Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Join the club!

In a time before the internet, clubs were the place to meet people, learn about new areas, share stories and improve your skills. Nowadays much of that dialogue happens on Facebook and the forums or in small bubbles. It's one thing to read and watch videos about gear or technique on the internet but another to see it in person. I was at a masters alpine racing club night and I watched some of the better racers carve turns on icy snow around gates that I was having trouble getting an edge in. I know what's possible.

Where would I be if I never showed up to my first Hardcore group rides in high school? It probably would have taken until the introduction of to really learn the trail system in Edmonton. The adventures in this blog would be even less interesting than they already are. I wouldn't know what "fast" really is. I wouldn't know how long a proper ride is. Every day I come across a question on Facebook asked by someone who would benefit from joining a club and have someone take them under their wing.

Group rides. Learn new trails, ride with better riders who will push you to ride faster. Race in midweek and weekend events. Discounts
Hardcore cycling club

Uphill skiing nights at Sunridge on Monday nights. Free rock climbing at Rock Jungle on Wednesday nights. Weekend trips. Discounts
Alpine Club of Canada Edmonton Section

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Vert 180 report

The warm temperatures and corn snow that greeted us at the Vert180 this year were certainly a welcome alternative to negative temperatures, snowmaking guns, and abrasive snow that have been present in years past. A great track formed throughout the race, though the mellow bootpack seemed more like walking at the beach. I got off to an early lead with Joel from Skiuphill, until Joel abandoned in the first hour. Tyson and Travis were in the Thunderdome battling over 2nd place, but my gap was always at a comfortable level. The last hour never gets any easier, but it seemed everyone suffered the same. I was happy to have a clean race and take the win.

Once again, I was revived by the burger and fries after the race. I now join the exclusive "3 win club" with Travis Brown.While there is certainly a growing number of skiers on lighter skis and boots (and even demo Movement Speed Apple skis from, what I really noticed was a decreasing number of people looking absolutely miserable crawling up the hill on heavy setups. And I saw some blazing fast transitions!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Good advice or questionable advice

Aside from some top 20's and a couple of  medals at Worlds, the Euros still dominate the Americas when it comes to international ski mountaineering racing. We still have much to learn when it comes to training, technique, and equipment. These athletes have been racing and training since they were teenagers, often coming from a "club" system where little tips and tricks are shared around as common knowledge among the group. Spend a couple of minutes talking with a top Spanish, French, Italian, or Swiss (German, Austrian,...) and you probably need to grab a pen and paper to write stuff down! I don't actually have any training plans, but I believe Stano and Eric have packed it with some of these tips.

Dynafit has recently hosted Facebook Q&A's with a couple of their sponsored athletes. What a great opportunity to find out a couple of secrets (or get led on a wild goose chase?). Surprisingly, I was the only one to ask questions related to training, trying to pick up a couple of (not so) secrets. Seriously, nobody else is wondering how to close the gap to the Euro's?

Claudia races mountain bike World Cups in the summer. A good candidate to answer questions about being a year round athlete.

Norway isn't a traditional skimo nation, but Malene is a strong racer.

I would assume Marc developed in a club system
 Or I guess we could listen to American coaches taking shots in the dark with "weighted sled pulls" (I guess it worked for Luke Nelson when he won US nationals a couple of times?) or that cycling has very little place in a skimo cross training. program. Tell that to Quinn Simmons (only American male to EVER win a medal at Skimo Worlds)

 or Anton Palzer

or Remi Bonnet

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lezyne Micro GPS bike computer review

Looking for something to replace your Garmin Edge 500? After losing mine, I recently was.

Typically when it comes time for me to upgrade something, I dive into a military like procurement process trying to define which features I need and finding the best deal. In the end I went with the Garmin Edge 500, but in order to get a heart rate strap, I had to bundle with some speed and cadence sensors I never used and eventually sold for $20. I am not at all interested in attaching speed and cadence sensors to my bike: the GPS does a good enough job of measuring distance and speed and my Stages power meter measures cadence.

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The Garmin Edge 500 ticked all of the boxes for me. GPS, compatibility with ANT+ powermeters and heart rate, and a barometric altimeter for accurate elevation profiles all at around $250. I'm pretty sure it was the price of this device that put it on the bikes of many cyclists and allowed Strava to become what it is.

Unfortunately, Garmin discontinued the 500, and instead offers the very basic Edge 20 and 25 (no power meter compatibility or barometric altimeter) and the Edge 520, which like the Suunto watches costs almost as much as my personal computer.

I am told that Bluetooth LE will be replacing ANT+ for power meter and heart rate compatibility. While my Stages power meter is compatible with both I had an existing ANT+ heart rate strap. I would have to factor in a heart rate strap purchase (and useless speed/cadence sensor bundle) if I wanted the Polar M450, which I believe is another good replacement of the Edge 500.

