Monday, December 14, 2015

Ski Mountaineering Competition Canada camp

Well, we missed the boat on Asulkan this year, but the Alpine Club of Canada generously provided us space at Bow Hut for a couple of days of eat-ski-sleep-repeat. The glacier toe made for some easy laps and we were able to mostly able get to the fresh snow before the wind got to it.

Bow Hut. With shit barrel capacity for 30 people!

heading up for a frigid Mt. Gordon lap. Some crevasse weaving on the icefield.

Martha finding great snow down to the hut. She and Michelle cooked some delicious food!

Adam as well.
Rocky down low, but good snow higher up where it is sheltered from the wind.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Vert 180 Report

Another Vert 180 in the bag. The final hour was as painful as it's ever been.

Bill with the Old English feed zone
The Vert 180 is likely the biggest contributor to the growth of ski mountaineering in Canada. With the race being in the middle of a city on a Saturday night, the sport gains massive exposure, with only Christmas parties to distract people. Ski boots and skis for "everyday" touring have approached the weight of race setups from 5 years ago. With that said, I was musing on the drive over about how the growth has been slow and I wasn't expecting much of a showing. MEC  has carried decent race skis and boots on and off for a couple of years, yet unsold skis always find their way to the clearance racks. As a weekend warrior, it can be a hard sport to train for, when the most effective way to train is to ski in the mountains, something only a dedicated few can do more than on the weekends.

But I was surprised to see a packed pre-race presentation theatre and a bunch of new race gear scattered about. Will there be a new challenger this year?

The usual suspects lined up on the front row, Travis having just finished marking the up-route. Melanie begged me not to take my usual speedy start, and I actually considered listening to her but the excitement of a fresh season, fast skins, and light gear took over. Off the line cadence was fast and speed felt effortless. The uproute was set at the perfect angle and quickly a gap was formed. Travis joined me after admiring the long line of racers behind, and took the lead with some fast transitions while I had some minor missteps.

Lap 2 with Melanie still nipping at my heels, I closed to within conversation distance of Travis, keeping the cadence lightning fast. The first 50 minutes flew by and I established my hold of 2nd place while keeping Travis in sight. My mind was somewhat impaired from the effort but I was able to maintain focus and improved my transitions.

The last hour was tough. My cadence dipped on the sidehill section and lap after lap I came into the bootpack almost blown.  Travis was disappearing from sight, and my gap over Melanie and Steve behind was no longer widening, in fact it dramatically decreased in the final 2 laps. Still those fast laps at the beginning make me think this was my best Vert 180 yet. 17 laps of the 150m hill.

Once again the hamburger and fries at the end brought me back to life.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Helmets for Ski Mountaineering

If you are thinking of upgrading your racing helmet to something lighter like the Petzl Scirroco, 165g or Black Diamond Vapor, 189-199g it’s probably a good idea to hold off. For 2016/17 ISMF season, dual climb and ski certifications (EN 12492/UIAA 106 and EN 1077 class B) will be required. This is certainly a step in the right direction as the potential for head injuries in a ski mountaineering race are more likely due to crashing than from rockfall. But there aren’t many dual certified helmets on the market right now! 

Cebe Trilogy 280-360g

Kong Cosmos/ Cosmos Full, 350g. “Full” version comes with earflaps, but both appear to have EN 1077 certification.

Dynafit SR Race/Salewa Xenon, 320g (The Dynafit helmet is now discontinued, the Salewa one has limited NA distribution)

Dynafit Radical Helmet. I've only seen one site advertise this one as being dual certified.

Salomon MTN, 280g (brand new helmet for 2016 season)

Camp Pulse, 285-355g (must be worn with winter kit to be EN 1077 certified)

Ski Trab Sintesi, 270g (this is now discontinued. This is the only dual certified helmet I have seen that does not come with earflaps.)

Mammut Alpine Rider, 334-359g.

Uvex P.8000 388g

Scott Couloir 525g
Scott Couloir 2 355g

Casco Gams

Alpina Snow Tour, 330g. 

