Monday, December 31, 2012

Birthday Turns

After slowly recovering from a stomach flu that caught us both around xmas we headed out yesterday to celebrate my birthday by skiing the well proportioned hill know as "Mount Fuji" at lolo pass (click for map).

Cold conditions since the last big snows and a bit of fresh made for slow trail breaking and excellent powder turns through open slopes and tight forests from the top back to the busy nordic trail where we heard one boy ask "Mommy why are their skis so fat?" as we shuffled along.

A powder covered summit makes an excellent birthday gift. 

Jen skinning out the nordic trails towards the flanks of Mount Fuji. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Skiing the Apocalypse in the Crystal Theater

Wanting to get a lap in before the predicted end of the world occurred today, we drove up to the Crystal Theater area at Lolo pass this morning. Powder right from the parking spot. Not knowing our way around, we ended up skiing a line of boulders, pillows and tight trees that was a bit much the day after recovering from the flu, but the snow was fantastic and I look forward to exploring the area more.

It had warmed up a bit when we got back down to the car and the snow will get a bit crusty at lower elevations tonight.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Powder, Powder, Powder and Finding Bouldering at Just the Wrong Time

Saturday we skied 2000 feet of stellar powder from the summit of point 7795 down to 5800 feet on the south facing slopes above Lake Como (map). Below that we had the remarkable good fortune to discover a field of talus, chock full of boulders ranging from stumbleable to climbable size where we had only expected to find a steep hike back to the trail.

The skiing in the upper section was excellent and we will return to the area with more snow cover or crash pads but cannot recommend exploring the talus field with skis on ones back as the light fades.

The hike and skin up was mostly quite nice.

We spotted several steep featured faces on the way out but had the wrong tools for the job.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Best Camera for Climbing, Skiing and the Outdoors?

The Canon PowerShot S100 is my pick for the best camera you can take on an adventure. We've taken ours backcountry skiing, mountain biking, hiking and climbing. Most of the recent images  on this blog were shot with it and I've included a bunch of sample images with this post. I even used it to shoot this video in full hd (you can adjust the youtube settings to 1080p).

The s100 has a "High-speed Burst HQ" setting available in scene mode that takes 8 photos in one second (and then spends several seconds saving the photos). This is very handy for action photos like the one above (cropped). 

The new S110 is a minor upgrade of the S100 which adds a touch screen and wifi. These features aren't important to me so the s100 is still my pick fo the best camera you can buy to take into the mountains. I would choose the s110 if the s100 was no longer available as it is apparently usable without the touch screen (ie if you are wearing gloves).

I take the best photos when I'm not afraid to risk destroying my camera.  Powershots are built well. My old sd700 survived drops, squeeze chimneys, frozen nights, leaky Nutella sandwiches and ten minutes in the North Fork of the Skycomish River. More importantly the s100 is cheap enough on Amazon at the moment that I won't feel awful if I drop it off a cliff.

As soon as I got the s100 I started taking it on my daily mountain bike rides. Because it was new and shinny I wrapped it in an extra jacket, buried it in my pack and only dugg it out at stops.

Then, while riding through a scenic fall leaf-filled canyon, I heard a huge snort and a bull elk that had been sleeping in a dry stream bed jumped up next to me. If I had had my camera closer at hand maybe I could have gotten a great photo. Instead I got distant retreating elk butt shot:

Keep your camera close at hand or this happens.

Now I carry it in in a cheap case clipped to my shoulder strap or in a pocket if it is cold.