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The new kid on the block is Lezyne. They offer GPS cycling computers in 2 sizes, and either with or without sensor compatibility. I decided that the smaller Micro GPS offered all of the features I wanted from the Edge 500 with some nice additional features all for $190:
-Much improved GPS accuracy. Less waiting to acquire satellites. For better or for worse, this ads more honesty to your Strava!
-Connects with my phone via Bluetooth to let me know if I am receiving text messages or calls, navigate, and even upload rides. Strava live segments for those with a premium account.
-Bluetooth LE and ANT+ compatibility so I can use my existing HR strap and power meter and don't have to buy a bundle with speed/cadence sensors I don't want. Maximum compatibility with past, present, and future sensors.
-Smaller size
-Excellent customer support, I believe that they have fixed the issue recording indoor trainer rides without a speed sensor.
-"breadcrumb" map shows a trace of your ride on the screen. Pretty neat.

With a few limitations:
-Lezyne app does not provide nearly the same data metrics and functionality as Garmin Connect. I have been using a combination of Strava, basic Training Peaks and Golden Cheetah for analyzing rides.
-I haven't gotten auto sync to work with Strava.
-Smaller size makes it harder to read.
-To record indoor trainer rides, it needs to see movement, which get this...requires a speed sensor! BAHHHHHH. I really hope they fix this. fixed with the latest update
-uses its own proprietary mounts.

Around the Misty Range

It's rare that I drive to the start of a bike ride. Especially after already having driven for 4hrs the night before. But the alpine of Kananaskis was calling. Around the Misty Range is one that I have put off for a while (too long, after the floods of 2013), but the 1hr paved drive to the trailhead is not bad (similar to Lake Louise, Bragg Creek, and not gravel unlike the High Rockies trail).

The Elbow lake area is quite underappreciated as a mountain biking destination. I did the climb up to the lake in under 10minutes. After rolling around the lake there is 5km of rocky doubletrack offering opportunities for interesting line selection, and scenic alpine riding and of course even more options for exploring in the Elbow and Sheep trails.

After turning onto the smooth Sheep trail, the riding became easier up and over Sheep Pass but as expected the floods of 2013 had wiped out much of the trail up to and including the Rickert's Pass trail junction. Of course the status of the riding through this section is in dispute as it passes through a historical private ownership region. I made sure to carefully tiptoe my way through the many dismounts, creek crossings, climbing up and down banks, and walking along through the creek! The progress of my blue GPS dot on Trailforks was painfully slow, but I eventually arrived at a coal pile where according to the GPS track, it was time to find the Rickert's Pass trail. Before the floods, the trail was such a rip that people would ride right past the junction!


I started to hike up Rickerts Creek, and picked up a trail on the Left side of the creek, put my head down and pushed my bike up the trail. Unfortunately (or fortunately...) I was led to a dead end. Trailforks showed my blue dot well off route, so I started to bushwack towards the trail, making painfully slow progress, and having to cross the steep gully of Rickert's Creek. A silly mistake that would have been obvious had I brought or had a photo of my topo map.

Eventually I picked up the trail but at that point, I just wanted to be over and done with. I had to refuel before reaching the pass and only really stopped at the pass for 3 pictures before heading down the trail.

The Mist Creek descent was awesome. It is approximately 10km long and drop down to the valley bottom is in great shape, especially compared to Cox Hill. As the trail traveled along the valley bottom, there was very minimal horse and flood damage and the slight rolling hills were easy on my fatigued legs. After the junction with the old exploration road that heads up to Mist Ridge, the water-bar-turned-jumps brought a bit of a smile out of me before arriving back at the trailhead to my patiently waiting girlfriend.

Well the fire is stoked, and I've been eyeing up more rides in Kananaskis. While the dry conditions have brought the fire danger to extreme levels, even the most poorly drained trails are drying up and it is time to get after it. The classics of the Elbow valley, the lesser known gems in the Sheep, and the adventures in the Highwood area are calling.

We are loving our favourite spots to death

This post seems timely, at the end of a busy summer of free national parks entries because of Canada 150, larch madness, and just as we are transitioning into early season skiing with lots of eager skiers, but limited suitable options.

I'm not sure if it's a new phenomenon brought on by social media, but I've noticed that when someone posts some pictures from a hike on a Facebook group, it inspires people to go out an post pictures of that same hike, which doesn't really provide input on conditions of other hikes. When word of a new trail gets out, numbers quickly pile up in the new STRAVA segment, and it appears that trail is all that people are riding for the next couple of weeks. And when someone posts a staged picture from a viewpoint on Instagram, you can bet that you will see more of that in your "explore" feed.

I understand, our recreation time is limited and we want to make the most of it. We want to go where good views, trails, conditions, and photos are guaranteed. We buy stocks when the trading volume and price are going up rather than experimenting with other companies. So we follow tracks and go where we heard it was good two days ago.

Overflowing parking lots, traffic jams, crowded viewpoints. In the summer, these places become off limits unless you want to get up really early. In the winter, crowded areas create heuristic traps which trick otherwise rational skiers into taking dangerous risks. But one "social media network" is neglected: Avalanche Canada's Mountain information network (MIN). Why would anyone want to tell the world about conditions at a spot when they know it will get beat down by the hordes the next day? But these observations are important as they provide additional data points to avalanche forecasters and might be useful for estimating conditions in adjacent areas.

The guidebooks present a lot of great options and cost less than the gas needed for a trip to the mountains. Pick one up and explore some different spots. Make it your goal this winter to check out a new area and provide a valuable MIN report for the community.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Edmonton Steeps

I've spend some time after nationals focusing on riding steeper trails to better prepare myself for next year.

