Thursday, December 22, 2016

Line of the Week: Mt. Chester Couloir

Chester Lake, a good place to stretch the legs, get comfortable with your gear and ... oh my what's that? Follow the trail up to the lake then work your way up the fan to the line. The line has many features, mini cornices, chokes, and multiple options in some points. Because of the multiple features, snow can vary from powder to windslab to ice so be prepared for a bit of everything.

Top elevation: 2950m
Total vertical: 1050m
Line length: 700m
Round Trip Distance: 9km

A couple of similar, but shorter lines further up the valley from Chester Lake provide alternatives if there is a group going up the main couloir. As these lines are similar, they do not really provide a great alternative if you are not certain about conditions. Do a couple of mellow tree laps and call it a day.

Hillmap route

Other Lines of the Week .
Other Kananaskis lines.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Line of the Week: Grand Daddy Couloir

With a prominent rock pinnacle at the base, this line is instantly recognized in any Instagram post. Its popularity (high probability of a group being above you. Don't climb under other groups. Go find another line) and a large cornice at the top are the two main hazards.

Parking: Mosquito Creek Hostel Trailhead on Icefields Parkway XXkm North of Lake Louise
Elevation Gain: 800m
Line length: 200m
Approximate round trip distance: 8.5km
Top elevation: 2650m
Aspect: NE! Watch out for the cornice!

Cross the river, work your way up through the trees. Ski up the fan to the base of the line. Bootpack up the line. Depending on the snow depth, it might be wise not to push all of the way to the cornice but to the base of a big rock. Enjoy!

Hillmap map

Not feeling it? West Nile zone offering tight tree skiing is below this line.

Other lines of the Week
Icefields Parkway

Line of the week: Introduction

Going to get the ball rolling on a little online guidebook of some steeper ski lines in the Canadian Rockies. Stuff that isn't in Selected Alpine, 11,000ers, Ski Trails, or Summits and Icefields.

So you've got a season or two or touring under your belt. Maybe you've skied Surprise Pass or Hero Knob and are wondering where do you go from here? The Rockies are a young, steep and imposing mountain range, but the crumbly rock has revealed many weaknesses that are able to hold snow. The cold, fickle Rockies snowpack takes time to stabilize. Great, aesthetic ski lines await, they just require patience to tame them properly.

Highway 40 (Highwood)
Smith-Dorrien (Highway 742)
Trans-Canada Highway
Highway 93S
Icefields Parkway (Highway 93N)

Safety and Etiquette:
It goes without saying that serious lines should be saved for times of good stability. In general a clear, calm day is best, but be weary of the effect that the sun and temperature can have on the line. Start early to avoid a strong midday sun shining on unstable snow or cornices that funnels into your line. Cornices drop like bombs onto the start zones at the top of lines. Deep persistent slabs might not be able to form on steeper features, but can exist on fans, aprons, and at the top of the line if the slope angle slackens.

Sluffing: New snow, wind, sun exposure, and temperature (whether high temperatures or cold weather faceting) all increase the risk of a sluff washing you off the line.

Never climb underneath another group. Go find another line. You are at risk of the group above you sending sluffs, dropped gear, or falling on you. You are also forcing the group above to wait at the top for you to top out. They don't want to be stuck up there. They might want to ski another line after, they might want to get off the line before the weather changes, they might need to get home by a certain time. Just don't. Careful when you are climbing a line that can be accessed from the top via another route. A group topping out this way might send sluff or a cornice down.

Aside from having the experience to judge if the snow is safe to ski, it is important to have the fitness, technique, and knowledge of your gear to move as fast as possible on these lines to minimize your exposure to objective hazards such as sluffing, cornice, or rock falls. Dial in those skin to bootpack and bootpack to ski transitions so that you aren't waiting around in the bowling alley for too long. As these lines are in the alpine, the fitness to climb 1000m+ with some bootpack is a pre-requisite. Work your way up.

Have confidence in your skills to ski the line. It's not hard to climb up something that you might not have the guts to ski down. You should feel comfortable skiing ANYTHING at the ski hill before stepping onto one of these lines.

Carry the right gear. Ice axe and crampons if there's a chance of hard snow. Helmet provides some protection against stuff above you.

GPS: I carry a simple GPS to track my day, but these lines are typically "if you can see it, you can ski it" sort of deal.

Disclaimer: I am not a guide and I am not liable for the accuracy of the information I have provided. Ski and climb these lines at your own risk. If in doubt, hire a guide!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

vert 180 report

The 7th Vert180 took place last weekend with perfect weather conditions. While there was not enough snow coverage to ski from the top of the nipple, we were still able to top our via a bootpack and then run down to a transition area on the groomed snow.

