Monday, 28 August 2017

Skimo Winter

Whilst Spring is known to be the ski touring season, there's something enjoyable about ski mountaineering in winter.

The great thing about winter skimo isn't really the powder snow, which has been there to a degree this season (along with the very wind scoured faces). I've realised that snow quality is kind of secondary to me; it's all about the terrain. It's also more about experiencing the mountain in a very quiet and solitary state without the crowds in spring.

Turns down the north face under Bogong's summit

I can also start to see an end in sight for this blog, or at least this incarnation of it. What I do feels very different to the skiing I see at resorts, and even to some of the BC skiing I see...almost to the point where I call it something else. Right now, I just think of it as spending time in the mountains - which is the reality of it when I consider the amount of time I spend going down versus the hiking, climbing and skinning I do to get there.

I feel like the gear-centric aspect of my thinking has also diminished, perhaps as I've progressed and no longer feel the need to justify every type of equipment choice. I'm happy enough that my path to this point has been well-documented for others to possibly gleam some information from.

The final frontier for me feels like skiing steep terrain in a safe and technically competent manner. Whilst I do achieve this at times, there are still moments when it feels as though my skiing ability deserts me and I end up flailing around in the back seat.

One of the most challenging aspects of skiing is knowing how to get things right. Often I wish that I could see myself skiing to get a better understanding of where things might be going wrong.

My new favorite terrain on the Big Fella

If I can continue to fix my technical shortcomings, I feel like my skiing will be in the place that I've always wanted - where I can ski steep and committing terrain in the BC with confidence and composure.

I've managed a lot of good skiing so far, and Spring is just around the corner. Photos below are from Bogong and the Razorback.

Next stop - Feathertop and the Buller chutes...and hopefully one more detailed post about unlocking the secret to skiing steeps. After that, I think this will be a glorified instagram page for the foreseeable future.

Team Weasel

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Resort Uphilling, Chasing Angels and Fleeing Demons

The season down here has kicked off - although only just so for the BC. The resorts have been pumping out the snow, but the natural snowfall has been marginal until this week, when it is really starting to come down.

As a result, I've done some skiing in the resorts, and also done resort uphilling for the first time.

I've seen that Dynafit are seeing the potential of this new market by bringing out relatively cheap piste-orientated touring gear this next season. The advantages are many - fitness, reduced costs of skiing, autonomy to go and ski where you like...will be fascinating to see if there's more people earning turns at resorts.

It's an interesting way to ski; definitely closer to my experience of the BC, but in other ways much more like going to the gym to get a workout in. Lessons learned so far include:
  • Dawn patrol is the way to go. You get the beautiful sunrise, easy skinning up the hill, and most importantly, the whole mountain to yourself for an hour or two before lifts start turning.
Stunning - Buller at dawn
  • Another advantage is being able to work on that one part of the run that is actually stimulating. Often ski runs are a mix of easier terrain and more fun / challenging bits. No more need to ski the flats or boring stretches when you can choose when you ski back down.
  • The route getting back up can change throughout the day. Sticking to a side is a given, but as the snow changes, your skin route back up may now be the site of a sick jump that people will launch off, or some softer snow that people pop on to. Don't expect your skin track to last long. 
  • You get to see lots of different people ski - from the excellent to the beginners. The only issue I've encountered are with those folks who are intermediate skiers looking to show off their skills by skiing as close as possible to you as you skin back up. I'm watching you ski, and I can tell you that you aren't as secure in your skill set as you think! 
  • Extra calories are abundantly available...and they can definitely be needed if you go hard.
Overall, it is good to see this as a viable alternative to simply sitting on lifts, particularly in bad weather or heightened avalanche conditions. I will buy lift tickets every now and then, as the sheer quantity of descending can really benefit my skiing. Nonetheless, it's great to know that the up and the down don't have to be so far divorced from one another even in a resort.

Race skis and an almost deserted ski resort

BC Kicking Off

Snow has accumulated nicely on Bogong, and from a distance Feathertop is looking pristine. However, avalanche conditions are in effect - witness this monster:

A big slide on Bogong (skier triggered)

As has been said elsewhere, Australians have a tendency to look for the pillowy lines in the Oz BC - everything else here is often wind-scoured scratchiness. The good news is that it doesn't usually take too long for our snow to stabilise - and it is only the windloaded aspects that are really worrisome at the moment. I'll play it cautiously for the first part of winter I think.

So the plan is to take advantage of the weather windows and time off work to get out and about whenever possible - with the ultimate goal of long spring days in the alpine later in the year.