Next up, working on jumping and drops to get used to speed.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Good luck..

"Isn't it weird that everyone takes their vacation at the same time?"

Those words resonate through my mind to this day. I heard them while riding a chairlift during Christmas break when I was in high school. While recreational related facilities sit relatively idle during the week, we put up with over crowding on weekends and holidays just so we can have some sort of continuity between business, school, and family that only comes with a 9-5 schedule.

The population of Alberta has grown over 35% since I heard those words.  The long weekend gives you that extra day to maybe think about driving further, but now I rarely explore past Canmore, where I have a place to stay. The highways still move fairly freely unless there is an accident or construction, it's not difficult to find adventures off the beaten path and it's possible to time grocery trips around peak times. Being someone who hesitates and has the "fear of missing out" associated with not doing the raddest thing possible on any given weekend, I typically wait until the last minute to decide what I want to do. This doesn't work on long weekends. If you want guaranteed accomodations you must book early or be S.O.L. Then it rains. Or snows. Or they close the backcountry on you the Friday before the weekend!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Snow hitting me in the face last year.

Pick on someone your own size, stop slaying beginner trails

Arguments about whether the "uphill rider has the right of way" are pretty silly if you think a little deeper about it. Downhill riders argue that they don't want their flow interrupted and that the uphill climbing rider could use a break. I believe the reason for the rule is that it is harder for the climbing rider to restart after stopping. In reality, the climbing rider can likely hear the descending rider and gets out of the way. The rule keeps the descending rider aware that they might have to stop and yield, just as they would for other trail users.

For a trail to be climbable, it must not be too steep or sustained. It must be fairly smooth and devoid of overly challenging rocks or roots. Hardly rad enough to claim an uninterrupted descent. If you don't want to yield to climbing riders, how about riding a trail that is un-climbeable?

Which brings me to another discussion: You could accuse IMBA trailbuilding guidelines of sanitizing trails, but one result of their implementation is a widespread increase in beginner singletrack that is fun for a range of skill levels and introduces new riders to the sport in a way that doubletrack never could. Hordes of people unload their bikes off their Kuat racks attached to their Subarus to ride these trails. The grade of these trails is also within the possibilities of climbing. Surely a nervous beginner should have no problem yielding to a climbing rider? And what a good place to introduce them to that etiquette.

But these trails have also been taken over by more advanced riders. I can imagine them being fun at speed a couple of times, but to continuously ride these trails, given the other options available, one must be uninspired. Maybe you are not feeling at the top of your game. Maybe you don't want crash. Maybe you don't want to beat up your bike. But going at speeds at which clipping a pedal or a tree would be catastrophic on a trail shared with beginner and climbing riders is not responsible. It intimidates beginners on trails that are purpose built for them. Pick on a trail your own skill level.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Thoughts on E-bikes

eBikes, like eCigarettes, are currently at the center of a heated debate about trail access where battles with other user groups and land managers over trail access are still fresh in the mind of mountain bikers.

First we must understand the eBiker. I can think of two distinct types:

A rider who due to injury cannot pedal . In this case, I wouldn't expect an eBiker to provide much issue, and this type of use should be encouraged. But I saw an argument from a French rider who claimed that due to injury, he would not be able to ride without a motor assist and that it enables him to finish enduro stages within 30 seconds of world class local pros like Nico, Barel, and Loic. Think about it. The fastest shredder on your local trails likely cannot finish within 30 seconds of Nico. If someone can ride that aggressively, they aren't injured significantly enough that they need to ride an eBike, or they shouldn't be riding that aggressively! Strap a heart rate monitor on for a descent and if you are gripped, your heart rate can be as pinned as it was on the climb!

A rider looking for the easy way. Part of the widespread disablization of society that has brought upon us health issues like obesity. Accessibility for people who shouldn't need accessibility. Things like parking as close as possible and using the elevator even for short trips. Why don't they just ride chairlifts, shuttle, or ride motocross trails? But those trails are steep and challenging or blown out, full of braking bumps and holes, and require heavy bikes with lots of suspension and advanced skills to maneuver those bikes. These types of eBikers are looking for the shortcut to riding soft fresh cut loam or buff flow on cross country loops, and get more laps than they would be able to do under their own power.

Trail advocacy:While I find the whole argument about the ability to get oneself in over one's head elitist, I think it is a legitimate concern to worry about more remote trails that were never built to handle increased traffic. On the other hand, I would hope that the mountain bike community would embrace having increased traffic on remote trails that are slowly being taken back by nature. Clearing logs, brushing the overgrowth and providing trail conditions updates. In a way eBikes could replace equestrian users. Increasing the number of mountain bikers is a good thing, but when do new school beginner trails become too busy?

Ultimately on multi-use trails, eBike access is not up to mountain bikers, it is up to the other trail users: hikers and equestrians! Mountain bikers have spent decades fighting for trail access under the premise that we are still a non-MOTORISED user group. The way they are currently sold with 30km/hr limits and 500W is just at the limits of human performance but it is not hard to imagine that the future will bring us lighter, more powerful motors, larger capacity batteries and ways to override those settings.

