Things Are Warming Up

Adam skins across the creek.
Adam skins across the creek.

The chickadees can be heard calling out to potential mates with their mating call, the once pristine piles of snow in town have been reduced to hunks of dirty, gritty ice, and the snow line is visibly moving upward from the valley toward the mountain tops.  For those willing to walk the ski season is far from over however.  With the intense snow fall of March there is still a very, very deep snowpack in the high country.  Getting there provides for some adventure however as you can see in the photo here.

Initial Thoughts – Brooks-Range Mountaineering Cirro Jacket

Last Sunday afternoon was a prime example of why I have chosen to live in Southwest Montana. The snow has continued to fall every few days in the beautiful mountainsides of our fair ecosystem as is considered normal for March in these parts. The sun rose as usual during the 0700 hour on Sunday morning and my roomate, myself, and visiting friend from the Pacific Northwest prepared our backcountry ski and splitboard gear for an afternoon trip up the local bc ski zone on Mount Ellis.

I was trying out a fair bit of gear that was new to me on this journey and as such was traveling with one of the lightest kits I’ve ever had the fortune to carry while splitboarding.  The items I took along that are new to me:

I’ve agreed to wear, test, and review the Cirro Jacket from Brooks-Range.  I have been a fan of their line of avalanche-safety gear for a number of  years and when asked to review their apparel I jumped at the chance given their track-record with the rest of their product line.

Brooks-Range Cirro Jacket

The Cirro Jacket is a typical mid-weight puffy coat that appears a good solution for a couple different activities.  It’s stylish enough to be seen in for an après ski beverage on the streets of Park City but more importantly, functional enough to weather-out a squall atop a cloudy peak while preparing to “drop in heavy like a powder gangster”.

The jacket is constructed to the standards of today’s lightweight, synthetic puffy jacket but differs itself with some durability aspects.  It is constructed of the proven combination of Primaloft insulation with a Pertex outer.  Primaloft is in my opinion the synthetic insulation that reigns supreme over this competitive market.  In other synthetic puffies I’ve owned Primaloft has proven itself and retained it’s “loft” for the longest-time over other synthetic materials.  Pertex has also made a name for itself with a number of shell-offerings that fair well in shedding light precip necessary to protect the insulative qualities of the Primaloft.  It is also a superior fabric choice for blocking heat-sapping wind while still allowing acceptable levels of breathability.

The use of Primaloft and Pertex is becoming commonplace for this type of garment (and for good reason) so a company building new gear needs to set itself apart from its competition through a few techniques; design-innovation, durability, and aesthetics (to name but a few).  Brooks-Range has met the fabric requirements to compete in this market and has also met the design and aesthetic requirements.  My initial thoughts having now worn the garment during two days of use under circumstances that I would consider to be average for the type of athlete considering the purchase of this garment (i.e. nothing extreme nor epic).  The areas a garment like this can be beefed up to extend it’s life are the zippers, seams, and stretchy elastic bits.

I was immediately taken by the choice of zipper Brooks-Range chose to apply to the Cirrus Jacket.  It is a multi-directional zip that strikes a good balance between durability and weight.  Too light a zipper and it will fail (as has so frustratingly happened to other garments I own), too heavy and it’s simply overkill.  The elastic at the cuffs and the tightening system at the waist both proved functional at keeping snow out while digging a snow study pit and also kept warmth in while lunching atop the summit.  The sewing of the seams at a glance appears quality but only a lengthy review over the first few months of wearing this piece will this be proven or disproven.

The Cirrus is very lightweight and I sense it will be a perfect choice for springtime splitboarding pursuits.  During the dead of winter it would probably not provide enough warming capabilities to act as my emergency insulation but during spring it, combined with my softshell and hardshell are more than enough for maintaining thermal regulation during rest stops or during an especially cold or windy descent.

I look forward to continue testing (and just plaing enjoying) this and the other items I mentioned above.  I will go into more detail regarding the Brooks-Range Cirrus Jacket in time but for now take this initial review for what it’s worth if you are in the market for such a garment.

