this week in the elk mountains.

An adventure that isn’t too risky is one that you can enjoy while playing at a BC online casino. It’s a bit better than an avalanche.

Avalanche educators (myself included) regularly discuss the necessity for designing backcountry tour plans that contain “ideal, safer and safest” route options; and being truly content with each of the options should a given option prove unrealistic or in many cases too risky. Typically, the accompanying instructional aids look something like this:

IDEAL
SAFER
SAFEST

So when two (dare I say relatively accomplished) ski mountaineers, myself and IFMGA Mountain Guide Geoff Unger set out to plan an ambitious high mountain traverse outside of my backyard in Crested Butte, Colorado, one might assume that we would plan and implement a reasonable back-up plan.  Having been all but enamored with the local ski terrain lately (see previous posts), I had devised a master plan and quickly roped in a partner for an ambitious, remote and inspiring traverse of some of the most rugged ski terrain in the area.
IDEAL
Despite an unfavorable weather forecast and some lingering upper elevation instability, Geoff and I, loaded down with enough food for a veritable backcountry feast and more technical ski mountaineering gear than usual, arrived at the trailhead in the wee hours. Knowing full well that the first leg of our tour was to include several miles of flat terrain before one of the worst locals’ tracks in the universe, we employed some non-traditional techniques: skinny 30mm width skins for extra glide on the flats, and ski crampons (the most under-utilized piece of backcountry gear) for our ascent of the skin track steepened by ego.
Excited about donning the ’scheisen!
Hours later it was very clear that our initial plan of Schuykill Ridge to Scarp Ridge via the heart of the Ruby Range was guarded by a slope that both of us saw as clearly impassable. Instead of skiing the glorious NE slopes of the ridge, our ambition got the better of us and we descended into the seldom visited in winter- oh-be-joyful creek to a steep ridgeline across the valley. Hours later, we confirmed that this route also- would not go. And so it was- option 3. The safest option. Only not in the couch potato kind of way, not even in the fun powder skiing consolation kind of way. Nope, this option was the robotic death slog. Over 2okm of it.

The realized ultimate reality tour. Option 3.

So the megatour didn’t go. We were just simply unwilling to accept that amount of risk given the snow conditions for that terrain.  After all that terrain and an unacceptable distance:turns ratio, my perspective has expanded to realize the unlimited potential of this area.  Just a quick glance at the maps and the ski mountaineers’ imagination will run wild. With only fitness, motivation, and stability being the limiting factors.

photos: Mike Bromberg and Geoff Unger
Thanks to Geoff Unger for getting after it with me, I hope your legs are recovering well! Looking forward to getting out with you again.

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Ski Mountaineering: What to Carry

Ski mountaineering requires different equipment than on trail general ski touring. Some items include ice axes, ropes, and crampons so you can access hard to reach places found in the off trail mountain terrain. More adventure can be found at www.online-casino-canada.ca where you’ll find all the games you love to play.

While packing this morning for a day ski touring, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet done a proper online pack explosion. Given that the spring ski mountaineering season is right around the corner, I thought I would share my gear system with you for longer ski tours. The system described below is by no means completely exhaustive, however this seems to be my baseline, then I add or subtract based on venue and specific goals (i.e. ski the gnar or teach full snow profiles in an avalanche course).

First, let’s start off discussing my pack. The saying goes “the skin track is the signature of the ski guide”. If this is true, then a guide’s backpack is his “trademark” and it should reflect careful attention to detail, and exemplify professionalism and well thought out simplicity. In my quiver of backpacks (and believe me it is a quiver) the two packs that receive the most playing time for skiing are the Arcteryx Arrakis 40 and the Osprey Kode 22.

Arcteryx Arrakis 40
The best features in a ski pack are subtle, yet functional. Perhaps a shovel/probe compartment and a simple ski carry system are all that is truly necessary. I use my Arrakis on more technical terrain or on longer tours where more gear is needed, and use the Kode 22 as my everyday Colorado touring pack. For years, I skied with a simple 35L alpine climbing pack, and still find that simpler is better when it comes to technical packs.

Enough about how sweet my backpacks are, let’s have a look at what I carry inside that beast. This will be my kit for my upcoming European Alps programs: the Haute Route and Berner Oberland as well as most other glaciated ski mountaineering programs. This item-by-item list is perfect for any advanced level recreational ski mountaineer or guest embarking on a glaciated ski tour with a guide. I’ve also included items more guide or “trip-leader” specific items and marked them with an asterisk (**).

