Saturday, 22 July 2017

Resort Uphilling, Chasing Angels and Fleeing Demons

The season down here has kicked off - although only just so for the BC. The resorts have been pumping out the snow, but the natural snowfall has been marginal until this week, when it is really starting to come down.

As a result, I've done some skiing in the resorts, and also done resort uphilling for the first time.

I've seen that Dynafit are seeing the potential of this new market by bringing out relatively cheap piste-orientated touring gear this next season. The advantages are many - fitness, reduced costs of skiing, autonomy to go and ski where you like...will be fascinating to see if there's more people earning turns at resorts.

It's an interesting way to ski; definitely closer to my experience of the BC, but in other ways much more like going to the gym to get a workout in. Lessons learned so far include:
  • Dawn patrol is the way to go. You get the beautiful sunrise, easy skinning up the hill, and most importantly, the whole mountain to yourself for an hour or two before lifts start turning.
Stunning - Buller at dawn
  • Another advantage is being able to work on that one part of the run that is actually stimulating. Often ski runs are a mix of easier terrain and more fun / challenging bits. No more need to ski the flats or boring stretches when you can choose when you ski back down.
  • The route getting back up can change throughout the day. Sticking to a side is a given, but as the snow changes, your skin route back up may now be the site of a sick jump that people will launch off, or some softer snow that people pop on to. Don't expect your skin track to last long. 
  • You get to see lots of different people ski - from the excellent to the beginners. The only issue I've encountered are with those folks who are intermediate skiers looking to show off their skills by skiing as close as possible to you as you skin back up. I'm watching you ski, and I can tell you that you aren't as secure in your skill set as you think! 
  • Extra calories are abundantly available...and they can definitely be needed if you go hard.
Overall, it is good to see this as a viable alternative to simply sitting on lifts, particularly in bad weather or heightened avalanche conditions. I will buy lift tickets every now and then, as the sheer quantity of descending can really benefit my skiing. Nonetheless, it's great to know that the up and the down don't have to be so far divorced from one another even in a resort.

Race skis and an almost deserted ski resort

BC Kicking Off

Snow has accumulated nicely on Bogong, and from a distance Feathertop is looking pristine. However, avalanche conditions are in effect - witness this monster:

A big slide on Bogong (skier triggered)

As has been said elsewhere, Australians have a tendency to look for the pillowy lines in the Oz BC - everything else here is often wind-scoured scratchiness. The good news is that it doesn't usually take too long for our snow to stabilise - and it is only the windloaded aspects that are really worrisome at the moment. I'll play it cautiously for the first part of winter I think.

So the plan is to take advantage of the weather windows and time off work to get out and about whenever possible - with the ultimate goal of long spring days in the alpine later in the year.

I've managed a fair bit of skiing already; besides the resort stuff, I've got up Bogong and Stirling (the later for the first time). Bogong was awesome, but in need of a tad more snow and a bit of time to settle down in terms of avalanche hazard.

Not bad for mid-July

With some dubious weather and snow stability, myself and some friends went up Stirling for the first time. There was an enjoyable approach to the summit (most of which was on skins) through beautiful native bush, and then some spectacular views to be had.

Buller from Stirling

The skiing itself was good but limited to a single, quite small area. I'd say it's a good place for a day out, but I know I'd rather be on Bogong/Feathertop or skiing the chutes across the road.

The best on offer - Stanley Bowl on Stirling

In summary, it's been a good start to the season, and I'm very much looking forward to skiing every weekend for the next few months!


Is there anymore gear to talk about?


I think I have surpassed peak gear whoredom - there's just less stuff catching my eye as I have so much gear already!

I've acquired the Ski Trab Gara Titan Release binding, and so far they have been excellent. I'm starting to see that having a heel piece with some kind of lateral elasticity is often the key to staying in a tech binding. My Trabs have a release value around 12, and have been excellent in all conditions so far.

Ski Trab Gara Titan Release 12 with ATK adjustment plate

The toe piece is a bit unique in terms of entry, but has a simple and reliable function. I'm looking to run this binding on my daily driver and powder skis for this season.

My favorite ski presently has got to be my Minims. Going uphill is never easy, but these things almost make it so. On the down, they are snappy, stiff and reliable - they are pretty much everything that a skimo stick should be. They have seriously grippy edges, a no frills-design and enough underfoot to handle the snow I've encountered so far. And then there are the transitions - ridiculously fast! When you see other skiers still plodding uphill after you've ripped skins and are descending, you can start to see how addictive these little beasties are.

 Light never felt so right - Minims on the summit of the Big Fella

The fixings for the above are an ATK Revolution toe and a Plum 170 Race heel, coming in at 300g for the pair. I'm liking being closer to my skis too - less ramp angle as well as lower height overall. I'm looking to mount some of my other skis in a similar manner - less use of adjustment plates and shims, more proximity to the ski underfoot. Sounds promising.


Winter is Not Spring - No Matter How Fast You Travel


Lightweight BC gear is addictive, and it is hard to go back to weightier options. I've only been up Bogong once so far this season, but besides some shoddy packing, I was definitely on the less well equipped end of the spectrum. No thermal bottoms, winter mitts, spare socks or waterproof trail runners - all things that would have made life more comfortable and easier.

I think that I'll be splitting my gear into winter and spring groups; if only to remind myself that there's only so much moving you can do to keep warm in the mountains, and that cutting weight shouldn't cut too deeply into safety and comfort margins. Deep down I know that I'll keep cutting down the weight as much as practicable in pursuit of more human-powered turns...

More Mad Max memes needed




I think this moment happens to me at the start of every season - I have this feeling of trepidation...what if my love for skiing has waned? I've invested a considerable amount of time, energy and cash in this pursuit, all on the pretense that the passion I felt last time I BC'd is still there.

But then it all comes back, and I remember what a deep affinity I have with the mountains. It can be hard, intimidating, work at sit with uncertainty and self-doubt, especially when you just want to be told that everything will be good and to have someone point the way for you (both in the BC and ordinary life).

Maybe that is the kind of absurd tension that people like Camus have written about - seeking and venerating freedom whilst seeing the sometimes barren plane that can be man left to his own devices. Some wise words provide some succour:

The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. (Erich Fromm)

That next turn on that steep slope could equally be personal ruin or ephemeral transcendence. It could be an expression of love or an emphatic rejection. As Fromm says, the difference between those two states is in our control - by living productively, passionately and with notion of unfolding our powers and purpose within the world.

I'm trying to focus more on being immersed in the moment in which I am, and to remember that the presence of mountains in my life is a form of love that has many dimensions and feels deeply moving. That's worth being grateful for.

I also love skiing steep scary shit. Add that to the list.

Team Weasel

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