Scrubfest 2011 – Cowboy Pow

A group of individuals loosely-related via splitboard.com have been getting together atop Wyoming’s Togwotee Pass for the past half-dozen years or so to delve their splitboards into the deep, Wyoming “Cowboy Pow” along the continental divide at the pass as well as on the steep flanks of the impressive Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. I’ve had the pleasure of joining this crew for the three seasons and each has been a delight not only because of the opportunity to ride exquisite snow in challenging terrain but because of the camaraderie of this fine group of folks as well. In both 2009 and 2010 I shot video and made an edit of those captures. 2011 was no exception and I was able to put together a short barrage of both the toil of skinning uphill as well as the joy of slashing down.

Scrubfest 2011 from samh on Vimeo.

View the embedded video, Scrubfest 2011 on Vimeo.

Experiencing the mountains in winter produces perhaps the most awe-inspiring moments for me. To climb to the top of them and look out over the landscape for dozens, if not hundreds of miles provides a view that little else tops.

Wade and Trevor high up in the Tetons

I had the opportunity to demo a splitboard this weekend – a chance that I jumped at. I’ve not had any experience riding a rockered (aka reverse camber) board so when Will from Spark R & D mentioned he had a Jones’ Solution available I grabbed it for a test with little hesitation. The reverse camber both rode downhill and skinned uphill like a dream and I’ll be researching that technology for my future splitboards.

Jones’ Solution splitboard and Spark R & D Blaze binders

The Grand Teton and the Teton Mountain Range

Rio, Trevor, Wade, and Jeramie atop East Angle Mountain

Trevor earning his turns

Backcountry Forays along Ketchum, Idaho’s Titus Ridge

Ketchum, Idaho is a small, swanky town that is home to Sun Valley Ski Resort. Many of the skiers here are rich fashionistas that never leave the smoothness of the groomed runs and comfort of the ski lifts. There are definitely some badasses that live there also however and for those willing to head only a few miles out their own backdoor a nearly endless sea of peaks and ridges awaits.

Ketchum lies comfortably nestled  in a pocket formed by the Challis and Sawtooth National Forests of Idaho with State Highway 75 the artery supplying fresh tourist dollars and backcountry dirtbags alike to the town.  Mike and I are of the latter category although we did buy some groceries, burgers, and beer while we visited.  The highway passes through downtown and heads North into the National Forest.  On it’s way it switchbacks up and over Titus Ridge, topping out on what is called the Galena Summit at 8700′ (2652 m).  A road that goes to nearly 9,000 feet simply screams, “Come ski me!”

Sam skinning along Titus Ridge away from Galena Summit
The views of the peaks along the drive north from Ketchum are peppered with skin tracks and descent lines but the quantity of terrain combined with the lack of users means plenty of freshies lie in wait for the motivated (and even the not-so-motivated) backcountry skiier or splitboarder.  Driving to Galena Summit and skinning from the trailhead for even just 30 minutes will provide you with enough snow and hillside for a dozen turns through myriad terrain types ranging from steep rocky chutes to open bowls to tight trees.
 
