Friday, March 25, 2011

Riding The School Bus In "Powder Country"

Another EPIC powder day at Powder Mountain.

Perhaps you thought I was kidding about the school bus?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And That's Why They Call It "Powder Mountain"

First lap through "Powder Country".

My 8th Lap of "Powder Country". Of the tracks you see here, 5 of them are mine.

About 90 minutes North of Salt Lake City there's a quirky, funky local's ski area named Powder Mountain (affectionately referred to as PowMow).

I don't know for a fact, but I would guess no capital improvements have been made at PowMow for 20 years.

For starters, PowMow is upside down. The main parking lot is at the top of the mountain.

Most of the lifts are old and slow.

Across the Ogden Valley, mighty Snowbasin has a magnificent stone-and-log day lodge ("Earl's"), which features a mahogany and brass locker room large enough for the Yankees to hold infield practice. PowMow doesn't even have a locker room. The only place to change your clothes at PowMow is in your car.

Your local McDonalds has much larger (and much nicer, and much cleaner) bathrooms than the main day lodge at PowMow.

At nearby Deer Valley, it is common to see skiers whipping out their cellphones on the chairlift to make a reservation at one of the gourmet on-mountain eateries, which have wine lists and feature vittles like foie gras and cranberry salad with organic goat cheese. At PowMow, a hot dog with melted Velveeta and a Coke in a paper cup is about as gourmet as you're going to get.

At PowMow, the two best parts of the mountain do not have lifts. When you ski the aptly-named "Powder Country", you must take an old school bus back to the resort when you reach the bottom. When you ski "James Peak", you must either boot pack or skin up 200 vertical feet, ski down a short access road, and then climb 700 more vertical feet to access the peak.

But, sports fans.......when it comes time to get your jiggy on, to crank and bank your planks, to arc 'em out in snorkel powder, there is no better place on the planet to score thigh-deep powder and face shots all day long. And yesterday (March 23) was one of those days.

Preparing to skin up James Peak. Notice, at this point, there are only two sets of tracks coming down from the top.

First lap through James Peak. Notice there are now THREE sets of tracks coming down from the top. Notice also that it's 2 PM and only three people have put down tracks here.

To avoid a long runout, after laying down about 60 turns on the main face one traverses across the bowls of James Peak, grabbing 15-20 or so turns in each bowl before moving across the ridgeline to the next bowl.

Reminds me of a ski film from a few years back: "The Blizzard Of Aaaaahs".

Eden, Utah is the nearest town to PowMow. After a hard day skiing PowMow, this is the dyslexic's favorite place to go chow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Tracks of the Rare Alpine Skunk spotted at Deer Valley, March 22.

Friday, March 18, 2011

KSC Alpenverein Tour of Mayrhofen / Zillertal

I finally got to go on an alpentour with the famed KSC Alpenverein, the touring club of the KSC. Fantastic day, and even more fantastic to see that the Alpenverein on this day was mostly over-50, with a significant number (maybe 20% or 25% of the skiers) were over 70. To see that much gray hair climbing 4000 feet in a day and then skiing the hell out of that kind of terrain showcases the obvious health benefits of the alpine lifestyle. A few of the oldsters were a little shaky on the "down", but none had any problems whatsoever with the "up".

Take a look at these photos. Then go to any American shopping mall and view the kind of flesh (of every age) whose fitness limit tops out at getting from their car into the cookie section of Wal Mart.

The Alpenverein hired two professional mountain guides for the day to keep us all out of trouble.
The Mayrhofner Bergbahn rises a little over 3000 feet and is the largest-capacity cable car in Austria. The cars are roughly about the size of two Greyhound buses, and each holds 160 people.

Check out all they gray hair. Of the 6 KSC skiers in the foreground, the youngest is 65, the rest are 70 or older. Amazing fitness and a testament to the alpine lifestyle.

That big honkin' peak on the left is where we're going.

Ted seems excited about climbing all the way up there.

This brings to mind a saying about dogsledding: The first dog gets a great view for 2000 miles. The 5th dog spends a month with nothing to look at except the ass of the dog in front of him.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Skiing in Europe, especially in Austria, has a much older and robust tradition than in the US.

In the US, skiing caught on as a recreation starting around 1950 as a result of ski training provided to the 10th Mountain Division troops during World War II so that they could fight wars in the Appenine Mountains of Italy. After the war ended and soldiers went home to make normal lives for themselves, many former 10th Mountain Division troops opened up commercial ski areas like Vail and Aspen, spreading alpine skiing around North America like Pied Pipers.

