Spring is in sight!

The days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising and spring skiing is starting to take shape. When most people think of heli-skiing they picture ice cold days and blower powder, but how many people have ever experienced backcountry corn skiing? It’s true that a good day corn skiing can rival most powder days, in fact Powderbird has clientele who strategically book in later March or early April to have a better shot at getting into a corn cycle. Few events in life can compete with the content feeling of being in the Wasatch backcountry, skiing out of a helicopter on a bluebird spring day. Most spring days start out earlier in the morning than in mid-winter due to the direct sunlight factor, we try and get on the snow before it gets to warm and return around noon or one. Smaller groups mean faster laps and you do need to move somewhat quickly to get as many corn laps in as you can before it gets to sticky. The day is complete with BBQ and a few beers on our deck, basking in the sunlight continuing to work on your goggle tan.

Utah is known for the having the “Greatest Snow on Earth” and just because it’s spring out there doesn’t mean people are skiing in t-shirts. Every year it seems like Utah is blessed with an epic spring time dump of powder. This powder is good for a few days conditions and temperatures permitting. After a day or two of powder skiing the warmer days and direct sunlight can turn this powder into a corn cycle sought after by skiers in the “know”. Most of Utah is in “bike mode” at this point and the backcountry can be deserted from foot and snowmobile traffic. The sense of exclusivity and extreme beauty is almost overwhelming as you stand in the warmth of the sunlight about to drop into your run.

Come ski with Powderbird in the spring, there is nothing like it.

2012 Season Update

The heli-skiing season starts on December 15, sometimes. The 2011/2012 was not one to boast about hitting opening day to say the least. Waiting patiently brought way to many groomer laps, climbing sessions and hikes along Wasatch trails all of which kept locals fit and healthy while they waited. And waited. And waited. Then, finally, on January 21st the skies became ominously dark, the winds picked up and the snow came down. And it snowed for two straight days with some 60 plus inches falling in 48 hours.

With that much new snow Powderbird and backcountry enthusiasts alike were faced with stability issues. Terrain had to be thoughtfully chosen and guides had to keep a very cautious approach to backcountry skiing.The first few groups who got to dip their skis into the first big Utah dump were the lucky ones; blue skis, fresh snow and cold temperatures made the opening day of Powderbird fantastic! The official date, January 27, 2012.

The sunshine lasted for ten days with low wind and visibility stretching for miles. These conditions allowed Powderbird to fly every day, taking many clients out for the best days of the early year. February and March historically deliver the most snow in Utah making the the latter part of the heli season full of fresh backcountry turns. Powderbird is looking forward to the next eight weeks of heli-skiing with our friends.

The most anticipated time of the year!

As the leftovers of Thanksgiving feasts slowly diminish along with hours of day light, those who don’t ski are dreading the onslaught of the cold and snow. There exists however a special breed of individual who crave blizzards, watch ski movies with almost as much frequency as the weather channel and feel they look the most fashionable in bright colored ski gear while sporting a goggle tan. These people are ready to be engulfed in powdery goodness from coast to coast.

The ski culture around the country and around the world never ceases to amaze me; I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to ski multiple 120 plus day seasons, ski in numerous countries on different hemispheres, year round. From my observations the snow is always the variable when you travel to different mountains; some places have light fluff while others have firm hard pack even after a storm. Some ski hills have one lane, dirt access roads while some have interstate highways practically at the base. Rope tows, nut crackers, rusty doubles, super quads and high speed trams whisk the masses up the hill, while the more accomplished jump in a helicopter headed for the backcountry. Among all these different scenarios of snow, lifts, access roads and helicopters the one constant is the passion and joy on people’s faces after they have just had “the best run ever!”

A high percentage of the skiing population is unable to make a living hurling themselves down a snow covered hill; my theory is that hurling themselves down a snow covered hill is their escape from the grind and daily monotony that can be life. Hence the look of joy and excitement plastered to their faces. When you add in deep snow, powerful helicopters and steep terrain, that look of joy and excitement grows exponentially. So today, December 5, 2011 the skiing is good, not great and not what it will be in February, but as the storms roll in a start dumping snow, the anxious feeling is slowly subsiding. The anticipation however, is still at its peak.

Skiing Halloween Costumes

Need a last minute costume? In the spirit of Halloween we’ve compiled a list of the best ski industry related costumes. Please feel free to add your favorite ski costume in the comments section.

Warren Miller

Following his latest feature-length release, “Like There’s No Tomorrow”, Warren Miller is still very much part of the ski industry’s “in” crowd. Grab an old winter sweater, a video camera, and take to the streets. You may also get some interesting footage.

Tanner Hall (or any other popular freeskier)

Choose your favorite freeskier to emulate on Halloween. Some suggestions:

  • oversized ski pants
  • baggy beanie
  • tall tee
  • GoPro attached to your head/chest/ski pole
  • rockstar hat/shirt (or sponsor of your choice)
  • maybe even a gold chain to complete the look

Ski Utah Yeti

Might be a warm costume, but the yeti is always a crowd pleaser.

