Friday, March 09, 2007

Highgear: Altitech 2 Altimeter

Ever since seeing my buddy Dave's cool Suunto Altimeter watch last January, I had been lusting over an Altimeter. Finally one morning last September, I was in the middle of my morning space out ritual checking out what was new on Steep and Cheap and my wait came to an end. I exercised my inner backcountry dork and purchased a Highgear Altitech 2 Altimeter for the low low price of $64.81. (Regular Price $140). Due to the low snowfall this winter, it wasn't until the last month that I've really been able to test it out.

Basic Design: Before I finally tried it out, I was a bit hesitant about the clip on design. But I found this to be rock solid. I've been clipping it to the chest strap on my backpack and have had no issues with it coming off. Plus, its far easier to look at than a standard watch.

Altimeter: I did an initial calibration of the altitude (in October) at sea level in San Diego and haven't calibrated it since. In general, the altitude readings have been consistent with those on road signs (Sequoia) and what locals were reading (Jackson). The accumulated altitude tracks vertical both ascending and descending. While I wish you could set it to just track altitude ascended, this isn't a big issue. In Jackson, we did have a small storm roll in one day. The barometric pressure did have an affect on our base elevation, changing it by 300'.

Barometer: Like I said, there was a small storm that rolled in. We did see the barometer drop. However, it wasn't big enough to really be an adequate test. Once I see how it performs in a real storm, I'll update this section.

Thermometer: Like many watch based thermometers, the accuracy of the thermometer is questionable and is definitely heavily influenced by your body temperature. Last weekend, at 10,100 ft, the thermometer read 79F while on my chest strap. However after 20 minutes with the backpack laying on the snow, it had steaded out at47F.

Compass: It tracks well with my standard compass. However, in cold weather (20F was the coldest I've used it in), the entire Altimeter functions very slowly. By this I mean that there is a significant lag when shifting functions and scrolling displays do not show up clearly. This results in making the compass almost useless. So I intend to still bring a regular compass with me on my trips.

Overall, its a solid product. I bought it mostly for the Altimeter function and that functions excellently. Also, even if you just want to use it for the watch function, its much more convenient to look at while clipped to your backpack than it is to look under your glove at a standard watch.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sequoia National Park: Soccer Fields

Over the last few weeks, winter has finally arrived in Southern California. This Friday afternoon, I packed up my car, picked up my friend Brett, and headed north for my first trip of the year to Sequoia National Park. We arrived at our friends' Chris and John's house in Three Rivers 6.5 hours after leaving San Diego (gotta love LA traffic!). As always, they were great hosts and greeted us with great food and lots of wine. Over the course of the night, the rest of our friends (Carl, Dianna, and Tyler) arrived.

We set out the next morning at 6:30 to head up into the park. On our way up, we stopped to use the restrooms at the Wolverton recreation area. This was the site of the day's first major lesson. Carl, Tyler and I were all sitting on the toilet trying to do our business. The conversation goes something like this:
Tyler: Don't you hate it when you're trying really hard to go because you know you'll eventually have to and the last thing you want to do is to have take a pooh when you're out on the trail?
Carl: Dude......whatever you do, DON'T PUSH! This friend of mine who's training to be a nurse has been doing EMT ride a-longs. He told me that seemingly every night around 7:30, they get a call for some 50 year old guy who just had a heart attack. He gets home from a bad day at work, his wife gives him grief about something, so he heads up to the bathroom to take a pooh and escape from it all. Unfortunately, he pushes too hard and he ends up having a heart attack. So whatever you do, DON'T PUSH!
We all have a good laugh about it. I finish and head out to the cars. It seemed that both Tyler and Carl took Carl's pearls of wisdom to heart as they didn't come out of the bathroom for what seemed like a good 10 minutes.

We set out from the Wolverton parking lot (7200') around 7:30. We initially started on the Panther Gap trail before taking a left and heading up the Pear Lake trail, which took us up to the "Hump". (9200') The trail is marked with Yellow Reflective Squares on the trees. However, they are spaced very far apart. If there isn't already a skin track in place, the best recommendation I can give is to aim to stay on top of the ridge as it climbs up. Unfortunately, Carl had to bail out before we got to the hump due to knee pain from a pre-existing injury.

