First Backcountry Report

backcountryLast week, Nino, 3 skiers, and I headed up just northwest of Black Hawk city for what would be my first (and Nino’s) backcountry trip. I had some of the gear I needed, but still dropped nearly $700 for 2 beacons, another set of snowshoes, 2 shovels, and 2 probes. Nino and I also attended a 1 hour avalanche awareness course. We learned enough to know we need to take a real class.

The snow conditions were nearly as bad as you could imagine. Several days of sun had the top cursted over in the open areas. I would find myself over knee deep in snow not 20 meters from a patch of exposed grass. That’s what you get for heading out after the very first snow of the season.

Skiers definitely have a backcountry advantage when it comes to traversing. Uphill, I could keep up. However, downhill, the skiers get to slide along and rest at the bottom while the snowboaders hike it all the way through. You definitely need stamina.

My favorite moment was sitting back in a snow-made lounge chair and looking off at an amazing view down the valley. I want to spend my next day of turns somewhere with a lift, no doubt. However, I expect to do this backcountry experience several more times this season. It’s good stuff.

First Backside 180 (Sorta)

A few weeks ago I was at A-Basin with Nino and decided to troll through the park. I didn’t hit any of the big terrain, but I was knocking around on lips and edges a bit. I came up on a toe-edge jump and the felt good for a backside 180 attempt. Probably because I didn’t have time to think about it, I came off pretty clean. I landed before I got around so I finished it off on the ground. To that extent, you might not really call it a 180. However, it’s still the first time I’ve been in the air rotating with my back facing down the mountain. I tried it a couple of more times and found it to be pretty easy. However, I haven’t managed to pull one off on a flat jump. The toe-edge really makes a difference.

In other news, I haven’t been getting out nearly enough. I had to take a business trip to Dundee last week. It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I’ve been on the snow and it’s making me sad. Not sure if I’ve blogged about it before, but I’ve just come out of a stint of “self employment” and am once again “working for the man”…. This whole 40 hours a week in the office thing gets in the way of my play time. Not cool.

The hardest part is seeing the snow reports lately. This season has lacked snowfall. It was only recently that I started seeing 6 & 8 inch overnight reports. With as few powder days as we’ve had this season, I hate to miss one. Luckily, next weekend will bring 3 much needed days of riding down in Wolf Creek. Hooray!

The attached photo was snapped on a hike at Walker Ranch. There was a bit of snow covering some of the tails, but overall it was warm. I wore shorts and took my hoodie off from time to time. There were a number of mountain bikes out on the trails. It’s definitely a sign that the weather is unseasonably warm here. I may have to move further north. I hear good things about Whistler.

Now, I say that… but the idea of switching to surfing keeps poking at the back of my mind. I keep digging through photos of Sayulita and dreaming of living near the beach for a while. I could give up snowboarding for a few seasons if I could surf in my back yard. In terms of snowboarding, I feel myself getting closer to reaching a plateau. I’d like to master the 360 and get some deep powder / back country experience under my belt. Beyond that, I don’t expect to progress much further. However, I’m so extremely new to surfing that I’ve got everything left to learn. All I’ve done is catch a few rollers on a longboard.

Either way, I hope to spend less time in an office soon.

Cheetah Ultra Sports Whip F117

Honestly, I was looking for information on Netbooks when I ran across Cheetah Ultra Sports‘ new snowboard, the Whip F117. I ran across the board on a Gizmodo post. The stick costs nearly $2k and looks like a snowboard mated with a Cyclon ship. I have to admit, it’s dead sexy.

The hole in the board is… odd… making for certain that this is not a powder board. This leaves me wondering just what this board IS good for. The product page suggests it’s good for new riders. However, in my many years of teaching, the best thing I’ve found for new riders is some soft powder.

Perhaps it’s an interesting board for the park, but will the hole get caught on parts of rails, boxes, and pipes? If it’s lighter, it might be nice for areal tricks. How this board snaps and carves could have a big impact on take-offs and landings.

The risers are extremely high. I hear a lot of riders like risers, but I rarely see them and never this high. I was joking with friends the other day about making elevator snowboard boots. I imagine they would feel something like this board would feel. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the experience of riding with risers, so I can only imagine.

Part of me wants to take this board onto Snowflex terrain. There’s something that feels appropriate about taking a space-age looking board onto an artificial surface. Ultimately, I would really like to demo this board and find out how it feels. However, until I can, I’m going to have to classify this in the gimmick category – a very expensive gimmick.

Village At Wolf Creek Back On Track

Freerider at Wolf CreekHooray! I know some people won’t be as happy about it as I am, but I’m sure they’ll get over it. I’ve found a couple of stories saying The Village at Wolf Creek is back on track. It’s only taken 20 years! There’s an article in Biz Journals and and article in the Denver Post.