80s Skier

Go to your local thrift store and track down a one-piece. Complete the look with a neon colored headband. Here’s the one-piece that’s hanging in my closet. And your Halloween costume will double as a perfect Closing Day costume…

Other Ideas

No one knows your local ski culture better than you. Choose an eclectic local. Or a local trend (i.e. fur boots/accessories at Deer Valley). A local hero or ski resort owner. The options are endless.

Happy Halloween!

How to get in shape for your next heliski trip

It’s that time of year. The ski resorts begin to open within the next month, and the holidays–and obligatory food binging–will follow close behind. We all know how hectic this time of year can be, with all the holiday parties, family gatherings, spending quality time with the kids, and work deadlines. Not to mention the stress of holiday shopping and new year’s resolutions. Before you know it, you’re boarding a plane to Utah, and you brought along a few extra ‘winter layers’. And I’m not talking about your North Face down jacket. Don’t let this happen to you. Make the most our of your ski and heliski vacations by getting in shape before you land at the resort.

Say 'no' to your fourth serving of holiday cookies...

 SAMPLE ROUTINE FOR HELISKI CONDITIONING

It’s important to commit to a full body conditioning program (endurance and strength training).  Whatever you decide on, stick to it. Set aside at least 30 minutes, 3-4 days of the week for conditioning. Don’t have a gym membership? No problem. There are tons of workouts you can do in your living room to get ready for your heliski trip. This is just a small sample of the many types of conditioning programs that will help get you in skiing shape. When you start to struggle with motivation and become distracted, keep in mind that this well help you enjoy your ski vacation!

Endurance Training

Prepare your heart and body for long-term skiing. Create a simple cardio routine that you can stick to throughout the next few months. Aim for 20 to 45 minutes of steady cardio 3 to 5 days a week. Here are some suggestions:

  • Running. It doesn’t have to be outdoors. Hit up your employer for a gym membership, many companies will either subsidize or entirely cover fitness memberships.
  • Elliptical machine. Good motion to simulate skiing.
  • Swimming. Although it doesn’t mimic skiing at all, it is an amazing full body workout.
  • Gym classes. Many gyms offer 60-minute instructor guided routines. Take advantage of these. It’s always easier to motivate yourself within a support network.
  • Hiking. Before it gets too cold or snowy get outside and enjoy the fall colors with a friend. Get bonus points by bringing the kids and the dog.

Try a variety of pace and intensity throughout the week. We suggest one ‘sprint’ session and one longer (approx 60 mix) low intensity routine.

Strength Training

  • Squats. These are key for aspiring skiers. Start small. Try 3 sets of 10 repetitions each. Want more of a challenge? Do one set of wide-stance squats, one set with narrow-stance, one set with only your left leg, and one set with only your right leg. Here are some other variations on the traditional squat.
  • Lunges. Equally important conditioning routine. Grab some moderate weights and do 30 lunges, alternately which leg is forward. Here is an example of how to do a proper lunge, along with variations on the routine.
  • Deadlifts. Get your hamstrings in ski shape by doing 2 sets of 20 deadlifts. Start with a moderate barbell (15 or 20 lbs) and increase as you build muscle strength.
  • Abs & back. Some suggestions: bicycles (2 sets of 20 reps), lat pull downs (3 sets of 12), and back extensions (2 sets of 15 reps)
  • Calf raises. 3 sets of 20 reps. Add weight to increase resistance.
  • Biceps (12 reps). One standard set, one set of hammer curls, one set where you only extend to your waist (top half), and one set where your range is from your thigh up until your waist, and back down (lower half).
  • Triceps (12 reps). 2-3 sets of each: Tricep kickbacks, skull crushers, and close-grip bench press. Feeling ambitious? Throw in some dips as well.

Flexibility Training

As a complement to endurance and strength training, try some simple stretch and yoga routines. Stretching will help reduce injury, increase your range of motion and ease muscle tension. It can also help enhance recovery. Give it a shot.

Here’s a catelog of yoga poses. Local yoga classes are a great way to get started.

Want more inspiration? Check out one of these ski-tested routines:

Good luck—see you on the slopes!

Patagonia 2011 Season Wrap-up

This post is contributed by Justin Lozier, Powderbird guide and PatagoniaSkiTours.com Owner & Head Guide. Patagonia Ski Tours offer full service guided ski tours of the beautiful Patagonian Region of Southern Argentina. Tours include guided backcountry hut skiing and hut-to-hut ski touring adventures, volcano ski tours, wine tours, and city tours of Argentina’s captivating capital, Buenos Aires.

PATAGONIA 2011 SEASON WRAP

By the time the snow finally began to melt out in the Wasatch, sometime in late-July, I was already preparing for another adventure in South America, where the snow was just beginning to pile up. This year, along with my wife, I was joined by Snowbird ski patroller and local photojournalist, Sean Zimmerman-Wall.

Flying over the Great Salt Lake

Our trip began at the Salt Lake City International Airport, carrying our massive ski bags and other luggage through the terminal. After checking our bags and clearing security, it was onto Houston, where we had time for a quick dinner before boarding our flight to the southern continent. Ten hours and five thousand miles later, we were landing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We spent one night in the capital to celebrate my birthday with all of our friends and family, and they all wished us luck on our journey further south.

