28 November, 2009

Team Canada Training Camp - Day 1 & 2

After work on Thursday I jumped in my car and drove all night to the Canadian Ski Mountaineering Teams Training Camp in Revelstoke and Rogers Pass, BC.  The goal of the weekend was to get tons of long slow distance training in, and lucky as we are, we've been skiing powder.  (Photo Left:  Ian Gale and Billie Velisek)

The first day, we skinned up Balu Pass, to ski down the backside to go skin and climb up Mt Catamount.  Everyone was stoked to ski, and with hero snow, we were in for a great day.  The Catamount ridge was a bit win hammered, but was good training for sketchy terrain, and worked courses.  Topping out we had perfect weather, little wind, and great views.  The downhill was really good, skiing off the shoulder down the steeper face, and to the valley was a good leg blast.  Andrew McNab, tore up the the top section of the mountain so hard, everyone was worried if he bailed we'd be dragging him out on a rescue sled!  As usual, he didn't, and made it look easy.

We toured out over the headwall at Balu, noticing a large 2.5-3.0 crown line on Mt Cheops, and kept the track nice and mellow avoiding the problematic terrain features.  Perfectly timed, we skied out in the fading light, with a fantastic sunset behind us.  Regrouping in the parking lot, we drove back into town for an awesome dinner at Jeff Colvin and Julie Matteau's place.     

More Day 1 photos from Ian Gale here.

And Day 2 here.

 (photo above:  Mel Bernier and Julie Matteau)

(Photo Above:  Andrew McNab and Rob on Catamount Pk)

 (Photo Above:  Andrew McNab ripping it)

The second day needs little description.  It snowed, and with the unreal snow conditions, and blower powder, no photo's were taken.  We skied McGill shoulder, blasting three wicked laps, and finished off with a hairball descent down the barely covered summer trail.  Time for a bit of sleep, more good food, and more skiing tomorrow!

First Day Elevation Gain:  2266m
Second Day Elevation Gain:  2150m
(Photo Above:  Andrew McNab, Billie Velisek, Mel Bernier)

23 November, 2009

Work - Avalanche Terrain Assessment

Today I had the chance to access the skiing on a snowmobile, while doing a terrain assessment with fellow guides and avalanche instructors Ty Petrusic, Jay Neil, Paul Carus, and Jeff Van Driel.  I rarely use any form of mechanized form of travel, but with the opportunity to ski at work, I couldn't pass it up.

After a quick guides meeting, we were in Callaghan and loading up the sleds, and getting geared up.  The goal for today was a terrain assessment of the Sproatt area.  This winter Canadian Snowmobile will be running avalanche courses for sledders and skiers, so all of us avalanche course providers headed up the mountain to see what ski terrain we could use, and do some safe route finding.  Needless to say we pretty much were just skiing.

After skinning for a while, trying to get up onto some ridge features, and find our line to ski through the white out conditions we were stopped.  On a leeward slope, fairly steep, we began seeing long shooting cracks.  The conditions didn't want our line to go.  Stopping, after some ski cutting, and jumping on test slopes, we dug in to see what was going on.  We found a 40cm slab of storm snow, which was tightening up from slightly warming temperatures, on a layer of tiny surface hoar crystals, decomposing stellars, and needles.  A few compression (CTM16), extended column, propagation saw, and burp tests the picture was clear, and it was saying no steeper skiing. 

We headed back skiing mellower terrain along the way.  Our decision was re-enforced when we remotely triggered a gully, that propagated pretty far, while skiing on the top and opposite side.  Oh well at least the sledding was fun!  Stay safe out there, the snow is just piling more and more, and with the wind, temperatures, storm snow, and other factors we're getting primed for some big avalanches. 

21 November, 2009

Training The Core

For the past few years I have been constantly reminded of how important it is to have a strong core.  Today's training, while skinning up the hill, I began thinking about my arms and how they were getting tired from pushing to gain more speed.  As the elevation gain kept stacking up, and my arms got more worked, I noticed a few things that began to happen:
  1. When my arms began to fatigue, muscles connected to them became more active, and were working harder to support them.  Including my diaphragm.
  2. The less I concentrated on my balance, and used my poles to aid a good balanced skinning form, the more I engaged my arms.  If I was balanced over my skis, looking forward, there was less strain on my arms bringing my heart rate down.

