Back to School

Its great to see the Bears in the Super Bowl again! I am going to order some pizzas from Chicago to have them shipped up (you'd be surprised how many of the pizza joints ship their pizzas) and possibly an Eli's Cheesecake for dessert. Its been a good year for Florida, winning both the NCAA Basketball and Football championships so maybe the luck of the Gators will be on Bears QB (and Florida alum) Rex Grossman.

This weekend I headed up Beaver Creek again on Saturday to get some skiing in. Mostly I stuck with some of the steeper chutes and tree runs seeing as the majority of the mountain was really bumped out. We haven't any more snow to speak of since the previous weekend's big dump and its been really cold lately. It was so cold though that the snow managed to stay fairly soft, it wasn't getting a chance to melt during the day so those sub-zero overnight temperatures didn't really ice things up. I poked around the area where I lost my ski again, but still no luck. Ski patrol has a ski, but I haven't gotten through yet to see if its mine or not. Maybe I'll get lucky and its been found!

Sunday was the field training for my avalanche class. The classroom part started Monday, and continued through Saturday evening. We learned a lot in the class room about avalanche phenomenon, snow science, backcountry travel and gear but the real meat of the class is putting it together in the field. We hiked up Vail Pass to a nice steep slope that resembles a popular East Vail chute where people like to ski. We set up a couple of different stations and then broke into groups. My groups first station was the "hasty search", a mock rescue exercise. The instructors set up a couple of scenarios and we had to search clues in the snow to try and find the "victim" (which was a buried backpack). First there were a couple of poles, by following the line between them we could determine that the "body" carried to a certain area where we searched and were able to dig up the pack. The second scenario there was nothing but a handkerchief and a set of tracks leading to some trees. There in the trees was one of our instructors posing as a victim. In this scenario he was dazed and walked away and passed out, but he had a partner. By interviewing him we could determine where his partner was likely do be despite no other clues and again dug up the pack. The next station we got to bury beacons in stuff sacks and use beacons to search for them. In general we were able to find them all in less than 2 minutes! Sure makes a beacon seem worth the price as they seem to be a quick easy way to find a buried partner if there was ever an accident. We also had a station to practice a probe line (used when there is no beacons) and also one to dig test pits in the snow to see how the layers have settled. The test pits were really interesting, and by conducting the different tests our instructor was able to determine that the slope was safe to ski, but with a risk of sliding on a hard impact such as a fall. In that situation a group should only ski that face if everyone felt they could ski it without falling. We ended the day with a mock rescue scenario which acted as our "test" and combined many of the skills we had learned. There were 4 victims, 3 with beacons but one without. We split the group into those who would use their beacons to search and those that would investigate clues and use probes to find the 4th victim. Two of the beacons were found in less than 3 minutes, the 3rd in about 8 minutes and it took almost 15 minutes to find the one that had no beacon. Sure does make you want to buy a beacon if travelling in avalanche terrain, they were all rescued quickly and would have been alive had it been a real rescue! It was an intersting class and one that anyone considering backcountry trips in winter, whether to ski, hike or snowmobile, should definitely take!