Justin about to enjoy an Argentine asado for his birthday

The following morning, Sean and I boarded a bus bound for San Carlos de Bariloche, located in the lake district of northern Patagonia. The city lights faded away as we left the outer limits of Buenos Aires, and we were soon traveling over the vast pampas of central Argentina. We were wined and dined while we watched the sun set on the Patagonian steppe, and we went over our plans for the first days of the trip. As we drifted off to sleep, we knew that we would be waking up to beautiful sights of snow-covered peaks.

Sean and Justin on the bus to Bariloche

Just as we had hoped for, we were greeted with a fresh white blanket of snow, covering everything but the road as we arrived in the lake district. Some friends of ours met us at the bus terminal, and we headed straight up to the Cerro Catedral ski resort to sample the offerings of the latest storm. We spent the afternoon carving big lines on alpine faces covered in deep powder. At the end of the day, Sean and I headed up to Punta Princesa, the southern peak of the resort, to dig a snow profile and study the snow. To our delight, we discovered a stable snowpack with a total depth of 2.5 meters (8+ feet). The group reconvened in the parking lot to celebrate a great first day and kick-off of our 2011 ski season. Our friends left us at our lodging, near the coast of Lago Nahuel Huapi, and we bid them farewell.

Sean deep in the snowpit

The next three days were spent guiding our first guests of the season, two Italian skiers from Milan, Edoardo and Filippo. We took them to the best lift-accessed backcountry terrain at Cerro Catedral, including some big alpine bowls with spine features and cliffs, steep couloirs, and even a bit of low-angle powder skiing in the glades. Their last day was supposed to have been spent heliskiing with us, as part of Powderbird International’s Argentina program, but at the last minute, they had to cancel. They were in the middle of a month-long ski trip, from northern Chile to Southern Argentina, and they just could not fit it in their budget. Nonetheless, we had an excellent time with them, and we are hoping they will join us for some heliskiing in the Wasatch this winter.

Edoardo charging through the pow in La Laguna

La Canaleta

As we bid farewell to one pair of guests, two more showed up from the United States. John, a Utah local sent to us by Powderbird International, was looking to join us for some heliskiing in the Andes and to experience the wonders of Patagonia during his week-long stay in the region. While meeting him at his lodging, we met another fellow yankee who was in search of the same. We took the two of them out for a tour around town and stopped for lunch to enjoy a local beer and some delicious empanadas – basically a meal in a pocket of dough. The following day’s weather was less than desirable, and all of the upper-elevation chair lifts were closed, so we just skied the piste and got the two of them acquainted with the area. John ended up having some logistical problems on his trip, so he had to return home earlier than expected. Nonetheless, we carried on with our new guest, also named Jon. The storm passed, leaving us with a bit of fresh snow, and we had a two day weather window to work with. We decided to use this opportunity to bring Jon out to one of our favorite places in the world, Refugio Frey, a European-style stone hut located in the Andean wilderness behind the ski resort. The morning was spent dialing in all of our gear and preparing for up to three days out in the mountains. One of the great things about this particular mountain hut is that it is manned year-round by friendly caretakers, serving up warm food, cold drinks and good vibes. Not needing to carry three days’ worth of food made our packs much lighter.

Sean and Justin planning the trip to Refugio Frey

We embarked on our adventure that afternoon, heading up the Sextuple Express chair at Cerro Catedral loaded with gear. After hiking out of the resort, behind Punta Princesa, we descended into the beautiful Van Titter Valley down an excellent run in which we found some great cold snow. Celebration ensued  as we each reached the valley bottom, and we were immediately hit by its silent serenity. We switched to uphill mode and skinned up through the ‘spooky forest’, pushing us further into the backcountry. We arrived at the hut just as the sun was setting on the iconic granite spires. Our hosts met us at the door, and we ordered up a round of pizza and beer to warm our souls. We got settled into our sleeping arrangements on the upper level and changed into our more relaxed hut-roaming attire. After dinner, we spent the evening enjoying some whiskey on snow while we gazed into the starry southern sky. The stars out at Refugio Frey are the most beautiful I have ever seen.

Justin opening up a run into Valle Van Titter

Jon and Justin skinning out toward the hut

The clouds had already moved in by the time we had finished breakfast, and they were beginning to lower, obscuring visibility in the peaks. We had two choices: return to Bariloche immediately by skiing down valley and traversing around the cordillera to the ski resort, or spend the next two days hunkered down in the hut, waiting for the storm to pass. While the latter was surely a better choice from a powder skiing perspective, giving us the ability to ski the steep cirque surrounding the hut in complete solitude, we chose the former option and left the hut in the afternoon and made our way down to the end of the Van Titter Valley. It was clearly the safer and wiser choice, so we weren’t too bummed out about having to leave the hut earlier than expected.

Refugio Frey

Traversing around the cordillera to return to the Cerro Catedral parking lot is quite an adventure, to say the least. This was my second time doing it, even after vowing to never repeat it after the first. This journey is filled with several primitive bridge crossings and undulating terrain through thick forest, at times full of bamboo canes ready to whack you at any time. After many hours of trekking, we reached the parking lot and headed straight to a local bar to enjoy an ice-cold Quilmes beer while we waited for our driver to pick us up.

