Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Disapearing Rio Grand

AZ 2000 colin above canyon country
Colin McDonald looking out over Utah's canyon country on a trip we took in high school.
Colin McDonald is one of my oldest friends and he and I shared many formative adventures. Since then he has worked at several major newspapers and pursued a career in environmental journalism tinged with on-the-ground exploration. He has kayaked the length of the texas coast dodging oil tankers, documented river obstructions from the water, biked closed roads and shared many other stories.

His latest project is a bit bigger.



He plans to travel the length of the Rio Grande from its headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico by raft and, for the 600+ miles of the river that rarely contain water these days, by foot. He'll be documenting his journey and exploring issues surrounding the river as he goes. He will be bloging for the Texas Tribune via satellite and I'm looking forward to reading his posts.

Colin has spent the past months preparing as Ted Scripps fellow in Environmental Journalism at UC Boulder and will begin his trip in June. He started a kickstarter project to raise support for gear for himself and for parts of the trip. It is a cool project and I encourage you to both support him and follow his progress. His kickstarter will be finishing soon and every additional bit of support he gets will help him tell more and better stories.

(Also, I apologize for the slow post rate lately, we have had a lot of things going on but will be posting more regularly soon.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Voile Charger Review: The Best Value in a Backcountry Powder Ski?

You can just see one of the skis in this picture.
I expected the 191 Voile Chargers to be a challenge to ski. I've spent much of the last few years on much shorter backcountry oriented skis and picked the chargers up for a great deal used in a really-to-long-for-me size thinking they'd be a fun ski for open slopes, powder days and high speeds inbounds. Instead I've found them downright playful and surfy. Mounted with Dynafit Vertical st's they have been a blast in variety of conditions both in bounds and out.

I swear they're in this one too somewhere in the cloud of cold smoke.
They are a joy to whip back and forth in tight trees and carve surprisingly well. They are a similar width to my 175 Black Diamond Justices (114 mm vs 111 mm)  but have much more tip rocker and a slightly tighter turn radius (25.4  m vs 31 m). At first I found this tighter radius a bit hooky but after adjusting to them and detuning the tip and tales a bit I've decided I like it. They are still on the long side compared to many skis but they seem to lock in carved turns better than the Justices. The chargers aren't particularly quick from edge to edge but make it easy to carve big arcing turns down groomers when you need to get back to the lift and can be made to make tighter turns with some tip pressure.

Meadows and glades. 

Of course it is in the soft snow where they truly shine.  Even on the lowest angle slopes they just skim over the snow. They are the perfect ski for the high avalanche danger conditions we've had this year, I'm able to have a blast in meadows and glades that would be too flat to ski on skinnier skis yet they are nimble enough to pick their way through tight trees or make quick small turns down a ridge line when the safe route demands it.

The Chargers on an inbounds day!
They also make short work of the variable windslabed conditions that can prevail on the upper slopes of our local ski area. They roll over the transition from surfing soft snow to edging wind slab and back with ease. They can get chattery at high speed on variegated hard snow but I've never felt out of control because of it. They are quite stable and I find myself straight lining chopped up heavy snow through the runouts at bottoms of runs just because I can. The tapered tips seem to just spear through the snow staying right on track.

Cutting through wind effected powder with ease at Lost Trail.
I cut some discount backcountry.com rebranded g3 climbing skins in 130mm xl skins for mine. This is a lighter weight and thinner nylon skin with good glide and I've found the combo quick enough on the up track. I've done a fair amount of trail breaking this winter and the Charger's big rockered tip just floats up to the top of deep snow, turning the chore from an off balance lurching huff to something that can be done with a bit of cadence and rhythm.   

Perhaps the most impressive thing is about the Chargers is that they are made from carbon fiber in Salt Lake City in the USA yet at $595 cost less at full retail than many comparable foreign made skis do on sale. As with any light backcountry ski the top sheet is thin and mine already had a few chips when I bought them used, but the bases and edges are holding up well despite a few rock and log strikes. Voile has really figured out how to make a great, lightweight ski on a budget. Someday I'd love to try the skinnier Voile Vector or rando race oriented WSP for spring and summer ski mountaineering style. 

Charger's breaking trail in their natural element.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Short Tours and Dawn Patrols



As I've mentioned, February was an incredibly busy month at work for me. I ended up working more weekends and evenings then I can generally stand. The only thing that kept me marginally sane was the ability to slip away occasionally for a few hours and squeeze in a quick tour on the lower slopes of Ward mountain near our house.



The unusually heavy snowfall we've been getting made for excellent, convenient dawn patrolling. Past attempts to ski on Ward have usually involved hiking to the snow but for the last few weeks it has been possible to ski to and from the car.



The down side of all this snow is that the avalanche danger has also been elevated. Recently a slide even destroyed a home in Missoula. To mitigate risks, I've been practicing obsessive terrain management. I've been studying slope layers on hillmap, carrying an inclinometer and acting under the assumption that anything that can slide will. There are a few small roll overs on the east face of Ward you need to be aware of but it is also possible to find routes through the lower meadows and treed north east ridge line that avoids all terrain steeper then 28 degrees yet offers enjoyable skiing.

Looking down the steep north face.

Snow conditions on these mellow slopes have been generally excellent offering up cold smoke powder. This won't last long and I'm looking forward to skiing some corn on the same slopes. Sunday there was a bit of an inversion with warm pacific air moving in up high. I turned around when the snow began to stick to my skins and a warm breeze could be felt choosing to lap the lower slopes where cold air and powder still lingered.

Lone skin track.


Photos by Jen, motion by Google+
A textbook safe track up a ridge.

Somewhere in the lower meadows. 





Skis on to the car. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Ski Along the River and an Afternoon Owl


This month has been a bit overloaded for me. I've gotten out a few times but I've mostly watched the snow pile up as I've spent far too much time working. Upon completion of a major work project just before the deadline I grabbed my cross county skis and headed for the river flood plane near our house.

It wasn't an epic adventure or anything, but sliding around quietly I came upon some beautiful views and a few birds.

River ducks and Ward Mountain


Duck take off and landing marks I think.


In the woods an owl flew by and me and landed in a tree. I set my camera to burst mode and watched him for a while.



Max electronic zoom.
Just as I was turning to leave he began to fly and I caught a burst of him in flight: