Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Going Fast Part II: Lighten up?

Last ski season, I wanted to do a series of posts on traveling light and fast in the backcountry.  Here's one on waxing skins.  This post is on weight: the lighter your setup, the faster, higher, and longer you can go.  The tough question is, how fat? how thin? four buckles? no buckles? tail fix on skins or no? It's a tough question because there is a point of diminishing returns on both ends of the spectrum.  Too skinny and you won't be able to break trail or ski down fast.  Too fat and you won't be able go up as fast or cover as much ground.  Four buckles and it's going to add weight.  No buckles and there might not be enough support.  It's a trade-off that I've spent a lot of time obsessing about.

The other night, I pulled out my bathroom scale and weighed some gear.  Using a Sharpie, I wrote the weight on each piece.  The Insanes (the big fat ones) aren't mine, but I labeled them anyway . . . .

From December 23, 2009

Ski Weights:

164 Trab Duo Race w/ Low Techs: 2.1 lbs per ski, 64 mm at waist, race and fast touring.
160 Dynafit SR 11 w/Low Techs: 2.3 lbs per ski, 62 mm at waist, race and fast touring.
172 Dynafit ST 7 w/TLT Speeds: 3.6 lbs per ski, 74 mm at waist, fast touring, spring.
169 Dynafit Manaslu w/TLT Vertical: 3.8 lbs per ski, 95 mm at waist, touring, powder.
173 BD Havoc w/Dynafit Comforts: 4.7 lbs per ski, 88 mm at waist, rock skis.
183 Voile Insane w/TLT Speeds: 4.8 lbs per ski, 120 mm at waist, ????.

From December 23, 2009

Boot Weights:

Dynafit Zzero, four buckle, 3.6 lbs
Scarpa F1, 2 buckle, 2.8 lbs (I have modified F1s that I got down to 2 lbs)
Pierre Gignoux 444, 2 buckle, 1.4 lbs

From December 23, 2009

Skin Weights:

Pomoca Race for 160 cm skis: .2 lbs
Dynafit Speedskins for 160 cm skis: .3 lbs
BD Mohair Mix cut for Dynafit ST 7s: .6 lbs
BD Glidelite cut fo Havocs: .7 lbs
BD Ascension cut for Manaslu: .7 lbs

There are a lot of combinations with these skis, boots, and skins.  At the lightest end of the spectrum, the Trabs with PG 444s and Pomoca skins weigh 3.7 pounds per foot.  Contrast that with the Manaslus, Zzeros, and BD skins at 8.1 pounds per foot. That's a difference of 4.4 pounds per foot or 219 percent heavier -- huge, especially during a long tour.  If you think about it in pounds lifted per vertical foot, over a 10k vertical tour, that's a difference of 44,000 lbs!  I plan on using F1s with the Manaslus and will get some Dynafit Speedskins, which will bring the weight down to about 7 lbs per foot. 

One might suggest that the comparison above is misleading because my race setup is stupid light.  To a certain extent, I might agree, but the fact is, I tour a lot in that setup and have skied every condition imaginable in that setup.  Can I straightline Cardiac Bowl in that setup?  No.  Can I competently ski down Cardiac Bowl or a steep chute in that setup and have fun? Absolutely.  In fact, there are several ski mountaineers like Benedikt Bohm who have set speed records up and down 8000 meter peaks on similar setups.  That said, there are times when a race setup does not make sense, like on a big powder day.  Breaking trail on 65 mm waisted skis doesn't work that well.  And going down in 2 ft of fluff in that kind of setup is way too '80s and a bit irreverent.

Enter the Manaslus, or my "fat" setup.  Manaslus, F1s/Zzeros, and BD Ascensions are quite light.  There are very few, if any, 95 mm waisted skis out there that are as light as the Manaslu.  The Voile Insanes might come close.  I think Goode and DPS make some light carbon skis that have some girth.  Obviously, any setup that doesn't incorporate Dynafit bindings is more than a pound per foot heavier and, quite frankly, a waste of energy.  My guess is that most conventional backcountry setups are in the 9 to 12 lb range.  The Havocs, which are skinnier and which I used for years, are a full pound heavier. 

My friend Joey and I were laughing the other day about our touring setups in 2002.  I was on Scarpa T1s, Voile Mtn. Surfs/Rossis/Tuas, and Hammerhead bindings.  I think the Mtn Surfs and Hammerheads alone were over 8 pounds.  The T1s were probably another 5.  And that setup didn't even have a free pivot.  Uggh.