In the US, perhaps the most famous 10th Mountain Div soldier is former Presidential candidate Bob Dole, whose famous pen-wielding handicapped arm remains damaged after being shot in the battle of Riva Ridge. Those of you who have skied Vail will no doubt recognize the name Riva Ridge, as it is the name of one of the longest and most fun ski trails on Vail Mountain.

In Austria, skiing started several hundred years earlier as a way simply to get around during the winter, and to survive. Alpine skiing in its current form was brought to continental Europe and specifically to Kitzbühel by a guy named Franz Reisch in about 1880. If you want to read or hear more about it, either read the award-winning book Chronicle of a Myth by my good friend and ski partner Dr Michael Huber (aka Dr Hahnenkamm), or come to Kitzbühel, take the Hornbahn cable car up to lunch at the Alpenhaus restaurant at the top of the Kitzbühelerhorn (, and ask for Franz Reich IV. Franz Reich IV, whom I have met, is the great-grandson of the guy who basically invented alpine skiing in continental europe, and to this day his family owns and operates the Kitzbühelerhorn.

After countless business trips, ski trips, and ski days in Kitzbühel, I am still learning great new stuff every day about ski and mountaineering techniques and traditions here. The latest is a beverage called "schiwasser" (SHEE vass urr). It has existed for hundreds of years in Austria. In the winter it is served warm to defrost and energize a shivering skier. In the summer it is served cold to refresh the tired mountaineer.

Schiwasser is made with a delicious, sugary syrup added to either cold or hot water. The best syrup is made by D'arbo, but there are plenty of other brands.

This is D'arbo schiwasser syrup, Elderberry flavor.

This is D'arbo schiwasser syrup, wild raspberry flavor.

The most common schiwasser flavors appear to be wild raspberry and strawberry, which yield a pink fluid (when properly mixed) that is remarkably refreshing. But there are dozens of flavors available.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Best Bathroom Door. Ever.

Today's alpentour started off at the Wildkogel in Mittersill. We (Ted, Hermi6, myself) had a special guest: Petra, niece of the Lady Of The House at Villa Mellon.

Petra at the summit of the Frühmesser, 2233 meters high. Notice the complete absence of snow. Obviously this side of the summit faces South.

We skied, then summitted the Frühmesser, then skied some more, then summitted the Steinkogel.

Petra and Hermi6 at the summit of the Steinkogel.

From the top of the Steinkogel we skied down about 1500 feet to a backcountry restaurant called The Steineralm. This place is so far in the middle of nowhere that daily supplies and victuals are delivered by snowmobile and toboggan.

Road? We don't need no stinkin' road.

Once at the Steineralm I sought to go for a pee, whereupon I discovered this extraordinarily clever 3D icon on the door to the WC:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Birthday Schnitzel

Celebrating my birthday, Austrian style.

Kitzbuhel links up via ski lift with neighboring mountains Jochburg and Pass Thurn to form a ski resort many times bigger than North America's two biggest ski resorts combined (Whistler/Blackcomb and Vail). To celebrate my birthday, four of us caught the first tram of the morning up the Hahnenkammbahn and skied across all three. Around 13:00 we wound up at a ski-in restaurant called Berghotel Breitmoos, which according to the President of the KSC serves the best ski-in food in all of Tirol.

We sat out on Breitmoos's stone patio in the sun on a cloudless, perfect Tirolean afternoon. I chowed down my Birthday Schnitzel with a cold Almdudler (Austrian ginger ale) and a dessert crepe. By the time we finished celebrating it was too late to ski back to Kitzbuhel, so we caught the schibus home.

One of the best birthdays ever.

My birthday posse: Hermi6, Ted, Krystl.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

That's Why They Call It "Touring"

It hasn't snowed in the Tirol region of Austria for 3 weeks. In order to find fresh pow, one has to (A) stay in the very high alpine terrain, where the temps remain cold day and night, and (B) ski where nobody else knows or dares.

As you can see from the above photo, we found plenty of fresh pow today. We (4 Crazy-ass Austrians, Ted, myself) drove an hour over to Zell Am Ziller, took the lifts up to get free 3000 ft altitude (actually it cost 11 Euro), then toured up to, and skied, the tallest peak in Tirol. The terrain was pretty gnarly.

How gnarly was it?

Answer: I wore my helmet on my way up.