The usual suspects were there, while Matt, Caroline, and Lori Anne made the trip from the interior to collect some SMCC points and shake out the dust from the off season with the rest of us. While I lament the slow growth of ski mountaineering racing in Canada, there were more race skis and race backpacks popping up on both new and familiar faces.

3 laps in, it was just me, Joel, and Travis left in the front group. I was able to ski off the front with clean transitions. Unfortunately Travis had some stomach issues. Joel lurked behind me the whole race forcing me to have to hammer hard to maintain my 1-1.5minute advantage. I suffered hard in the last hour as I always do and was able to fend him off in the end. Strong performances by Matt Reid to take the final podium spot, Kylee , who didn't let me lap her until the 2nd last lap, Michelle, who battled hard to keep Kylee from lapping her, and of course great performance by 14 year old Tom who raced neck and neck with Kylee for 1.5hrs. Sounds like the battle for the final women's podium spot was also exciting with Marg taking it in her comeback.

I was pretty shattered after the race and was glad to get a burger and some chili in me to revive me. Looking forward to Castle Mountain in January!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gifts for the ski mountaineering racer in your family

What to get that ski mountaineering racer in your family? The one who has to explain his sport to anyone who cares to listen. Salespeople at your typical ski shop might not be aware of the unique demands of the sport, so I have provided a list of some items I think will be welcome for most racers. Or you could ring the credit card through

Black Diamond Gold Label Glue $10-$12 : Great for everything from touching up the glue on tailless race skins all the way up to a full reglue. It's such good glue that it's banned for sale in Europe due to the solvents it contains! Don't let the salesperson talk you into the "glue renew sheets" or any other glue, there is no alternative! Literature $25-$50: Rumour has it that Kilian Jornet once bought the Manual for Ski Mountaineering Racing so even the most seasoned racer can pick up a couple of pointers. Newly released is the 12 week training plan.

Socks! $20 and up: Always a welcome gift to replace crusty and worn out old ones. Thinner side is preferred, and make sure to get the right size. Merino wool is nice. Dissent Labs is the only option if your giftee is trying to fit in with the Whistler crew. 

Race Nutrition $20 and up: Endurance athletes will do anything for cheap race fuel, even going so far as to represent obscure start-up nutrition companies for a discount. Save them the hassle and buy them a box of Gu/Hammer/Powerbar gels and/or drink mix.

GPS/Heart rate watch: Not so much for keeping from getting lost but for tracking training and realizing how vastly inferior they are to Kilian Jornet and Anton Palzer who are racking up 4000m vertical days. There's a good deal on the Garmin Forerunner 920XT from Amazon right now.

Missing Items from the pack $50-$200: Okay, so they've got the skis/boots/bindings, the pack, what about:
  • Helmet: Dual climb and ski certified helmet required for ISMF international races starting this season.
  • Gloves: Any glove may do, but the CAMP Comp G Wind gloves seems to keep my hands at the right temperature and comes with a pullover wind cover. Designed for skimo, so they will keep your hands kinda dry, and not leave fabric on the skins.
  • CAMP crest shovel: Not an avalanche shovel, but meets the minimum requirements for being left in the pack during races.
  • Windbreaker top and bottom. Top of the line, extremely lightweight jackets and pants weigh about 125grams each, though something more reasonable within 50grams is acceptable for an item that lives in the race pack. Nice for warming up in as well.

Avalanche Centre donation $?: The guys going out everyday to gather information to keep your loved one safe. More applicable for those not in the Rocky Mountain Parks (those bulletins are provided by Parks Canada/Alberta).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Good skiing in the Lake Louise area

We were able to find good skiing in the Lake Louise area over the weekend. From the sounds of it, Kananaskis was mostly wind blasted, while starting elevations in Kootenay and Yoho are too low for the current state of the snowpack. The parkway is quite the haul, so we settled on Surprise Pass after hearing good things from the day before. Although we punched our skintrack up the north side, we were still the second group to ski, and then were able to put in another couple of laps while watching people ski one, then head home. Great day out.

We liked Lake Louise so much, we returned again, but with little overnight snow, we avoided yesterday's tracked out area and checked out the Lake Louise ski area backcountry. While the ski-out trail was definitely thin, it provided good access to the turns, and the exit wasn't bad. We managed a couple of short laps.

Skimo Camp

The team had an awesome early season training camp at the Asulkan cabin. As the popularity of backcountry skiing has exploded, especially at Rogers Pass, availability of the cabin was limited so we gambled on an early November date.

It's been an interesting season. Snow is piling in up high, but as it has been unseasonably warm, the snowlines are still quite high. So lower elevation trailheads require access on foot and bushwacking before getting to some good skiing.

Travis, Michelle, Matt, and Lori arrived a day early and set forth on the task of breaking trail up to the cabin through isothermal snow. With cell service at the cabin, they were able to update us on conditions and it wasn't sounding too great. Hmm, maybe I should be road biking in Edmonton?

