I’m speechless. After watching McConkey You have one life. Live it. the new film from Matchstick Productions that digs into the life and death of snowsport megastar Shane McConkey, I tried to put together my feelings into a tidy blog post about passions, innovation, adventure, life, and risk. But my feelings wouldn’t cooperate. I am torn, inspired, blown away, and don't really know how to begin.
The world’s most influential skier.
Those are some of the words his friends and the media used to describe Shane, and with innovations like the rockered ski to his credit, and a background going from pizza delivery boy to ski superstar, those words ring true. But there’s more to it than that.
Shane was one of those human beings that experienced the cultural and technological equivalent of the rogue wave that happens in storms at sea when one wave builds on top of another to create a single wave that is massively out of proportion to the rest of the swell.
Shane’s wave was so enormous (he was the first North American athlete sponsored by Red Bull) in part because his father, Jim McConkey, was part of a cultural and technological wave that launched what became known as Heli-Skiing half a century ago. McConkey begins with footage of Jim skiing in the Bugaboos and Cariboos in the 60s where he helped Hans Gmoser develop what became CMH Heli-Skiing, a recreation icon that today parters with Shane's sponsors Red Bull and K2 to help everyday skiers and superstars alike savor the ultimate skiing experience.
The movie follows the highlights of Shane’s life, benefitting from an incredible collection of home video and GoPro style footage from Shane’s own camera, shot decades before the GoPro was invented. Born in Vancouver, Canada, Shane started skiing when he was 23 months old, and he began with a fairly predictable trajectory of a ski icon, from joining the local ski team at 7 years old to attending high school at the Prestigious Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont where Olympic racers are made, to a ski scholarship at CU Boulder in Colorado. When Shane didn’t make the cut for the US Ski Team because he was too small, he was shattered and his predictable trajectory was interrupted.
He jumped on the wave left by the likes of Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt who’d shown a new generation of brilliant skiers that skiing wasn’t just about racing. He left ski racing with one last memorable slalom run (also caught on film) where he bashes his last gates in his birthday suit. Yup. Buck naked.
You’ll have to watch the film to get the whole story, but the bottom line is that Shane didn’t just raise the bar a little; Shane raised the bar by an order of magnitude. He didn’t just ski off the biggest cliffs, he hucked backflips of the biggest cliffs. Shane was a staple of cutting-edge ski films for two decades, and McConkey highlights many of his best moments (and some of his worst) but it wasn’t the mind-blowing lines he chose, or the committing tricks he pulled in the midst of them that really left me speechless.
It was the fact that Shane always came across as a regular guy. A regular guy who just liked to see how big he could go if he did everything right. And big he went. He didn’t give a whit about the latest snow-gangster fashion or what his fellow skiers did. He just went out and figured out how to make something outrageous into something that was for him normal and repeatable. In 1996 he founded the IFSA, International Free Skier’s Association (also known as I F&$#!$g Ski Awesome) helping boost the prestige and mainstream appeal of creative free skiing.
He discovered BASE jumping in the early years of the sport, and mastered it, logging close to a thousand jumps all over the world, with and without skis and was a veteran of BASE jumping's thrill and tragedy. He was there when a woman’s chute didn’t open properly on a demonstration jump off of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Shane stood next to her husband, watching his face as it happened. (Perhaps one of the reasons the film hit me so hard is that I was sleeping on El Capitan that morning, and awoke to the sound of her hitting the ground - a sound I'd buried in my memory for years until they talked about that sound in the film.)
Shane didn’t just try ski BASE, he mastered ski BASE, which allowed him to ski lines that ended on massive cliffs and did it so well that it seemed almost normal – at least for him – and did it successfully for years. We all know this was what cost him his life in the end, but one of the things that I hadn’t realized was that it wasn’t ski BASE that got him, it was ski BASE with a wingsuit, which added to the complications and risk. As usual, Shane was raising his own bar.
