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April 29, 2011

Fresh Routes, Fresh Snow

The snow keeps right on falling in the Pacific Northwest, and with the record cold month of April routes that haven't been skiable in decades, if ever, are getting done.

The Nisqually Icecliff (Seth Waterfall, Tyler Jones, Andy Bond), Chair Peaks's Northeast Buttress (Dan Helmstadler, Drew Tabke), and burly lines on Bonanza Mt. and Mt. Fernow (Jason Hummel, Kyle Miller) were just a few of the outstanding trips. Many of these are probable first descents and aesthetically cool lines as well. Nice job, guys, and to all the others that I didn't mention or who aren't talking as well.

Meanwhile, 9 inches of fresh at Hyak yesterday made for some fun exercise laps with J.D., Tim and Eric - the sun was out and the quality deteriorated quickly, but untracked is untracked!

Tim T. just happened to be in the backyard with his dog Trooper as J.D. and I skinned up for the second lap

April 17, 2011

Samuel Hunter Eng, 1950-2011

Northwest ski legend and Crystal Mountain fixture S. Hunter Eng ran his last race on Thursday, April 14th, a bit before midnight, finishing a close second to cancer and pneumonia.

Hunter had come from New York in the early 1970's, working his way around the country sampling different ski areas, before meeting some of my CMAC teammates at Mt. Hood in the summer of 1971 and getting wind of the goods at Crystal. When he showed up the next winter with his wild hair, mirrored sunglasses, and scruffy welder-chic clothes, it blew our minds . . . "Who IS that dude?"

He settled in at Crystal Village, worked as a ski patroller and carpenter, and adopted a rigorous macrobiotic diet that centered around brown rice and miso soup; people around him referred to Hunter as "Mistah Nachal" after the R. Crumb comic character Mister Natural. We toured the country in the mid-70's as the Sunnyside Sliders, competing in the early days of pro freestyle and simply living the dream. Hunter picked his lifelong partner, Christina Castle, early on and married her in 1974 (well before marriage became the norm for our generation), going on to have three daughters who grew up ripping the slopes of Crystal.

In recent times, Hunter's life of recovery after recovery from major illness has played like one of those freestyle runs from the seventies. First Hepatitis C, then a series of cancers - liver, bile duct, lungs and brain. Through it all, Hunter skied. Each major surgery or devastating radiation or chemo treatment would leave him wasted, but he kept coming back. In a matter of months or even weeks, he was back up on the hill, or riding his bike to build his leg strength. It was incredible and inspiring for us to witness, as he came back time after time when few people thought it possible. But that was Hunter's style.

Last weekend there was a celebration breakfast for our Hunter Eng "Luckiest Person" Hope on the Slopes team, a team prize donated by the ski area for winning the overall competition at the fundraiser. Hunter, barely able to walk, boarded the gondola and half shuffled, half was carried to his seat, where he instructed his friends to "get him lots of bacon" - the macrobiotic thing had long since gone by the wayside. Hunter was exhausted after the event, but after retreating to their cabin for a few hours, he rallied. Following a heated exchange with Crisi, Stan Larsen and Blair Howe, who argued valiantly that he should NOT go, Hunter insisted on getting into his ski gear and heading up to the mountain. "I'm fuckin' going skiing."

And he did. Here's the video:

Four runs non-stop on Forest Queen until his legs gave out. Hunter died five days later. RIP, my friend, see you in the White Room.

April 6, 2011

Spring Skiing Heaven

Today had everything you love about spring skiing in the Northwest, and a bit of what you don't.

There was the 12 inches of snow that fell last night, combined with 8 or more inches the day before. There was periodic driving snow, combined with sun breaks that threatened to turn it into a mass of mank. And there was the party of five on the Phantom who were caught in a slide just before we arrived at Alpental, with two party members injured and requiring rescue - not good. Plans were underway to transform Alpental parking lot # 1 into the search and rescue command center, and they requested that we not park there, so we drove down the road and did some laps in the Kendall Trees. Trailbreaking was a bit tiring at times with all the thick new snow, but we had three strong skinners in the group so it went well, and turned out to be worth the effort.

Another fine day on the Plum Guides, which functioned flawlessly. I had sprayed the toe levers with silicone sewing lubricant, which I normally use under the arms of the toepiece anyway, and this seemed to alleviate some of the snow buildup on the levers that had led to my boots pushing them forward out of lock mode. I recommend that you do this if you get these bindings, or any of the new bindings with long, CNC'd toe levers like next year's Dynafit Radical series.