Sweet Protection Igniter Alpinist, 500g

Julbo Freetourer, 

It is interesting to note that the CAMP Pulse is only EN 1077 certified if worn with the winter kit. I wonder if this is the case for the other helmets? North American availability of these helmets is also an issue as it appears that only the CAMP Pulse and Mammut Alpine rider are easily available here.
For EN 12492 Helmets for Mountaineers, the helmet is impacted with two different 5kg strikers (one hemispherical and one flat. The hemispherical striker is dropped from 2m onto the top-front area of the helmet, and the flat striker is dropped on the front, sides, and rear of the helmet. Transmitted force cannot exceed 10kN. The helmet is also tested for penetration with a 3kg conical striker dropped from 1m.

For EN 1077 Ski and Snowboard Helmets, the helmet is mounted on a headform and dropped from a height of 1.5m. Peak acceleration cannot exceed 250G’s. A penetration test is performed as well with the helmet dropped at 10km/hr onto a conical striker (class B).
250G’s is still quite a large acceleration and even the best ski helmet has limited potential to protect against angular accelerations (something that the MIPS system tries to account for).

Note: After attending the 2017 ISMF World Championships, I did not see anyone racing with earflaps. CAMP has a new dual certified helmet coming, but all CAMP athletes were using the Pulse (without earflaps). Some skiers from Greece, Japan, and Iran didn't even bother to buy dual certified helmets and were still allowed to race.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

4 Frustrating Fatbiking Fusses

To say fatbiking has revolutionized winter riding around Edmonton would be an understatement. We used to ride the same route every weekend on our Sunday group ride, but now we can choose from almost all of the singletrack the river valley has to offer. Fatbikes are also much more forgiving in tightrope situations found when riding on narrow walker packed snow. And flying over the snow with root infested trail buried inches underneath adds a whole new dynamic to your favourite trails. But it's not all fine and dandy in fatbike land. Here are some frustrating things about fatbiking.

The Haters: Winter is for skiing and indoor trainer rides watching past editions of the Tour de France. If people had skills and weren't such (insert questionable sexuality/masculinity remark here), they would ride real mountain or cyclocross bikes.

The remedy: It's hard to  focus on the haters when you rail that corner with a touch of two wheel drift all while they are suffering in their basements or trying to figure out which wax to use.

The Cost: Put 45NRTH on a $60 pair of gloves and you now have a $150 pair of gloves. And the escalating arms race of carbon, extra cogs, dropper posts, tires and suspension has worked its way into fatbiking.

The remedy: Aside from a good set of tires, one can enjoy the relative simplicity of rigid bikes, cable pull disc brakes, entry level drivetrains and still be quite competitive! And going with xc ski apparel is a guaranteed way to save money over bike company clothing.

The Ruts: In agreement with the haters, fatbikes are somewhat of a crutch in that they give increased capabilities to newbies. Keep that in mind when out of nowhere, a rut reaches out and pulls you off the packed down trail into the deep snow, courteous of the tire tracks of a newb just a short time ago. Fatbikes are the monster trucks of the bike world and in addition to committed racer types, they do attract a certain crowd who are all too amused at what happens when they grab a fistful of rear brake. How about that locked in feeling of a V-shaped groove on a steeper downhill?

The remedy: Ride at the front of the group, don't follow another group's tracks.

The Limitations: So you've bought the meanest, baddest, fattest, studded-est set of tires ever and you are sitting at work watching the snow come down, antsy to get home and hop on your fatbike. Not so fast. The snow is too deep and you can't get traction on even the slightest climb, struggling to even get started, you see-saw across the trail and the pace slows to a crawl.

The remedy: Well, you've done all that you could have done. Time to bust out the skis...or the 1998 Tour de France DVD.
Two snowmobile tracks and "only" 25cm snowfall and even this slight climb isn't rideable!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The 4 Slight Advantages of the 9-5 Athlete

Sure, we can be envious of "unemployed" athletes who have nothing better to do than train or put their feet up. They can train whenever and wherever they want and subtly brag about it through instagram or strava posts while the rest of us work and are lucky to get in an evening bike ride or run. But there are some slight advantages to being part of the workforce.

