Category Archives: Adventures

Another B Lot Boy Featured in Powder: Steve Fratella

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Photo by Matt Small

Photo by Matt Small

Julie Brown at Powder.com continued recently with her Pay It Forward interview series in which she finds the true locals in the ski/snowboard world, asks them a few soulful questions and then has them choose the next interviewee.

I love this series not only because she started at Crystal, but more importantly because these are the true heroes of our sport.

Her first interview was with Crystal Mountain’s Hugh Gren. Hugh paid it forward to Steve and the resulting interview can now be found at Powder.

People like Hugh and Steve aren’t skiing for sponsors. They aren’t posting their best runs to YouTube or even wearing POV cameras. On the chairlift, these guys aren’t worried about the battery life on their GoPro.

They’re scoping their next line.

They go to the mountains to ski, to hang out with their friends, and have fun. They aren’t there to burnish their image or work on their brand or post impossibly filtered photos to Instagram.

It’s no surprise, really, that Julie’s first two interviews were Crystal locals. Many of these guys and gals stay for weeks in trailers in B Lot, Crystal’s big parking lot ringed on one side with RV parking. A handful of the most colorful locals are known, simply, as the B Lot Boys.

Photo by Matt Small

Photo by Matt Small

Steve Fratella is the real deal. He’s been at Crystal for as many seasons as I have. He skis hard and flies well under the radar, and I’m thrilled to see him showcased in my favorite magazine. Thanks Steve for keeping it real.

 

 

Lyndsey Dyer’s Story of the Skier Girl

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This is the time of year when ski and snowboard film producers start to put out teasers of upcoming films. Powder Magazine recently published a collection of the latest trailers (they’re calling it Trailer Park) and will be updating it  as new ones become available.

I’m especially excited about Pretty Faces, by Unicorn Picnic. This all-women film looks to be one of the best of the season. Check out the official trailer below.

 

The Film

Pretty Faces is a film celebrating women who thrive in the snow. The concept for the film was originated by professional big mountain skier and SheJumps co-founder, Lynsey Dyer with the objective of giving women and girls, young and old, a source of inspiration through a unique look at what is possible when boundaries are broken, dreams captured and friendships cultivated. In Lynsey’s words “I wanted to give young girls something positive to look up to…I wanted to give them their Blizzard of Ahhs, Ski Movie or High Life, but done in a way that also shows the elegance, grace, community and style that is unique to women in the mountains.”

Their Mission

Young girls need more positive role models to offer then an alternative to the world of skinny jeans, reality TV and fashion magazines. Unicorn Picnic aims to provide a positive source of inspiration for young girls first and foremost. The lessons learned on the mountain parallel those learned by many women who take the path less traveled. Their documentary ski film (Pretty Faces) will showcase women walking that path to deliver the message “If she can do it, then so can I.”

 

Crystal’s Hugh Gren Profiled in Powder Magazine

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Most of the people who read this blog probably already read Powder. Of course you do. But just in case you missed it, Crystal’s very own Hugh Gren was recently interviewed for a new series on Powder. The purpose of the series is for each interviewee to recommend the next one.

I recently ran into Hugh up on Chinook Pass, where he and a couple of other Crystal diehards were making the most of the remaining snow. They were taking turns shuttling each other to the top. I was riding my bike to the summit. It was Hugh’s turn to shuttle, and he stopped to cheer us on. And that’s a nice boost to get on those last few switchbacks from the summit. That’s just the kind of guy Hugh is. He may be a bit quirky and hyper, but above all else, Hugh has an infectious enthusiasm. He’s one of my favorite locals at Crystal.

Who did Hugh recommend for the next interview? Another Crystal favorite. But you’re going to have to read the article to find out.

Hugh Gren letting it all hang out on Chair 6

Hugh Gren letting it all hang out on Chair 6

A Daughter’s Tribute to Her Father

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Kim Kircher:

I wrote this post back in January a few days after Dad passed. I’m reposting here in honor of Father’s Day. I still miss him every day.

Originally posted on Kim Kircher:

My father passed away a few days ago due to complications from multiple myeloma.

Daddy's Girl

Daddy’s Girl

He was diagnosed just a year ago, and now he’s gone. For the past several days, I’ve been by his side, helping to ease his pain. On Saturday, after the doctors broke the news that there was nothing more to be done, we brought him home.

