Monday, August 4, 2014

Ski Movies. They should be better.

“Nice GoPro, JONG”

Nobody says that, but I always get the feeling that it’s on the tip of every “bro’s” lips whenever I strap on the box shaped camera and its overly elaborate mounting hardware. I guess I’m a little overly concerned about my image, but a lot of good footage is never recorded because I feel weird about tele-tubbying my way around ski resorts.

I have gotten some comments; wry, insult-between-the lines comments like “that’ll be a good trail to take your pictures on” or “what are you filming here?” The worst part about remarks like these: I do it too! I see some tool on a blue square with a GoPro light flashing away and I say to people around me “wow, that guy is getting really good footage of a groomed ski trail with nobody on it.” I see some dude taking a picture of a view I’ve seen a million times (“it doesn’t even look that good today!”), and I push by him in a huff, anxious to get to wherever it is that I’m going, completely pissed that he would slightly inconvenience me by having the audacity to try to capture a cool moment for his family.


I think the underlying problem is the continuing battles that have always existed: “Locals” vs. tourists, bros vs. families, hardcore vs. fair-weather. I might have seen the view a million times, but that guy I rudely pushed past is seeing it for the first time (and may have struggled mightily to even get up this high on the mountain). Me and my buddies might laugh at the guy with the footage of an empty groomer, but maybe I didn’t notice his kid skiing in front of him. Who am I to tell other people what memories to capture?

The number of photographs taken in the year 2014 will approach 1 trillion. More photos are taken each day than in the first 100 years that photography existed. One hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. I’ve done my fair share of picture taking, video uploading, editing, etc. And I’ve watched a lot of stuff, too. Most pictures and video on the internet are pure crap. Most of my stuff is crap! The best edits are from pros or semi pros that just shred hard.

Like a lot of people, I’m growing increasingly bored with the mass market ski porn. I don’t know if it’s the ADD society we’ve created, but these days, I like videos that just show pure fun, like the Candide Thovex edits that have hit big the last couple of years. My edits aren’t nearly that good, but they remind me of fun days I had, and that’s cool for me. I hope that other people get the same general feeling from their videos (although I can’t imagine how that’s possible in some cases).

Maybe that’s what’s missing: the “fun” factor has to be really big. The thing about “The Blizzard of Ahhhs” or “Sick Sense” or, more recently, “Claim” was that it looked like everyone in the movie was having an amazing time.  I saw this the other day:

It’s an insane trick, but the best part about it is the jubilation the guy feels after he rides it out. What an amazing feeling that must have been. The fear at the top, the anticipation, the inrun, then, finally, the success. That’s the feeling that I miss when I’m watching these ski movies. Runs that are absolutely insane just look normal when you don’t show the celebration at the end and immediately cut to another crazy line. Triple corked spins were unheard of 5 years ago, but now they are just stomped and edited in as if it’s just a normal thing.

And I think that’s the root of the problem with the GoPro: I get the feeling that I’m just not rad enough to even show up. The condescension from locals, bros, and hardcores isn’t because I have a camera and I’m taking pictures. It’s because I have a camera and aren’t sufficiently awesome enough to warrant the megabyte usage. Pros are doing this, locals are doing this, and anybody doing less than that is just not worth watching.

Oddly, though, just being completely rad isn’t enough. Compare these two trailers from this year’s crop of ski porn. First, here is the fun-filled coolness of Matchstick Productions latest:

Then, here is the way too serious, bro-boosting, death cheating, over performance of TGR’s film:

The fun in the first one is so great. It shows that you can enjoy yourself just screwing around on jumps, in a backyard, or on a short little hill. The second video implies that you have to be an amazing skier, have balls of steel, go a million miles an hour, and only then do you get to experience the fun of skiing, which it seems to define as the overcoming of the impossible line. They keep saying how "gnarly" they are, how crazy every line is, and how rad they all are at skiing. 

But that’s really only one aspect of skiing. For every flashed Alaska line, there are 2,000 kids smiling after their first straight run down the bunny hill. For every quadruple kinked handrail cleaned, there are 2,000 snaky tight tree lines in unknown stashes skied with your buddies. The fun of skiing isn’t narrowly defined. So give the guy filming a break- he’s just capturing his idea of fun. And when you make videos, make sure to include the cool people you’re with, the fist bumps and congratulations at the end of a sweet line, and the smiles that you create along the way. That’s the kind of video that you’ll want to replay over and over. Hell, I might even want to watch it. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

PSIA Success

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd retire from my real job, buy a house in an awesome ski town (Telluride, Steamboat Springs, Stowe, Park City - although that one looks iffy right now), and teach skiing for the rest of my life. I love skiing and I love teaching it - being outside in the fresh air, bullshitting on the chairlift, talking about ski technology, hearing people's stories, talking with other instructors, solving the puzzles, and just ripping around having fun.