Paramedical benefits:

Whether it comes out of your paycheque or not, many employer sponsored health insurance programs include some paramedical coverage. So you can get a couple of free massages, physiotherapy, and if there's a stutter keeping you from really intimidating your competition, some speech therapy. Meanwhile the unemployed athlete is still using their worn out foam roller.


It's why you work and you can buy performance through coaching, better nutrition, and gear. Meanwhile the unemployed athlete is surviving off KD, and praying that their tattered gear will hold up during the next race.

You're a roll model:

In the workforce, you are surrounded by people of varying athletic backgrounds. Most will see you as a hero and hang off every word of your Monday morning weekend summary. While you aren't inspiring sick kids at the hospital, it is comforting to know that you have people cheering for you to battle to the end of the race.

You've faced adversity:

All of those rainy, dark after-work miles you've put in will make that last climb seem like a piece of cake. The only adversity the unemployed athlete has faced is getting shut down by the girl at the coffee shop.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top 5 Bike Race Draw/Placing Prizes

One of the best reasons to stick around to the end of the elite races is for the draw prizes. Sometimes they give away a tube or a sleeve of electrolyte powder, sometimes they give away a bike.


who has size 9 feet? I do.

Hydration packs:

I don't ride with a hydration pack enough to justify spending a bunch of money on one, fortunately, I have won a couple to serve that purpose.

Duffel Bags:

One year I won the Martha Creek Meltdown in Revelstoke and I won a sweet North Face base camp duffel bag. The next year I finished 2nd, and got a slightly smaller North Face base camp duffel bag. These things often accompany me on my road trips.


Prizes normally consist of product that the sponsoring bike shop has trouble selling. I've won a couple pairs of cheap $20 sunglasses, but also a couple of gems. One pair with some slick photochromatic lenses, another with some interchangeable polarized lenses. One pair I got for chugging a freezie.


Only one draw prize comes with me on every bike ride (okay, I lost a Lezyne multitool that I once won). It's a Crank Brothers mini pump. Defying Crank Brothers' notorious quality issues, this thing has been kicking since 2007.

Honorable Mention: Shirts that fit.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Top 5 Edmonton River Valley Workouts

The Edmonton river valley is maybe 30-40m vertical from the river to the top of the bank with a long urban, but undeveloped park snaking across the entire sprawling city.

Wooden Staircase hill repeats:

Many wooden staircases drape down the banks of the river valley. I like to look for the tallest, and steepest sets (Wolf Willow or Hotel MacDonald) and run them as fast as I can taking them 2 at a time. Or if I want to work on cadence and speed, I’ll go to a less steep set like Fox Drive or Laurier Heights.

Edmonton Flavour: Keep running past the top of the stairs or else your first couple of recovery breaths will be full of cigarette smoke from someone taking in the view.

End-to-end and back bike ride:

With a combination of paved and gravel trails from Kennedale ravine to the southern reaches of Terwillegar park, almost 100km of cyclocross riding is possible. Or if mountain biking is more your flavour, a ride from the Anthony Henday Bridge to Sunridge and back can be more than 114km with 1700m of climbing! The great thing about this is that many variations are possible by adding various ravines and paralleling singletrack.

Edmonton Flavour: Count the number of homeless camps you come across during the ride.

Toboggan Hill Ski-mo Training:

 In the winter, grass slopes leading down the banks turn into toboggan hills. With the current liability environment, I’ve even heard talk of banning tobogganing and most toboggan hills have a fence to limit the size of the hill. The bigger hills are a perfect place to do interval training and work on full speed transitions. During bigger snowfalls, more terrain is possible! Gallagher and Victoria parks are my favourite spots, except when there is more snow and the larger slumping riverbanks are GAME ON!

Edmonton Flavour: Count the idling drug deal cars on Gallagher hill!

Off Trail classic skiing:

While there are parks with groomed and trackset ski trails, I prefer to ski from my door to maximize training time (and minimize driving time). Off track, I can explore more of the river valley and work on balance, but at the expense of gliding and higher cadence technique refined by skiing in the tracks.

Edmonton Flavour: When you finally come across a trackset trail, battle with the numerous skiers training for the Birkie!