Even in the midst of tragedy, Dad kept his sense of humor. He said he wanted to finally get that tattoo he’d always wanted but been too chicken. He told me other things too. That he was proud of me. That I had to take care of Mom. That he wasn’t scared.

Mom, Dad and the kids

The Huleens 2013

It is quite a thing to watch your father quickly decline, to witness an outpouring of love and admiration from others that he touched, to align your heart with others and wrap that communal love…

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Kiteboarding: A lesson in humility

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Adventurous types are often defined by their sports and extreme activities. Just take a look at their Instagram feeds. They read something like this: “Check me out. I’m a skier/surfer/knife juggler/fire dancer/world traveler/eater of bizarre-looking food/arranger of well-filtered photos/lover of large, inquisitive-looking dogs.”

I’m pretty much in the same boat. Looking back at my drop in the social media bucket, my biggest splashes are ski related. And a few other summer sports thrown in for good measure. While I don’t introduce myself at parties with a handshake and an “I’m a skier” sticker plastered to my forehead, I realize that it sort of defines me. At least in social media, because here’s a newsflash. Writers like me have blogs and FB accounts and Twitter feeds and an online presence so that when Random House Googles our name because they want to offer us a contract and a big advance for our upcoming novel, they can actually find something about us. (Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself, that all this time on the Internet is really work-related).

My good side

My good side

This only begins to explain why trying a new sport is so humbling. Especially a sport like kiteboarding. Especially when all of a sudden everyone and their grandmother is taking up kiteboarding and exclaiming it to be an elevator ride to nirvana. “You haven’t tried kiteboarding? Ohmygod. It’s the best. It’s amazing. It’s like flying. It’s like flying on heroin. It’s like flying on heroin while simultaneously saving a baby whale.”

So, of course I had to try it. My husband and I both had to try it. Because just like some of the best things in life (ahem, this is a family post here people, get your mind out of the gutter), kiteboarding is best done with someone you love. Someone who isn’t better at it than you. At least not yet anyways.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there exists a small island surrounded by a beautiful lagoon and ringed by a corral reef. This island sits in the path of the trade winds. This island’s country, in an effort to promote tourism, subsidizes cheap flights from Aukland and L.A.  And for some reason, when you search the all-knowing Internet about the world’s best places to kiteboard, this island is never on the list. This island is Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

Aitutaki is a beginning kiteboarder’s dream. The water is warm. The winds are cranking. You can stand on the soft sand as you repeatedly attempt to fly the kite and get up on the board and there’s no one else around to watch you fail. At least not in May.

Learning to kiteboard isn’t easy. First of all, you have to fly the kite. You don’t want to crash it, although I did that. Numerous times. And you want to keep the kite flying but not so hard that you Jesus-walk out of your board and across the water and face plant hard enough to turn your mouth and nose into a sluice box for the lagoon water to flume down. At the end of five days of perfect winds our little group of kiteboarders voted me Most Spectacular Crasher. So I have that going for me. Which is nice.

By the second day I was actually up. I was kiting. I was even cutting upwind a little. For a brief second, I actually achieved a mini-nirvana. No singing angels or anything. No laughing Buddhas. But just an itty bitty moment of flow when I was flying and boarding all at once.

Just learning to fly the kite is sort of double black diamond

I lost these sunglasses soon after

On my right side that is. In board sports I’m goofy-footed, and attempting a reach to the left is like trying to rub my stomach and pat my head while alternately raising each eyebrow one at a time. No matter how many mouthfuls of water I swallowed, no matter how many times I supermaned into the coral and cut the dickens out of my fingers, even after loosing my sunglasses and with snot pouring out of my nose, I kept after those lefts. You can’t just kiteboard one direction. That’s the thing about this sport. Like with sailing or windsurfing or even skiing. At some point, you have to turn and go the other way.

Attempting a left

Attempting a left

So I sort of beat myself up out there. I kited each day until my beer light was on amber. And sometimes even after that amber turned to a dangerous red light that usually means I must stop all activity and open the nearest beer and sit down and nurse my wounds. And yet I never really got it.

I mean I got it a little bit. I made a few downwind-ish reaches to the left. Once I actually stopped on my own accord that didn’t end in a spectacular crash. But I never really got it. I never turned. I never felt that look-at-me-mom-I’m-really-doing-it rush I was hoping for.

