Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Europe trip, touristing, getting rad, etc...

Sure, it was all about the racing, but what about the journey?

I had some time to kill in Montreal, so I made use of their $9 bus (return to and from downtown. What a deal! It cost me $65 for a taxi from the deep south of Calgary to the airport!). I can happily say that I did not die while travelling over the crumbling concrete overpasses with exposed rebar and numerous concrete repairs. I wonder where all the transfer payments that Quebec receives are going?!!!

 I only had a faint idea of what I was doing and I wandered around the Old town for a bit. I was soaking in the culture and it kind of felt like I was already acclimatizing for Europe. I wanted to have a famous smoked meat sandwich and I found out that I was on the wrong side of town.

I started walking down Saint Laurant but I got hungrier and Mont (or should I say Hill) Royal was too distracting. I stopped at the next fast food place I saw, then bolted up to the top of the hill. I felt like quite the hero at sea level. A wonderful view of the city!
Pretty much everything I did after arriving in France was dedicated to preparing for the races. We had some time off after the vertical race and went for some exploration further up the valley.

Power day! I'm still kicking myself for not banging off more free lift access laps after my sprint qualification run. Doh!
The mythical Barre d'Ecrins on the centre-right. Classic mountaineering objective later in the season. And a good reason to come back.
With an afternoon start, plans weren't too ambitious (unless you are American. Nice work boys!). We settled on some short, easily accessible couloirs. Mini golf!

We managed to ski two mini couloirs before deciding to call it a day. We skied through the town of Ailefroude, which like the road down the valley, is closed in the winter. When the road opens, mountaineering objectives like the 4000m+ Ecrins massif can be more easily attempted.

 After the races, it was apparent that the bodies were worn down and some rest would be needed. We traveled through Briancon on the way to Pelvoux from Geneva and we were in awe of the old fortifications in the hills around the city. We also wanted to check out rumours of a fabled skimo shop in the city.

This bridge built under Louis XV connects two walled villages. Unfortunately we couldn't get into the higher of the two (on the other side of the bridge) as there was a drawbridge that was out and we didn't feel like rock climbing.  

Beautiful mountains. This is looking towards the Col de Lautaret where our next destination, La Grave is on the other side.

The lower of the 2 fortified areas, and a lovely cell phone tower.

No trip to France would be complete without a shath (or bawer) experience. 
We stuck around in Pelvoux for another day keen to ski some objectives that we didn't have time to do during the races. A couple of groups ascended La Blanche during the week while I was too busy enjoying my lunch.

La Blanche, a nice objective just above the top lift at Pelvoux. A 7euro backcountry lift ticket gave us a 1000m bump. 

We were able to ski right off the top over a steep rollover with chalky snow.
 I honestly did not have much of an idea what I was doing, but we heard that there was a 1000m long couloir dropping for a 1500m descent off the side of the mountain down to Ailefroude. In the above picture taken from the entrance of the couloir, you can see the summit of La Blanche, and the short climb to get to the entrance. Brad was feeling a little sick after given'er all week and elected to sit out.
Couloir Rouya Nord. I think there is also a Rouya Sud couloir that drops in earlier along the ridge. Don't quote me on that though!

Snow was crusty and scraped clean in the upper section before going into a crux barely wide enough for my skis and required calculated turns. The snow improved in the middle as the couloir opened up into a small bowl, and then funneled back into a couloir near the bottom.

A view from the bottom of the line. The couloir twists and turns so you can't see the bottom when you are inside it! We utilized the same valley bottom ski trails that we had been using all week for commuting, training, racing, and getting to lunch to get us back to the hotel. The hotel manager informed us that the region receives ~300 days of sunshine each year and the snowfall before the sprint race may be the last major snowfall of the season.
 The next day, we pulled out of the hotel in Pelvoux and headed for La Grave. I had heard that the Col de Lautaret was worth checking out, and that advice was confirmed when we pulled over the 2000m high pass. The north side of the col had some sunbaked slopes that looked to have some classic objectives, but we set our sights on a cool north facing bowl on the south side of the road.
We enjoyed a couple of laps through some smooth, settled, powder skiing really fast.

Classic high points on the opposite side of the road. That faint snow covered road snaking up the mountains leads to the famous Col de Galibier, a classic climb in many editions of the Tour de France, and also making an appearance in the 2013 Giro d'Italia. Or maybe the other side.