Sun, snow, and pow - simultaneously. Crispin again - hard to shoot pictures of anyone else when his orange coat jumps out at you like that.

April 4, 2011

The Snow is Back

After a week of torrential monsoon-quality rains, and almost two weeks of fighting some horrible respiratory illness that seems to be lingering in the collective lungs of the Northwest, the temperatures went below freezing on Friday night and new snow began to fall.

It was none too soon, as the damage - an avalanche hitting and closing US 2, and nearly wiping out a DOT snowplow in a secondary slide, massive natural avalanches inbounds at Alpental and Crystal - was drastic. The slide path on Upper International is bigger than any I've seen, running from nearly the top all the way to the Snakedance gate, and making the middle of the popular run unskiable. Photos from Crystal's Bear Pits and Niagara's show huge amounts of dirt and snapped trees in the debris. Meanwhile, the cold that I've had for the past couple of weeks was just as impressive in duration and intensity, producing a hacking cough and dearth of energy that I haven't experienced in years.

Crispin was a couple days ahead of me in recoving from the respiratory crud, and talked me into a tour with his bike racer friend Dave; we settled on the Crooked Couloir accessed from Commonwealth Basin and the East Summit of Snoqualmie. I felt absolutely horrible on the way up and was lucky to have some strong trailbreakers with me in the foot-plus of heavy new snow. Skiing was surprising good once we descended past the null-visibility zone at the top, the narrow throat was filled in and skiable if a bit scratchy, and I rallied by the time we hit the powder in the exit fan. Good stuff.

The Plum Guides? Pretty much a seamless transition from Dynafit. The binding has a more positive engagement and clicks more forcefully when you step in; the heel returns to center more distinctly than a Dynafit does and there is a generally more solid feeling when you're in ski mode. The autolock feature rarely works, or at least doesn't completely lock when you step in so that you still need to pull back on the lever a bit. The clearance between the locked toe lever and the toe of my minimalist TLT 5 boots is only about 1mm, so if any snow adheres to the flat black lever it can have the effect of causing the toe to unlock or eject - this may call for some silicone spray on the lever. With the long heel pins and the specified 4mm gap between boot heel and binding, there is quite a bit more pin insertion depth (I consider this a good thing) - I chopped out a bit of rubber sole material where the pins were hitting it in the slots with a knife, but no grinding of the hard sole material was needed. The very precisely CNC'd mounting slot for ski crampons had to be filed out a tiny bit to get my Dynafit ski crampons to slide in, and the fit is still quite tight - be sure to lube the slot as well, as dry aluminum definitely doesn't facilitate crampon insertion like the plastic Dynafit baseplates do. Battling through a foot or more of Cascade Concrete, with sudden direction changes and many rapid decelerations, did not produce any unwanted forward releases with the forward DIN set a bit under 11. One nice feature is that the toe lever will click down flat when disengaging, leaving the toe jaws wide open and making ski removal in awkward places easier. For whatever reason, the Plums are easier to step into using the "engage one side and roll" method than stepping in flat, as I had been doing with Dynafits - fortunately I'm equally comfortable with both techniques. All in all, one beautifully realized piece of gear. More to come as I ski them more.

Crispin in p-turn mode, happy to have that heavy new snow!

Previous Incoming Pages:

March, 2011

February, 2011

January, 2011

December, 2010

November, 2010

October, 2010

September, 2010

August, 2010

July, 2010

June, 2010

May, 2010

April, 2010

China: Wandering in the Middle Kingdom

March, 2010

February, 2010

January, 2010

December, 2009

November, 2009

October, 2009

September, 2009

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July, 2009

June, 2009

May, 2009

April, 2009

March, 2009

February, 2009

January, 2009

December, 2008

November, 2008

October, 2008

September, 2008

August, 2008

June, 2008

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April, 2008

March, 2008

February, 2008

January, 2008

December, 2007

November, 2007

October, 2007

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June, 2007

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April, 2007

March, 2007

February, 2007

January, 2007

December, 2006

November, 2006

October, 2006

September, 2006

August, 2006

July, 2006

June, 2006

May, 2006

April, 2006

March, 2006

February, 2006

January, 2006

December, 2005

November, 2005

October, 2005

"Incoming" covers developments that have personal interest to me (ie. gear I might consider acquiring, or events I feel may impact the sport of skiing) - it is by no means meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of gear or events in the ski world at large. Feel free to contact me via the link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .

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