Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paging Dr. Fuentes

One of my colleagues just got back from watching several stages of the Amgen Tour of California. After showing me his picture in a multi-colored speedo and cape, which bought him about 20 seconds of airtime during the Palomar climb, we had an in-depth discussion about doping.

I’ve mentioned before that I find it ironic that the maker of two leading brands of EPO should be sponsoring a bike race. Perhaps I’m just a little slow, but from a business standpoint, I just can’t figure out how it makes sense financially for Amgen to be the title sponsor of a bike race if their target market is physicians. If it’s a tacit admission that they’re marketing to [doping] cyclists, then the connection is perfectly clear. But if everything were on the up and up, I just can’t connect the dots.

The doping discussion led to our own introspection on what we would and would not be willing to do to improve our performance on the bike. Especially given that we’re both age-group beaters that are never going to be world class or even make back our investment in gear.

I remember some time ago The Fat Cyclist talking about what he was willing to do to get down to his target riding weight. He said he was willing to take one pill a day but would be unwilling to take five. My take on that is a little different. For me the quantity of pills is less important than what I’m taking and whether it’s necessary and/or potentially harmful, and yes, legal.

For example, there’s one pill I have to take daily. There are other things, such as Albuterol for asthma, that I don’t have to take, but I feel a lot better if I do. Shortly after moving to Utah I went on a lunch ride with Mark N., Brad, Dug, and Bob. I was huffing and puffing and way off the back. The next time out, I was able to hang just fine. The difference? Two puffs of Albuterol.

I also take a handful of vitamin and mineral supplements every morning. The difference from these is much less dramatic than the Albuterol, but my hope in swallowing them is that I’ll be healthier and yes, will perform better.


But where is the line to be drawn? Alessandro Petacchi, who also has a prescription for Albuterol (along with something like 2/3 of the pro peloton), received a one year ban (applied retroactively), was stripped of his results during the ineligibility period, and was fired from his job with team Milram (though later hired by another team, albeit a lesser one) for taking an extra puff on his inhaler.

My prescription is for 2 puffs every 4-6 hours, daily. I never use anywhere near that much, as I only really need it when I exercise. But there have been times when my chest was so tight and I was struggling so hard to breathe that I’ve taken five or maybe six puffs in a four or even two hour window. Was I cheating?

But as incensed as I’d like to be for the seeming injustice Petacchi received as a result of what the Italian anti-doping authorities ruled was an innocent case of human error, I can’t be. Same goes for Floyd Landis. Both can make great cases for why they shouldn’t have been prosecuted. But I find it hard to muster sympathy. Because I don’t believe they were totally clean.

Nor do I believe Lance, nor Contador, nor Pereiro were clean, even though they haven’t tested positive. Though not yet banned, Tom Boonen is clearly doping. An out-of-competition positive for recreational drugs tells me you lack the integrity to avoid using something that’s performance-enhancing.

I want to believe that Cavendish, Vandevelde, Zabriskie, and the Schleck brothers are clean, especially since they ride for teams with 3rd party testing programs, but it’s hard. Vaughters and Riise, the directeurs sportifs for two of those teams, are admitted dopers. Sure, they may have cleaned up, but maybe they didn’t.

Sadly, I treat the pro peloton the way I treat the snowpack in avalanche terrain. I assume it’s suspect. I may find reasons to believe the snow won’t slide, but those reasons will never be enough for me leave my beacon, shovel, probe, and Avalung at home.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An open letter to the publisher of Skiing Magazine

It used to be that each of the major ski publications had its niche: Ski is for East Coast skiers and people in Texas and Ohio who take a big ski vacation to Colorado or California every year. They usually spend the entire time skiing groomers and are more concerned about their accommodations than the snow conditions. Ski is also exceptionally lame and has fashion features like “how to complete the Telluride look.”

Powder is the edgy, hardcore skier’s magazine for those who live, eat, and breathe skiing. It’s target audience is Western skiers who live near the mountain and are there every weekend if not midweek. They may travel to ski somewhere new, but they spend more money on gear than on travel. They’re happy crashing on someone’s couch if it means more money for lift tickets.

Skiing found a happy medium, wherein it appealed to the middle 80% by still being relevant to the Ski audience without putting off those of us who live in the West and just want some stoke when we can’t be on the hill. 20 years ago, I read and re-read my copies of Skiing while I waited for Saturday to arrive. Today, I prefer Powder.

Somewhere along the way, Skiing decided that it needed to leapfrog Powder and become the most core publication in the industry. You failed. Using F-bombs doesn’t make you core. It indicates you lack the vocabulary to come up with something witty to say.

References to illicit drug use have nothing to do with skiing. Sure, plenty of ski bums like to ski loaded. I’ve had a contact high just from riding up the chairlift with one. But as much as I want my kids to be good skiers and to really love and connect with the mountain, having a magazine tell them which panel in a beater car to remove to hide a stash from authorities has nothing to do with that.

Whoever had the idea that to be core you have to be juvenile was wrong. Core is getting up at 4:00 a.m. to hike for turns on a work day. Core is spending your last few hundred bucks on some new sticks.

Core is NOT going to an exclusive ski camp at Snowbird just so you can rip on the instructor (who is way more core than you) and check the snow report on your iPhone. If you’re at Snowbird just to ski, then skip the clinic and just buy lift tickets. But bagging on clinic participants just because they’re looking for something else from the experience is sophomoric.

From a business standpoint, this editorial shift makes no sense. Who are you trying to appeal to and who’s going to advertise to them? Ski has their audience, Powder has theirs, and Skiing used to appeal to the widest swath of the industry. Sure, what you’re writing now may be cool to 17-year-old kids, but they don’t have any money.

I’m just as into the sport now as I was when I was 17, the difference being I can afford to buy new gear every year and would travel to ski if the best snow weren’t already on my doorstep. Why don’t you try asking your advertisers which audience they’re more interested in?

