Searching for Santa

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Elaine determining that Santa's landing strip will be nice and soft this year!

This is starting to become a family tradition of ours, going for skis on Christmas Eve. Last year it was a tour up to Lost Lake, and we had so much fun we vowed to do it again. This year, for some reason, we decided to go to church, a place Elaine and I have not been in two years and in this particular church, full of past memories, at least half a decade. It was dissapointing and anti-climatic. The crowd looked like they were there because they had to be, the minister uninspiring, the music off key. I believe in a god, but I don't think he hangs out here. God is inspirational, energized and full of goodness. This experience was none of the above. I suppose we were looking for Christmas spirit – oddly when working retail you get so wrapped up in everybody elses experience that you drop your own – but we came home feeling empty.

What to do? What we always do, head into the hills to find inspiration and closer to god. We found it out there. A light snow falling, a full moon, nature at her finest. The mountains were glowing, the woods peaceful, the trail up crossed with tracks of hare, fox, coyote. Instead of feeling drained, we felt alive. We laughed, we sailed, we used our bodies in honor of the earth and higher being. It was perfect, and it will be a tradition in our family for Christmas Eve way before regular church attendance. Merry Christmas to friends and family…especially my mom and dad, the best mom and dad ever.  Much love!

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A light snow on the skin track to the top.


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Rudolph has a headlamp!


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Skiing powder under a full moon on Christmas Eve? Yeah, we'll take it!


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I'm a lucky guy to have a wife who not only wants to come along, but initiates such adventures and wants to do them all with me.


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Me and our trusty husky, Stella, still the best ski dog in the neighborhood!

The beginning of winter, the end of the world?

For a day billed as the end of the world…well, it was not. Another dimension, alignment of the galaxies? OK, we could go for another dimension, as the one we are on seems hell bent towards destruction. Winter temperatures 4° to 10° warmer by 2100? Such was the word from an article recently presented to me. Distressing information for sure. And yes, it was calm and warm out there on this first day of winter. Odd, highly odd, for East Portal. 

Maybe this next dimension stuff will be the cure. Or maybe actually doing something about it before we turn this into the planet that fries. My job? Keep the impact minimal, and use art and words to show exactly what it is we will lose if we don't. We're on the front lines, we can do that. Show the beauty of winter, the most magical season of them all, the season that officially began today. We celebrated by embracing it's beauty, embracing the short light in the dark, and praying that we can squeeze more of these in before the end of the world as we know and love it.

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Teeming with people in July. Two diagnol tracks on December 21.

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Elaine did her first ever seven straight days of backcountry skiing this week, preparing for a day-in-and-day-out grind coming up. Enjoying a snack up top, gazing at the divide and Mount Frosty, a May and June favorite.

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The lowest light of the year reflects on Elaine and I.

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Skiing on the solstice is good. Skiing on the solstice with the love of your life is great.

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Down into the woods, enjoying perfect untracked powder turns.

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I love finding these shots of perfection in the dense woods.

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Celebrating winter by sailing on snow.

This week the snow came…

When storms arrive on scheduled work days, you go dawn patrolling. Back-to-back mornings of waking up in the pitch black, testing the studded snow tires, breaking trail, climbing mountains, skiing powder and filling the soul with goodness. Then, when the 10 hour work day arrives, you feel good. It's all about passion really.

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On Tuesday morning Elaine and I were joined by our co-worker Danielle and her roommate. It was an epic drive up there, testing the new studded snow tires to the hilt. I was white knucked, not because I was worried about crashing, but because I knew getting stuck on the hill would ruin the morning. Made it, just barely, with Elaine doing a running push over the very last hump. Those tires rock!

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The skinning was epic too – two feet of fresh snow. Sometimes I almost feel like the ski patrol at this local area since we always seem to be breaking trail!

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White snows on trees, fresh champagne powder.

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Danielle breaking out into the upper meadow. She had some issues with her skins but kept positive and made it a great morning.

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Elaine crossing the skin track, arms raised for compression and joy.

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Yeah, it was that good.

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Wednesday morning it was back up at 5 am just the two of us. I really enjoy starting the day off with a quiet, meditative, headlamp driven skin in the dark. You're in your own little world, and it feel wild and primordial.

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There is always a pride when the skin track you laid the day before becomes the popular travel route for the entire day. Lots of people came up after us on Tuesday and used the same track. Here's Elaine re-putting it in Wednesday.

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Frosty!

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Smiling winter blur.

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This what we dream about all summer long and why we sacrifice sleeping in.

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Tested out some alternate lines and found the coverage to be great.

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Celebrating the storm.


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We had a very slow start to the year, but December has been excellent. If you'll notice, the last year we had such a steep spike in December was the epic winter of 2010-11. Here's hoping the pattern repeats itself!