Perhaps the details of his final jump don’t really matter. What matters is that “everyman’s superman” did a lot more than be a superman – he helped the rest of us feel like superheroes. When I’m slashing down a face of steep powder, feeling like a hero instead of the hack skier I am, it is thanks to Shane McConkey who walked away from his ski racing pedigree and even his extreme skiing peers to create both technology and a mental approach to skiing that makes many thousands of everyday skiers all over the world feel like superheroes.
McConkey does about the best possible job of doing the impossible: capturing the beauty, the tragedy, and the brilliance of Shane McConkey’s life in under 2 hours. From intimate interviews with his loved ones, to footage of his journal where he drew pictures of the first rockered skis and mused on the potential of ski BASE, the experienced team at Matchstick Productions deserve all the accolades they will certainly get. Order it here.
McConkey premiered in London on October 1st, and the story of the premier was captured by Pure Powder. I’m sure the tears and beers flowed freely.
Photo of Jim McConkey jumping a plane in 1962, during the first explorations into the Columbia Mountains in what is now CMH Cariboos Heli-Ski terrain, with CMH Heli-Skiing founder Hans Gmoser. Courtesy CMH Archives.
Last week I had a chat with Joel Gratz, the legendary meteorologist who has turned the ski conditions forecasting world on its head with his snow-rider-centric websites, Colorado Powder Forecast and Open Snow. We were at the Denver showing of Take Flight, the latest visual treat from CMH Heli-Skiing where he shared some interesting (and exciting for powder hounds) trends in Colorado precipitation after the record-breaking Colorado floods.
Joel told me he’d been looking at historical weather data from the Mica Dam, just up the road from the CMH Monashees lodge and an area known for extraordinarily deep snow (and steep tree skiing) but that his results weren’t quite ready for prime time. Since then he dialed it in and this week he sent me a summary of his results.
To begin with, this year the water in the central Pacific is about average temperature, creating what Joel calls La Nada, as opposed to El Niño (warmer than average waters in the central Pacific) or La Niña (cooler than average waters in the central Pacific).
Joel found the following trends in snowfall at the Mica Dam:
- During El Niño years, snowfall is 92% of average, and is twice as likely to have a below normal snow year than a normal year or an above average year.
- During La Niña, snowfall is 111% of average, with almost no “normal” years and is twice as likely to have an above average year than a below average year.
- During La Nada (which we have this year) snow is 100% of average, with equal chances of having an above average or a below average year.
By crushing more of the Mica Dam data into statistics, Joel found a few more interesting things:
- In December, it snows an average of 61% of the days, with 13% of the days having at least 15cm (6 inches) and 3% having at least 30cm (12 inches).
- In January, it snows an average of 56% of the days, with the same percentage of 15cm and 30cm days as December.
- In February, it snows and average of 44% of the days, with 7% of the days getting 15cm and 1% getting at least 30cm.
Joel noted that Mica Dam is at the lowest altitude of any Heli-Skiing pickups and explained that “Even though it's at a low elevation, the snowfall trends should be similar to higher elevations, but the amounts at the dam are far lower.”
In his research, Joel came up with a couple of other interesting tidbits:
First, he learned that there is no trend in snowfall over the past 30 years, but that the late 60s and early 70s had average snowfall that was about 25% more than the snowfall during the past 30 years. This supports the observations made by some of the old-timers that I interviewed while writing Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles CMH and the invention of Heli-Skiing, who said that in the early years it snowed more. They’ll be happy to learn that it wasn’t just the passing of the years that made the snow seem deeper – it really was deeper.
