Hollyburn

Today marked my first ski ascent of Hollyburn. I’ve snowsh0ed to the end of the nordic ski area before, but I don’t think that I’ve ever climbed the last few pitches to the viewpoints (it was snowing that time, so no view anyways…)

end-of-the-nordic-areaIf it’s a clear day, the view is spectacular and well worth the effort to climb those last few steep sections. And if your snowshoeing, remember the garbage bag for sliding down! I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many adults giggling away like school kids ūüôā

view-from-hollyburn view-from-hollyburn-2

The final pitch to Hollyburn peak is¬†steep! My friends and I weren’t sure if our skins would make it up, and dodging snowshoers on our way down didn’t seem like our kind of fun, so we headed off into the “meadow” in search of a gentler route up.

hollyburn-meadows

We never did find a gentler route, but we did have a friendly little visitor when we stopped for food.

grey-jay

Despite our best efforts, we never did get to the peak. No matter which route we explored, it kept getting quite steep! It was interesting to look at the trees and see evidence of old avalanches. I know that most of Hollyburn is relatively low risk, but it definitely gets steep enough to slide is places. Busy doesn’t mean safe! I was super-glad that the avalanche forecast was “low” for the tree-line today, as that meant we were able to explore a bit more.¬†Of course, I didn’t want to explore too far and find myself down the wrong side of the mountain!

But going back to the question of safety for a moment, even though the risk of an avy was pretty low today, that doesn’t mean there weren’t other dangers. Tree wells are always lying in wait, ready to trap an unsuspecting skier (or snowshoer). I think though, that today’s biggest danger were the ice bombs the trees kept dropping! As the temps climbed above freezing, all the snow and ice climbing to the branches was sliding off. By noon, there were ice bombs every minute or so! All those chunks of ice didn’t make for fantastic skiing (nor did the heavy melt-freeze snow), so we decided to call it a day and head back.

view-from-hollyburn-3

Remember, if you’re¬†travelling in the back country in winter,¬†know the avalanche forecast, carry a beacon, probe and shovel (and know how to use them!), be prepared for an unexpected night outdoors, and always tell someone where you are going!

At long last – backcountry skiing

Finally, a nice day when I managed to get my work done early enough to get out!

trail to red heather

Honestly, I was beginning to wonder if buying my touring skies this year was a bad idea.¬†Throughout January and into February, I was¬†able to get out and ski on a somewhat regular basis. Then, I bought my skis, and every nice day fell during a crazy work week – and every week where work was manageable was rainy. And by rainy, I mean rainy all the way up the mountains. I’ll ski in the snow, but skiing in the rain is miserable.

Anyways, I finally made it out for a quick trip up towards Red Heather. I learned a few things along the way. First, I’m a total wimp when it comes to driving logging roads. Just getting to the lower parking lot was stressful enough, then when I encountered the tiniest bit of snow I aimed out and parked. Now, if I had been driving my little Mazda, that might make sense. But I was driving the Rubicon. So embarrassing. Doubly so when I got to the upper parking lot (courtesy of a very kind gentleman) and discovered a little car parked – without chains.

I also learned that¬†skinning uphill takes quite a bit longer than walking. I can walk to Red Heather (with spikes) in less than an hour. Skinning up,¬†it took me an hour to get roughly a third of the way. I made it just past the viewpoint overlooking Squamish. The next day I discovered that I need to build a lot more upper-body skiing strength and that even if my legs didn’t feel like they were working hard, there did. Running uphill just wasn’t going to happen.

So… gear.

I bought myself a pretty sweet set up: DPS wailer 99 tour 1’s, G3 ion 10 bindings and Atomic Backland carbon boots. Just thinking about how slow I was and how much it took out of my legs makes me¬†very glad that I went just about as light as I could.