Usage may be low but I’m a powder snob and let’s face it, I like to walk so after our first day of checking out the zone immediately adjacent to the highway it was time to top out at our previous days high point and then continue onward into the next bowl.  It was here that we found a true backcountry destination consisting of a big face with lots of options from couloirs to spines to gladed trees.  
Our destination for day two and three.
This is the kind of face I like to ride.  I’m relatively conservative in my choice of terrain not so much because I’m held back by my abilities but because I’m held back by my confidence.  It was good riding with my friend Loid whom I don’t ride with often (he lives in Ketchum) because he pushed me a little outside my comfort zone, got my adrenaline rushing, and reminded me that I am a pretty good snowboarder.  
We sessioned the face in the photo above on day two, following it up with a repeat of our exit line from day one.  I wasn’t ready to be done so upon arriving back in town I stayed suited up in my ski gear and set my splitboard to walking my way to the top of Sun Valley Ski Resort. This made for another seven miles of walking another few thousand vertical feet.  The views from the top were delightful but I was tired and cold so I took no photos to share with you my blog readers.  
Day three Loid was required to be at work selling ski and snowboard gear but Mike and I were amped to get a half day in before the drive back to Montana.  We opted to head to the same zone as day two and considered hiking farther out to yet another peak.  It would have been nice to hit another face but time was of the essence as many hours of driving were in front of us.  We filed it away for future plans and proceeded to kill a line parallel to the previous day.  
A face filed away for next time we visit
The riding was spectacular all three days.  We were successful in finding snow of superb quality on North-facing aspects and in all stability tests we performed we could not get an extended column to break (I managed to pound one column to a 45 count before my hand started hurting).  The company of Loid who I don’t see all that often as well as Mike with whom I share an apartment was great.  To put it simply this is the kind of out of town trip that will stick in my memory for a long time to come.  
Loid
 Mike

Skin to Win Randonee Rally – Bridger Bowl

Wikipedia defines Ski Touring as “…a form of backcountry skiing involving traveling over the winter landscape on skis under human power rather than through the use of ski lifts or snow vehicles.

The competitive form of ski touring is often referred to as randonnee racing wherein participants compete in a timed event during which they must move through a course ascending (both skinning and bootpacking) as well as by doing traditional ski descents.

On January 29th, 2011 my local ski hill Bridger Bowl is holding their annual randonnee Race, “Skin to Win”. Two classes are available with the Pro class being required to follow a course with a minimum of 5,000 vertical feet and a Recreational class with a minimum of 2,100 vertical feet.

Competitors are required to carry/use the following equipment:

  • 457 kHz avalanche transceiver
  • Ascent skins
  • Backpack
  • Skis/splitboard (with adequate retention devices)
  • Helmet

I’ve been wanting to participate in this race for the past two years since moving to Southwest Montana so I’ve got it on my calendar.  I am capable of putting in the vertical required for the Pro competition but I typically would require all day to do it.  Since this is a competitive format I’ll be entering the Recreational class. 

    Splitboarding – One Day Gearlist

    Clothing

    • Gloves – spring touring  
    • Gloves – shell mits  
    • Hat – merino wool  
    • Hat – visor (condition dependent) 
    • Jacket – shell  
    • Jacket – puffy  
    • Pants – shell / softshell (weather dependent)  
    • Goggles
    • Helmet – condition dependent  
    • Shirt – baselayer 
    • Boots – soft snowboard boots  
    • Socks – knee high  
    • Underwear – merino or polypro  
    • Sunglasses – shaded and clear lenses  
    • Tights – merino or polypro  

    Snowboard Gear

    • Snowboard – splitboard  
    • Binders – splitboard-specific  
    • Crampons – splitboard-specific  
    • Skins – splitboard-specific  
    • Poles – collapsible carbon fiber  
    • Straps – condition dependent  
    • Pin – extra binder pin  

    First Aid and Repair

    • First Aid – wound care kit  
    • First Aid – splint  
    • First Aid – ace bandage  
    • Compass – adjustable declination  
    • Documents – I.D. / cash / credit  
    • Knife – small, light  
    • Info – maps and guidebook pages  
    • Whistle – on neck lanyard  
    • Tool – snowboard/binder repair tools  

    Electronics

    • Camera – digital camera (possibly use phone)  
    • Light – headlamp  
    • Watch – altimeter enabled watch  

    Avalanche Gear

    • Avalung  
    • Backpack – size is trip-length dependent  
    • Shovel – metal avalanche shovel  
    • Beacon – multi-antennae digital  
    • Saw – snow saw  
    • Rutsch Saw   
    • Probe – collapsible, lightweight  
    • Snow Study – slope meter, crystal cards, magnifier  
    • Stuff Sack

