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... 
A post shared by Peter Knight (@peteyknight5) on



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 Corridors...by 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

Aberdeen

Mitre

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:

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