I also found the perfect layers for a cool (+3C), sunny day: my MEC mercury 2 thermal tights, Lululemon run:swiftly long sleeve and Arctery’x Squamish Hoodie. I love the fabric of my MEC¬†tights: fleecy on the inside, smooth nylon on the outside. They are warm and breathable, and they have that all-important pocket on the back of the waistband. The only downside to the tights is that the rise isn’t quite high enough – when I run in them, they suffer from crotch drop. The Lululemon long sleeve is pretty awesome. Warm enough, breathable, quick drying, and, most importantly, has long sleeves and thumb holes. All outdoor athletic long sleeve tops should have thumb holes. And the Squamish hoody? It’s amazing, except that the fabric gets stinky extremely quickly. Like sweat in it once and throw it in the wash.¬†My layers were about as perfect as could be.¬†As I warmed up, all I had to do was lose my gloves and buff, and unzip my jacket a bit.

 

Toys!

I can’t say that Santa visited… it was more like the warranty department (and visa). But I have some new toys!

Back in December I took my 5 year old Arc’teryx Beta goretex jacket in because the goretex fabric was delaminating. Of course, you can’t fix a problem with the fabric, so it was replaced. Yay! And I didn’t even have to choose the same jacket. Double yay!

Since¬†99% of the time I wore me jacket either walking around town or skiing, I figured that I would replace it with a ski jacket. So off I went to the stores to start trying things on. But gasp! The ski jackets fit differently. After trying on every jacket in Squamish, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted. The ski jackets in my size were all smaller in the shoulders and bulkier through the waist than my old Beta. Boo. Neither sizing up nor down was an option. Next up – the Arc’teryx store in Vancouver. Then Whistler. Still no solution. I was beginning to think that I might have to give up on getting a ski jacket.

Escape Route to the rescue! They had the slim-fitting Ravenna in stock. So I could size up to get shoulders that fit, without feeling like I was swimming in the torso. (Right about now I was contemplating doing a happy dance). The only downside is that doing a warranty replacement in December means that there’s much less choice of colour. So I ended up with black instead of this awesome blue:

Ravenna-Jacket-W-Poseidon

Next up it was time to replace my 1.5 year old Rab Kinetic jacket that was also experiencing some serious delamitation (what’s going on here?). This time I went through Vallhalla Pure where I bought it. Because Rab didn’t have a replacement coat in stock, I was able to get a store credit. Booyah!

I thought about using the credit towards a winter-weight down puffy, but decided to get something more in line with my original intent instead. I bought the Kinetic looking for something I could run and hike in in windy or drizzly¬†conditions, but the Kinetic never quite cut it.¬†Even though it’s officially waterproof, it never seemed to be 100% waterproof. And no waterproof-breathable jackets is especially¬†breathable. Attempting to run in it left me dripping on the inside. My replacement? The ubiquitous Arc’teryx Squamish Hoodie ūüôā Plus a new pair of ski socks – did you know that Icebreaker has a lifetime guarantee on their socks? If you get a hole, bring in the pair and they’ll replace it.

I’ve decided to only shop at retailers with lifetime guarantees from now on.

My last purchase (unfortunately, because it was the most expensive) had to come out of my own pocketbook. I bought myself a pair of ski touring boots! Once again, I took myself all over Squamish and Vancouver (and the internet!) looking for the right boot. I probably tried on a dozen or so boots, and weeded out many more by searching online reviews. I finally chose to go with the Atomic Backland Carbon.atomic carbon

It’s one of the lightest available, the most comfortable of all the boots I tried on (and fully customizable, just in case), not crazy expensive and comes with decent reviews for both touring and skiing!

 

Avalanche Safety Training

We spent the weekend touring around the Whistler side country and freezing our asses off in a classroom learning about avalanches, how to avoid them, and how to rescue our friends (just in case).

Whistler

Rule #1 of the back country: always carry your beacon, probe and shovel. AND know how to use them. AND know how to avoid getting into situations when you might need to use them. Oh, was that three rules? Too bad. They’re all important enough to be rule #1.

Here’s a few pics of our awesome guide/instructor Brent Phillips showing us what to look for in different layers of the snowpack.

AST AST