Monday, January 14, 2008

Stevens Pass Backside Opens

December 20, 2007 -- Olivia and I were up unusually early this morning. The backside at Stevens Pass Ski Area opened today and the weather gods were cooperating. Although we both prefer to ski tour, it is nice to get in some big days of lift skiing at the start of each ski season. It has been snowing 4-8 inches per day for a few days, which is just the way you want it. Overall the winds have remained low (until this afternoon) and the result was GREAT SKIING. What we found was "hero snow": very deep, very forgiving, and reasonably low density.

In addition to being great fun, area skiing allows us to work on ski technique, build strong legs. and to observe the days weather conditions and snow pack. In addition to destroying our legs, what we noticed about the snow was: 1. Moderate winds were transporting a lot of snow and cross loading slopes on many aspects, and loading upper level lee slopes on east aspects. 2. Ski cuts were yielding surprisingly few slab releases and 3. Loose snow slides were running quickly as expected on steeper (above 40 degree) slopes. All in all the hazard seemed to be considerable, and the stability was probably fair. All of this is not worth much as we were making these observations inside a heavily skied ski area. I suspect the touring in the back country is great, albeit a lot of work with the deep snow, and that if touring we would need to be pretty conservative in route selection, but no so conservative that we stay home.

Near the end of the day we encountered a young male walking dejectedly down the slope carrying one ski. We asked if he had lost his ski and he said that he had in fact lost it. He proceeded to tell us he had been skiing Wild Cats when he heard a woman yell "bear!" He looked over and sure enough there was a bear. This caused him to crash, he lost his ski, and evidently the bear got away. Not sure what to do with that information, but there it is.

We hope to poke out into the back country over the weekend. We will need to watch the winds and see where it is depositing all this nice new powder.

The Joy of Dirty Work

December 13, 2007 -- I am often asked what is the best way to train for a mountain like Denali. My honest response is usually the same: spend as much time as possible doing hard manual labor. A climb of Denali involves a lot of digging, ice chopping, slow walking, heavy lifting, and is more often than not boring. Thus the best training for Denali is landscaping, stone wall building, all day uphill hiking, ditch digging, etc. I suspect many people were hoping I would prescribe a regimen of stairmaster, squash, and time spent on some other gadget that health clubs have dreamed up to convince us that we need to go indoors to get in shape to be outdoors. Yvon Chouinard once said, "watching climbing is like watching grass grow." Good climbers tend to be good at being bored, a skill honed through practice. The path to enlightenment is a path of drudgery.

A few years ago I was given a bottle of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon by a customer. At this point I had not had the opportunity to try many "fine" wines. Friends were invited, dinner was prepared, and we drank the Caymus. The wine was excellent, and more than a bit mysterious to me. What were those extra flavors in many expensive bottles of wine? Could a wine really be worth that much? How do you make wine? All these questions eventually led me to a place called Boudreaux Cellars, where mountain guide and climber Rob Newsome handcrafts big red wines in his off-the grid winery far out in Icicle Canyon. Rob sources his grapes from many of the best vineyards in Eastern Washington, and is located about 400 yards from Classic Crack (5.9), a place I visit often when guiding. Rob claims that he got into wine making when his taste for good wine outgrew his budget of buying good wine.

In addition to letting Olivia and I get married at Boudreaux, Rob has been letting me shadow him as he goes about his work. It was no surprise that the first chore that recently led to the creation of a bottle of Reserve Cabernet was stuffing fiberglass insulation into the chinks in the roof of Rob's new wine making facility. Creation of a world class wine seems to involve a lot of equipment cleaning, snow shoveling, box stacking, hose coiling, machinery wrestling, problem solving, thumb smashing, and if you are lucky, a few precious minutes of barrel tasting. So, how do you make a $100 bottle of wine, same way you reach the summit of Denali - hard manual labor.

Last night I took home a bottle of the 2004 Boudreaux Reserve Cabernet (100 cases produced), and drank it with friends at dinner. I will be going back today and am looking forward to the tedium.

We Begin

December 5, 2007 -- Olivia and I were married two days ago (December 3, 2007) and we are in the process of building a new website for the Northwest Mountain School. Now married, and both done with our IFMGA certifications, at ages 38 and 31 it feels like we have swept all our experiences, skills, resources, and hopes into the current effort to grow our business. Eric Simonson once mentioned that "every business must recreate itself from time to time if it is going to survive." That is what we are doing now, looking into the crystal ball, taking all that we have and know and are, and betting it all on a direction we want to go. We both feel lucky to be doing this from a position of strength, but know that this effort must be made. Stay tuned, it is sure to be a wild ride.