Thursday, March 27, 2008

Little Kids Rock the Mountain (Days 37-41)

A lot of ski days and I'm not going to go too in-depth on most of them. We (Action Mom and me) had some relatives out and got to play tour guide, and they turned out to have a ton of friends in the area for the week as well. The days were two at Sugarbowl, one at Alpine, one at Northstar, and then one more at Sugarbowl for me.

The two Sugarbowl days were lots of fun, of course. Lots of aggressive skiing on terrain that I have more-or-less memorized. But the Alpine day ended up being one the most interesting on this trip. When we got to the mountain we met up with both sets of the relatives' friends and various groups broke off. I ended up being de facto leader for the advanced(ish) alpine group, which was fine with me. I tend to start lapping something I like and not exploring the mountain when I'm skiing on my own, and this got me wandering all around the bowls off of Alpine's Summit Six chair. With that group I collected groomed and ungroomed runs through Alpine and Wolverine bowls, some alternate, off-piste lines on some of the runouts, Waterfall, Three Sisters, and Sherwood Bowl via the High Traverse.

The High Traverse was particularly amusing. It's a short, uphill traverse with a brief section at the end that requires sidestepping or walking. In short, no big deal, especially after Silverton. It accesses a huge, relatively under-utilized south-facing bowl on the other side of Alpine's main ridgeline. Certain members of my party who shall remain nameless thought that I'd led them on a death march by the time we reached the saddle accessing the other side. Whoops.

After that we sessioned the Sherwood side briefly before switching back to the front side of the mountain. I collected Our Father and then everyone in my group except for the little kid of one family decided they were too tired to continue. I took him through a Keyhole shot and a couple of Peril Ridge lines before it got to be near the time for the lifts to close.

The thing that rocked about this little kid was that he didn't do fear. He wasn't a beautiful skier, but he had a solid parallel turn, and that's really all you need. We'd go to the top of something and agree that it looked hard. Then when it was his turn to drop in, he'd just start making turns, and then linking turns, and then he'd be at the bottom. No whining, no moaning, no falls but a nice, assertive skiing style. If he keeps skiing that way as he gets older, he'll be one of the ones that doesn't have to say anything about what they do because there's nothing on the mountain not on the list.

Northstar was as always. It reminded me why I like skiing better than snowboarding and also that if I'd stayed with snowboards I'd want something a lot stiffer, possibly with some metal in it. One of these days I'll find myself there on my GS skis and I'll have to hide on the backside or lookout ridge all day for the long sightlines, low crowding, and ability to go very, very fast.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I wanna do a Century

When I hurt my knees near the end of 2001, I thought a lot of things. First among them was that it was probably no big deal and I'd get better in a couple of days. When that didn't happen, I went to see some doctors until I got a referral for physical therapy, and did that for a few months. At a certain point, the PT said that I was already doing more difficult things in my dance classes and in the course of living my life than what we were going to do in his office, and I was back on my own. That period, when I was doing physical therapy, was one of the most difficult I've lived through, but that's not really the point of this blog.

When I finished doing PT, I didn't resume all of my interests. I rode my bike much less, and stopped riding off-road. In the interests of not hurting myself, or at least not hurting myself as much, I limited my snowboarding. At the time, trying to be a dancer was my overriding motivation, and it seemed like giving up things that could potentially interfere with my training was a worthwhile sacrifice. I'd make it again.

All that is backstory, though. Now I have a job that's a job, a career goal that I could achieve on crutches, or even from a wheelchair, and no reason not to resume my interests. I'm not even taking anti-inflammatories to do so, although sometimes I have to ice afterwards.

I've got a couple goals for the summer. One of them is to achieve more on my bicycle. I did my first ride of the season last Wednesday, about 17 miles, and a little more than 18 miles today. That means that in the last week I've done 35. I used to be able to do that in a day and then go out dancing, but my knees were better at the time. However, during the summer I spent in Albany I logged a fair amount of mileage, and last summer I was able to increase my mileage over the course of the season to 24 or even 30 mile rides, and I find I can spend hours in the saddle on my mountain bike. All this leads me to believe that if I took an organized, disciplined approach to riding my bike, I could do some meaningful rides again.

