Tag Archives: Ski

Are Adventure Town Locals Really Necessary?

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Is it still possible to chuck it all and become a ski bum? Or has the new resort landscape pushed the local culture out of the valleys they once called home?

Are locals even important anymore?

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One of my favorite ski bums

Back in the Wild West days of the 80s (when I was a teenager on spring break in Sun Valley wanting so badly to own a pair of ISKI sunglasses and stretch pants) ski bums created the culture. Tourists wanted to emulate them–envying their ski-at-all-costs mentality.

Today ski towns are more chi-chi than ski. Ski areas have become ski resorts. And what has always been an expensive sport is edging out those that have somehow “made it work.”

Jeremy-Evans-Author

Jeremy Evans

While I’d argue this isn’t true everywhere, it certainly seems apparent in the more established ski towns around the West.

What’s left might be smaller ski areas with fewer employment opportunities, with places like Park City, Crested Butte and Aspen now a vacation spot for the 1% crowd.

This week on The Edge, I’m interviewing author and adventurer Jeremy Evans.

Whether exploring a ski town or a surfing village, Evans delves into the importance of the individuals that make a place home.

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Tune in this week to The Edge as I talk to Evans about ski bums that made it work and the value of living life on the edge. Have a question for Evans? Leave a comment here or call in live on Wednesday at 8am 1-888-346-9144.

Deep Thoughts on a Chairlift

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Chairlifts are great places to engage in deep thoughts. Or shallow thoughts, even. I came across this video recently and had to share it. The narrator, a self-declared ski bum challenged by complicated math problems, shows here that the purpose of a chairlift is more than just uphill transportation. It’s a chance to go deep. Really deep. As evidenced by this string of thoughts, “I love skiing powder. I love powder skiing. That one powder day in ’96 when my third run down the stairs was top ten ever. Or was that ’99? I’ve spent 104 straight days, 24 hours a day riding a chairlift…that’s a pretty cool thought.”

Check it out. What are your deep chairlift thoughts?

Ingrid Backstrom: Girl on Fire

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Ingrid Backstrom in Chamonix

Ingrid Backstrom in Chamonix

Ingrid Backstrom is one of the most influential skiers in the world. But you would never know it if you met her.

Kind, humble and exploding with integrity, Ingrid never boasts or brags.

In fact, if you ran into her at the bar after a day on the slopes, you’d never know she probably spent the day ripping the biggest, gnarliest lines on the hill.

Her professional ski career started unassumingly. After ski bumming for a year out of college, Ingrid entered a freeskiing contest at Kirkwood, and placed a very respectable third place. She realized people were actually getting paid to ski, and she wanted to be a part of it.

Her big break came in 2003 when she filmed Yearbook, a Matchstick Productions movie, which launched her career into the stratosphere. Since then, Ingrid has been on a tear, slashing huge lines, appearing in countless ski movies and raking in the awards. At the 2013 Powder Magazine Awards, Ingrid won her 8th Reader Poll award. She has also taken the Best Female Performance Award 6 times, and, in 2005, took away the Breakthrough Performance award, an honor most often given to a man.

Kircher-show-descriptionDon’t miss my guest on The Edge Radio this week, Ingrid Backstrom, as we talk about big mountain skiing, pushing the edge and the ingredients of a perfect day. Her skiing defies logic, and her low-key attitude demonstrates her humility and grace. Tune in Wednesday May 1st on The Edge.

A Great Start

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Tuesday was pretty close to perfect. After a night of winds in the 60s, they died down just in time to load the Gondola at 8:50 AM. The new snow overnight and the cold temperatures created real, legitimate powder skiing in Green Valley and later in Snorting Elk.

The sun even came out

Some hearty souls arrived at 6 AM for first chair on the gondy. The crowd was bigger than we expected, and I heard the line wrapped all the way around and back down to the ticket kiosks. Once we opened Chinook, everyone spread out and had a good day. We patrollers spent most of our day setting up ropelines and raising tower pads rather than hauling injured skiers. It was a good day.

Yesterday we opened Forest Queen and even got High Campbell Chair open before the wind increased.  Some lucky skiers and riders had a little more to be thankful for yesterday.

Unfortunately, the temperature has increased rapidly in the past few hours. As of 6AM it is starting to rain, and the snow is dropping from the trees. According to the forecast, this should be a fast “blip” of warm air, then the temperatures should drop again tonight and bring more snow showers. I’m anticipating a do-over of our current snowpack–a rain crust with fresh snow on top. Today’s warmup will increase the avalanche hazard, but once it cools again we hope to open Northway Chair on Saturday. The coverage out there is excellent for this time of year.

See you on the slopes.

Opening Day

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3″ of new snow overnight

Crystal opens today. Overnight we picked up another 3″ of snow, and it is currently snowing hard. Green Valley skied very well yesterday with plenty of coverage. About 7″ of snow now covers over the crust from Monday’s warmup, and yesterday afternoon the skiing was good. According to Martin Rand, the valley was “fabulous”. The lower mountain is pretty thin, however.

The plan for the rest of the mountain is to get it open as soon as possible. I imagine the coverage in Northway is plenty deep, and I hope to be on the crew of evaluating the terrain later today.

Yesterday my mom called me to ask if, “it would be worth it to come up for opening day.” I answered her with an emphatic, “yes”. The upper mountain came through very well in these storms. The warmer temperatures deposited some heavy, wet glop that has covered over the rocks and grass nicely. Now, with the snow from yesterday and last night, we should be in for a great first day.

See you all on the slopes.

The Waiting Game

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Around my house, we are playing a waiting game. We are waiting for the ski season to start. Specifically, we are waiting to see if the storms will line up in the Pacific and bring enough snow to open the slopes. The forecast models show some promise. The snow currently on the ground is encouraging. We have six inches of solid base material up high–a mix of styrofoam and crust layers. It’s the kind of snow you wouldn’t want to ski, but nicely covers over the rocks and stumps and creek beds. Currently (as of 8 am Tuesday morning) it is starting to snow lightly–just a little chicken dandruff to tease me.

I’m not going to obsess over this.

Really. I’m not.

I want to believe

But waiting is hard. If all goes according to the forecast, we could get a few storms starting this weekend. The question remains to be the snow level. Luckily, we have the gondola. That means if we get enough snow in Green Valley, we could open the upper mountain. Granted, we’d rather open it all up at once.

So for now it’s a waiting game. On the other hand, Winter Storm Brutus dumped a few feet of snow at Brighton and it opens today. Cypress Mountain opens tomorrow. Maybe time for a road trip.

Weekly High Five Report: Bonnie Prudden, Ski Patroller and Exercise Guru

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Bonnie on the cover of Sports Illustrated, 1957

Bonnie Prudden is my new hero. She was the first woman to earn a National Ski Patrol badge, an exercise expert before there was even a name for such a thing, and a champion of children’s fitness. Six months ago I’d never heard of her. She passed away in December, and I recently wrote an article about her life for National Ski Patrol Magazine (to be pubbed next Winter). Even though I never met Bonnie, after interviewing her long-time business partner and close friend, Enid Whittaker, I feel like I know her. After proving herself in the very male world of skiing patrolling and rock climbing (putting up many first ascents in the Shawagunks), Bonnie wrote articles on fitness for Sports Illustrated in the 1950s, such as “Shape up for Stretch Pants,” as well as recorded what must be the very first ski fitness album, Fit to Ski, based on television episodes of the same name. Bonnie was a few decades ahead of her time, before VCRs and Jane Fonda and YouTube.

Bonnie Prudden

She taught fitness not as a means to subsidize her own lifestyle, but knowing that fit people were happy people, she wanted to spread her message. Plus, who could argue with the title Shape up for Stretch Pants? That has to be the world’s best Sports Illustrated title ever. Bonnie went on to cofound the President’s Council on Physical Fitness which utilized the “President’s Fitness” test we all endured in P.E. classes, in which I wondered who in the world could do so many pull ups. It was probably a good thing I hadn’t heard of Bonnie back in the awkward years of sixth grade gym class. It only would have given me someone to blame (even though Bonnie’s version of the fitness test was much easier than the one later adopted by the Council). But I did live on Grape Nuts as a kid, and Bonnie was a spokesperson for them, which is awesome. If Grape Nuts needs me to be a sponsor for them, I am totally available.

Recovering from a ski injury these past few months, I can look to Bonnie Prudden for inspiration. She claimed that it wasn’t years that aged us, but rather pain. I can relate. But she had a solution for that too. She called it myotherapy, and while researching my article I enjoyed a few sessions. It was totally awesome. Even if you aren’t in pain, you can always pretend and go get some sessions anyways.

As Bonnie liked to say, “You can’t turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again.”

The Ski Industry: Caught between inbounds and out-of-bounds

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The Holy Grail

Crystal’s Hike to the King

It’s no secret. Untracked stashes are the Holy Grail of skiing and riding. People want their own private powder, dawn patrol sessions and access to the soon-to-be-shunned term “sidecountry” (see below). The ski industry is changing—AT gear is hot, split board sales are on the rise and “freeing the heel” is going mainstream. Seems everyone has a transceiver and skins these days.

Whether skinning up the ski area in the morning or using chairlifts to access terrain outside of the ski area boundary, those taking up this new trend in the sport are forcing the hand of ski area operators.

As a skier, I say this is great. I love to ski uncrowded and untracked slopes as much as the next gal. As a ski patroller, I wonder a little if some might venture out when they probably shouldn’t. At Crystal, I’ll be the one to go out with a headlamp after hours to look for them. As a ski area owner, I wonder what it means for the industry.

The ski industry has historically been about uphill transportation. From ropetows to Funitels, one way or another ski areas are in business to get you to the top of the mountain. Say what you will about the present state of the industry—if it weren’t for a need for people to get to the top of the mountain, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

What’s in a Name?

Uphill transportation is the name of the ski industry game

With more people venturing out of bounds, the ski industry (namely NSAA) is taking note and asking questions. Number one, they want to know what to call it. What’s been increasingly referred to as “sidecountry” can be misleading. Does that mean controlled backcountry? Gate-accessed true backcountry? Unmarked, explosive-controlled terrain? Hike to? Chairlift accessed?

Soon the term “sidecountry” will need to be more fully defined. We probably won’t even use the term anymore, returning to the more clear inbounds vs. out of bounds nomenclature. And yet, ski area marketing people love this term because it’s catchy, it’s cool and it’s embodies the zeitgeist of today’s ski consumer.

Number two, the industry wants to know how to let skiers and riders access this Holy Grail of terrain without either ruining the experience or breaking the bank. More chairlifts would obviously ruin the backcountry feel. But purchasing land or adding into a ski area’s current boundary permit might be impossible at worst or very expensive at best. Questions of public land use and wilderness designation also come into play in much of the West. In Telluride a local land owner/real estate developer, Tom Chapman, has forced the ski area to close it’s backcountry access gates into Bear Creek because skiers must cross Chapman’s 30-acre strip at the bottom of the run. Obviously this didn’t sit well with local skiers.

Off-Piste, On-Piste

Europe manages terrain much differently. It starts with land use in the Alps, where the land is owned individually or cooperatively by farmers and ranchers. In the Swiss Alps, for example, cow owners are Kings. The ski company owns the lifts, the grooming machines and many of the restaurants. Some ski areas, such as Val Thorens in France, are actually run by two separate companies—one that runs the lifts and another that runs the ski patrol and grooming. This system lends itself to their On-Piste/Off-Piste terrain management. The named pistes are inbounds. Everything else—including the moguled edges of the pistes—are all “off-piste”. If you get hurt “off-piste” you pay extra for rescue.

Patrol marks everything on the pistes—even putting large pads around the trunks of trees that lie between the piste-markers. Everything else—whether a 1,000-foot drop off at Crans-Montana or gaping crevasse in Argentiere—is unmarked. I guess they figure if you’re stupid enough to go off-piste and kill yourself, then it’s your own damn fault.

In North America, we manage terrain very specifically. Named runs are marked, avalanche hazard is mitigated through explosives and ski-cutting, and expert terrain is signed and often gated. Chances are if you find yourself atop an expert run, you passed by several signs letting you know where you were headed. We mark major hazards, put ropes around big drop offs, use signs and pigtails and reflective tape to make sure skiers and riders don’t accidentally go over a big drop. We pad every tower, whether on a named trail or on a double-black diamond run.

Crystal’s Terrain Management

At Crystal we have compartments of terrain (I wish I could think of a better term than “compartments” which seems like a selling feature of luggage, not a ski area, so I’m open to suggestions). We have our main area—including everything that isn’t accessed through a gate. Then we have Bear Pits, which is surrounded by a rope. The warning signs are all the entrance to the gate, and once you enter, you won’t see any further signage. In Northway we also post signs at the entrance gates, however you will also encounter Cliff signs and Caution signs. Southback is managed differently, with very little “improvement”. We don’t mark much out there other than a few key spots. But we do use avalanche mitigation and we also sweep it at the end of the day. So it isn’t true backcountry, nor does it fall under the suddenly ubiquitous “sidecountry” term either. It is inbounds terrain. But it feels like out-of-bounds, which is increasingly rare these days.

More and more ski areas are offering gate-accessed backcountry, such as Jackson Hole and Brighton. Once you leave the ski area boundary through a gate, you are on your own. Crystal’s “Far North” gates, marked A, B, C and D are signed and managed this way.

Where Do We Go From Here?

These questions remain:

Crystal’s Holy Grail

  1. What to call the terrain. Do we call inbounds, gated, expert terrain such as Bear Pits the same term as Southback? How does the industry keep the caché of the “sidecountry” terminology and lose the liability?
  2. How do we as an industry embrace this evolution in our sport while still keeping in mind that this is a business and needs to turn some kind of a profit to continue? In other words, if we’re in the business to provide uphill transportation and people don’t want that anymore, what the hell are we doing here plowing our parking lots and roads and paying employees?
  3. What can skiers and riders do to ensure their Holy Grail of terrain remains open and accessible?

What do you think? Is this just navel-gazing from an industry insider or questions that apply to everyone? I’d welcome comments, suggestions and discussion.