Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Risk Homeostasis, ABS packs, and Subjective Perception

It's been a while since I've written anything, but don't worry its not because I've taken on a new sedentary lifestyle.  In fact, its just the opposite, the skiing is good, the ice is thick, and the partners are many.

As the sun rises and the snow heats up for another Wasatch wet cycle I reflect on comments that I've been hearing, seeing, and doing.  Bruce Tremper, Avalanche forecaster here in SLC has an excellent blog about the effectiveness of ballon packs.  I've added it for you here.


As always please support your local avalanche forecast center, because they are the ones that help us stay alive day after day.  I really only want to talk about one thing bruce mentions, and then throw in some life philosophy to go along with it.  My thoughts are in regard to 1.) Risk Homeostasis and 2.) Subjective perception.

First off, Risk Homeostasis is basically when we have a technical device that increase our safety, we then increase our risk.  Therefore negating some or all of the increased safety.  Each individual has some level of acceptable risk and trends to unconsciously push to this level.  With the addition of increase safety, the individual will then push the limit of risk farther, because more safety exists.  Thus the cycle continues.  For more on the details check out this paper here:


In skiing, climbing, kayaking, driving, flying, eating unhealthy foods, (the list goes on) we can apply this theory.  Lets start with skiing.

Example 1, we just had a big dump of 20 inches of new Wasatch pow and we are trying to get to a safe slope, but first we must cross a small 38 degree chute.  Practicing safe travel techniques, my partner waits in the safe zone, I bite down on my Avalung and skin out onto the slope.  Stop right here.  So you must then ask yourself, did I skin onto the slope because it was the safe decision? or was it because of the perceived additional safety associated with being able to breath through my Avalung?

Example 2,  two different days I pull up to the second half of the bob sled trail (a high speed downhill mountain bike trial filled with fun features and easy outs).  One day I pull up on my Intense 6.6 with a full face helmet, long pants, and body armor.  The other day I pull up on my Epic Carbon race bike in full spandex.  How do you think my behavior will change as I charge down the trail?  Does the big travel bike with big tires, helmet and armor provide additional safety?  Yes But since things are more safe I double my speed, and take the car jump, the big double and the 12 foot drop at the end: effectively increasing my risk dramatically.  So the question is did I increase the risk at an equal rate of increased safety?  Thereby maintaining a perceived median of risk?

I think in both cases we have to deal with actual risk, perceived risk, and actual and perceived safety increases.  How often are actual risk and perceived risk equal (Ra=Rp, where Ra= Actual Risk and Rp= Perceived Risk)  Additionally how often does actual safety the same as perceived safety (Sa=Sp, Where Sa=actual safety and Sp=perceived safety).  In Tremper's example we see that advertising causes a huge confusion on actual increases in safety.  In the case of the ABS pack, the increase in safety is big, (possibly about 1/2 more saved that would have died).  But its not nearly as big as what we see from the numbers (i.e. airbags are 97% effective)  Its actually at MOST about a 8% increase in safety.  So then does Ra=Rp if we base our ideas on what we hear from the advertisers?  Not at all, in fact the advertisers would lead me to believe that my safety has increased by 97%.  In actual its increase by about 8%. My Perceived safety is now almost 10 times greater than my actual safety(Sa).  Stated another way: Perceived risk is about 10 times lower than actual risk.


As you can see, Applying Risk Homeostasis theory here actually causes us to push the perceived acceptable risk line 10 times farther than we would have previously without the additional safety. (This is just a basic example, and many important factors are being left out, but the point still applies.)

One other important note is that everyone's perceived risk (Rp) is different based on there personality type, experience, age, and knowledge in the particular area.  An Alabaman snowshoeing in the backcountry for the first time may have no idea what actual risks (Ra) they are taking on and perceived little to no risk (Rp)  Ra>Rp.

So how do we deal with Risk Homeostasis in our outdoor environments?  Well, the answer is not to leave all your safety gear behind.  But the idea MAY be to trick your mind into thinking you left all your safety gear behind.  Or maybe better yet when you are making safety related decisions to cognitively realize your natural Perceived risk and try to accurately align it with your Actual risk (Rp=Ra).  It would be helpful to ask yourself questions like:

1.) how would I deal with this slope without my avalung (insert airbag, helmet, body armor).