Second, and perhaps most fascinating to CMH and Revelstoke area skiers and snowboarders, is that about 75% of the maximum base (which occurs from February 1 to March 1) is accumulated by December 31. This may come as no surprise to fans of the cold smoke of early season Heli-Skiing, but it is a fascinating statistic considering how much it snows in the Columbia Mountains from January through April. Perhaps the part we forget to consider is that right now the snow is already accumulating in the Columbias…
If anyone knows when to plan a ski trip, it’s Joel Gratz himself, and he’s planning a trip to the tree skiing nirvana of CMH Monashees this winter from December 28 to January 2 where he will share some secrets of the art of forecasting powder – as well as schralp a bunch of the white stuff. Want to join him? Contact Brad Nichols, CMH Rep at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (303) 378-9106.
Photo of early season snow in the Columbias by Dani Lowenstein.
One of the great things about CMH Heli-Skiing is that you don't have to bring much with you - CMH takes care of just about everything and the helicopter is never too far away. However, there are a few things that make a day of deep powder nirvana just that much sweeter. I'd suggest never leaving the Lodge without these 5 things in your pocket:
- Sunscreen: Sometimes even the snowiest mornings lead to sunny afternoons, and with the transportation capability of the helicopter it is easy to start at the Lodge, surrounded by thick clouds, thinking sunscreen will not be necessary - and then spend most of the day in the sun on the other side of the range. A small tube of SPF 30 or higher is recommended as well as lip protection. If you don’t have any, your guide or another guest will help you out, but it’s better to have you own.
- Goggle wipe: To protect the anti-fog characteristics and clarity of your goggle and glasses lenses, use the cloth or soft case that came with them to wipe them clean. If they’re not badly smudged, or you are near the bottom of a run and can see well enough to ski or ride safely, don’t wipe them at all and instead use the helicopter heater vents (ask a guide or veteran CMH Heli-Ski guest where they are on the machine) and hold the goggles over the vent during one of the day’s many heli lifts.
- Sunglasses or goggles: If you start the day in goggles, put your glasses in your pocket. If you start the day in glasses, put your goggles in your pocket. A soft case is nice to protect them from rubbing (and faceplants). Not only will the extra eyewear make your day nicer when the weather changes, but if you fill your goggles with snow in a wipeout, you can often save some time (and prevent the group from waiting for you while you struggle to clean your goggles in a snowstorm) by just putting on your glasses for the rest of the run and save the goggle drying project for the helicopter.
- Thin gloves: If you end up fiddling with your snowboard binding, your GoPro, or simply eating lunch on a cold day, having a pair of thin gloves can save you a painful case of cold hands. Also, if you accidentally let a glove get away form you on a windy ridge (and you wisely decide not to chase it over the cornice) you’ll have another pair to wear. Your guide will have an extra pair in his or her pack, but you may need to ski a little ways before he or she can get them to you.
- Camera: Although I’m a photographer by trade, I have the utmost respect for people who don’t want a camera to intrude upon their vacation. “I just want to have fun and not worry about pictures” is a perfectly admirable philosophy. The only problem with this approach is when the mountains deliver an exceptional moment – and there are many exceptional moments in the mountains where CMH operates. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard heli-skiers say, “Oh! I wish I had my camera!” Get a tiny point-and-shoot and stick it in your pocket. It won’t hinder your day and when the clouds part with the sun shining through a mist of rainbow-coloured ice crystals and the Canadian Rockies fading into the distance, you’ll have a way to capture the moment. Don’t carry your phone if you can help it. Phones are big, fragile and easy to drop, there is no cell coverage out there, and even inexpensive tiny cameras work really well.
Photo of skis and rotors turning simultaneously in CMH Adamants by Topher Donahue.
Starting this winter, Western Canada has a weather forecasting website designed specifically for skiers and snowboarders. It is called ShredFX, and it delivers snow and weather forecasts for the region’s ski areas – forecasts that take into consideration the unique weather patterns of individual ski areas and the idiosyncrasies of the mountains themselves.
We can now make a call as to where to ride if we’re looking for pow with just a quick glance at ShredFX. Even the colour legend suggests it was built from the ground up with powder hounds in mind:
- Lots of Rain
- Lots of Rain and Snow Mixed
- Some Snow
- Oodles of Snow
- Champagne (I don’t think they’re talking about the bubbly drink.)
