Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | February 26, 2008      

The rando racing world championships are winding up in Switzerland. Rando Steve has some good first-person on his blog. We like watching the transitions. Notice in one of the faster tour-to-downhill mode transitions how the guy latches his boot and changes his Dynafit heel from uphill to downhill mode in almost one motion, but keeps his boot heel up off the ski so he can tilt forward and grab his skins at the ski tip. He then rips skin and steps boot heel into binding all in one motion. Super smooth.

We appreciate Steve and his team mates getting over there and representing the U.S., thanks to all of them!

We’re still walking around in a daze after 24 Hours of Sunlight (see previous posts). That suffer fest has a good vibe, but it takes a lot of time and money to make it happen. Be ready for that if you’re going into it. More, as their numbers increase (they almost got to 300 participants this year), less space will be available for support so that could become an issue. Some folks camp out in the base lodge, but space there is limited. The rental condos at lookers left of the ski slopes work okay, but it’s awkward and even tiring getting team members up and down the grade to and from a room as you switch laps. Some folks use RVs, but the designated parking for event camping is down a long hike from the start/finish area. You can set up a tent near the start/finish during the resorts non-open hours, but without a big support crew to make that happen it’s not a great option. All tricky, but strategy and logistics are a big part of this race, so bring it on.

Two lost skiers found their way out of the mountains near Aspen. They had fire starting gear so a possible tragedy was averted when they spent an unplanned night out. Would have been a good situation for a Spot Satellite Messenger (and perhaps a map and GPS).

Here is a wild one: One of Colorado’s most prolific rock climbing pioneers is a guy named Harvey Carter. Back in my early 20s, Harvey mentored me for a while and launched my fairly short but somewhat productive stint as a rock climber. Even back then, Harvey was obsessed with starting a ski resort on Colorado’s iconic Pikes Peak. With a somewhat acerbic personality, he seemed to have endless problems with various business deals. Harvey mellowed with age (he’s now 77). For several decades he’s continued to quietly promote his dream, and recently looks to have another very possible deal in the works. More here.

By now you’ve probably heard about the guy in Alaska who survived what said to be a 40 minute avalanche burial. We’re certainly happy for him, but can’t help but wonder how, even though he had a beacon, it took his friends 40 minutes to get him out? If anyone knows the details please give a shout. More here.

As for news here at WildSnow HQ, we’re ramping up the backcountry skiing after 24 Hours of Sunlight providing a nice mid-season break. To that end, we just got a pair of Dynafit Manaslu skis for extended testing, as well as goodies like G3 skis and skins, and more. No shortage of blog fodder. Now, if I could just get out the door…



17 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. randosteve February 26th, 2008 11:25 am

    Thanks Lou!

    The competition here is unbelievable to say the least. I’m hoping we can come away with a top 10 overall team result in the end. And for the first time in my racing career (both rando and trail running) I almost dropped out of a race today due to major leg cramps and nearly fainting due to dehydration.


  2. Chris February 26th, 2008 10:25 am

    RE: the AK burial: Actually, I’m wondering how he *survived* for 40 minutes! Was this an avalung survival story?

  3. Chris February 26th, 2008 1:17 pm

    I don’t know that much about the AK rescue, but I do know it was another group that performed the rescue, led by Chugach NF Avalanche Forecaster Matt Murphy. They happened to be in the area, and I assume that getting to the site took up a good deal of that time. As for the buried victim’s partners, haven’t heard whether he had any or what their role was in the rescue.

    He was lucky there were experienced groups in the area!


  4. Thomas February 26th, 2008 12:52 pm

    Lou, the newspaper story is inaccurate. An avalanche forecaster and partner who were skiing lower angled slopes nearby saw the powder blast and bee-lined over, they got a signal and hit him on the 3rd probe strike. They are both trained and practiced in beacon searches. His friends were further over on the debris pile and some of them had been knocked over by powder blast and partially buried.

    The avalanche forecast for the day called for “the possibility of triggering a monster slide”. We have several layers of buried surface hoar that ended up with 5 to 11 ft ,or more depending on deposition, after a 2 week storm with 100 mph winds. It was the first sunny day. Textbook.

    I don’t believe an avalung was involved. He was found part way up the opposite hillside and was lucky to avoid being stuffed in a creek bottom. He is a very, very lucky guy. While skiing with the rescuers yesterday one of them made a simple but valuable comment:” You know what’s cool… beacons and probes and practice actually work”.

    Good job to all the racers, long and short. I ‘m assuming the major expense you are talking about is buying 674 extra large pizzas for the boys:)

  5. Ted Timmons February 26th, 2008 2:16 pm

    RE AK burial. I’ve seen various numbers for the time he was buried. An eyewitness on Telemarktips said about 20 min. The report on the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Info Center says 30-35 minutes.

