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Vertfest: Celebrating Backcountry Culture to Benefit the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center

March 8th, 2010

vertfestWords by Paresh Kamdar

Photos by Ryan Beck

Backcountry skiing is usually about getting away from the crowds. It is usually about spending time enjoying the beauty and solitude of the mountains at your own pace, making your own way. Why then would more than 100 backcountry skiers and riders enter a competition in a ski area on a gorgeous clear day in the middle of winter? I think the answers lies in their support for the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center and their desire to “fest” with others in the backcountry community.

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Verfest is a celebration of backcountry culture that benefits the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center. It is a euro-style “rando race” inviting all forms of glisse to participate in the human-powered race up and back down the mountain. The 4th Annual Vertfest was held at Alpental near Snoqualmie Pass on this bluebird Saturday, March 6th 2010. Martin Volken of Pro Guiding proudly announced that this was the most well attended rando race yet in the Northwest with more than 100 participants!

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) provides an essential resource to backcountry travelers. We have come to love and rely on the avalanche and weather forecasts provided by NWAC. NWAC operates one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive mountain weather and data networks in the US, providing information that is crucial to the safety of mountain travelers.

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The race course at Alpental is always steep and challenging. This year the cold clear morning made it extra technical with icy conditions.  The recreational category made one lap within the Alpental ski area climbing about 2,300’, while the race category climbed two laps for a total elevation gain of 4,100’. The second lap was a completely different route that took participants into the Alpental backcountry, out to the infamous “Piss pass” and back.

Local favorite Monika Johnson took 1st in the Women’s race division vertfest2completing both laps in just 2 hrs 7 minutes! Ellen Parker took 2nd with a time of 2:39 and Kristine Kleedehn came in 3rd at 2:44.  The Traslin brothers from British Columbia took 1st and 2nd place in the men’s race division. Andy’s time was 1 hr 40 minutes with his brother, Mike, just 3 minutes behind at 1:43! Kirk Turner took 3rd with a time of 1:46. Local favorite Lowell Skoog placed 4th with a time of 1:49. All incredibly fast given the vertical gain and technical nature of the course!

As for me, I think “suffer fest” would be a more appropriate name.  This was my 2nd entry into this game. I worked hard at it and was happy to have improved my time over my last showing at Crystal Mountain a couple of years ago.  It took me 1hr, 26minutes to complete the recreational category of 1 lap.  That put me in 9th place out of 41 in the category*.  I accomplished my goals of finishing without injury & of not getting lapped by anyone in the race category (in the event at Crystal in 2008, not only did I get lapped by one of the racers, Benedikt Böhm, but I later heard that he enjoyed a smoke between laps!)  It was fun to push myself and see just how fast I could tour up that much vertical. It was also fun to meet and hang out with many of the “who’s who” in the NW backcountry community. I got to have lunch with Lowell Skoog and Garth Ferber, a couple of local legends. I learned that Garth is one of only 3 employees at Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center! Wow! All that work with only 3 employees!  I shook hands with the Traslin brothers and thanked them for all of their inspiring trip reports. I met Tyler Kloster, of Karakoram and saw the prototype of his soon to be released all new splitbaord system!

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Vertfest is a great event that is gathering more support every year.  It’s an excellent way to meet others interested in backcountry touring adventures and to support an essential resource that is constantly underfunded.  The free beer and copious swag from all of the sponsors added to the fun. Everyone had a blast!

IMG_0031A huge thanks to Osprey for their support of Vertfest for the 4th year in a row!  Thanks also to Martin Volken and his crew from Pro Guiding for setting & maintaining the course, to Outdoor Research for organizing the event, to Alpental for providing the venue, to all of the participants for their infectious energy, and to everyone else that helped in putting this together!

Be safe out there and have fun!

*unofficial race results  – official results should be in later this week

Events, Osprey Culture, Outdoor Activities , , , , , , , , ,

My way to becoming a real “Rippin Chic”

March 5th, 2010

Having been a lifelong skier, I’m pretty confident of my abilities, ski most anywhere and figured I looked pretty good on the slopes.  But when I saw myself on video, I saw another skier…I thought I outgrew my long appendages, kind of after middle school? My hands would open up, flail, and then retract. I know how to compensate for shooting myself off things and going fast. But looking good, correct technique…well, not so much. Controlling a 5’8″ frame that’s all legs and arms isn’t easy!

Recently, I had the privilege of taking part in Alison Gannett’s Rippin Chix camp at the Butte (the one and only Crested Butte, which is a fitting place to hold this camp).  While Alison Gannett obviously is a rippin’ chic, the instruction and the transformation process is what this camp is about. My goal was to become a better skier in two days, but I also worried I’d get my ass kicked.  I hadn’t skied in a month, had been hanging at sea level and I was envisioning panting like a rabbit, trying to keep up.