I arrived the next day with Kylee and Mark and although the approach on foot and ski up a barely covered and sometimes steep summer trail was not ideal, I appreciated the deep trailbreaking done the previous day. I also noticed that there was at least a supportive crust forming on the snow that would make the exit a little more pleasant.

Alright, time for the main day. Game on. Travis et al had done some good exploring while we were skiing to the cabin and found an interesting way to access Sapphire Col hut via a couloir south of Leda peak. We went back the next day. Spindrift poured down the couloir and when we did top out, it was windy, cold, and visibility was not great. So we headed back down the couloir.

In the afternoon, we skied towards the base of Youngs peak, then lapped the Asulkan glacier some more in the whiteout. The smooth, windblasted surface provided consistent skiing even if the visibility was not there. It was nice to be able to crank out some easy vertical.

We were greeted on our exit day with some fresh snow, but no visibility, so we just skied out. Skiing was interesting while occassionally punching through the fresh powder and the crust under the weight of the big packs. Ultimately the exit on the summer trail down through the mousetrap proved to not be much of an issue and I was able to schuss most of the way down the trail until finally giving in and taking my skis off on an uphill before the bridge. A Teton style boot exit was all that remained to cap off the training camp.

I'm happy to get some good turns and training in so early in the season, especially when conditions were not sounding so great. Thanks to the Alpine Club for use of the hut.

Ode to the consignment store Elans

A couple of years back, the Switching Gear consignment store in Canmore picked up a bunch of Elan touring skis. There were a couple of pairs of  ski mountaineering race skis and some fatter skis that went quickly, but mostly the 160-170cm, 70mm-ish underfoot stores sat in the store. Prices were chopped. They are now at $100. I thought what the heck, the core doesn't make much difference on a ski this tiny and went with the lightest ones, the women's model! Binding mount was a tad sketchy with many of the screws spinning in the honeycomb core (pro tip, buy the Greenish-yellow or Red  ones with more wood in the core!).

I smoked a rock on my first turn and the ski ejected. This is why I bought these skis. Once down in the trees, the rocks went away, and with some light blower on top of a supportive base, the skis were fine. Great conditions for late October at Bow Summit! I lapped the slope until my legs died.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Where to buy ski mountaineering gear

So you are looking to get into ski mountaineering, but not sure where to get the gear? Many backcountry ski stores are starting to carry light gear, but still at a weight penalty compared to even an entry level race setup.

Although ski mountaineering racing is an emerging trend, it is still hard to find in North America. In Canada, this is further exacerbated by shipping, exchange, and brokerage costs when buying from the United States. And the shops that are nice enough to bring in skimo gear? Well it usually sits and collects dust all season(s), and they vow to never purchase it again.

Here are a list of shops that I've come across in my searches.

Used: High initial cost and low supply means that skimo gear typically has great resale value that comes at a cost above a typical "impulse buy". Demand is spread thinly across the continent, so it can be hard to find buyers! Gear Swap : Stano has left a space on his website for buying and selling gear. A great, focussed place to look for skimo gear. gear swap: A similar gear swap setup by Utah Skimo. This one is a little busier. forum gear swap: Race gear occasionally makes it on here. It seems everyone who uses this website has access to deals, so prices are low!
Skimo Gear Swap & Forum Facebook Group: Lots of gear here, although some telemark and "freeride" junk is popping up here.
Local kijiji, craigslist, ski swap: Pretty tough going.

Canada: Want cheap shipping, favourable exchange rates and no fees when you pickup? Best buy Canadian (if you are in Canada!). As more alpine brand distributors import skimo skis and more shops start carrying ski touring companies, any decent ski shop should be able to special order stuff for you. : A soon to open Canadian skimo shop specializing in lightweight gear. 
MEC: The Co-op has some entry level boot and skis (Scarpa Alien, Dynafit PDG), low tech race bindings. The $550 Salomon Minimums went quickly. Hope they return. They've done a good job in the past of keeping prices under control with the struggling Canadian dollar, but they seem to have lost their handle  this season.  : Formerly le Yeti, this Quebec based retailer has the Dynafit PDG series as well. : Another Quebec retailer with Dynafit DyNA and PDG kit!
Vertical Addiction; In Canmore has some Scarpa Alien boots in stock. They've also been able to special order CAMP stuff for me.
Sundance Ski Shop : In Edmonton has a pair of mens and womens Fischer Alpattacks in stock. I was also able to special order dynafit race binding parts.
Escape Route : They've previously carried Dynafit race gear, Colltex skins and Plum race bindings on their website.

International websites: A good strategy is to image search "Scarpa Alien" or "Dynafit PDG" to find websites that might carry skimo gear.