As if the deterioration of content were not enough, I recently wrote you a letter indicating that I was interested in renewing my subscription but was hesitant to do so without some assurance that I could feel comfortable leaving the magazines where my kids or even my wife would read them. Your response was to offer to renew my subscription for 80% more than the price indicated on my renewal card. Get a clue.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

LIFO versus FIFO

The accountants in the audience will recognize today's title as two generally accepted methods for inventory accounting. Given that back when I worked for Dunder Mifflin, I managed a few billion dollars worth of their inventory, it's a topic I know a little bit about. But since the beginning of the end for me was when I showed the clip from The Office where Michael Scott goes on vacation so he can avoid doing inventory because "inventory is boring" during our big inventory summit that people had travelled from all over the country to attend (everyone but my boss thought it was hilarious), I'll spare you the lecture about inventory accounting. Because for the most part inventory is, in fact, boring.

Instead, I'm going to talk about the LIFO method of getting dressed. But before I get into that, we need to at least set a baseline. LIFO stands for "Last In, First Out." What that means in accounting is that when determining the cost basis of an item that has been sold, you use the cost of the last of that item placed in inventory.

I've often wondered if I'm alone in using the LIFO method of getting dressed. Or more precisely, the LOFO (Last On First Off) method. As a practical matter, everyone does this to a certain degree. I mean, you can't very well take off your undershirt without taking off your coat first. Or maybe you can, but it's not practical. Unless you're a girl (have you noticed that they all know that trick for changing shirts and maybe even bras without actually taking their shirts off? It's like it's part of the female DNA to be able to do that).

Anyway, I'm very particular about using LOFO not just when it's required as a practical matter but even when it's just a matter of personal preference. I am referring of course to the rule that you have to put your pants on before your shirt when dressing and take your shirt off before your pants when undressing. If you do it the other way around it just seems icky.

The only time this is a problem is when dressing to go for a bike ride in any kind of cool weather. For instance, I went out on a short road ride at lunch today. Given that it's still February, I wore a base layer under my jersey, bib shorts, knee warmers, arm warmers, jersey, and vest.

According to the LOFO method, the bib shorts should have been the first thing I put on and the last thing I took off as I changed before and after the ride. But cold weather gear messes up that routine. It's much easier to put on the base layer and knee warmers before putting on the bib shorts, so that's what I did. And as I stood there in the bathroom stall (which any pervert could peer into just by sticking his head up to one of the gaps), wearing nothing but knee warmers and a skin-tight base layer top, I felt extremely self conscious. Not that there are wide-stanced Senators frequenting my bathroom, but still. I didn't like it one bit.

The good news is that notwithstanding the extra ten pounds or so I am currently carrying, putting road kit on for the first time in months wasn't as traumatic as I thought it would be. Everything seemed to fit OK. I've got a little extra in the midsection, but with bib shorts, it wasn't constricting or anything. My knees weren't hitting my gut as I pedaled, so I was happy with that. As for the ride itself, I was able to climb all the way to the hairpin in Emigration Canyon in my big ring without too much discomfort--most of the time I was in 50x19. The best part, though, was that the muffin tops at the top of my knee warmers really didn't seem any larger than they were in the fall. I wouldn't categorize them as small, just small enough to be considered "not embarrassing."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Push to talk

A few days ago, my wife came home from the store with a copy of Salt Lake Magazine. She thought I'd be interested in it because it had a story on backcountry skiing near Snowbasin as well as a retrospective for Alta's 70 year anniversary.

When I read the backcountry article, I was disappointed. First of all, it wasn't about backcountry skiing, but rather "slackcountry" skiing--riding the chairlifts up and then going out the gates to ski out of bounds terrain. The objective of the article was apparently to schill for the products featured in the sidebar. Why else would they use Head IM 88 skis, which weigh about as much as bolting an anvil to your bindings and ski powder only slightly better? But the really appalling but not at all surprising thing was that they paid only cursory attention to avalanche danger.

The author must have thought that since they were near the resort and other people were heading out the gates, they were OK. In reality, this is probably the most dangerous situation because the people ducking ropes aren't always the most experienced backcountry travelers. Experienced or not, just because someone else is skiing a slope, doesn't mean it's safe. But people with no backcountry experience who just read an article in a magazine don't know this. Nor do they know that any backcountry travel, including that accessed via chairlift, should be done with a beacon, shovel, and probe, and the wherewithal to use them. Unless of course, the magazine does the responsible thing and points these things out along with a stern caution that what they're writing about is dangerous.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to write a letter to the editor. Too bad the magazine was so dull that I won't be reading any subsequent issues to see if they actually publish one.

This tendency to underestimate the avalanche danger or overestimate one's ability to deal with it is not unique to this article. Two snowboarders were caught and taken for a ride near Brighton earlier this year. They were lucky to live through it, but having done so, will probably be emboldened by the experience rather than taking the risks seriously. I certainly hope I'm wrong.

In nearby Montana, a fellow skier observed the following example of why the article in Salt Lake Magazine was so dangerous:
Riding up the tram at Big Sky a few weeks ago, minding my own business, when the culmination of all gaper quotes occured and changed my life forever.

Four young, besnowboarded bros are clustered on one side of the tram, and as my mind drifts back into the cabin, I pick up on their conversation and realize that they are lamenting vociferously the fact that the a$$h*les of the Big Sky ski patrol don't lend out avy equipment to payin' customers so that they can ski the Big Couloir. By now, the brains and voice of this small crew has reached peak pitch, and, no longer able to adequetly cope with his frustration in a relatively quiet manner, bursts out with the following:

"Well I just don't get what the big deal is. I mean, they could just lend us the stuff for a run no problem. And anyways, what's there to understand? You've got your shovel, your probe, and your transceiver, and you push the button to talk..."

