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JAPANUARY

February 18th, 2013

Bullet train in Tokyo

I have spent the last 20 years trying to check off every possible place on my skiing bucket list. Some years I would tick off more than others and some years I actually added more places to the list than I could cross off. A few years ago there was a lot of hype about Japan and people that had been told epic stories of copious amounts of light and dry powder, tree skiing that never ended and a really unique cultural experience. Every athlete and photographer I knew had gone to Japan and nailed it for powder. Being more of a realist than an optimist, I figured that eventually someone was going to go to Japan seeking the dream and get completely skunked. I didn’t want to be the one that came home with nothing to talk about but groomers and carving.

Over the summer, I started thinking more and more about Japan, so when an offer to go shoot with elite photographer Grant Gunderson came up, I jumped on the chance. As the trip approached I surfed the internet looking for an accurate weather report. We were heading to Myoko on the Honshu peninsula of the main island. Although this area is believed to get more snow than anywhere on the planet, the forecast I found called for a dusting of snow during the 10 days we were slated to be skiing there. Grant said to ignore the forecast and told me that it always snows in Myoko in January. Our tickets were already booked so I figured I would just take what I got and deal with it.

Epic snows of Myoko. All that and 5% moisture content. Heaven!

We arrived in Tokyo, hopped a bullet train and started the three-hour journey to Myoko. We drank beer served from vending machines and had our first of what would become endless meals of sushi. We arrived in Myoko under starry skies. Day one was clear and the locals were calling for light snow. We took advantage of the weather and toured above the highest lift at Akukura Onsen ski area. We skinned for 30 minutes and set up shot one of the trip. Within minutes, fog rolled in off the Sea of Japan and climbed up the mountain, engulfing us in a misty shroud. We skied the birch forest for some depth of field until we ended up back in the ski area. We were all tired and jet-lagged so we took a few laps to get our ski legs and headed to the hotel for afternoon tea, an early dinner and bed. As I looked outside I could see snowflakes picking up in intensity and size.

Our second morning couldn’t have been more different than the first. As I pulled open the curtains, I was shocked to see a full meter of new snow. I had never seen it snow so much in such a short amount of time. It was 7 a.m. and I had to control myself for 90 minutes until the lift opened to deliver us to the goods. In North America, a storm like this would almost guarantee a huge line-up for the chair. We found the ski area completely void of anyone but lifties waiting to brush of our lift seat.

A chariot into the powder heavens of Myoko.

For the next week, I skied the best and deepest powder of my life. We had more than 9 feet of snow during the trip and a bluebird day following each major storm. Myoko had some other skiers eventually show up, but they were not there for the powder. All the hype about the tree skiing in Japan is true. The forests are made up of birch trees that have no branches near the ground so you just line up a lane you want to ski and drop in. The trees are perfectly spaced and the snow is hero snow so you can just charge all day long.

Maybe the best tree skiing in the world.

I wasn’t expecting super gnarly terrain in Japan, but I quickly found out that you can get into trouble quickly if you get too adventurous. Nothing in Myoko is off-limits, except skiing under the chairlift, and little is marked so going off-piste is the real deal. Plenty of pillow lines, spines and steep gullies waiting for those with a nose for adventure.

This is noon and lift served. Where is everyone?

The routine of eating sushi for breakfast, slaying powder all day, soaking in the natural hotsprings (called onsens), and then feasting nightly on a bounty of seafood and sake did not grow old. Now that I have been and tasted the nectar of Japanese skiing in January, I’m not so confident that anyone will get skunked, but I can gladly tell you that it wasn’t me. If you keep a bucket list, I highly recommend Japan be added to the docket, unless of course you are averse to powder and sushi.

Dinner was a feast of seafood nightly. If it lives in the sea we probably ate it.