US: The exchange rate is a tough pill to swallow for Canadian customers. Look for places that ship via USPS, or can include some sort of "all in" rate to avoid any surprises when the Purolator or UPS guy shows up at your door. Or you could look into self declaring if there is a CBSA office nearby. From the CBSA website:
  • When the courier attempts to deliver the shipment, you must refuse delivery and advise the courier that you will pay duties and/or taxes directly to the CBSA.
    • Write down the unique shipment identification/tracking number. The shipment will be returned to the courier's warehouse for storage for a limited period of time. 
  • Next, visit a local CBSA office that offers accounting services to the public. You will need to provide specific details about the shipment, indicated on the commercial invoice. 
    • You will need the shipment identification/tracking number, the commercial invoice (receipt), and personal identification when you visit the CBSA.
    • If someone else is doing this step on your behalf, the CBSA requires a letter of authorization and a photocopy of your identification.
  • You will be given an official receipt indicating that you have paid duties and/or taxes paid to the CBSA. 
  • A copy of this receipt must be presented to the courier, either in person or by fax, at which time receipt or delivery of the shipment may be arranged." : The largest selection and most knowledgeable source for ski mountaineering gear in North America.
Cripple creek backcountry  : Another keen store with a good selection. The Totally Deep Podcast is awesome as well!
COSMIC shop :  proceeds go towards organizing races! : has some skimo gear. Free shipping on orders over $200US : The goliath of the online shopping world in North America, they have skimo gear.
Boulder Nordic Sport : The of the nordic world, unfortunately they are getting out of the skimo market. They do have a limited selection of boots and bindings left at closeout prices though. : The outlet section is often a good source for skimo essentials: packs, gloves, clothing, training skins : I picked up a race backpack and a race harness from here a while back with free shipping to Canada (orders over $200). It looks like they have Dynafit race gear this year, though they say they aren't allowed to ship it to Canada. : Some Dynafit DyNA Evo race boots in stock. Careful, these might be an early pair that had some sole wear issues (losing the rubber lugs).
Voile and Scarpa both offer direct sales on their respective websites.

Europe: Look for websites that offer VAT free pricing for North American customers. A bit more hassle, but the retailers actually put stuff on sale. Due to the sport's popularity across the pond, there are more retailers than listed here. These are just some I have heard of friends buying from. A rabbit hole you could tumble down... : A starting point for European shopping. DHL shipping extra fees were reasonable : Good source for race gear and good prices. Large skins selection
Riap Sport : German website. A little more expensive I find. : Some good deals can be found here. : Another German website.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Keeping costs down

In a previous post, I brought forward  my costs over the last couple of years of participating in ski and bike racing. Here are some strategies to keep costs down.

Limit the driving: Turns out, I had spent a lot of money on fuel and repairs for my vehicle. I've switched to a newer and more fuel efficient vehicle, and I'm hoping the fuel and repair savings will pay off that purchase soon. Additionally, I could carpool more, though it can be difficult to play by someone's schedule. Finding effective ways to train in the city right from the door of my house is something that I've gotten better at over the last year. I picked the location of my house so that I could bike to work and was close to the places where I train.

With this in mind, don't forget that the main reason we mountain bike and ski is to play in the mountains; don't be afraid to treat yourself. But try to make those weekend trips worth it by looking for good weather and maximising quality activity time.

It's not a deal if it doesn't fit: The sale rack can be tempting, but it's only worth buying something that is EXACTLY what you wanted before. Otherwise you will have to suffer with an ill fitting product, or take the loss when you eventually buy what you wanted in the first place. Buy it right, don't buy it twice.

Camp: Stop staying at hotels in the summer. I once raced with Catharine Pendrel (multiple World Champion Mountain biker, Olympic medalist). She sleeps in her van in parking lots. She got into mountain bike racing because it meant she got to go camping with her family. In the winter, look for friend's couches, hostels, or airbnb.

Don't stock up: Stocking up makes sense for food, and some "timeless" wear items like gloves and socks. Stuff goes obsolete. Bike technology advances, rules change. Don't get left with obsolete stuff that you will eventually have to sell for a loss.

Don't race more than you have to: I get it, I was young once and believed that I deserved to be in a better category than I was at the current time and I chased points. Now, I can tell you after 5 or so seasons of racing elite, I could care less when I upgraded. I wish I had won more podium prizes rather than accumulating points with 8th place finishes. Race only when you are feeling good and when course conditions are good. Think of the cost of racing being not just the entry fee, but the gas, food, and hotel stay required as well.

Don't ride or race in the rain or mud: Increased risk of crashing and breaking stuff, increased wear and tear on bike parts plus additional clothing requirements. Stick to the road if you must.