From the hump, we left our skins on and descended a few hundred vertical feet to get to Heather Lake. After crossing Heather Lake (watch out later in the season...Carl broke through the ice 2 seasons ago), you climb a few hundred feet to the base of the ridge on the other side of the lake. This is the base of the run we call the Soccer Fields. They're called the soccer fields, because the top looks like 2 soccer fields that were placed end on end at a 20-25 degree pitch.
We broke trail and after another hour (4h20min after leaving the parking lot), we were up at the top (10,100').

View From the Top of the Hump

John, Steve, and I made it up to the top before all of the others. We were surprised when we saw how far back Brett had fallen. When he got a little closer, we saw him clutching a single pole with both hands to help him on the skin up. It turned out that one of his 10 year old Life Link carbon fiber poles had snapped when he used it knock snow off his boot. Since backcountry skiers have to adapt and overcome, that's what we did. Using duct tape and a piece of a tree branch, we built a splint to hold the two pieces of his pole together. The pole was a few inches shorter, but it held up for two laps and the skin out.The top of the soccer fields is a wide open 20-25 degree slope. Because of its northern exposure, the snow had stayed dry despite the warm temperatures and we got in some fabulous turns. After about 550 vertical feet, the wide open slope gives way to a fun 350 vertical ft mix of rocks and trees. Overall, we were skiing on 8-12" of soft, relatively dry fluff.
When we got ready to skin up for the second run, we ran into our second equipment issue. Both of my Life Link poles mysteriously would not let me change their length. When I loosened the lower half of the pole (which after a few turns is supposed to let the pole extend or contract), it wouldn't move. It felt like the piece in the upper half of the pole that the lower half screws into was jammed. After 10 minutes of fighting with the pole, I gave up on it. (WD-40 later that evening seemed to do the trick)

On the second skin up, I started cursing myself for the steep skin track I had laid. Apparently, my thin straight skins had better traction in the fresh snow when I was breaking trail than in the slicked beaten-down skin track when we were heading up the second time. Once again, I seemed to be moving back 1 ft for ever 2 ft I went forwards, was cursing Jim (from Norpine) and was thoroughly frustrated.

The second run was also great. This time we went a bit further to skier's right when going through the rocky section. Towards the bottom, John skied past us over what he thought was a rollover. It ended up being a 20 ft cliff. John, being the great skier that he is, took the surprise with ease and landed it beautifully. So then, after a bit of goading, I decided to huck myself off of it too. John said the landing was super soft and that the conditions were ideal. Still I had never really jumped anything bigger than 10' before. So I was very nervous and I thought about it a little too much. I didn't chicken out. However, I also didn't approach it with the right attitude. Even though I decided to jump, I was hesitant about it. I took one turn too many, killed too much speed, had to really push off to clear the rock, got leaning back too far and the result was a complete yard sale. I ended up being fine and I'm glad I did it. But in the future I really need to approach it with an attitude of success. Attitude really is everything!At this point we decided to head home for the day. Once we got to the hump, instead of following the skin track back, we went to skier's right along the ridge and skied down a beautiful, north facing, 25-30 degree meadow with a sprinkling of sequoias. Due to the lower elevation, the snow much heavier than the Soccer Fields. But with a little speed it was very skiable and a lot of fun. It would definitely be a great place to come back to after a fresh snowfall. Once we made it to the end of the meadow, we traversed to skier's left until we made our way back around the ridge to the Pear Lake Trail. After a fun luge run, we found ourselves back at the parking with a cold 12 pack of beer waiting for us. All in all, it was another great day in the backcountry.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Guest Blog: Skiing in China

My father, Jere Leister, is currently living in Beijing, China and has shared some of his thoughts on his experiences skiing in China.

