Friday, November 15, 2013

Jay Peak - 11/12/13 Video

Jay Peak had gotten over 2 feet of snow from the Jay Cloud, so Ted and I made a trip up. His Trip Report is here, if you're interested. I had the GoPro running and made an edit of some of the shenanigans. Then, Ted took the GoPro for another trip to Jay the following day:

Fun Times. I want to get up there again this weekend, but I don't know if that's in the cards.

Big Tupper Video

I've made a couple of GoPro edits over the past few days that have a pitifully low view count. So I'm posting them to this here blog in hopes that more people will see them. I was pretty happy with this one - skiing Big Tupper last year when it wasn't open. If you have a touring setup and a defunct ski area within driving distance, there's no reason not to sprinkle a few of these days in throughout the ski season. They're always fun, it's a novel experience, and you don't have to deal with typical resort crowds. Usually it's just some friends and their dogs:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Silverton Video

It may be 8 months after the fact, but I made a video for my Silverton day last year. Usual GoPro caveats apply - the slope was actually a lot steeper than it looks, sorry about the solo GoPro-ing with no other angles, blah blah blah. Sometimes you don't want to get too creative, you just want to ski. And we definitely did that:

Silverton from Matt Charles on Vimeo.

Working on a Big Tupper Video now, and it looks pretty cool, too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Telemark Ski Bindings - Trials and Tribulations with NTN

Last year was a mess for me, gear wise. My alpine boots packed out, I ripped the bases off of one pair of skis, tore up the sidewalls of another (more on that in a later post), and I had problem after problem after problem with my telemark setups. I've been posting some of the issues on various forums, but I thought I'd tell the whole story here, just to give some information to people thinking about Telemark, NTN, and Alpine Touring options.

I sold 4 pairs of skis at the beginning of last year to fund the switch to NTN - a 78mm waisted Tele setup, a 80mm waisted park ski, a 70mm waisted tuned down race ski, and a 78mm waisted midfat that was broken and battered. Most of this was due to my love of the Liberty Morphic alpine skis that I got the previous year. I realized that 94mm at the waist is perfectly fine, and there's really no need to go under 85mm, except for rock hard ice days, and I have a pair of slalom skis for that.

Skis sold to make room in my basement and wallet
I bought Scarpa TX Pro boots. This seemed like an obvious choice - more power, plus the ability to ski AT with tech inserts. And I have to say, this was the one part of my setup that I loved and continue to love to this day. Super comfortable (the most comfortable ski boot I've ever worn), awesome power transfer, and excellent walkability. It's amazing how you become used to clomping around the lodge in your alpine boots, or doing the tele shuffle with huge rockered duckbills, but then when you put on a bellowed NTN boot, you feel so much better just walking through the lunch line. The only downside with these boots is that they don't perform very well for AT uses. I haven't skied them with Dynafits, but they fit into my alpine bindings, and the few times I skied them weren't phenomenal. They basically ski like a 60 or 70 flex alpine boot, which means that you can't get too aggressive with them out over the front, they're not too precise on ice, and they're not really great for manky conditions. They work if you stay really centered and don't try to get too crazy with them, but I probably wouldn't want to use them on anything that scared me (again). When you ski them the way they were designed to be skied, however, they really work well:

Scarpa TX Pro boots in action in Silverton, CO
To go with the boots, I chose Atomic Charter skis. With a 100mm waist, my thinking was that by going for a more "touring" oriented ski, I could use them at the resort on powder days, I could use them for BC around the ADKs and I could take them out west for trips. They were okay, I just found them to be a little . . . weak. They weren't "flimsy" per se, but there just wasn't much "there" there. The profile was really thin, and they just didn't charge like the skis that I'm used to skiing. Not enough to disqualify them from consideration for pure touring purposes, but enough to make me look elsewhere when I buy my next set of boards (I already sold the Charters). I'll go lightweight with my next pair, but I also need more "oomph", and I'll sacrifice a few grams for a stronger stick.