  6. Mark February 26th, 2008 1:43 pm

    My partner and I were on the next mountain south and had a perfect view of the slide – it was a minimum 1/2 mile wide and 1500 ft. vert. When we got to the parking lot we talked with the first person we ran into, who happened to be the first person to pick up a beacon signal. He estimated the burial to be 15-20 minutes. Later on a newscast I heard someone else’s estimate of 30 minutes – then it somehow turned into 40. At any rate, this fellow had all the stars lined up for him – he was skiing on a mountain with at least 30 other folks, most of whom were probably on the scene within a few minutes. The lead snow ranger for the district was one of them, in perfect position. One of the reasons it may have taken so long was he was carried one heck of a distance – all the way across and up the far side of the drainage. The guy we talked to estimated his depth at 4-5 ft. He was blue, eyes unresponsive; they were about to start CPR when he sputtered to.

    I think that cat has only 8 lives left!

  7. Chase Harrison February 26th, 2008 2:50 pm

    I was fortunate enough to meet
    T Harvy when I lived in Manatou
    Springs. We sat out in front of a
    small coffee shop in Manatou and he
    told me all about his plans to build a ski area on Pikes Peak. He also shared some pretty wild stories about working on ski patrol on Aspen
    Mt. This was 4 years ago. That guy
    is a peice of work.

  8. Scott Nelson February 26th, 2008 4:04 pm

    Lou- thanks for your coverage and advice/tips for the 24hrs event. I’m really glad I finally did it. It was worth it. My goal was to take it fairly easy and to learn from the experience, which I did. Yet, it was still the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. So thanks for the inspiration via your website! Next year I’m ditching the tele gear. Just too heavy and not having a tour pivot on my old G3’s took its toll on me late into the race. I did also use some BD 01’s with the pivot, but they are really heavy. And it was just cumbersome/clumsy at the transitions, but that was probably also due to me and not practicing beforehand. My wife and I used the base lodge as a ‘base camp.’ It was utter chaos during the day with all the day skiers. At night it wasn’t much better with the loud band playing until 11pm. I didn’t have to deal with it too much, but all those in a support role did. That’s gonna be a tough one if the race gets bigger. Where will all those people go? All in all, a great race and a great experience, one I won’t soon forget. Congrats to team WildSnow. Your son probably flew by me five or six times. Maybe it was the cape that helped.

  9. John February 26th, 2008 5:06 pm

    Have to say my wife loves the Spot Messenger. Everytime I head out to the backcountry she looks forward to receiving the, “I’m Ok. xo” message on her iPhone when she’s in town. Really puts her worring at ease. I can even see that if I have to spend an unplanned night out but keep sending those messages she’ll be ok. Down here in the Santa Fe area there is very little cell coverage.

    Only negative thing about the SPOT so far is that it can take a very long time to send a message at times… 45minutes to over an hour. But I’m sure they will dial that in. Very cool device for those of us with families.

  10. Lou February 26th, 2008 5:14 pm

    Randosteve, thanks for checking in! You’ve got to drink more Cytomax and take a calcium lactate cap once in a while!

  11. Mark February 26th, 2008 5:19 pm

    Audio interview with the Snow Ranger at the AK avalanche:

    note: I am not the Mark mentioned in the interview

  12. Scott Nelson February 26th, 2008 6:28 pm

    Lou- Now that I’m thinking AT, I just ordered a pair of F1’s from at a pretty good price (hint). I was looking at the Dynafit bindings they have: the Comfort, Vertical ST and Speed Lite. I’m looking at primarily uphill/fitness usage. They all seem to fit that usage fine, but are there advantages/disadvantages of one over the other? Does the Speed Lite have a heel height adjustment like the others? If anything, they all look to be a huge improvement over my current set up. Thoughts?

  13. Lou February 26th, 2008 6:38 pm

    Hi Scott, We really favor the ST as an all-around Dynafit solution. The toe latch levers are MUCH easier to operate, and the small weight increase over some other models is nothing. Take the brakes off for racing, and you’ve got the ticket.

    For dedicated race setup, get the Speed Lite but be aware it has no high heel lift, which may be necessary for North American races that tend to sometimes have fairly steep skin climbs.

  14. Barry February 26th, 2008 8:26 pm

    On the Pikes peak ski resort – how many real estate developments with chair lifts does the world need?

    On the 40 minute rescue – even if it was 30 minutes it was still out there for time. I hope some real details can emerge. What kind of training did the rescuers have? What kind of beacons? Shovelling technique? What took longest, beacon search or shovelling. Those involved in this kind on incident can help the rest of us in a big way. Hopefully they will take the time to do that.

  15. Lou February 26th, 2008 8:56 pm

    Barry, I’m wondering if the reason the resort has not been built yet is that it doesn’t include much in the way of real estate development. Will be interesting to watch.

    As for the 30 minutes or whatever it was, that’s actually pretty standard for a deeper burial in a situation where the beacon search takes some of the time. Say with a big avy where you don’t get a signal right away and have to z-grid your way down a debris field.

  16. Oscar February 27th, 2008 2:05 am


    I don’t think any racer in the WC uses a rotating heel type of binding. They use the flip type like Dynafit Low Tech Race or the italian ATK race. They are much faster to switch. That’s why it looks smooth.


  17. Lou February 27th, 2008 8:12 am

    Oscar, you’re right, I should have said he “changes the heel from uphill to downhill mode” rather than saying he rotates it. I’ll edit. Pretty smooth transition for that one guy, eh? He looks better than all the rest.

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