A month ago I went skiing near Beijing with my Taiwanese friend, James. It’s single run of man made snow was far from great, but I had a good time and worked out my old legs for a couple hours. So, when he asked me to go with him to the best ski resort in all of China over the Chinese New Year holiday, I thought why not? On-line I saw that the Yabuli Ski Resort was indeed billed as China’s largest ski area with over 300” snow/yr and recent investments totaling over 150 million U.S. dollars… In 1996, chosen as the site of the 3rd Asian Winter Games. …. 700 sets of skis in very good condition. … 9 trails, which are as challenging as any trail in Switzerland or North America.” It all sounded pretty good, and my friend made reservations to fly to Harbin.

The first surprise came after arriving at the hotel when we arranged for transportation to the slopes. They said if we boarded the bus at 7:00 AM we’d get to the slopes by 11:00; leaving only a half day to ski. The bus came half an hour late, but the on-board “tour director’s” cynical commentary on Heilongjiang life (translated to me by James) made the time pass pretty quickly.

There were remnants of old snowfalls in Harbin (more than normal in Salt Lake or Denver) so I hoped I’d see a lot up north. As we got close I realized that it was not to be; there was, perhaps, 6 inches on the ground. This was in-line with another realization when we got to the ski area. Only 4 of us got off the bus to go skiing. Most of the passengers were from the south of China and were just on a trip to see the Manchurian country side.

But my first sight of the mountain again made me hopeful. Even if the snow cover was minimal…I saw two mountains and the far one looked like it might have some decent vertical. Of course there followed another surprise… the upper mountain was off-limits, only for use by government ski team members.

As you can see it was a blue sky day. That was a treat since Beijing is almost always overcast. After another bus to the actual ski area, I went to the rental shop. Their skis all looked like they’d never been tuned or sharpened. (On a side note, you can also rent ski clothing there too.) Oh well, I guess I really wasn’t on this trip for the skiing. But, my friend was psyched because, even though he was restricted to the beginner slopes, they were at the top of the mountain and he could have full time instructor for minimal cost.

I skied the five runs numerous times, despite two them probably (but not clearly) being closed, and joked with my friend each time I went to the top of the single lift. The day was sunny and the people, just like everywhere in China, were all very friendly and enthusiastic. I was glad for a chance to use my Chinese with the people on the lift

and as always in China we had great lunch:

….and I got to see how they made so many huge death cookies… by “mining” instead of making snow:

And then the real reason I went with James… after getting back to Harbin that night he called some friends who happened to live there and they showed us a night on the town… ( no photos I can publish). The next day we toured Harbin’s sights… they are known for their snow sculptures… the second one was the most surprising..

Friday, February 23, 2007

Grand Teton President's Day Weekend Trip

After getting back from my early January trip to Alta with my dad, I kept waiting for it to start snowing in California. When the snow never came, I kept canceling ski trips and had almost given up on their being a California ski season this year. I signed up for my first triathlon of the season (Wildflower Olympic) a few weeks ago and had almost shifted priorities to training for that. Luckily my buddy John asked me to join him on a president's day weekend backcountry trip in Grand Teton National Park and my priorities are back where they should be.

I flew into Salt Lake last Friday afternoon. After spending the day skiing at Alta, John picked me up and we started the drive up to Jackson. I was expecting that arriving without reservations on President's Day weekend, we'd have problems finding a room. I was wrong. The town was deserted. After staying in Hoback Junction the first night, we split our time in Jackson between the Motel Six (an unbeatable deal at $40 a night) and a friend's condo. The only downside to the Motel Six is that it doesn't have a hot tub.