Key Features
  • Small and Lightweight.
  • Fast 24mm equivalent lens. This wide angle is key for getting shots of spaning vistas, close by subjects like climbers at belays and trying to jam the two things in the same frame. The speed helps keep the image sharp in low light.  
  • Bigger then normal but not too big sensor. A larger sensor helps with image quality at high iso's but reduces depth of field. Most of the time in the outdoors I want everything in focus which requires more depth of field. The s100's sensor is larger then most point and shoots but not as big as dslrs or point and shoots like the Sony RX100. This offers a lot of depth of field and decent high iso performance.
  • Thanks to the neutral density filter, large aperture and aperture priority mode you can still force it to take low depth of field blurry background photos when needed.
Narrow depth of field shot with highlights tweaked in Lightroom to increase detail in the clouds. 
  • Raw file output. The s100 can save raw files in addition to jpegs. Raw files contain more information about the scene then a jpeg and let you tweak exposure after the fact to recover detail in blown out highlight or black shadows. This is useful when you take a picture of a sunset behind a mountain and want detail in both the clouds and the dark mountain. I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 to process raw files.
  • Video. The s100 records 24 frame per second 1080p full hd and 30 frame per second 720p hd video. 30 fps full HD video would be better for shooting action but 24 fps is the classic cinema frame rate and gives video a nice filmy feel which works well for more laid back and scenic movies.
  • P mode with focus lock. The fully automatic modes take too much time to focus for me so I keep it in P mode. I follow the classic adage for slide film "expose for the highlights." I lock the focus and exposure on the highlights of my subject by pressing the shutter button halfway with the subject centered, frame the scene and then press the button the rest of the way. This method is particularly necessary for things like sunsets where you want the exposure to let the land end up black.

  •  It also has fully automatic, shutter priority, aperture priority, full manual and scene modes but I use those only when I need to as with the narrow depth of field bike wheel shot above.
  • The controls are easy to use wearing thin power stretch gloves. Being able to use the front control wheel around the lens to adjust iso is particularly handy. The smaller rear control wheel and dedicated red "take video now" button are also nice.
  • It has the same lens, sensor and imaging processor as the S110 but lacks wifi or a touch screen which are useless in the middle of nowhere with gloves on. It also has a molded grip and GPS that were both removed from the S110. I initially had high hopes for geotagging photos with the GPS but it takes too long to acquire a lock and drains the batter to quickly to be practical.
  • Pleasing color rendition. I find the default canon color profile to be very nice. The photos in this post are unaltered from the camera except for some highlight tweaks where noted. I often use the camera's "vivid reds" functionality which can produce a look similar to that of vintage Kodachrome slide film. 


The s100's main competitor is the Sony RX100. The RX100 has a larger sensor, better low light performance and can shoot 60 fps full hd video. It also costs $400 more and has only a 28mm equivalent lens. I find that wide angle, depth of field and replaceability are more important in a camera, so I went with the s100. 

My Whole Kit:

Highlights tweaked in Lightroom

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Foot Love: the quest to prevent blisters in ski boots and fix problem areas

Taping up prior to a day of skiing

I love my feet, they do many things for me.

I cram them in tight rock shoes, I pound them in stiff boots over miles of trail, I bash them on runs over pavement and dirt.  My feet are wonderful, they always toughen up and carry on with grace...that is until I took up backcountry skiing a couple winters ago.

You may see the photo below and think, "Why is this crazy person showing me a photo of her foot?"  However, it is one of the most exciting photos I have seen in years.  The most exciting thing about the photo is an absence of torn flesh and blisters.

Peeling tape off after an 8 hour day of skiing

My feet and my ski boots did not get along.  On good days I would only get a blister about the size of a quarter on the inside of my heels (both feet), on most days the boots would wear right through the skin.  Ryan and I went skiing almost every winter weekend the past two years, and so that meant that I wore crocs for most of the winter to prevent aggravating my heels.

I tried many things and learned many things in my quest to prevent blisters and other atrocities:

1) If you have a recurring foot issue, a new pair of ski boots may not fix the problem.  I started out with a pair of Scarpa Divas - recommended by a guide friend of mine.  Great boots for fun downhill, even in Cascade concrete snow.  However, the boots were not kind to my heels.  My very sweet husband gave me a pair of Dynafit Zzeros for Christmas last year, hoping that the lower volume boot would solve the problem of my heels slipping on each step and causing problems.  Also great boots, the softer PU shell material took awhile to get used to, but are better and lighter for skinning and I also enjoy the downhill.  My heel problems persisted in the Zzeros.