The Denver Post takes a very negative slant, “It is clear that the development of Wolf Creek Pass isn’t in the public interest.” I’ve been following this topic for a while now and, frankly, not everyone is all upset about it. There are large groups who are making a lot of noise about potential environmental impact and economic impacts. I’d even say there is a fair amount of validity in this. However, at town meetings that Red and the gang have held in the past, a large number of people have supported his project and the economic gain it could bring to the area.

Honestly, I don’t know the specifics of the project. I would hope that it is fairly eco friendly and uses as much green technology as possible. If it is, indeed, a threat to the local ecosystem – then I don’t want it to happen. However, it’s my belief that the area will some day be developed. It’s an amazing place to ski/board. That said, I think groups should focus on guiding the project down the best path instead of trying to block it altogether. Just my $0.02.

Village at Wolf Creek Drama Continues

Lift at Wolf CreekThanks to ski-blog for the scoop. It would seem that one of the pending lawsuits regarding the Village at Wolf Creek finally reached a resolution. The following is from Mineral County Minor (and is also quoted on the ski-blog link above)

WOLF CREEK— The owners of Wolf Creek ski resort and developers of the proposed Village at Wolf Creek have reportedly settled their lawsuit over the project.

The Pitcher family, owners of the ski area through Wolf Creek Ski Corp. Inc., sued Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture over the $1 billion Village at Wolf Creek resort project in 2003.

U.S. District Court Judge John Kane dismissed the case last Tuesday without ruling as to the admissibility of any evidence presented, according to The Associated Press.

The Pitchers reportedly cooperated with the Village at Wolf Creek’s developers early on, but pulled out in the 1990s.

Led by Kingsbury Pitcher, they sued the joint venture, claiming they had no legal responsibility to help develop the resort. Leavell-McCombs countersued, alleging that the Pitchers had committed fraud and breached their contract.

The settlement cancels a trial that was scheduled for July 7. The Pitchers had reportedly threatened to introduce evidence of the political intrigue that has surrounded the Village since the 1980s. The two sides were haggling over political allegations when the settlement was announced…

A separate lawsuit filed by environmental groups over the development was settled out of court in February, with steps yet to be taken including evaluation of an access road by the U.S. Forest Service, approval of a highway access permit by the Colorado Department of Transportation and approval of development plans by Mineral County, which can only be considered after access is approved.

According to Honts, the next step will be with the Forest Service, which is under a court-ordered agreement to do another environmental impact study for proposed access roads to the development.

Forest Service spokesman Mike Blakeman said the government will bill McCombs for the costs of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for access roads and Forest Service employees will do most of the work on it, not a private contractor. Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) officials will choose the team that does the environmental analysis.

I was beginning to think the whole project was going to fade away. Looks like things are rolling along at a snail’s pace.

Review: Sessions Istodis Heather Jacket

Sessions Istodis Heather Jacket Last summer I moved from Texas to Colorado, accidentally leaving behind my trusty old ski coat. I say “ski” because I bought the coat before I started snowboarding. It always served its purpose well, so I never replaced it. However, I was due to leave for Chile and, without a coat at the last minute, I was forced to find something else. I hit a local shop and picked up a Sessions shell called the “Istodis Heather Jacket” (Hershey flavor). I only know the name because I spent the last 30 minutes looking it up online – it’s not printed inside the shell.

At first, I wanted to hate this jacket. I really liked the placement of the pockets on my old coat. It took me a while to adjust to everything being out of place. Once I got over the shock of something new and different, I learned to love this jacket.

First of all, it’s a “shell”. This means it’s designed to be your outter most layer. With the vents open, the Jacket allows for a fair amount of fresh air. With just a t-shirt on underneath, it’s good for those days that aren’t too terribly cold. Close the vents and put a hoodie underneath and you’re ready for some frigid days.

The jacket has an attached hood which I rarely use. However, when I need it, I love it. The sleeves include those snazzy cuffs that wrap around your thumb and go inside your gloves – keeping snow off your wrists. There are tons of pockets including an MP3 pocket (and a special collar that allows you to insert headphones into the jacket), a tucked away pocket inside the zipper flap, a variety of exterior pockets (both button and zipper), and a pocket with a goggle wipe velcro’d inside. There’s also a removable powder skirt with buttons that will latch to your pants… but not my pants, as they buttons don’t fit right with my belt loops.

Mosquito On Sessions Jacket

The jacket is light weight and water proof. It looks snazzy enough to wear as an every day jacket. In fact, I recently wore my jacket camping in Alaska. It not only kept me warm and dry, but kept the mosquitoes from eating me alive.