Midweek Racing: 

The one thing that I missed when I spent a year in Canmore was a midweek racing scene. I’ve participated in running, mountain bike, road, cx, and xc ski midweek races and they are a great way to test of the waters of racing or a fun way to do a high intensity workout to prepare for bigger upcoming races. 

See: Fat Tire Tuesday mountain biking, CXAlberta Wednesday Night Cyclocross, Get Powdered XC ski race series, Frank McNamara Running Series.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Season Recap.

As I am currently going through injury related mountain bike withdrawal, I am a little bitter. Looking back on the Alberta Cup mountain bike season, it was a bit of a yawner. Anyone remember when mountain/foothill XC races had more variety than monotonous machine build? Oh yeah, nobody showed up.

I've finally figured it out

It took me a while. You aren't paying for a race (or vacation), you're staking claim to a chunk of time for yourself in the future.

Sorry, I would love to strip and repaint the house but I've signed up for this thing back in March!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Singletrack 6

So I finally caved and decided to figure out what the fuss was all about with these stage races. I was able to score a cheap entry to keep it under $100/race, book the time off work and I headed out to the Thompson-Okanagan with Pierre (former junior Quebec Canada cupper) from Golden, who was fortunate enough to score a free entry that was donated to the Golden Cycling Club.
These stage races pretty much condense an entire season of racing into one week. How would my bike and body survive without much time off between races? I made sure to bring 2 bikes and some spare parts (tires, wheels, brake) to be safe.

The week long race format has certainly evolved and I found the course selection to be pretty good. The TransRockies guys were pretty visionary in linking together sections of trail and road (and barely rideable creekbed?) found in Doug Eascott’s/Gerhart Lepp’s Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies, but mountain biking and mountain bike trails have changed. Volunteers don’t want to be sitting in the rain in the middle of the backcountry for hours on end. Future motivational speakers want a little less suffering. Mountain biking is descent oriented and riders are looking for trails built specifically with bikes in mind, but what comes down, must first have gone up and singletrack climbing trails are also gaining popularity as alternatives to gravel road climbs. Each course featured over 1000m of climbing and with distances of 35-45km.

Why do logging road climbs lack even a fraction of the popularity of the classic cols of the Alps and Pyrenees? Sure they don’t have the history and pack more suffering and remoteness, but they take you to places you can’t normally see from the car. Canada’s road passes are disappointing: they are busy with highway traffic and gawking tourists and the road quality is generally terrible.

This was also my introduction to stage racing. There is a wide range of racer abilities: World Champion Catherine Pendrel and Canadian XCM Champion Cory Wallace were racing along with who it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call “first time mountain bikers”. As I found out is typical for these races, the start area plugged up quite quickly with rides who did not have much business being there, or who weren’t interested in racing as hard (they were just trying to finish), so the first part of the race I burnt some matches trying to weave through riders out for a casual ride before the first piece of singletrack. People were spread all across the road, it was like trying to run up an escalator with people standing in the walking lane! After experiencing this frustration on stages 1 and 2, I made sure to be the first one to line up for every stage, and laughed to myself as I triggered a stampede of mediocre riders plugging the start chute in front of the faster riders I usually end up riding with. The top guns, well they enter the start chute from the front, nobody is going to complain, they deserve to be there. Women, mixed teams, masters teams in a tight battle for podium spots would do that too, and they would get passed shortly after the start as order was usually sorted before the courses constricted. Start waves would help.

The style of racing is different from the short climbs, short laps and fast, wide open descents found on more recent “spectator friendly” courses in Alberta. It made me nostalgic for the time when we used to race to the top and bottom of the Canmore Nordic Center, and the long singletrack descents of Hinton. There is a reason that XCO is dying but people will pay big bucks to do singletrack heavy stage races (BCBR, Fernie 3, and Singletrack 6). Nobody watches Alberta cups, so let’s race on trails that we enjoy riding!

Back to the style of racing: I found that each day, after the start was sorted, I would find myself riding with a similar group. Some men’s teams, ST3 riders, masters riders, and of course open men riders (and Kate Aardal!). I would try to move up on singletrack climbs where possible but mostly ended up sitting in with the granny ring getting a lot of use, hit the road climbs pretty hard, and try not to lose too much on the descents! With a long week of riding looming, I found it hard mentally to push myself over the top and I was more focussed on staying ahead of those behind me on GC rather than fighting to move up. The legs felt great except on the final stage.

