Category Archives: Adventures

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?

All This Snow: Be careful out there

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The weather at Crystal is either on or off. There’s no in between up here in the Cascades. And for the past seven days a cold, snowy hose has been pointed straight at us.

Skiing the Deep under Shaker's Left

Skiing the Deep under Shaker’s Left

Since last Wednesday, we’ve received OVER 7 FEET OF SNOW. Just think about that for a second. If you’re a skier or rider, than you’re probably like me. We get excited about snow. Our pupils start to circle. But we have to be careful. There are hazards that accompany all this snow.

I, personally, have a love affair with snow. I marvel at tiny snow crystals; I’m giddy when I feel snowflakes on my chin; I live to slice through powder. But I must also remember to check myself.

During big storm cycles like this we ski patrollers work hard. We take pride in getting the mountain open on time (or at least as early as we possibly can), and we don’t mind slogging through snow to do avalanche control or carrying a heavy pack laden with explosives or digging out signs buried several feet under the snow. That’s our job. And we’re happy to do it.

Natural Avalanche in Kemper's Slidepath

Natural Avalanche in Kemper’s Slidepath

But sometimes even our best efforts can’t change the outcome. On Monday the ski area had a power outage when PSE’s backup generator didn’t work. While our main line goes down quite often, it isn’t usually a problem. The generator is large enough to handle all our needs. But here we were on a busy holiday with loads of new snow and a huge crowd of people headed our way, and no way to power the resort. It was a bummer.

Explosive Triggered Avalanche in Eagle's Chute

Explosive Triggered Avalanche in Eagle’s Chute

Bu with all this new snow we’ve had more serious hazards than a lack of power. The avalanche cycle has been dabgerous. On Monday Kemper’s (an avalanche path outside our boundary) slid naturally. When avalanches occur naturally (without a human trigger) then you know the danger is high or extreme.

Yesterday we brought in a helicopter to drop large explosives in Northway. With conditions like this, it’s too dangerous for patrollers to set out on skis. Instead we use a helicopter to drop 25 pound shots in those hard-to-get pockets. We saw widespread results. Northway Bowl produced a large avalanche with a 4-5 foot crown. Niagra’s (sic) slid wall-to-wall. We saw evidence of natural avalanches throughout Northway.

Treewells are deep and dangerous

Treewells are deep and dangerous

Most tragically, the treewell danger is also extremely high. All this snow creates airy voids at the base of alpine firs, creating dangerous traps. Yesterday one skier at Crystal (near Dick’s Face below Neanderthal Rocks) slid head first into a treewell and died. Even though he was skiing with a partner, and the two had skied together for years, just a few minutes in a treewell was enough to cause suffocation. For these two men, their day started with enthusiasm and thrills. It ended in tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

If you plan to come up to the Cascades and enjoy this storm cycle, remember these hazards. These are part of the inherent risk in the sport.

This isn’t Disneyland. While the thrills and excitement of new snow can blind us all to the dangers, they still exist and deserve our respect.

The forecast is just calling for more snow. Saturday there will be a short lull in the action, with more storms rolling in next week.

Let’s all be safe out there and return to ski/ride another day.

Stranded at the Airport: Putting the Gnar in Narita

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The switch from comfort to desperation can happen fast. Sometimes all it takes is a big snowstorm, a missed connection and a city incapable of removing snow from it’s roads and railways. And you kind of know it’s bad when the Red Cross comes around delivering bottles of water.

The Endless Check-in Queue

The Endless Check-in Queue at Japan Airlines

Last weekend I spent 43 hours on the floor of the Tokyo airport. When our plane landed in the midst of a huge snowstorm–what turned out to be the biggest in a few decades–I had a bad feeling.

We were headed to Niseko, a ski resort on the island of Hokkaido, the land of hot onsens and nightly dumps and some of the best snow in the world. But Tokyo is much like Seattle–a big city, a gateway to mountains and ocean, where precipitation usually falls as rain.

Not this storm. In some places, 70cm fell in 24 hours. It shut the city down. All roads were closed. The train stopped. The airport was completely shut off from the outside world. No flights, no trains, no buses. The line at the taxi stand was so long it wound into the next day.

My husband is a solver of problems. He took this setback as an opportunity to find a solution. And he went at it like a dog on a bone. There was a flight from Haneda leaving for Sapporo in a few hours. All we needed was to get there. He located the train station and tried to find a ride to the city.   But the flights were all full.

