It was supposed to be an epic tour, but it turned into more of a epic base camp tour, just like the Tour de France that was happening at the same time. Our goal was to ski as many kilometers and climb as many vertical feet as we could in three weeks. The vertical was a little more difficult as our home was around 8,000 feet and the mountains go up to 17,000 in the High Andes, requiring a lot more distance to gain any altitude.
We were given an amazing opportunity to ski in Chile. The original plan was to bus to Argentina, but sometimes is just ain’t meant to be. Our flight was late and we missed our bus-taxi connection. So with little knowledge of the language or currency, we got trapped into taking a taxi to nowhere, and had to return to a hostel in Santiago with nothing gained.
Luckily we had a local contact at Valle Nevado/El Colorado/La Parva and made good use of it, staying in a little snowy undisclosed hideaway for the remainder of our trip. It might have been a rough few weeks for the locals staying at the hut, because touring a minimum of four hours for 20 straight days wasn’t exactly good for foot odor!
Jumping back to the first day on the hill, we scored a classic side country lap of Santa Teresa. It was great to connect with the G3 engineers and be shown some local stashes, namely a 45-minute tour for a 2,000′ run. Then we could hitchhike back for another lap or ski tour back to the hut, over and over. Hitching back up to Valle Nevado was a safe bet, but be warned, you don’t how fast the driver will go! Hold on.
Unlike at the strict resorts in North America, we were pleasantly surprised that we could tour on the rope line up to the tops of the lifts in La Parva, El Colorado and Valle Nevado and not get hassled. Just stay out of the way.
The skiers we met were classic, but dare I forget my favorite tours with the local wild dogs. Pedro followed us up Tres Peuntes and summitted a 12,000′ peak, even breaking trail for us in the new snow. Zudnik toured with us from Valle Nevado to La Parva and scared every single skier along the way.
Once we got in the groove and acclimatized, we were able to step up and ski some of the higher peaks, Cerro Parva and Pintor. They yielded endless ski lines on all aspects, including some mandatory ice sheet ski lines for good measure. That, and with the low snow levels and spring like weather, rock sharks were lurking all over the place, and they bite. Helmets highly recommended.
The highlight of the trip was a much-needed dump of light, dry snow that we milked for five days with bluebird sunny skies.
250 km of ski travel
55,000 feet ascended on skis
80,000 feet descended on skis
I would like to thank some sponsors and people who made the trip possible: G3 Genune Guide Gear, Eddie Bauer/First Ascent, Osprey packs, Ryder’s Eyewear, Intuition liners, Innate bottles, Suunto watches and Dissent Lab compression socks. Another big thanks to the G3 crew, Ben Dill, Martine, and the drivers in Chile for the rides up to Valle Nevado.
Story by Andy Traslin
Nothing like an alien brain tumor the size of tennis/baseball to spice up my summer! For the past two years, I had noticed that my coordination and memory were just not spot on, but I attributed it to stress and my insane work, play and farm schedules. But starting in February, things began to get very strange: First I fell asleep at the wheel about a hundred times from the Outdoor Retailer show to Silverton, Colorado. Then I forgot to pack entirely for my three week Canadian adventures and my KEEN Osprey Rippin Chix Camps at Crystal Mtn, Red Mtn and Whitewater. I ceased to pay all house bills, insurance or do any invoicing or sponsor updates and, what’s worse, didn’t even notice. I actually forgot to catch a plane to Reno where I was the keynote speaker for Microsoft and a roomful of CEOs. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was on June 30th when I almost burned the house down cooking our piggy’s bacon for breakfast. While I was oblivious to my actions and just moving through life like everything was normal, Jason was most definitely freaked out by my behavior. It was if there was another person who now inhabiting my body.
After I just about killed myself with the now infamous bacon incident, Jason called our local rural Paonia doctor and begged for something to be done immediately. Dr. Meilner obliged and called every hospital within a two hour radius to see who could perform a CAT scan at midnight on a Saturday night. Finally Saint Mary’s in Grand Junction could take us, and Jason coaxed my almost lifeless body out of bed and into our ancient Subaru. Strangely, the alien tumor made a potent move at that point, and about the last thing I remember was directing Jason to where the hospital was located. Next thing I knew it was two days later, I was suddenly entering surgery at the Ann Shutz neurosurgery center at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. I couldn’t understand why all my family had flown or driven in to see me — luckily I didn’t comprehend the papers I signed, as this surgery is most deadly (hence the sudden arrival of all the family). Next thing I knew, I woke up in the ICU, which was a scene out of the bionic woman TV show, and my brain was clear and sharp. Immediately I demanded my dental floss, much to the glee of the hospital staff, my friends and family, and especially Jason who had not left my side; my feisty normal self was back! Again, I had not known that many people take several years to recover their memories and often have partial paralysis, although I did have amnesia from the bacon moment onward and most of June was a more than a bit blurry.
