Thursday, February 25, 2010

Avalanches, intentionally-triggered and otherwise

I am way behind on skiing posts. It’s not that I haven’t been skiing, it’s just that, as I’ve mentioned before, I like actually doing the things I blog about more than I like blogging. So today I’m going to catch up by posting a bunch of photos from the last week or so as well as some thoughts on the ongoing avalanche craziness in the Wasatch backcountry.

Last Wednesday morning, Aaron, Adam, Tyler, and I did a quick tour in Scotties. We saw a crown and debris pile from an earlier slide and went over to investigate. Nothing big enough to bury a person, but if it carried you into a tree it could hurt. We couldn’t tell if it was intentionally triggered, accidentally triggered, or natural. There were ski tracks leading to the top of it, but that could have just been another party checking it out.

At the top, we decided to do a bit of cornice kicking to see if we could get something to move. We used all the appropriate caution and had Aaron on belay while he did the kicking. The dropped cornice triggered a small slide, about 50 feet wide and maybe a foot deep, that ran for about 200 meters.

The good news is that the rotten layer that’s caused most of our problems this year seems to have bridged, at least in Scotties. The bad news is that we have this near surface facet layer that hasn’t settled yet, and the 30 cm slides like what we triggered could get bigger and more dangerous with another storm’s worth of snow on top of them. Oh, and the other good news is that the skiing was quite nice that day, at least until lap two when Aaron and Adam had a little more excitement.

Bonus shots from yet another morning in Mill D last Friday:

More bonus shots of Keiki’s first day on skis over the weekend:

That additional snow that could turn the near surface facets from dangerous to deadly has fallen in the last couple of days and was foremost in our thoughts this morning as Mike H., Alex, and I hiked up Flagstaff and looked into Day’s Fork. Reports from Bart, Dug, and Ben suggested that on some of the exposed, upper elevation slopes, the near surface facets don’t seem to be an issue, so we were optimistic about skiing Days for the first time this season (!?).

After kicking a half dozen cornices and not getting anything to move that was more than a few inches deep, we decided to ski cut the top and drop in. Release the avalanche poodle!

For the record, I would never ski cut a slope that I actually thought was going to slide. It’s just one more precaution after those already taken to try and ensure a safe descent. Nevertheless, there’s nothing fun about gliding across the top of the slope, avalung in mouth, hoping your assessments were correct.

Thankfully, they were. And the reward was white and delightsome.

The south facing stuff off Flag wasn’t bad either:

Now let’s just hope we finally get consistently stable conditions as the late-season el Niño storms start to arrive.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Enough already

Today I’m featuring a guest post written by none other than my dad. It should be noted that my dad and I do not see eye to eye when it comes to politics. And yet, what he’s written here is all about politics, and I couldn’t agree more.

I begin each morning with a perusal of a number of web sites to get my fix of the morning's news. This morning one of the site's headlines was “Obama planning to build Brits a new billion dollar embassy.” Another site read, "new home sales at an all time low." Still another site talked about the Republicans having a banner quarter in fundraising and were blowing millions of dollars on limos, private jets, lavish parties, etc.

We are in an economic mess that is getting worse with each passing day. A new survey gives congress only a ten percent approval rating. W's approval rating was in the toilet and Barack's is going down hill faster than a gold medal winning Olympic skier.

We were fortunate to have had two reasonably fiscally responsible presidents in Reagan and Clinton. We even had a surplus with Clinton.

George Bush was fiscally irresponsible and Barack Obama is W on steroids. I remember Mark getting so angry at Bush for his reckless spending. He must be going nuts with our current Washington crew. (He’s right—it is driving me nuts.)

I grew up a poor farm boy and was taught that if you don't have the money, you don't spend it. My father borrowed $30K to buy the family farm. That amount of money kept both my parents awake at night until they finally paid it off.

My economic education is as follows: Income equals money coming in, spending equals money going out, extra money goes into a savings account. Money going out should not exceed money coming in. We only borrow when we have to and never borrow more than we can make the payments on. Credit cards are not used as a savings account and must be paid back within the month they are used. (Sometimes the payback time can exceed a month but should never be out of reason.)

Our government's economic education is as follows: Tax the folks as much as possible to increase the money coming in. Use the money that comes in for entitlement programs and earmarks so that the folks will vote you back into office. If there is not enough money to do what you want, spend it anyway. No need to balance the budget because we can increase taxes if we need more money. If we still need more money we can borrow it from China or print it. We can solve every problem by spending more money even if we don't have it.