- Oodles of Champagne
A partial screenshot from ShredFX looks something like this:
Looking more closely, ShredFX gives us forecasted precipitation amounts for each of 27 different ski resorts over the next four days. Why only four days? Because mountain weather is so difficult to predict that four days is about as far in the future as a mountain weather can be forecasted. For that matter, 2 days is about as far ahead as we can expect highly accurate mountain forecasts.
Yup, I think ShredFX was designed by people who play in the snow. Indeed, it is a service provided by the Mountain Weather Services, the same resource that provides avalanche professionals (including CMH Heli-Skiing), heli and cat skiing guides, and the movie industry with subscription-based weather forecasts designed for professional users.
With a tagline of “only the gods know better” ShredFX must be pretty sure they are providing an entirely new forecasting product, and I'd agree. A CMH Ski Guide once told me that the Mountain Weather Services forecasts were the first forecasts to have any real usefulness for ski guides in Canada – and up until now these pinpoint mountain forecasts were the exclusive domain of snow professionals.
The ShredFX forecasts are broken down the 3 main regions of western Canada - the Coast, Interior, and the Rockies. Along with the precipitation forecasts are two weather maps: a satellite view of precipitation and an atmospheric pressure map.
While the mountain weather forecasting has gotten better every year, until very recently there has been little done specifically for skiers and snowboarders aside from truly excellent avalanche forecasting services - and avalanche forecasting has a fundamentally different mission than powder forecasting. A few years ago, Joel Gratz, a meteorologist from Colorado started the Colorado Powder Forecast, combining the automated weather forecasts with location-specific climate and terrain knowledge as well as powder-centric weather pattern modeling. The snow riding community was ravenous for such a resource, and Gratz went national, changing the name to Open Snow which now has over 15 million monthly hits.
The significance of sites like ShredFX and Open Snow is enormous. What it means is that the information that was once only available to professional groups with paid subscriptions - and vast experience in intrepreting weather data - is now being made available for free to the public.
It means that recreational users of the backcountry now have one more tool in their toolbag for making decisions, but as with other decision-making tools, we can use them to make good decisions as well as bad decisions. It is for this reason that the Mountin Weather Services backcountry forecasts remain the domain of professionals and are not made public by ShredFX. There is a lot of wisdom in their explanation of why they don’t publish backcountry forecasts:
“The ShredFX, like all public and freely available forecasts, is not suited for applications where adverse weather can get you into trouble. MWS does not encourage backcountry winter travel without thorough and detailed knowledge of avalanche and weather conditions that go well beyond the information contained in the ShredFX. Professional guides certified by organizations like the ACMG, IFMGA and CAA have the knowledge to interpret weather information on a professional level and often retain services by professional meteorologists (like MWS) to keep you safe in the backcountry. Your best bet is to stick with those professionals or a ski resort.”
Here’s another way to put it: Knowing which ski area is likely to get the most snow is great for maxing out the fun, but incorrectly interpreting a forecast calling for oodles of fresh snow in one valley in the backcountry can be dangerous and not fun at all.
The bottom line is that ShredFX is obviously designed as a resource for snow riders looking to have fun. We now have more information at our fingertips that will help us enjoy the wonders of winter to the fullest. Thank you ShredFX!
Ice crystal photo by Topher Donahue.
Colorado is ready to ski!
Last night, CMH rocked Denver, Colorado. (Or maybe it was the other way around.) In either case, I headed to CMH Heli-Skiing’s Take Flight show in Denver last night hardly thinking about skiing, and today that’s all I can think about.
Maybe it was Open Snow meteorologist Joel Gratz’s presentation on long range snowfall predictions (which he prefaced by saying that long range snowfall predictions are terrible). But he dug into old records and found that after Boulder’s five wettest Septembers, the winter that followed was above average or significantly above average for Colorado Snowfall! Even Joel was shocked at the correlation, and with Boulder just finishing its wettest September on record, Colorado skiers might want to get some fatter skis!