I’ve been out of the hospital for just over a month now, and can’t believe how fast the recovery is — way easier than it was for eight ACL/meniscus/articular cartilage knee surgeries! I’m back to working planning the upcoming ski and bike seasons, which I love (thanks Osprey!), walking and hiking, lots of farm work and joyous harvesting, fracktivating and planning a big keynote speech next week for the EPA, The Whitehouse and The Green Sports Alliance. More than anything, I notice the wonderful little things in life — a great night’s sleep in a comfy bed, petting the dogs, eating our amazing food and kissing my amazing guy. I’ve reflected on how amazing my life has been — how I have gone after everything like it could have been my last opportunity. And even though I am a bit petrified for my full body PET scan and three spinal MRI’s on September 6th, I feel confident that my neurosurgeon, my naturopath and my naturopathic oncologist Dr. Nasha Winters and my Ketogenic Diet with the Namaste Health Center in Durango will take me to a whole new level of health and well-being. Cheers to this wonderful life — the sky is blue and there is a big puffy white cloud that is so pretty, and I’m actually able to go eat four squares of organic dark baking chocolate right now!
If you’ve been watching (and re-watching, and then watching one more time) the teaser for Sweetgrass Productions’ fourth feature film, Valhalla, you’re not alone. If you’ve never seen it before, watch it. And then take a few minutes to check out the brand-new, full length trailer for the film that’s going to redefine ‘ski film’ now and forever. Unlike so many other ooh-and-ahh-inducing films that showcase pro skiers on bluebird days blowing pow every which way, Valhalla is thought-provoking, emotional and even existentially challenging. It brings up the age-old question: what happens to that simple joy we all experience as children? The rest of the film explores this question through the story of one man’s effort to rediscover his own youthful nature.
In all of its trippy, whimsical, effortless glory, Valhalla will premiere this fall in Boulder. In the meantime, sit back and experience — perhaps for the first time in decades — the unabashed joy of seeing something truly awesome for the first time: Valhalla.
Wind. Without it we wouldn’t have storms and without storms we wouldn’t have snow. I get it, but in recent years the wind has brought little to the San Juan Mountains each spring but dust. I’m not talking about a few rogue particulates that have blown in from the desert. I’m talking about dust storms that make me think Apocalypse.
I’ve been skiing in the San Juan’s for the better part of two decades, but the dust storm phenomenon has only been plaguing our spring snowpack for the last five years. Local backcountry skiers now know the dust is coming each spring, it is just a matter of when it will come. To add insult to injury, the dust storms of the last two springs have coated an extremely thin snowpack. Scientist are saying that the dust is contributing to about 45 fewer days of snow cover in the San Juan’s each season than a decade ago. The dust storms flare up when we get a stiff and steady wind from the southern side of the compass. This year the first major event hit April 7th the following week. By late April the snowpack looked to be a color best described as somewhere between an off-brown and adobe. Regardless of where the dust comes from, it’s here, so I can either hang up the skis or suck it up and get out while there is still snow to ski.
In late April we get a minor reprieve with half a foot of snow. The dust lurks beneath the surface but for a day I have a small window to get some turns in snow that is relatively free of visible dirt. The objective is a tight couloir off the eastern side of South Lookout Peak near Ophir Pass in southwest Colorado. I have been looking at this line for more than a decade, trying to find a time when coverage is sufficient and the couloir and run out are free of debris. From highway 550 I look at the line through my binoculars and it looks good to go. I drive a few miles up the Ophir Pass road find a small pull-out and put things in motion.
South Lookout Peak (El. 13,370) and the couloir from Ophir Pass Road.
The last storm cleared out less than 24 hours earlier, but as I start to skin, I notice shades of brown starting to poke through the brighter snow. As I gain elevation, the depth of the new snow increases and the visible dust dissipates. I traverse a large alpine basin and climb until the pitch exceeds the grip of my skins. I toss the skis on my pack, latch on the crampons and continue to head higher. The couloir narrows and the pitch steepens. I glance down at my bootpack and notice two distinct dust layers within the cross section of snow exposed with each footprint. The dust layers are separated from each other by an inch of snow and from the top by less than three inches. With today’s brilliant blue sky, I know that by tomorrow this white snow I climb will look like a chute of soot.