Cross train: While there is some benefit to specificity, even from a performance standpoint, I believe it is impossible to replicate the demands of mountain bike racing by just going for a mountain bike ride. Long climbs can seem uncomfortable after only mountain biking on the short, punchy climbs found in Edmonton. You wont be breaking bike parts in the gym or out on your running shoes!

political correctness is not ruining this country or the one below us

I'll admit, it took me a while to understand the concept of political correctness and privilege (as a white male who had my schooling paid for I find this word stings just a little, poor little me), but it finally clicked right after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. At the time, I thought of myself as being quite a skilled Facebook troll (a term that is abused far too frequently to mean "someone who holds a different opinion from mine") but like a once great composer, I have been unable to top my greatest work. So I thought, why bother? I stopped giving a shit. Why say stuff that doesn't need to be said and doesn't contribute to anything constructively? We can find new jokes, we can find new halloween costumes, we can find new names for sports teams. Kicking someone when they are down is such a cowardly act.

I view the Muslim world as a society that was once the leading civilisation at the time: they gave us our number system; but for whatever reason, they are on the decline. We bombed the shit out of them, invaded them, exploited them and the media tells us that we've left behind countries in ruins. Refugees, immigrants who have managed to escape are shat on by a bunch of blowhards who fear that their grasp on this country is slipping away. Who cares if they don't learn to speak our language or eat our food? That is their choice. Anyone with even the slightest education in economics should know better. Our entire economic system (capitalism) depends on growth, it is hard to do that with a constant or declining population.

Runners World recently published the article "Running While Female" describing the harassment the majority of women receive when they are out getting exercise. The stories were absolutely disgusting, the statistics astonishing, and I'm ashamed to share the same gender of the harassers. Men are left wondering where the fine line between what is taken as a complement and what is creepy believing that our right to free speech supersedes their right to not be harassed! Just shut up and let these women run.

Outrage over accommodating LGBTQ people. It takes strength to come out, overhauling their identity takes courage and is not taken lightly or willy nilly. It doesn't take common sense to figure out that nobody would go through the hell that LGBTQ people go through in this society just to use a different washroom or wear a dress. It's the same with mental health. How is it not obvious that everyone is wired a little differently and relatively minor sacrifices have to be made to accommodate everyone?

The eroding of "Christian values" is alarming for some, but it is simply the culmination of the realisation that other people exist and their ideas might differ from a doctrine that has had a stronghold on this society. So what if we are giving up meaningless social interactions so that a group of people will not feel offended for once? Who cares if I occasionally have to watch my choice of words? happy fricken holidays.

How about the real issues affecting this country (and the one below us)? In a race to the bottom, we've outsourced many manufacturing jobs out of this country. We're still relying on an energy source that has a limited supply, pollutes the air we breathe and the water we drink, and is heating up our planet with no plan for the future.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Should cyclocross evolve?

My interest in cyclocross has certainly waned over the years. There are now 17 races and it seems every course is the same: 100% grass, and run-ups, if there are any are short. Watch any run-up (if there are any) and you will see people who have signed up for every race in the series, yet haven't even bothered to learn how to carry their bike properly. Points go 18 deep, and 3 18th places gives a better start position than my one 4th place. At least the janky off cambers and awkward corners from 5 years ago are gone. When I first started racing 11 years ago, there was variety. Some weekends, we'd be racing on ski trails at Goldbar and Goldstick and have really long run-ups. Others, we'd start on the pavement or gravel, then venture out onto the grass.

Shantel, Abby, and Bridget all carrying their bikes properly! Right arm under the downtube, grabbing the left drop. Left hand free! photo: Andrew Davidson

But I am certainly no authority on cyclocross courses in Alberta. The one race I did this year was almost more frustrating than it was fun. It was like NASCAR trying to work my way up before I was finally able to float my way up to the lead group by myself where the real racing began. Do Jeremy Powers cyclocross videos not provide any tips for after the first 2 laps?
I was planning on racing again this weekend, but after a complaint about the last doubleheader in Edmonton where races were held on a snowy course that deteriorated into mud, the city hastily decided to cancel the permits for the races. The cyclocross community was caught with our pants down. We know that the grass heals by springtime. But we haven't convinced the community and the city.

The city offered up Terwillegar Park as an alternative but the organizers politely turned them down going as far as to say that the park is the least suitable option for cyclocross in the city. Sure dodging dog walkers (and their out of control dogs), unclaimed dog poop, and large chunks of gravel isn't optimal. No, you can't have a 100% grass race there, plus it is way too late to reschedule and design a course. But to say it's unsuitable for cyclocross shows how homogenous this discipline has become. I've had fun racing dirt crits there before. Maybe it's time to dust off the mountain bikes. Why can't we allow wider tires and mountain bikes anyways?

I think this muddy hill, and not the muddy grass was the straw that broke the camel's back. Some poor dogwalker got muddy feet on their normal loop. Too bad. photo: Andrew Davidson
Ok, here's an idea. Sure there isn't parking close by, so you can't haul your trainer, tent, spare bike, and spare wheels there as easily, but it's a park that nobody gives a shit about. Some decent climbs, and some trail that isn't just grass.
How about Sunridge?