We met up with the rest of the group at 7 AM by a trail head near Taggert Lake on Saturday. We started off by climbing up "25 Short" and then skinning over to 10696. Due to high winds and wind-packed snow, we didn't go any higher than ~10,300'. From there, we skied down the ridge to the top of Maverick's. Just as last year, the first turns of the year in my AT boots had me wondering how I could ever ski in something so soft. But the wind-packed snow of 10696 eventually turned to soft powder when we got over to the tree protected east/northeast face of Maverick's. We had a beautiful run (2500' vertical) with 6-8" of powder on moderately pitched terrain through a mixture of trees and open fields. By the time I was a quarter of the way down, I once again had gotten used to my AT boots (Garmont G-Rides) and enjoyed every turn . The downside to skiing Maverick's from "25 Short" is that it requires an hour long skin out. We finished the day by enjoying a few pitchers of beer at Dornan's. If you're ever up that way, I highly recommend stopping there. The view of the Tetons (basically the same as the pic below) from the bar is absolutely stunning.
On Sunday, we decided to ski "Wimpy's", the next peak to the south of Maverick's. Initially, I was relieved to see that there was a skin track already put in. However, I was soon cursing Jim, the very old school owner of Norpine in San Diego, who insisted (when I bought my equipment last year) that I should just get straight skins. The skin track was obviously put in by people with fat skis and wall to wall carpet underneath. For every 2 feet that I went forward, it seemed like I'd slide back 1. (And that was after pushing as hard as I could with my arms to help keep from sliding back.) On the whole, the run down is a 2300' vertical mix of moderately pitched (25-35 degrees) trees and wide open meadows. For the first run, we skied down along the ridge to skier's left. If you go too far over, it gets pretty cliffy. The snow (6" mix of fluff and sunbaked slab on top of fluff) was decent on the first run. Right about the time we started skinning back up, it started snowing. By the time we started skiing down, there was a nice 3" of fresh snow. We skied more down the middle (to skier's right) this time and had a fantastic run. It seemed like every time we'd head into the trees it would open up to a sweet powder shot. The second run earned Wimpy's a big thumbs up. Another positive for Wimpy's is that you don't need skins for the ski out.
On Monday morning, we awoke to 5" of new snow (in the mountains..not in town) and set out to ski Albright...the next mountain south of Wimpy's. The access to Albright is the same (Death Canyon trailhead). When you hit the Valley trail, you stay on it past the turn off to the bottom of Wimpy's. We stayed on the trail until just before Phelps Lake when we started on our way up the south side of the ridge (still on the east facing part...just on the southernmost part of it) of Albright. It was a gorgeous day...sunny, low 30's, and 8-10" of soft snow. We topped out about 150' below the summit (~10,900')and ate a nice lunch while contemplating the untouched powder field awaiting us. I've said it before. But I'll say it again. One of the beauties of backcountry skiing vs. lift-serviced is that you can actually take the time to relax and enjoy the whole powder experience. For our first run, we had a beautiful 3300' vertical run sticking to the south side of the ridge (between our skin track and the main gully) through a mix of open meadows and thin glades. The snow was phenomenal. For our second run, we only went up about 2500' and then skied the same trees before finishing heading into the heart of the gulley about halfway down. The only trick to the gulley was to stick to the right side as the left (southeast facing) side was pretty baked. Towards the bottom, you need to head right to avoid a sizable (~20-30') cliff band.On Tuesday, it was just John and I. We headed back to ski Maverick's again. This time we approached it from the south using the same trailhead we used for Wimpy's and Albright. The only challenge was that the entire mountain was covered with dense clouds. So it made the whole process of actually finding the base of Maverick's from the Valley Trail a bit tricky. In the end we got lucky and guessed right. Besides lucking out in actually finding our way to the base of Maverick's, John and I also lucked out with the best skiing (by far) of the entire 4 days. Most of Maverick's was east/northeast facing (which meant it wasn't baked at all) and it didn't look like anyone had been there since it snowed on Sunday night. Due to the high winds, we only hiked up 1600'. But we did 3 full laps and got in my 3 best runs of the year. It was fairly steep (30-40 degrees) and full of surprises. You'd duck through a set of trees, catch air off of a lip and find yourself in a wide open meadow that was all yours to carve up.
Like all good things, our stay in Jackson had to come to an end. John and I drove back to Salt Lake on Tuesday night. But we got in a half day at Alta on Wednesday before John dropped me off at the airport. From the remnants of fluff we found at Alta, I can only imagine how great Monday must have been there.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Backcountry Decisionmaking, the War in Iraq, and the Importance of a Questioning Attitude