So when Alison and her co-ripper, Carrie Jo Chernoff, rounded up a collective group of 11 women attendees on a clear Saturday morning, we sized each other up, in a friendly way.  Many of the women were both excited and apprehensive.  We talked about our goals for the camp.  Some had specific ones (I want to huck this) while others were more general (like myself, I want to see what I look like, ski more fluidly). Riding up the lift we chattered about this and that, until we gathered at the top of a run.  Our orders were to pretend we were in a couloir, sliding down the slope.  We were to use a pole plant and swivel to the opposite side, coming to a full stop.

I didn’t do so well.  Taking small steps and then incorporating them into the actual thing was what we were after, but for me, this was oddly difficult; the people I ride with just go, there is rarely any stopping and, definitely, no one analyzes technique.  After this exercise, we split into smaller groups, taking our practice points to a different playground and broke it down.  What were/are we doing?  I had no idea I had the bad dancer moving-their-hands-in-and-out-on-the dance-floor look as I negotiated bumps! I also found out that I tend to swivel my hips a lot, shakin’ it too much.  I’ve been relying on my legs and butt muscles, when I should be turning my hips first.  Alison observed, smiled and talked about these habits on the hill, but then gave us the tools necessary to improve our form and technique.  We worked through repetition, nailing the technique down.

Throughout the day riding the lifts and on the snow, Alison covered the little stuff–what is rocker, a damp ski, how to properly hold your poles, and other small, but useful trinkets of information.  We learned different types of air and hucking techniques—and along with them where to focus our eyes, pole plants if necessary—all to tackle all sorts of terrain and look for the mountain’s obstacles as play objects. I now know where to hold my “martini tray”, making sure not to serve the floor, the wrong customers and so forth.  I know that I need to have my fist shoot back, out of the stratosphere right after my pole plant or I’ll have “velcro butt”—my hands sticking to my sides. I know how to “make wine”, keeping those shins engaged and forward. Alison and Carrie-Jo were working us into a reduction, breaking and slowing all these points down.

By the end of the two days we were like Gumby, but our sense of accomplishment was immense.  Everyone came away with several points they learned and had begun incorporating it into their skiing.  As Alison says, “You’ve got one bag of tricks, but you need others for different situations.”

Kerry McCarthy is a new member of the “Rippin Chix”.  Her day job is the Marketing Coordinator for Osprey Packs. Alison Gannett is a World Champion Extreme Skier, Osprey athlete, Founder of The Save Our Snow Foundation, and an award-winning global cooling consultant. Join Alison Gannett for her other Rippin Chix camps, but be quick–they fill up fast!  Her next offerings are the Rippin Chix Mountain bike Skills Camps held in Crested Butte in June http://www.alisongannett.com/Alison_Gannett/Rippin_Chix_Bike.html

Osprey Athletes, Osprey Culture, Outdoor Activities, Uncategorized

Small Miracles: Descending the Rio Baker in Patagonia

March 2nd, 2010
Loading the truck after the trailer failed on our van in Patagonia, Chile.

Loading the truck after the trailer failed on our van in Patagonia, Chile.

by Craig Childs

This is how we reach the interior of Patagonia: spider-webbed windshield and a blown-out side-view mirror on a Mitsubishi 4×4 van carrying a crest of kayaks. A long and dusty road wanders beneath enormous summits. We come around the corner to find our raft listing badly, a wheel missing from the trailer, axle bent. How many times have you been in this position: foreign country, sitting on the side of a road, things gone awry? It’s how it works. You can only bring so much schedule and expectation into a wild place. Uncapping a bottle of pisco, we each take a shot. It is what must be done.

A flatbed the size of a yacht grinds up the road and Timmy O’neill flags it down. Our entire assemblage soon gets hoisted atop it, tied down, and we are gone again. Small miracles are everywhere. The kindness and openness out here saves us at every turn. I cannot help but think of that same kindness buried under earthquake rubble, families out here who have lost people they love. The memory and dread follows us as word comes of aftershocks and body counts. Lives are so fragile we can do nothing from here but pray.

Moonrise in Patagonia.

Moonrise in Patagonia.

Still driving that night, we watch the full moon rise through the Andes. The river sings in the river below. Meanwhile, this continent grinds against its neighboring plate. Everything is in motion.

Dawn. I walk through the town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo to where the river meets a broad, blue-eyed lake. The arc of the sky tilts, moon sets into peaks and glaciers. The sun cracks through a high ridge. I think, these simple faces of morning would be the same if dams were here, if this pristine valley were choked with buildings and smoke, but our lives would be changed. Only one god would remain, the small gods of these round, glistening stones, and the loud mumble of the Rio Tranquilo gone.

By sunset, we reach our put-in. The Rio Baker begins.

Osprey Note: Osprey Athlete Timmy O’Neill is in Patagonia, Chile this month with James Q. Martin and company for a descent of the Rio Baker in order to capture the epic beauty and adventure of this ancient Aysen waterway. They are documenting the trip to aid local NGOs in their efforts to prevent the river from being dammed.

Conservation, Osprey Athletes, Osprey Culture , , , , , , , ,

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