Assuming the goal is going faster, higher, and longer (and not making turns with "soul"), I think the question that should dictate backcountry ski choice is: what can I get away with?  This is a loaded question because the answer depends on lots of things like conditions, partners, terrain, route, distance, time, skill, and binding choice.  But generally speaking, in my not-so-humble opinion, most of us American backcountry travelers can get away with a lot less than we have or think.  In my mind, the less you can get away with, the better -- you'll go faster, higher, and longer.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wackcountry Tour

This week my training focus was on high volume.  I did two interval sessions, logged 15 hrs, about 19k vertical, and about 35 miles, which is a lot for a working, family guy.  Probably 10 of those hrs were at "endurance" pace, or under 140 bpm.

On Saturday, I logged 6 hrs and about 8k vertical doing the Wackcountry Tour, which starts at Snowbird, ascends to Hidden Peak, descends Mineral Basin, ascends the same to Alta, descends Alta, ascends Grizzly Gulch to Twin Lakes Pass, crosses Highway to Heaven to Solitude, descends into Brighton, ascends Guardsman's Pass, and descends into Park City.  Our route, if you include the forced detours, ended up being about 18 miles and 8k vertical, and not a whole lot of great powder skiing.  Still, it was safe, fun, and a bit wacky.

The Stats:
- Time: 6 hrs
- Distance: 18 miles
- Vert: 8k
- Put in:  Snowbird viz a viz UTA Bus
- Take out: Park City viz a viz Rosie (Thanks!)
- Accomplices: Bart and Alex -- Note to self: make sure you start skiing in October so that you can keep up with these guys.
- Equipment: Alex, Voile Insanes, Dynafit Speeds, F3s; Bart, Dynafit ST 7, Dynafit Speeds, F1s; Me, Trab Duo Race w/Low Techs and Pierre Gignoux 444s
- Equipment blowups: 1 -- see below
- Food Consumed: 2 peanut butter and honey sandwiches, 1 coke, and 1 bottle of water.  Very hungry at the end.
- Friendly Resorts: Snowbird, Brighton, Solitude
- Not Friendly Resorts: Alta, Park City
- Faceplants: 2 -- me=1, Bart=1
- Entertainment for the Day: Alex

Exhibit A:  (As we are skinning up Snowbird after Alex slid down on his back) "Man, I sure could have used some Whippets."

Exhibit B:  We're ducking below a ridge, just out of sight of the Alta lady with studs in her face who had just denied us entrance.  Our plan is to rip skins, run across the cat track, and disappear down the slope.  Time is of the essence because we are sure the Alta lady has called for backup.  The problem is that Alex has to first, take off his pack; second, put on his bright fluorescent green jacket; third, take out his special Montana skin savers; fourth, figure out how to rip skins with skis on; fifth, untangle skins that got wrapped around the perimeter rope and his neck; sixth, fold his skins using said special Montana skin savers.

Exhibit C: We are skinning up in the Brighton backcountry and some snowboarders chastise us for going the "wrong" direction.  As Alex, a former bro brah himself, tells them, "Duh, we're in the backcountry and I didn't see a sign," the first one stacks it up and the second one piles into him.  They are strapped into their boards in a ravine, faces buried in the snow.  Stuck.  The second one gets up and gives us the finger.  We laugh.

Some photos:

Can someone tell me how these binding things work?

From December 20, 2009

Bart skiing Mineral Basin.

From December 20, 2009

Three sets of tracks. Bart on the left, Alex in the middle, me on the right. Alex made a total of 3 turns.

From December 20, 2009

Our exit: a 100 meter skate through White Pine to Hotel Park City. Then walk to the corner and wait.

From December 20, 2009

Um guys, I think my binding broke. Hmmm. . . Ya think? Alex skied from Solitude to Park City free heel.

From December 20, 2009

Alex's Version here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cardiac Ridge Avalanche: Part 1

I'm going to present this in two parts.  Part 1 will be my best shot at presenting the objective facts -- 3rd person account, no wishing this or that, and no swear words.  Part 2, which might come later after I process it, will be my own subjective analysis.

A group of 4 skiers (Skier 1, Skier 2, Skier 3, and Skier 4) gathered the morning of December 12, 2009 in Big Cottonwood Canyon at Mill D.  They headed south, hoping to ski in the Cardiac Bowl/Ridge vicinity.