Atomic Charters in the air in Durango. You can sort of see the low profile for weight savings.
And now to the most annoying part of the story: the bindings. I started off with the Burnt Mountain Spike NT. I had read some positive reviews of this binding and its predecessor, the TeleBulldog. But I never really felt comfortable with the binding. The step in capability was okay, but took a little doing to set up, the touring mode was fantastic (this was my first free pivot binding, and I wondered why I hadn't made the switch years ago), but the brakes were kind of wimpy. I thought that the traditional latch point behind the boot would be more familiar to me, but even after a bunch of fiddling, I never could get the springs dialed in the way I wanted. That wasn't the biggest issue, though. My main problem was that I felt really tippy-toed when I was skiing. I could never get in a super bomber tele stance, and I definitely didn't feel like I was solid on my planks. I was very tentative, and it came across in the way I skied. What used to be smooth before the switch was now herky jerky and stunted. Not good. I was still getting used to the setup and deciding whether I wanted to go a different direction when the decision was made for me:

That piece of metal is supposed to be attached to that other piece of metal. And when I looked on the other binding, the same thing was about to happen there:

Look at that crack forming
Burnt Mountain (which is really just one guy) was great about the warranty. I sent the bindings back and he gave a full refund. I think if you don't go crazy on your skis like I tend to do, these bindings would be fine. In fact, talking to the guy from Burnt Mountain, he said that I'd probably break the Rottefella bindings too, which turned out to be exactly correct.

First, though, let me back up. Since I was in the middle of teaching when these bindings broke, I rushed into town to see if the shop in town had any solutions for me. They just happened to have last years version of the same binding, so they swapped the bindings out really quick and sent me back to the mountain (I later realized that while making the switch, he drilled through the bases when he didn't account for the couple millimeter difference in the binding depth. Doh!). Undeterred, I ordered the Rottefella Freedom bindings the next day.

When I finally got the bindings in (and after a few false starts with not having the correct brakes), Jeff put them on the skis and sent me on my way. The difference was amazing. Power, control, precision - I was able to get everything that I was missing with the Burnt Mountain offering. I guess I should have assumed this would be the case. The NTN system was designed to attach at the second heel (the "duckbutt" in forum talk). And doing that, using the "powerbox", the binding transfers energy to the ski, and gives you a predictable flex through the whole turn. Also, the breaks are burly, and I can put my skis together like Alpine skis, which is awesome. No more messing around with ski straps. Technically, I feel awesome - strong and accurate. Other people have reported a difficulty with the slow drag - the gradual lead change that you need to make smooth long turns, but I haven't really noticed. I got back from Colorado, feeling awesome about the setup, and I was just starting to get used to the bindings when this happened:

Those cracks aren't supposed to be there
That's not supposed to be like that
So the guy from Burnt Mountain was right. I broke the Rottefellas. I haven't given up on these bindings, though. I like the power and control too much. I have a hunch that they failed because of the skis they were on (and maybe because of a faulty mount). There was a layer of metal in the Charters, and I feel like the skis might not have been tapped in the right way before the bindings were screwed in, possibly due to the thin profile, possibly due to a certain shop messing up again (a shop that is now out of business). After getting a warranty replacement, the Freedoms are going on a brand new set of skis.

What skis? Well, the Liberty Morphics that I mentioned in the very beginning of this post failed me. I somehow managed to rip off the base material which was a weird plastic material and not P-Tex like a normal ski. I sent them back to the company and they sent me a nice pair of bluish purple ones with a P-Tex base. The boots and bindings are in the shop now getting mounted up. This is the last chance. If this combo doesn't work for me (a ski I like for Alpine, a binding I loved before it broke, and the most comfortable boots I've ever owned), then I'm done with the NTN experiment. I'm pretty hopeful, though. I'm looking forward to a full season with one pair of Tele skis that I know I'll be able to rip on. Let's just hope they don't explode.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Whiteface Auto Road: 10/27/13

I didn't want to throw myself into the crazy Killington early season shitshow, and I wanted to extend my streak to four straight years of skiing on natural snow in October.

So I picked up a couple of girls who just wanted to go for a hike and I hit the Auto Road at Whiteface for a little low angle fun.

There wasn't a lot of snow at the toll house, but we started to see snow on the sides of the road pretty quickly. After about a mile or so, there was probably enough snow to ski on. I waited a little longer to put my skis on.