My perfect cyclocross race? Long hill off the start to seed the riders properly. Some ski trails, some grass technical sections. Long run up. Barriers that can be hopped or run. Straightaways and corners taped wider than 3m. No dangerous descents, or driveside off cambers. Hop 'n Hurl 2017 at Goldstick, Kurt?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Redevelopment of the Glacier Park Lodge at Rogers Pass

How cool would it be to have a new hostel at Rogers Pass? Parks Canada has taken  control of the old Glacier Park Lodge site with plans to redevelop it. Would be a shame if it became yet another Brewster attraction that is too expensive for the people who use the area. Here is what I wrote to Honorable Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna.

Dear Honorable Minister:

I am pleased to learn today that Parks Canada is moving forward with redevelopment of the Glacier Park Lodge site. I was young at the time when it was closed and just getting into backcountry skiing so I never got to experience the convenience of being able to wake up and go skiing or hiking right from the door of the hotel. I am writing to you today because I believe that the site would be best utilized as a hostel. The Alpine Club of Canada and Hosteling International operate hostels along less popular travel corridors such as highway 93, so I believe that a hostel is viable along the much busier Trans-Canada Highway.

Backcountry skiing has exploded in popularity and Rogers Pass is home to some of the best skiing in the world. The combination of great ski terrain and abundant snowfall and being reasonably close to Calgary means that skiing is popular. The 1 hour drive from Golden or Revelstoke can become quite treacherous in the winter and it has become increasingly common for skiers to “camp out” in designated trailhead parking spots rather than brave a morning drive, and sleeping in the car presents an economical option for a group who cannot afford resort hotels, lift tickets, helicopter, or cat skiing. Catering to climbers, skiers, and hikers honours the heritage of the original Glacier House which was used as a base for mountain climbing and the Swiss Guides when it was located near where the Illecillewaet campground presently sits. A hostel would also be welcome to travellers that become stranded due to highway avalanche closures or motor vehicle accidents rather than having them extorted for $300 per night hotel rooms.

I fear that if the site is redeveloped as a luxury wilderness hotel, it will not provide the same benefit to the community. West Louise Lodge in Yoho National Park has become increasingly aggressive to backcountry skiers, and now charges parking fees on the multi-day point to point Wapta traverse, one of the best ski tours in the world.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on redevelopment of the site as a hostel.


Peter Knight

Monday, October 17, 2016

My costs of bike and ski racing, broken down slightly

Bicycling and skiing are seen as expensive hobbies, and I'm sure the average income of the participants is well above the national average. Yet both sports have a savvy dirtbag contingent who are able to participate in these sports by keeping a close eye on costs.

Racing can take a backseat when other life expenses: housing, car, children, vacations and constraints: work, children, start to add up.

How expensive are bike and ski mountaineering racing in the grand scheme of things? How does that break down monthly?

Race fees

$542.07 or $45.17/month. This includes 5 mountain bike races, a race license, and 1 cyclocross race. A light year for me, but one that gave me lots of time to ride and hike on the weekends. Only really cost me $442 because I won $100!

Signing up for all 17 of the Alberta cyclocross races will set you back over $500 over the 2 month season. Unless of course you belong to one of those clubs that uses casino funding to pay for masters race entries.

$950 or $79.16/month. This includes the bargain $500 I paid to race Singletrack 6, but no cyclocross races as I was injured. 5 mountain bike races, and a 6 day stage race.

$630.99 or $52.58/month. 7 mountain bike races and 3 cyclocross races.

So typically about $50/month in a normal year

What about ski races over that same period?

$455.43 or $37.95/month. 6 races

$2021.17 or $168.43. $1574 of that was for racing, accomodations, and food in Verbier, not a bad price for over a week in Switzerland.

If I were to go race in Europe every 2 years for world championships, I would expect to budget around $100/month for race fees. If not, under $40/month.

What about gear? Bike stuff requires ongoing maintenance, in addition to the upfront cost. Since February 2014: I've bought a couple of bikes over that period, as well as sold some bike parts (that revenue is included). I'm very foruntate to have good support from both Hardcore Bikes and Dynafit.
Biking $4841 or $146.69/month
Skiing $4170 or $130.30/month


Travel. Hotels and flights. I've only really done this for skiing, in the summer, I camp.
Biking (camping): $278. A mere $8.69/month
Skiing (flights, hotels for races): $1714.54 (does not include the $1574 that was a bundle of food, accomodations, and race fees). $53.58/month

So totals: Biking $7242.06 or $226.34/month
Skiing (gear, races, travel) $6646.60 or ~  $261.29/month

But really, some of the biggest costs are related to driving my gas guzzling Toyota Highlander (that I just replaced) back and forth to the mountains and keeping it running. Gas has averaged $270/month, and maintenance $164/month for a total of $433.82/month. Pretty costly when you consider that I only really drive to feed my biking and skiing habits.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bontrager Ion 700R light review

With a basic LED light, cars would turn left in front of me. They don't turn left in front of me anymore, because now I've got 200 lumens (low setting) pointed in their face. The 700 lumen setting works good for singletrack riding, though with just a bar mounted light, it can be hard to see around corners. Combined with a Flare rear light, cops don't give me shit for riding at night.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The social media of things

"Where should we go today?"