At which my mouth dropped open involuntarily. And then closed. And then we got to the top, and stepped out, and I skied quietly down, dwelling heavily on what I had just heard.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ski waxing, part 2: how

A while ago, I posted about the rationale behind waxing skis with a promise I’d follow up with a how-to. But first I needed to organize my garage to the point I could actually access my workbench and be in need of applying wax to skis.

The urgency to write this post increased yesterday while I was skiing Superior, since I hit some rocks pretty hard in the chute and put a nice core shot in each ski. So instead of just talking about waxing skis, we’re going to get into some minor base and edge repair as well. If your bases or edges aren’t damaged, and your skis are just dry and in need of some wax, skip ahead.

First of all, I’m not expert on base repair. I consulted this and this as well as the experts at Teton Gravity before embarking just to make sure I was doing it right.

When a gouge goes all the way to the core of the ski or is along the metal edge (or in my case, both), you can’t just put some P-tex on it and expect it to stick, as P-tex won’t adhere to the core or the edge. So you need to either put some epoxy or copolymer in the gouge first to give the P-tex something to stick to. I used epoxy, since that’s what I had readily available. Before applying the epoxy or doing any other work, make sure everything is clean and there’s no dirt or moisture in there or rust on the edge.

With the epoxy in place, I next melted some P-tex into the gouge to fill the hole. I did not use the P-tex candles, as these are softer material and not as durable. I used the harder P-tex string and melted it in with a soldering iron. (Be careful if using a soldering iron, as they will get much hotter than you need them. I would heat mine up, turn it off, and use it until it was too cool to work with, then repeat.)

This works better if you heat the surrounding base first, as the P-tex will bond better to the warm surface. Don’t expect it to be pretty, just get the P-tex in there with enough to overfill the holes. You’ll level it later.

Using a combination of a versaplane, sandpaper, and a metal scraper, remove the excess base material until you have a nice, flat base.

Once the base repair is done, you can move on to the edges. I don’t do a lot of edge work—I just deburr the rough spots and make one or two passes with a flat file. I’ll take my skis in for a stonegrind as needed, as the professional machines just do a much better job than I can at home.

For deburring rough spots, you’ll need a diamond file. Regular files aren’t hard enough. Just file the rough spots until they’re reasonably smooth.

Once I’m finished deburring and making a couple of passes with the flat file, I’ll go over the base one more time with the metal scraper to level any high spots or irregularities. This step is important not so much to make your skis glide better, but because it helps ensure your edges will engage on hard snow.

With the edges and bases finished, I’m ready to start waxing. If you’re not doing any edge or base work, this is where you would begin the process.

First, clean the bases thoroughly to remove old wax and any dirt or other buildup. Metal scraping from the previous step does the rough work. You can then apply base cleaner or citrus degreaser and wipe the bases down with a clean rag.

Melt some wax onto the base using a specialty waxing iron if you’ve got deep pockets, or an old $3 thrift store iron if you’re a dirtbag like me. If you use a regular iron, keep the temperature low (between 1 and 2 on this one). The iron should be just hot enough to melt the wax on contact, but if the wax is smoking at all, it’s too hot.

One slow pass down the middle should be plenty.

Next, take your iron and iron the wax into the base. Again, make sure the iron isn’t too hot or you can bubble the base, which is a pain to repair. You’ll want to make enough passes with the iron to spread the wax evenly from edge to edge and to warm the skis sufficiently that they’re warm (but not hot) to the touch on the other side. Warming the bases like this opens the pores and allows the wax to be absorbed.

With a plastic scraper, remove the excess wax from the surface of the ski until you’re left with a nice, flat surface. Doesn’t need to be super smooth, as that gets taken care of in the next steps. Incidentally, I only apply wax to the running surface of the skis, as you don’t really need it on the tips, and they’re a pain to scrape.

After scraping, brush the bases with a stiff horsehair brush. This will smooth the surface and expose the base structure, as I mentioned in the “why” post. Incidentally, there are various brushes available, each for various stages and layers of wax, but unless you’re a Nordic skier or a racer, universal wax and a horsehair brush will probably be adequate.

At this point, you could be done if you wanted to be. In fact, you could be done after scraping or even waxing if you want. But I like to go over the bases a couple times with a soft abrasive pad (similar to a scotch-brite, but without the cleaning agents). You can get these for cheap at good ski shops. This will give your bases a nice, smooth, consistent finish.

I wipe everything down with a clean rag just to get the wax flakes off and finish with a nice, clean ski.

As you can see in the photo above, I don’t have a specialty ski bench or vises. I just bolted some 2x4 extensions onto the sides of my garage workbench and covered the tops with some silicone so it would grip the skis when I’m scraping. I then made a “T” with a 2x4 and a 4x4, applied silicone to the top of the 4x4, and then clamp that to the front of the workbench to support the middle of the ski. Much cheaper than a specialty bench and allows full non-ski-tuning use of my existing bench. The extensions are also great for hanging tubes, tires, or chains from when I’m working on bikes during the warmer months.

The last step is to test your skis, preferably on a nice powdery slope with some good friends. Here’s a few shots from this morning in Days Fork, accessed from the Big Cottonwood side. Erik joined us today for his first ever backcountry tour. I keep waiting for someone to come out with us who’s NOT a better skier than I am.

From the top, here I am with the North Face of Superior in the background. You probably can’t make out the ski lines on the face behind me. But there were a bunch. The very first one was mine.


Erik (making it look easy on borrowed gear):


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The impetuous Mother Superior

Mount Superior can be a foul, even frightening place to ski. But she’s home to some of the biggest, most aesthetic lines in the Wasatch, and when conditions are right, the snow can be absolutely exquisite.