Perhaps my skiphoria this morning is because of Chris Davenport’s inspiring presentation showing him going deep at CMH Valemount last winter and raving about just how darn much fun it is to ski – any kind of skiing.
Both Chris and Joel are hosting trips to CMH this winter – although after last night I don’t know if there are any spaces left. Give CMH reservations a call ASAP at 1 (800) 661-0252 to snag the last spaces with these two powder legends in Canada for a Heli-Ski trip.
It could have been being surrounded by 300 of Colorado’s most inspired skiers and snowboarders, from muscular 20 year olds with their baseball caps on sideways, to fit 60 year olds in leather.
Then there was the full length Take Flight movie, which is riveting. The sequences of powder skiing and snowboarding are good enough that you can almost feel the snow crystals bouncing off your goggles; some of the best snow texture and snow experience footage I’ve ever seen. I think the faces on the crowd in this photo pretty much agree:
Or it was the irrepressible stoke of the guy who won a pair of powder skis from Icelantic in the free gear drawing.
Then there’s the cold temperatures and fresh snow falling on the peaks this morning.
Whatever the reason, I can’t stop thinking about skiing today, and my suspicions are that it’s a combination of all of the above.
Thanks CMH, Joel and Chris for the incredible show in Denver last night. Thanks to the crowd for the psyche and the generous donations to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Only Sasquatch seemed grumpy, but maybe that's because he didn't win the skis.
Two wrap it up, we threw down on the rooftop of Battery 621 under the cooling Colorado skies that prefaced today's early winter storm.
Wanna get stoked and Take Flight with CMH Heli-Skiing? This is just the beginning…
Join us in Washington DC at the US Navy Memorial on October 9 (RSVP here), Seattle, WA on November 5, or New York, NY on November 21.
Photos by Topher Donahue and Mike Arzt
We're ready. Are you? That's right. The CMH Heli-Skiing season starts in 70 days and we are all gazing longingly at skis and boards in the garage, debating new ski pants, scoping out new touring gear. At the CMH lodges there are new runs being developed, walls getting repainted and storerooms getting stocked as we gear up for another great season of skiing and socializing with new and old friends.
This time of year also means we're hitting the road to get you stoked for the season. Our team leaves tomorrow for our first event of the fall season in Denver, CO. Here's where you can find us this fall, with more cities and dates to be announced:
Denver, CO September 26 Battery 621 RSVP Here
Washington, DC October 9 US Navy Memorial RSVP Here
Seattle, WA November 5 evo, in partnership with K2 RSVP TBA
New York, NY November 21 W Hotel, in partnership with Paragon Sports RSVP TBA
We hope to see you out there, and here's a little glimpse at the fun and excitement we'll be sharing along the way!
To add your name to the invite list for an event in your city, subscribe to our emails here.
“The helicopter permitted the age-old emptiness of the wilderness to remain intact, free from the commercial hardware and gingerbread that a network of lifts would have imposed upon it.”
-Hans Gmoser, from Lynn Grillmair’s Bugaboos cookbook, Gourmet in Paradise
While we’re extremely proud to be the company that invented Heli-Skiing nearly 50 years ago, we realize the concept was obvious, and that if we hadn’t been the first, someone else would have done it. Let's see - use a helicopter to get to the top of the mountain, then ride down in blower powder - no brainer.
The execution however, turned out to be a bit more complicated, and that’s where being the oldest company in Heli-Skiing has its advantages. The helicopter technology and our understanding of mountain safety developed in parallel, as well as our relationship with our sister company, Alpine Helicopters.
