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Argentina’s Ski Season Off to a Volcanic Start


The headlines make it sound pretty grim:
“Chile volcano ruins Argentina ski season”

A National Geographic photo collection shows the apocalyptic scenes following the June 5 eruption of the Puyehe volcano.

At Cerro Bayo, a ski area near Bariloche, a meter of ash was reported - ash skiing anyone? 

The photos make it look pretty hopeless - grey, ash covered streets where pristine winter whiteness should be.  Some ski areas have delayed opening indefinitely.  

This YouTube clip shows a woman walking out of a café in Bariloche, one of the most famous ski areas in the southern hemisphere, into a blizzard of ash.  She says: “I thought it was snow, but it appears to be some kind of sand storm.  It’s four in the afternoon and it’s pretty much pitch black.”

The Epicski blogs hold depressing questions like: “Anybody have news on how much ash is being dumped on Las Lenas or Bariloche?  I fear this season could be a bust. :(  Can you ski Vancouver in July or August?“

Others are more optimistic, with skiers posting hopeful comments about the cloud-seeding effects of ash in the atmosphere and anecdotal evidence of big ski seasons following big volcanic eruptions – but nobody knows.

south america-volcano-hiking

However, in this era of real-time on-location reporting from anyone with a camera and an internet connection, things are often worst than they appear.  Las Leñas web cams show a perfectly white ski area.  The slopes look a little bony in early season, but there is no sign of ash.  The Cerro Catedral webcam, trained on the upper slopes of the resort above Bariloche, one of the worst ash hit areas, shows slopes that are covered with white goodness, albeit not enough to ski on just yet.

It is perhaps a stroke of luck for the Argentine ski industry that they have not yet received much snowfall this season so the ash fell on dry ground in many places rather than on the snow.  Had the volcano erupted six weeks later, after the snowpack was in place, the ski season might have been truly ruined.  My best guess is that new snow will fall over the ash and within a few big storms even the worst hit ski areas should be up and running.

Any CMH heliskiers on a ski trip in South America who can share more firsthand information?

10 Heliski Jokes for Next Season's Pickups


While heliskiing, there are inevitably a few delays; at the pickup, when someone is looking for a lost ski, while the helicopter that has gone for fuel, or waiting for a fog bank to pass so the helicopter can fly again.  To pass the time, telling jokes has become a big part of the heliski culture. 

smiling helicopter jokes

To give you committed Heliski Blog readers an edge-up on the other heliskiers next season, here are 10 ski and snowboard jokes for next season that might even make the helicopter smile:

On the first day of her vacation, a woman fell and broke her leg. As the doctor examined her, she moaned, "Why couldn't this have happened on my last day of skiing?" He looked up. "This IS your last day of skiing."

From the Sports Joke Cafe:

A woman and her husband decided to go on a skiing trip one weekend. They rode the ski lift to the top of the mountain, and were preparing to go down. The woman suddenly announced that she needed to use the restroom, and NOW. Her husband told her that since the coast was clear, she could just hide behind a tree and go. Well, the woman had her pants down around her ankles when she suddenly began going down the mountain. She hit a tree on the way down and broke her leg and her arm and had several other bumps and bruises. When she awoke at the hospital, she was surprised to see another man who was dressed in a skiing outfit and also looked as if he had been in a skiing accident. The woman was very curious about this man, so she asked him what happen. You'll never believe it, he told her. I was just skiing down the mountain, and a woman went by with her pants around her ankles, and I crashed into a bush.

Q: What's the difference between a government bond and a ski bum?
 A: government bond will eventually mature and make money.

From Amenta:

Q: A car has five snowboarders in the back seat; what do you call the driver? A: Sheriff

From Epicski:

Q: How do you become a millionaire as a professional skier?
  A: Start out a billionaire.

From Ski My Best:

Q: Why are most snowboard jokes one-liners?
  A: So the skiers can understand them!

Q: What do you say to a ski instructor in a three piece suit?  A: "Will the defendant please rise...."! 

Q: On a date, what does a ski instructor say after the first hour? A: "That's enough talk about me; now let's talk about skiing."

This skier walks into a bar at the ski area and says "Hey, you guys wanna hear a snowboarder joke?"
The bartender says, "Well, I'm a snowboarder, the guy on your left is a snowboarder, same with the guy on your right, and a couple of folks behind you as well!" 
So the skier says "Ok, I'll tell it a little more slowly then."

Q: How do you know there’s a Mountain Guide at the bar?  A: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

Anyone out there have another one to add to the list of heliski jokes?

The 7-Part Anatomy of Powder Skiing Nirvana


There are few people in the world who can truly break down the complex world of deep powder skiing into manageable concepts.  One of those is Roko Koell, the mind behind the CMH Powder Intro program, an Austrian Level 4 Ski Instructor, and former coach of the Austrian Women’s Downhill Team.  I asked him about the most fundamental elements of skiing well in deep snow, regardless of skiing ability.

monashees powder guide
First, Roko explains that there are two stages to deep powder skiing, the first is a strenuous method he calls 4-wheel-drive skiing where you do not turn parallel, but rather force the turn with a snowplow or up-stem ski technique.  This is how we all first learn to ski in the deep powder. 

The second stage is more dynamic and seemingly difficult, but once you feel it powder skiing becomes physically much easier – eventually effortless.  The interaction between your skis and the snow provide the power so your legs and the rest of your body can relax and enjoy the incomparable thrill of deep powder skiing; what Roko describes as, “The sensation of slow motion speed, the full-body experience of penetration and the exhilaration of weightlessness.”  