Unfortunately, this ain't Europe, and you can't make a living as a mere ski instructor. In fact, especially in the east, ski instructors are ridiculously underpaid. This site says that the average instructor makes $5,000-$10,000 a year. I've never even seen close to that amount of money. I work 25-30 days a year at my home mountain and 14 days a year as an "adjunct professor", teaching a community college ski class and I make a little over $1000 at each job. Including tips, I'd say that I make about $3,000-$3,200 a year from teaching skiing, putting in over 300 hours of driving and working time. I'm obviously not teaching skiing for the money.

But I'm not complaining. If I wanted to make more money, I suppose I could. I could hustle more for private lessons, I could scrounge for more tips, I could take a supervisory job that would bump me up to about $4,000-$6,000 a year. But I don't really want that. I work a regular job for money, ski instructing is supposed to be my fun job. I just want to go to work, teach some awesome lessons, and do a little freeskiing with my extra time. And it's been that way for the last 13 years.

But I've also dipped my toe into the "Professional" ski instructing ranks. And if you're talking about professional ski instructing, you're talking about PSIA. I climbed the PSIA ladder to the point where I was a Level III in both Alpine and Telemark skiing. And after you reach Level III, what do you do next? Let's look at that part of the ladder:

Starting from the bottom, you can see that the next step is the "Alpine Educational Staff", where I have the option of Divisional Clinic Leader (DCL), ACE Team ("Advanced Children's Educator"), or Dev Team ("Development Team"), which has a further ladder to ETS and then to Examiner.

I actually tried out for Dev Team on the Alpine side in 2009. In fact, I wrote about the experience on the Epicski forum:
So I put together a sick run (heli in the middle, huge GS turns with my body way outside the skis, slalom turns with wicked rebound) until I got to the very end, where I hit some soft snow, somersaulted over the front of my skis, ripped my toepiece in half (the plastic itself), and bent my brand new skis. 
So, that didn't go so well for me. I wasn't really bummed that I messed that run up, though. I was more upset because the people who did make it weren't really the greatest skiers I'd ever seen. Ace (who had also tried out) thought the same. We couldn't really figure out why we didn't get higher scores, but we chalked it up to youth (I was 28 and she was 27), imprecise skiing, and not really knowing anybody (all of the other candidates seemed very close with the examiners).

After that experience, I took a break from the Alpine ladder. I got my level III on the Telemark side in 2011, and it was an awesome experience. I didn't really know if the Telemark side was "better" (I've since realized that it is :-)), but I knew that I felt a lot more proud of my Telemark accomplishments than I ever felt about my Alpine accomplishments. After a couple of years of equipment dialing, I decided to try for the Dev Team on the Telemark side this past March at Killington.

The Telemark exams are different than the Alpine exams in general. Alpine exams are very strictly regimented and task based. For every task (short turns, GS turns through bumps, etc.), the examiner stands at the bottom with notecards and calls the candidates down one by one. The people trying out are evaluated and the examiner writes some stuff down and you move on to the next task. The Telemark exams are just better: more relaxed, more teaching focused, more group participation and cooperation, more skiing, more fun, and more Norwegian tele feasts:

This was the feast in a sidecountry cabin near Killington after Day 1 of this year's exam. I won't bore you with the details of skiing and teaching, but it's always stressful when you're in it. You never really KNOW you passed until they announce your name after everything is all over.

When they announced my name, I got pretty emotional. I don't know what it is when I pass the tele exams, but when the final scores come in, I really feel like I've accomplished something. The standards are ridiculously high. Great skiers and teachers didn't pass the Level III exam, just because they couldn't put it all together at the same time. I feel incredibly honored and humbled to make the Dev team, and the fact that I'm on track to be an examiner is still pretty unbelievable to me.

When you're climbing the ladder, you're always looking up to the people above you - people who have been there and have been doing this stuff for years and years. They've probably forgotten more about ski instructing than I ever knew. I am eternally grateful to the people who helped me along the way, and I wouldn't have gotten the warm feeling of accomplishing something difficult without them. 

