued, and as we rounded a corner to expose Highlands Bowl, I saw a stream of people hiking up the gnarly ridge. It loomed forever away, and we had to get to the very top. At one point, it became so steep, we had to stop to throw our skis on our back so we could boot up. The wind, though it had been bad down at the base, was nothing compared to what it was up here. Continuous of 60MPH, with gusts surely much higher threatened to blast Dan and I off the ridge. The blowing snow made it impossible to see more than a few steps in front of me, and I had to rely on my poles to keep from falling into the abyss on either side. My body, while it had felt like it was near collapse a mere ten minutes before received a major boost. This was something I could excel at. Something about growing up in Nederland makes you able to contend with contentious winds. I threw on my shell, pulled the hood up, and zipped it up over my nose. At one point I turned around to see Dan, his entire nose white, and his right cheek completely white. I screamed at him, over the screeching winds:

“Oh my god babe, your face it so white!” He nodded, and zipped his shell up more. There wasn’t much we could do. The best we could do at this point was to get to the top, and ski down, to a place warmer, and less windy. So we plugged on.

At one point we passed a guy who was screaming about his hands. I didn’t have enough energy in me to tell him to stand up and start skiing down because he wasn’t going to get any warmer up there.
Finally, we reached the top. There was a cacophony of people milling about, and a couple of people approached Dan and myself as we collapsed.

“We were supposed to meet our friend up here, but he’s dropped out!” They screamed over the winds. “Do you want a peanut butter and jam sandwich?” I thought pb&j sounded way more appetizing than Ensure or Sharkies, so I nodded, and the guy handed me a sandwich, which I managed a couple bites of before I thought I would puke, while the girl ripped my skins and stuffed them in my pack.

“Thanks,” I gasped, as they helped Dan as well. I looked around. We were supposed to be following flags. There were no flags anywhere. “Where do we go?” I asked no one in particular.

A guy pointed, “That’s the fastest!”

And so that was the way we went. I was present enough to realize that if I had not just skinned up 8,000’, I would highly enjoy this skiing. It was steep, with incredibly nice snow. There were bomb marks from that morning when they had cleared it for us all over the face. As it was though, my legs were screaming. Fortunately, hop turns on skis that weigh all of 5lbs are very easy, and we made it down alright.

We skied what felt like forever, before we reached a chairlift. There were still no flags, but another racer told us that we had to skin up a cat track for about half an hour, and we would reach the second Aid Station, and the cut of point. It was about 1PM, so it was looking positive that we would be able to make it.

At this point, though, I was getting mad at the people who set up the race. Now they wanted us to skin up this stupid thing – just to be difficult. We threw our skins back on and started the trudge. It wasn’t steep, but it was annoying.  The good thing about it was the people were skiing down in the opposite direction, and were all very encouraging. They would cheer as they passed us. My favorite line was:

“Looking good!”

Did we really look good? Because I was feeling kind of crappy.

We reached the Aid Station, and the cutoff point in time, downed another Ensure, and left. The trail we went down did not do much for my mood. It was sketchy for wobbly legs, extremely narrow, too narrow to snowplow to slow down, so we rocketed around, at the very edge of control, sometimes tipping over that edge. My legs screamed at me, and I felt the tears coming back. I knew we still had a 3,000’ elevation climb in front of us, a totally demoralizing one from everything that everybody had said, and here we were getting beat up on the downhill.

The climb was just as demoralizing as everyone had said. It was 3,000’ over a 6 mile span, so fairly gradual, when all I wanted was to get this thing over with. I fought back tears more and more often, and my stomach’s ability to eat because less and less. I started guzzling water, but another Ensure was out of the question. If I puked now, I might not make it. Slowly, ever so slowly, we made progress. And then Pete Swenson found us on the trail and told us we were 40 minutes from the top, an hour from the end of the ordeal. It didn’t do much to make me feel better. We continued, 10 minutes skinning, 1 minute rest. I could feel the end of my tether flapping around close by.

We reached the top, and it was beautiful. There was a moment as I stared out across the stunning mountains, at such a vantage point I could see a lot of what we had skied, and I felt like crying again. Dan reminded me we weren’t finished, I had to hold myself together. I was freezing, it felt like my warming system was shutting down. I had on every layer I had with me, and was still cold. Everything hurt. I was ready to start bawling on the spot. Dan had to help me rip my skins and zip up my jacket. I felt reduced to a mere child. I had disks floating in my vision, from exhaustion, and I wanted to just lie down right there in the howling wind and sleep. Dan helped me put my pack on and handed me my poles.

“Twenty minutes and we’re down,” he said, “but it’s not over yet.”

I nodded, and we skied. I had been afraid that they would send us down a double black diamond bump run, but they were finally having mercy on us – we went down an extremely mellow groomer. All the way down, my body was scolding me. My back screamed in agony, along with my legs, my toes, my hips, and my hands.

And then, I saw the finish, and people were cheering! People were cheering for us! Even though it had taken us 11 hours, they were still there, cheering for us, and we skied ungracefully down to the finish line. That was when I cried.