The general definition of the Core, is the bodies muscles minus the legs and arms (the belly area, mid and lower back, as well as secondary muscles like the hips, shoulders and neck).  My physio hit the nail on the head, by describing the core as the internal muscles which connect the external muscles (e.g abdominal muscles) to the spine.  By strengthening the Core, one will be able to control, and activate these muscles better.  The better the activation of these muscles, the harder and faster you can go, enduring longer.
(photo:  Dave Booth on the summit ridge of Mt Matier)
My idea has been to build a strong core as usual, but concentrate my efforts to training muscles while forcing my core to balance itself, which will also help eliminate muscular imbalances.  For example, I have been constantly on my core ball, doing squats, isometric work, sit ups, and kettleball exercises to get the most out of them.  By concentrating on these muscles, I hope to see less strain on peripheral muscles which will allow my body to better concentrate on the task at hand, and to be better balanced which will relax muscles in use which will keep my oxygen uptake efficiency optimal.  Not only that, I should see less strain on my diaphragm after my shoulders tire, which will keep my aerobic performance high.

With ski mountaineering races, it is easy to concentrate on just aerobic and anaerobic training.  But to be fast we need to look at everything together, in order to truly have an edge of the competition.

17 November, 2009

Double World Championships Due To Year Shift

A shift in the annual timing of the Ski Mountaineering Championships was introduced by the ISMF recently.  It was decided that the World Championships would occur on odd years (2011) and the European Championships were to fall on even years (2012).  This gives us two World Championships back to back, as the European Championships in Claut, Italy, will be a World Championships!  The reasoning behind this decision is to help avoid World Championships and the Olympics happening the same year. 

This year, the Olympics in Whistler, are going on at the same time as the World Championships in Andorra.  This shift in the annual schedule is a great strategic decision on the ISMF's part.  It frees up more media coverage for our sport, and will allow it to get the publics full attention, and perhaps build a stronger case to introduce Ski Mountaineering Races into the Olympic Games.  The World Cup race this year in Claut will be a test event for the area, as to see how things will work, and what needs to be done.  The 2012 European Championships and change in schedule will be announced shortly, as to who will be officially hosting, and when it is taking place.

It looks as if we Canadians are going to be making our way back over to Europe for some more racing hopefully.  This change in scheduling will also benefit North America, as Canada and the U.S. will be able to prove we are strong competitors and that Skimo Racing is a world wide sport.  

15 November, 2009

Dawn Patrol

My ski pass hasn't kicked in yet, not until Nov 26th, so I don't have any skiing luxuries such as lifts, gondola's, and such.  All the better, training is what I want, I can get lazy taking the lifts another day.  With the first race of the season coming up soon, I need to get my legs used to doing the large amounts of elevation gain I couldn't get cross training.

Ty, and I, met up 6:00am to get some vertical before work.  It has been snowing, hard, for the past week or so.  We already have a 100cm base, and with 150cm coming by Thursday, things are looking pretty good.  Keep in mind although skiing powder is great, take it easy as with the large amounts of snow we're getting combined with big winds and rising freezing levels, we'll be sure to see some larger avalanche activity in the near future.  That being said, after all this crazy weather this week, Whistler should have a pretty well set up base.

Skinning up, the coverage was great being on skins, but I wouldn't want to ski down lower than 1000m as creeks and rocks were still poking through in some spots.  Breaking trail, sometimes boot top deep, was good work.  We moved slower than usual, due to the lack of grooming on anything in our path.  Skinning till the wind got too burly, we skied back down, and off to work!

I also tested out Heidi's energy bites, which are 100% raw, and all organic ingredients.  I'm stoked to test different foods for long days in the mountains.  I've been an energy gel guy for so long, and during long days it's important to also get solid food, so I will bring a different bar (store bought or home made) every training session to weed out the ones that don't work and the ones that do.  If you eat garbage, you'll perform like garbage, I want to be fast.

10 November, 2009

ISMF Snow Shovel Regulations

The 09/10 ISMF rules indicate that the only snow shovels, which racers can carry while racing, must be defined as a "rescue snow shovel" by the manufacturer.  Shovels (even probes) must now pass a strength test, which the current flexible shovels will pass.  This ruling was designed to eliminate the use of Snow Claws.  Are we as racers going to be carrying shovels such that weigh nearly three times that?

Snow Claws, from Arva and other companies, are still labeled as Snow Shovels weighing in at 173g but is this really a shovel?  Companies such as G3, have metal shovels such as the SpadeTech (630g) or AviTech (640g mini / 770g telescoping) which easily chip through hard debris and ice.  Grivel's Steel Blade shovel (left)coming in at only 400g, would be a great choice for ski mountaineering, but racing?  The argument is; should we be sacrificing safety for weight, or does it matter as a race course is a controlled environment?  What makes a shovel a shovel?

In the backcountry you must have a metal shovel, and a good strong one at that, not just a snow claw (photo right).  When extricating a victim from an avalanche you can expect to be moving a lot of hard dense snow, and depending on the snow, a snow claw will just not hold up.  But with different styles of digging these days, paddling (conveyor method) vs. digging down, isn't the Snow Claw taking advantage of the paddling conveyor method?  Well, yes it is, but still does not have the leverage, cutting power, and durability that a metal shovel has, period.  Avalanche debris is hard, full of cemented snow, ice, and is generally not that inviting to a soft shovel.  In the backcountry, safety comes first, so why put the lives of your friends at risk to shave a few grams.