Jon crossing the bridge over Arroyo Van Titter

Since we had returned from Refugio Frey earlier than expected, we now had some extra time on our hands. Sean and I had previously planned on heading further south to the town of Esquel to ski at the La Hoya ski area, and Jon was keen on joining us on our journey. That night, we arranged for a three-day rental of a new Volkswagen Amarok Turbo Diesel double cab pickup truck, and we threw all of our equipment in the payload. After a quick breakfast, we left our lodging early in the morning, just before sunrise. Passing shimmering lakes and soaring peaks, we arrived in the town of El Bolson two hours later. While passing through El Bolson, we were joined on the road by a brand-new Pisten Bully snowcat being pulled on a trailer, and we wondered where it was going. Continuing south, we were once again traveling over the Patagonian steppe, a sharp contrast from the lush mountain environment we had been in previously. We were welcomed to Esquel by a large snowman with skis on his back, and we all felt the good vibe of this small mountain town.

Welcome to Esquel!

Since we had arrived so quickly, completing the whole drive in about 3 ½ hours, we decided to head straight up to La Hoya to ski for the remainder of the afternoon. A half-day pass at La Hoya was only about $22 USD, so it was easy to get our money’s worth. We hiked around the huge alpine bowls in search of good, wind-buffed snow, and we found some excellent skiing conditions in the steep, protected couloirs. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the spa at our accommodations, the Plaza Esquel, relaxing us into a nice evening siesta. We went out for dinner and ended up going out on the town afterward. After some bad luck at the casino, we found a cool little blues club that was featuring a great blues guitarist from San Francisco. How he got there, I have no idea, but I guess he could have asked us the same question.

Justin skiing the steeps at La Hoya

The streets of Esquel

Our second and final day at La Hoya was full of hiking to ski steep lines, exploring more of its lift-accessed backcountry terrain, and enjoying the mellow atmosphere of the place. While buying some topographical maps in Bariloche before leaving, we had heard of an unknown ski area in El Bolson called Cerro Perito Moreno. It sounded intriguing, so we headed up there after our final night in Esquel. It had snowed about 8” overnight, making the dirt road up to the ski area pretty difficult to manage. We made it up to the vacant parking lot and were surprised to see the new Pisten Bully that we had seen on the road earlier being assembled out in the middle of the lot. Our excitement for skiing powder easily overpowered our curiosity of the snowcat, and we immediately loaded the fixed double chair at the base. This ski area currently has only one chair lift, one poma lift, and two beginner rope tows at mid mountain. If you’ve got skins, the rest of the mountain is ripe for the picking. It’s like lift-accessed ski touring! We enjoyed some great skiing through untouched pine forests, and even on the piste, before skinning up for laps in the upper alpine terrain. The top of the mountain is not currently serviced by any lifts, and it terminates on a massive plateau, facing several glaciated peaks towering above. The ski touring opportunities at this place are incredible. After a few powder laps, we continued down to the lot and headed back to Bariloche.

Sean floating through the powder at Cerro Perito Moreno

Bariloche had received 16” of snow by the time we got back, and the storm was looking to lift in the morning. Sean and I were scheduled to be on the 3 pm bus to Buenos Aires, so we put together a carefully crafted plan to make the most of the bonus day we had been blessed with. Jon had to leave that morning, so he was not able to enjoy this final day with us. Trying to hide our excitement for skiing 16” of fresh snow on a nearly empty Cerro Catedral, we said our goodbyes to Jon and headed up to the mountain. Sean and I arrived at the Sextuple Express right as it started spinning, and we got on one of the first chairs of the day. As we neared the top, we noticed that the Nubes chair was not running. This was good news for us, as that is exactly where we had planned to go. We jumped onto the Punta Nevada quad, and headed toward the summit. After asking permission from ski patrol, we crossed the closure ropes and skinned up to the top of Punta Nevada (aka, ‘Nubes’). The morning views were absolutely incredible, with fresh white snow all around, beautiful blue skies above, and Lago Nahuel Huapi in the distance.

Skinning up to Punta Nevada with Lago Nahuel Huapi in the background

We were the first to reach the summit, but not by far. We noticed a few other people making their way up the peak, so we made haste. Our first run was right down the gut of the main face, marking our signatures on the pristine blankets of powder. Needless to say, stoke levels were high, and we promptly returned to the Punta Nevada chair to make another lap. By this time, a few others had also skied the face, and a bootpack had been established. We followed the bootpack up to the summit once again and set our targets on the slightly lower-angled wide face near the Nubes lift line, as it was still untouched. This turned out to be an excellent choice. One at a time, we made high-speed GS turns all the way down the face, on perfectly spongy powder snow. We felt like condors soaring through the Andes, and wondered for a moment if we might take flight. This turned out to be the best run of the day… Zen.