Life Lesson from Skiing

Change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, and asking us to change our precious routines can be like asking a charging moose to just stop. I, like most, feel good about change when I’m behind the steering wheel with my foot on the gas peddle initiating the change. However, if it’s change that I am not in charge of, I instantly balk – without really taking the time to stop and figure out whether this change is really bad, or if I just think so because I didn’t come up with it.

Take yesterday morning for example. Dan and I had decided the night before to do a local back country ski before heading into work. When we woke up, it was gusting horribly, and we knew that the local hill would be just like it, but worse. But we pigheadedly tried to give it a go, only to be shut down by snow that had been drifted by the gusting wind deeper than my knees across the road. So we went up to Eldora for a little skate skiing. This was a change I had not anticipated – it was not part of my nice little morning plan that fit very nicely into a small package. I managed to move on, but when something quite large came up yesterday as well – a big change absolutely out of my control – and I instantly freaked, a couple hours later on the drive home from work, I was thinking about it. Change does not have to be bad, and life, just like skiing, is going to throw curve balls at anybody.

Skiing has the ability to teach many important life lessons – and going with the flow and not being rigid is a huge one that I should apply to my life. Skiing is naturally a fluid sport. Last winter, with the lack of snow, Dan and I adapted and did more back country nordic touring than planned, because that’s where the snow was. You may be going out for an awesome time, but you hear woomphing and see cracks shooting off in the snow – you slowly back away and leave the mountains for a time when they are feeling less explosive. Skinning up Neva last spring, desperate for that swooping feeling, Dan and I were forced to turn around in the midst of falling rocks from the unnatural warmth. That line may be the most enticing looking thing you’ve ever seen, and you can just imagine how it would feel to ski it, but there’s a menacing cornice hanging directly over it. You really, really want to make that sweeping turn right there, but you know that it’s bony underneath this nice fresh two feet of snow, and that nice little lump of snow is not a lump of snow, but rather, you suspect, a large stump hiding in wait beneath the snow, waiting to give your season a twist.

Skiing is fluid. Life is fluid. And from the thing that I love most, I must take that lesson and apply it to life. Be fluid, make plans and goals, but when the proverbial cog gets stuck in the wheels, don’t become flustered and freak out, absorb it just like you would those nice little rollers on Windmill up at Eldora right now.

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Get out there and enjoy our holiday snow!

Passion

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It's 4:30 am, Orion is raging and I can't sleep. It's not a bad can't sleep. In fact, it's been this way my whole life. You see tomorrow, or today, a group of friends, my wife and – bless the world – myself are going to get up early and skin up a mountain and ski down the best snow around. I'm an imperfect human, but I have been graced with one trait I wouldn't trade for the world: passion. It's the same passion that got me to haul my bike up Greys Peak at 2:30 am for so many years, the same passion that made that whole posse of pilots and the woods they/we worshipped in my life, the same passion that led to the events of 2008 and 2009 and the same passion that has inspired the skiing blitz that has gone on for five years running now. It's a passion for early – nauseatingly early mornings – winds, cold…nature at it's rawest. I feel like I'm still searching for that perfect sunrise, the perfect line, the perfect glimpse of the wild.

It's a good day. Yesterday I found out that the chapter of my life – let's just call it chaos 2009 – in every which way, officially, ended. There are no remnants in that regard. Of course, the remnants in my mind and soul will likely never go away. And it seems some folks like to hold onto grudges, but I'm beyond over them. Their loss and with the shaving of them from my world comes absolute freedom. Indeed – to quote Braveheart – they almost took my life, but they never got anywhere close to taking my freedom.

Happiness. What a tough road to get it. And I've got it. Love. Great family. A body that allows me to climb mountains. A mind that is a little wiser, but a soul that hasn't lost an ounce of passion. And an adventure on the horizon that is beyond anything I've done before, with a partner who is inspiring more than ever. Thank you Elaine – you rock my world.

Time to fry up some bacon for breakfast. That's in honor of you too DK, one of the very few who didn't kick me when I was down, and who I am infinitely thankful to. I'll be on that bike regularly someday again, in those woods linking up magic, but right now I've just got some other things that are stoking the fire hot.

Slow down with age? Fuck that. Speed up I say.

Scarpa Maestrale Review

Since Elaine and I ski a bunch and also happen to work in a backcountry ski shop, with access to a fair bit of gear (don't hate, the pay ain't great!), I figured this would be a good forum for reviewing gear.

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The Maestrale follows a long lineage of very orange Scarpa touring boots.