Where is FDR who celebrated his inauguration with a few turkey sandwiches for a small group of people because the government did not have the money for a lavish celebration? All of this money has to be paid back. It will be paid back by my children and grandchildren. The day will come when your taxes will be more than one half of your income.

Why are George W. Bush and Barack Obama the way they are? Bush grew up enjoying the fruits of capitalism. There was enough money for everything. If you worked hard enough and were smart enough, you could have all of the money you would ever need. You could even buy a baseball team. When you become president the same scenario continues. The rich boys and their taxes will keep everything afloat. No need to tighten the belt even during tough times.

Obama had a very different experience. He started out life with very little. He was unhappy that there were haves and have nots. That wasn't fair. The rich should share their wealth with the poor. The only medium for this to be done is the government.

The government has lots of money. You can get an Ivy League education on government money. You can become a community organizer and use government grants. You can get things done by using groups such as Acorn. You can use the government to become a powerful person. When you are a powerful person you can take the money from the rich and give to the poor. Even when things are tough you can use government trickery to spend more money. It doesn't matter that there is no money to spend. You can just increase taxes and make up the difference. If you get enough people dependent on you they will always vote for you and you will remain in power. When you are a powerful government person you are special and can spend money on yourself. You can use your jet for photo ops and trips to wherever you want to go. You can decorate the West Wing with many pictures of yourself.

What is happening now transcends political parties. Both parties are at fault. We have one hell of a mess on our hands and the lack of astute leadership is amazing.

Let us not be led by blind tradition. If the government was a corporation led by a board of directors, all of the current leaders, regardless of their political affiliation, would deserve employment termination.

This is my catharsis from reading the morning's headlines. Read it if you wish or not if you wish. It was written as therapy for me.

You’re not the only one who reads the news and feels like he needs therapy. In the immortal words of Donkey (from Shrek) “I just know, before this is over, I'm gonna need a whole lot of serious therapy. Look at my eye twitchin'.”

Thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle took a 20 year nap, and when he woke up, everything had changed. Well I sort of feel like the same thing has happened in the year since I moved away from Boise.

When I first started mountain biking in Boise, we all rode XC bikes on trails as smooth as a dirt sidewalk. Which is pretty much the same thing I do in Utah save the couple times a year I go ride more technical stuff down South.

The last couple years I was in Boise, we started to hit some of the small natural features on the trails--little drops and gap jumps, typically in the 4-5 foot range. Nothing too big, just enough to add a little excitement to the ride.

One of the guys I rode with, Brad, initially told us all we were crazy. He wouldn't even ride down a fairly easy natural rock staircase, insisting that he'd stack it up and break a collarbone.

My how things have changed. Over the last few years, Brad has been the driving force behind a community bike park near his home in Eagle, ID. The park features dirt jumps, as well as race courses for XC, short track, 'cross, DH, dual slalom, and 4X.

Brad is the lead rider in this video. He's also a school teacher and a 40-year-old father of two and embodies Warren Miller's old adage "if you don't do it this year, you'll just be one year older when you do."


Brad’s done a nice writeup including more photos, video, and info on the bike park here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Neff’s Canyon

OK, I’m behind. Did you know I have a job and a family and would rather do the stuff I write about than write about it? Just checking. Apologies if you missed me the last few days. No blog lasts forever, but I think this one will gain new legs if either a) the snowpack improves or b) cycling season starts again. One of those is inevitable.

Anyway, a week ago Saturday, Jon S., Mike H., Tim, Daren, Tanner, and I had a nice tour in Neff’s. Here’s what we saw and did.

The Samurai and his crew have skied this. We just looked at it.

Then walked away.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Sex education

I was hoping to blog about my tour in Neff’s Canyon on Saturday, but the weekend ended up being consumed by my daughter’s science project and the Super Bowl, so I haven’t even looked at the photos yet. I’m hoping they’ll do something to rescue this blog from the doldrums of no good skiing it’s been languishing in. But for today, all I’ve got is a little sarcasm.

As a parent, sex education is a challenging topic. Sure, I’d love to teach my kids that abstinence is the way to go until age 30, but I don’t think they’d believe me. The importance of being realistic hits home when one considers teen pregnancy rates in communities that tend to teach abstinence only. Especially when they start defining abstinence in funny ways. Besides, there are documented cases where abstinence didn’t work.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Almost famous

Today's Deseret News has an article about the Specialized warehouse grand opening I attended yesterday. It features a photo of the "Gold Medal Sprints" they had set up using track bikes on trainers. The credit in the caption has the names wrong [edit: online edition has been corrected], but long-time readers may recognize the face of the guy on the right. You may also recognize the Revolution-Peak Fasteners team kit.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Double dip

One of the ways journalists like to describe the easy mountain access in the Wasatch is to mention that you can go skiing in the morning and go on a bike ride (or play golf, if that’s your thing) in the afternoon. And sure, it’s possible, but hard to pull off if you have a job. Not to mention it seems kind of cheesy.