Zen

The two of us decided that we had just enough time for one more quick lap on Punta Nevada, before we had to meet our driver, Hugo, in the parking lot at noon. After charging one more hot lap from the summit, we skied down to the parking lot and loaded our gear into Hugo’s vehicle. We packed our bags and enjoyed a farewell beer with our host, Javier, atop our mountain of gear. Shortly thereafter, we were on the bus heading back to Buenos Aires. We bid farewell to the town we love, as we watched it fade into the distance. Before we knew it, we were sipping wine on the bus, cruising across the Patagonian steppe, just as we had begun this adventure. Reclining in our Super Cama seats, sleep came easily, and we were in Buenos Aires by 10:00 the following morning.

A farewell beer with our host, Javier, atop our mountain of gear

As it turned out, we had arrived to the capital the same day as our Italian friends, Edoardo and Filippo, so we took them on a tour of the city. Joined by my wife, a Buenos Aires native, we took them on an adventure through La Boca, the heart and birthplace of  Argentine tango culture. Amidst the passionate and romantic energy of the art, music and dance of this colorful culture, we enjoyed an excellent meal, consisting of lomito completo sandwiches – thin cut steak, ham, cheese, fried egg, lettuce, tomato… perfection between two pieces of bread. Upon returning to our home neighborhood of Recoleta, we all enjoyed a much needed siesta, before heading out for our final night on the town.

The colored buildings of Caminito in La Boca

The destination for the night was a formerly secret party, not-so-secret anymore, located at the horse track in San Isidro, a large suburb on the northern outskirts of downtown Buenos Aires. It is called Darwin. This event is known to host as many as 5,000 people, and it has been a weekly favorite of ours for years. Luckily for us, we gained VIP access and entered immediately, thanks to our local connections, avoiding us the hour wait in line. Before we knew it, we were in the crowd of young Porteños, dancing to the booming beats of world DJs. The scene is huge, with a lot going on, people moving all around, several bars scattered throughout the venue with lights flashing, music bumping and dancing… lots of dancing. When it gets to be too much, one needs to only step outside onto the grandstand of the horse track and enjoy the cool late night air and the quiet serenity of the track. As always, we had a great time at Darwin, and we then returned to the city center to finish the night with a late night meal. So ended another night in the ‘Paris of the Americas’, and we gave our last farewells to our departing guests. It was the perfect end to the perfect trip.

The whole crew partying at Darwin

Tips for choosing the best powder skis

It’s officially fall in Utah! We are now just two months away from everyone’s favorite time of year—ski season. This is also the time of year when skiers start itching for some of the ‘latest and greatest’ gear available. There’s a lot out there. It can be overwhelming. Powderbird is here to help you find your next favorite powder planks.

2011-2012 Powder Ski Guide

There are tons of great new skis this season in all categories—park & pipe, all-mountain, telemark—but we’re going to focus on the best powder skis on the market. After all, powder is our specialty. It’s a hard task to narrow down the field, so we’re using Powder and Ski Magazines’ gear test insights to add some authority.

Salomon Rocker 2

Selected as the first round, pick two in the powder category, Salomon’s Rocker 2 is clearly one of the top contenders in the powder category this season.

Powder Magazine’s Rocker 2 review

“The Rocker 2 is effortlessly stable, yet fast, light and nimble. This ski delivered super-star carving pow turns in the wide-open, as well as easy quickness in tighter steeps. It felt super floaty and it was easy to maneuver in any situation.” — AJ Cargill, Teton Village Sports, Merchandise Manager

Salomon Rocker 2 (2012)

“The Rocker 2 makes skiing powder easy, ’nuff said! It is fat, lively, and tip/tail rocker allow the ski to float in the deepest of snow. It is lightweight but solid underfoot where it counts.” — Mike Trioli, Alta’s Deep Powder House, Manager

The Rocker 2 was penalized a bit in Ski Magazine’s tester review due to it’s lack of versatility. But if you’re looking for a true powder ski, check out Salomon’s new Rocker 2:

“It’s a powder specialist, to be sure, and testers had to penalize it for lack of versatility. But the Rocker 2 does what it does-surf powder-extremely well, and it was the guys who ski the most powder who were the most excited about it.”

Features

Full woodcore with honeycomb inserts in tip and tail • Powder Rocker • Edge free extremities • Dimensions 142-122-132

4-FRNT CRJ

The CRJ went as the first round, first pick powder selection. Here’s why:

Powder Magazine 4-FRNT CRJ Review

“With traditional sidecut and camber, this ski is a real dream in powder, pops like a park ski, and is light enough to sling over the shoulder on a bootpack. The CRJ is comfortable anywhere. Just like C.R. was.” — Mike Rogge, Editor Powder Magazine

4FRNT CRJ (2012)

The CRJ combines camber underfoot-for hard snow performance-and rocker in the tip and tail-for playfulness and float. The tip and tail also taper from the widest point of the ski to further improve the ski’s soft snow performance.

Features

Hi-Lite wood-core block • Deflect ABS sidewall • Dampening system • 45-degree Q45 fiberglass • Glosstop topsheet • ISO-SPORT sintered 2000 base • 360 full wrap edge • Dimensions 126-115-124

Rossignol Super 7

Rossignol’s Super 7 rounds out the elite top 3 in Powder Magazine’s Fantasy Draft–powder category.