It's a common question presented to the group when discussing ski plans.

"Hey, I think I know of a new place we could check out"

Is becoming a rarer response. Perhaps we've now exhausted the selection of good ski spots in the area. Or maybe new spots are getting harder to find.

I used to spend free time on the internet not watching cat videos but tumbling down the rabbit holes of internet forums (The Alberta Report on now BackcountryTalk, Canadian Rockies Roll Call on,,, gravsports-ice) and blogs (SchultzGambit is a favourite of mine). By carefully comparing pictures to Google Earth satellite images, I was able to add more ski spots to my arsenal to check out when the guidebook spots were busy, tracked out, or we were just looking for an alternative. Scrolling through the pages of a simple google search also yielded good results. Even youtube is handy. Forums neatly organized discussion in subforums and treads.

But forums and blogs are dying. hashtags have replaced more detailed write ups. In fact, only started using instagram as a tool to find out where people are skiing, and when. Perhaps Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide more instant gratification in the form of followers, shares, retweets, regrams, and likes for a lot less effort. Or maybe less is more and being able to limit your bragging to your followers and friends better preserves the spot for next time. Either way we are left with a decreasing amount of searchable, archived material but with more stuff that is there for its 15 minutes of fame before getting buried to the depths of the internet (only to get uncovered when the person runs for public office).

Is Facebook a "one stop shop"? In my feed, I can see discussion of ski conditions, used gear for sale, and pictures of recent conquest. But the mainstream nature, shear volume, and lack of organization on Facebook means it might be necessary to fragment into target groups. People start new groups so they can fluff their ego with administrative power only partly responding to a need. Backcountry-YYC, Bow Valley Skiers, Wild Terrain Freeriders, Backcountry Skiing Partners Rockies/Rogers Pass. Canmore Gear Loft, Calgary Mountain Gear Loft, YEG Mountain Gear Loft. Calgary MTB Conditions, Moose Mountain Shuttle Group, Calgary Downhill MTB. Edmonton Mountain Biking, Edmonton Bike Racers (Interclub), Edmonton Downhill Mountain Biking Meetups, Edmonton Downhill Mountain Bike Travel Group. One stop shop?

Should I check out Reddit? Talk about a rabbit hole

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Ah sweet carbon fiber. The wonder material. Unmatched stiffness to weight, and the options for shape and form are nearly limitless. Road wheels provide aerodynamic benefits that allow you to slice through crosswinds. Mountain bike wheels have unmatched stiffness for precise and confident handling. But this comes at a cost. Top of the line bikes cost above $10,000. Wheelsets can be $3000. Not to mention the fact that it is difficult to recycle thermoset resins (not to say that mining aluminum is that environmentally friendly), and we have pretty much outsourced all frame and wheel manufacturing to Asia. 
When I first started biking, I never thought that I would personally see the top of the line equipment that I had only seen online and in magazines. I thought that stuff was for the pros. But this is Alberta and the economy was booming. I'm pretty sure I saw XTR or Dura-Ace on my first group ride. Shop employees sell off "demo" bikes for great discounts at the end of the year. My point is that there lots of high end bikes out there, new and used that will make an aluminum SLX build feel inadequate.

But bicycle technology is very good at trickling down. Thru-axles, geometry updates, ever increasing cassette cog counts, clutch derailleurs, and even frames using less exotic carbon layups would make me pick today's $3000 bike over an $8000 bike from 5 years ago. But even these offerings from reputable bike brands aren't enough to satisfy some people's appetite for cheap carbon. There are stories of knockoff bikes, open mold bikes where tolerances are out of wack, and carbon layups are designed to look good while keeping costs down with little concern over strength and durability. Yes, rather than suffer the indignity of riding a $2500 105 equipped Cervelo or aluminum mountain bike from your friendly local bike shop, or gasp, a used bike, people roll the dice with no-name, Asian bikes. The bike brands can't afford to have frames fail, it could tarnish their reputation. Do the open mold manufacturers even care?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Strava hunting for dummies

Ah Stava. Even the mention of that word can bring up debates about suspected poor trail etiquette of its users. Segment speeds are used as fodder for anti-bike advocates. But it's a heck of a good training tool.