I've managed a fair bit of skiing already; besides the resort stuff, I've got up Bogong and Stirling (the later for the first time). Bogong was awesome, but in need of a tad more snow and a bit of time to settle down in terms of avalanche hazard.

Not bad for mid-July

With some dubious weather and snow stability, myself and some friends went up Stirling for the first time. There was an enjoyable approach to the summit (most of which was on skins) through beautiful native bush, and then some spectacular views to be had.

Buller from Stirling

The skiing itself was good but limited to a single, quite small area. I'd say it's a good place for a day out, but I know I'd rather be on Bogong/Feathertop or skiing the chutes across the road.

The best on offer - Stanley Bowl on Stirling

In summary, it's been a good start to the season, and I'm very much looking forward to skiing every weekend for the next few months!


Is there anymore gear to talk about?


I think I have surpassed peak gear whoredom - there's just less stuff catching my eye as I have so much gear already!

I've acquired the Ski Trab Gara Titan Release binding, and so far they have been excellent. I'm starting to see that having a heel piece with some kind of lateral elasticity is often the key to staying in a tech binding. My Trabs have a release value around 12, and have been excellent in all conditions so far.

Ski Trab Gara Titan Release 12 with ATK adjustment plate

The toe piece is a bit unique in terms of entry, but has a simple and reliable function. I'm looking to run this binding on my daily driver and powder skis for this season.

My favorite ski presently has got to be my Minims. Going uphill is never easy, but these things almost make it so. On the down, they are snappy, stiff and reliable - they are pretty much everything that a skimo stick should be. They have seriously grippy edges, a no frills-design and enough underfoot to handle the snow I've encountered so far. And then there are the transitions - ridiculously fast! When you see other skiers still plodding uphill after you've ripped skins and are descending, you can start to see how addictive these little beasties are.

 Light never felt so right - Minims on the summit of the Big Fella

The fixings for the above are an ATK Revolution toe and a Plum 170 Race heel, coming in at 300g for the pair. I'm liking being closer to my skis too - less ramp angle as well as lower height overall. I'm looking to mount some of my other skis in a similar manner - less use of adjustment plates and shims, more proximity to the ski underfoot. Sounds promising.


Winter is Not Spring - No Matter How Fast You Travel


Lightweight BC gear is addictive, and it is hard to go back to weightier options. I've only been up Bogong once so far this season, but besides some shoddy packing, I was definitely on the less well equipped end of the spectrum. No thermal bottoms, winter mitts, spare socks or waterproof trail runners - all things that would have made life more comfortable and easier.

I think that I'll be splitting my gear into winter and spring groups; if only to remind myself that there's only so much moving you can do to keep warm in the mountains, and that cutting weight shouldn't cut too deeply into safety and comfort margins. Deep down I know that I'll keep cutting down the weight as much as practicable in pursuit of more human-powered turns...

More Mad Max memes needed




I think this moment happens to me at the start of every season - I have this feeling of trepidation...what if my love for skiing has waned? I've invested a considerable amount of time, energy and cash in this pursuit, all on the pretense that the passion I felt last time I BC'd is still there.

But then it all comes back, and I remember what a deep affinity I have with the mountains. It can be hard, intimidating, work at sit with uncertainty and self-doubt, especially when you just want to be told that everything will be good and to have someone point the way for you (both in the BC and ordinary life).

Maybe that is the kind of absurd tension that people like Camus have written about - seeking and venerating freedom whilst seeing the sometimes barren plane that can be man left to his own devices. Some wise words provide some succour:

The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. (Erich Fromm)

That next turn on that steep slope could equally be personal ruin or ephemeral transcendence. It could be an expression of love or an emphatic rejection. As Fromm says, the difference between those two states is in our control - by living productively, passionately and with notion of unfolding our powers and purpose within the world.

I'm trying to focus more on being immersed in the moment in which I am, and to remember that the presence of mountains in my life is a form of love that has many dimensions and feels deeply moving. That's worth being grateful for.

I also love skiing steep scary shit. Add that to the list.

Team Weasel

Saturday, 27 May 2017


The temperatures are getting milder, and it won't be long till snow starts to fall in the Australian Alps. The main question for me is whether I'll be getting my first turns in the BC or in a filthy ski resort. With some reasonable falls and some wind transported snow, there may just be enough to ski Bogong in the next week or so.

Eagerly awaiting this view

Training has been going exceedingly well, with lots of running building a really solid base of cardio fitness. Somehow, I've been running faster than pretty much ever before at my usual cardio work rate. It's nice to see some progress after the training disaster that was the summer.