There was a timed descent section in each stage and it was always interesting to see where I stacked up, sometimes losing a couple of minutes to the fastest rider, but they could use some tweaking as they contained climbs and road sections.

Pierre was on the meal plan and we found the pre-race briefings the evening before valuable. Unfortunately, the dinners, breakfasts, and briefings often required a longer drive to the next race in the morning (Salmon Arm to Silverstar for stage 2, Silverstar to Vernon for stage 3, Silverstar to Kelowna for stage 4, and Kelowna to Penticton for stage 5). Sounds like 2hr morning transfers were the norm last year as well (Golden to Revelstoke).

Stage 1: Salmon Arm.

The first day started in the Rubberhead trails, just east of Salmon Arm and finished in the South Canoe trails south of Salmon Arm connected by sections of the Larch Hills Traverse. I have previously ridden sections of the course: I found that the Rubberhead area was underrated, the South Canoe stuff was fast, and the Larch Hills Traverse was overrated when compared to other backcountry rides (Frisby, Keystone, Jumpingpound to Cox, 7 Summits, etc…). I was impressed by the course as it managed to link up some great descents in both areas rather than the long road sections of the Larch Hills Traverse. Transrockies races used to be notorious for the suffering: Rain, poison ivy, bushwacking, long hours in the saddle, and I’m happy to say I escaped the suffering that most people experienced on stage 1: the wasps nest in the middle of the course that was agitated when one of the first riders stalled out on a climb and had to put a foot down. I was warned by riders ahead, and I ran as fast as I could through there. We were told that we would be riding almost all of the trails in the South Canoe area, and they weren’t kidding. After descending down Coffee Time from the Larch Hills traverse, the course meandered around on Schizo and other trails from the Salty Dog race before finally dropping down to the finish. I found my descending was not up to par and I lost time to riders I had been climbing with and finished only a couple of minutes ahead of a large group of riders.

Stage 2: Silverstar.

Back in the day, before my time (and before a lot of people’s time), Silverstar hosted World and Canada cups. Lately they have been stepping up their cross country offerings by bringing their machine built flavour popularized in their bike park to the woods surrounding the ski hill. After a start loop that was too short for my crappy start position, we entered the slippery roots of BX Creek, before burning along the ski trails (and missing a sharp right onto the Corkscrew trail, named so for sections that cross back over itself). Crack of Dawn is a classic from the World Cup days, and I thought that the short, steep descents offered some good variety for the day. A bomb down a bike park trail and into a steep road climb, where we were reminded that we had skipped a section as faster racers started passing us. I really dropped the hammer here as I was feeling good. A long singletrack climb brought us to 6kms of Beowulf, what will become their signature cross country trail when the remaining 24km is built! Honestly, I got a little bored of this section, but was in awe of how smooth and fast the top guns were riding it as they passed me. A long but not steep road climb where I could see riders suffering up ahead brought us to the final descent down Snake Pit (a pedally downhill) to the finish. 

Stage 3: Kalamalka Park (Vernon).

Stage 3 is one that I was nervous about as it featured the DOUBLE BLACK EXTREME Big Ed trail. I chose to give my Xprezo a rest day today and picked my trusty Marin Attack Trail (woah are those 26” wheels? Yup, and 9 speed as well!). With the bike weight around 30lbs, my game plan was to sit in for the long singletrack climb up Stone Free and Stoned Again before dropping the seat and riding Big Ed comfortably, well at least more comfortably than someone on a hardtail with the seat up. Well that was the theory anyways. A long flattish road lead-in to the singletrack didn’t really allow the start to settle out very well, but I was with a determined group and after a short descent down No Boats, I was actually picking off previous day’s riding partners on the long singletrack climb. On my 30lb bike. 

We should stop weighing bikes. It’s really the rotating (wheels + tires) weight and the overall rider + bike + backpack weight that makes the most difference. More suspension travel and dropper posts will make up more time on the descents.