The snow started to look pretty damn good:

And it got better and deeper:

We went up to just above the Lake Placid turn before we turned around. The view was slightly better than the last time I was up here, but still not great (loving the snow, though):

Oh the way down, I was just psyched to be skiing. Ace took some pics for me:

So instead of a shitshow, I had a shit eating grin:

I rolled on down, just enjoying sliding on snow again. Mountain biking is fun, but nothing compares to the feeling of skiing:

I skied until the snow ran out, and I took off the skis and boots:

The walk down was a piece of cake. And the weather got nicer, too:

It was even sunny in spots on the drive home:

I can't say enough how much I prefer this kind of skiing to the craziness at Killington or Sunday River. It was peaceful, fun, and a really good time (great company, too). Could it have used a little more pitch? Sure. But at this point in the season, I'll take what I can get. Like I said, I'm just happy to be sliding on snow again.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Why Skiing Should Be More Like Bowling

A few weeks ago, there was a series of interesting articles on about "growing skiing". Numbers have been pretty stagnant lately, whether due to the economy, the climate, or some other reasons. There were a lot of good ideas by a lot of smart people, and you can read this post that neatly summarizes all of the different points. I liked the views, but I didn’t get really an overarching story or a specific vision for the future. So, I came at the problem in a different way – by comparing skiing to other popular sports:

·        Bowling

Why are bowling alleys still around? What a dumb sport. You roll a ball and knock over a few pins, then you do it again. But, bowling has a few things going for it. First, you can wear your regular clothes. Second, the equipment isn’t really complicated – a ball that anybody can use, and a pair of shoes that are really cheap to rent (I think shoe rental was like $4 last time I went bowling). Come to think of it, bowling is a pretty cheap sport in general, and sometimes they have “All you can bowl” nights for $10 or so. Third, bowling is easy to get to. Chances are, there’s a bowling alley in your town and you probably don’t have to drive more than 20 minutes to do it. Also, you don’t have to be a crazy athlete to bowl – anyone can roll a ball. In fact, you can even drink while you do it. Finally, there are leagues. Leagues bring people to the bowling alley on nights where they might not go otherwise. They buy beers, buy food, and generally have a good time getting better at a sport they enjoy.

·        Golf

I play a lot of golf in the summer. I hate paying for it, but I like certain aspects of golf. First of all, courses are unique. My home course is wide open, other courses are narrow and require more shotmaking, courses in the Adirondacks offer amazing views, certain courses are quirky, or difficult, or have a good bar. Also, there is a hierarchy of courses. People usually begin at a driving range or a miniature golf course, from there, they graduate to a pitch and putt course, a par 3 course or a little nine hole course close by. From there, they go to larger public courses or country clubs, and then, finally, there are the destination resorts of Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Scotland, etc. As for cost, golf isn’t cheap. But there are ways to practice without paying a greens fee. You can tool around on the putting green, or hit a bucket of balls on the range. Finally (again), there are leagues. There are a lot of Mondays in the summer when I’d rather be riding my bike or sitting by a pool, but I’m walking around a golf course in sweltering heat or pouring rain. And then I buy beers at the bar afterwards.

·        Biking

My main summer sport is biking, and most of the advantages are obvious. First, on my road bike, I can go right from my house. If I’m just looking to put in some quick miles, this convenience factor is impossible to ignore. But I don’t really like road biking (I hate dressing up in spandex like a superhero, I hate dealing with traffic, etc.). I prefer mountain biking and, while there are a couple of places that I ride to from my house, I usually load up the car with my bike and gear and drive to a trailhead. The trail systems I drive to are generally about 20 minutes away, but I also take longer trips (and pay money) to ride places like the Kingdom Trails, Millstone Hill, BETA, and other places. Initial cost is high (bikes are expensive), but most of the trail systems I ride are free or cheap.


These three sports are in various stages of life. Bowling is dying, Golf is stagnant, and Mountain Biking is on the rise (no data to back this up, just personal observation – in reality golf and bowling might increase as baby boomers age, where mountain biking might decline). But there are some lessons to be learned in each case.