All that said, I think there is a place for e-bikes on select mountain bike trails:
-Trails accessed, by chairlift or truck that are commonly shuttled.
-Durable surface trails, with the blessing of other user groups including hikers and equestrians
-Under utilized trails that could use more traffic to remove logs, overgrowth, and provide conditions updates.
-eBikers with a legitimate disability who cannot ride aggressively.
-eBikes being used as they are sold, that is with the 500W, 30km/hr limiter.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wrapping up the season with a pair of 2nd places

It feels a little ridiculous to be wrapping up the season already in early August, but I guess people are really pumped for cyclocross. Now that I have to think about more people in my life than just myself, I can understand that there are more ways to spend one of the limited summer weekends than just racing, recovering, and training. The Hardcore Cycling Club was originally planning on hosting a longer distance event as a double header with United Cycle at Sunridge, but we couldn't get the venue because a colour run had booked it earlier! Good to see that one type of racing is not dying.

After a humbling ride at Nationals, I was back in the groove with some racing on my home turf at Terwillegar. Typical start line chatter "this is pretty much a cyclocross course". "it is not technical at all". Probably coming from people who took B-lines the week before at Canmore. The course still claimed a collarbone and some skin when things were all said and done. I welcomed not having to risk injury 2 times per lap. Embrace the lack of tech!

Great legs from Nationals continued and I was able to ride away from a chase group into a podium position, but the leaders were already out of sight. I was gifted a 2nd place when MVDH's seatpost blew up.

But wait, there's more. I managed to squeeze in another race, a BC Cup at Silverstar to kick off my week of summer vacation on the way to visiting my brother. The loop was short, but had a good mix of newer machine built singletrack, old school rolling trails, and one steeper descent. Conditions were dusty! I was worried about passing opportunities, but that was not much of an issue with only 6 racers starting in my wave. I ended up riding myself into 2nd place, within sight of 1st at a couple of spots, but I had to stop and pump up a slow leak in my front tire. Legs felt great and I enjoyed the rolling terrain that felt similar to Edmonton's trails. Off to vacation!

The lack of racing on the calendar is starting to make me want to put on a race on a great course (Hinton Nordic Center, Nordegg). Throw away the rule book and forget about this 20min lap, double tech/feed zone, spectator friendly, A-line/B-line nonsense. No finish line arch, no U2 blasting at the finish line, no finisher medals,but just a great course with passing opportunities and long singletrack descents that you would ride anyways if you were to spend a weekend in Hinton or Nordegg. Hopefully get a club to back me in the likely event that nobody shows, but at least then I've found out how many people like racing on a course that I would find fun.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Another thrashing at Nationals

The 2007 Canada Cup in Canmore was my first crack at National level racing, with National Championships coming a week later at Mt. Washington (we were headed to the island for a family vacation so what the heck, eh?). My coach at the time cautioned me that national level courses are supposed to challenge riders both technically and physically and are a step up from the few provincial level courses that I have raced up to that point. In short, I got owned by the loose dirt in the Coal Chutes, and the slick roots at Mt. Washington. I learned a lot watching riders push the limits of their bikes on descents (if it's not making a terrible noise, you aren't going fast enough) and adapt to adverse conditions. I also did a lot of walking.

Humbled, I spent the next couple of seasons working to improve my technical skills and by the time Nationals returned to Canmore in 2010 and 2011, I was ready. I felt confident on the courses and had an excellent race in 2010, but flatted 2x in 2011 (I had to run a tube after denting my rim at a race earlier in the year).

Nationals returned for 2017 and will again in 2018. But I was a little hesitant to sign up to race with the big guns. XC racing has changed a lot from the long, fun, downhills of 2007, to shorter laps in 2010 and 2011, to even shorter laps for 2017. As well, drops and other awkward features have become crowd favourites and have worked their way into courses. Shorter laps mean you do more laps, and hence are setting up for those features (or taking the time penalty on the B-lines) more often. Shorter laps mean you are more likely to get lapped, or pulled from the race before you are lapped.

I've had good legs the past 2 seasons, and I had done a bit of pre-riding of the new sections of the course in previous weekends. I found them manageable. I also started hunting out steeper descents in Edmonton to prepare myself and boost my confidence. I put a fresh set of tires on my bike. Maybe I could survive until 1 lap to go? Looming wildfire smoke in Canmore was my last excuse but I signed up with a couple of hours to spare. In my experience, conditions on race day are rarely as bad as the forecast makes them out to be.

I can't remember the last time I arrived a day early to pre-ride a race course, but since I had to pick up my race number before 5pm on Friday, I took advantage of the opportunity. Dry weather and lots of traffic on the course had made it hard to get traction on the extremely loose descents. It felt like I had a couple of close calls, and one random crash that beat me up pretty good so I left the pre-ride pretty intimidated. And Kabush is racing on Maxxis Aspens?
Dusty and loose on a fresh section of trail completed in June.
Spectating the women's race was crucial to get my mind focused on the race. I watched riders with great skills taking advantage of those sections. I watched riders make calculated decisions to play it safe. I also heard the "thud" and "ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" from the crowd as some girl paid the price and hit the dirt.

30 seconds to the start.

The back row attack! Lots of room to settle into position on the start loop and first climb of the lap.

Setting up for the B-line
I rode flat sections like "Buried Alive" and the run into the Eye Dropper better than I ever have.

Starr Trail Solutions sure know how to make trail.