I'm still not going to make much money ski instructing, but it's nice to know that I have a little bit more flexibility and freedom in how I make that money in the future. It will be nice to travel around to different resorts, attend events with awesome tele skiers, and maybe sneak my way into a western trip or two. The next goal is a super longshot: making the PSIA National Telemark Team. Since there appear to be only 2 people in the whole country on the team right now, this is probably not likely. But, hey, this is my fun job. Might as well keep doing it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

March Instagram Dump

I've been doing some stuff, I just haven't been posting. Here's an update:

I finished up the community college skiing class that I teach:

Then had a ski weekend at Gore:

Followed by a sweet trip to Mad River Glen for a 2-day PSIA clinic before my big exam. They had gotten 3-4" inches of snow when we arrived, and they had another 2-3" the next night. It made for awesome conditions for bumps and trees. I wish I had taken more pictures, but we skied pretty hard. Here's a couple of shots:

The following weekend was the PSIA exam at Killington. I was too busy being stressed, so not many pics from there either. We did have a phenomenal Norwegian tele feast at a backcountry hut on the Long Trail:

Then we had a beer in the umbrella bar while waiting for the results to be tabulated:

And a celebration beer after the success:

I am now an official member of the Eastern Division Telemark Development Team. I realize that doesn't mean anything to a lot of people. I'll probably write up a post later explaining everything about it, but for now, I guess you can just think about it as Level 3+, where level 3 is the highest certification most people get.

After that, we returned to Gore for a weekend, but went off piste and did the Rabbit Pond trail from the Wood Out entrance:

It was fun on Tele skis, but if I did it again, I'd use the fishscaled BC skis for it. Lots of up and down on the way down to the Ski Bowl.

It took us about 1.5-2 hours at a slow, relaxed pace, but it can probably be done faster. It was a great way to get away from the crowds at Gore and it was fun to do some exploring.

Speaking of exploring, the following week, We were at Jay Peak:

It was phenomenal. Pow, trees, chutes, and fun skiing (well, Ace snowboarded the first day):

There's a lot of pictures of Ace making left turns for ya (I have no idea why it worked out that way). We spent three days skiing Jay Peak Resort, then we did some backcountry across the street:

Really nice snow conditions, and a really fun, relaxed time.

After that, I understudied a Tele event at Whiteface, where 7 inches of wet snow made all the glades awesome:

Then I started riding my bike (I'm trying to do #30daysofbiking again this year):

But I haven't forgot about skiing. Great day last Sunday, and it looks like this coming weekend will be sweet, too.

And now you're all caught up.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Merck Forest Backcountry Skiing - 2/22/14

Usually, I try not to expose backcountry "stashes", but since the Merck Forest, outside of Manchester Vermont, is pretty well known, I figured I'd just say where we were. Since the recent rain/freeze, we figured we'd give the coral reef snow conditions a little time to warm up, so we flew sideways up the icy access road around 11:00. The parking lot and main road were completely iced over, making the walk to the visitor's center super treacherous. But we made it and, after a little planning session, we decided on a route up 2,600' Antone Mountain. We went back to the (actually pretty crowded) parking area and put on our skins, which made walking on the icy ground much more enjoyable.

We started hiking and tried to get off the main drag as soon as possible. We found ourselves on the empty McCormick Trail;

We got off the McCormick trail, took Antone Road to the "Ski Trail" (mellow, but a nice skin track in place), and got back on Antone road for the final push up. After about 2.5 hours, we made it to the summit. It was treed, but there was still a pretty good view.

The ski down was really tough. The snow never softened as much as we needed it to, so there was about 2" of crust that made everything really hard to turn through. We mostly had to stick with the tried and true backcountry technique of skiing our skin track, going too fast, panicking, leaving the track, and trying not to fall in the weird crusty snow.

Eventually, the trail widened and softened enough that we could make turns:

And we came out of the woods into full view of the farm:

There were some really fun horses:

This guy was just running around under this windmill, playing around in the snow - just like we were!

It was a great day to get away from the crowds of President's Week. Around this time of year, I always get burnt out on teaching and resort skiing. Days like this remind me why I love just being outside in the winter time.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole, WY - 1/10-1/13/14

It's a new year. 2014 means I'll be 34 years old in May. Wow. I guess I might as well just keep living an awesome life.

While everyone back here in the east was wallowing through a warm, rainy weekend, I headed out to Driggs, Idaho for a few days of adventure at some places I'd never been before. Unfortunately, there aren't too many pictures because I was too busy skiing and having fun the whole time.