I’m pretty sure I’d never actually done this. I may have done a variation when I was in high school, when a friend and I hiked for some post-season turns at Alta, then went waterskiing in the afternoon. Except I don’t remember if it was actually that afternoon or the next day.

The thought has crossed my mind to get on the bike after returning from skiing to warm valley temperatures and sunny skies, but I never thought it would be something I’d do in February. Until today.

A few of us made a quick lap in Butler Fork this morning. Snow was surprisingly light considering how warm it was. We only did one lap, were done by eight, and to work by 8:30. Which meant, if stars aligned, I could meet Daren at the new Specialized warehouse for their lunch ride and open house. Which is what I did.

The ride was nice. Temps were in the 40’s, so I stayed warm with tights, vest, and arm warmers. The group was a mixed bag. Some were Specialized groupies (I’m not aware of any other bike maker that has groupies the way Specialized does—their products are nice and all, but the devotion is kind of creepy). Some were actually kind of scary to ride with because of their lack of group riding skills. Others were Specialized employees, like Ned Overend. Whom Daren is on a first name basis with, I found out when he introduced us.

Oh, and the new warehouse? It’s huge. They don’t seem to be hurting one bit for not having Tom Boonen fly the flag for the big red S anymore. They wouldn’t name a number, but described the quantity of bicycles there as being in the tens of thousands.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Dug accused me of thanked me for “shaming” him into going skiing this morning. The following is a transcript of our IM conversation yesterday.

mark: wanna go up BCC tomorrow?

dug: i do want to. i'll work toward that

mark: 5:35 at park n ride.

dug: you know, i think mill d is just gonna be tracked and bumped out. i'll just get on the trainer. if i had 4 hours to go somewhere interesting, i'd get up.

mark: what?

dug: what what?

mark: i don't believe what I'm reading. 12" of fresh yesterday and you're saying you're going to get on the trainer?

dug: no way there will be that kind of snow up mill d.

mark: brighton/solitude had storm totals of 18".

dug: keep talking.

mark: there'll be close to that up there.

dug: i'm listening.

mark: and there's lots of acreage and not enough heathens in this valley to track it out in one sunday.

you might have to cross someone's tracks, but it'll be a far cry from bumped out.

dug: we could peek over that low angle north westerly bowl on the other side of the ridge too i guess.

mark: yes we could. when we were making laps up there a couple saturdays ago, there were dozens of people in that one spot, and we still were finding clean lines top to bottom.

dug: almost thou persuadeth me to be a christian.

mark: well i'll be there at 5:35. If I see you, I see you. If I don't, I don't.

I’ll let dug speak for himself as to whether or not finding ankle deep powder two days after a storm was worthwhile, but the views were sure nice.

Monday, February 1, 2010


It’s tax season. Every year when I enter the information from my W-2, I panic at the “amount due” totals. Little by little, as I enter my itemized deductions the numbers go down. Not sure if they’ll turn green or not this year, but if you see a new wheelset on my MTB, you’ll know they did.

Unfortunately, I’ve written something else off that has nothing to do with taxes: this year’s ski season. So far I have skied my go-to dawn patrol lines in Days Fork exactly zero times and Scotties Bowl exactly once (but even then, not from the top).

Many of the lines I’d like to ski have a six inch base. Not because only six inches of snow has fallen, but because everything keeps sliding off of the rotten six inches from October.

I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. The October facets aren’t going away, so the only way things will stabilize is if we get a good two meters of snow on top of it and things bridge. Unfortunately, anytime that facet layer gets loaded up, it slides again.

It would take at least a month of steady snowfall—just a little at a time—for snow to accumulate without sliding and start to bridge. It will be March at the soonest, so IF that happens, and it’s a huge if, we’ll get 4-6 weeks at most of good skiing this year. I’m not counting on it.

As if that news weren’t bad enough, I wore my heart rate monitor while on the spin bike yesterday and learned that despite the deluge of sweat that drips from my body, I’m not working that hard. So between lack of skiing and pathetic indoor workouts, I should enter the early season soft and weak.

Can’t wait to get dropped on the very first hill of the first race of the season, which I know is going to happen because Rick had his road bike in the back of his truck when we were dropping kids off at school this morning. At least somebody is training.