With the almost complete lack of snow in Southern California, I spent last weekend getting caught up on reading rather than going on a previously planned ski trip to Sequoia National Park. I finished reading "State of Denial" by Bob Woodward and reviewing the Avalanche Safety Reader given out at the Avy Level 1 course I took last March. At first, I thought that they had nothing in common. It wasn't until Sunday afternoon when I was reading an article in the Economist, "Economics Focus: What the World Bank Knows", which was an assessment of the quality of research put out by the bank, that I realized what the link was. The point in the article that really struck me was that the Bank's leadership was consistently using untested research as gospel that their policies worked. They were looking for their in-house research to justify what they already wanted to do (prove that their aid programs and recommended reform programs actually worked) without criticizing the quality of the data or looking to see if it could also be used to show that their policies didn't work. This problem of trying to support the desired outcome is a problem that affects decisions everywhere from the backcountry to the White House to our everyday lives. I can guarantee you that none of us are immune to this.

In addition to putting out lots of information about how the environment (weather and terrain) affects avalanche safety, one of the big points that S. P. Parker, our instructor at the avy clinic, put out was the need to be aware of what is going on in our minds while making the decision about whether or not an area is safe. He brought up the fact that there's a catch-22 that exists in that the terrain we most want to ski often has the highest avalanche danger. The steep powder field that looks so nice also has a 35 degree pitch and has been having wind deposit snow on it for the last 10 hours. These are all major danger factors. But S.P. pointed out that all too often very experienced people ignore these danger factors and look for reasons why they should ski the terrain. Even if they do recognize that the danger factors do exist, they neglect to give them the proper consideration. Some of the messages that go on inside the brain of our friend Homo Powdericus are:
1) I've just spent 3 hours skinning up this mountain. There's no way I'm leaving without good turns.
2) It's been 1 month since I've gotten half decent powder. I don't care what signs I'm seeing. I need freshies.
3) It looks soooooo gooooood!!! I've never gotten hurt before. So I'll be fine this time.
4) Everyone seems to think its it must be.

These are all rationalizations that have gone through my head at some point to justify skiing a potentially dangerous slope to get some good turns. In retrospect, I recognize that they weren't very smart. They encouraged me to ignore my gut and not fully consider the downside to the decision.

A related issue that S.P. brought up is the tendency for groups to delegate decision making to those with the most experience. What this means is that a group of people will often just follow the most experienced person. He brought up numerous case studies where many of the lesser experienced people did notice danger factors and were concerned about them. But they neglected to speak up because they had decided to follow the person with the most experience. They figured that he noticed the danger factor and had given it the proper attention.

For those of you who haven't read it, I highly recommend reading "State of Denial". It's Bob Woodward's narrative and analysis of the decision making process behind going to war in Iraq and our subsequent strategy for fighting the insurgency. It was largely based on interviews Woodward conducted with key policy makers within the Bush administration. Whatever your politics are, the book is interesting in its lessons for decision making. Woodward argues that like our friend, homo powdericus, key members of the Bush administration did not maintain a questioning attitude. They both failed to question the validity of the evidence justifying their action (WMD intelligence that was 5-10 years old). Additionally, he argues that they failed to adequately consider the downside (not finding WMD, Iraqi infrastructure being in poor condition, the population becoming hostile and the possibility of Shia vs. Sunni fighting) of their decision. Within the government, there were numerous high ranking officials/military officers who did have serious doubts on all of these issues and failed to speak up just like the backcountry skiers who delegated decision making authority to the person with the most experience.

I do not intend this to be open up a discussion about the merits of the war in Iraq. THIS BLOG IS NOT MEANT TO BE POLITICAL! What I do want to show is that these decision making errors do take place and can result in serious consequences.