You need ideal conditions: Strava leaderboards list people's personal bests. There might be asterisks for weight classes or age groups (for premium users), but it doesn't give a shit if you got your best time against the wind, in the mud, or on a busy night. Road bike segment leaderboards will be packed with people on slick road tires (not mountain bikes), often riding in a group to share the workload, and with a tailwind. So don't go hunting solo, into the wind, on your mountain bike. Conversely for mountain bike trails, you're going to want tacky trail conditions, no fallen trees, and you should ride the trail when it is not busy so you won't have to slow down or stop for other riders using the trail.

Know your segment: It doesn't hurt to preride your segment to find the fastest lines, how to pace yourself, or study online where it starts and finishes. Some segments are poorly made with non intuitive starts and finishes or based off poor GPS traces, but those are the cards you have to deal with. Don't be a loser and make your own segment.

Don't hunt at the very beginning of the ride: Not only are you not warmed up yet, but your GPS likely hasn't had enough time to really lock in on the satellites. You might be able to put in a good time, but it won't count if your GPS trace is out to lunch.

Experiment with entering and exiting trails from different directions: These might be ways to trick your GPS track into giving you a head start or an early finish line. At the very least, you'll find a way that lets you carry speed in and out of the trail. Don't start hunting from the entrance of the trail, or stop right at the end of the trail.

Average wattage: For road segments, you can look at average wattage of your previous attempts to make sure that you don't blow up early or leave too much in the tank.

Be smooth: Some of my best times happened when it felt like I held up a little on the throttle and rode more smooth and controlled. I paced better so I could give it more gas at the end without giving up too much at the beginning.

Don't hunt: Bask in the glory of beating the Strava heroes in a real race! (Mostly) closed course, mano et mano.

Some mountain bike segments are too close to roads and it's hard to compete with road bikes as you weave through singletrack alongside the road. Sometimes the trail has been rerouted, making it almost impossible to beat the previous times.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Is ski mountaineering race gear too expensive?

Possibly if you are looking to get into the sport, or are Canadian! And I'm not even talking about carbon.

When I purchased my first full brand new setup, the dollar was at par. The Canadian dollar is now at $0.76US, so gear ordered from the States (or imported by a distributor...from the States) is now 30% more expensive!

Online skimo gear shopping is as good as it has ever been in North America thanks to, and's continued supplying of race stuff. still looks to have a solid offering as well. But I can't help but notice that the box stores with probably the biggest exposure: MEC and REI have pared down their skimo offerings (edit, MEC is offering the Salomon Minim for $550. This is the deal of the century!). Boulder Nordic sport looks to have gotten out of the game. CampSaver too? Certainly these shops have had enough of skimo gear collecting dust in the back before getting snapped up during end of season clearance sales.

The gear is highly specialized, but it hurts that what is essentially a stripped down (less material, less parts) boot like the Alien or the PDG sells for at least $100 more than a comparable TLT6/7/F1 Evo style boot. Blame lower quantities, less competition, and the fact that racers will pay anything for a weight advantage.

There's a history of weight weenie skiers paying ridiculous amounts of money for minimal weight savings. For years Dynafit sold exotic titanium(or the aluminum alloy Titanal?) toe pieces on $700 bindings with something like a 30g per binding weight savings over the toe piece on a $350 binding. And there are certainly lots of recreational ski tourers who give up adjustable release and cheaper bindings to ski on low tech style bindings; extra granola bars lying in the bottom of their backpack be damned!

$700 for 30 gram weight savings! Skimo racers lapped these up in 2009
I'd think that a pairing of a low-tech race heelpiece (not the sketchy, non lateral release Expedition model) with a standard run of the mill steel TLT Speed toepiece, something that would retail for $385US, weighing only 60g per ski more than the $800US Low Tech Race would fly off the shelves. Fortunately it is possible to build this setup part by part on, though it comes out to $430US. And I certainly see enough people skiing Dynafit's 2nd tier PDG ski and boot setup to justify this offering.

On a related skimo note, on the eve of a season with updated helmet regulations, it is certainly alarming to see that the Camp Pulse and Mammut Alpine Rider helmets (I was able to snag a display model at a nearby Atmosphere store) have been discontinued and the $190 Salomon MTN lab is the only helmet available. Supposedly there is a less expensive Salomon helmet and a Dynafit helmet on the way, but things have definitely gone up from my previous $90 Edelrid Shield2.

New rules are requiring skimo racers to use 3 antenna beacons. In response to this, Pieps has come out with the 150g Micro beacon.  $400 to save 65 grams over a BCA Tracker 3 with greater functionality (so still pretty much a race-only beacon). Hilarious when you consider that the current generation of backpacks from CAMP, Dynafit, Ultimate Direction, etc give up at least that much weight to my CAMP XLP 290 that I bought in 2010.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hiking nugs

Might as well use this SLR that's been collecting dust (on the sensor too :( ) for the last 8 years