Okay, enough with the rockies style apron skiing. We noticed a short  mini  golf couloir that went up to a bench. I love mini golf and I was pumped up. Time to break out the putters again!
 We made it to La Grave in the evening and were impressed with the shear vertical relief and huge glacial features in the mountains above town. We also noticed that everyone in town was walking around wearing harnesses and carrying skis that would probably be more at home in deep Monashee powder. With the hotel manager's climate fact still in the back of our minds, we couldn't help but chuckle. We were expecting big things from the skiers in La Grave the next day!
Maybe we are terrible at reading maps, but we assumed that there would be more options for touring around the top of the resort. We only bought single ride tickets (well for me and Carla, who are under 25, single and multi ride tickets cost the same, normally they are 10 euro more). We played around on the high glacier just below 3600m (the highest that I have been in my life), and dropped down a south facing slope just for fun. We skinned back up before getting too carried away and I never even noticed the altitude. The full descent leads to a small town way down the valley, where I think you can bus to Les 2 Alpes, take the lifts up to the top and ski back to the top of La Grave.
 The ski stoke was waning (we joked that the birds hovering around were not feasting on the bodies of dead mountaineers, but on the stoke that had vanished) and we were regretting not pounding off a bunch of laps in a ski resort that pretty much consists of 2 Delirium Dives. How to do La Grave right? Buy the full lift ticket, do your research/hire a guide. The whole area is wild, uncontrolled, and filled with unlimited potential. Powder days must come with mixed blessings as soft slabs would be still lurking.
Well we enjoyed our run. Conditions were not too inspiring anyways and you have to be mentally prepared so you don't get in over your head. This picture is in the Lake zone, we skied the looker's left most of the 3 couloirs heading down to the lake. As a bonus, I got to find out how the Manaslus handle ice moguls. They are awesome skis. We definitely didn't see any conditions which warranted Megawatts or S7's.  Definitely want to come back sometime with more mountain and skiing skills ready to bang off multiple lift access laps of complex glacier runs and steep couloirs. 
Yes, there are tracks against the rock wall on the left side of the picture.  More info on the routes here.  Unfortunately, I found that website when I got home!

The hostel in La Grave is a funky place with lots of concert posters, monoskis on the wall and some jam band music playing in the dining area. The "random" in our room wasn't exactly happy to see us when we walked in though...
 Back to the Col de Lautaret to see if we could reignite the stoke from a couple of days ago.
Nobody was really keen to check out the objectives on the warm south slopes. I spotted a cool line from the highway on the drive to the pass on the cool north slopes. Brad was feeling sick again, so he returned to the car. Carla and I continued up the line. We climbed up good bootable snow until the upper couloir became steeper and the snow was  not as consolidated. The descent did not suck. 

Bluebird sky.

The line in the middle of the picture. Hard to spot from this angle. Excellent snow quality in the upper couloir. One of the coolest lines that I have climbed and skied (la Rouya was cool, but I didn't climb it!) because of the multiple features. The couloir is called Couloir N Oriental. More info here and here. (not trying to brag, but I think it's cool how there is limitless info on tonnes of routes...but not in English).  It is ironic how I can complain about not having enough information when the problem is that I am too lazy to sift through the multitude of information!
It was time to head back to Geneva to catch our flights the next morning. Driving back through La Grave, we were gaping at the huge sub alpine couloirs that drain down to the highway past the town. The road to Grenoble was beautiful.
You get what you pay for. 37euros for 3 people for this tiny space pod of a room, and toilets and showers in tiny closets down the room. Really, not that bad.

I can proudly state that I avoided paying to piss the whole time I was in Europe!
We skied some cool stuff, but it felt like we were hindered by tired legs and a lack of information. It is a great experience to ski in France, but it was reading week back home and I missed shredding pow and some fun lines with my brother and my friend. My legs were blown. When I got back home, it took me a couple of days of rest before my legs felt good again.

So I am not sure if I would stay and ski after the races in 2015, but if I did, I would plan some more rest days to be a tourist and create a list of nearby ski touring objectives beforehand. We were a little burned out both mentally and physically.

Anyways, here is my video summary. Still kicking myself for not getting a POV of my skiing and course recon on the sprint day!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

World championships. Pictures and thoughts.