Ski crampons are great. Not too many skiers know what they are, but my crampies saved my ass today. When you're climbing icy, wind-swept alpine terrain on skins and it gets too steep for your skins to hold, you use ski crampons. I deployed mine today, and I was Shut-The-Front-Door happy I had them. It's 10:30 PM now, and I might still be out there if I didn't have them in my pack.

Touring is so much different in AUT than in North America. In places like Revelstoke and in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, you really don't have to worry about falling off mountains while ski touring. You may get knocked off the mountain by an avalanche, you may get unlucky or stupid and fall off some rocks, but the snow is so deep that if you slip while climbing on your skins, you'll probably slide about two meters before you ker-plunk into 10 meters of snow like a lawn dart.

In Austria, not so much. Much shallower snow pack here, and the milder temperatures cause ice on many West- and South-facing slopes. If you slip in a bad place, you may slide down a few thousand vertical feet and through several different ZIP codes before you hit something hard enough to make you stop. It's definitely a concern. I would never tour here without my posse of crazy-ass Austrians who have been touring these mountains for 50 years and will not let me get hurt.

Ted grabbing fresh tracks. Nice jaaaaaaaaaacket....does it come in a mens model?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Today's Ass-Kicking

Consistently getting my ass kicked on the uphill leg by Austrians up to 20 years older than me.

The scene of today's ass-kicking was the Sonnespitz. I got thoroughly spanked.

There's a reason why my mouth is hanging open, there's sweat pouring off me, and I'm caked with salt. I'm getting my North American White Boy East Coast Preppie ass SOUNDLY kicked.

Looking and feeling a little less whupped here. We're at the top of the Sonnespitz and the climbing is done for the day. Nothing left to do except ski down and then drink lots of Austrian beer.

It has been warm here for weeks, and the snow is getting thin. Ted fjords a stream near the bottom of the Sonnespitz as Hans and Hermi6, Austrian kickers of ass, wait for us on the far side.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Crazy Austrian

Remember the "Crazy Ivan" maneuver from The Hunt for Red October?

Here's how to do a slight variation, the "Crazy Austrian":

1) Alpentour the Hahnenkamm with a bunch of Austrians. At night.

2) Stop in at the KSC Clubhouse at the very top (which also doubles as the Starthaus for the biggest race in the world) for cocktails:

3) Knock back a few beers and a glass or two of KSC's private label wine:

Served, of course, in a KSC wine glass:

4) Ski next door to the Hockech Hutte for dinner (sorry, no pikkies of that)

5) About the time the wait staff of Hockech Hutte throws your ass out, click into your bindings and schuss down The Hahnenkamm, one of the steepest, gnarliest in-bounds ski mountains in the world, around the light of your headlamp (Gotta get video of that sometime!).

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Performing the Shovel Tilt Test

1. Prepare a standard snow pit
2. Perform standard density test

3. Mark 30 cubic cm

4. Cut

5. Wedge

6. Liberate sample with your shovel

7. Tap

8. Examine sheared-off remainder for base layer characteristics
9. (Most important) Go grab some fresh tracks

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Avalanche School: Somewhere in Between Park City and Canyons Resort, UT

AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course.

Once a skier is buried, you've got about 11-12 minutes before he suffocates. Working in teams of 2 or more is a lot more effective than going it alone. One person mans the transceiver, one mans the probe, and they either transition to digging or are joined by another digger(s).

The key is practice and technique. Transceivers and probes are tricky to use, and nobody ever explained the nuances to me. I've owned my avalanche transceiver for 5 years and before today, I couldn't find a transmitter shoved up my own ass. After one day of extensive drilling, teams of three or four were able to dig out three simulated victims spread out across a simulated debris field the size of 4 basketball courts in <= 10 minutes.

Teachers and students digging a snow pit. Dig down two meters and you can see evidence of every storm, thaw, and weather variation since autumn.

Lee, the lead guide / instructor, explains how to read the snow pit wall like tea leaves. Will a slide break loose where we're skiing today?

Thursday, March 03, 2011


Sightings of the Rare Alpine Skunk by Canadian authorities led us to believe the elusive creature was hibernating deep in the interior of British Columbia.

The little fella has refuted this by finally making his appearance in his usual winter habitat, the Ogden Valley near Huntsville and Eden, Utah.
Clearly the tracks of the Rare Alpine Skunk

A cloudy, snowy day makes the tracks of the elusive Rare Alpine Skunk even harder to spot than normal.