In this post I'll review the Scarpa Maestrale, a four-buckle Alpine Touring boot from the Italian company Scarpa. Perhaps Elaine will add a few words about the Gea, which is the women's model of the exact same boot. The only difference between the shells on the two boots is the color (Maestrale orange, Gea green) and sizing. The Gea runs from a Mondo 22.5 to a 26.5 while Maestrale runs from a 25.5 to a 31.5. There is a subtle difference between the liners, as the Gea has a slightly lower, scooped out cuff to accomodate a woman's lower calf muscle.

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Elaine sporting the Geas.

I've been using the Maestale for a couple of years now in conjunction with other boots – yes part of the ridiculousness of working in a gear shop is the acquisition of a boot quivver! The Maestrale is my work-horse boot, and there is a reason for that. My other boots, while better in uphill performance, are exceptionally finicky. As such, when things are off with the other boots, the Maestrale gets the call. I use the boot for resort days, demo days and backcountry days where light and fast don't matter so much. Not that the boot is heavy – my 27.5 shell and liner weigh in at 3 pounds, 8 ounces each which certainly is a very manageable range for big uphills.

The Maestrale on the uphills works well. While it doesn't have the exceptional range of motion of the Dynafit TLT 5 or the Scarpa Alien, the range of motion is, for the most part, perfectly sufficient for most backcountry applications. It's really good actually. Would I recommend it for long, flat "Elk Mountain Traverse" style courses or racing? No, although in a pinch it would work. What I would recommend it for is the majority of backcountry skiing that most people do.

The boot has a lever in the rear that flips up for the uphill, down for the down. When the lever is up, and the top buckle unbuckled the touring is exceptional. The flip-to-the-side tongue takes a little to get used to, but it makes it super easy to take the boot on and off. If you have haunting memories of circa-1990 Lange boots that required a hydrolic press to open up, you'll enjoy the Maestrale!

How about the downhills? It goes down really well. Drop the rear lever, tighten the top buckle and let her rip! The boot isn't overly stiff, but it's not overly flexy either. Even for this ex-Vermont ski racer I find it perfectly sufficient for most situations. I have felt it "boot out" slightly when making super tight slalom turns where the skis pop a lot, but it's no big deal. I've skied the boot with skis as wide as an Icelantic Shaman, and while it might not be perfect, it works. During demo days I have skied it on super gargantuan skis – 120+ under foot massively heavy boards – and it's not made for that. There is not enough there to drive those skis. That said, this is a backcountry boot and it drives any backcountry ski just fine. Pair it up with a Volkl Nanuq or a Voile Charger and you're in heaven. Actually, pair it up with any backcountry ski, save the exceptionally light race offerings, and you'll be stoked.

Note that I use this boot for the resort too. If I were looking for a B.C. only offering from Scarpa, I'd seriously consider the three-buckle Rush (or girls Blink). It's the same mold as the Maestrale, but a bit flexier and about six-ounces lighter. The last on both these boots veers towards narrow, but not ridiculously so. I've found that folks with a solid C and even low D width can fit in these things just fine. Also, I'm 150 pounds on a heavy day, so if somebody is bigger and wants a stiffer boot the new Maestale RS is a good option. It doesn't have quite the range of motion as the Maestrale and is heavier, but if you're 200 pounds and ski like Bode Miller, it's probably worth the trade-off.

The biggest pro about the Maestrale is the price. No, $599 isn't cheap, but in the world of A.T. boots it is. For $599 you get a boot that tours better than anything from Black Diamond and drives a ski well. On top of that, it comes with the best liner in the business, the highly modable and warm Intuition liner. Yeah, the TLT 5 is an incredible boot, but the liners are not as moldable as the Intuitions and not as warm either. You can always replace the liner, and many do, but costs tend to add up when you're taking a $749 boot and adding on a $190-some-odd dollar liner. Don't get me wrong – I love my TLT 5's, and will give them a glowing review later on – but the cost of the Maestrale (and Rush for $40 cheaper) is very appealing, especially given the high quality of the boot and liner. The TLT 5 is like a Ferrari…the Maestrale more like a Subaru WRX.

Is the boot perfect? Well, no. I wish the articulation was a bit more, but I like a ton of movement in my cuff when touring. The lever in the back of the boot sometimes fails and gets stuck in tour mode, which is less than ideal before a big, steep descent. I've never had a total failure, and notice it only happens on very cold, powdery days. The solution is simple and free – simply contact Scarpa and get a replacement lever. This was an issue with some of the earlier generation Maestrales (like the one I'm skiing) but has gotten much better over the past two years.

Make sure to go to an authorized Scarpa dealer to fit and mold the boots. The proper backcountry fit is achieved when your toes are lightly brushing the front of the shell (take out the liner) and a person with normal sized fingers can fit two fingers behind your heel without too much wiggle room. If you want more downhill performance, go a bit smaller – if you are doing huge days in the backcountry or get cold feet, go a smidge bigger. Another rule of thumb is when you try the boot on unmolded it should feel generally snug, but the toes shouldn't be crunched.