Powder Magazine Rossignol Super 7 Review

“Easy to ski in nearly any condition, especially powder, the S7 helped pave the way for the rocker-with-camber revolution. The S7 is so effective in all conditions due to its Amptec technology (camber underfoot, rocker in the tip and tail) and its tapered tip and tail design.” — Max Santeusanio, Powder Magazine Photography Intern

Rossignol Super 7 (2012)

Here’s what Ski Magazine had to say about the Super 7:

“This returning tester favorite, No. 2 for Forgiveness and No. 3 in float, is so loose in the snow you can pivot or foot-steer it even when you’re waist deep in Snowbird powder. The tapered tip lets you be the boss.”

Features

PowderTurn Rocker • Centered Sidecut • WRS • Titanal sandwich wood core construction • Dimensions 146-117-127

For a full list of 2012 Gear Reviews visit Powder Magazine’s Buyer’s Guide and Ski Magazine’s Ski & Boot Reviews

Spencer Wheatley’s Matterhorn Adventure

Powderbird lead guide, Spencer Wheatley, recently visited Switzerland and realized a long-time dream: climbing the infamous Matterhorn. This is his story.

Christmas in the Alps, by Spencer Wheatley

When I was 10 years old, I was assigned to write a fictional story for my 6th grade class. I was combing through the encyclopedia, (which is a 1970′s version of Google for you young people) and came across a photo of the Matterhorn. Dividing Italy from Switzerland, the home of the Matterhorn is the town of Zermatt. The Matterhorn photo captured my imagination as one of the most distinguishable peaks I had ever seen. It is a perfect pyramid of stone carved by the release of four different glaciers receding—creating four rock faces which face the four points of the compass.

I decided to write my story about a trip to Zermatt which also happens to be one of the most famous of all the ski resorts in the Swiss Alps. It was titled “Christmas in the Alps”. Ever since writing that story, I have wanted to visit the Matterhorn and Zermatt. I have had the opportunity to go to Europe a few times over the years, always with skis, always with an objective, a peak, a ski film project or an attempt at this or that with no budget! Somehow I had never made it to Zermatt.

This July I had the opportunity to spend some time in Zermatt, and it was truly like a dream realized. The car free town is the quintessential Alps village. Trams dot the huge valley walls and the 14,690′ Matterhorn is always in sight. I was surprised at the actual size of the Matterhorn. The pictures in the encyclopedia had not done it justice! It was my first time in Europe in summer, and it was nice to travel without skis. I did however have to drag around a duffel bag full of climbing gear. My first week was spent hiking from the village up to different tram stations for acclimatization and enjoyment. The alpine wildflowers and scenery are intense, with miles of beautiful hiking trails and trams for a quick download back to slopeside bars for wine and fondue. Zermatt is hiker’s heaven, but is most famous for Mountaineering. The classic route is the Hornli Ridge of the Matterhorn which is the obvious line on the pyramid looming over Zermatt. The Matterhorn was the last great Alpine peak to be climbed, and its first ascent marked the end of the Golden Age of Alpinism. It was made in 1865 by a party led by Edward Whymper and ended tragically when four of its members fell to their deaths on the descent. The north face was not climbed until 1931.

I had loosely planned to climb the Matterhorn while in Zermatt. The weather just got better as the week went on, and the opportunity was ripe to climb. Without a climbing partner, I found a local guide to climb with and booked a night at the Hornli hut. Even though it was busy, I wanted to climb the Hornli Ridge as it is the Classic. The Hornli Ridge is not a highly technical route, the hardest rock pitches clock in around 5.5. The vertical climb from the hut is about 4,000′. However, the Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps: from 1865—when it was first climbed—to 1995, 500 alpinists have died on it. These numbers are due in part to the sheer numbers of climbers, but also the difficult descent, altitude and loose rock.

Matterhorn, July 5, 2011

The afternoon of July 5 I loaded my gear and hopped the Gondola to Schwarzee. The hike from Schwarzee to the Hornlihutte is about two hours and approximately 2000′ vertical.

Hornlihutte, Matterhorn basecamp

It is a fantastic hike with steep switchbacks and steel stairways linking the vertical cliff sections to the trail. The Hornlihutte is a simple, sturdy, concrete building with the world’s greatest deck perched perfectly to grab views of the Breithorn, Monte Rosa group and the entire Zermatt valley.

Views from the Hornlihutte deck

The food at the Hornlihutte is amazing, considering all the supplies have to be flown to the hut via Helicopter. A quick meeting with my climbing partner Iwan, who convinces me to leave my down jacket, first aid kit, Ice axe (I always have a down jacket in the mountains) by stating: “We will not stop long enough to use it.”

At dusk I begin an attempt to sleep in a large bunk with 15 smelly, nervous strangers. At least they all snore in the same language. I had slot #2, which only had one blanket while the other slots had two blankets. What do I care, I am a tough mountaineer, right? I was dressed in my climbing clothes and shivered with cold all night. Still beats carrying a tent, sleeping bag and stove!