Today, helicopter technology for Heli-Skiing is on a happy plateau. The machines are extremely reliable and their power and payload are perfectly suited for mountain flying at the moderate altitudes of CMH Heli-Skiing. But it wasn’t always that way. Here’s the evolution of the heli-ski machine in image:
Bell 47 G3B-1: The first Heli-Ski helicopter. Flown by Jim Davies, the original Heli-Ski pilot, the B-1 held two passengers, was underpowered, and hard to start, but it got Heli-Skiing off the ground:
Alouette II: Although slightly bigger and more powerful than the B-1, the Alouette II didn’t last long in Heli-Ski service before larger helicopters became available:
Alouette III: The Alouette III was well-tested in the Alps as a rescue and service helicopter, and with a 6-passenger payload it allowed a full group of skiers to be transported to the top in just two flights. Up until this point, skiers carried their skis over their shoulders like you see in resorts. Then someone shoved their skis through the rotors of an Alouette III, shutting down the “ski lift” until repairs could be made. That’s why Heli-Skiers now carry their skis below waist level:
Bell 204: One day the Alouette III was in the shop for maintenance, and a Bell 204 was brought out as a temporary replacement. Jim Davies remembers that when he flew the 204 the performance was so superior to the Alouette III that he told the helicopter company, “You’ll have to leave that (Bell 204) right here.”:
Bell 212: In 1970, just in time for the opening of CMH Cariboos, the Bell 212 entered the picture. Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH, called the twin engine machine the single biggest factor in the success of Heli-Skiing. “It was the helicopter capacity. Once we had the 212 we had a business that could really work." Here's to the Bell 212:
Bell 407: The 407 is the race car of Heli-Ski helicopters. It was certified by Transport Canada in 1996 and has become a staple of small-group heli-skiing, holding 5 guests, the guide and the pilot:
Bell 206: The 206, also called the Long Ranger, is our support machine. With excellent fuel efficiency, we use the 206 alongside the 212 to make our Heli-Ski program more economical during those flights (such as when a tired skier needs to return to the lodge) when the payload of the 212 is not necessary:
Snowboarders have all the advantage on this one. Since they only have one tool to deal with – instead of four – it’s a lot easier to keep the hands warm. But regardless of how many boards you ride, these 10 suggestions will help you enjoy the coldest winter days.
- Consider mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are warmer and you don’t really need the added dexterity of gloves unless you’re shooting photos.
- Don’t hold onto your board for too long with either hand while walking to the lift or boot packing for some freshies. The cold board and the pressure on your hands both contribute to your hands losing heat.
- Don’t let snow get inside your gloves. It takes just a moment of inattention to get a pile of snow inside your gloves – and all night to dry them out before they’ll be warm again.
- Make sure you can put your board on without taking your gloves off. Practice everything with your gloves on, even when it’s warm, so that when it’s cold you already know what to do.
- Practice keeping your hands warm from the moment you put down the coffee cup. When you’re cleaning the snow off your car, getting your gear out of the shed, and even driving the car before the heater gets going – keep your fingers warm! Use a beater pair of gloves and keep your best ones dry for riding, but protect your fingers long before you get on the hill. You can quite often track your cold fingers back to a hurried mistake in the morning before you even got to the first run.
- Practice skiing without wrist straps. The straps restrict blood flow to your hands. Savvy backcountry skiers and Heli-Skiers don’t use them anyway because of the risk of catching a tree and injuring a shoulder, or even worse, in case of an avalanche or falling in a tree well your wrist straps will pin your arms down. (In fact, for safety reasons, CMH Heli-Skiing removes all wrist straps from their fleet of poles, and strongly suggests guests who bring their own not to use straps.)
- Let go of your poles every chance you get. Wrapping your fingers around your pole handles both limits the circulation to your fingers and conducts cold from the pole into your hands. When you’re standing in the lift line, waiting on the slope for your friend, or even sitting on the lift, position your poles so you can let go of them (tucking them under a leg on the lift works well) and ball your hands into a fist inside your gloves.
- Practice everything you do without taking your gloves off. Putting on your goggles, cleaning the ice off your bindings and boots, adjusting your buckles, putting things in your pockets, turning on your GoPro and even lighting a smoke (if you smoke you’re going to get cold hands even easier since nicotine is a vasoconstrictor.)