  • Skis: Dynafit Mustagh Ata Superlight 178cm. Lightweight, responsive, ski great in any conditions. These are a great replacement and a much more lively and better performing ski than the old K2 Mt. Baker Superlight.
  • Bindings: Dynafit TLT Vertical ST. Simple, strong and adjustable. The best binding choice for any ski mountaineer.
  • Poles: an adjustable carbon two section pole works well. I’ve also been using fixed length poles a lot lately for tours without long flat sections.
  • Skins: Mohair or synthetic. Fit to the waist of the ski (don’t get me started)…
  • Boots: Garmont Megaride with Intuition liners (my 3rd pair, hoping next years’ Dynafit TLT5 will replace these)
  • Dynafit ski crampons aka harscheisen:  These are must! I use ‘em on the steep “locals” tracks here in CB, but they are essential for icy spring conditions.
  • Beacon: Mammut Barryvox Pulse
  • Shovel: Metal blade, durable.
  • Probe: has to be easy to assemble and cannot be ‘probe’ ski poles. minimum of 2m long.
  • Hat, Buff, Balaclava- all three especially in high mountains
  • Gloves: (2) thin for the uphill, warm/all leather for the down. Pictured are the OR Tangent Gloves- which are money!
  • Goggles with light lenses
  • Sunglasses or Glacier Glasses
  • Digital Camera: I use the Canon G9 mostly because of the ability to shoot in RAW.
  • Cell Phone: Blackberry Tour. I know, it’s the PC of smartphones, but I like it because I can land in France and be making calls from my French cell number in seconds! Let’s see you iphone do that!
  • **GPS Unit: as well as the knowledge to use it.
  • **Tri-Band Radio: I use the Yaesu Vx-6r for it’s waterproof design and ease of use. This powerful tool is very important for emergency communications with outside support, or with other guides in your group.
  • Bivy Sack/Tarp: I like the Brooks-Range Guides Tarp. It’s lightweight and simple. Perfect for an emergency shelter system.

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  • **Rescue Sled: This product is highly specific, but priceless when you need it. Check out Brooks-Range for more information on these great rescue products.
  • Basic First Aid Kit: Just basic stuff to stop big bleeds and evacuate a patient.
  • Repair Kit: My ever evolving repair kit includes and extra headlamp and is bigger than my first aid kit. My friend, Joe Stock, put together a nice repair kit list that is very similar to my kit. Know your system and it’s weak links. For example, I know that a broken binding toe piece is much harder (if not impossible) to repair than a heel piece in the field. Thus I carry an extra binding toe.
  • **Skin Wax and Scraper: Skin wax to keep your skins from balling up, a scraper to clean your partners’ skis off at every transition.
  • Insulated Jacket: puffy coat, duvet coat, call it what you will, but this is perhaps the most essential piece in the kit. The OR Transcendent Sweater is an excellent lighter weight coat that suits warmer weather nicely.

Items more specific to glacier travel or technical terrain:

  • Harness (lightweight) the CAMP Coral is pictured, others nice light harnesses from Cila0.
  • **Crevasse Rescue Kit: This certainly varies, but my non mechanical system uses three locking carabiners, 4 non-locking carabiners, four slings or cords (shoulder length) and one 16cm ice screw and perhaps one cordelette kept in the backpack. All are the lightest possible materials.
  • **40m Half Rope: I like the 40m length in order to complete a drop-loop system for adequate crevasse rescue.
  • Boot Crampons: Pictured here are my old reliable pair- Step in system, easy to use, relatively light weight. I think these new Grivel Haute-Route crampons will be a great replacement one day.
  • Mountaineering Axe: Pictured here is the Petzl Snowracer. I use it because of the steel head, but still very light weight. I don’t personally go any lighter as I’ve had bad experiences with aluminum headed axes… While we’re on the subject of piolets: shorter is better. For me @ 5′11″- 50cm is perfect as it fits inside my pack while skiing, and when terrain is steep enough to necessitate the extra security of an axe, it is the perfect length.
  • Vacuum Bottle: a nice stainless steel bottle.
  • Water Bottle: an old juice or sports drink bottle works well.
  • Food: for me a couple of sandwiches (usually peanut butter and jelly) and plenty of snack food along the way.
  • ** items more guide or “trip-leader” specific items and marked them with an asterisk **

Building a system that works well for you will take time, and many of the more expensive items can be rented or demoed from more specific retailers. If you have any questions about any of this gear, please feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment below.Check back with us soon for a post entitled: Ski Mountaineering: How to Dress

Piolet Fomo: mountain axe comparo

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Having piolet FOMO (fear of missing out)? Tired of using your old-too long-battle-axe of a piolet?