2.) How much increase in safety does this item really provide?

3.) What would Tremper do? (funny I know)

4.) Ask your trusted partners what their opinion is without pressuring them.

5.) My favorite, What would your significant other say, or if your wrong, what would you be giving up?

We (meaning me) need to realize that our perceived risk often doesn't actually equal actual risk (Rp not equal to Ra) and that our perceived safety isn't usually equal to actual safety (Sp not equal to Sa).  For most of us interested in this blog it likely means Ra>Rp and Sa
Human Application:  This leads to more personal realization of subjective perceptions.  All of us look at the world through a slightly different filter based on lots of things.  But the point being, its different.  And my filter isn't better than your filter, and yours isn't better than that over weight lazy guy next to you at the office.  C.S. Lewis would puts it nicely in a paper named Meditations in a Tool shed. (get it here for free  http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~ivcfgf/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/C-S-Lewis-meditation-in-a-toolshed.pdf )  As Lewis describes the Tool shed he talks about a beam of light entering through a crack.  Depending on how you view the beam of light depends of the perception you receive.  Such is our experience in life.

If our perception is subjective, our judgement will also be subjective.

I think this applies in everything we do.  I see the lemming suited snowboarder coming off the back side of the canyons stealing my line.  I judge him from my simple, limited perception of who he is.  But what if its Drew Hardesty on a split Board trying out some free digs?  (This isn't based on a real experience) Then would my perception change of him?  What about that crazy polygamist down the street? Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge.  I'm not judging you, by the way, only myself.  Your ideas may seem totally crazy to me, but maybe its my crazy perception.

In closing, lets do our best to objectively judge not only the risk associated with our current adventure, but also our friends, family, and other people we experience throughout life.

An addition interesting reference about risk in life is worth a read here:


Friday, October 19, 2012

Yosemite's East Buttress, and Utah's Orin Hatch

It was great to get away for five days to Yosemite national park where I didn't hear a single commentary on the upcoming election.  We spent 2.5 days of good climbing starting with the East Buttress of El Cap.  It's a route that's been on my list for a long time and I've either been too afraid, or just didn't have the time.  In fact, I haven't been to Yosemite for almost 10 years.  With a forecast for 0% chance of precip and 68 degrees, It was a no brainer.  After leaving SLC at 12:30am Sunday... er, monday morning we arrived early evening Tuesday night for a 5:15 start on the East Buttress.  After watching two parties of three in front of us bail, it was past 8:00am, time was already getting tight.  So we hammered in to pitch one with Kevin on the lead.  It was a nice, wide chimney with a squeeze section to make it interesting.

Then following that was the technical crux (however far from the real crux) of a polished 10b move off the anchor to an expanding 5.9 tube with rattly fingers in the back.  It went well, although not as easily as I had hoped.  Liking pitch 2 and 3 puts you at around 260ft, a bit longer than the rope, but after some struggling and confusion we worked it out.  Such is life with new partners.  Then Kevin took the sharp end to link 4 and 5 in a pretty cool 300ft or so section of easy class 4 up to hard 5.8 (I know, it seems the two are mutually exclusive, but not in the valley). Then the crux pitch 140ft starting with a 2 foot wide arete with 2000ft exposure to one side and no pro leading into a desperate (5.9, ya really) pin scared rail to 100ft of 5.9 offwidth... sick.  I wouldn't force this on anyone, but when you get through it its awesome.  I only almost pitched off 2 times.  Followed by kevin taking the 5.5 ramp to the money 5.7 vertical pitch.  Then I finished it off with 280 ft. of 5.7 to the ridge of El Cap.
About 2000ft off the valley floor, 1000ft up the route

After a quick clean up we headed for the east ledges decent and thankfully had someone to follow.  For all of you 'canyoneering types'  We did a single line rap of a fixed line that must have been over 300ft long, hanging down into pitch black with nothing but a dull headlight shinning on the smooth vertical granite at your feet and a void everywhere above, below, and to the side.  It was surreal.

 An excellent route I would recommend for anyone with the skills to do it.  It is not for the faint of heart, and just because you may be able to climb 10b at the gym, or in BCC, or even LCC, doesn't mean you can do it in Yosemite.  Try out some local routes before jumping on this one as there is no easy out, and the ledges are not good for sleeping after pitch 3.  Falcon has it listed as 13 pitches, we did it in 7, I've seen other who do it in 9.  I read somewhere its about 1400ft.  Not bad for a days work, but far from it's big brothers just down the wall to the west, where the real climbing begins.

 That being said, i must move on to the painful, (but hopefully quick) item of Orin Hatch.  He was the only one (other than Jim Matheson) who responded to my letters about Ski Link.  Matheson responded with a very nice clear reason why he was not supporting it.  Orin Hatch responded differently.  I've post the letter here for you to read.  It is scanned and then changed to a jpeg, sorry the quality is so bad.  Chances are you got the exact same letter since he didn't even acknowledge my position or reasons for Ski Link.  Things I think you should notice:

1.) "The bill also requires compliance to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and Endangered Species Act of 1973" yet what about the 2003 Wasatch-Cache Revised Forest Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement?  It's actually in direct contradiction to the newest, most up to date forest plan?  Why didn't you mention this senator?  Is it consider lying if you just leave some things out?  Check out this excellent article to help explain: http://www.parkrecord.com/letters-to-the-editor/ci_21419809/guest-editorial

2.)  "Estimates show that with this new transportation system more than 500 permanent jobs could be created and infuse more than $50 million in to Utah's economy."  As one un-named state official once told me.  "No one in the utah government structure (except just a few who aren't players) actually recreates, nor do they know anything about recreating.  Rob Bishop doesn't even play golf."  For those of us who have been to ski resorts, worked for ski resorts, even built ski lifts these numbers are absurd.  How many people does it take to run a new ski lift?  Well, lets say 2 lifties at the bottom and 2 at the top plus 1 mechanic.  Total=5.  how many of them are permanent employes or NOT seasonal? Only 1. So if you hired two groups of people to cover an entire week we would have a total of 10, and lets through in 1 manager so eleven total new jobs.  Note:  No more ski patrollers would be required or groomers, because we aren't actually opening 'new' terrain.  So total new jobs=11 total new non-seasonl jobs=3 maybe?  Not to mention the other 9 are minimum wage, no benefits jobs that add maybe 10,000 in income per person.  So 90,000 total gross income increase for the part timers, and lets say 35000 for the mechanic and 20,000 for the manager (these number are very generous for utah) Total jobs created= 11 total new income for people in utah (most of them not local) $145,000.   How about total temp jobs for construction?  From my experience working with Doppelmyer Lifts Company (who builds most of the Canyon's lifts) we operated with a total crew of less than 100 people to build 3 lifts in 6 months.  So one lift, being generous 50 people.  How many of those people where actually from our state?  less than 1/3.

So hire 15 local temp jobs, and bring in 35 outsiders for one summer to create 11 new jobs and $145000 in poverty level income.  That is pretty close to '500 permanent jobs and $50 million in Utah's economy' ( I realize I'm not taking into account additional ticket sales, people coming in for the 'new' interconnect, etc)  So even my educated guess (based on actual experience in the industry)is off by 100% we are still talking almost nothing added to the economy.  I do think Canyon's will see some more tickets, and solitude may get a few mores skiers, but we will have forever sliced the Wasatch in half.

3.) "I continue to be a strong proponent fir giving Utah more local control over Utah's land, and this proposal has a lot of local support."  By giving Utah control of Utah land do you really mean giving Canada control of Utah's land?  And by local support who exactly supports ski link locally?  Why haven't they all posted their support?  I do see lots of opposition.  Please let them post their support for ski link that way we can effectively boycott their products.  Oh wait, or is this why they aren't posting it?

There are definitely other things in the letter that are incorrect and completely wrong, but I'm going to just stick with these few.  Again, I apologize for continuing to use this site for posting these things, but we must act, or as Black Diamond may do, we may end up moving out when their is nothing left.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How much do you love your Wasatch?

Well, I've had a lot of great summer, and really a great year.  Spending time in France, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, and Panama.  Yet whenever I leave for long periods of time I still dream about home.  Home for me is the Wasatch Mountains, with a short drive to the desert, the Tetons, City of Rocks, San Juans, Red Rocks, or even Joshua Tree.  But really my heart is in the Wasatch, which is why I feel I must share with you my thoughts on the SkiLink.  Talisker Corporation is a Canadian Development company that recently acquired Canyon's Ski Resort for 123 million and has since attempted to revoke Park City Ski Resort's Land Lease, bulldozed hundreds of trees, built unnecessary lifts, constructed artificial lakes, and many more atrocities against a fragile economical balance as well as devastated the land it owns in the Wasatch.  Now it is attempting to buy a strip of land right through the heart of the Wasatch to connect it with the other cottonwood resorts.  Rather than take the usual route of purchasing land from the forest service, its going straight to congress with the help of Representative Rob Bishop of District 1 to bypass the normal process and keep the public out of the public land transfer.  The bill is labelled H.R. 3452 Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act, and it has nothing to do with Recreation Enhancement, only creating more revenue for Talisker.

After complaining for a long time, I final took some action, and more than the usual internet petition signing.  I wrote letters to my Senators, and Representatives, and Rob Bishop himself asking for some sanity in the giving away of our only real renewable resource in utah.  As you probably already know, I am a terrible writer so please be patient with the grammer, spelling, and general confusion.  Here it is:

After spending my youth growing up in Utah I spent over half a decade away in other parts of the US. Since then I have traveled to every continent except Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. There are many amazing and beautiful places on this earth. Most of them filled with their own Unique beauty. However, something even more Unique is right in front of us in Utah. A wonderful, diverse, landscape or mountains, desert, plateaus, lakes, salt flats, slot canyons and more. I understand the the economic progress of our state is very important, however, I'm writing because I also want the economic and natural future to remain in tact. This will only hurt our future economic opportunity: Think Utah lake, a once wonderful resource now ruined forever by a steel plant that now only provides an eye sore, and a toxic hole.

The Wasatch Front is one of the smallest mountain ranges in the country yet is located closer to a major city than any other recreational location in the US. It brings in millions if not billions of outside revenue into our state. Yet as ski resorts become more exotic and prices rise toward $100 a lift ticket, skier numbers have stopped growing; it is becoming a sport of the elite. However, backcountry user groups like mountain bikers, hikers, snow shoers, hunters, fishermen, are all growing rapidly. The Wasatch Mountains already contains 7 resorts within 20 miles or less of Salt Lake City which occupy a huge amount of the Wasatch Mountains. In fact, they cover so much of the mountains, its possible to ski from one resort to the next, and go to every one of the 7 resorts without the use of additional transportation other than the lifts already in place. You can already ski from the Canyons to Solitude. Or Solitude to Brighton, or Brighton to Park City, and so on. The skilink doesn't even connect the the two towns, it connects the top of Canyons Resort to the bottom of Solitude mountain Resort. There is no transportation advantage. In order to travel from Canyon's top of Solitude it would take at least 5 lift rides, and only provides an exclusive group of users to access both resorts. If the State of Utah was serious about an intermountain transportation system they would have a centralized system that is accessible from multiple resorts and efficient for more than just the two farthest out locations. With some work a system that works for all resorts could be designed that did not encroach on pristine wilderness. I.E. via the Guardsman Pass road. Adding the skilink as is, alienates Utah's own local resorts (Park City, Dear Valley, Brighton, and Alta/SnowBird) and gives the advantage to the Canadian real-estate company. Thus requiring yet multiple skilink's for the other resorts to compete, and of course cause the possible loss of the majority of the forest land. 

