Category Archives: Adventures

El Avalanchisto: The Dirtbag Diaries

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I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to assume that you, dear reader, are familiar with The Dirtbag Diaries. If not, then click on the link and go check it out for yourself. Created by Fitz Cahall and–as the legend goes–recorded in a closet in Seattle, The Dirtbag Diaries is a podcast for adventurers. Fitz covers the kinds of stories you’d want to hear over a campfire, the kinds of tales you hope to hear on a long road trip. He gathers up adventure into a 30-minute podcast, cinches it tight and delivers it to you in your ear. No campfire or road trip necessary.

I just came back from a long boat trip and I finally had a chance to catch up on podcasts. While motoring up the BC coast, my husband and I binge-listened to our favorites. El Avalanchisto, a recent episode from The Dirtbag Diaries, was played not once but three times. Just for good measure.

It’s a compelling story, and one that resonated with me for obvious reasons. Matt McKee decides to take a job forecasting avalanches for Minera Pimenton, a gold mine in the Chilean Andes. He thought it would be his dream job. Instead it turned into a nightmare: a den of avalanche paths, a mine full of workers who didn’t believe in avalanches and a country that looked for someone to blame if things went wrong.

What made me want to listen to this one over and over again was not the human nightmare, but the natural one. The tale was a familiar one to me. Avalanche paths going bigger that ever seen before, snow falling nonstop and filling in the previous slides, and the feeling that the world above you just wants to bury you–I know what that feels like.

Have a listen and see what you think. Click below to be taken to the podcast. Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 2.16.28 PM

Surfing: The Power of Trying Something Hard

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Let’s face it. Surfing is hard.

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

I just returned from a week surfing with Hillary Harrison at Peaks and Swells Surf Camp in Costa Rica. In the four years since John and I first went to Hillary’s camp my surfing hasn’t exactly improved. Granted, I’m a fair weather surfer. From the get go, I knew that surfing would never replace skiing as the sport I obsess about. I never planned on checking the swell forecast as carefully as I follow low pressure snow-producing storms in the Pacific.

kim and jk sunset 1

Smiles, sunset, surf and fresh coconut

But now, that might be changing.

First, let me tell you about the surf camp. It’s not just about surfing. There’s also yoga, massage, and all-organic meals. And of course, the daily walk to Montezuma for gelato. This place is more like a retreat than a “camp.” Every detail is handled for you, and once you arrive there are no real decisions to make. We attended the family camp with John’s daughter. One of the most appealing components of surfing is the fact that we can do it as a family. I’m not the kind of parent that truly loves watching the kids while they do their own sport (is anyone?). I’d rather be in there too, cheering alongside them.

The coaches at Peaks and Swells are fabulous. Each one of them exudes positivity. Lead instructor Victoria Ross actually smiles the entire time she’s talking. I tried it on for size, but it sounds ridiculous on me (and I’m okay with that). Victoria is an Aussie, so the accent helps. But her happy vibe infected every of her students. Even in the midst of their own cool surfer style, somehow all the instructors bring you along with them on the ride. This is a very special place.

Learning the pop up

Victoria teaching the pop-up

What I learned at Peaks and Swells is the importance (and the power) of sucking. It’s okay not to excel. It’s fine to look clumsy and awkward. It’s normal to be embarrassed. The first day of surfing at Peaks and Swells ends in a photo and video viewing of the day’s adventures in the water, and those feelings of awkward embarrassment are impossible to avoid. So I figured that I might as well embrace them.

If you never let yourself look like an ass, than you probably aren’t learning anything new. Which means you probably aren’t growing. The pressure to look good, and stylish, and coiffed, and camera-ready at all times is higher than ever. It’s only when you stop worrying about what you might look like that you really drop into flow. Only when you cease thinking of yourself from the third person and truly step into who you are in the moment, can you find happiness.

beautiful sunset

The sunset is always stylish

Trying something hard, like surfing, is a risk. There’s a risk (albeit small) of getting injured. But the bigger risk is simply embarrassing yourself. One of the surf coaches last week quoted a recent student you asked her, “when does the sexy part of surfing start?”

Let me be clear. Surfing is not sexy when you’re a beginner. There’s nothing sexy or stylish about that roll of wet snot dripping from your nose when you first pop up on your board. Nor is it very sexy when your bathing suit comes unseated from around your backside. The red eyes from that surprise wave that crashed on your head and the bruises on your hips and elbows from your failed pop-ups don’t scream sexy either.

Beginners are just surviving out there. We don’t care about what we look like. That is, until the photos go up on the screen during happy hour and we wonder yet again, so when does the sexy part start?

Evelyn makes it look easy

Evelyn makes it look easy

But I applaud every single person carrying their ungainly boards out into the surf to give it a go anyways. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re trying something hard.

I’ve written about this before, but adversity is good for you. Trying (and even sucking at) something new changes your brain. We crave novelty. Our brains release dopamine when we have a new experience. It’s the brain’s way of telling us to keep at it. When old habits and skills no longer require much of us, it’s time to pick up a new skill. In addition to surfing this week, I learned another important skill. Humility.

But there are moments that make it all worthwhile. When you catch the wave just right–for me it was catching a green wave and popping up in time to feel myself drop into the trough–the feeling buoys you up. You are in flow. You completely forget about what you look like from the outside; instead you are focused entirely on the task before you. And when surfing is the task before you, there’s nothing quite like it.

Except, of course, skiing powder.

Crystal Opens Tomorrow

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It’s time to do my happy dance. Crystal Mountain opens tomorrow. I’m pretty sure this is directly related to the frozen spoon I slept with under my pillow on Friday night. I went to sleep with no precip at Crystal and woke to a foot of new snow. Obviously this is due to my super scientific snow forecasting abilities. *grin*

With this new foot of snow, plus the leftovers from last week’s storm (that was rained upon on Tuesday), we have just enough. It’s been a thin start weather-wise so far, and for now we will be opening Green Valley only.

Crystal Mountain, Sunday November 30 2014

Crystal Mountain, Sunday November 30 2014

The skiing in Green Valley is good. It’s a light and fluffy foot of new over about 4-6″ of frozen slush. The past few days, many skiers and boarders have been hiking up and taking laps. But there’s still some untracked lines to be had. There’s also a few rocks mixed in there too.

Green Valley

Green Valley

Looking ahead, the weather forecast doesn’t look that promising in the short term. So hopefully the snow we have now lasts until we get a little bit more snow–perhaps later in the week or next weekend. (By the way, if you’re playing along, now is the time to put your spoon in the freezer, so it’s ready for the next stormlette. Just sleep with it under your pillow when you need a snow day. Which is going to be very soon. So if you could all help out, we’d really appreciate it. Thanks.)

It's another blown edge for Paul H.

It’s another blown edge for Paul H.

Until then, I recommend taking it a little easy. The season is long and you don’t want to get hurt on the first day. Fellow patroller, Paul Harrington, tore out his edge today. To be fair, his edge was a little shaky to start with. But there are still some rocks out there, so bring your rock skis.

Here's a closeup of that blown edge. Nasty.

Here’s a closeup of that blown edge. Nasty.

On that note, let’s all have a good time out there tomorrow. Be safe.

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

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.