Instead I practiced humility. The diaper-like harness was cutting a nasty wedgy into my board shorts. The salt water stung my eyes. I was cut and bruised and waterlogged. But knowing just how fickle the wind can be, that sports like kiteboarding require the perfect ingredients of wind, water and waves, I kept trying. And I’m pretty sure I made the fish and the sea slugs chuckle. Silly human.

So please don’t invite me to go kiting with you in Hood River (although thanks for thinking of me). Not just yet anyways. I’m not ready to prime time, and I guess I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t even mind returning to Aitutaki again. Roundtrip tickets from LA to Rarotonga are only $800 on Air New Zealand. And maybe that’s what’s required: another trip to this beautiful island where the sand is soft and forgiving and the people are lovely and there’s no one else for miles to watch me fall flat on my face.

Getting Accidentally Stranded on a Desert Island

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There will have to be great sunsets on my deserted island

Copper colored sunsets are a prerequisite on my deserted island

I’m not much of a long term planner. I’m more of a winger. Or a wingnutter. Or, as I like to say, a spontaneity buff. 

And when I (or we, because my husband is nearly as guilty as I am of this) do make plans for the future–broad notions that may or may not require a zip code change–they usually don’t last long. These plans don’t stick. One minute we think we’re ready to pick up stakes and move to Montana, and then we look at each other and say, “Who are we kidding?”

It’s sort of like trying on a million bikinis to see if there’s just one that doesn’t make you look fat. But at the very least, we get to entertain some interesting life plans. And, we get to travel well.

Travel plans are made last minute around our house. It’s dumping snow in Japan? We’re on a plane to Niseko in 24 hours. Need some beach time to dry out our cold, wet winter bones? We book a trip for the following week to Aitutaki, an island in the middle of a turquoise lagoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

So even with this spontaneity-fueled planning strategy, I’m making plans anyways. Can you see me? Here I am making a plan. A real-life, honest-to-God plan for the future. Ready?

I’m planning on getting accidentally stranded on a deserted island.

All I need are these coconut trees, this blue sky and this white sandy beach.

All I need are these coconut trees, this blue sky and this white sandy beach.

I realize this begs the question: how can you plan to accidentally do anything? I don’t have an answer for that. But what I do know is that the right deserted island could be a great place to spend, oh I don’t know, a month, a year, the rest of our life.

Of course not just any deserted island will work for me. It’s going to need a few essentials. Number one, my husband has to make the journey with me. It worries me a little because every time I mention this new plan, he sort of cocks his head like he didn’t hear me quite right.

Him: Where is this again?

Me: On our deserted island. Remember?

Him: Oh. Yeah.

Me: Anyways, it will definitely need coconuts, I think. Lots so them.

Him: Okay.

Me: And maybe some limes. I think limes are important.

Him: Limes?

Me: For the margaritas. and the ika mata*. That way we don’t have to rely on matches and fire. In case it rains. Which, hopefully it does rain some. For drinking water.

That’s when John just looks at me funny. Then he says, “What was this for again?”

I don’t think John realizes how serious I am. Because I’ve really thought this one through. Just look at coconuts for example. You can pretty much survive on coconuts. The green ones are full of coconut water, which is like regular water on steroids. And the brown ones are full of delicious coconut flesh. Is that what it’s called? Coconut flesh? That seems weird. But coconut meat isn’t any better. It’s just coconut. But it’s amazing. The trunks are wrapped in a sort of cloth that could be great for making shelter for when it rains (and rain is kind of important on an island that doesn’t have a lake, or a stream, or creek, or anything other than sandy beach.) And in case I decide I need to wear clothes on our deserted island those discarded coconuts make a great bra. Plus, Cook Islanders have found a way to turn the palm branches into an excellent broom. So, with the coconut alone, we could have most of our needs met. I’m pretty sure that the hierarchy of needs goes something like this: Water, food, shelter, cleanliness. And then maybe wine. And the Internet.

But we probably won’t have the Internet on our island. And that’s okay. I’m willing to make some sacrifices here. Wine though? That would be harder to give up.

Maybe some swashbuckling Johnny Depp-type pirates left a case of rum buried in the sand of our deserted island (because let’s face it, who doesn’t want a little Johnny Depp on their island?) That would be okay. I could work with rum. It goes well with coconut. And lime.