Take this morning, for instance. Ben, Mike, and I met at 5:00 a.m. at LCC. I had no idea what we were going to ski. When Mike said the South face of Superior, I almost turned around. I wasn’t sure I wanted to walk that knife-edge ridge again. But I couldn’t not go, though I did harbor thoughts of trying to convince them to ski Days instead.

To my surprise, conditions were MUCH better for climbing this morning than last time we were up there. To the point that I didn’t get freaked out at all, and we were able to skin to the top rather than having to boot from the ridge up.

Ben is a crazy fast hiker, so a little above the Black Knob, he had put up enough of a gap on us that he dropped a sweet line off the Northeast shoulder. When we got to the top, this complicated our decision: should we ski the South Face and get on with our day, or should we ski the North Face, since Ben described his line as the best run he’d had all year?

We hit the North Face. And I felt like a pro, because Ben ski cut the slope for me, and then went and positioned himself on the adjacent ridge where he could film me getting first tracks for 1,000 vertical feet of thigh-deep snow. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Mike followed and was just as giddy when he got to the bottom.

The tradeoff for Ben being cameraman was that Mike had to film him on the South Face. On our way up, Ben, never content to just ski the standard line, showed us the cornice drop and spines he wanted to hit (in the photo below--thanks AM--it’s lookers left of the pointy summit, right where the ridge starts to flatten out; Mike and I just dropped it straight down the middle).

From the summit, I could only see Ben’s first two turns, but based on that I’m pretty sure Ben could go toe-to-toe with any skier anywhere—he looked that good.

What I didn’t see was that he also kicked off a huge sluff slide that filled the chute he was dropping into, and he was nowhere to be seen at the bottom. Suddenly, instead of focusing on my descent of the South Face (which is a 40+ degree shot that funnels into a narrow chute), I’m wondering whether Ben is buried and we need to dig him out.

I rushed the descent, didn’t look good doing it, traversed over to the debris pile below Ben, and saw him up there waving. It was so good, he couldn’t bring himself to ski through the debris and had to hike over to another chute where he could get first tracks. He described the first line as the best 15 turns of his life.

The rest of the way down was mellow turning through knee-deep fresh that was just starting to get heavy from being in full sun.

Back at the car I realized I was starving and my legs were completely cooked--things I somehow failed to notice on the mountain. Conditions like today—no wind, sunny, stable snow that’s deep and fluffy—happen at most once per year on Superior. I’m glad I didn’t miss it, even though Dug told me he’d like me to piss off, told me twice that he hates me, and assured me that if I did something involving my lips and his derriere, he would feel much better about missing it.

P.S. Once Ben sends me the video, I’ll post that too. Could be later today, could be in a week, could be never.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Prisoner’s dilemma

One of my favorite topics in economics is game theory. But it’s not like I’m a student of it or anything. I’m just analytical by nature and find myself from time to time applying game theory to everyday life.

For example, the paper towel dispenser in my office presents a sort of prisoner’s dilemma. It’s one of those auto-sensing kind that doesn’t do a very good job of sensing your hand. And a single dispensation of paper towel is inadequate to actually dry two adult hands, so you have to wave your hands under the thing twice.

Which raises the prisoner’s dilemma: do you stand there waving your hands under the thing not once, but twice, and wait for it to dispense? Or when it dispenses the first towel, do you grab it and pull it out further than it will go on its own before tearing it, thereby getting enough paper towel for the job, but in the process risk breaking the machine and making it harder to get a paper towel on subsequent visits?

The Nash Equilibrium in this situation is to pull the towel out and risk breaking the machine. Because I share the office, and other people are doing this. If I’m accelerating the demise of the machine, it’s not by much. So nearly as often as not, that’s what I do. I hate it, but I do it.

Prone as I am to evaluating my life in this way, I’ll often pose hypothetical questions to myself. The situation I consider most often is this: I love to ride my bike, and I love to ski. If I had to choose only one, which?

It would probably be the bike. Probably.

But it would be a decision made with my head and not my heart. Cycling is a three season sport, it’s something I can do right from my driveway, and I can do it every day.

As much as I love to bike, though, I love to ski more. When I was 18 I spent a month backpacking through Europe. My favorite country: Switzerland. Why? Because of the mountains and all the places to ski and hike in them. When I returned home from the trip, having spent the final two weeks in flat parts of Spain, France, and England, I was glad to see the Wasatch again. It was that much better when the first snow of the season fell a few days later.

I spent nine years living away from Utah. Four of them were in the Midwest. The hardest part was being away from the mountains. When we moved to California and then Idaho, it was good to be near mountains again.

Not everyone is like this. My mom has lived near mountains her entire life. She’s currently vacationing in Myrtle Beach, which she does several times a year. She prefers the Ocean.

But my friend Trent, an Officer in the Marine Corps currently stationed pretty much on the beach in Southern California where he can surf almost every day, gets jealous when I send him pictures of a powder day. He’s a mountain person—a skier. He understands.

If you’re a mountain person, you too understand the twinge of regret that I feel as I pull out of the parking garage after work and see daylight. It means the days are getting longer again and winter is waning. Ski season has been great, but it won’t last forever. My bike is neglected and waiting. But the bike misses me more than I miss the bike.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gaper day weekend

Utah sees about 4 million skier visits per year. In a state of 2.6 million people, each resident would ski about 1.5 times per year to reach that total. Of course, there are many of us who ski quite a bit more than once or twice a year, and there are a whole slew of people who come from out of state to ski. And then there are those who don’t ski at all.

But there really are some who ski once a year, and it seems like they all choose President’s Day for that one day per year. Why they choose President’s Day makes no sense to me. I went on President’s Day because I go pretty much every chance I get. But if I were only going to go once, I don’t think the busiest day of the year would be the one I chose.

I was all set to write a really snarky post about the stuff I saw over the weekend. Then, on the way to work, I heard a story on NPR about how snark is a cancer to civil discourse. So I reconsidered even writing this post.