Then disaster struck. As soon as the Tombstone trail showed its rocky teeth, my dialed Marin wasn’t seeming so dialed. The chain kept getting stuck between the chainguide taps and the little chainring and jamming. Instead of feeling comfortable down Big Ed, Twisted Sister, and Crash of 08, I kept having to stop to unjam the chain and just wasn’t feeling confident. I powered up the climb out of the lake and on the road to the finish to salvage my day.

This was the last stage for the 3 day race and I’m not sure I’d be content if I went home early. I'd recommend signing up for all 6 days. If you only want to do a 3 day race, then do the Fernie 3.

Stage 4: Myra-Belleview (Kelowna).

While I was originally planning on going with the Marin again for this day, yesterday’s problems were fresh in my mind and I went back to the Xprezo. The race started with a road climb into a doubletrack climb and I really enjoyed the start as I could go as hard as I wanted with nobody getting in my way. And I went hard, well a little too hard as I got caught by a train of riders on the Kettle Valley Railway. I was able to latch onto the train. I survived Vapour (lots of blood and flat tires for other riders), though not without losing time on the descent to the group. I suffered a little on the climb back up to the KVR but had another train to pull me along the railbed to the Crawford descent. I rode the long descent cautiously and while I did lose the riders ahead, nobody had caught me by the time I reached the bottom. The last climb caught a lot of people off guard as it kept going up and up through open, burned out forest with a couple of steep sections, but I had enough in the tank to ride it strongly. My best race of the week. When loading my bike after the race, I noticed that my front rim was cracked, huge wobble, loose spokes, etc… How my tire didn’t flat, or how I failed to notice where I did this or the wobble while riding is beyond me! Unfortunately, I left my spare front wheel in Canmore to save space!

Stage 5: Penticton.

I came up with a quick fix to prevent the chain from jamming and I was prepared to throw the power down more cautiously. The stage on Campbell Mountain was the easiest stage of the week both physically and technically. The trails were pretty loose and it almost felt like fatbiking on snow. I didn’t get my best start on the nervous road rollout but I rode pretty strong on the climbs to work my way up. The descents were fast and loose but otherwise off camber sidehill was the theme of the day. Though the course was smooth, I didn’t have any chain issues. With the finish right by the lake, there was lots of time to enjoy the beach and walk along the strip. You know, do what normal people do when they go on vacation!

Stage 6: Penticton.

Last day. Will the legs and bike hold up? Another nervous road rollout brought us to the dusty KVR which we soon departed up a steep road climb where I made my move. By the time the climb funneled into singletrack I was well positioned. The legs were feeling the effects of 5 days of racing and I focussed on trying to hold onto the group I was with on the long singletrack climb with some short descending sections. I kept glancing down at my Garmin to see if we had gotten any closer to the top elevation. It slowly ticked down. Upon finally cresting the top I pointed my bike down through fast trails, short technical sections, and a rocky section with some minor routefinding required! A road climb let me put the power down again before diving down over more rockslabs and loose corners to the finish where I was just a coast down the KVR away from the lake. I made it.

Stage 7: 

Is this even a thing?

The Okanagan was a great place for a race and the weather was great with some rain in the first couple nights to keep the dust down. Races were held early in the morning to beat the heat and allow for plenty of time to enjoy the other things the Okanagan has to offer: Lakes, golf, and wine. For a non-racing “support crew” there really isn’t a better place to hold a week long race with the same quality of trails. Tent camping in the Okanagan leaves a lot to be desired compared to my experience at much quieter and spacious Whistlers campground in Jasper. Camping and mountain biking go together!

When reflecting back on the week, I’m glad I jumped on the opportunity to check “Ride a week-long stage race” off my bucket list. I enjoyed the courses, I would highly recommend them to any travelling rider, but I don’t think I loved the racing (the chaotic starts, limited time to repair bikes/bodies) enough to pay full price. There’s a reason people do these, and if they priced races, meals, transportation, or accommodation any lower, they’d have a huge logistical issue on their hands. The whole operation was pretty dialed and a highlight for me was Raven Eye’s and John Gibson’s excellent photography.