On the other hand, while racing, we aren't usually in an area that we expect to see a slide occur.  Usually we are in the hands of the ski patrol, race coordinators, and mountain staff all who cannot afford the liability of sending racers into an uncontrolled area.  In certain backcountry races, it should be 100% mandatory to carry a "real" shovel, but inbounds?  Well that's the thing, even inbounds is not a for sure thing, as we have seen inbounds avalanches even after avalanche control work.

In an effort to standardize racing, the rule was designed to include both inbounds and out of bounds races.  We may be thankful if disaster strikes, as it has before, to have the real deal when it comes to a rescue shovel.  This ruling is actually a good thing in many ways.  It is helping to push industry standards and provide racers and the public with the best product possible, and keeping everyone safe at the same time.  You have to admit, aren't you already looking for the lightest "real" shovel on the market since this ruling?

09 November, 2009

First Day Of Skiing - Mt Sproatt

"My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud."  -  Henry Rollins
    8:00am, raining, not much in the way of snow in the valley.  Jeff Van Driel and I were to stoked to care though, and off we went up Mt Sproatt, trying to find the best snow.  We drove up the Callaghan, and got as best we could, into the area we thought would be best.  Skinning away from the car, it was a different snowy world altogether, unlike the rainy valley.  It was dumping and the snow was deep.  The trail breaking was easy at first, but got hard when we began breaking trail up to our waists.  We followed the old road, up to the Sub Alpine, leap frogging trail breaking leads the whole way.

    Getting pounded with snow we stopped in a the CSA cabin to dry off and have lunch.  Drenched and chilled we kept moving to get to the goods.  The snowpack measured 150cm at 1540m, and coverage was actually pretty good.  We saw 15-20cm fall during the day, and there's more coming!
     Breaking a yo-yo skin track as high on the surrounding lines as we could, we skied unbelievably good snow, dare I say almost too deep?  Steeper slopes were definitely needed, but we didn't have the time or the energy to bust a trail further into the mountains.  Skiing down the snow plumed over our heads almost to the point of not being able to see.  I had been waiting so long to ski, and face shots on the first day were such a treat!  The long slog out was a bit of a downer, as the lower logging road was tough travel in the deep lower elevation wet snow.  Otherwise, stoked for this season and ready to get out more!

Skier:  Jeff Van Driel

08 November, 2009

Stay Tuned...

    The off-season is not welcomed.....usually.  It is best used training, and not squandering the fruits of your winters labor, and is great for punishing your body in many different ways.  Cross-training and even sport specific training mostly with a heavier pack and climbing rack help get us used to heavier loads, making race or light and fast packs seem like nothing, everything building strength for the upcoming season.  Running long days, in heat, and through the rainy season to keep a decent race pace for the winter, all while dreaming of training in the snow, and exploring new mountain ranges.  
Left:  Jeff Van Driel on FA "Summer Tourist"
    Time to stop wishing, its here for those people who want it, and who want to pluck those sweet early season turns in exchange for some hard work.  At least you can see how that long summer of slogging up approaches and long training sessions will pay off.  See you in the mountains..... stay tuned.

03 November, 2009

Light And Fast - Crevasse Rescue Kit

It hasn't been snowing much, and being really restless to ski, I began organizing all my gear for the year.  Going through various rescue gear, which is a must for carrying even in disaster style light and fast pushes, I began pairing down my crevasse rescue kit to weigh just around 1.1kg (including 30m rope -  5.5mm spectra cord).  The BD Vaporlock biners are 51g, and the Camp Nano 23's are 23g, both of the two can be added to or taken away if more are needed.  With 120-180cm 10mm runners for anchors, and other advantages, the bulk keeps to a minimum.

The rope in the ultra light crevasse rescue kit is not really designed for roping up due to it's incredibly thin and static characteristics.  I interchange three other ropes with the kit, and add ice screws, pitons, pickets, etc, when necessary.  I can easily swap the harness, a Camp XLH, to something more appropriate for climbing or roping up with.  Either way the kit stays super light, and is even more light when divided up between partners, when gear loads allow so.  For speed traverses, through unknown terrain, or heavily glaciated areas I have an 8mm Beal Rando rope (right), in 30m, and an added ice screw just in case. 

Keeping every bit of gear as light as possible is so essential to the success of every trip.  Keeping your gear organized, and making sure you and your partners are safe, is important to staying alive a long time in the mountains and ensuring you get after it like Fred Beckey.