But I like snark. And I realized that I’m not being mean or ridiculing anyone. I mean, for all I know, the joke’s on me, and the strange things I saw were all meant in fun and to give me a good laugh. Besides, my philosophy is that any skiing is better than not skiing, so no matter how you do it, I’m glad to see people up there on the mountain. We’d all get along better if we skied more—I’m sure that’s how Switzerland has maintained a policy of neutrality. And it’s not like nobody’s laughing at the Swiss skiers, what with the Bogner fartbags and all.

So here’s a list of some amusing things that I either saw or experienced over the weekend. In no particular order.

Cop cars without snow tires

Early Saturday morning, we’re driving down the hill on the North side of Suncrest. It’s a 10% grade for about 1500 vertical feet, so when it’s covered with snow, it can be a bit dicey. The cop who was coming down while the snow plow was coming up learned this the hard way. We stopped to make sure everyone was fine, which, thankfully, they were. The cop was a bit embarrassed. You’d think with the snowfall we get they’d outfit the cruisers with snow tires.

Cop Car Collision

Gaper gap

You’re either a skier or a gaper. If you’re trying to make the transition, the first place to start is making sure that your helmet or hat sits low enough that it meets the top of your goggles. Otherwise you have gaper gap, as seen here. Although this example is a bad one because he’s wearing glasses. Even though goggles wouldn’t have made much difference. Raccoon eyes are one thing. Raccoon eyes with a striped forehead are quite another.


Incidentally, Rob, the Wonder Twin, is prone to gaper gap. But I’ve never said anything. Because Rob is a WAY better skier than I am. Except he reads this blog. So I guess I did just say something. Hi Rob.

Helmet covers

I love these. I should get one and wear it next time we do the Pee-Chuter (the new name for the recently renamed steep, narrow, cliff-lined chute).

helmet cover

Pre 1100’s

Back in the day, Pre 1200’s were the “it” ski. Sometime in the ‘80’s I remember watching a segment from a Warren Miller film where a couple of hotshot locals were ripping a Sun Valley bump run on Pre 1200s. I wanted to be them--I wanted to ski on their skis where they were skiing.

A couple years later, during the presidency of Bush 41, I was a poor high school kid in need of some good skis for cheap. I thought about the Pre 1200s and tried to find a pair. To no avail. They were old enough by then that they couldn’t be found, even used (we didn’t have internets back then).

Tangentially, in recent years I actually skied at Sun Valley and discovered that it’s kind of lame. At least the inbounds stuff. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m not sure how Pre’s numbering system worked, whether the 1100’s were a predecessor of the 1200’s or just a less performance-oriented ski of the same vintage, but the woman ahead of me in the ticket line on Monday had a pair. I don’t think they had been waxed since Ross Perot was an almost-viable presidential candidate.


That’s the water density of the snow that Dug, Jon, and I skied in Days Fork on Saturday. Yum. I was glad to hear that Sam a.k.a. VH1 finally made it out Monday to clean up our leftovers.

 days 011 days 016 days 018

Salt Lake 2002

The Olympics were awesome. But they’re over. Seven years ago.


Apparently these used to be (and maybe still are, for all I know) big in France. It’s like taking all the comparative disadvantages of snowboarding and snowlerblades and combining them in one contraption. And yet, I stood behind one in the lift line on Saturday. The guy described his setup as “a dinosaur.”


Boot and ski sizing

Once-per-year skiers, when not on quarter-century-old equipment, are otherwise on rental skis. Which means that their boots don’t fit. Of course, most skiers wear boots that don’t fit, and it’s almost never because they’re too small. Boots that fit properly are almost always going to be uncomfortable until at the very least the liners are molded. For Alpine Boots (which unlike touring boots don’t have fully moldable liners), some shell work is usually in order. Unless you have really easy-to-fit feet.

Instead of going through the discomfort and expense of finding boots that fit, most skiers just buy them two sizes too big. The boot makers are complicit with this by listing street shoe size conversions to mondo sizing right on the box. For instance, if you measure my foot it’s 25.5 cm long, which means I wear a 25.5 ski boot (see how simple mondo sizing is?). According to the box, though, that corresponds to a street shoe size of 7. In reality I wear an 8.5 or a 9.

As a result you see a lot of 5’2” women walk out of the rental shop with size 27 ski boots. This woman had on size 24.5, which is probably the right size for her. However, whether she was actually sized properly at the shop or just lies about her street shoe size is a question I’ll never know the answer to.


As much too big as the boots tend to be, the skis tend toward the inverse. I love seeing 6’4”, 240 pound Oklahomans on 160cm skis.

Kids that rip

Mine is not one of those blogs that is nothing but photos of my kids interspersed with copy about how cute they are. Sure, there’s a place for blogs like that, but the audience is limited to Grandmas, siblings, kind neighbors, and friends from high school who are really only reading so they can feel like their BFF is still close even though she quit calling several years ago.

Notwithstanding, I am not above bragging about my kids once in a while. I mean, this blog has no theme other than whatever I feel like writing about, which just so happens to be skiing or cycling 95% of the time, and can include my kids at my discretion.

On our first ride up the very easy chairlift Monday, my four-year-old turns to me to conspire about beating his nine-year-old sister down the hill. She was on the chair in front of us. She got off and waited for us. He got off and straightlined it to the bottom. Figure 11’s. Not. One. Turn. He’s come a long way since the first time we were out this year.

D skiing

Unfortunately, my kids fail to understand the dirtbag ethic. They don’t know that you’re supposed to fill your pockets with candy, oreos, PBJs, and maybe a can of diet coke and eat that on the chairlift so you can ski, uninterrupted (save ducking into the trees—fly, not buckle—as needed), all day. Instead, they wanted to have lunch in the lodge. Of food purchased in the lodge. They lit me up for $21. For four items. Still cheaper than calling it a day early and wasting a lift ticket I guess.