The pitch intensifies and gets my attention. It is steep enough now that my helmet grazes the surface with each step. This is the only time I ever feel truly exposed when skiing dicey terrain. The fear of sliding backwards, chest down, on a cliff-lined 45-degree pitch keeps me focused, which is probably good given the consequences of a fall.
After the crux, the climb mellows to a more comfortable 45 degrees.
After a period of sphincter-tightening steps, the couloir widens and mellows enough to allow me to take more relaxed steps to the top. The top of the couloir is a narrow notch in the rocks that provides exceptional views of the Wilson range to the west. From my perch I can see that the Wilsons took the brunt of the last dust storm. Being the first major mountains east of the desert has made the Wilsons a geological catcher’s mitt for massive amounts of dust. In terms of coverage, the snowpack looks like it should in early June, but the tone of the surface is sickening.
Lunch is consumed, gear is stowed and it is time to drop in. Skiing couloirs is a methodical but detailed process where each turn needs to be executed with precision to avoid putting a disastrous chain of events in motion. I get my game face on and feel the pull of gravity as I aim downward. The goal to skiing couloirs efficiently is to work with gravity, not fight it.
Rhythm is the key, and within a couple of turns, I have found mine. I stay focused a couple turns ahead and try to keep my speed up fast enough to not let my sluff catch me. I approach the narrow section and swivel a couple turns to dump speed as the slot is too narrow to allow my skis to turn perpendicular to the slope. After I pass the choke I cut right, make a wide turn, and let the sluff pass on my left side. The crux is over and now this is simple high-angle fun. The couloir widens and I gain speed quickly. The last of the cliff walls disappear and I find myself on huge well-sloped apron, where I dump a hundred vertical feet with each arcing turn. The entire run has taken a couple minutes but is well worth the multi-hour effort.
I soak up the San Juan sunshine while waiting for the rest of the crew to join me in the basin. Once we are all back together we start laying out a plan for our next ascent and select some possible lines. The north-facing slope above us still looks to hold some powder from the last storm. The last few turns we made have left white marks on the brown snow.
While it looks interesting, it is another sign that our spring snowpack will likely be gone earlier than ever. Not knowing how much longer our San Juan snowpack will last this spring, we decide that there is no better time than the present to get after it. Skins come out, water goes down and more sunscreen goes on. This is the cycle of my life, and life is good.
If a picture is worth a thousands words, then you’re in for a real treat. Check out the following album, with shots taken by the amazing Ken Lucas during his travels in Alaska, which, in his words: “included backcountry skiing and some snow-kiting. We hit both the Chugach Mountains and the Kenai Mountains, including a great ski-plane segment.”
“I still remeber the simple pleasure of riding my bike to little league baseball in my uniform.” Andy Traslin graduated to carrying his skis.
Osprey Athletes the Traslin Brothers (Mike & Andy) have been skiing their entire lives. Growing up in the mountains, their snow endeavors were only natural. As such, this photo by Mike Traslin of Andy riding with skis on his back is exemplary of their lives. We hope it inspires you to get out and go!
Thanks to Mike Traslin for sharing this shot with us on Facebook!
Carving one last wet, heavy mid afternoon turn into camp last May, I stopped, clicked out of my ski bindings and took a step back from 10 years of working alpine routes in the Himalayas. I began this 10-year career with an Everest summit on my second expedition and then attempted 13 more peaks in the Himalayas. My partners and I would dispatch routes in a bold style that, depending on whether you read the NY Times or the Adventure Journal, either brought us closer to death or closer to life in this humbling and crushing mountain range. I have a biased assessment on the position of life or death. I made it through physically unscathed and can reflect on experiences “in the field” with great partners, good memories and only “some” bad luck. But a lot of my friends, and some of my mentors did not fare as well: some died, some quit, others didn’t know when to stop. It is with that disclosure that I begin to wax sublime on some of my more memorable moments and a couple of caveats to explore if you think this is an interesting topic:
1. All I wanted to do was see the world. From the age of 20 until 32 that manifested into mountaineering and channeling all my efforts, extra money and time into the Himalayas.
2. This was not a hobby for me. It was an obsession that drove almost every decision I made during that time. It had to or I would not have survived what I was doing. No mountain was worth giving up the chance to explore another one for, so I had rules that I followed and when I committed to climbing a peak, made it happen despite a real job.
3. I love this sport whole-heartedly and it makes me hurt deep down in the pit of my stomach when I think about never doing it again. But not as bad as the thought of making a fatal mistake and hurting the people I love.
So here you go, a snapshot of what I have to contribute on life, death, risk… and why I personally chose to take time this year to consider what I was doing.
