I’m a Sucker for a Snowstorm

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Not a bad lunch spot.

Not a bad lunch spot.

I’m like a moth to the flame. When it snows, I can’t help myself. I have to go towards those flakes like my life depends on it.

I woke this morning to a fresh snowfall. This time I debated on whether or not to bring my skis. From my apartment at the base of Crystal, the peaks looked pretty salt and peppery this morning, pretty chocolate-chippy (to quote Tom Winter). So I decided not to bring my skis.

Maybe I made the wrong decision, because I could have made about ten legitimate turns today. They’d have been hop turns, trying-to-stay-light-on-my-feet turns, praying that I didn’t hook a tip under something awful and immovable. But I brought my camera instead. Which was nice since the sun was out. With all that fresh snow (a compacted 7-9″ inches at the top of Green Valley) it was legit bluebird.

Snow Guardians: A Documentary about Ski Patrolling

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Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional ski patroller? Perhaps you have wondered about the lives of avalanche forecasters, or you have considered joining a Search and Rescue group.

The film Snow Guardians documents the lives and work of patrollers and rescuers. Based in Montana and focusing on Bridger Bowl Ski Patrol, with footage from Yellowstone Club and Big Sky Resort, Snow Guardians depicts an accurate portrait of patrol life.

This is no small feat.

A documentary on ski patrolling seems like a no brainer. Of course viewers would find explosive control and snow-related emergencies interesting. Saving lives and throwing bombs? Why wouldn’t today’s viewers lap that up? Well, of course there’s more to it than that.

Camera crews often clamber for access to our lives. At Crystal a few years ago, reality television crews followed some of us around, hoping to capture the daily ups and downs of the job. Their task proved difficult. Few members of that camera crew were strong enough skiers and riders to truly “shadow” us. Plus, they were carrying an extra hundred pounds in camera gear.

Most ski patrols aren’t too keen on having a camera crew join them on their avalanche control missions. The use of explosives in the mountains is tightly regulated, and adding in anything extraneous would seem unnecessary and maybe dangerous. By the looks of it, the makers of Snow Guardians do an excellent job of showcasing avalanche control without getting in the way. No doubt the videographers were highly skilled themselves and able to get great footage without endangering anyone. As a ski patroller, I have a keen appreciation for how hard it must have been to film this documentary.

Add to that the nature of the job, when emergencies happen at the most inopportune moments, and you can begin to see how challenging a task this is. Furthermore, ski patrollers tend not to be attention-seekers. We aren’t the sharing type, by nature. It helps that the producers of this film had friends on the Bridger Patrol, which no doubt opened some doors.

What makes Snow Guardians so good is the level of access they had to the inner workings of the Bridger Bowl Patrol. Billed as a documentary that teaches the importance of backcountry knowledge and skills, I see it as a clear glimpse into our world. Snow Guardians is for sale. It’s about the price of a hard cover book, and it’s worth the money. Check out the trailer below.

Tracking Ultimate Human Performance: The Flow Genome Project

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What is Flow?

Andres Marin finding flow

Andres Marin finding flow

Steven Kottler and Jamie Wheal want you experience flow. What, exactly, is flow, you might ask, and why do I want to experience it? Flow is “being in the zone.” It happens when you drop into a sweet line whether on a mountain, the ocean, single track, or wherever. I happens when your mind calms and your body takes over.

You become one with the task. You stop thinking, you lose track of time, and you ride that perfect line between your skill level and the challenge at hand. In other words, flow is happiness itself.

Not only do athletes experience flow. Artists, musicians, writers, computer programmers, surgeons–anyone can reach flow states.

A while back, I interviewed the father of flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, who invented the idea of flow.

Kottler and Wheal are taking Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas to the next level. They are combining the work of scientists and neurologists studying flow with the athletes and flow-hackers out there getting into the zone on a regular basis.

They state their mission on their website:

Flow Genome Project is a trans-disciplinary, international organization committed to mapping the genome of Flow by 2020 and open sourcing it to everyone

In essence, the guys at the Flow Genome Project want to make this most elusive and wonderful of physical/mental states available to every one of us. They want to map the “deep science of ultimate human performance.”

Who are these guys?