After we moved on to a bigger lift, my daughter saw a bump run right under the chair. She asked if she could go down that way the next time. It was a proud moment, so I helped her brother down the run just so we could watch her.

E Skiing

My kids aren’t the best skiers on the mountain any more than I am. But they’re good enough to be fun to watch and make their dad happy. And in the end, the whole point of skiing is having fun and being happy.

So keep skiing, even if you’re boots are too big, your skis are too old, or your helmet is too ugly. But if you’re on a monoski, cut that thing in half.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dining with the bluehairs

My attitude towards getting up at 4:30 in the morning follows a pattern similar to a sine curve. It always begins in a trough--at 4:30 in the morning when the alarm goes off--because I really don’t want to get out of bed.

I remain in the trough while putting skins on skis in single-digit temperatures and starting up the skin track with not enough clothing to keep warm. But as I make my way up the hill and start to warm up, my attitude also improves. As the skins come off, the boots get buckled, and I start down the hill, I reach an apex. I will stay in this place all morning.

Sometime after lunch, the fatigue catches up with me, and I start to fade. I begin wondering what I was thinking getting up that early. I’ll continue to bounce along the bottom with diet coke being the only thing that keeps me from crashing completely.

Once the workday ends and I go home, I start to perk up again. When I walk in the door and my kids squeal and say “Daddy!” I’m feeling good. If we’re going out in the morning, there will often be an evening exchange of text messages, at which point I’ll once again be at a zenith in anticipation of morning face shots (and if we’re not going out, I’ll be looking forward to sleeping in—all the way until 6:30). If not for that high, I’d be unwilling to set the alarm.

The problem is that when we put the kids to bed about 8:00, I’m ready to go to bed too. Rachel isn’t. It’s her first break of the day and her first chance to spend time with me. Of course I enjoy having time with her, so I stay up.

Which is not to say she doesn’t give me a hard time. She’s always giving me crap about how I should get the senior citizen specials by going to dinner with the blue-haired ladies and the white-haired men before 5:00 p.m. Alls I need are some o' dem white shoes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

That steep, narrow, cliff-lined chute. (You know, the one above Aspen Grove?)

So you know how yesterday I talked about suffering through a steep skin track and my absentmindedness disrupting an otherwise great tour? Well I spoke too soon.

This morning Dug, Aaron, the Wonder Twins (Rick and Rob), and I all met up in Orem for a little backcountry tour in Provo Canyon. Aaron just got a new splitboard, and today was the day to christen it.

The target was a line above Sundance that has been referred to as the Orion Chute. Incidentally, none of us particularly cares for that name, and since it’s neither well-known nor classic, we aren’t letting that name stick. But other than “Redford’s Bunghole” we couldn’t think of anything on the drive home. Dug has since christened it “That One Steep Narrow Cliff-lined Chute.” Actually, the hyphenation in “cliff-lined” was mine, because that was the one punctuation error in the name I couldn’t tolerate. And since apparently we all peed in it, I don’t think the name can be changed now. I’ll be sending notice to the USGS shortly.

Anyway, I had no idea what this line was like, but if I thought yesterday’s skin track was steep, then today’s was downright ridiculous. It wasn’t that Rick was keen on inflicting punishment (though that can’t be ruled out), it was just that the slide path we climbed up to get to the ridge was ridiculously steep.

It eventually choked down so narrow and steep that we were switching back about every ten feet and lucky if on the switchback we didn’t slide down to the track below us.

As an aside, Wasatch Front residents may remember that slide in Provo Canyon five or so years ago that buried three snowboarders, one of them to the point that they didn’t recover the body until spring. That was the line we climbed up, though today it was evident that it had already slid this storm cycle, whereas five years ago it was an “extreme” danger avalanche day and those guys had no safety equipment. Not that safety equipment (other than your brain telling you not to go out that day) would help in a slide that big. The damage was still visible, with large trees snapped in half at the trunk.

Once at the top, we enjoyed a few turns through the trees and some nice deep pow before arriving at the top of the One Steep Narrow Cliff-lined Chute. The first 15 or so feet were steep enough and narrow enough that we chose to downclimb rather than slide and scrape it clean before the next guy made it down.

Rick downclimbing:

Dug at the top:

The descent itself was steep and narrow—barely wider than my skis; when standing perpendicular to the fall line I could reach my hand out and touch the slope. Rick graciously chose not to shoot video of the descent because, though we all made it down, we didn’t look like pros doing so.





The only problem I had was poor sluff management. As it opened at the bottom and I started actually linking turns, I skied right into my own sluff, which buried my ski. As I made my next turn, the buried ski popped off. I stopped immediately, but on a line that steep, I was still 10 feet below my ski. To make matters worse, Aaron was coming down behind me, and his sluff was piling up on me as I tried to come back up. Before I’d made any progress climbing back to my ski, I was buried up to my chest in Aaron’s sluff.

Once out of the chute and onto the apron, the skiing was sublime. Knee deep and blower with well-spaced trees to keep it interesting. Every day should be so good. Wait. The last three have been. I am so spoiled.

The only bummer about today was that once again my absentmindedness reared its ugly head. Last night I charged my camera battery and was sure to put my camera in my pack this morning. Unfortunately, I forgot to put the battery back in the camera. So all we’ve got are Dug’s cell phone camera pics (which actually turned out quite nice, all things considered). And you know how I feel about those. Oh well, there are worse things than skiing a line like this without your camera.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My absentmindedness, part 4

This morning Rob and I decided to do a quick lap in Scotties Bowl before work. Usual routine: LCC lot at 5:30, throw stuff in one car, drive up, yadayadayada. I drove up the canyon. Rob and I just chatting as we drove. I saw the turnout to a parking area, but it was early, snowing, dark, and I was only loosely aware of my surroundings. I was thinking we weren't high enough to be at White Pine, so I kept going. Then I saw the Snowbird Entry 1 sign. Oops.