It was a chilly October and my right butt cheek was smeared against a frigid corner of bare granite, knee grinding into the opposing wall over a single toothy crampon point that held my weight while a heel sloped downward and my achilles fought for reprieve. In this precarious position 90′ above Josh, my partner on the wall and belayer, I had a left leg flagged out into space pressing away from the corner. It was desperate, my quivering right arm clutched an ice tool hooking an 1/8″ nub of bare rock while my left arm extended into a steel pick scratching a surface of thin decomposing snow and ice. In the still air at 17,000′ I yelled down to Josh to untie from the rope between us, “Josh, take me off!” He responded: “What???” I repeated what I knew he had to do: “Take me off, I will kill us both if I fall.” At that moment, severely exposed and wildly wrong about adequate protection (I had placed none) in the vertical corner I was inching upward in, “26 year old me” knew if I made one error I would die from a fatal 1200′ fall and violently rip Josh off as well, the two of us tumbling to death six days from a road that led to a town where people spoke only Mandarin, in a Chinese valley where no one knew we were. This was difficult terrain to be soloing but I knew I could execute the moves to safety because I never allowed my emotions free reign to seize and paralyze me in the moments where my life, death and the future was suspended in balance like this. I had nothing to lose, which helped. After all, I would leave nothing behind but about $700 in my bank account, no debt and an e-mail to my parents from a smoky bar in Rilong — a forgotten relic of a town in the far Eastern Himalaya that crumbled in an earthquake in 2008.
But I didn’t fall that day in 2006. And we still had an epic time getting off that mountain in the dark, in a major storm with two ropes and barely any protection for adequate anchors in the featureless compact granite. We took risk and we executed, death was an option, just never acceptable for us. But I want to phrase that carefully; I did not see this as cheating death, I was cheating odds, which is a different game and mindset. Even though I love nature and alpine environments, luck was the most prevalent explanation for living and also the most seductive element of adventure granting clouds and snow, sun and summits and fate or failure. When we got home to Telluride, Co. from that trip, all I wanted to do was have a conversation with my local mentors Charlie Fowler and Chris Boskoff about how awesome the trip had been, how confident I now felt putting up a new route in the Himalayas. They too were in China on an expedition, but they never came home, an avalanche swept over them a few weeks after the storm we had survived. They died doing what they loved.
In 2009, with three more aggressive years to hone my experience and an appetite for dangerous runouts, I was in the lead on a new route on the NE face of 23,390′ Baruntse in the Nepali Himalayas. Josh, Jon and I had committed to what we thought was a six-day alpine style push with the bare amount of equipment to climb the mountain by a new route, summit and then ski down the other side. This was my dream climb and the route I would say had the most influence on me than any other route I ever touched. I wanted to traverse it more than any ground on earth. But on that day as I led, ice climbing on a shiny spine of ice cleaving a wide open face capped by dangerous icefall on either side, I peered across valley to the 8000′ south face of 27,940′ Lhotse to watch the jet stream explode against it in a 3000′ tall mushroom cloud framed by an eerie alpenglow. I scarily uttered through chattering lips with 2000′ of air nipping at my heels: “Living people do not see things like this.” That night, on a ledge we chopped out and sat on for five days, I hunched over with my frost nipped feet warming on Jon’s stomach holding his hands so he could lean forward and puke into a Ziploc bag. Josh melted water in a stove almost hanging in space on the edge of the tent. We settled into an uneasy realization of what we all knew may be true — this could be it if the storm built steam and blew our tent to pieces. We had reached a point of too far, not yet no return, and would have nothing but time to worry about our fate as Jon’s stomach ailment deteriorated into a serious condition.
But the storm built only so much steam and we lived. After 10 days on the mountain we rappelled the route rescuing Jon and in three months I was in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Outdoor Retailer show talking to an athlete manager of a company that supported me as an athlete. Recounting this tale and then discussing the fate of a new friend I had made that year who had reached out to me for advice before my trip — Micah Dash, we remembered Micah’s adventurous spark, which was extinguished with two others by an avalanche in Sichuan while we were on our climb. The last e-mail I got on day six of our approach to Baruntse was about Mt Edgar; “Did I know anything about it?” The news of why he hadn’t responded to my last e-mail hit me just one week after returning home from Baruntse and somehow the stock sentiment made me pale this time. He died doing what he loved.