- Dry your gloves every chance you get. Be it in the helicopter, snowcat, gondola or in the lodge. Even if they’re still dry on the inside, go through the motions of drying them out. Experienced Heli-Skiers will carry a pair of thin liner gloves to wear during lunch, and stick their ski gloves inside their jacket while eating and drinking. Getting hot tea or soup on (or in) your gloves feels good at first – but later, not so much.
- Most importantly, don’t let you hands get cold in the first place. Once they’re cold, the most expensive gloves in the world will have a hard time making your hands warm again. Practice keeping your hands warm all the time. Once it becomes second nature to move your fingers to improve circulation, keep them dry, keep your jacket sealed over your gloves, and be vigilant to your hands at all times, you’ll be amazed how you can keep your hands warm even in the coldest conditions.
Photos of warm hands and big smiles in the mega-deep powder of CMH Heli-Skiing at CMH Gothics
and CMH Galena
by Topher Donahue.
It was such a blow out last year, that we’re doing it again!
On September 26, 2013 at 7:00 PM, CMH Heli-Skiing and the Colorado ski community will descend on Battery 621 in Denver for the Colorado WINTER KICK-OFF!
Besides all you Front Range powder hounds to fuel the stoke, a few famous cold smoke personalities will be there to lead the charge. CMH Ski Guides will be hanging out in the CMH Guide Zone, answering questions (and generally making us all wish we lived in Revelstoke).
Guest speakers include:
The always informative and entertaining Joel Gratz. Joel is the Colorado meteorologist who seems to have cracked the code to reveal weather forecasts that really work for snow riders. Last I heard he was trying to figure out what La Nada (when there is no La Niña or El Niño) means for both Colorado and British Columbia snowfall.
The legend himself - Chris Davenport. Chris really needs no introduction to most of us, but in case you’ve been living in the Sahara for the last 15 years, Chris is a two-time world champion who also skied all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains in 12 months. Skiing one of them is a worthy achievement, but a little known fact of Chris’ blitz of the 14ers is that he didn’t just ski them all, he also did several first descents in the process and often chose more difficult lines than the traditional ski routes off the peaks.
Besides just getting fired up for winter, winning door prizes, and a chance to sign up for a heli-trip with Chris Davenport, we will also get a chance to view the new CMH visual treat, Take Flight.
A donation of $5, with proceeds going to the CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) will be accepted at the door.
621 Kalamath Street
Denver, Colorado 80204
Thursday, September 26, 2013
7:00 PM - 9:30 PM
Here’s the official Online registration for this event. RSVP by Monday, September 23. See you there!
Everyone has a strategy for getting the most out of a powder day at a ski resort. Here are 10 time-tested tactics, ranging from the aggro to the zen:
1. First Chair: It takes a special kind of skier to get to the lift half an hour or more before the lifts open, and stand there stomping like an excited race horse trying to stay warm, in order to be the first skier on the lift. While there is immense prestige with being on the first lift, it has little bearing on how many freshies you’re going to get – to have the most fun on a powder day you need to study the following strategies no matter what chair you’re on.
#2. Local discount: Hooking up with a local is by far the best way to harvest the most pow. They know which runs tend to get skied first, where the secret lines are hiding, and how to beat the crowds. If you don’t know a local, listen carefully in the lift line. The locals are usually either talking loudly about their run selection strategy, or not saying anything at all. Then follow the one who’s not saying anything – they probably know best.
#3. Sloppy seconds: One of the best-kept secrets of the ski area powder day is that sloppy seconds are some of the best turns on the mountain. I’m not talking about skiing across somebody’s tracks; I’m talking about that point when the deep piles have been knocked down, creating a consistent surface that rides like carving the surface of a lemon meringue pie. Sure, the first lap or two in truly untouched snow is great, but after that, I’d rather have sloppy seconds on a sweet line than root around the flats for another turn or two in the fresh.