2) Work with a ski boot expert who will take the time to figure out your specific issue.  I give a big shout out to the ski boot experts at the Trailhead in Missoula for working with me to solve my ski boot problem.  They are the third shop I worked with, and the only one to really take the time to understand what was going on with my feet.

My Dynafit boot with (now smudged) marks where the shell was punched out

I went in to the Trailhead in mid-October, wondering if I would ever be able to ski without pain, or if I would need to shell out $700+ for another new pair of boots only to find that they didn't quite work.  Dave told me that fixing my current boots and liners was a better bet for pain-free skiing than a new pair, and he worked with me over the course of three visits to tweak my boot shells and liners until they fit right.  It was a surprisingly economical process.

The boot shells were pushed out at the location of my problem spot, heel lifters added to reduce heel slippage, and my liners remolded.  When my liners were remolded, they added foam stickers to my heels at the problem location - a big oval that covered the hot spot and just above the hot spot.  It turns out that my hot spot was caused by my heel rubbing against a narrow ridge formed by my achilles and ankle bone when my liner was molded originally.  Pushing out the shell created more space in this area, and remolding with the foam buffered out most of the ridge.

3) Leukotape and the right socks are an almost magical combination.  I can't say enough good things about Leukotape, it's amazingly sticky and durable cloth tape. Tape up your hot spot with leukotape and it will stay in place all day long, and last unfazed through your hot shower (unless you peel it off first.)  It sticks much longer than even duct tape, and there are no hard edges to create more hot spots.  Leukotape plus Lorpen trilayer primaloft ski socks gave my heels enough extra padding to keep the blisters, etc. at bay for an extra couple hours.  Those hours were worth gold to me.  Ryan swears by Hydropel for the hot spot on the arch of his foot, it reduces the friction without adding bulk.

Leukotape, with cat for scale

Now that my ski boot shells and liners are modified to mostly eliminate the hot spot, I still use the Leukotape and Lorpen socks to protect those areas as they toughen up.  My feet came back in beautiful condition from our ski trip this weekend.

If you are struggling with ski boots that don't agree with your feet, Lisa Dawson at the Wild Snow blog wrote a great post titled Cinderella Ski Boot Fit about going to a custom boot fitter in Boulder.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Little Saint Joe/Point 9033: Maps Only Work if You Use Them

Peaks South of Bass Creek from near our high point.

Jen and I still haven't quite got a handle on the Bitterroots. The valley floor is at the same hight as most Cascades passes and many of the peaks we can see from our house rise 5000' above that rather rapidly.

Saturday we got a slow start. I hadn't slept much...I blame the availability of British television on netflix. The snotel showed 20 inches of fresh at 7k and forecast called for temps in the teens. We drove up to the base of the mountains at 4k and started booting up through a few inches of powder on dirt towards the open bowls and glades that supposedly guard the summit of point 9033 known to the locals as Little Saint Joe.

Map of the area.

Just after the transition from booting to skinning. 

Eventually the snow got deeper. We picked up a fresh skin track and and started following it in the hopes that local knowledge would lead us through the band of forest surrounding the summer overlook at 6000 feet. This was not to be as it dead ended in dense downed trees several times before backtracking and retreating down towards the valley floor. We never saw this other skier though we did see a shy lone black and white dog with red collar we hope was his.

After an hour or so of messing about we broke out the map we had printed and were able to quickly pick up the summer route. A deer had conveniently broken trail, knowing his way through the forest better than we skiers. We followed his tracks upwards past orange blazed trees and sawn logs but our turn around time came and went before we broke out of the trees.

Jen titled this photo "Do the deer and I have the same agenda?"

A few turns were made in deep powder back down the ridge through the tight trees, dodging thinly covered logs. Before long we put our bindings in tour mode and resorted to skinless skating and downhill trail breaking. Once again we found ourselves booting back to the car by star light.

The valley floor as the sun sets. 

Perhaps with more cover or better study of satellite photos a more skiable route could be found through clearings and open forest further North.

A bouquet of mud and snow frozen to ski pole tips.