The addition of the 'skilink' would slice through the center of one of the few uninterrupted sections of land left in the Wasatch and permanently damage the habitat as well as degrade the natural beauty of the area. I've built ski lifts before, and the damage done to the environment to build something this size is unrepairable, especially to a wilderness that is already so delicate. Worst of all is the fact that the bill bypasses the National Forest Service, an organization designed by our government to manage our forest land in a way that is conscious of the present AND the future. If this is so important then bring it before the normal processes to sell, and let the Utah public have a say in their public lands.

Finally, the last thing we need is to give away our precious resources to yet another big company who is not even from the US! We don't need Canadian developers taking over our forest land for their own gain. How much could they possibly care? Your local outdoor Industry has spoken, just ask Peter Metcalph, CEO of Black Diamond in Salt Lake City. Are you willing to give up your local companies so that you can bring in a Canadian development company? Your purpose is to represent the people, and the people have spoken. I oppose H.R.3452 - Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act.

 Please feel free to copy and past my letter, or change it a little to sound like someone out of elementary school.... Here is a list of my representatives, feel free to send it to them, or send it to yours.  Obviously you can write your own letter too, and I would encourage you too.

Senator Mike Lee
316 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Representative Jim Matheson
2434 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Senator Orrin hatch
104 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Representative Rob Bishop
123 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quiet Touring on Memorial day?

Memorial day is a complexing holiday, its purpose isn't usually its use.  Most of us spend time vacationing with a moment or two of silence.  So when you chose to get out of town, staying away from the hoards of lemmings can be difficult.  We thought about a climbing trip, a mountain bike trip, even a river trip (not for very long), and settled on a 3 day touring trip.  I think some wise choices and good luck helped make for an excellent and quiet adventure.  Here is the quick details.

Day 1: Sugar House to Affleck Park
I cant think of a time when we've left touring from our house, but we did just that.  Bikes loaded we headed out at about 630pm from sugar-house towards East Canyon.  Planned camping spot: Great Western Trail on big mountain.  Actual camping spot: Affleck park.  Just make sure and get your reservation for Affleck as there's no first come first serve spots.  Another option is East Canyon State Park, which would be nice in spring or fall but maybe a little Hot in the summer.

Day 2:  Affleck park to Snow Basin Ski Resort.
The big day, and the fun day (well for half of us).  Head for East Canyon Dam, then to Morgan, the Mt. Green,  and Finally your camping spot at Snow Basin.  If you stay at Affleck, you get two big climbs, and I mean big.  Big mountain is 1300ft and 6 miles and trappers loops is 1600ft and 7.5 miles. Thats over 3000ft of climbing and 55 miles.

Day 3:  For us day three was short and only had a few climbs.  However, If I was to continue the tour I would head north to Avon Divide for my next camp site or North Fork Park.  Then on to Logan for Day 4.  You can check out some more photos at: http://trackmytour.com/JpZm5

No tour is complete without some form of suffering.  In this case it was driving rain, hail, slush, and mud. Things that help you appreciate the sunny dry days.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Haute Route, not to be.

Trient Hut
The Haute route is a popular ski mountaineering route from Chamonix France to Zermat Switzerland, with most of the route being in Switzerland. It travels through some of the most accessible high alpine environments in Europe, and for that matter the world. I can't think of many other places that have the sharp, beautiful glaciated peaks, that have lift access approaches and 4 course meals. Due to it's popularity, its also rather busy. When we arrived in Geneva Switzerland after some 20 hours of travel, we got in a small van filled to the brim with other ski and mountain enthousiasts and started the drive to Chamonix. Geneva itself is a nice town and has a good number of large limestone cliff bands, which the van driver wrote off as choss piles. A good start for realizing what the alps have, and the snobbery that it breads. (Snobbery in this case is NOT derogatory)
Day 1: Chamonix to Trient

 When we arrived in the town itself it was far from impressive. In fact it was a bit annoying. Modern stuctures mixed with classic french and swiss architechure is not well juxtaposed; rather, it more resembles a unbridaled capitalistic growth spurt. The good news is that our hostel that was out of town was fabulous. Truly the highlight of our in town stays. La Tapia run by Maria was clean, had no locks on the doors, and the best breakfast around, all for a great price.

