While I may be a champion freeskier and competitive ultra-mountain biker, I suck at running. I’m not sure if it brings back bad memories of being tortured by sports as a fat teenager in high school, or that I’m just not genetically bred for it, but I will certainly never be good at it. Yet now that my knees are recovered from eight knee surgeries and my brain is healing from tumor removal, I suddenly am drawn to this silly sport. Having never been good at meditating, it feels like an opportunity to clear my brain without all the rush and concentration of the speed of skiing or biking. My Akbash livestock guardian dogs also provide intense motivation, as they love to stop working on the farm and do what dogs do — explore, sniff and trot.
And that is exactly what I would rather call my form of running: “trotting” because it’s not about speed. I just plod along, sometimes for hours at a time. I love the sense of adventure I get out of it — exploring a new area or trail, watching the leaves turn, the snow fall and generally just enjoying the little simple things in life.
In fact, I’ve almost never enjoyed the little things in life more than right now. After brain surgery this summer, I was just hoping to live and breath. Then I was re-learning how to walk and talk. Then I got to experience the joy of being outside for the first time, feeling the sun on my skin, breathing non-hospital icky sick air. And so, on the 29th of September, I wanted to make a statement about my return and appreciation of this wonderful life I have. For the second time in my life, and first time in too many years, I entered a 10k, with my doggies of course! That day, I woke up and my scar was sore, but I pried myself out of bed and went for it.
The run was steep and challenging, which reduced the dogs to walking even before I felt the need. My goal was not placing, but just doing. I wanted to soak in the view, enjoy my happy working dogs, smile and have fun. If only we could all teach kids this at a young age, especially in this age of over-competitiveness! One third of the way into the run, I realized I did not see any markers and was lost — a couple extra bonus miles later, I was back on track and climbing the steep Jumbo Mountain trail, leaving third place far behind and now solidly in last place.
But I was LOVING IT. This run/walk represented my return to life.
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!
For a while now, Owls couloir has been the objective but Mt.Cook has been blocking it. I’ve been wanting to ski this line since I did the Wedge to Currie traverse from parking lot to Pemberton in under 22 hours with my brother and a couple of elite mountain bike racers back in the 90s.
It’s close, but far as day trips go. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Wedge area from the introduction to mountaineer days. Neck belays, grovelling on the south side of Wedge up the boulder fields and cornice drops on the NE arete.
So it seems interesting to come back years later to feed my couloir addiction. Surprisingly you can have some cool adventure skiing so close to Vancouver. And there’s a good bet you won’t run into many people on these couloirs.
Thanks to the weather blocking the access in the morning and afternoons, we were able to ski some fun lines on the over looked peak of Mt. Cook on the north and south side on two seperate day trips.
If you’re interested, go for it; just be prepared to do the 5,000-foot stair master approach with a pair of two-by-fours on your back.
Photographers: Alex Gibbs, Cameron Coatta, Mathew Koziell, Sam Yeaman.
Story: Andy Traslin
That is what I am doing most of the time these days, riding the couch, so to speak. With a slowly mending new ACL (which is apparently one of the longest recoveries!) I have become really good at sitting on the couch. Slowly but surely though, my former life is trying to usurp me from this comfy throne. Every day a little more strength is gained and with it, a little more confidence to sneak back out into the wide open world and grasp at my favorite things in life.
Having an injury like this is like slamming on the brakes in your life, especially when your livelihood (mountain guide) and all of your recreation depend upon working limbs. Adding to that is the fact that my entire social structure is centered around going outside to play. Skiing, climbing and mountain biking are my passions, and changing to a sedentary life has been akin to a heroin addict stopping cold turkey. No more endorphins flowing through my veins from natural highs of endless cold smoke in the hills or sending a splitter crack. Nope, now it is time to watch everyone else do it on Facebook.
As I have said before, I don’t think there is a silver lining in this injury, but my one major observation is that there is beauty in hitting the reset button HARD. A month ago I couldn’t really walk too well. It took me 40 minutes to take my first stroll outside in the rainforest for 1km walk around a lake. And I was basically in tears. Not from pain, but from joy, the pure elation of realizing that I would someday get my life back.
And the beauty of everything lately is that it seems like every day is another medium to large size victory. So many of my daily ‘mundane’ activities are now seen through the eyes of a beginner. On one of my first bike rides up the highway from Squamish toward Whistler, I noticed a car slam on the brakes in the other direction and then do a big about face and track me down. It was a buddy of mine, and he was going toward town when he saw this big lanky guy with the grandest smile he had ever seen on a road biker. Quickly he realized that it was me and he was so psyched to see me out there back at it again.
However great the hikes and road rides are, climbing has been gnawing at my consciousness. If you are a climber you might understand. I can’t quite quantify it, but for me climbing is as close to meditating as it gets. The focus and determination it requires just can’t be matched by my other pursuits, and consequently the rush of climbing cannot be replaced. The other day I had dinner with some of my best friends and main climbing partners. As chance would have it, all three of us are on the climbing disabled list. Between pregnancy and an injury, the three of us have been finding some other things to focus on life. But, as my pregnant friend Mandoline put it the other day, ‘I’m sick of talking about babies and kid stuff, I want to go climbing and shoot the shit about routes and places to climb already!’ I couldn’t agree more, and finally, whether it was poor judgement or not, I gave in.