1.    Make it cheap! Not only lift tickets, but rentals, too. Keep older equipment around longer if you need to. We’re trying to give the feeling of sliding, and we don’t need super rockered, super shaped, super wide skis to do that. Sure, they help, but so does a beginner area of a mountain with some berms, rollers, and fun contours to play on. Ski boot rental should be priced like bowling shoes (I realize the cost difference in producing these items, but once again, solid older equipment could be used).
2.    More XC equipment, Snowshoes, and XC trails at Ski areas. Anybody can bowl. Anybody can hit a golf ball (not good, but they can hit it). Almost anybody can ride a bike. We’re trying to get people outside sliding on snow. As baby boomers age, they’re not going to be into getting rad on terrain parks, they’re going to be into having a fun experience outside. Whether that means cruising the groomers or just navigating some cool XC trails, they are more interested in the enjoyment and exercise than capturing gnarly shit on their GoPros.
3.    Make it close. People need to be able to get to skiing easily. Sadly, a lot of local hills are dying off, and people have to drive further and further to go skiing. This trend has got to be reversed if we are going to grow the sport. Like driving ranges or bowling alleys, there should be small sledding/skiing/tubing hills really close to (or within) every town. Like the local ice rink, they should rent out ski equipment for super cheap (hand me downs from larger resorts?). They should be lit at night for a fun little nighttime activity. Build a few jumps, and you’re golden. I look at Dynamite Hill in Chestertown as a model.
4.    Develop a hierarchy. Small hills as described above should feed into larger hills. A slightly larger hill could handle races, bump runs, and small terrain parks. From there, skiers could graduate to a bigger mountain, and then to a “destination resort.” If we just siphon every skier to a megadestination resort right off the bat, I’d imagine that people would get overwhelmed and confused by everything going on. That happened to me at Telluride, and I’m pretty steeped (haha) in how ski areas work.  
5.    Get people to the mountain on days they would otherwise be unlikely to go. Leagues, Programs, Lesson packages, gimmicks, whatever it takes. Every medium sized local ski area needs snowmaking, lights, and grooming (yes, these things are expensive, but with increased efficiency and green energy, hopefully prices will start to decrease). But it also needs middle school ski clubs, high school race teams, master’s racing programs, a freestyle team, and solid events that draw people to the mountain. Obviously, you need the mogul contest, the rail jam, etc., but what about thinking outside the box? Outdoor winter concerts, scavenger hunts, wine tasting ski tours of XC trails? It seems like there hasn’t been a new idea in the ski world since the 70’s. I mean, I like the torchlight parade as much as the next guy, but shouldn’t we have come up with something better by now?     
6.    Beer. I’m calling for outdoor areas at all ski mountains (Dynamite Hill to Whistler/Blackcomb) with fireplaces that you can sit by and drink beer. Doesn’t matter if your mountain is big or small, you need to be able to drink a beer while you watch your kid race, or rest after a few runs, or just relax and enjoy the view.
7.    Stop making fun of gapers. I don’t like dressing up in spandex to bike, but I still do it, and I feel like a tool when I do. Even I see road bikers and immediately think “Look at this douchebag”. But people who are just starting out in a sport (or only do it a couple of times a year) don’t want to be made fun of by a bunch of pricks who judge them purely based on their clothes or equipment. While fun to point out the ridiculousness, it’s better to just smile and help them navigate the area – especially because bigger ski areas are intimidating places.
8.    Be Happy. Every time you’re at a ski resort (big or small), be smiling, be energetic, be pumped up and be happy to be there. Everyone has a better time at a place when the people around them are stoked. There are a lot of problems in the world. Be thankful that you’re outside, enjoying an awesome day of skiing with the people who matter most in your life.   

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Life Change Time?

I was reading an article in a Mountain Biking magazine (can’t remember which), and it was going over ways that you could turn your passion (biking, in this case) into your career. It listed the various options (professional, industry insider, writer, photographer, guide, etc.) and the pros and cons of each choice. None of them seemed particularly appealing. Or, I guess the better way to say it is: the cons seemed to outweigh the pros in every case (with the possible exception of “professional”, which is a very time limited career with a lot of things that can go wrong). I've said before that the problem with working in an industry is an intricate knowledge of its ugly side. Well, another problem with working in an industry with an enormous potential labor pool is the really, really, really crappy pay. Any job that is desirable can afford to pay their employees poorly. But the ski industry is particularly bad. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