There are a couple of things I like about riding my racing bike. One of them is the sensation of speed and rhythm from going 16-20mph outdoors and spinning my pedals. Another is getting out of the city and being someplace beautiful. I used to love riding around in rolling hills through varied ecosystems. I kind of like the bike path that runs up the West Side Highway, although it can be crowded and it's interrupted from time to time, but next to riding country roads, it's still just garbage miles. The park feels a lot like road riding in Santa Cruz used to, although on a much smaller scale. There're trees on either side of me, minimal traffic, and enough space to go as fast as I want to, but six miles later it's the same trees, the same gentle rolling hills, the same one steep climb.

I want to ride high enough mileage that when I get to the George Washington Bridge, I can cross it and do a ride. Since it's ten miles to the bridge, I need to be back to doing at least thirty to be able to do anything once I've gone to the trouble of riding the length of Manhattan. Given my experience the last two summers, I think that this is something I can do with organization and discipline.

The first step, I think, is to make an appointment to see another PT and talk about it. I have a good idea what I'm going to hear, which is to say that I should be careful and stop if something starts to hurt, but I might also learn something new. I'm not really interested in joining a group to ride with - they seem to be organized for people who work during the day, during the week, and want to do shorter rides in the mornings before their jobs start and longer rides on the weekends. I can't do that - one of the few things I can predict about my schedule is that when people want to have parties, for example the weekend, there's going to be work for me. For me, I think the next step is to figure out safe target mileages for the summer weeks and choose a supported Century so I'll have a more concrete goal. I figure my weekly mileage really only needs to be about 120 to be able to confidently attack a Century ride - it's enough to do a short ride earlier in the week of the event, and then do 100 on the day itself. I think it wouldn't hurt to get some coaching at some point too - maybe when my weekly mileage is around 60.

If I can do a strong cycling season this year and collect my first Century, that'll be something nobody can ever take away from me, and I think that I'll also have a much better base to build on next year. And I'll have done something I couldn't do even before I messed up my knee.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Silverton... Wow

My last Colorado ski day was at Silverton Mountain. Silverton's a skiing experience unlike any other. The only thing I've ever done that came close was catching early tracks through Judah Bowl after hiking it the day following a storm. That was only a few hundred feet of fresh snow, though, and this was around two thousand.

Silverton has one fixed-grip double chair that runs from their base area, a tent and a school bus, both buried under snow, to a point just below a saddle in the middle of their ridgeline. Zach and I were on a guided trip, so from there we'd hike to the top of a run chosen by the guide, then put our skis on and do a nice, long, untracked to minimally tracked run to the road and catch a shuttle back to the base. We got five of those runs.

The first run involved what was described as a moderate hike to the top of a nice, long gully. It was pretty hard, but I'm not in as good shape as I like to be. We descended for a fairly short run across fall line above the first rollover to a point in some sparse trees. The powder was deep enough to feel bottomless. I was easily up to my knees on that run. It wasn't that steep, so I felt like I had to sit back a little to keep my tips from diving, but it was some of the best powder I've ever been in. The shoulder we went to was pretty wind-effected, but that's no problem on the Mantras. We descended through some trees for a while, then dropped into the gully proper for the last pitch back to the road. It was awesome.

The second run ended up being a little annoying. It started with moderate density trees, which were a ton of fun and well within my ability, but because the snow was so good the guide decided to continue in the trees as we got lower and they got denser. That part of the run has definitely made me a better tree skier. They were so dense that I was sometimes choosing lines that required me to hold my hands in front of my face to avoid getting battle scars. In the trees, we were instructed to make noise to help in locating one another and so that the guide knew everyone was okay. I almost never make noise when I ski, so it was an amusing addition. When the option was presented to bailout into a couloir to the side, Zach and I took it. It was a little bit more tracked from a group a day or so before, but with the overnight snow it was still some of the best snow I've skied on.

The third run had almost no hiking. In fact, the skiers in our party all traversed it rather than removing equipment. It was yet another moment when I didn't miss my snowboard. The traverse brought us to the top of a steep, open bowl. We descended it one at a time and it was awesome. I let my speed get nice and high and got forward over the skis and linked the best dozen powder turns I've ever made. At its best, powder skiing feels like flying. If I'd felt any more like I was flying, I'd have needed a pilot's license or a parachute or something.