The reality sinks in, but I know what I have to do. Ride the hills as hard as I can and not get in anyone's way on the descents. DFL at the holeshot but the climbs of the course alternated between singletrack and doubletrack making it easy to move up. The first descent was okay. but the 2nd descent contained 3 cruxes in quick succession (awkward rock armoured corner, Get Down, Organ Donor) and would lose huge chunks of time taking B-lines and walking. But I didn't let that faze me. Each time I hit the base of a climb, it was full gas, emptying the tank by the time I got to the top. I've never felt so good on the climbs (I must be getting lots of recovery time on the descents). Yes, it was frustrating having to chase riders I had passed before, but the course made it easy to do so. But eventually I ran out of time and got pulled with 3 laps to go just as I could feel the legs starting to hurt.

I survived, but I've got my work cut out for me before I even think about signing up for next year. If I can limit my losses (I sound like an American grand tour "contender"), maybe I can make it to the lead lap, or one to go. I was pumped to see fellow Albertans Mitchell Thomas and Ian Murray finish on the lead lap.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Line of the Week: The Fist Couloir

Tryst Lake is a fairly popular ski touring spot. The steeper chutes down to the lake get a decent amount of skier compaction and are mostly sheltered from the wind and often provide the first chance of the season for backcountry skiers to get into steeper terrain similar to the ski hill. As long as someone hasn't wiggled excessively through the chokes (it is more common than you think), the snow is often quite good even days after a storm, definitely better than similar terrain 2hrs into a powder day at the ski hill.

But unless you've skinned past the lake between laps, you might not know about the last Tryst Lake Chute, the Fist Couloir!
Short and Sweet

The simplest way to tag the couloir is to simply center punch straight up, maybe until you reach the base of the cliff, or perhaps the snow coverage is deep enough that you can make it to the col. But in the spirit of #lineoftheweek and not #lineoftheweak , Here is different option:

Include the line as the 2nd descent of the "Spray Range Traverse" described in Summits and Icefields. After descending down into Commonwealth Creek, look for an avalanche path heading up to climber's right of the Fist (the Hillmap link below might come in handy, though keep in mind, I draw these years later while sitting at a desk). The snow in the avalanche path can be a spooky combination of sun crust, windslab and facets and creative routefinding might be required to top out. I believe we kicked steps up thin snow on top of scree.

Booting up after transitioning from skinning
Ascending rock and scree on the climber's right side

Access into the couloir might require a downclimb, rappel, or belay depending on coverage. So keep that in mind. Enjoy the descent of the couloir, making sure to take the time to brag about it to any skiers taking a break at the lake between runs. Make sure to leave your harness on for this section.
After sending a cornice down the line
Getting belayed into the line, while setting the bootpack for the follower to downclimb
Straight out of Chamonix, ready to ski!

Skiing the couloir!

Finish off the Spray Range Traverse with a neat descent into the Grizzly bowl, taking the time to admire the creativity of the Tent Ridge skiers.
Grizzly Bowl

Total Elevation: 1275m
Distance: 12km
Line Length: 100m
Top Elevation: 2525m

Hillmap Link

Monday, July 17, 2017

Line of the Week: Hero Knob couloirs

The two twin Hero Knob couloirs, not visible is an option that connects the looker's right to the looker's left
The Hero Knob loop in K-Country is pretty popular and for good reason. Long fall line skiing in alpine terrain with some spectacular scenery. While most people are content with a "one and done", there are lots of options on different aspects and elevations to play on, and if that's not enough , the ski quality often merits a 2nd...or 3rd lap. Of course it is not without it's risk, a steep headwall to gain a hanging valley, interesting wind loading of the col and of course creek crossings all present cruxes, making Hero Knob best saved for early season before the persistent weak layers have had a chance to establish themselves or in early spring.
 While most are fine with a run down the main bowl, there are some interesting options available if one were to summit Hero Knob itself and continue along the ridge.
Ridgewalks, downclimbs, sidesteps, etc...
And after some sidestepping, downclimbing, etc... 
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The twin couloirs provide consistent fall line skiing and a fan at the bottom to really open it up.

It is not uncommon for people to climb these lines, so keep that in mind when thinking about sending a cornice down. I believe the best access is from the top via the Hero Knob col.
The first couloir drains into the main bowl, lookers left of the summit of Hero Knob
Top Elevation: 2520m
Line Length: 300m
Round Trip Distance: 7.5km
Total Elevation: 700m
Other lines in the area: Aside from the main Hero Knob run, and the Purple Knob couloirs, I have enjoyed tree skiing on all aspects, accessed from both drainages. Most notable is the Dogleg tree run. The south face of Hero Knob provides higher consequence skiing with more complex gullies and cliffs to avoid.
Hillmap route

2018 Marin Wolf Ridge test ride

I was able to take a 2018 Marin Wolf Ridge for a test ride

And a Pine Mountain

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Protect our Wildlife not living in them!

You may have noticed that in my "Not List" on the right side of the page, I have "golf courses that go bankrupt AFTER clearing all of the trees". I am referring to a golf course at Three Sisters in Canmore, a second course in the Three Sisters/Stewart Creek area. Land that was once pristine, is now scarred and sits in a land use purgatory.