Within the submarine force, one of the guiding philosophies is to maintain a questioning attitude. What this means is to always question the information being presented to you (where did it come from, does it make sense when seen against current indications/past history, could it be wrong, etc), to use conservative assumptions (not politically conservative, but try to avoid “la la” land assumptions) and to always look at both the pros and cons. A key part of this philosophy is that it’s every crew members’ responsibility to speak up if they have a concern. What this means is that we expect the most junior sailor to speak up if they have a concern. While I at times found this frustrating while I was serving on board a submarine (USS Toledo), it helped to keep us safe while we were operating hundreds of feet underwater. Just like on the submarine, a questioning attitude will help to improve our decision making and to keep us safe, whether it’s at work or at the top of a mountain in the backcountry. I'm not saying it’s easy to maintain. But at the very least we should be aware of it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Alta/Snowbird Trip Report

As much as I was complaining about my dad holding me back, I have to give him credit for hanging with me and skiing better as the week went on. Although it hadn't affected him the last two years, maybe his difficulties the first two days were due to the jet lag (flew here from Beijing, China) and altitude. I'm not saying that he transformed himself into an amazing skier beginning on day 3, but he skied much better the last 4 days.
On Saturday, we were greeted with a light snowfall throughout the day. But more importantly, the winds picked up leading to blowing snow. By the early afternoon, this resulted in near white out conditions. Normally, I'd look to see where the snow was depositing. But the wind was fluctuating too minute from one direction, the next minute from another direction. As the afternoon went on, the winds only grew stronger. Like most of the skiers still on the mountain, we spent most of the afternoon skiing the trees off of the Wildcat lift when the top chairs closed. This was perfectly fine with me as the steep chutes through the trees off of the Wildcat lift are some of my favorite slopes at Alta. Unfortunately, by 3:15, the winds had forced the remaining lifts to close. Forcing us to quit early wasn't the biggest consequence of the high winds. More important for my sore back, they closed down the Peruvian's hot tub. So instead of soaking in the hot tub, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Peruvian's bar. It's a classic ski bar...lots of great local characters, a big fire, ancient couches and lots of dead animals hanging on the walls. If you're up at Alta, I highly recommend stopping there for a drink after skiing. At the very least, it definitely beats sitting in traffic trying to fight your way out of the canyon. If you're there on Sundays, they have great live music.
One of the great things about the Peruvian is that you eat dinner with different people each night. On Saturday night, we ate dinner with Paul, Dick, and Elaine. When I got back from the buffet, I found that dad had enlisted them in his efforts to convince me to put off looking for a real job after I get out of the navy (this August) to allow me to spend a winter as a ski bum. I have to admit that doing that is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will probably never have again. Sooner or later, I'll get married and start a new career. Once I do that, it would be next to impossible to do something like ski bumming. Not sure if that's what I want to do, but it does sound tempting. I never imagined that it would be my own dad who would be the one pushing me to do something like that.
By the time we woke up on Sunday, the winds (max recorded wind speed at top of Mt Baldy 107 mph) had died down. We found a mountain completely reshaped from the day before...with boot deep powder in many spots. The hike out to Baldy Shoulder was definitely worth it. But the highlight was getting some of the first tracks on Stonecrusher and Lone Pine. What was surprising was that we didn't even hit it in any of our first runs. It was probably an hour into the day. The most difficult part was getting there...the traverse into Stonecrusher was very rocky. But once you were in and made your way over to the right side of the slope, it was wonderful...boot deep and a nice steep long pitch. Despite being wary of where I was taking him, even dad enjoyed the run. Shortly after lunch, dad finally cried uncle and I was left to ski by myself. I expected to be really energized now that I could ski whatever I wanted. But by that time, most of the good snow was skied off and a lot of the mountain was wind packed crud. I got bored and was back at the hotel by 3...I guess that I've become a real snow snob...incredibly spoiled last 2 years getting 60" and 42"over 6 and 5 days respectively.
We spent Monday and Tuesday skiing down the road at Snowbird. Although I love Alta for all of its pureness, I must admit that Snowbird is growing on me more and more each time I go there. Monday and Tuesday were two of the best days I had all week. On Monday, the top of the mountain was covered in a thick fog. So we spent the morning skiing on the right side of the mountain off of the Gad 2 chairlift. It was everything I remembered from the year before...great steep, bumpy chutes through the trees. Due to all of the trees and its aspect to the sun, it also seems to avoid a lot of the freeze/thaw cycle that the rest of the mountain goes through. The snow is therefore seemingly better than just about anywhere...what looks like crud is actually very skiable. Besides that, they had some great groomers where we got some first tracks on perfectly groomed corduroy. I must be getting old because I find laying down GS turns to be simply wonderful...albeit a distance second to great powder.