JK finally admitting defeat

JK finally admitting defeat

Next, he tried to find a train all the way to Hokkaido. But the seats were all full. Again, he booked us a flight out of another city up north. But we couldn’t get there. The buses had stopped running. They’d closed all the roads from the airport. We were definitely trapped.

Some lucky couple found this love nest to call home

Some lucky couple found this love nest to call home

And yet, thousands of travelers poured in on international flights. Someone at the control tower forgot to tell them they were landing at the Hotel California. You could check in but you couldn’t leave. For a while there, things got a bit desperate. Lines snaked back and forth across the floor of the airport. Travelers fell asleep while standing up, or simply curled around their luggage while keeping their place in line. That’s when volunteers came around with water bottles and cute little sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

I’ve said it before. Adversity is good for you. Besides, this wasn’t that bad. We had water. We had beer. And we had these cute little sandwiches. That’s what I kept telling myself as I headed into the second night in our little bunker we created out of our luggage in a side room at the top of Level 3.

Being the survivors that our group of six truly was, we planned ahead. We bought enough beer that first night to see us through. Even though the restaurants ran out of food, and the famous vending machines hemorrhaged hot coffee and cold tea until sucked dry, we knew we’d be okay. We had two decks of cards and plenty of beer.

A few lucky dogs found this deluxe overwater bungalow

A few lucky dogs found this deluxe overwater bungalow

So we played hearts, we watched the large board that flashed CANCELED next to every domestic flight heading north, and bided our time.

Then something miraculous happened. We realized we were having fun. We were laughing so hard that other sleep-deprived travelers gave us sideways glances. The card game was becoming cut-throat, the beer was holding firm, even the fermented plum treats out of the vending machine offered a hilarity beyond what would seem possible. How could something that tasted so rotten be so funny? Because when you’re scavenging cardboard boxes to sleep on, anything is possible.

Of all the airports in the world I’d rather be stranded at Narita. At least they sell beer in vending machines. At least Japanese people are nice and don’t steal your stuff. All throughout the airport, cell phones and other electronics were plugged into remote outlets and left for hours. Somber-looking police officers cruised the hallways without much to do.

Making ourselves comfortable at Chateau Crystal

Making ourselves comfortable at Chateau Crystal

When we woke the second morning, I wasn’t sure our flight would hold. Still no flights had left the airport. But we stood in the long checkout line anyway. And then it happened. We were each handed a boarding pass–a Willy Wonka golden ticket–and just like that we were ushered through security and onto a bus and out to the plane.

A few hours later we were soaking in the hot water at a Niseko onsen, drinking sake and eating sushi. And just like that we were back in the land of comfort, where snowfall is a good thing and problem solving actually works and anything is possible.

Someday I will probably look back at those 43 hours with gratitude. Actually, on the eve of our last day in Niseko, I’m already doing that. Because if you can still laugh when you’re sleeping on a cardboard box, when the thought of ever taking a shower or sleeping on a bed are only remote possibilities, then you’re doing pretty good.

Mountain Girl Power: A Day on the Slopes with the SAFE AS Crew

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Saturday was an extravaganza of girl power. Between spending the morning with the K2 International Woman’s Ski Day posse and the afternoon with the S.A.F.E. A.S crew, I was brimming with female superpowers.

Me and Lel Tone at the Summit of Crystal

Me and Lel Tone at the Summit of Crystal

Ingrid Backstrom said it best yesterday during our beacon training session led by Lel Tone. After spending several days with these amazing women, her communication skills were “well honed.” Women like to talk to each other. We like to check in with each other, and as these women demonstrated, we are pretty inclusive.

S.A.F.E. A.S. stands for Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety and is led by some amazing women. In addition to Lel and Ingrid, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso and Elyse Saugstad offered Crystal ladies an amazing avalanche awareness clinic designed for women. Not only did I get to join Lel in teaching the field session in the afternoon, I also had the chance to ski with these women the past few days at Crystal.

SAFE AS group photo

SAFE AS group photo

It wasn’t merely an estrogen overload. Nor was it the testosterone fest that usually fuels any group of skiers–male or female–that love to ski hard and fast. These ladies charge hard, but know how to manage risks. As Elyse says, it’s not just about charging hard today. It’s also about getting to go back out and do it again tomorrow. We all love to ski hard, to find that smooth line of snowy perfection and leave our mark on the mountain, our faces freezing into cold smiles. But it means nothing if you don’t make it back alive.