 After warnings about aclimatizing and going guidless, we left the next morning up to the Argentiere glacier via a short tram ride. We bought 1 ride's on the Grand Montets tram which we where told would get us to the highest point, which was not the top of the resort. But a few hundred meters below the normal drop off point. On our second lift ride, we had a pretty funny hold up at the automatic ticket gates which our one ride tickets wouldn't open. So when everyone was watching we attempted to climb over them with our ski's on. It was much more difficult than it seemed, and with axes, skis, poles, a gate, and that fish net fencing, we where almost entangled forever. Thankfully the lifty didn't care at all. Stupid Americans. After finally gettin off the last lift we got back into our comfort zones with skins on and heals released.
Day 2: Trient-Champex

 The trip to the Angentiere glacier was a bit of an eye opener. No trees, and no good size landmarks make the glacier basin seem normal sized, but after close evaluation you realized its massive. Like as big as Little Cottonwood Canyon. The only way to tell was to look to the bottom at the little tiny ants crossing in lines... f They where people, some 4000ft below. Pretty cool. So we skied the not quite wonderful refrozen powder down to the bottom between ice fall and the rocks to the glacier. After some chat we decided which canyon was the Chardonnet glacier and headed for it. The morning was late but luckily the clouds protected us from excess heating, especially since we where on the 40 degree section. Hours later, after finally dealling with some excessive bread in the diet, we reached the top of the Col du Chardonnet--the techical crux of the route. Just a week earlier it had been a steep dicey rock decent followed by a large bergshrund crossing. Fortunately for us it was filled in nicely and reasonably skiable. We rapped(absel) the top section and hung the second rap but chose to do the body rap for the second as the consiquences receded and the slope angle lessened. 300 meters later we where in a new glacier for a beautiful lunch spot.
Chamonix: La Tapia Hostel
Chamonix: The bakery 1 block
from the hostel

 We then proceeded towards the Trient glacier via a long traverse through the Glacier de Saleina

to a inevitable boot pack. The guide book read something like 'no skins heal lifter travers.' Which if your a skinning enthusiast like us, you have no idea what that means. I have never seen or done a no skin's heal lifter traverse, but I can't wait to see it! Next was the col to the trient glacier which was labelled as 'you will inevitably boot' so as any good Cottonwood Ninnis would do, we skinned. It was rather humours and likely more difficult than booting, but we felt obliged to hold to our heritage. Crossing over the top we reached the Trient glacier and way off in the distance had a view of the Trient hut, or I think I would insert the word lodge, except made of stone. 

Look back to the Argentierre glacier

 One of the things we had said before going on this trip was that if we get lost, or something goes wrong, you can always just ski down to some random swiss village... We quickly learned that unlike the Wasatch, or most other places we had skied this was not the case. most glaciers ended in large scarey icefalls that would take at least a day to pass, and may not be passable. The good news was that in the good weather, it was reasonably easy route finding. 

 We reached the Trient hut at somewhere around 6:15 and carefully read all the signs on how to comply with the rules. First of all, skis go in the ski shed, outside. Second, Ice axes go in the ice axe rack in the breezeway along with boots and climbing gear. I pitty the man that walks into the hut with skis, boots and ice axes. I think they may be burned at the stake. (Again, not derogatory since only a stupid american would even think of such a thing) Once we had properly packed away our gear, we got to experience what all the rules protected. A warm, beautiful, dry hut, free from ice axe holes and soiled rugs. Dinner was at 7:00pm and we where sure to be on time. Turned out to be a 4 course meal with a white wine starter... If only all my meals where so wonderful. With the windows of the hut, we had a 180 degree view of the top of the trient glacier. I spent probably a good hour sitting and looking outside. Likely one of the best dining views in the world in my opinion. 