    Emergency Gear

    • Pad – foam pad  
    • Bivy – emergency bivy  
    • Firestarting – lighter, matches, firestarter  
    • Cordage – 40′ of spectra cord  
    • Sunscreen
    • Mug/pot – titanium mug for emergency h20 boiling  

    A Blank Canvas Awaits an Artist’s Touch

    You awake early.  Before dawn.  You sip steaming coffee from your mug then put it down to focus on gripping the steering wheel against the icy road.  You and your partner exchange words of excitement about the upcoming day’s adventure as the sun’s rays begin to filter onto the landscape from over the mountains that fast approach.  When you arrive your partner does jumping jacks to stay warm while you are finalizing your gear for the day’s adventure.  All is ready.  You both depart.  The only sound is the creak of each others bindings and skins on snow. 

    You’ve both hiked this trail multiple times.  Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.  But today is exceptional.  Today you are the first to arrive.  Today it will be your toil, your energy, that breaks the fresh track into the virgin snow.  It will be your route choices that determine the skin track others will follow in the days to come.  A smile crosses both your faces as you relish in this – which is both a chore and an honor. 

    The sun is now full in the sky as you approach the basin below the beautiful easterly face of the mountain you’ve set out to ski.  Natural sluff avalanches are the only markings on it’s face, covered in a blanket of fresh snow.  It is a canvas awaiting an artist to carve marks along it’s face.  But first the artist must be sure all is safe and that making these marks will not anger the mountain.  You and your partner discuss where is best to perform your research and begin to dig into the surface of the fresh snow.  The results are superb.  You feel confident the mountain will not reject your efforts and you continue your approach to the summit. 

    Your efforts until now have been moderate, you’ve broken trail with your skis but the going has been relatively easy.  Now in front of you stands the summit push.  The bid for the top which will require post-holing in thigh to armpit deep snow and requiring a heightening of efforts bordering on exhausting.  It is a mere few hundred feet but it seems to take an hour.  The wind blows from the West as you trudge upward.  Upon reaching the top there is time for a quick photo, a discussion of a safe line downward and before you know it you are both into your equipment and the first one drops in.  The snow is light and powdery up top with a slight windblown crust a few inches down.  With each toeside turn you enter the whiteroom as a blast of powder fills the entirety of your vision.  You reach the first safety zone and call to your partner to proceed.  You watch quietly as he descends, a smile on your face as he too paints a line into the virgin canvas. 

    You’ve re-grouped and request your partner take first tracks on the next aspect.  He obliges and sets off, laying a beautiful set of turns into the un-tracked slope.  Once below and into a safe zone he whoops up at you – a sign it is your turn to drop into a line of such beauty that you are ecstatic to be so privileged.  As you point your board downward it follows the fall line and you only swerve marginally – choosing instead to let gravity be your guide, and speed be your purpose.  The smile that has formed on your face at the bottom can only be enlarged by the thought that you are setting out to transition to skin-mode, re-climb the line and ride it again. 

    The daylight will come to an end soon and civilization calls.  Your partner has obligations and regardless of your excitement you both know your strength will fade and that you still have a four mile ski back to the car.  Fortunately it is mostly downhill and you set out.  There is another hundred or so vertical of powder to be enjoyed as you exit but it is mostly a tight line following the skin track.  You move through it quickly and efficiently stopping only occasionally to make sure each other still making progress. 

    Arrival at the car is bittersweet.  The day has been superb.  You give each other high fives and hugs because it has been so superb.  You don your puffy coats and pull your coffee thermoses out of your packs to sip the remaining warm sips from them as you wait for the windows on the Subaru to defrost.  You are both smiling inside and out and are appreciative of each others company but mostly are appreciative of the landscape in which you live.  It is beautiful.  It is powerful.  It is dangerous.  You can find ways to dance with this partner that will exhaust your lungs and exhaust your muscles but all the while fulfill your soul. 

