Ski mountaineering is kind of perfectly balanced in many ways - just like climbing felt when it was my primary addiction. The technical, psychological and physical aspects are all important in equal measure, making it feel like nothing is missing when I am having a great time in the mountains.
And when I say skimo, to me it differs from ski touring in one fundamental way - steepness. As Andy Kirkpatrick said, a climb is only a climb if your dead body slides off the mountain. Similarly, you go from ski touring to skimo when the terrain and consequences become quite serious.
A steepish couloir in Hakuba
But one side of my triangle of skimo competence has been letting me down - my technical skiing ability has been pretty ordinary. That came to a head on a steep but short face in Hakuba. I was in the back seat, burning quads and side slipping when I should have been turning. And then came the avalanche debris the size of small boulders, which resulted in a snapped whippet and a lost helmet. I lost my shit and went berko - at one point I was flinging my skis down the valley in rage as I stumbled over frozen blocks of debris. It was a truly shit time, and much of the seething hatred came from the realization that I had spent much time, effort and money in this pursuit over the past couple of years, and yet I still skied like a spaz.
Then came the breakthrough - flexing at the ankles. For some reason that hadn't been imparted to me by the several ski instructors I've paid to do fuck all to help me improve. There's still some improvements to be made, but I've come a long way by just pushing on that front cuff and trying to feel the pressure through the front/middle of my foot. As always, steep committing terrain is the test, and I look forward to seeing how I've improved in the Oz BC this year.
I've jumped a ways ahead - I got a couple of weeks in Hakuba this spring (for them). Firstly, in the future I will go a week or so earlier - mid to late April is getting rainy, and the snow pack deteriorated quite a bit in my time there. I went over intending on camping, but didn't get my Direkt 2 vestibule in time...so I did the hotel thing. That worked out in that Hakuba was almost deserted (particularly of obnoxious round eyes). Unfortunately, it stung the bank balance more than I would have liked. In the future, I'll either camp up high or down low; apparently there is a campground reasonably close to Happo.
When the weather was agreeable, conditions were really good. Sweet corn on many faces, some wind blown aspects, some icy areas on the ridges - typical skimo fare. Rain did precipitate some significant avalanche activity towards the end of my stay. Lots of naturally triggered stuff north of Happo. Other faces seemed to hold up well though. I got several really good days in the BC, and did a few days in the resort too when the weather wasn't so great. One highlight was on a particularly clear day when I could see Fuji from high on Happo ridge.
I also visited my second favorite animal in the world: snow monkeys!
For the record, the Kea is still number one.
Beautiful, mischievous and a complete bad arse - the world's only alpine parrot
Besides the ski technique evolution, there were some interesting learning points for me to take away:
1. Climbing really big mountains is hard work, so make sure you've got a worthy objective with alternates in mind.
2. I really noticed the effect of human factors on decision making this trip. Sometimes I made some questionable choices - one's that didn't result in bad consequences, but all the same were motivated by the wrong reasons (ie. trying to prove something to myself)
3. I'm getting interested in peak enchainments and long distance stuff. And possibly even some skimo racing.
There's still quite a few lines in Hakuba that I would love to ski, so I'm sure I'll be back again. More photos below:
There was a skimo race while I was there. Wish I knew more Japanese - might have even been able to enter.
Nice to see some race skis for a change
The debris field of my hissy fit
Super Mario Kart in real life...only in Tokyo
Sunset in Tokyo
Capsule hotels are interesting experiences!
The gear washup is pretty simple - all my gear did an awesome job. The Backland Ultralight 85s were fantastic. They did everything well, from groomers to slushy afternoon corn. They even coped well with the crud-infested conditions that Happo would throw up in the afternoons. The Atomic skins were also a surprise star - the glue initially felt underwhelming, but they were fast and reliable on the up, and light and easily stowed on the way down.
Atomic Backland Ultralight 85s about to drop a tasty couloir
The Salomon Minims also got some action - more resort than BC at this stage. In a word, they are addictive. There's something about railing on a skinny, light ski that is just pure fun. They did struggle in the aforementioned crud, but that happens when your whole setup weighs about 3.6kg! I'm really looking forward to skiing both these skis more in the forthcoming winter, where they will be doing battle for the title of daily driver in Australian conditions.
3.65kg of sweet skimo rig
I gave the ATK Revolutions a spin or two as well. They were super light, had lovely operation, and even facilitated an effortless vertical release in a forward fall. Lateral release is not on, but that's the compromise you make when you put on the big boy pants. In my experience, lateral heel release on race bindings is a bit too easy for my liking, especially when it's icy and you don't want to go for a slide. I can chuck on the Plum 170 heel if I'm being ultra-concerned, but in reality I'll more often be using a fixed heel (eg. Dynafit Expedition or the Revolution heel). Further testing will determine if they are capable of driving skis like the Backlands (and another candidate I'll mention later).
My boots were great - the ever reliable TLT 6 and the nimble Syborg - the later will need a bit of an adjustment in that they need just a couple more degrees of forward lean.
I did spend more coin than I expected on gear too - this time mostly on clothing. In the last couple of months I've grabbed the Montane Minimus 777 jacket, and now I've also added a light pair of Mont Bell goretex pants and the uber light Plasma 1000 puffy. These items do have less durability, but the weight saving is outstanding, and they performed excellently in their brief usages in Japan. Even more so, it has freed up a considerable amount of space in my pack - to the point where a 20ish liter daypack is more than enough for my spring days in the mountains.
The only bit of gear that I'm eying off now is a lighter powder ski. The Huascaran comes in at 3.6kg, whilst the ZeroG 108 is 3.3kg - which are not heavy by many people's standards. But these things are on sale:
Movement Alp Tracks 100 Ltd
That's 2.43kg for a pair of powder skis...which is 100g more than my Backlands. And if my skimo race bindings and Syborgs can handle them, that would give me a 4.6kg powder setup for superb agility in the mountains in winter.
The next couple of months are all about the training for our winter - hoping to get out for a hike or two as well.