Who is the perfect skier for the Maestrale? Somebody who skis in the backcountry 50% of the time or more, does a bunch of hut trips, doesn't want to spend a fortune, enjoys warm feet, drives a ski up to 110 mm in the mid and isn't trying to win the World Cup rando circuit. It's a damned good boot, a blue-collar workman's boot with a big dash of Italian flash!

Wind and Powder

We’ve had a few tired days…Thursday and Friday we managed a few hours up at Eldora each day, but nothing too exciting. (Hey, it’s Eldora, with about three runs open. But we did check out Bunny Fair Bowl – sick, dog!) Saturday we were a little overly ambitious hoping to go for a skin after work – where we had the busiest day of the season with 5 people working the floor. Needless to say, by the time we got home, we just wanted some food and bed.

Today the bug hit us seriously. Not the flu-bug, but the I-need-to-go-skinning! bug. A couple nights before we had sat down to do some serious planning for a big ski trip we have coming up, and I think it instilled a deep desire to skin in us. So, a few chores done and out of the way, we headed up to Moffat Tunnel. Reading trusty NOAA, we brought our warm stuff – high of 15°, steady winds of 30 mph, gusts of 50, wind chill -14°, and blowing snow. Moffat Tunnel is clearly the most pleasant trailhead around.

As always when we head up to the Moffat area, it took about 5 minutes of psyching ourselves up to just get out of the car. But, RAB Neoshell jackets on, hoods up, and our warmest gloves adorning our hands, we braved the sideways snow.

I must say that normally Mother Nature gives us a bit more time to get our bodies adjusted to winter weather. Through September, October, and November, the temperature steadily drops and our bodies are given a slow break-in to cold weather. This year has been an anomaly, and thus we – as many others, I am sure – have had more than the normal amount of freezing happening. Even when skinning as fast as you can up hill just to keep warm. It’s not colder than normal – not by a long shot, but my body for certain just isn’t accustomed to the colder temperatures yet.

Heads bowed against the howling winds, wrapped up in our own little personal climate system with the Neoshell, we headed up the hill. Lots of friendly people were coming down as we headed up – we’ve been a bit on the later end of the day when we go out lately. Everybody was quite friendly, but really, it was a poke your head out of your hood to say hello, and then pull it turtle-like back in kind of day. Around the turn-off for the Forest Lakes, we stopped seeing people, and kept straight – our goal for the day was to get up to Heart Lake.

The going was pretty quick – a benefit of not being first out is that you’re not breaking trail, but after a while, everybody must have turned around, because we were soon breaking trail in a complete white out.

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The joy of not breaking trail!

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Why hello there! And I must say, with every other shell I've owned, I've never made it through a whole skin with it on. The RAB Neoshell does over heat a bit, and then it magically balances out, and everything is aweosme.

We’ve only been up to Heart Lake once in the winter, and it’s amazing how different things look when they are covered in snow – plus with the blowing winds and dumping snow, it was a little difficult to see much in front of us besides the tree we were trying not to skin directly into.

We were feeling pretty excited, because, even though the lower part of the trail was pretty rocky, the part we were on now felt like it had an amazing base (I hadn’t hit a rock in a while!), and there was a good two feet of powder on top of it. Our gung-ho attitude got us all the way to what we could tell through the howling white out was a basin, but besides that, we couldn’t tell much else. I’m guessing we were very close, if not on top of Roger’s Pass Lake, but definitely not at Heart Lake, as the little rise you hump yourself over at the end is very distinctive.

By the time we were there, even skinning, my finger tips were feeling a bit numb, and the light was fading. So, after a thirty second consultation over the blowing wind, we ripped our skins and headed down.

The top part was simply delectable – hands down the best skiing of my season. Poor Stella was seriously post holing, so we had to keep waiting for her, but she sticks with us the whole way up, so we don’t mind!

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Poor Stella getting stuck in the powder!

Then we joined where everybody else had left off, and things sped up, as Stella is quite fond of the typical luge chute you find leading out of most backcountry places in the area.

On the way out, both of our hands suddenly began to prickle with pain, and we would answer each other with short, one word answers and we skied with out hands down our pants in an attempt to simultaneously warm them up and get out before dark settled in.

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Get your hands out of your pants, I'm taking a picture!

We reached the trail head with little time to go before dark, turned the heater on full blast and took off our boots with numb hands. All around the wind buffeted the car, snow came down sideways, and darkness moved in, but we were encased in a tiny bubble of almost warmth – well, at least it was not windy.

Back home, with some home-made Bolognese sauce on the stove, a yoga DVD for later, a roaring fire going, hot tea, and a hot shower. Life is good. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Goodlivin