On Friday, we headed to Southback to find some untracked snow. With 3″ of new over a wind packed base, we hoped to find some nice turns. Even though we Crystal skiers are lamenting the slow start to the season, these professional skiers were thrilled. Michelle Parker called her two days skiing at Crystal the best of the season so far. Enthusiasm is infectious, and soon I, too, was caught up in the thrill of new snow, an all-girl crew, and the fun of rampaging around my local hill.

In all my years of skiing Southback, I have never discussed the conditions so much as I did with this group. Elyse asked specifics. Was this true backcountry we were headed into? Had the avalanche conditions changed? How was this terrain managed? She turned her beacon to receive and checked us all as we headed through the access gate.

At the summit of the King, we talked about rocks that I’d seen the day before hidden now by a mere skein of snow. Ingrid pointed to Brain Damage and we talked about where photographer Re Wikstrom should position herself. As Lel would say, the north side of the King is still at low tide. Rocks line Pin Ball, and shark teeth still poke out in various spots along the chutes. Instead of blindly charging into a line, these ladies asked questions, took their time and encouraged each other. It was safe, but fun. Careful but still exciting.

Elyse Saugstad dropping into Brain Damage

Elyse Saugstad dropping into Brain Damage

I followed Ingrid and Elyse into Brain Damage, while Michelle and Jackie dropped into Hourglass and Appliances. The chute is still a bit narrow at the top, and my heart raced a little hoping not to embarrass myself in front of two of the best skiers in the world. In the end, I held my own and embraced the camaraderie and high-fives at the bottom of the chute. Next, Re set up to take a few powder shots of the professionals. Journalist Megan Michelson and I held back while the others found their positions. Ingrid insisted Megan take the next line, and for a moment we all laughed. Megan reminded Ingrid that Re could sell a photo of her skiing powder and Megan and I would find another way down. But we both appreciated the gesture. For Ingrid, she wasn’t pretending. It really was about the skiing. “We’re all girls skiing today,” she said. And it was true.

These women are leaders in the ski industry. Not only do they ski with power and grace, beauty and fluidity, they also model how to do so prudently. This balancing act requires humility and honesty. For these women, it isn’t an act. They walk  their talk. And do so with passion.

The S.A.F.E. A.S. clinics conclude today with the final one at Stevens Pass. For Elyse, the lessons she learned during and after the tragic avalanche accident that took place near Stevens two years ago come full circle. I spoke to her Saturday night about her willingness to teach others through her own tragedy. She wanted to give something back, she said. She hopes that through teaching women to make prudent choices in the backcountry, they can enjoy the mountains and live to tell about it.

Women’s Ski Day at Crystal Mountain

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WomensDay2013Hey Ladies! This Saturday is International Women’s Ski Day, and Crystal Mountain is hosting. That means you can come with your gal pals, meet new ones, take laps in the park or Southback, drink wine afterwards, and you get a discount. Kind of like ladies night at the bar but so much more fun (because this one is really for you). The details (from Crystal Mountain website) are below. I’ll be there too. So stop by and say hello.

K2 is declaring Saturday, December 14th, 2013 to be International Women’s Ski Day. Females are encouraged all over the world to just get out and ski! Women who mention “International Women’s Ski Day” at the ticket window will receive a $10 discount on your ski lift ticket. Meet other women, get a tour of the mountain, practice your beacon skills, try out some demo skis (conditions permitting), shred the hill and then meet from 3:30pm-5:30pm at the Summit House for a special hosted wine and cheese event with $5 appetizer plates and drink specials. Girls can either head into the Summit House after their last run or take the gondola up no later than 3:30pm. The gondola will shut down during Apres and begin downloading everyone at 5:30. Everyone must be downloaded by 6pm. KEEP IN MIND THAT IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT BRAND YOU SKI ON! This day is to simply encourage females to go skiing, regardless of what type of skis you use.

The Edge Radio Now Available as Podcasts

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With the winter season fast approaching (but not fast enough if you ask me), I’ve decided to take a small break from the radio interviews. But not to worry. All of my interviews from The Edge Radio are now available as podcasts. Hosting The Edge Radio has been a fascinating journey. I’ve met amazing people, heard some incredible stories and envied more than a few of my guests for their adventures.

The Edge Radio explores the motivations for getting out on the edge. From kayaking waterfalls with Brad Ludden to wingsuit flying with JT Holmes and Andy Farrington, to skiing and riding big lines with Ingrid Backstrom and Kimmy Fasani, below you’ll find interviews with some of the most amazing people on earth.

Is There a Cure for Re-entry Syndrome?

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Porters carrying loads below Kabru Massif

Porters carrying loads below Kabru Massif

I just returned from a long trip abroad. Three weeks in the Himalayas. It was glorious. It was magical. It was horrifying.

Moments of grandeur and high-mountain beauty slice against images of filth and extreme poverty. But what endures as I try to sift through my everyday life, is the memory of smiling locals and a feeling of what can only be described as re-entry syndrome.

I’m no stranger to re-entry syndrome. When I got off a three-week trip on the Grand Canyon several years ago, I stumbled around in a fog for weeks. My usual sense of purpose and industry had vanished. I was left with the big questions that had arisen while floating the Colorado, but none of the simple answers that had reverberated off the canyon walls.

It’s the same now.

Sikkim is a state in India. Wedged between Nepal and Bhutan and butted up against Chinese Tibet, Sikkim was a separate kingdom until 1975. In some ways, it is more Nepali than Indian, and our trek took us along the border between the two countries. Goecha La, our high point, after two weeks on the trail, brought us to within 5 kms of Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world which borders Nepal and Sikkim.

sikkim himalayas

Prayer flags mark the pass into Dzongri

Yak herders bring the animals back to camp

Yak herders bring the animals back to camp

I loved walking amongst these giant mountains. Every morning the sun rose to reveal new ridges and glaciers, taller peaks than the day before and rows and rows of sharp beauty. I especially loved the “not-thinking” required in trekking. We had porters and yaks to carry the heavy gear. My job was only to eat, sleep and walk. I’d pictured spending hours on the trail sorting through the minutiae of my mind–plotting my upcoming book, making a final decision about whether or not to continue my radio show, figuring out how and where and if I could manage to create some significant work.

But that’s not how it worked.

Whole days went by and I just walked. No mental plans were made. No epiphanies found.

Chortens above Dzongri, Sikkim

Chortens above Dzongri, Sikkim

I wondered if I were squandering my chance. After months of research for my latest book and years of plotting and scheming, this was my opportunity to catch up. To let my mind wander. To come up with my next big idea.

Camp, 14,000 feet

Camp, 14,000 feet

Instead I just looked around. I gaped at the mountain view. I cried at the scenes of poverty in the cities. Some days, while hiking along the base of towering peaks, the tears flowed for no apparent reason. Maybe this was gratitude, I told myself. But even that thought vanished in the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe it’s an altitude thing. Perhaps I was a little hypoxic.

Or maybe the physical act of walking was erasing my need to analyze and understand every little emotion and idea that entered my brain.

Maybe I simply needed to be.

Now I’m home, and I’m experiencing reverse culture-shock. There should be a to-do list on my desk a mile long getting checked off one by one. I should be getting back into the groove, preparing for the ski season, stocking up at Costco, obsessing over the weather forecast.

Instead, I feel like I’m floating. Somewhere between the Himalayas and my old life is a new path twisting in front of me like a toy snake. I’ll find it soon enough.

But I’m not in any hurry.

Mountain Bike Maven Tracy Moseley

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Tracy Moseley has been competing on the World Cup mountain bike circuit since 2000. Over those years she won 16 World Cup races, multiple UK National Titles, 2 World Cup Overall Championships and finally in 2010 won the World Downhill Championships in Quebec, Canada.

Tracy Moseley enduro

Tracy Moseley in the zone

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She recently changed her focus from Downhill to the new Enduro race division, which consists of multiple timed stages throughout a day. After years of dominating the downhill mountain biking scene, it’s no surprise that Tracy is conquering this new genre as well.

Tracy Moseley

Tracy Moseley in Les Duex Alpes

Consisting of timed downhill stages  and untimed transition stages, Enduro has been called “real mountain biking.” Much like the kind of day most riders have with friends, Enduro tries to capture the essence of the sport.

2013 was the first year of a World Series for Enduro, and Tracy won the overall World Championship Title, with first place finishes and two second place finishes. With still one more race to go, Tracy has already clinched the title.

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What makes a premiere athlete switch genres while still in her prime? Is Enduro the future of mountain bike racing? Find out this week on The Edge Radio when I talk to Tracy about mountain biking, racing and what keeps her in the zone.