With that in mind, I was thinking of the possible ways that one could go about establishing a life in a mountain town. Obviously, one way to do it is to just do it. Now. Sell the house, sell the stuff (besides the skis and mountain bikes – you’ll need those), cash in the 401k, get in your car (containing only gear and clothes), and start driving in October. Find a cheap apartment, a low end job (preferably night hours), get a dog, grow a beard, and live the laid back life of a ski bum. “Laid back” is a relative term here, because this option seems to lend itself to money problems and health insurance difficulties for the rest of your life (or at least until you turn 65 when the dystopian, socialist hell of Medicare kicks in; thank GOD we don’t have that for everybody [/sarcasm]).

The second option is to wait until retirement. Save up a ton of money, pay off your mortgage, and just buy a small little house or condo in Telluride or Park City with that cash. This idea is not entirely unreasonable – many years of diligent saving can get you some good coin, selling a paid off house in 30 years can net you some more cash, and you can piece together a pretty decent retirement income between social security, a pension (if you have one), and a retirement job (ski instructor or hotel work or whatever). Or, do what some people (people that are richer than I) are doing and buy a 2nd home that can double as a ski house while you work, and a retirement house when you get older. The downside of this option is that you miss the best years of your life because you’re working some crappy job all day when you could be skiing. Then, when you finally get some free time after retirement, you’re so old that “getting rad” mostly involves cruising the groomers.

There’s got to be a better option. If only there was some happy medium - some way to work long enough so that you could save enough money to just enjoy life and not have to worry about a soul sucking corporate job or injury related bankruptcy. Some way to own a house in a ski town, but not have to leave it every Sunday night to drive back to suburbia, dreading the following day at the office.

I’m trying to think of ways to accomplish this. So far, I’ve come up with two ideas: going back to school for my Master’s degree (at some place near mountains – Northern Arizona, Montana State, University of Utah, etc.), and hypersaving (plowing tons of money into savings and retirements accounts for the next few years by living on beans & rice, depriving myself of luxuries, and driving my car well after I’m done paying it off). The Master’s degree would probably entail taking out student loans (ugh), but the hypersaving idea could be financially smart. If I can save enough money in the next few years, I could move out west with the money from home equity, some pretty good money in retirement accounts, and enough savings to cover a year or two of living while ski instructing and looking for a job in my field. Unfortunately, hypersaving would involve cutting down my spending on frivolous crap (which I don’t really do), and cutting down my spending on going out, drinking and socializing (which I definitely do). Damn.

I guess it’s one of those times in life when you have to decide what is most important; one of those times in life when you have to identify what you want, and formulate a plan for how you want to get it. When I started this blog almost 4 years ago, I wrote a post about how as people get older, they trade security for freedom (buying a house is the financially responsible, secure thing to do, but you lose the freedom to just up and leave whenever you want, etc.). I mentioned that I wanted the blog to reflect a life well lived, not a boring life where I go to work every day and come home every night and watch TV. Well, after 4 years of going to work every day and coming home every night to watch TV, I’m getting pretty freaking sick of it. Not that I haven’t had some good times and some awesome trips, but this sandbox is getting boring and I need a new playground.

Warren Miller says that if you don’t quit your job and move to ski country this year, you’ll be one year older when you do. Every year, his voice gets louder in my head, and I can’t seem to shake it. The other voice in my head is Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying”.

Well, I’m not dying anytime soon. There are many years of getting rad to come.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Spring Mountain Biking

Well, once again, my blog is floundering because I always seem to be busy with other stuff. Luckily, most of it is fun. Here's some phone pics from recent adventures:

In Rochester for work in May, I rode the Erie Canal Trail to Brockport. It was pretty nice:

I've taken a few mountain biking trips to some local spots, too. Here's Luther Forest:

Colonie Town Park:

Pine Hill Park in Rutland:

Pittstown State Forest:

Blue Mountain in Peekskill:

And the Pack Demonstration Forest in Warrensburg, NY:

Theoretically, I should do reports on all of these places (especially the places I haven't done reports for yet), but the more I think about doing that, the less I want to. I'll save the in depth trip reports for actual adventures, not 3 hour jaunts in the woods.