To experience this second stage, Powder Nirvana, here are the seven crucial concepts:

1. The basic skiing movements are the same as for hard pack, or on-pisté skiing.  The difference in deep powder is that there is no solid platform in the snow, so you have to build one with your skis.   The solid platform has to be generated due to the fact that the skis float within a soft uneven and inconsistent mass of snow (causing resistance against skis, boots and lower legs).  This makes the turning of the skis more challenging, requiring more assertive and prolonged turning movements.

2. Balance on both skis.  Weighting both skis more equally and performing vertical up and down movement builds a solid platform underneath the feet within the soft mass of snow.  From the platform we created during the compression, we can push off upwards and free the skis of the snow’s resistance and initiate the next turn at the point of near weightlessness - like a basketball player shooting a jump shot at the weightless apex of the jump.

3. Proper skiing speed is crucial.  Not excessive speed, but "proper" speed - like riding a bike - that gives you both balance and momentum.  This not only improves your balance but, even more importantly in powder skiing, this causes the skis to float up towards the snow surface, freeing the skis from the snow’s grasp which makes turning easier by reducing the snow’s resistance against your legs, boots and skis.

If you are not comfortable at proper speed in deep snow, you will not be able to build a solid platform and balance will be a continuously frustrating and physical exercise. You still can make it down in powder, but you will be limited to skiing using the strenuous 4-wheel-drive skiing techniques.

4. The timing is slightly different, a bit delayed, from the abrupt transitions of skiing on hardpack.  Because your skis are penetrating down into the soft mass of snow and floating within it, you must ski with more patience within each turn and prolong those skiing movements you already have within your muscle memory.  

5. You do not need to physically lean back in powder. When we lean back we tend to freeze our muscles, resulting in a rigid, strenuous position rather than flowing, athletic movement.  Having said that, there is an exception.  In very deep or very heavy snow a “slight and sensitive” backwards transfer of the weight helps to bring and keep the ski tips up.

6. Once you gain just a little experience and adjust to more equal weighting of both skis, a springboard will appear underneath your skis and give you a more solid platform.  Now you are over the hump.  Suddenly balancing becomes much easier and you can ski without hesitation and with dramatically improved confidence.

7. Finally, keep turning.  Continuous turning provides the up and down motion and makes control possible.  Skiing a series of linked turns will put you in control of your skiing speed in any terrain no matter how steep.

What kind of powder skier are you?  Take it to the next level with a one-of-a-kind CMH powder skiing program.  For the skier who wants to heli-ski but is afraid of the demands of heliskiing in powder, your dreams will come to life with a CMH Powder Intro.  For the agressive, strong powder skier who wants to take it to the next level, check out the CMH Steep Week

Photo of approaching Nirvana in the CMH Monashees by Topher Donahue.

Ski Halfpipe in the Olympics? Inevitable.


ski-fun-summer-grabJust 12 years ago, snowboarding made its Olympic debut.  I remember the debate then.  The question was if snowboarding was fit for the Olympics – after all, there is no skateboarding in the Olympics (yet).  Now, the tables are turned.  Skiers are debating the ups and downs of having the ski halfpipe in the Olympics while Shaun White is an Olympic icon.

It's much more than a chairlift argument.  The International Ski Federation (FIS) is proposing to the International Olympic Committee that the ski halfpipe be included in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  Ski halfpipe is already part of the program for the Inaugural Youth Winter Olympics in Innsbruck in 2012.

A recent article in Powder Magazine blew the lid off the debate, with the dogmatic and well-spoken editor Derek Taylor ranting against the idea, and the enthusiastic Trennon Paynter, the founder and coach of the Canadian Halfpipe Ski Team, all for it.  

I can see both sides of the argument. 

On one hand, sports without regulation hold a special place in any outdoor enthusiast's heart - and any sport making an Olympic debut will likely see an increase in regulation and a decrease in creativity.

On the other hand, the audiences and athletes are bubbling with excitement about the thrilling possibility of seeing skiers like Tanner Hall and Sarah Burke take a new aspect of skiing into the Olympic Games.  Skiing is a centerpiece of the winter Olympics, and halfpipes and terrain parks are the new frontier of in-bounds skiing. 

The two sports closest to my own heart are backcountry skiing and rock climbing.  I love these sports without real rules, oversight by international committees, or contrived standards.  Even the idea of Rando Racing and Climbing Competitions makes part of me cringe, but the other part of me rejoices that the sports I love are growing and influencing more people in positive ways. 

Rather than enter my opinion into the mix (there are plenty of those already) I’ll throw out a prediction:  In the end, the athletes and spectators will win – this in itself is a good thing - and we’ll end up with the ski halfpipe in the Olympics. 

I’ll hang my prediction out there a little further and say that - based on the riveting qualities of the men’s snowboard halfpipe finals in the last winter Olympics in Vancouver, even when we all knew who was going to win - ski halfpipe will become one of the most watched disciplines of the Olympics.

In the 2010 Olympics, viewers ages 12-24 were up 40% over previous Olympics, largely because of snowboarding and "extreme" sports, according to an article in USA Today. While the relative extreme-ness of halfpipe versus downhill is a tender topic for another lift ride, these are the kinds of numbers that change things.  Check out this clip, and it is pretty obvious why the ski halfpipe would be a popular Olympic event:

We can always go back into the backcountry and do what we want like my friend Joe Vallone, an international mountain guide and halfpipe coach, is doing in the above photo while demonstrating some new-school ski savvy in some old-school summertime threads.

Readers of this blog, you’re all sophisticated ski enthusiasts.  What do you think?

Photo by Topher Donahue

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