The Rise of SupermanSteven Kottler is the Director of Research at the Flow Genome Project. He’s an author and journalist. His book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, maps out how extreme athletes use flow to perform amazing feats and how everyone–even non-athletes–can use flow to improve their lives. This book is an excellent read, conjuring many of the usual suspects in the extreme sports world. Not only are these athletes performing creative feats, they are doing so at an unprecedented level of progression. Kottler explains why in this book.

Jamie Wheal is the Director of Programs at Flow Genome. He is a leading expert on the neuro-somatics of ultimate human performance and leads a team of the world’s top scientists, athletes and artists dedicated to reverse-engineering the genome of the peak-performance state known as Flow.

Check out this video that explains their project.

Flow Genome Project – The Documentary from Flow Genome Project on Vimeo.

 

How Can I Get Involved?

Chuck Patterson getting creative at Jaws

Chuck Patterson getting creative at Jaws

This is where it gets cool. Kottler and Wheal want you to join them. They need your flow experiences to create their open-source flow study.

Here’s what it says on their website:

Tell us about your best flow experience. Use your iPhone. Use your webcam. Use your Go-Pro. Use any video device you have available. Create a short video detailing your most poignant, powerful, mind-blowing, changed-my-life-forever flow state experience, then send it to us.

You don’t have to record yourself in the flow state, just record yourself talking about it. They have some specific questions they want you to answer. Check out their page for all the details.

What’s in it for Me?

The guys at Flow Genome have a few exciting innovations up their sleeves. Number one, they hope to create Flow Dojos. Defined as a hands-on science museum meets Cirque du Soleil, the Flow Dojo will mimic extreme sports feats (without the risk) while capturing your body-brain data to see how and when you get into flow. The idea is for individuals to learn how to jump-start the flow process, so you can access it in your real life.

Still with me? Good. Now’s your chance to find out what kinds of experiences best launch you into flow. Check on the Flow Profile image below to take the quiz. Kottler and Wheal seem pretty serious about getting all of us into flow more often. I, for one, applaud their efforts. Now go out and find some flow. Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 8.59.01 AM

I Might Be Getting a Little Bored Waiting For Snow

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While the ski season is right around the corner, it’s still no where in sight. It’s mid-October, the weather forecast is hinting at an Atmospheric River event next week and the mountains are still brown. So what’s a girl to do? Certainly there are some fun ski porn premieres to attend. And the Snow Angels event fired up the season stoke. There’s even another ski patrol fundraiser aimed specifically at Crystal Mountain’s avalanche dogs coming next month if you missed it.

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These events are fun, but they aren’t the same as skiing.

So, instead it might be time to bring back one of the best online viral videos of a few years ago. Why? Because you never really can get enough of Jian Sword Dancing. It’s not skiing, but maybe it’s the next best thing. You’re welcome.

Why Crystal Mountain Needs Gazex

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First a Little History

One of the perks of managing a ski area is that it gives my husband and I an excuse to go on ski vacations. Why? To check out the competition, of course! (Because what’s better than seeing someone else’s sagging rope lines and knowing that it’s not your job to stop and fix it?) If you’ve ever worked as a ski patroller than you know what I’m talking about.

Gazex Exploders 2 and 3 in Powder Bowl

Gazex Exploders 2 and 3 in Powder Bowl

A few years ago, John and I visited the Les 3 Vallées in France. One of the largest skiing complexes in the world consisting of eight interconnecting resorts, Les 3 Vallées has no less than 258 Gazex Exploders. Skiing and riding in Europe is a little different than in the States. The Piste Services, which includes the ski patrol (Sécurite dé Pistes) and the cat crew, only manage the actual “pistes.” In Europe a piste is equivalent to a named (and often groomed) run. So imagine if at Crystal we only did avalanche control on named runs or the slopes that overhung named runs. Also picture if we only put out hazard markings and tower pads and caution signs on the groomed runs. Furthermore, imagine that the ski patrol only provided free first aid to those injured on the groomers. Elsewhere, you have to call for your own helicopter and/or pay extra for assistance.

In Les 3 Vallées, Piste Services focus their efforts on the pistes. However, since so much of these slopes are threatened from above by avalanche terrain, skiers also benefit from their extensive use of Gazex exploders. The off-piste in Les 3 Vallées is steep and challenging and very often blasted for avalanche mitigation.