I was reflecting on things that I'd like to do better this winter, and arrived at the following list.

Intentions for this winter


1. Resort tour in bad weather for fitness and to save cash

This is sure to get some weird looks from resort skiers, but I reckon this will be totally worth it. I'll get to work on my fitness, ski in crappy weather and save money all at once.

2. Push to the limit the number of days in the mountains

As usual, I save my leave days for the winter and will make good use of them. I simply want to maximise my time up in the mountains...and hopefully get to the Main Range this year.

3. Use that head torch

It's always in my daypack, but never gets used. I plan to have some bigger days this season - to the point where that last descent might be done with a head torch.

4. Ski under a full moon

Shoulda done this by now. Bogong by moonlight would be memorable to say the least.

5. Add Buller Chutes to the itinerary

I neglected to ski here last winter, but will definitely look to walk in on the West Ridge and camp to avoid the disgusting resort...and then ski and climb the chutes. I reckon they will rival Feathertop for the gnar and intimidation factor.

6. Master the jump turn

Preferably before hitting the chutes!

7. Test as much different gear as possible...

I've got a good variety of gear that I need to experiment with, which can be hard given my penchant for going as light as possible all the time. It'd be great to get the powder skis out for a run or two, and I really should ski and climb in the Mtn Labs more before passing judgement. Then there's the various skimo packs, bindings and skins to try...

8. as many different conditions as possible.

I did ski some early morning ice last year, and want to continue doing so. Basically, I want to continue to develop my skill set as a ski mountaineer - not just hunt for fluffy powder and amenable corn.

9. Going faster

Not that I go slow - when I ski at resorts not many people are faster than me on the down. More so, I'm looking at embracing a variety of turn sizes depending on terrain and mood. I may even try popping the odd jump if I get really keen.

10. Streamlining the gear collection

I've got a suspicion that I'll have more than a couple of skis that never get to see the snow this winter. I'll be looking to move them on - especially those that are a bit heavier than new acquisitions (I'm looking at you Zero G 108 and Mtn Ex 95). That may even result in moving exclusively to race bindings (and potentially farewell to the ATK Raider series of bindings that have served me well thus far).

Alp Tracks Ltd 100

These skis are an object of beauty. Handmade and of a limited edition, they are possibly the best crafted BC planks out there at the moment. The weight in hand is ridiculous - only a tad more than my Zero G 85s or Backland Ultralight 85s.

They will get a ski this winter, but will truly come into their element in places like Japan or Canada, where they'll facilitate long missions in powder conditions.

Time for less words and more skiing.

Team Weasel

Friday, 21 April 2017

Hakuba in (Almost Too Late) Spring

Ski mountaineering is kind of perfectly balanced in many ways - just like climbing felt when it was my primary addiction. The technical, psychological and physical aspects are all important in equal measure, making it feel like nothing is missing when I am having a great time in the mountains.

And when I say skimo, to me it differs from ski touring in one fundamental way - steepness. As Andy Kirkpatrick said, a climb is only a climb if your dead body slides off the mountain. Similarly, you go from ski touring to skimo when the terrain and consequences become quite serious.

A steepish couloir in Hakuba

But one side of my triangle of skimo competence has been letting me down - my technical skiing ability has been pretty ordinary. That came to a head on a steep but short face in Hakuba. I was in the back seat, burning quads and side slipping when I should have been turning. And then came the avalanche debris the size of small boulders, which resulted in a snapped whippet and a lost helmet. I lost my shit and went berko - at one point I was flinging my skis down the valley in rage as I stumbled over frozen blocks of debris. It was a truly shit time, and much of the seething hatred came from the realization that I had spent much time, effort and money in this pursuit over the past couple of years, and yet I still skied like a spaz.

Then came the breakthrough - flexing at the ankles. For some reason that hadn't been imparted to me by the several ski instructors I've paid to do fuck all to help me improve. There's still some improvements to be made, but I've come a long way by just pushing on that front cuff and trying to feel the pressure through the front/middle of my foot. As always, steep committing terrain is the test, and I look forward to seeing how I've improved in the Oz BC this year. 

I've jumped a ways ahead - I got a couple of weeks in Hakuba this spring (for them). Firstly, in the future I will go a week or so earlier - mid to late April is getting rainy, and the snow pack deteriorated quite a bit in my time there. I went over intending on camping, but didn't get my Direkt 2 vestibule in I did the hotel thing. That worked out in that Hakuba was almost deserted (particularly of obnoxious round eyes). Unfortunately, it stung the bank balance more than I would have liked. In the future, I'll either camp up high or down low; apparently there is a campground reasonably close to Happo.