The blooper for the day happened just after lunch. We decided to take the Little Cloud lift up to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, we didn't see the lift station until just before we reached it. In one of my more graceful moments, my poles got stuck in the chair (sitting on top of the them) and I had to straddle my way over them to get off on two feet, but only pole made it off...the other snapped and fell off a little ways back down the mountain. This ended up being a blessing in disguise. Skiing without poles was a great drill to force me to ski better....never thought it was possible to ski steep bumpy chutes through the trees, but it was actually a lot of fun. Towards the end of the day, we we were able to go through Snowbird's new tunnel, which connects the Peruvian Gulch with the Mineral Basin area.

On Tuesday, we were greeted with warm weather (~40F), blue skies, and soft snow. We made the right decision and decided to spend the morning in Mineral Basin. I highly recommend this as it gets lots of sun in the morning. The snow was particular good in the Bookends area. The second day we bought the "lifts only" ticket. Unless you plan on skiing a lot off the main ridge (great double diamond terrain if there's more snow), a chair only ticket will give you access to plenty of great terrain for $10 less.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to and end and at 3:30 we took the chairlift from Mineral Basin to Alta for our last run of the day. We had enough time at the hotel to spend half an hour in the hot tub and grab a few drinks at the bar before the van picked us up to take us down to valley. For all of you who plan on staying in the canyon and flying out in the morning, my recommendation is to spend your last night in Salt Lake. If a storm hits, its very likely that the Canyon could be closed the night/morning before your flight. (Note: This happened to me 2 years ago)

Friday, January 05, 2007

No Friends on a Powder Day?

...or so goes the old adage. I am two days into the annual ski trip to Alta that I take with my dad each year. Although Alta is pretty bare by their standards (lots of uncovered rocks/stumps that you normally wouldn't see this time of year), we were greeted with 10" of new snow this morning. At breakfast, everyone was talking about what they'd hit first and what their general strategy was to get the most first tracks possible. By the time we got to the lifts (20 minutes before opening), the lines were already huge. The locals were foaming at the mouth to get their first powder in almost two weeks. So I should have been pretty excited, right?

Actually, I felt really torn and it only got worse as the morning went on. On the one hand, I too really wanted to get some of the beautiful pow pow. But on the other hand, I was on vacation with my dad. The vacation is as much about spending time with him as it is about the skiing. The only problem is that he's 57 years old, not in very good shape and doesn't want to take a lesson to learn to ski powder. I still think of him as the person who taught me how to ski and as the skier I looked up to while growing up. To his credit, he will follow me down just about least until his body just wants to call it quits. While I try to avoid skiing the terrain (when I'm with him) that I really would like to ski, I inevitably take him to some spots that he really shouldn't be trying. After all, there's not a lot of easy stuff at Alta. So I really feel that at times I am putting him in danger.

Of course, I could just ditch him. God nows, I've done that enough in the past. Maybe if it was truly epic powder I would do that. But as I get older, I am coming to value my family more. He came all the way from China to come ski with me. So I would be a terrible person not to spend as much of this time with him as possible. I only see him 1-2x per year. So when he's around, I actually want to spend it with him and can't bring myself to ditch him each day.

So as much as I love Alta, I'm not sure that I can see myself coming back here with him again. Not only is the terrain no longer suited for his abilities, but I do not want to be teased with all the amazing snow/terrain that I am passing up as I ski down another intermediate run. I definitely want to keep taking ski trips with him...its just might have to be to one of those more intermediate friendly mountains that I've always looked down upon.