Looks mostly finished, although it's been this way for a while.
Canmore has seen tremendous growth and development since the 1988 Olympics as people move there to enjoy the scenery and activities available in the mountains. Being close enough to Calgary that it is essentially a suburb (lots of people commute the 1hr+ each way) and with the services of a major city close by, it is a gateway drug for both vacation home ownership and mountain life. In the late 90's/early 2000's, the Biosphere Institute, a Canmore based biological society decided that enough was enough and decided that it was time to get Alberta Parks or SRD to designate some areas off limits to development as wildlife corridors and habitat patches. Unfortunately, by this point, the cat was well out of the bag and much of the low angle terrain that animals love to travel through was snapped up for development.

What if we use the golf courses and steeper slopes of the valley as our "wildlife corridor?" The Biosphere Institute lacked the resources and the motivation to go after the developers, and instead turned against those with less clout and less money: the trail users. Rogue bike trails on slopes steeper than those preferred for wildlife were closed down. Off trail access and trail construction was now severely limited in these areas with stories of offenders being led out of the woods by Conservation Officers at gunpoint!

Recently, there was a story that was in the Rocky Mountain Outlook (and CBC) about how wildlife cameras in wildlife corridors around Canmore photographed much more trail users and off leash dogs (and their idiotic owners) than wildlife. While one conclusion could be that trail users have driven away the wildlife from the corridors, one could surely question the suitability of these corridors in the first place. Is the terrain in these designated wildlife corridors too steep for the wildlife.

And while progress on the golf course has stalled, they are talking about using the land, land that was supposed to be both a golf course and wildlife corridor, for even more development!

I would argue that development and not trail use has the biggest impact on wildlife movement in the Bow Valley. Groups like the Biosphere Institute and Yellowstone to Yukon instead turn on trail users because like any bully, they are too scared to take on something bigger. Biosphere Institute and Yellowstone to Yukon both have offices and staff taking up developed space in Canmore, adding to the pressure for more development. Maybe it's time they set an example and leave the valley and promote other places to live and recreate that will have less impact on the wildlife?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Line of the Week: Pocaterra Ridge

Another week, another Highwood Pass line. As with the other lines, this is a limited time offer, only available from June 15 until November 30. Get it while supplies last. When the skiing on Pocaterra Ridge comes into shape, good skiing can be found on the south ridge, with more committing, but classic lines on the SE, SW, and NW face, and creative skiing potential on the NE face.

Pocaterra ridge, with its S ridge route in front of Mt. Pocaterra.

As with the Tyrwhitt Cirque, it is important to emphasize that Highwood Pass early in the season is a busy place and it is common for human factors to push groups out of their comfort zones. So I will repeat:

"Beware of the human factors. The acronym FACETS is helpful, particularly the last two, Tracks and Social Facilitation. The skiing at Highwood Pass is extremely crowded early season, especially when word gets out that someone was able to ski without hitting a rock every other turn. This means that skiers might push above or beyond the current skintrack to get a fresh line, putting them into untouched and riskier terrain and new features. And if one group pushes into some gnarlier terrain, don't try to one up them without considering the spatial variability of the snowpack! Tracks are not a sign of intelligent life!"

Pocaterra ridge shares the same approach as the Tyrwhitt Cirque, but after passing by all of the chutes and contouring around the ridge that comes down between Tyrwhitt Cirque and Grizzly Col, trend more north into meadows and ascend the south ridge of Pocaterra Ridge.

SE Face and its higher consequence lines

West aspect of the north ridge

Looking down the North Side

Looking up the North Side

The tree skiing on the south side of Pocaterra Ridge is pretty good, but the runs are short. Rolling over the S ridge onto the lower part of the west face also yields some nice turns. If enough snow is covering the grass, the south ridge of Pocaterra to the summit is a good ski. But the north face is a true prize, requiring good stability with the reward of one of the longer runs in the area, and a drop into a more secluded valley. Climb back up over Little Highwood Pass.

Little Highwood Pass in June. A great run that fills in early drops over the ridge from where I am standing. SW face of Pocaterra dominates the upper right of the picture.

The SE face is also skied often if the coverage and stability is there, but with some high consequence terrain involving gullies and cliffs (similar to the SE face of Hero Knob), it is not really my cup of tea.

Grizzly Col. Snow is usually pretty windblasted.
Top Elevation: 2625m
Line Length: 150m
Round Trip Distance: 9km
Hillmap Route
Other skiing in the area: Little Highwood pass and fans below Mt. Pocaterra (people love being creative here), fill in earlier. Grizzly Col, East facing bowls off of Pocaterra ridge are best saved if there is good coverage and stability before the gate closes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Line of the Week: Arethusa S Couloir

Keeping with the Highwood theme, this week's Line of the Week is yet another classic Highwood quick hit. At under 600m vertical, you can be back at the Banff Film Festival or a ski swap spraying about your adventures.
Typical Highwood. Wind Loaded chutes above boulderfields. Not a great ride if you trigger the windslab...

The Arethusa Cirque is much quieter than the other Highwood cirques. Park at the next drainage south of the pass and ski up the creek. Head left towards Arethusa up a neat boulder filled valley to the base of the line. The top of the line gives you a bird's eye view of the madness going on in the Ptarmigan Cirque. The conditions when we skied it were quite sporty with breakable windslab!