From December 12, 2009

Snow Conditions
About 5 inches of snow had fallen during the night (the "New Snow").  Winds were blowing from the southwest and had done so throughout the night.  On Cardiac Ridge, the New Snow had fallen on a layer of hard windblown snow.  A very cold period of 2-3 days had created likely created a layer of facets on top of the windblown layer.  There was some wind loading on the east facing slopes.  The snowpack was relatively shallow.

The Avalanche
The avalanche was triggered near the top of Cardiac Ridge.  Cardiac Ridge runs north and south and connects Mt. Superior and Mr. Kessler.  The skiers were working their way up the north end of the east facing slopes along a rock band and less than 200 feet from the ridge top when the avalanche was triggered.  An illustration of the skiers relative positions follows:

From December 12, 2009
Skier 1 triggered the avalanche from the position shown in the picture above.  Skier 1 and Skier 2 heard a "whumpf" and felt a collapse.  Skier 1 felt a slab under him move a few inches and stop.  A few seconds later, a soft  slab above and to the climber's left pulled out and began sliding down the slope.  The soft slab consisted of wind blown and fallen New Snow.  The soft slab most likely failed on the thin December 8-11 facets and ran on a hard wind blown crust.

The soft slab was about 10-12 inches deep and 40 to 50 feet across.  The total area is unknown since it quickly turned into a big powdery sluff. Here is a picture of the crown:

From December 12, 2009

The avalanche ran approximately 300 to 400 feet.  Here is a picture taken 100 feet above the burial site.

From December 12, 2009
The Burial
Skiers 1, 2, and 3 were sheltered by the rock band above them and generally out of the way of the avalanche path.  Skier 4 was directly in the avalanche path and was swept away.  Skier 4 was carried approximately 200 to 300 feet.  A portion of the avalanche ran down a gully.  Another portion of the avalanche piled up before a roll over.  Skier 4 was deposited in a low spot before a roll over and buried perpendicular to slope. His head was about 2 feet under. He was lying face up. He lost one pole, but held on to the other one.  Both skis were on -- dynafit toe pieces locked.

Skier 4 was located within 1 minute after the burial.  By wiggling his one pole, the basket created a disturbance on the surface and then exposed the tip of the pole, which was observed by Skier 1.  Skier 1 used hands to dig down to expose Skier 4's face.  Skiers 2 and 3 used shovels to dig out Skier 4.  Skier 4's face was exposed within 3 to 4 minutes after the burial.  Skier 4 was fully conscious and took a big breath when airway was cleared.  Skier 4 was uninjured.

Below is a photo of the burial site:

From December 12, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Below Zero

It was cold up there.  As they say, this latest storm was all huff and no puff.  Only five or six inches in LCC at 10k.  And like I said it was cold, below zero.  Still, it was good to get out and get a nice steady state block in.

A few shots with my Canon S90.  I'm really liking it so far.

From December 8, 2009

From December 8, 2009

From December 8, 2009

From December 8, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dirt Tour

The ski touring lately hasn't been great.  This morning, my plan was to hike up Cardiff and ski North Superior.  I was up there awhile back and it held some decent snow.  However, as I was heading up, I happened to look up Tanners.  It looked interesting, so I pulled over and started hiking.  I thought I would climb up, ski off the north side into Broads, climb out and hike down. Here's a view midway up -- lots of scrambling and boulder hopping.

From December 5, 2009

Tanners is classic Little Cottonwood granite at the bottom, but up higher, it turns into Big Cottonwood quartzite. The picture isn't good, but there is a point where the transition is quite acute: red quartzite on one side and granite on the other. Anyone know the geological explanation for this?

From December 5, 2009

Going up without the benefit of good snow cover takes a long time. I think it took a little over 2.5 hrs to top out. Off the other side, I was pleased to find some skiable snow.

From December 5, 2009

There were several areas that still held legitimate powder (with some toothy rocks lurking underneath).

From December 5, 2009

When I got to where it was tough to turn, I looked up. I was concerned about having to hike down Tanners since it was quite steep and loose. So I headed out Broads. Here's a view looking back.

From December 5, 2009

The trek out Broads was through about 10 inches of snow. I had to walk most of the way. The highlight out Broads was being followed by a coyote. It would keep its distance, but its yipping and howling was a bit unnerving. I think it was hungry. I hit the BCC road a little under 4 hrs after I left the LCC road. I stuck out my thumb, and immediately got a ride down the canyon. Gotta love the Wasatch.