When the weather was agreeable, conditions were really good. Sweet corn on many faces, some wind blown aspects, some icy areas on the ridges - typical skimo fare. Rain did precipitate some significant avalanche activity towards the end of my stay. Lots of naturally triggered stuff north of Happo. Other faces seemed to hold up well though. I got several really good days in the BC, and did a few days in the resort too when the weather wasn't so great. One highlight was on a particularly clear day when I could see Fuji from high on Happo ridge.

I also visited my second favorite animal in the world: snow monkeys!

For the record, the Kea is still number one.

 Beautiful, mischievous and a complete bad arse - the world's only alpine parrot

Besides the ski technique evolution, there were some interesting learning points for me to take away:

1. Climbing really big mountains is hard work, so make sure you've got a worthy objective with alternates in mind.

2. I really noticed the effect of human factors on decision making this trip. Sometimes I made some questionable choices - one's that didn't result in bad consequences, but all the same were motivated by the wrong reasons (ie. trying to prove something to myself)

3.  I'm getting interested in peak enchainments and long distance stuff. And possibly even some skimo racing.

There's still quite a few lines in Hakuba that I would love to ski, so I'm sure I'll be back again. More photos below:

No skins for this hombre =  long slog up Happo ridge

Skied the couloir second from far right

Great terrain in almost every direction

There was a skimo race while I was there. Wish I knew more Japanese - might have even been able to enter.

Nice to see some race skis for a change

Avalanches running after rain

The debris field of my hissy fit

Super Mario Kart in real life...only in Tokyo

Sunset in Tokyo

Capsule hotels are interesting experiences!

Gear Whoredom

The gear washup is pretty simple - all my gear did an awesome job. The Backland Ultralight 85s were fantastic. They did everything well, from groomers to slushy afternoon corn. They even coped well with the crud-infested conditions that Happo would throw up in the afternoons. The Atomic skins were also a surprise star - the glue initially felt underwhelming, but they were fast and reliable on the up, and light and easily stowed on the way down.

 Atomic Backland Ultralight 85s about to drop a tasty couloir

The Salomon Minims also got some action - more resort than BC at this stage. In a word, they are addictive. There's something about railing on a skinny, light ski that is just pure fun. They did struggle in the aforementioned crud, but that happens when your whole setup weighs about 3.6kg! I'm really looking forward to skiing both these skis more in the forthcoming winter, where they will be doing battle for the title of daily driver in Australian conditions.
 3.65kg of sweet skimo rig

I gave the ATK Revolutions a spin or two as well. They were super light, had lovely operation, and even facilitated an effortless vertical release in a forward fall. Lateral release is not on, but that's the compromise you make when you put on the big boy pants. In my experience, lateral heel release on race bindings is a bit too easy for my liking, especially when it's icy and you don't want to go for a slide. I can chuck on the Plum 170 heel if I'm being ultra-concerned, but in reality I'll more often be using a fixed heel (eg. Dynafit Expedition or the Revolution heel). Further testing will determine if they are capable of driving skis like the Backlands (and another candidate I'll mention later). 

My boots were great - the ever reliable TLT 6 and the nimble Syborg - the later will need a bit of an adjustment in that they need just a couple more degrees of forward lean.
I did spend more coin than I expected on gear too - this time mostly on clothing. In the last couple of months I've grabbed the Montane Minimus 777 jacket, and now I've also added a light pair of Mont Bell goretex pants and the uber light Plasma 1000 puffy. These items do have less durability, but the weight saving is outstanding, and they performed excellently in their brief usages in Japan. Even more so, it has freed up a considerable amount of space in my pack - to the point where a 20ish liter daypack is more than enough for my spring days in the mountains.

1.29kg of shell and puffy (top) vs the new system at 0.54kg

The only bit of gear that I'm eying off now is a lighter powder ski. The Huascaran comes in at 3.6kg, whilst the ZeroG 108 is 3.3kg - which are not heavy by many people's standards. But these things are on sale:

Movement Alp Tracks 100 Ltd

That's 2.43kg for a pair of powder skis...which is 100g more than my Backlands. And if my skimo race bindings and Syborgs can handle them, that would give me a 4.6kg powder setup for superb agility in the mountains in winter.

The next couple of months are all about the training for our winter - hoping to get out for a hike or two as well.

Team Weasel