Hillmap Route
Total Elevation Gain: 520m
Round Trip Distance: 5km
Top Elevation: 2700m
Line Length: 130m
Other Lines in the Area: The meadows on the approach to the line can offer some good, but short skiing. This line shares the same approach as the Mt. Storm couloir, so either the couloir or the fans below can be alternative options.

Video of Mt. Storm and Arethusa

Other Lines of the Week .
Other Highwood Pass lines

Monday, June 19, 2017

Line of the Week: Tyrwhitt Cirque Couloirs

Highwood Pass opened for the summer just before last weekend. So in honour of the opening, how about some Highwood lines?

If you haven't experienced the Highwood Pass initiation with a "ski" in the Ptarmigan Cirque side, I suggest you stop reading now, and check out that area first. It is an essential part of the Highwood Pass initiation experience.

The Tyrwhitt Cirque and it's many options. In Spring
On the other side of the road from the parking lot at the pass are the Tyrwhitt and Pocaterra Cirques. The trail in, trending north from the parking lot and contouring into the bowls does a fairly good job of weeding out those who are unfamiliar with bushwacking and sidehilling and descending on skins. Once into the first open bowl, the Tyrwhitt Cirque, there is a wide variety of lines topping out or almost topping out on the ridge. The lines are short, so you might want to do a couple of them before calling it a day. Those familiar with the Purple Knob area, might notice some similarities.
In Winter. When it gets filled in before the road closes. The first couple of chutes are accessed from the first bowl.

While more chutes can be found in the 2nd bowl. The aspect changes slightly so keep that in mind when thinking about snowpack, wind, etc...
Inside the cave

Beware of the human factors. The acronym FACETS is helpful, particularly the last two, Tracks and Social Facilitation. The skiing at Highwood Pass is extremely crowded early season, especially when word gets out that someone was able to ski without hitting a rock every other turn. This means that skiers might push above or beyond the current skintrack to get a fresh line, putting them into untouched and riskier terrain and new features. And if one group pushes into some gnarlier terrain, don't try to one up them without considering the spatial variability of the snowpack! Tracks are not a sign of intelligent life!

The ridgewalk between the chutes can be tricky, so it's best to climb the line you intend on skiing.

A surprise awaits if you are able to top our the ridge. The south bowl.
The South bowl

Hillmap route:
Top Elevation: 2550m
Line Length: 150m
Vertical gain: 450m (definitely do more than one), 720m if skiing the South bowl.
Round Trip Distance: 5km

Other Lines of the Week .
Other Highwood Pass lines

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Line of the Week: Mt. Buller "Crack of Noon" Couloir

A lot of the previous "Lines of the Week" are fairly self explanatory: If you can see it, you can ski it. The same can be said about this roadside hit. The couloirs and gullies coming off of Mt. Buller certainly catch the eye of skiers as they drive by along the Smith Dorrien road to ski something more appropriate in the winter. "One day", you say. While the broader gullies might catch the eye of the less imaginative skiers in your crew, I've avoided them for various reasons. Massive cornices, variable depth snowpack, and they get the snow blasted off of them for highway avalanche control work.

The "Crack of Noon" chute, is certainly one of the more aesthetic lines that regularly fills in on the mountain, though the thin choke at the bottom doesn't fill in to something wider than ski width until the spring snow sloughs into it. Despite the casual nature that the name "Crack of Noon" implies, this line can be hard to time. This area just doesn't get as much snow as the mountains to the immediate south and might have a faceted snowpack. The 2500m top elevation means that it is susceptible to high freezing levels. In the end, we blasted up this thing fairly late in the season (still not the worst freeze I've ever had) and found good coverage, but wind affected snow.

As I mentioned the highway avalanche control program earlier, one thing to note about these lines, and any on Buller is to watch out for the "AVALANCHE AREA. NO STOPPING SIGNS". It means that while these are pretty much roadside hits, you might have to park a km or two up the road and out of the avalanche path. But you're a skier who has done avalanche training, you should know that! You can either walk along the road or traverse up through the different avalanche paths. Then boot up the thing until you top out on the ridge!
Topping out on the ridge

Thin crux at the centre
The narrow choke at the bottom takes some slough to fill it in

It's a quick one. We returned our rental ice axes before the guy at the rental shop thought we had used them.

Line Length: 500m
Total Elevation Gain: 780m
Round Trip Distance: 5km
Top Elevation: 2500m
Other lines in the area: There are lots of other options on Mt. Buller if you are keen on them. Otherwise, I would keep driving to where there is more snow. There are endless lines in the Tower, Galatea, Chester, and Headwall drainages.
Hillmap route (the map is probably wrong as there is no snow for reference in the google maps image!)

Other Lines of the Week .
Other Kananaskis lines.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Argentiere Basin of the Rockies

Although I have never been to Chamonix, I have seen pictures and videos from the Argentiere Basin, a "playground" for ski mountaineering with slopes ranging from fairly mellow to the current leading edge. A quick ski up the valley leads to a multitude of adventures and possible enchainments. Some so serious you must start by headlamp at an hour when many partiers are going home. But you get to watch the sun rise over a sleeping town from high up on the mountain. A place where you can choose from a buffet of lines, be gripped one moment, and sitting on a patio a half hour later.