Other than that, not much going on. I'm looking forward to a fun summer of riding, boating, and general merriment. Time to start research some "real" adventures.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Tale of Two Backcountry Trips

I haven't posted in a while, because the weather has been way too nice to waste it sitting inside staring at a computer screen. I would like to talk about a pair of ski trips I took over the last few months, just to highlight the variety of trips that people talk about when they say that they are "skiing the backcountry".

First, there was a trip in Early March up in the ADKs that can only be described as a slog. Here're some pics:

I'll try to stay out of the location disclosure/nondisclosure kerfuffle that was raging earlier this year, and I'll just post this picture that tells everybody exactly where we were:

And since I'm not saying the location in writing, there's absolutely no chance someone will try to google this mountain, along with the term "backcountry skiing", and gain all of the important knowledge that I am about to impart. Haha, secrecy and jingoism win again over knowledge and information!

Anyway, the reason the trip was a slog was that it took forever just to get to the base of the slides. It was 5.8 miles of up, down and flat skiing with skins on our feet, and it was not ideal. In retrospect, I should have used an XCD ski with some fischscaled bases that would have enabled me to kick and glide over the flat parts, ski the downhill parts, and hold my own on the ups. But, since I didn't have that ski, I just had to use my NTN setup with skins.The way in, although annoying, was pretty beautiful:

We reached a lean-to about 5 miles in. A better plan would have had us staying here the previous night, but I'm not big on winter camping. Someone else seemed to have used the shelter recently, though, because there were signs of fire (and a relatively fresh skin track):

(Photo by Mitch)

After a hellish 0.75 more miles, we reached the slides, the low clouds started to lift, and we started to get some views:
(Photo by Mitch)

The slides are named as fingers on hand would be (pinky, middle, index, ring), and you use the "wrist" slide to access. I'm pretty sure we skied the index slide, but I still have to buy my updated ADK Slide Guide to know for sure. Here's a couple of pictures from the descent:

(Video Capture by Mitch)

The snow was good. Tiny little crust with about 5 or 6 inches of pow underneath. After skiing, it was just a quick 5.8 mile jaunt back to the car:

It was an awesome trip. We were the only people on the mountain (the only people for miles, actually), the conditions were wintry, and it was a ridiculously long day - probably about 12 miles of hiking when all was said and done, which was a pretty epic day as far as my winter adventures go.

It was about as far as you possibly could have gotten from two weekends ago at Mount Washington:

It seemed like everyone in the east coast skiing community was there that weekend, so you can read their reports. I'll just give you a couple of pictures to show how different it was from the earlier adventure:

We arrived on Saturday around 9:30 am, and we were forced to park a quarter mile down the street from Pinkham Notch. We walked in from there with full packs (I was carrying 24 beers for consumption that night at the shelters):

The hike in was fine, if crowded. Before we even walked a mile, we were able to put our skins on:

Up to Hojos, which was a mob scene. We met dogs (this one was named Steve):

And picked out some lines:

Then we hiked in to the ravine:

And went up:

Paused at the top for a second to check out the steepness:

(Instagram by Mitch)
Then we did some skiing:

Definitely a good day. We didn't want to leave the ravine:

(Beers came in handy)
We stayed in the shelters that night. The party was good, but the camping was kind of chilly - and I stupidly left my sleeping pad at the bottom because I didn't feel like I had room in my pack (what with all the beer). Sleeping bag on top of Lean-to floor was not the most comfortable arrangement.

Didn't stop us from getting up early the next morning to check out Hillman's Highway:


Hang out at the top of the climb:

And ski down the Highway:

After navigating the Sherburne trail, we hiked back out, and went to a bar for some well deserved hot food.

The point to all of this is that there's more that one way to ski backcountry. Whether you're skiing alone deep in the woods, skiing a well traveled BC "proving ground", or just skinning a closed ski area (Big Tupper Video coming soon - I promise), there are lots of ways to put that shiny new AT gear you bought to use. You can camp, or just do day trips. You can be by yourself, or with the entire skiing population of the east. Just go out and do it.

There will probably be one more skiing report this year - I'm thinking either Killington or Tuckerman again by way of the Auto Road. After that, we're on to summer. I've already had the mountain bike out a couple of times this year, and the trails are in pristine shape. Loving this time of year.