These days there are many great options for the semi-technical do it all piolet that it is hard not to lust after the newest axe on the market. Over the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to use some of the more popular offerings: the Black Diamond Venom, the Grivel Air Tech Evolution, and the new Petzl Summit.

Choosing an appropriate alpine climbing arsenal is similar to arranging a quiver of skis. Just as with skis, there are specialized tools designed for very specific applications that often find themselves abandoned in your gear closet. The three axes compared here are what I consider to be the best “quiver of one” mountaineering axes, that also happen to be the top of the line axes in the category from each manufacturer. Additionally, there are some very fine axes excluded from this comparison, including the C.A.M.P Alpax among others, that are excellent axes in their own right- to be diplomatic about it.

Before I dive into the specifics of each axe, let me preface the test with some of my own preferences in a do-all mountaineering axe.

-It should be sturdy: all steel – both head and shaft. Aluminum axes are strictly for soft snow applications and are worthless in anything even remotely resembling ice.

-It should have an classic droop pick- reverse curve picks are best utilized in steep ice climbing and are less than optimal for self arrest and “rampe” type usage.

-The axe should be short. Fit inside your backpack if possible. An ice axe is best used to increase security in steep (>50 degree) terrain, so while a long axe may be more comfortable in low angle terrain; it will certainly be less secure in steep terrain. All of the axes tested were in the 52cm range- and all guides testing were taller than 5′10″. I understand that beginners will prefer a longer length, but as skills develop your axe should be shorter.

-The axe shall not have a leash. Because leashes are both dangerous and cumbersome.- just don’t drop it.

Black Diamond Venom

1lb 2oz 50cm Adze without leash. Lengths. 50cm, 57cm and 64cm

size tested: 50cm

PROS:

-Replaceable pick (available in both classic and re-curve)

-Sticks very well in hard ice (due to thin penetrating pick)

-rubber grip

-nice swing weight and overall geometry

-best adze for cutting steps*

CONS:

-rubber grip (yes this was a pro also)

-pick sticks too much (testers noted that this was hardest tool to clean)

-pick chopped steps poorly (stuck too much)

-no pinky rest option

One of the best tools out there. It chops steps nicely and climbed hard steep (80 degree) ice very well. I notice that this axe sticks almost too well when used for steeper ice climbing, making it hard to remove for the next placement. The adze on this thing is money! I thought that it chopped steps quite well in hard glacier ice, however this is necessary as the pick (as I mentioned) is far too sticky to do this efficiently.

Petzl Summit

495 grams, 5cm, 59cm, 66cm

size tested 52cm

PROS:

-Light weight

-all rubber coating – not a crappy rubber “tape”

-Pick chopped steps very nicely due to thicker pick and angle.

-nice overall finish and feel in hand

CONS:

- Adze was not quite as effective at chopping steps as the BD venom

- Pick not replaceable

-rubber coating will get torn up if using axe to clear snow from crampons (hopefully your anti-balling plates are good enough!)

The Petzl summit, a new axe likely not yet available in the U.S. is a fine entry for a great general mountaineering axe. It has a nicely finished head with a robust rubber coated shaft. Overall this axe is lightweight but stout enough to climb some ice and cleans quite nicely. I thought that the pick on this tool was much better at chopping ice than it’s adze. For a more aggressive version of this tool, have a look at the Petzl Sum’tec.

Grivel Air Tech Evolution

485 grams, 53cm, 58cm, 66cm

size tested 53cm

PROS:

- nice overall feel

- chopping steps was great when using either the pick or the adze.

- comfortable head for holding

- stuck and cleaned well in steep terrain.

- the best pinky rest available when used with the grivel slider

CONS:

- crappy griptape grip

- pick not interchangeable

- potentially difficult to obtain in the U.S. and Canada due to lack of distribution.

Of the three axes that were tested, the Grivel is the best all around tool. The tool felt solid and well built for both steeper ice climbing as well as a more traditional mountaineering application. Perhaps the best feature of the Grivel Air Tech Evolution is the available addition of the Slider pinky rest which is kept on the axe via a small screw that keeps it from sliding off of the bottom of the shaft.- super clever. The newest air tech evo, has an integrated rubber handle similar to the bd Venom.

Bottom Line- all three of these tools are excellent all mountain axes, with some minor differences in specific specialty. I’ll keep an eye out for some of the latest and greatest in modern mountain axe technology and keep you updated when I can.

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Avalanche Observations

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While I was away last weekend teaching Colorado Mountain College’s Level 2 avalanche course, between two and five feet of snow fell in the Crested Butte Backcountry. Today was a brilliant bluebird morning, so we went up to have a look at all this new snow and maybe do a little bit of skiing. Below are some observations and photos of our findings.