No one has really given me a real NO about going climbing at this point in my recovery. I know the facts, that my new ACL graft isn’t fully reconstituted yet, and my leg is weak. But again and again I ask my self, if I am doing easy uphill hikes, how different is going climbing? I try to convince and fool myself again and again that it will be safe to go climbing. My physical therapist, a climber herself, was hinting that a really controlled return was imminent. I know I would not be going for it on the sharp end and taking falls for a while, but to be back out on the rock all day, and hanging with my friends again is what I am really missing. Besides, the only people I knew who had blown ACLs (both new and old) climbing did so bouldering when they fell off and landed. It’s easy to scratch bouldering off the list; as a big dude, people love to boulder with me because I am an all-star spotter, but when the big guy falls, everyone runs! No need to take part in an activity where every time you fall you hit the ground!
So where did my logical reasoning then take me for my first day back on the rock? To some super easy single pitch climbs of course… but without a rope. Now I am sure this won’t make sense to many of you, but in some weird and twisted way it was the perfect way to get back at it in my mind. If I am soloing I won’t try things too hard and I won’t fall. One of the things about my recovery has been that I have been by myself for so much of it. Most of my walks, bike rides and training sessions are in my own solo world, so to me, this was a continuation of my own journey to rehabilitation.
Just like the first hikes and bike rides, I had found a way to bring total joy into routes I had climbed, guided and soloed hundreds of times. The purity, focus and total body awareness were things I hadn’t had in my life in months. I ran into friends who were out climbing. The dogs got to run around the cliffs for a bit. I played in the sun and felt the hard rock crushing my toes in my shoes again. And 6 pitches of 5.6-5.7s have never been so much fun for me in so long. At this point in the journey it is as much about rehabbing the mind and soul as it as about healing the body. I just really hope that I can keep this fresh and renewing perspective on my passions for as long as possible, because if I can do that, then I will have really found the silver lining in this injury, the ability to find pure joy and a fresh bliss in things I have done so many times.
I attempted this line a couple of weeks ago from the snowmobile-accessible side of the peak with my friend Naomi. Unfortunately, new snow and warming temps aren’t a great mix, so our day was doomed from the get-go. Heavy snow was sticking to our skins like you wouldn’t believe. Wax didn’t help, and after dragging those leg weights through avi debris, high winds and fading light, I was forced to pull the plug and try again another day.
The next time we approached from the Blackwater Creek road for a more direct line, with a fast and fit team that was on the same page. Liam and Adrian were as keen as I was to ski this line. With good weather and stability lined up, we just needed an alpine start to seal the deal so we camped at the road and woke up plenty early. Bringing the true style and ethics of ski mountaineering — climbing right from ground zero — we were ready to climb what we wanted to ski.
The pace was fast right from the get go, and I settled into a rythm I knew I could hold all day.
There was one more crux that involved climbing through the cornice with an extra axe for four points of weight-bearing contact. With one last step we had a warm welcome into the sun and were ready to ski.
We excavated the cornice to fit skis. Liam dropped in first, or rather ‘aired in’, as falls were not an option. Adrian was next, then I carved the lip of the cornice a little more for my entrance. I shuffled down, controlling my fear into the no fall zone, and once in the zone it was all good… we were through the first crux and into a classic steep coastal couloir.
Definitely a top ten ski line!
Photos: Andy Traslin, Adrian Armstrong
Story: Andy Traslin
I’ve had two personal ski days this winter. With no snow in the early season, I ice climbed and taught avalanche classes. In the midwinter, I taught back to back avalanche courses and guided skiing. A lot of fun days on skis, but all of them on the clock. When skiing off the clock, I can kick back, let my friends make the difficult decisions and ski steeper, higher consequence terrain.
On my two personal days this winter, I skied the pointiest peak in the Hatcher Pass area and the pointiest peak near Turnagain Pass. Both near Anchorage, Alaska.
Dana Drummond booting 50-degree powder near the summit of The Pinnacle at Hatcher Pass.
Dana on the summit of The Pinnacle after leading the exposed summit pitch.
Dana on the summit of the Pinnacle. The Western Chugach are in the far distance.
Dana breaking trail below seracs on Carpathian Peak in the Kenai Mountains.
Andy Newton and Tobey Carman heading to a break in the sunshine below our ski route on Carpathian.
I’m not sure how the turns-all-year habit started, but I’m clearly hooked. 75 months (6 years) and counting. Summer or winter, the thrill of the chase is always there. Just like chasing pow in the winter, or nailing your dream line in safe avy conditions, finding the perfect corn cycle can be just as elusive.
Let’s just say this month we didn’t nail the corn cycle, but the adventure was worth it. Skiing 45 to 55 degree blue ice in the Washington Cascades is just one example.
Volcanos… now that is fun! Well, if you’re trying to qualify as a mountain goat. And then there was the massive frozen suncups – one foot high by one foot deep. Each turn was so bone-jarring, I thought my knees were going to explode, or at least it felt like they would. To top it off, the rest of my 1,500-foot run (Yah, I kept going) consisted of carving a few turns, then hockey stopping into 20 foot side slip segments. All that has to be good practice for something right? Like, say, the next time?
Alison Gannett is a World Champion Extreme Freeskier, founder of The Save Our Snow Foundation and an award-winning global cooling consultant who has spent her life dedicated to solutions for climate change.
A reporter asked me yesterday how I find time to shovel pig poop and run a farm with my busy schedule. In general, I avoid this job at all costs, but for some weird reason, I bonded with it this week and decided that it is extremely similar to skiing powder.