We pulled into the lot, and the Black Diamond Bus was there. Brad Barlage, his brother, and a few friends from the Brighton Ski Patrol were a few minutes ahead of us on the skin track. I was feeling pretty good this morning and didn't want to get to work too late since I spent the morning yesterday at Brighton, so I pushed the pace to try and catch Brad and crew. I knew my redline was well within Rob's comfortable range since he's one of the Wonder Twins and all.

Just when I thought we were going to close the gap, the skin track got crazy steep. Now the couple times I've been out with BD guys, the skin track has always been steep, so this was not surprising. But I'm convinced that some of Brad's purpose must have been to see just how straight up the hill he could go before his skins lost grip. I never actually fell on my face, but I came close.

A couple hundred vertical feet from the top, we finally caught the crew ahead of us. Catching Brad Barlage on the uptrack officially goes down as the highlight of my backcountry career. Nevermind that he was breaking trail through knee deep snow.

At this point Brad made the call to plant the flag, not wanting to risk a slide by continuing on through the upper section. Rob and I de-skinned and were the first to drop. I only took three pictures, none of them very good. This one gives you an idea how deep it was: you can see Rob's ski tip and glove coming out from behind the lowermost tree on the right. The rest of him is shrouded in white.

And here he is planing out as he goes past me. Notice that planed out, the snow is still up to his boot tops.

According to the Alta website, the snow density was 5-6% for the recent storms. It had settled a bit, so wasn't quite that light. I'd say maybe 8-10%. What a pity. Actually, the real pity is that Rob and I were the only two who got up for it. And other than getting up at 4:30, it didn't interfere with our workday. At all. Because we were back at the car at 7:37.

Those of you who don't know me probably figured that the title of today's post was in reference to driving right past the trailhead and having to turn around. It's not. At least not completely. Because when we got back to the car, I discovered that the gym bag with my jeans and sweatshirt in it were still at my house, so I had to go back for them before going to work. Double oops. So much for getting in by 8:15 even on a powder day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Best soup I have since I come to America

When I was in grad school, one of the really cool non-academic programs was a multi-day outdoor adventure before school started in the fall. The trips were organized and led by second-year students, and first-year students had the option to attend the trip of their choice.

My first year, I went on a backpacking trip to fly fish in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana. I hiked through some amazing places and caught hundreds of trout. Aside from a guy from the Dominican Republic getting altitude sickness at roughly the same elevation as my current house, it couldn't have been better.

My second year, two of my friends and I organized a trip to Alaska to go backpacking in Denali National Park, whitewater rafting on the Nenana River, and then travelling by float plane to Shuyak Island (the northernmost island in the Kodiak archipelago) for several days of sea kayaking and fishing for silver salmon.

Roughly 35% of each class is composed of international students, some of whom have spent significant time in the USA; some of whom have never been before. One of the students who chose to come on our Alaska trip was a guy named Haibo. Haibo was from Shanghai, arrived in Ann Arbor with just enough time for me to take him to Cabela's to get outfitted for the trip, and then a few days later we hopped a plane for Anchorage.

One of the things I noticed about Haibo was that he really liked soup. The first couple of days we had several meals in restaurants, and each time he ordered soup. On day three or four of the trip, we elected to pull the plug on our backpacking a day early due to weather (it had rained nonstop for three days) and checked into a hotel.

The hotel had a free breakfast buffet with a vast assortment of typical American breakfast items, including sausage gravy and biscuits.

I noticed that Haibo came back from the buffet with a big bowl full of sausage gravy, but no biscuits. I knew what was coming. About a half-dozen spoonfuls in, I asked Haibo how he liked his soup. "Very good shoap. Best shoap I have since I come to America." When I explained that it was called gravy and eaten with biscuits, he was confused. Biscuits to him were what you or I would likely call a cookie.

Later someone else explained to him how the sausage gravy was made, and he was disgusted with himself. But not so disgusted to keep him from eating every last morsel save the bone (fat, grissle, you name it) of a 20 ounce porterhouse steak a few nights later. After that, one of the guys started taking over/under bets on how much weight Haibo would gain by graduation. Don't know how he did it, but he was still skinny when I graduated almost a year later.

Monday, February 9, 2009


In roughly eight hours, the avy forecast went from this:


Danger by aspect and elevation on slopes approaching 35° or steeper.

In areas that received less than 6 inches of new snow overnight, the danger remains mostly LOW with pockets of MODERATE. In areas that received 6-12 inches of new snow overnight, the danger is MODERATE with areas of CONSIDERABLE. This includes primarily the Provo and Ogden area mountains.

To this:


Danger by aspect and elevation on slopes approaching 35° or steeper.

There is a HIGH danger of avalanches in all areas that received over a foot of snow late last night and this morning. This includes most areas in the Wasatch Range. Backcountry travelers should avoid crossing steep slopes or crossing beneath steep slopes.

I haven't been playing this game for that long, but I've never seen a mid-day update to the advisory. Especially one that goes from Green to Red. I was just telling UTRider earlier today that I would love a really deep day. Like white room, over-my-head deep. I thought that day was going to be tomorrow. Problem is, it may be over-my-head deep to the point that I never get out of it.

There's some talk of riding the wire in the morning and then working late. Maybe I'll do that instead.

Or maybe I'll just stay home and have some tasty bacon.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Getting your steeze on and the indignity of riding chairlifts

Spending most of my ski days in the backcountry deprives me of a regular opportunity to stay on top of ski and snowboard fashion. What I wear in the backcountry is driven far more by what is practical than by what looks good. My pants have cargo pockets on the sides, not because it looks cool, but because it's important to have easy access to things like chap stick (and in my case, rescue inhalers). My pants have big vents on the inner thigh that I can zip open for ventilation on the up and then zip back closed on the down. I wear suspenders because I don't like my pants to fall down. And my biggest cause of consternation is that my favorite backcountry jacket is my black softshell rather than my orange hardshell, since I bought the hardshell in that color because, unlike black, orange won't get mistaken for avalanche debris.