First light

While acknowledging my inexperience with the real Argentiere, I must say that after skiing up past Lake Louise, I was wondering about the similarities. Surrounded by ski lines on both sides: Surprise Pass, Mt. Aberdeen, The Mitre, the "death trap" leading up to the West face of Mt. Lefroy and the Sickle on Mt. Victoria, the NE and N faces of Mt. Victoria, the south facing bowl coming off of Popes peak. Not to mention the skiing that can be done on the other side of the mountains into adjacent valleys. The temperamental Rockies snowpack makes most of this area off limits for much of the season, but the skiing really shapes up in the spring with spring snowstorms plastering the steep, high faces, and a melt freeze crust in the valley bottom providing quick travel. Certainly quicker than stumbling up the trail and the scree and boulder moraines in the early season, or wallowing in faceted snow in the mid season.

On a perfect day, we were surprised to find ourselves alone high up in the valley quite the contrast from the bustling shoreline down below. The mountain was waiting for us to make our move, but we wouldn't be pushing it today especially with a couple of season's worth of lines to be skied.

While waiting for the snow to soften up, we enjoyed the sunshine and the stillness. When we got bored, it was a quick ski down, enjoying corn up high, traversing, avoiding avalanche debris, and finally skating and contouring the valley before the first signs of other life appeared: deep footprints from someone venturing up the valley in shoes. And finally back into the crowds along the lake, not long after being perched up high on the glacier, no doubt the subjects of many vacation photos.

Joel in front of Abbot Pass



Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lines of Last Week: Skyladder and Silverhorn

Eventually, I instead of merely writing about lines, the FOMO kicked in and decided to go out and ski some. So instead of writing about favourite lines that I have not yet mentioned, let's look back to last week. With a solid melt freeze going on, excellent coverage on the glaciers and some stoked partners, I got dragged to the icefields.

The parking lots at the icefields are certainly an interesting place. During a nice weather system like the one we experienced, it morphs into a bit of a village with parties camping out to get an early start on their objective, whether it be skiing onto the icefield, steep skiing on Athabasca or Andromeda, mountaineering, or alpine climbing (mountaineering without gaiters). Of course rolling into the parking lot at the casual hour of 04:00 and seeing headlamps bobbing up and down the toe of the glaciers coming off Athabasca and Andromeda quickly makes things seem very real. Maybe I should have gotten up earlier. Oh well, I'll just move faster and make it up on the trail.

The loss of the "climber's" parking lot has been lamented over, but we are really only talking about a kilometer of fast walking in running shoes to shake the legs out.


Skyladder is a classic alpine climb and also a must-have in every Rockies shredder's resume. Travel through the moraines was quick with a well beaten trail. Once we put the ski boots and skis on, a firm crust also provided fast travel, though requiring finesse on the sidehills.
The line poking out over the glacier. Rumour has it that the glacier is starting to cause issues for more and more climbers.

A fast crust and no issues on the glacier. Sounds like that is easier said than done for this glacier

It felt good to be back booting up steep snow. I kicked it into high gear.

The "cold shoulder" above the main slope of Skyladder was shaded and the angle did not let up that much. It made for some scratchy skiing on the way down before we sunk our edges into Skyladder's softening slopes.

Safely down after a great ski

Top elevation: 3450m
Total Vertical: 1450m
Round trip distance: 12km
Line length: 500m (from glacier to subpeak)
Hillmap route

Silverhorn: A white Silverhorn in the sun was staring us down as we walked back to the cars after skiing Skyladder. There were no questions what our objective for the next day would be.

I've been turned around before on this mountain. It is easy to underestimate one of the "easy" ways up a mountain with so many routes. When the Ramp Route is in ski-able condition, it is also puckering, requiring a traverse across a steep slope above seracs. I had a harrowing experience there two years earlier when a ropemate triggered a small wind pocket as we tried to gain the ridge. The plug was quickly pulled on that day.

Once again, we were able to make it up a decent way with shoes on. The freeze wasn't quite as good as the day before which was a bit of a bummer for the ski down. We were not able to enjoy prime corn conditions up on the glacier so that we could ski a gully down to the moraines before it got too warm.

The Silverhorn. Great coverage this year!
 After skiing up the glacier, we skied onto a skintrack from a previous day across the Ramp. After a puckering traverse, we looked up onto the ridge and saw 28 climbers from the Spokane Mountaineering School!
I'm not usually one to care about summits, but I had no desire to "experience" the Ramp Route ever again, so I made sure to tag the summit. We also put the skis on and skied along the ridge.
 One would say the trail up the ridge and across to the summit was well beaten in. I put on skis and skied off the summit, booted back up to the Silverhorn then put skis back on for the main event.

 The skiing was firm with a bit of windslab and was a little more gripping when the slope rolled over midway down.
Finding some soft snow at the bottom
Skiing most of the steeper pitch non stop, my legs were burning and we waited a little for the glacier to corn up, before realizing that the crust was probably too thin for good corn turns. We managed to make it down without catching too many edges for another great day.

Top elevation: 3491m
Total Vertical: 1500m
Round trip Distance: 10.5km
Line length: 270m
Hillmap route

line of the Week
Icefields Parkway