Wx: 1435 @ 12000ft. Sky:OVC Precip: S-1 Wind: M,W Temp: -14.5C. Temps dropped dramatically later in the afternoon.

Avalanche Activity: Observed many natural avalanches in the area with most occurring on solar aspects. The most notable of which were in the upper Red Lady Basin. We triggered HS-AC-R2-D2-O dropping a large (town bus sized!) and very tender cornice from the summit: crown was between 4 and 6 ft tall and ran roughly 1000′. Completed a fracture line profile of HS-N-R2-D3-O: a natural avalanche of over 800ft wide and running 1200′ with a crown of up to six feet tall and P+ hardness. Overall depth and distribution of snow near ridgetop indicated very strong and sustained N wind.

HS-AC-R2-D2-O and HS-N-R2-D3-OSpx: Descended the bed surface into the basin to examine debris that was easily over 10ft deep in places. Settled and wind stiffened snow and experienced some minor cracking on rolls steeper than 30 degrees.

click image for profile
While we didn’t end up skiing all that much, we certainly did get a good solid wind-blasting up on the top of Mt. Emmons and spent plenty of time dorking out on snow getting Chris psyched for his upcoming AIARE Level III course. Not too many folks out playing on this elevated danger day, but what a treat to be out ski touring (as always!) and learning about our local snowpack.

Detailed weather and avalanche information for the Crested Butte Backcountry can be found at the Crested Butte Avalanche Center or by calling (970) 349-4022. Please remember to submit your weather and snowpack observations as they are critical in maintaining an accurate avalanche forecast and a healthy backcountry community.

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AMGA Certified Rock Guide

by Mountain Pro

Exciting news! I am officially an AMGA Certified Rock Guide. Thanks so much for all of your support and kind words.

Speaking of the AMGA, I am down in Moab enjoying the 2009 AMGA Annual Meeting. more on that later…

mike

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Avalanche Observations Febraury 22, 2010

While I was away last weekend teaching Colorado Mountain College’s Level 2 avalanche course, between two and five feet of snow fell in the Crested Butte Backcountry. Today was a brilliant bluebird morning, so we went up to have a look at all this new snow and maybe do a little bit of skiing. Below are some observations and photos of our findings.

Wx: 1435 @ 12000ft. Sky:OVC Precip: S-1 Wind: M,W Temp: -14.5C. Temps dropped dramatically later in the afternoon.

Avalanche Activity: Observed many natural avalanches in the area with most occurring on solar aspects. The most notable of which were in the upper Red Lady Basin. We triggered HS-AC-R2-D2-O dropping a large (town bus sized!) and very tender cornice from the summit: crown was between 4 and 6 ft tall and ran roughly 1000′. Completed a fracture line profile of HS-N-R2-D3-O: a natural avalanche of over 800ft wide and running 1200′ with a crown of up to six feet tall and P+ hardness. Overall depth and distribution of snow near ridgetop indicated very strong and sustained N wind.

HS-AC-R2-D2-O and HS-N-R2-D3-OSpx: Descended the bed surface into the basin to examine debris that was easily over 10ft deep in places. Settled and wind stiffened snow and experienced some minor cracking on rolls steeper than 30 degrees.

click image for profile
While we didn’t end up skiing all that much, we certainly did get a good solid wind-blasting up on the top of Mt. Emmons and spent plenty of time dorking out on snow getting Chris psyched for his upcoming AIARE Level III course. Not too many folks out playing on this elevated danger day, but what a treat to be out ski touring (as always!) and learning about our local snowpack.

Detailed weather and avalanche information for the Crested Butte Backcountry can be found at the Crested Butte Avalanche Center or by calling  (970) 349-4022 . Please remember to submit your weather and snowpack observations as they are critical in maintaining an accurate avalanche forecast and a healthy backcountry community.

The suspense is killing me!

The AMGA’s new “two week” rule is more stressful than the exam itself… The new rule is designed to give both the candidates and examiners some time to appropriately process feedback and reflect on the learning experience. In past courses and exams, candidates were immediately informed of their final score- resulting in either gleeful satisfaction or (I can only imagine) regret and disbelief!

Although I am generally in favor of the idea behind the new rule, the suspense of waiting for the final word is less than fun. So, despite receiving some great feedback during the course: the more time that goes by, the less positive my memories become.

Speaking of courses and exams- check out this link to a post that I wrote over on the Osprey Packs blog of my experiences in Chamonix.

For now, I am back in Crested Butte obsessively checking my email and my.amga.com for the exam results and getting things sorted for the winter season. There are a ton of great offerings both here in CB and abroad, so check back for website updates often.