Sleeping quarters

3:30 am lights come on in the hut. There is a scramble for the toilet, a simple breakfast, and I am first in line at the door to get out climbing. Sign on door says: “No one is allowed to leave the hut before 3:50 am, Thank you, the local guides.” Iwan is literally looking at his watch for the 3:50 am chime. At the time, I thought this was a bit ridiculous. One hour into the climb, while ascending onto the broad East face by headlamp, we are all stopped by the tremendous boom of rockfall coming from above. Iwan and I, roped together, scramble to find shelter under a small overhang. I could see couch and chair size pieces of stone hurtling down the couloir in front of us, exploding and breaking into dust and shattered stones in my headlight beam. If we had left the hut one minute earlier, we may have been in the coulor when this happened… let’s just say the helmet would not have helped. Not being in the couloir was just pure luck, but I have to thank Iwan for following protocol, standing at the door waiting those extra minutes.

Mountain lessons:

  1. Always follow your protocols.
  2. Whenever possible, plan to be in the right place at the right time—you just might find yourself there.
  3. The mountains hold all the cards—be humbled by their power and pray for good luck.

After the rockfall, we moved quickly through the East face couloir and back onto the ridge. The ridge climbing here is fairly steep, similar to the Southeast ridge of Mt. Superior, still easy fourth class scrambling even in the dark. Iwan and I are simultaneously climbing on a short rope. As the angle steepens, we begin to clip into fixed protection bolted into the rock as a running belay. We finally climb what I think is the first full length fifth class section on the route, which tops out on the deck of the Solvay emergency shelter at 13,133′. We have been climbing now for a little under two hours. It is clear that after more than 100 trips up the Hornli ridge, Iwan is very fit, acclimatized and dragging me up the route as fast as he can.

Hornli Ridge, Matterhorn

The morning sun begins to hit the East face of the Matterhorn as we climb past Solvay, more or less adhering to the ridge. While climbing in the dark has its own difficulties, the daylight reveals the dizzying exposure on both sides of the ridge. Above 13,500′ Iwan gives encouragement in Swiss-German flavored English: “Spencer…Smooth…not like eleeephant.”

Hornli Ridge Ascent

The altitude and Iwan’s fast pace have me focused on my breathing, and the attention grabbing exposure is reminding me to watch my feet and hand placements. At this point, the route goes to vertical rock. The next half an hour is up to 5.5, easy roped climbing, but it is made more difficult by the altitude and the lugged crampon compatible climbing boots. There are thick fixed ropes through this section, and the hardest move has a via feratta type steel latter rung to grab. Earlier in the climb I attempt to go “clean” without using the ropes. Iwan quickly reminds me “Spencer, we must move…” I grab the steel and fixed lines and quickly move myself up to the next stance.

A short stop to put on the crampons, jacket and full winter gloves, then around the corner onto the North face Iwan calls “the roof”. A few short pitches of rock climbing in crampons put us onto easy, steep ice/snow climbing on the north side of the ridge that will lead us to the summit. This section is completely exposed over the gaping North flank of the Matterhorn. I would have preferred to have my light approach axe for this section. We weren’t planning a fall, but who does?

The Matterhorn summit is more of a knife edge ridge than a pinnacle. Along the ridge to the West end is the Italian summit. The East end is the slightly higher Swiss summit. There is a 4′ statue of St. Barnard, the patron saint of Mt. Guides, bolted to the peak with a lightening rod sticking out of his head. A few of the guides stop to kiss it as they pass. The views into Italy and across the Alps are stunning. It is 7:30 am and the valley is flooded with golden morning sun. The conditions are perfect, and we had climbed from the hut to the summit in 3 hours 45 minutes.

Iwan keeps my camera and take photos on the descent. During the ascent we were moving too fast to take many pictures… and it was dark for the first half. Unknowingly, the dial on my camera gets pushed to “M”, which means “Manual”, not “Mountains”… the photos he takes are extremely over exposed.

Spencer standing near summit

Although it has been quite a few years, I have worked as a climbing guide. I know that the summit is only half way. Most mountaineering accidents happen on the descent. I take a very short time at the summit and compose myself to begin the arduous downclimb.

Being first out on the route in the morning had great advantage in that we could go fast, we didn’t get bottled up behind slower parties on the crux pitches. Now all of these slower parties are still climbing up as we descend on top of them… I’m still wearing crampons, I do my best not to knock stones and ice chunks in their faces. There are a series of steel anchors to lower from in the steeper areas. I was not comfortable descending into parties still climbing up, but Iwan assured me that this was standard practice on the Hornli. This is a very busy route. We moved back to the Solvay shelter.

Italian climber belaying from inside hut

I was amused to watch an Italian climber belay while sitting at the table in the hut, with the rope going out through the window to his partner. Iwan and I take a few rappels to get us back onto the fourth class ridge. The descent is painful on the knees, and descending while facing outward from the rock puts all of the exposure at your feet. The local guides have a very clean unmarked line to climb and descend, but all around is loose rock. If you get off the clean line, it could be scary/deadly pedaling through all the choss—imagine Fred Flinstone getting the car started. I am quite sure Iwan could run down this route, but he is patient as I take my time to make sure there are no slips.