#4. All too obvious: If you can’t hook with a local, or find one to follow (or can’t keep up with the local you tried to follow), don’t ski the obvious runs. Everyone else will be there too. Instead, look for those obscure lines that require a traverse to reach, runs where you have to take your skis off and boot pack to reach, those black diamond runs hidden in the middle of mostly blue terrain. Watch for places where a number of tracks traverse off the side of the main runs – those tracks are probably from locals gettin’ the goods (Remember, though, you may get more than you bargained for by following those tracks!).
#5. Tree team: There’s always that guy or girl who jumps into the thickest trees on the very first run while even the main open runs are still untracked. To each their own, I suppose, but most of the tree team will hit the trees after the main lines are skied out. Poking around in the trees is a great way to find freshies long after the rest of the ski area is fully hammered, but it’s also a way to get suckered into lousy fall lines and slots where less skilled skiers and snowboarders have side-slipped through, removing the fluff. Explore the trees on a bluebird day so you know where to find the goods when the flakes are flying.
#6. Hey diddle diddle, straight down the middle: With the invention of the fat ski, anyone who’s an intermediate level skier can ride powder. This is great, but it means there are a lot more powder hounds on the hill than there used to be. I almost don’t want to tell you this one, since it makes me giggle every time I score on this, but quite often everyone thinks the middle of runs have already been skied, so they ski the edges, leaving large swaths of untouched snow right down the middle.
#7. IBOB - In Bounds Out of Bounds: While you may find some fresh snow here, this method will get you busted. Most ski areas have roped off areas within the ski area boundaries. On powder days, there are always a few people who decide it is worth getting their passes taken, or getting injured, so they duck the rope. Think about it: losing your lift ticket or season pass over a single run is more expensive than Heli-Skiing.
#8. Sidecountry/Slackcountry: Progressive ski areas with good backcountry terrain accessible nearby have installed gates where riders can leave the ski area legally. This is a fantastic evolution of our sport, but it also means skiers who leave the area need to realize they are entering the wilderness. The ski patrol does not usually do avalanche control or patrol outside the ski area (unless the slopes threaten the resort or roads) so you’re on your own. Avalanche and terrain assessment are essential, and remember that just having avalanche rescue gear does not mean you are safe.
#9. Patrol Beers: The whole mountain doesn’t always open immediately after a dump, but instead runs open in stages as the ski patrol determines it is safe to do so. In areas with the most rowdy terrain, the day after the powder day often results in the best skiing when the whole mountain is finally opened. It might be a good investment to take a six-pack to the patrol office, tell them you're new to the area, and ask nicely how they tend to open terrain after a storm. This can be more effective than jonesing in line for the first chair only to miss the main event when they open the backside hours later.
#10. Last Chair Larsen: This is the ultimate zen approach to the powder day. Named for a legendary ski bum, Last Chair Larsen would show up on a powder day for his first run – and catch the last chair; not just once but nearly every time it snowed. While many dozens of riders vie for the first chair, Last Chair Larsen was in a league of his own. At first, I thought he was missing the whole point of the powder day, but he seemed to be having at least as much fun as anyone else on the mountain – maybe it was those of us stressing out for fresh tracks who were missing the point…
PS. Go Heli-Skiing: If powder is your thing, take a lesson from Last Chair Larsen. Mellow out at the ski area and have fun no matter what time you arrive - then do whatever it takes to go Heli-Skiing. In an average week of Heli-Skiing with CMH you’ll rip more powder than a decade at a ski resort – and even though Heli-Skiing is expensive, from a dollar-per-powder-turn perspective it is the best deal going.
Any of you powder gurus have any other tactics you'd like to share? C'mon, we'd never use your own tactics to poach your line...
Photos of Man versus Machine at Alpental, Washington, and Man loving Machine at CMH Galena by Topher Donahue.