The quality of the jacket it top notch. I’ve caught a fair amount of tree limbs and have never torn or scratched the shell. After stinking it up with fish and campfire in AK, a quick run through the washing machine (and hung to dry) left the jacket looking and smelling like new.

I don’t think this jacket is perfect. I personally would prefer a removable hood (which Session offers in other models) and I would still adjust the placement of some of the pockets. I’ve found that larger items (such as a radio, phone, or flask) can often hang right around the base of your rib cage – which kinda sucks when you fall just right. Still, the jacket is awesome enough that I completely forget I’m wearing it while I’m riding – which is exactly what I want.

Conclusion: Recommended

Review: 2007 Arbor Mystic 154

2007 Arbor Mystic at KeystoneI’ve long lusted for an Arbor Mystic. Imagine my surprise last summer when I found one in a Texas shop at 50% off. I spent more time riding the Mystic 154 this past season than any other board.

Before the Mystic, I’d never experienced a true park board. If you’re considering a park board and have never owned one, you might want to demo one first. The first thing you’ll notice is a different edging. Where an all mountain board is sharp around the curves, a park board loses it’s edge near the ends as to not catch the snow while doing rotation tricks. This means you must have your carves on hard park dialed in a little better. You’ll also notice that a park board has a completely different flex pattern. The middle of the board tends to be springier while the ends are more firm.

The Mystic is one of Arbor’s bamboo core boards. Bamboo is lighter than carbon fiber and lasts twice as long. The use of bamboo also makes Arbor one of the most eco friendly boards on the market.

The base of the board uses a technology Arbor calls Struc Turn. From the website, “It prevents a vacuum from forming between the board and snow.” I quickly became aware of the effectiveness of Struc Turn on my very first ride. I thought a smaller board (I usually ride a 162) would be a bit slower. The Mystic accelerated much faster than any board I’ve ridden.

The mystic is a true twin tip. This is rather funny, as I set my bindings on the board backwards initially and never bothered to fix it. I spent a lot of time this season focused on improving my ability to ride switch. The twin nature of this board made it much easier. With my directional boards, it was difficult to tell what was different while riding switch – something I was doing versus how the board felt. With the twin, I could easily identify what I needed to focus on while riding switch.

Overall, the board is fairly light. It’s not as light as some of the new honeycomb boards coming out; however, you definitely won’t have to worry about a knee popping out of joint while riding the lift up.

Finally, the board just looks sexy. Traditionally, the Arbor boards have been mostly black with very classy and mostly green artwork. While the 04 artwork is, by far, my favorite – I still love my 07.

Conclusion Highly Recommended

Review: 2007 Burton Cartel Bindings

2007 Burton Cartel Snowboard BindingI have a 10.5 sized shoe/boot which puts me exactly in between a large binding and a medium binding. The upside is that I can ride both. The down size is that neither is a perfect fit. I bought a set of large Missions for my park board and quickly found that they were a tad too bulky. Early this past season, I purchased a set of medium, high back, 07 Burton Cartel bindings to replace the Missions. I chose Cartel as I’ve been running 05 Cartels on my Custom for a few years and really like them. My 05 Cartels are solid bindings; the 07 are even better.

The first thing you might notice about Cartel bindings is the wide variety of adjustments available. I honestly thought I was going to have to return my bindings after my first few rides. Once I realized just how much the bindings can be adjusted, I was good to go. While the 05s are highly adjustable, the 07s are even more so.

The Cartels are listed as a mid-grade binding on Burton’s website. However, they are also listed as the most responsive binding in their class. Personally, I found both the 05 and 07 bindings to be extremely responsive. The toe strap runs across the front of the boot, pushing your heel deep into the base of the binding. Your feet are connect to the board for a solid ride.

I only have one complaint with my 05 Cartels. The forward lean adjustment on the back of the 05 binding has a flip latch to lock them into an upright position. This seemed both superfluous and annoying. I have to unlatch the back of the binding before I could flip it down when jumping on a lift. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thought this was a bad design decision as it was removed in the 07 model! The new design, instead, uses a nifty wing nut that allows you the adjust the lean of the binding’s back quickly and easily.

There are a few other minor improvements on the 07. The straps now have a bit of jell inside, making for a snug and comfy fit. Overall, the binding is also lighter than the previous model while still being just as solid. The straps themselves are attached using a new style of nut with a flip up cover. When flipped open, the nut can be taken out by hand – with no tools. This allows you to adjust the length of your binding straps on the mountain at any time you wish. It’s particularly handy when you want to let someone else – with a different shoe size – ride your board.

Simply put, the 2007 Burton Cartel bindings are the best bindings I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride.

Conclusion: Recommended