We make it to the base of the climb in 3 hours. I know Iwan is as happy as I am to untie from the rope. A few minutes later Iwan and I are cracking open beers at the Hornlihutte, sitting on that amazing deck. I am cooked after climbing for nearly 7 hours. Iwan gives me a “Summit Pin” which is cool, and I try and tell him I don’t need the “Summit Certificate”, but I get one anyway. The tall boy Cardinal Beer and the total lack of sleep are making me want a nap, so I shake hands with Iwan, load my pack and head down the trail two hours to the Schwarzee gondola station. I download, and 30 minutes later I am back in the dream village of Zermatt. After a quick shower, another couple Cardinals and a burger at the Post Hotel, that night I pass out content in a quiet room with TWO blankets and without 15 nervous strangers.

Although the Matterhorn is not the most difficult climb I have done, it may be one of the most meaningful and aesthetic. I wonder what I would have though as that ten-year-old, picking that Matterhorn photo out of the Encyclopedia. Would my wildest imagination have traced the skyline in the photo and said “I will stand on top?”

Cheers from Zermatt, successful climb

Cheers! Thanks to all my friends who get me out of the house and into the mountains for adventures. A special thanks to JBIII for giving me the opportunity to turn this dream into reality. It really was like Christmas in the Alps!

Argentina Heli Skiing Update

Thanks to our friends at Patagonia Ski Tours, we have a first hand account of what’s in store for the Argentina ski industry following the June 4th Puyehue Volcano eruption and resulting volcanic ash. After many delays, the Bariloche airport was slated to re-open today (July 8). Regardless of the airport delays, there are still many ways to reach your adventure destination in Patagonia. Due to the ski season’s late start, many businesses are also offering discounts to encourage tourism in the surrounding areas. Now may be the perfect time for a last minute South American adventure!

Tips for getting to Bariloche

Many Patagonia Ski Tours guests and guides have used the Via Bariloche or El Valle bus services in the past. It is a much cheaper option, typically costing about half the price of an air travel ticket. Another benefit of this travel option is the drive itself, taking in the views of the Argentine countryside, travelling through the pampas, while casually sipping wine and being served high quality meals all along the way. If you do choose to travel to Bariloche by bus, our friends down south highly recommend upgrading to the Cama Ejecutivo or Tutto Leto seats. It is well worth it, considering the length of the trip (20+ hours).

A peek at nightlife at Cerro Catedral

Ski Industry Update

Currently all ski resorts in Argentina are now open:

  • Penitentes located 180 km from Mendoza
  • Las Leñas, the highest ski resort in Argentina with a 3,430 meter summit
  • Caviahue lies at the foot of Lake Copahue in a stunning setting
  • Batea Mahuida is named for a local extinct volcano
  • Cerro Chapelco receives excellent snow conditions
  • Cerro Bayo is part of Villa La Angostura and features exceptional lodging and dining
  • Cerro Catedral is located just outside of Bariloche
  • La Hoya experiences an extended season due to its geographic location
  • Cerro Castor lies on the very southern tip of Argentina

The Cerro Catedral ski resort, which is just starting its ski season, has announced they will be charging their mid-season rates during the high-season, equivalent to a savings of 30%.

Guests enjoy the stunning views from Cerro Bayo

Heli skiing in Bariloche

Interested in year-round heli-ski opportunities? See if any trips offered by Patagonia Ski Tours fit the bill. They also offer backcountry, snowcat, and volcanic ski tours, along with wine and Buenos Aires city tours! We’ll do another blog post soon that will cover their heli ski offerings in depth.

Hope everyone is having a great summer!

Summer Backcountry Safety

One amazing benefit of living in Utah is the ability to participate in multiple outdoor sports during any given season. It is currently over 90 degrees in the Salt Lake Valley but I know many people who went skiing this past weekend! And not just at Snowbird, but hiking and doing some backcountry skiing in late June. As lucky as we are to have these unparalleled opportunities, please continue to practice backcountry safety if you are considering touring.

Utah Avalanche Center

Although the UAC is not operating, users are still posting avalanche sitings and warnings. If you are in the backcountry and see an avalanche on a different aspect, post it on the UAC’s website to help educate other late season backcounter enthusiasts.
Likewise, if you are planning an upcoming tour, take a look at this site for any warning signs. It will possibly prevent you from putting in the effort to arrive at any area with unsafe skiing conditions.

Here are pictures of a recent slide: Pfeifferhorn June 20, 2011.

First Tracks Online Magazine

Another great resource are the forums on First Tracks. You can search by region and get first hand accounts about what current and recent skiing conditions are like. The Western North American Forum is where you can find posts from Utah’s die-hard skiers. Below is a recent picture from Main Chute, a popular run near Alta and Snowbird.

Main Chute June 26, 2011, Alta/Snowbird

As you can see, this lower portion of the run still has an incredible amount of snow. The best time to ski this time of year is very early in the day before the sun melts everything to slush to water.

There are many other resources available to backcountry skiers. Forums are a great way to learn from trusted skiers in your community. Find one that suites you, follow for local user updates and always be safe out there!