In May 2012, with my wife at home pregnant with our son, I broke trail in 3′ of snow up a large valley on 21,506′ Chulu West with Jon, Chris and Gavin. We climbed three awkward pitches of rock the day before to get into position to be the first people to ever ski this valley and were hit by a major electrical storm that delayed our start and lay fresh snow over some dangerous terrain up high. At just after noon that day we stood looking at the last steep pitch leading to the summit ridge, the sun was intense, heat was picking up and large chunks of cornices had crashed into the slope and triggered a couple of sizeable avalanches. At that moment, my mind drifted to where it always had, where I knew that there was a good chance that if we set foot on the slope it would avalanche, but I wanted to go anyway because I have tempted fate many more times than just what is above and it has worked out. That is what it takes to make it to the top.
But this time it didn’t work out, we did not “succeed” and tag the summit. We talked about it. We talked ourselves out of it. Why? Because I don’t want to die a suffocating oppressive death after being ripped to pieces and then buried beneath a ton of snow. We would not settle for eight more ski turns and a stale eulogy. I did not want to be someone who “died doing what they loved” because if that were the case, then I would die hanging out with my family, sleeping, eating ice cream, pizza, editing a film, listening to a great song — just sayin’. Luckily, by committee, everyone elected that we should “just ski”… novel right? We didn’t actually have to increase our risk of death to pull that off and have fun. My God, why did it take me so long to learn that? Just skiing there was “extreme” enough and I was so engrossed, so used to laying it out there that I could not even see that was an accomplishment. It had become routine to pioneer, dangerously so.
In 15 peak attempts in the Himalayas from Dhaulagiri in Western Nepal, the summit of Everest in Tibet and the far reaching slopes of The Savage Sister in eastern Sichuan, I had come close or had completely risked it all every time, every time except this one. I have broken an ankle, rescued a friend, run out of oxygen on summit day, been in an avalanche scenario and watched friends fall in crevasses, lose feeling on the right side of their body and cry, cry in the anguish of physical and emotional defeat. I have given up myself in the dark hours of a stormy night and understood the process that leads one to freezing to death alone and undisturbed by that choice. This time everything went right, including my attitude toward it all… so I quit, the moment I finally got “a head.”
Situations and tolerances vary for everyone and across latitudes and longitudes. Education is the best backup to support your judgment when taking risk. There will still be moments after you have gained that medical and snow science knowledge when you are in the mountains and your tolerance will negate what you have learned or the situation will fall outside what you were taught. If you proceed at that time you must knowingly commit and pursue your present goal with little more than faith that the consequences you are anticipating are truly manageable within the system of variables you are engaging with. That is adventure; it is in that space I loved so dearly, where I learned to be present on the line between here and now and tomorrow or never. Don’t forget though, that the system you are engaging is greater than the slopes around you and you may have to speak to someone’s mother, father, wife or brother about the mistake you don’t think you are about to make, even though most of the time you won’t. But if you do, if something goes wrong, if you nearly cost someone his or her life or are there when something out of your control goes completely wrong, I can only tell you that in my experience, it is a far lower low than any altitude high you may ever reach.
Every now and then, it makes sense to press pause. On our iPod, during a movie, in a heated debate… sometimes we just need a break to process all the excitement and the stimulation. There is little room for pause in real life or the types of scenarios above. There is no skill that will comfortably guarantee survival either, for that there is only luck. I think that is why they call it risk and nothing else. I think that is why I always encourage others to go if that curiosity drives you. Considering what I have survived, I would go forward in some instances where others may have stayed home because I felt it was necessary to explore boundaries. I don’t regret that I did, but I’m not continuing onward today. I have already gone and I have come back. And on this side of things, I am enjoying a state of pause, reflection and peace with my decisions.
Looking for great views and an aesthetic ski tour? Then Heartstrings is for you.
Like most skiers and climbers, I had skied various routes on Mt. Joffre, Matier, Slalok. I had heard of the Heartstrings in many conversations over the years… but only in regards to exiting the bigger objectives.
I had personally always just skied by the Heartstrings, for one reason or another. It always just seemed like…. “Oh look, there’s Heartstrings.” After years of passing by, the big rockwalls lured me in and I finally skied it. The snow was variable, but the views were perfect. Fun Ski! It would be great to hit that zone in powder. Next time.
For more information on the area, pick up “Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis” by John Baldwin and head to page 125. Good luck.
Words: Mike Traslin
The annual Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival is an outright celebration of human-powered winter adventure. What’s more, it honors environmental preservation while working to showcase the pure beauty of non-motorized recreation. And to put the cherry on top, the Backcountry Film Festival expressly promotes the work of grassroots filmmakers who tell these inherently awe-inspiring stories.
If you spent the winter months playing in the snow, now’s the time to submit your footage of it because the 9th annual Backcountry Film Festival is now seeking entries! Here’s are the requirements for — as well as process of — submitting your quality footage: