Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A New Degree of Difficulty

It's been a while between posts, but that's not a bad thing if you've been skiing.



I managed to get several days in the backcountry before the storm cycles have been going through. So far there's been considerable precipitation this season, but this has sometimes fallen as rain, and other times has been subject to significant wind effect. Still, there's been some great skiing so far, and there should be plenty more - unless spring brings the rain (which we have already had a taste of this winter...as in 100mm in an evening at one point!)

Ski touring snakes and ladders on a gentle north facing bowl on Bogong

Very early in the season I had a bit of a crisis due to identifying some technical shortcomings in my skiing technique. I've been known to visit the backseat too often, and make considerable use of skidding rather than carving in my turns. A combination of a lesson, some reading and some focused practice has helped address the problem, but I still feel that I have some way to go to becoming the ski mountaineer I'd like to be, and that's not a bad thing.

In addition, the new skis have upped the technical ante. I've spent quite a bit of time on the Blizzard Zero G 85, and have been very impressed with them so far. They are stiff, have excellent edges and are amazingly light. This comes at a cost: this ski requires attentive driving and good, firm pressure control. These things have been described as an expert-level ski for a reason! It can be punishing of backseat positions, but when ridden well, this ski is an excellent ski mountaineering tool.

An impressive combo at 5.4kg - Zero G 85, TLT6 and ATK Raider 12 2.0

Another exciting prospect was finally laying eyes on the Audax area of Bogong. For whatever reason I just hadn't poked my head over that ridge (or the east side of Eskdale). After seeing and skiing both these areas, I may have to reassess my intention to spend most of this winter at Feathertop. There was some excellent steep terrain, but it is also tempered with the recognition that both these areas are avalanche slopes due to their (largely) leeward aspects.

Audax area - skied the line just to viewer's right of rock outcrop

Given the recent storms and a bit of a wrist injury (thanks to a first encounter with breakable crust), I've done some time in the resorts. This has caused some internal ambivalence, but there's no denying the benefits of getting lots of downhill in to develop my technique. It also have me an opportunity to test out various bits of gear, like the ZG 85's big brother - the Blizzard Zero G 108.

I skied the ZG 108 for about half a day in softish resort conditions, and was very impressed. It is a bit softer in flex than the 85, but retains the amazing edge hold of its little bro. It weighs in at 3.3kg, and is very maneuverable for its size. This will be the ski of choice for Japan later in the year, and perhaps some days in Oz when it buckets down.

Quiver update

Another winner has been the TLT 6 Performance CL. This has been more than enough boot for my style of skiing - I'm not going to be blasting down mellow faces at warp speed. I'm attracted to skiing steep terrain with objective hazards, and the TLT6 is plenty of boot for that, whilst remaining light and excellent for climbing/skinning/hiking.

The Salomon Mtn Lab has been acquired, and whilst promising, the extra weight and incompatibility with gaiters have reduced its usage - along with me not needing that little bit of extra stiffness that it provides. However, I won't pass a final judgement on these until I've had some more time to compare these two boots.

Playing with some of the toys

I also managed a bit of time on the Voile Vector, and think that I may be selling these on. The 180cm length is definitely on the long side for me, and both the Zero G skis outperform the Vector. I've also moved the Chugach on - I'm being ruthless on the quiver at the moment to the point where I can see it going down to two skis for a while.

The final bit of kit that has impressed has been the Black Diamond Mission 75 backpack.

Loaded for Bogong

This pack is based on the successful BD Speed line of climbing packs. It is simple, sturdy and light (1.6kg). It doesn't tack on unnecessary features; it has side compression straps for skis, ice tool attachments and a crampon slot, and that's about it. Internally, it has considerable volume, and is notable for having a massive (removable) top pocket, which has at least a 10 to 15 liter capacity. I couple this with a super-light Dynafit skimo race pack (like the Broad Peak 28 or Cho Oyu 35) for a great system - Mission 75 for the walk in, Dynafit pack for light and fast travel once on the mountain.

I'm sure there's many other items that I could mention, but I think I've done enough gear chat for now.

The other day I watched the Australian Story episode on Paul Pritchard - the guy who had a severe fall whilst climbing the Totem Pole in Tazzie. His story was fascinating, and he said a couple of things that resonated with me.

He spoke about how he has felt moments in the mountains and whilst climbing where if you were to die, you'd be ok with that. Whilst this doesn't mean that I seek out danger, there have been moments when the joy and sublimity of being in the mountains makes me understand how Paul felt. It feels odd to describe the relationship to a mountain as I climb and ski it, but for me there is a spiritual exchange of some sort...which kind of relates to his other point about how many of us experience transcendence in the mountains.

For me, there's few better ways of being engaged with the present moment and with the world around me than with ski mountaineering. I feel attuned with my surroundings (which is helpful in staying alive too), appreciative of the beauty and connected to my body in a very immediate way. Just like Sisyphus and his rock, the repeatedly going up only to come back down aspect of ski mountaineering, the stunning landscape, the myriad forms of weather, the simplicity of life...all this and more make it what it is to me.

Maybe Camus said it best - The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.

Imagine what he would have said if he knew how good the down was too...

Team Weasel

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