Truth be told, I actually have found my perfect deserted island. It’s a motu just off Aitutaki. It’s called Honeymoon Island, and it’s a favorite with the newlywed set. And with kiteboarders. And tevake birds. They nest here and seem to have no fear of humans, as if they don’t have a care in the world. Which is important on a deserted island. You can’t really worry about all the Internet and peanut M&Ms that you’re missing.

It only took me 25 faceplants to get this one shot.

It only took me 25 faceplants to get this one shot.

And I’d be perfectly happy with this island. Especially if we also had a few kites, say a 5 meter for those days when the trades are cranking and say a 9 meter for the rest of the days when the trades are still kind of cranking. Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? Don’t let it fool you. I owe it all to a few Aitutaki locals who are teaching us this elusive sport of kiteboarding while we fantasize about ways to claim this island for our own.

Come to think of it, kiteboarding is a crazy sport. It’s the latest thing. The new SUP, the cooler version of windsurfing, the less hostile version of surfing, the current sport, the fastest-growing-watersport-etc, etc, etc. But after a few days it seems like a more difficult version of wakeboarding. Because you’re also flying a kite at the same time. But it’s fun in that sort of how-many-sports-can-I-simultaneously-do-at-once-while-making-it-appear-absolutely-effortless sort of way. It’s frustrating enough to make you want to keep doing it, just to prove to yourself that you can.

Maybe I will revise my aforementioned future plan just a tick. Perhaps John and I can make an annual pilgrimage to our deserted island once a year and play with these kites and boards and pretend that we are taking up this challenging new sport, when in reality we just want to come back to our deserted island and pretend that we live on coconuts and rum. Maybe that’s what we’ll do.

See? That’s why I love you people. Because you help me focus on the truly important things. 

 

*The Cook Islands version of ceviche or poisson cru, a raw, lime-cured tuna concoction served in coconut milk that is so good it should probably have a sin tax on it.

Are Extreme Sports Too Risky?

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Each one of us has our own risk/reward calculus. Or perhaps we just weigh risk differently. Some people feel the sharp tang of risk just taking a stroll in the woods. Others can surf 30 foot waves or free-solo El Cap without breaking much of a sweat.

Chuck Patterson catches some air

Chuck Patterson catches some air

Regardless of where a person is on the risk continuum, others are always standing by to put that person in a box. Thrill-seekers take too many risks for their sport, say some. The risk-averse aren’t truly living, say others.

Since when did we care so much about the risks (or the lack thereof) that other people take?

The New York Times recently published an article about the risks in extreme sports. The author cites the soaring popularity of extreme sports and claims that, “many young people eager for an adrenaline rush are trying to copy their extreme sports idols, putting themselves at terrible risk.”

Injuries related to extreme sports are on the rise, and the participants are younger than ever. Overall, the author of the article urges participants to use safety equipment—especially helmets. The article quotes Dr. Sabesan, an orthopedic surgeon from Western Michigan School of Medicine, who recently presented her findings on a study about head and neck injuries in extreme sports. Her advice to parents of young rippers is to require “children who skateboard to wear a helmet and elbow and wrist guards.” She also recommends that snowboarders wear wrist guards and that the participants for other activities wear a helmet.

This debate has been going on for some time. Most people seem to agree that children should wear helmets, either because they are too young to decide for themselves or because they are too impulsive and tend to take bigger risks.

Motorcycle fatalities on the rise

Motorcycle fatalities on the rise

But what about adults? Should adults be required to wear a helmet while skiing or riding a motorcycle? Another recent article in New York Times cites a study that as motorcycle helmet laws are weakening, deaths are increasing.

Should we require helmets like we do seat belts? What about at ski areas? Legislated helmet use at ski areas is on the rise. Should we require our customers to strap on a helmet when they strap on their skis or board?

It would certainly help reduce head injuries.

But should we require it? Or should adults have the choice? I wear a helmet. But does that mean I make my friends wear one?

We’re all adults here. We should decide for ourselves. Even if helmet use could guarantee a safe landing, should we force people to wear one? I don’t know. I always get a little squeamish when I hear about requiring helmets.

Readers, what do you think? Should helmets be required? What are the pros and cons of legislating safety equipment? Is there a difference between making kids wear one versus adults?