Col du Chardonnet

 The next morning we where 21 minutes late for breakfast, due to a misread breakfast time. We thought we where nine minutes early. The gardian nicely, but sturnly told us in broken English 'Breakfast is at 6 or 7, not 21.' Graciously he still aloud us to have a tasty bread, cheeze, butter and jam breakfast. On the way out, I of course left my ice axe in the ice axe rack where it will remain for eternity. 

 We skied the wind scared refrozen hardpack with sections of breakable death crust to the icefall where we entered the wind tunnel. SO windy in fact that you could side slip on the flat ground towards the abyss. After skiing the mogels down the icefall we traversed to yet another booter up the Col du Escandies then skied out to Champex, Switzerland via the Val de Arpette.  Yet another amazing and large basin that had suffered from massive wet slides. By massive its hard to represent because we don't see many that size in Utah. Think of the South face of Superior sliding over the road, and then and 5 or 6 more of those size slides all in the same drainage. Pretty cool, however very difficult to ski over basketball size frozen rollers. 

Glacier de Saleina

Col du Escandies

 After being anoyed with the guided american group for a while I got over my oversized head and enjoyed a nice slushy spring ski out to the town of Champex. This would unfortunately be the end of our skiing for the trip, but we didn't know it yet. The plan was to catch a ride to Borg-st.-Pierre for the night and do the 4300ft climb back up to the Valsorey hut on the other side the next morning. However when we awoke the next morning it was raining, and raining hard. We spent the whole next day planning and figuring out how to get back into the mountains and complete the traverse. After calling some of the huts and getting the response 'the weather is very bad' we tried to go around to a more easterly location to avoid some of the more difficult and commiting sections and access the Vignettes or Cabane des dix. This also was a failure as we couldn't find a place to stay and the weather was also 'very bad' at the huts on this side. We calculated our time availabe, how long the storm was to stay, and distance traveled and concluded that we would have to bail... so sad. 

  What I didn't tell you was that most of the others had already flushed out of the mountains and where on the way home. Such is the life of big goals in the mountains. Another day? I hope so. In review, the scenery was stunning, the food was fabulous, and the skinning/skiing/mountaineering was moderate. An excellent trip I would recommend to anyone with the skill set and the strength. I think the average is 5000ft a day. The only down sides are maybe the diffulty in getting the information on the route (thankfully I had a team of well dedicated friends that pretty much did ALL the research) and the high prices of everything from food to gas, to taxi rides. You can quickly drain the budget when things get off the plan... Oh and did I mention take the train out of Paris? I can't say I recommend air france, unless you get the refundable ticket.  Special thanks to my partners for providing pretty much all the hard prep work, digital maps, photos, money, entertainment, and generosity.  Oh and lots of good red wine.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Skiing the white zone

Making backcountry skiing location choices isn't just about keeping yourself safe, its also about skiing the best snow you can get in the most efficient manner(OK, maybe not always efficient), with the least amount of damage to your gear. You can tell the difference between the newbs and the pro's based on the quality of there experience. Every day is different, so you really can't lay out a list of rules. If I did, I'm sure I would be hunted down like the bleeding baby seal in shark water.
This season these decision have been even more important, and your success could lead you to a good powder day, or a rocky dirt bed. One trick I picked up was skiing the white zones.... on the topo. The white zones define 'open areas' like fields, Meadows, land fills, and above tree line. In the Wasatch we don't really have much above tree line, but its an excellent way to judge a number of things. One great example is most avalanche reports have a break between above and below the tree line. (well, except the Wasatch). In this case I use it to determine the existence of snow that may be ski-able. Here is a most excellent route with great lines, close to the road, and a groomer exit, but don't tell too many of your friends or be sure to ski it when I'm not around.

Start in the Brighton Parking lot and either take a one ride up Milly (sissy) or skin to the Milly booter then boot to the top. Ski something on the North aspect of the upper ridge of Millicent, catch the lake skin track back to the East wolverine booter, then ski wolverine (in this case I skied the glade in fear of super steep snow sluffs over rocks.) Then a quick traverse up to Tuscarora for the Tuscarora chute. Followed by a monster traverse around Catherine's lake to Sunrise peak. Other than the groomer skin and ski, the entire route is above 9000ft.