Deep Snow

Well Monday was send drawings to the town for building permit day. Finally the big push on the project is out of the way, but there will be plenty of questions to answer as we move forward I am sure. They switched contractors for one thing, which means our office is going to have to help them catch up. Construction won't start until April, so hopefully by then everything will be squared away. Despite a lot of hard work since coming back from Chicago, I have been managing to get up on the ski slopes on the weekend. Last weekend we got a lot of snow, in fact Friday it started snowing heavily after work and all through the night. There was over a foot on my car in the morning, and Beaver Creek was reporting 16". I headed up early and was able to get some first tracks on Screech Owl and Bald Eagle before heading into the Royal Elk Glades. There was good fresh stuff there as well, but it didn't last. Beaver Creek was the big bread winner last weekend for snow, Vail "only" got 7" and the resorts east of us barely got an inch. It snowed most of Saturday too, so conditions stayed soft but unfortunately everyone in the state it seemed had come to Beaver Creek. There were actually lift lines for the Grouse Mountian chair, which I have never had to wait more than a minute or two to ride. In fact when I got back down later in the day all the parking lots were full, they were parking up and down US 6 and even on some of the roads in Avon. It probably didn't help that it was a holiday weekend as well with Martin Luther King Day on Monday. All of this snow was a lot of fun, but it was also really deep. So deep that when I headed up to the Alta Chutes I ended up catching my ski on a layer of denser snow and popping it off. I figured I would turn around and see it sticking out of the snow, but no such luck. I dug around the whole area where I thought it would be for over an hour and still didn't find it. I ended up sliding down then skiing out on the catwalks and service roads on one ski. I filed a report with lost and found in the hopes that maybe someone will come across it and bring it down. If not, maybe someone who finds it will at least prop it up against a tree. Sunday I went back up, skiied a few runs and then headed over the area where I lost my ski to poke around with an avalanche probe in the hopes of being able to find it. I also flagged some trees with surveyor's tape so that I can remember the spot in future weekends. I poked around for another hour plus but again no sign of the ski. Either I am looking too low, or it slid down the mountain much lower than I thought and it was below me. I'll keep skiing that area and keep my eyes open, if no one finds it I can hike up there in June when the snow melts (yes, June... May will still have snow!) and get it then. Luckily it is above an area with a hiking trail and shouldn't be too hard of an area to get too in summer. Those tree flags will come in handy then for sure! This week I am taking the Level 1 Avalanche Seminar and Sunday is our field day where we get to dig test pits to analyze the snow layers, and also bury backpacks with beacons and practice rescue. When complete we will have a test and get our certification. Just one more skill to help keep me safe in the mountains!


Consolation Prize

I'm sure many of you know that the week before Christmas was a rough one on the Denver area. Particularly on the airport, and anyone trying to travel Wednesday-Friday while the airport was shutdown. I unfortunately was part of that group, having a Thursday morning flight. Luckily my flight was cancelled the night before and I never had to make the 100 plus mile drive to the airport. Of course rescheduling flights during one of, if not the, busiest travel times of the year is no small feat. It was very difficult to get through to my airline, in fact I never even got into their hold system, I always got "all of our carrier circuits are busy", meaning there was not even an open line for me to be put on hold! So I went with plan B, try and find a totally new flight. I was successful in finding a flight on Christmas day out of my local airport (20 miles away) for almost the same money. I even eventually managed to get through to my original airline and get a full refund. Of course this meant a change to my vacation schedule, and I was now in Colorado for 4 more days than expected. What to do? Well after working Thursday and Friday, ski of course.

It was my sort of consolation prize, and the slopes were wonderfully uncrowded. I even was able to hike up the ridge above Mongolia Bowl and get some fresh tracks in at Vail on Saturday. The lack of crowds meant virtually no lift lines, in fact even at Vail I rarely had a wait over 1 minute the entire time. Sunday my friend Drew (also "stuck" in town from the Denver storms) went to Beaver Creek with me and once again we had no lift lines. There was also a brief morning snow squall through the area that dropped 4 inches or so on the slopes. The winds drifted much of it between the moguls and there were some great soft turns in the Rose Bowl as a result. It may not have been what was orginally planned for the weekend before Christmas, but it was a heck of a lot better than all the poor passengers who had to spend all of their time sleeping on cots and suitcases in the Denver airport, and for that I am lucky!

Christmas Day did not go quite as smoothly as I had hoped. Unfortunately the plane I was supposed to be on had mechanical problems in Chicago and was going to need to be replaced. It was going to take them 4 hours to get a suitable aircraft, and my lateness was expanded. When the flight finally took off it was smooth, and after all was said and done I landed over 106 hours later than my original flight at almost 7pm. I met my parents at the airport and headed home for a late Christmas Dinner and then we opened presents. The rest of the week was nice, my mom was off work and my nephew off school. Tuesday my aunt was off work too and we all got to hang out and check out post Christmas sales. Thursday my nephew, sister and her boyfriend and I all went to see Night at the Museum. We all really enjoyed it, it was funny and really cool to see the "history come alive". Friday I headed down to the city and got together with some of my friends that I hadn't seen for a while. I stayed at my friend Mike's house and Saturday we and a few other friends all got to hang out again. Then it was one last dinner out with the family and off to bed for the Sunday morning flight. New Year's Day it was business as usual, skiing at Beaver Creek. While Denver was hammered with snow, we were ignored and conditions were a little thin in places including rocks, stumps, logs and dirt patches in some areas. Now that traveling is done for a while, hopefully the snow will start to fly soon again in the mountains!