Just because I'm not a resort regular doesn't mean I'm completely in the dark. For instance, when I went shopping for my suspenders, I learned that many ski shops have struggled to keep them in stock because the kids were buying them, attaching them to their pants, letting them dangle to their butts, rather than actually wearing them to keep their pants up. Thanks to the TGR forum, I also know that tall tees are a critical element of any newschooler's steeze. But even if your steeze is whack due to a tee not hanging low enough, you can always just squat down and stretch your shirt until it hangs sufficiently below your jacket. Having a friend along for this exercise helps.

At Solitude on Saturday, in addition to skiing with my son, I had a great opportunity to check out some of the fashions I've not had the chance to appreciate in the backcountry. As if this were not enough, I was also rewarded with the chance to spend time with folks who acted like they were the only people on the mountain or at the very least as if they owned the place. It was such a wonderful experience that I thought I'd pass along a few of the highlights.

Highlight #1: The greatest snow on earth.

Of course here I am not referring to the actual snow but to the people who come from all over the world to enjoy said snow. Even though the really good inbounds snow is rapidly consumed on a powder day by so many scrubbing bubbles charging all over the mountain, and the tourists mostly ski on stuff that has been groomed and thereby rendered more or less indistinguishable from the groomed snow anywhere else in the world.

But they come, and they come wearing the finest clothing, something I get a kick out of because they're dropping two grand on an outfit they'll wear for five to ten days this year only to replace the getup with a new one next time they come.

Since they're all dressed up, of course they take pictures. With their cell phones. Or I guess I should call them mobiles in this context. At any rate, what's the point of taking a skiing picture with a cell phone? No matter how good the skier looks pushing a wide snowplow down the bunny hill, the cell phone camera is going to end up a blurred mess that evokes skiing only slightly more than this Rorschach.

But aside from laughing at the tourons from the chairlift, the real pleasure comes from sharing a lift line with them. As my son, who's four, was making his way towards the gate, some South American kid twice his size goes charging right in front of him, nearly knocking him over. I kept quiet, knowing that my four-year-old is probably a better skier and we'd get ahead of them next time and not have to worry about it.

As it happens, we got down about the same time, and sure enough this kid charges into the gate without waiting in line again. Except the gates at Solitude are kind of like getting on the subway in New York except with proximity sensors that open when you get close enough with your pass. Well young Mr. Linecutter didn't respond quickly enough when the gates opened, so they closed and wouldn't open again. He was stuck. We went to the other gate and just left him there waiting for the liftie. Schadenfreude at its finest, and I didn't even have to do anything.

Highlight #2: Was that really necessary?

Of course not all the idiots are tourists; we have plenty of villages here, some of which send their idiots up canyon on Saturdays. And similar to the Euros in their pretty clothes, they seem to be enamored by the fact that they are skiing at all, with no regard whatever for how they're doing it.

Take for instance, snowboard dad. Now there are plenty of people that I like who happen to snowboard. That's fine for them. It does not, however, mean that I like snowboarders just because some of my friends and/or family members do it. So when the dad who was teaching his daughters how to snowboard had all three of them get on the lift one at a time so that Grandma could take pictures, I was annoyed. For one thing, anyone can ride a chairlift, so who the hell cares to take a picture of that? For another, it's the beginner lift, and it's a fixed grip double. So as slow as it moves to begin with, all the novices falling off the thing mean it's constantly stopping. Please don't make the process any slower just for the sake of your scrapbook.

The other thing that left me scratching my head about its necessity was the lady skiing the beginner lift with an avalung. Now I'm all for avalanche safety and have even gone so far as to wear my beacon inbounds if I thought I might be heading out the gates or skiing something sketchy. And I realize that the recent inbounds avalanche fatalities have a lot of people who don't know better feeling pretty nervous. But an avalung on green runs? Wow.

Highlight #3: You're never too young or too old to get your steeze on.

For some reason I had assumed that really steezy looks were reserved for the park and pipe crowd between the ages of 13 and 24. Boy was I wrong. Exhibit A is this kid who is apparently between the ages of 7 and 10, and, based on the fact that he was riding the beginner lift, couldn't have been up more than three or four times in his life. And yet there he was in all his steezy glory with a tall tee hanging below his coat. Wonder how much time he spent contemplating the outfit before every bothering to try the sport?

Exhibit B was this guy, who appeared to be pushing 40. I can't decide if he was serious about that outfit, or if he's even more of a bottom feeder than I am when it comes to gear and got it on a deep, deep discount for obvious reasons. If I were to lay money on it, I'd go with the former.

When I first saw him, I really wanted to take a picture, but I didn't dare just bust out the camera and shoot. Thankfully the opportunity presented itself when we were getting ready to leave for the day. Mr. Plaid was loitering in the base area talking on the phone, so I had my son stop right in front of him and pose for a photo. You see part of my son, cuz I had to at least point the camera in his general direction to avoid blowing my cover.

Of course all this ranting is in fun and in jest because the real reason any of us head to the mountains (I think) is so we can enjoy ourselves. And I'm glad to have other people up there stimulating the economy. Sure, some people find it enjoyable to take pictures of themselves drinking beer and don't accomplish much else besides actually drinking the beer, but to each his own.

As for my son and me, we had a great time. He got there about 1:30 (I snuck in a few turns by myself and did some beacon practice before Rachel dropped him off) and skied until the last chair. We even ventured onto the Moonbeam lift, which is still beginner terrain, but feels a lot bigger when you're four. I'll leave you with a few shots of the little guy.

Wonder how many years it's going to be until he's skiing the Northwest face of Box Elder with me?