The fourth run was going to be a bowl or something just past the ridgeline forming one side of the bowl we entered during our first run, but it had been a windy day and the guide got concerned about avalanche risks before we got there. Instead, we did the bowl from the first run, but we did the whole length of it, from the top, instead of dropping in near the bottom and using its gully as a runout. That turned out to be an awesome run anyway, so I while I don't know what we might have done if we'd reached the originally intended one, it was definitely awesome. I was getting tired at that point - the hike to the entrance felt longer than it had in the morning, and my quads were feeling pretty fatigued during the run down. I don't think I was tailgunning any more than I had to to keep my tips up, but I was definitely further back than I would have been on a groomer day. If I do end up putting Dukes on the Mantras, I'll probably get them mounted 1cm back of Volkl's mark. That short a distance seems to make a difference on my racing skis, and I like how they handle in everything but the super-deep that Silverton had. I still liked the handling, in fact, but I think I can like it better.

During the lift ride up for the fifth run, the wind started getting really heavy and the Powers That Be decided it was time to shut the lift down. So the lift ride took a very long time and involved some stopping, and then a fair amount of waiting at the top until the whole party arrived. After that, we traversed for a while and did a descent in some trees a bit less dense than the ones that bummed me out on the second run. It was a really fun descent, and as soon as we were in the trees the wind became less of an issue.

Driving out of Silverton may as well have been the sixth run, and I think Zach has learned a lot about winter driving. Silverton Mountain and the people who ski there totally kick ass, and I hope to go back next season. Zach and I were at the slow end of our group, which self-selected as being a moderate-paced group rather than a fast one. We're used to being in the top 3% or so of all skiers on a mountain at a given time, so it was pretty amazing. While I still wouldn't call anything we did at Silverton "extreme," I'd believe them if they graded a trail that way. Of course, they don't really have trails as such and there's no map with grading that I've seen. This is the kind of skiing I want to do more.

Telluride - days 33-34

Telluride reminds me a lot of Squaw Valley. It's a big ski area with big lines and a lot of rich people. Luckily the rich and the people skiing big lines don't usually overlap a whole lot. When my mother, brother and I were there, we lucked into a few inches of fresh snow. I lost my first day to day-ending stomach cramps, something that's never happened to me badly enough to prevent pursuit of my desired plans for the day. The second day was pretty good, though. Zach and I peeled off in the morning and worked the Prospect Bowl area for a while, then the Gold Hill area for a while. Prospect Bowl was annoying in that the chair lift is very long and about two thirds of it is very flat. It also isn't placed very far up the ridgeline that accesses the more interesting lines in the area. Due to the aftermath of the previous day's festivities, I didn't end up hiking the ridgeline much, although Zach did and found some rocks that have made his skis look a lot older. Also some deep powder, but the really deep day for us was at a different resort.

Lines I particularly enjoyed at Telluride were the near hikes on the Prospect/Black Iron ridgeline, a couple of Dynamo variations we did, which were exactly my cup of tea - it chokes into a funky little couloir, and Jackpot off of Bald Mountain, which is a hike. For those readers looking at a map, my brother and I are not extreme. Telluride's got some extreme terrain, although I don't know if they open any of it, but the stuff that's marked as extreme isn't, at least in the snow conditions they had when we were there. The first time we did Dynamo and got to the choke, there were caution signs all around its mouth. Of course, Zach and I stopped to scout it and make sure we weren't about to ski over exposed rocks and that we could land whatever air or straightline might be required. While there were some rocks, they would only be an issue for someone dropping in via the shoulder, and there was no air or straightline. Evidently Telluride and Whistler use the same people to sign their terrain.