When John and I visited Les 3 Vallées a former Crystal exchange patroller Klébert Silvestre ran the Piste Services in Val Thorens, one of the interconnected resorts there. Klébert was kind enough to show us around. John was most impressed by the Gazex exploders. Gazex is certainly expensive and a little obtrusive, and I wasn’t convinced these would work at Crystal.

The Problem of Powder Bowl

Crystal Mountain local dog Nala checks out Gazex Exploder 2

Crystal Mountain local dog Nala checks out Gazex Exploder 2

Powder Bowl is a steep bowl that overhangs a groomed run at Crystal. Snowcats use that run to access the upper mountain at night. Skiers and riders use the cat track below to access some of Crystal’s best terrain, including Lucky Shot and Bear Pits. After our trip to Les 3 Vallées John wanted to implement Gazex in Powder Bowl. Triggered remotely, exploders can mitigate avalanches even when the winds are too high to run the chairlift. Once I looked at Powder Bowl through his eyes, I understood his concern.

On a powder day at Crystal, we pride ourselves on opening the upper mountain (what we call our “in-area” terrain) by 9 am. While that’s not always possible, most mornings skiers and riders are enjoying fresh turns as soon as the lifts begin to spin. Many ski resorts with similar avalanche terrain suffer from chronic late openings of the best terrain. In the PNW, when a slight warmup can worsen the avalanche hazard, we want to get folks skiing and riding (and putting tracks in) that terrain ASAP. Even a slight delay can cause problems. The longer a slope sits unridden after we’ve thrown our explosives, the frownier we patrollers become.

Enter Gazex

This summer crews are installing three Gazex exploders (no, they are not called “boomers” or “pipes” or even really big “jibs”), in Powder Bowl. They will be called Gazex 1, 2, and 3. How’s that for originality? The first one is located in the Summit Chute and the other two are located to the skier’s left. In placing these exploders, we considered many factors. Most importantly, we placed them in the most effective avalanche starting zones. Since these exploders cannot be moved, we want to get the most “bang for the buck.” Also, we considered the traverse path to the left most chutes. These exploder locations are below that traverse, so they shouldn’t get in the way.

But Can I Jump off of it?

Funny thing how you build a big curving metal structure on a ski slope and the first question you get is, “can I jump it?” I suppose that’s possible. Just like jibbing off a chairlift tower is theoretically possible. The top of the structure isn’t exactly smooth. It contains ribs and tubes and various attachment points. So a clean rail slide probably isn’t going to happen. And then there’s the problem of the landing. These exploders are pretty far off the ground. With a little snow on the slope, they might feel a bit lower, but off course these exploders are there to blast the snow off the slope, so not sure how much snow will accumulate right below them. In short, I wouldn’t set my sites on jumping off these bad boys. It might be exciting to think about, but the logistics are pretty daunting.

That's a pretty big landing

That’s a pretty big landing

What Next?

If Gazex in Powder Bowl works as well as we anticipate, our next exploder location will be Rock Face. Since Rock Face is permanently closed, it never gets any skier compaction. In the spring, the entire slope has ripped to the ground. Rock Face also hangs over a cat track. Skiers and riders might have noticed in the past few years seeing the “No stopping beyond this point” signs. That’s pretty sage advice.

Gazex will never replace explosive hand routes at Crystal (phew!). We have too many small pockets. Our mandate in the States is to manage all the terrain, not just the pistes. Therefore we will always need ski patrollers to help mitigate the slopes. But Gazex has it’s place, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works this season.

Now let’s all pray to Ullr that we get enough snow to really put our Gazex to the test.

A Flying Ambassador for Wild Orcas

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Wild Orca SeaplaneMy good friends Anna Gullickson and Michael Hays are working to support wild orca populations. To raise awareness in the PNW through their foundation Wild Orca, Michael and Anna hope to transform a Kenmore DeHavilland Otter float plane into a whale. Check out the video below and consider donating to this great cause.

 

 

Surfing Behind a Yacht

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I’m here to tell you, surfing behind a yacht is amazing fun. While I didn’t make it out for this session on Lake Washington, the video below, put together by the great guys at Stohke, shows a little bit of the ridiculousness. And I thought yachts were for retirees. Silly me.