    The route GPS track and photo locations can be viewed at my MT. Blackmore – Splitboarding page on Everytrail.com

    November Splitboarding and Backcountry Skiing

    The past three days my little neck of SW Montana has been getting slammed with new snow and high winds. The avalanche report was warning against wind-loading off ridgetops and was reporting the mountains immediately South of Bozeman had received an inch of snow water (approx. 16″ of snow). My buddy Taylor and I wanted to do some backcountry skiing but opted to visit a low-angle zone wherein we hoped to find some powdery slopes without wind slabs having formed. Taylor introduced me to a new zone I’d not even hiked in the summer months yet and that ended up being very safe yet super rewarding.


    A two hour hike starting at the History Rock trailhead located in Hyalite Canyon of the Gallatin National Forest brought us through three large snowfields ranging in steepness in the low 30 degree range. These three fields were separated by short sections of tight trees. Upon reaching the “top” of the ridge we planned to ski we opted to lap the upper snowfield three times where we ended up being joined by two other groups. We were able to get fresh tracks down this section for all three laps even though by the end of our stay there were eight skiiers and four dogs there (including us).

    After lapping this beautiful powder field we skiied back down our skin track until we came to the other two powder fields we’d spotted on the way in.  These were a bit steeper and provided the opportunity to “open it up” a little and throw some powder carves of pretty stellar quality.  
    Taylor and I had not backcountry skiied together so this trip was good practice in seeing how we communicated, made judgement calls, and weighed risk vs. reward.   All in all the day was a worthy trip with a great hike, great turns, and great company. 

    Excessively Late Season Attempt at Snowboarding

    If only I had more “on it” a couple weeks ago when we had a bit of early September snow I could have hiked up to the permanent snowfield located in the couloir of “The Great One”, found it covered in a couple inches of freshies, made some turns and been happy. But Mike and I had planned to go backpacking that weekend and we headed up to the base of Mount Blackmore instead and although it was a great camping trip I’m still kicking myself for not having gotten some snowboarding done.


    A really terrible phone-cam photo of The Great One

    It’s been on my life-list of goals to snowboard at least once per month for twelve consecutive months. This season I took a splitboarding trip to Pine Creek Lake in July and then went again in August. Having complete those two months I decided I might as well have a go at September as well.
    I finished up my work day quickly, left the office, went home, gathered my gear, and drove to the trailhead arriving at 14:45. I set out at a full on speed pace gaining the ridge-top in under thirty minutes and arrived atop the couloir soon after. The couloir, although a permanent snowfield does melt out from the top, bottom, and sides. I had to down-climg a significant distance to reach the snowline.


    Looking down The Great One in late September

    While holding my board I sliced the edge of it into the snow and found the consistency to be icy and showing little signs of give. At this point in time I was worried I wouldn’t get to ride the line at all because I was solo and could not risk an uncontrolled, sliding fall to the rocks below. I opted to down-climb along the skiers-right edge of the snowfield along exposed rocks to a place where some remnants from the two-weeks-previous snowfall remained. From here I was able to strap into my board and make some sketchy heel edge slides through the snow-choked portion of the couloir.

    It became obvious that the icy couloir was simply too hard for me to attain any purchase with the edge of my snowboard so I unstrapped and hobbled my way down the steep talus. I had managed to break one of my trekking poles by dropping off a small section of class III rock I needed to down-climb above so I was pretty unbalanced with my snowboard strapped to my pack and the looseness of the rock.


    Broken carbon fiber trekking poles

    I exited the couloir and found my way to the bottom of the basin wherein I was interested to find the remains of a crashed airplane. I had not seen this on my last trip as it had been covered in snow. I’ll need to look into the history of that as it’s not too often one encounters this sort of thing. I arrived back at the trailhead with a round-trip from car-to-car of about 2:40 which, given the slowness of my descent along the snow I feel is a pretty good time.


    Summer snowboarding means muddy boots and board

    Trip Route on EveryTrail.com