Telluride is notable for having very light, fluffy powder and for its moguls. Much of Telluride's advanced and expert terrain consists of big, open pistes that are never groomed. They also don't get as much annual snowfall as Tahoe. Telluride claims a little over 300" on their web site, while Sugarbowl claims 500." Which means that while Sierra snow has an incredible memory for moguls, Telluride's sit around for longer and weren't covered under a whole lot of fresh when we were there. They are, however, very even. I saw some amazing mogul skiers there, including a guy on what I think were last year's Mantras. They're the model with the red topsheet, and if I'm identifying them correctly, 2mm narrower than mine but just as stiff. The point is that the guy looked like he was on mogul skis based on how well he skied them.

Sooner or later I'll revisit Telluride, I'm sure, and hopefully the conditions will be right to hike a lot more of the terrain off of Prospect Bowl. I'd also like to have Dukes on my skis when that happens. While much of the hiking Zach and I did wasn't skinnable, at least as I understanding skinning, some of it was. I've also talked to a lot of people on Dukes on the lift, and they say that they improve edging performance on their skis too. Some even buy them for that purpose, with no hiking or skinning in mind.

Tahoe late-winter thaw - Ski days 31-32

I got back not too long ago from yet another ski trip. The two Tahoe days were an add-on to a trip to California for my cousin's Bar Mitzvah. It had been warm for about a week since the previous snow, so the mountain was well into its freeze/thaw cycle. Since the snow pack is so deep, Sugar Bowl is grooming East Face more regularly, which rocks - East Face is usually a long field of big, icy, uneven moguls - I can, and do, do it, but it's not a whole lot of fun and the exposed shrubs and tree tips make me worry about finding rocks. As a groomed run, it's the longest steep groomer on the mountain, and one of about two that are long enough and have a firm enough surface to reach the top speed for my Mantras and then stay there. Sooner or later I'll get to try my GS skis on it when it's in good shape, and I'm sure that's going to be ridiculous.

Our first day was Sunday. Lots of piste skiing in the morning. In the early afternoon, the mountain looked like it might have softened, so Action Mom and I did some off-piste skiing. It turned out not to be quite warm enough for corn snow, but there was one off-piste route on Mt. Lincoln that had held good snow since the last storm. It was pretty packed, but had never thawed enough to refreeze hard. I'm not saying which route because I pretend people read this and it would defeat the purpose of knowing where the stashes are.

Monday ended up being a better ski day. It got to be much warmer around 11am, so all the lines with sun exposure softened up pretty well. We visited the near gully run in Strawberry Fields, something I don't typically do, and it was quite good. The face run was in pretty good shape too. Usually if I'm in the Strawberry Fields area, I hike Crow's Peak and then do one of the far gullies, so I'm not really in the mindset of hitting one of the near runs if I'm in that area. Our timing was a little off for runs on Disney Nose, which is almost directly north-facing and sometimes doesn't ever soften, but has the exposure to get wind-effected. When the light finally moved on too much and the off-piste runs hardened up again, I'd done enough of my kind of skiing to call it a day, rather than having to lap groomers until the lifts closed as I'd done the day before.

A footnote to that trip is that I've decided I'm happy with a two-ski quiver for most of the season. As my readers know, I broke my Public Enemies in January. When I got the Mantras, my thought was that they were going to be for minimally tracked conditions - powder, crust and wind-effect. The circumstances of my breaking the Enemies were a combination of me choosing to ski a steep, treed piste with tracked crust, which I shouldn't have, and the Enemies not being a burly enough ski to keep in control once I was there. I was concerned that the Mantras might be too stiff, fat and unwieldy for skiing in tracked-out off-piste terrain, which is where you'll find me if it's even marginally skiable and the fresh snow is gone. They're definitely a little slower going through bumps and moguls than the Enemies, but I love it that they're stiff and torsionally rigid enough to stop on a dime on almost any surface I might find myself on, including what I bought them for. I also found that on the two ski days in Tahoe, I only did a handful of runs that I thought I might have enjoyed more on the Enemies, but I did many where the Mantras' greater stiffness and float were big assets and made the descents much safer and more fun. While I initially thought that if K2 sent me a new set I'd mount them and have a three-ski quiver, the Skis of Doom have been fully capable of doing everything in what I'd anticipated to be the PEs' niche. I was pleasantly surprised. K2 did send me a new pair of Enemies, but there's so much overlap between what the Mantras do and what I wanted from the Enemies that I'm trying to sell.