The first two days we hit Grand Targhee. Friday was great. About 8 inches of fresh pow with a nice base:

The next day, there was another 4 inches of snow, but it must have rained briefly the night before because there was a crusty layer under the fresh snow. It made the ungroomed terrain pretty hard work, but everything that had been groomed was in great shape: Powder on top of hardpack. We stuck to those trails and some lower mountain glades that had been relatively sheltered from the rain. We skied at a more relaxed pace, quit a little early to watch football, and petted this avalanche dog:

Sunday at Jackson Hole was awesome. About a foot of new snow and just a great day to ski. Enormous crowds, and everyone was just charging all over the mountain, looking for powder stashes. We found our best pow off the Gondola and out in the Hobacks. No great pics, but there are a couple shots of us having fun:

And one to give you an idea of the snow conditions:

After skiing, we hung out at the Mangy Moose, which deserves its reputation as one of the best ski bars in the country. Then we went into the town of Jackson, ate at an amazing restaurant, then went to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (where the barstools are saddles) for more drinks. Great times.

The next day, we got another 6 or 7 inches of snow. Originally, we had planned a backcountry day in Teton Pass, but with the avalanche danger listed as "considerable", we decided to pass on the Pass. So we headed back to Jackson Hole for another day at the resort. The crowds were significantly smaller on the weekday, so we were able to do 2 quick Gondy laps before we jumped on the Tram:

There was absolutely no visibility in the Rendezvous Bowl, which was too bad, because the snow was awesome. Back in the Hobacks, though, everything was clear and powdery. Tons of good skiing. We also did a couple of laps on the Casper lift, which seemed to be overlooked by a lot of people there and had really nice tree lines.

Like a lot of mountains, the whole Tram thing seems overrated at Jackson Hole. There is just so much terrain off of the Gondola, the Casper Lift, the Thunder Quad and the Sublette, it's hard to imagine doing more than one Tram ride per day. Also, you'd need a good week to really explore Jackson, and at least a couple of seasons to ski all the good lines on the mountain. It is just that big and fantastic. 

The only downside to the trip is that Corbet's Couloir wasn't open on Sunday (Saturday, the Tram line was too long all day to attempt a run at it). Corbet's has been on my skiing bucket list since I was a kid, so I guess I'll just have to make a return trip to Jackson at some point to rip it up. Let's hope it doesn't take another 34 years. The 15' cliff drop at the entrance might be pretty difficult at 68.

What's that you say? You want a GoPro edit? Well, here you go:

Grand Targhee/Jackson Hole, WY from Matt Charles on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Adirondack Backcountry Skiing - 1/4/14

After the most recent snowstorm, Ace and I had been itching to get out into the backcountry. We started the day at Gore, sat in a gondola full of a-holes, and met a -20 degree windchill at the top of Bear Mountain. After one run down Twister, we had had enough. The day that followed was way better.

We dropped a car at the Ski Bowl and headed to the Garnet Hill Lodge. Some friends of ours rented some tele equipment, and we were on our way. Originally, we were just going to take the Raymond Brook Ski Trail from Barton Mines road, but we decided to lengthen the trip. Here's a good description of the trails around the area. And here's a map (available at Garnet Hill, or in town at the Hudson River Trading Company):

We started out in high spirits on the Halfway Brook Trail towards William Blake Pond and The Vly:

After a few rolling hills, we reached William Blake Pond (remember, you can click on the pictures to enbiggen them):

There was a little bit of uphill to get to the next wetland:

We kept hiking for a while, a gradual up, then a gradual down towards the Vly:

Fishscaled, metal edged backcountry skis are the tool of choice. The tele setup does take a little getting used to, though, for the uninitiated (look out below!):

After climbing up from the Vly, crossing Barton Mines Road, and climbing up about 200 vertical feet from the start of the Raymond Brook Trail, we finally got some legitimate downhills in:

There was some history:

And a pretty nice downhill/traversing exit (with a couple of small uphills, too):

We started at Garnet Hill around 12:15 or so and came out at the Ski Bowl at 4:15. It took a little longer than anticipated (lots of photo breaks and a relaxed pace), but we still had a good amount of daylight to work with. This picture was taken as we left to begin the drive back up to Garnet Hill:

So, it was a pretty great day. Definitely a lot better than braving the crowds at the mountain. These are the kind of days that make me want to break out of the ski instructing grind and recapture winter weekends for myself - Good friends, great snow, empty trails, and freedom. Recipe for fun.