They must have played The Final Countdoon 2000 times.

"Shaking and Baking" the last of the Brits in the Individual race (okay, I only beat him because he got a time penalty). They were pretty strong, but it was pretty cool to only finish behind athletes from countries with real mountains.

Me (at least I think it's me) about to get passed on the descent. I've got to spend more time skiing the skinny skis to get better at letting them run straight!

Brad and I at the finish after some "shake and bake". Top results for first time Canadians at World Champs! I really surprised myself with the perfect race and that motivates me for future races. I had a lot of fun in this race as I did well and the descents were fun with good snow.
I've got to start looking for a real job. My future potential in this sport is a huge constraining factor as it is not easy to find a position that will give me the time/location to play in the mountains. Even with my top marks in University, I guess my limited work experience is not helping generate any bites for interviews.

The teams race played around on the left side of the picture. I was pretty worked at that point. It was a tough race as my partner blew up early and unfortunately the Greeks and the Belgians got the best of us. 

Mel putting in a blazing fast qualifying time.

Mel slaying the gates. The skiing in the sprint race was very straightforward, but  I definitely saw some power plow from some of the weaker skiers.

Keep those poles on the ground! I like the new rule as I was never a fan of trying to  stuff the remaining skins into my suit, lock my boots all while trying to hold my ski poles and taking off on the descent! The poles on the ground rule doesn't really work with less serious racers who have tailhooks on their skins as poles are usually required for balance. They are thinking of changing the rule to require that polestraps should be off while the transition is underway. It seemed like there would be a lot of close calls with regards to penalties for sometimes blatant and subtle infractions, but we came away clean. Maybe they stop caring when you are a certain time back from the leader?

Nina captured the first ever American (and North American) medal ever at Ski Mountaineering World Championships with a silver in the sprint. She dominated this semi-final.

Mel fumbled a little on her transition and unfortunately didn't move on to the finals.

Andrew in the quarter finals. He was in a fast heat and moved on to the semi's as a lucky loser!
Andrew seems to like the Colltex PDG skins for their superior glide, but I did see a lot of the Pomoca Race Pro skins as well. The race pros don't glide as well, but they have amazing grip and come with some good glue. Steve comes from an XC ski racing background and cuts his skins short for glide, but maybe grip is more important, especially at the end of long races.

Some people came prepared to empty their wallets to save on shipping back home. I would think that the skis/bindings would be right at the 750gram weight limit and those boots are as light as they get!
Chilling in the sun after the race. We were never too busy and had lots of time to chillax after tough races.

Food tent serving up some delicious food. More than once we were faced with the dilemma of skiing more  and potentially missing lunch. We always chose to rest and grab lunch!

Some obvious Scandinavians checking out the relay races.

Vertical race. Didn't see any Maurelli product (bindings or walking plates) and not that much Merelli product either. This was my turn to sit out racing and I thought it would be possible to watch the start then take the lift to the top to see the finish. Unfortunately there was lots of foot traffic on the lift (I guess it's good that people WANT to see the races) so the chair was running slow and kept stopping and I missed the finish. The euros are definitely strong on both the up and the down.

Cold food, open bar, and athletes who have been givin'er all week is a good recipe for a dance party!
Canada house. The chalet owner was a little odd, but it was nice to have everyone together. I picked up some tips on technique and gear from the more experienced races (speeding up transitions, fast gliding skins, battling for position), I enjoyed some delicious food cooked by some team members who put a little more effort into cooking than I do. Each team member (maybe except me) contributed to the general good vibes that we had going on in there. I'm sure people tired of my immaturity as the week wore on ;)

I'm not exactly sure what ERTIPS sells, but what I do know is that they are big supporters of skimo. A sponsor to give us pocket change would go far to subsidize entry fees ($500), accomodation ($28/night), flights, car rentals, etc... Travelling and racing in Europe is expensive and I am fortunate that I received some generous support from my parents Brian and Mary.

Big thanks to Dynafit for hooking up national team members with massive savings on their excellent gear.

More videos of the races on the same channel.

And an awesome video from Mark Smiley who was allowed to ride in the heli for the individual race.
http://vimeo.com/59902259 . I think there is some footage of me on the descent in there! It was unreal having a helicopter filming me ski!