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Reliving a Short Season

February 15th, 2013
YouTube Preview Image

Well, whether or not I can comprehend it, my season ended two and a half weeks ago. If you follow my posts at all, you’ll remember that it was a questionable start, after getting an ankle joint infection from a cut from climbing that required surgery and three weeks on the couch. I fought back more slowly from that than I had anticipated, with five weeks of antibiotics and a few weeks of doing nothing while they took their toll on me more than I would have liked. But about three weeks later, all of that had faded into the background of being immersed in the life of running our ski touring business.

It’s a routine that makes the days fly by, including a  5:30 a.m. wake-up to do the weather, chop wood, prep breakfast and lunch, attend guide’s meetings, help guests with gear issues, and finally get out the door to ski at 8:30. That’s when the day gets simpler, lodge maintenance fades into the background, and the purity of one step forward at a time and snow assessment take hold. Your skis grant you the freedom to escape from the grind, whether you are a guest on holiday or a guide/owner/operator for a day at work. We all lose ourselves in the moment of striding uphill and flying downhill, from valley to mountain top and back again.  Smooth and fast, we slide back to the lodge, the tasks take hold for me again, with a mirror image of the morning routine, but its great to watch the guests stay in that zone, melting away in the sauna, replenishing the burned calories and continuing with the simple life.

But then my world decided to change. Just when you are hitting your stride, sometimes the world has a different path for you to follow. I had just finished a big week of guiding with a group of guests, we averaged between eight and nine thousand feet of skiing a day, a few people squeaking in 50 grand for their week.  Six weeks after having surgery, I was worried if I would pull it off, but hard and tiring as it was, it was also rewarding, considering as well that we had uncharacteristically bad snow for a bunch of days from an abnormal wind event that seemed to jack every bit of open snow in British Columbia. The next group came in and a few days later so did the snow. We settled in to the ‘normal’ five to six grand of skiing per day, which is plenty by my standards, and with 30 centimeters of fresh snow, it felt like a new world out there. So I was skiing like it was bottomless Kootenay cold smoke, but then I hit bottom. Or at least started my journey to the bottom.

In my typical, ‘I want to ski to inspire’ fast and fun style, I found the wind-jacked snow just below the surface, and my left ski decided to auger in and go a little to the right while my body kept going straight and maybe a little to the left. Then I heard the ‘pop’ you hear about and fear as a skier/athlete/guide. I instantly knew something was wrong. As is human instinct, I tried to get up and walk it off, but boom, I was right back on the ground, my left leg not working right. Deep in the backcountry, I looked at my watch and started to make decisions. I was still with a group of 12 guests and two other guides, so support was there, but that was the rest of everyone’s day, dealing with me. A few super labored zig-zag turns and collapses and I made it off of avalanche terrain and met up with the group, almost blacking out with pain and adrenaline. With cloud-building and a quality rescue sled made by Kootenay Rescue Bubble, Jasmin, my super tough wife and co-guide, made the right call to drag me out. So we immobilized my leg, put me in the sled and spent the next three hours getting me back to the lodge. It took 100 percent from everyone to make it happen, team work at its finest, but for sure Andrew (the other guide) and Jasmin worked the hardest.

Getting back to my cabin at the lodge is when it all broke down. Waves of emotion crested over me as I knew my path had changed. There will be no freedom in the hills for many months now, my endorphin source taken away. A new uphill battle through the ‘non-life threatening’ public health care system was setting up to be my fight. I wasn’t scared or upset at hurting my self, and looking at surgery and the road to recovery, I was more upset about letting down my wife, having doubled her workload at our lodge with me out of commission, scared at losing my freedom and becoming a prisoner of immobility, scared of losing touch with my wife and hound as I knew I wouldn’t be able to be up at the lodge for the rest of the winter as I battled down the road of recovery. The preciousness of the special and unique life we have seemed all too real.

We all adapt and change though, and we settle in to our new roles as best we can. Or maybe we just cope. Again and again, folks like to talk about the ‘reasons’ behind things happening. I don’t think things happen for a reason. I think we are all in control of our destinies. I think the ‘silver lining’ is something we find on our own and decide to focus on. One door closing just makes you realize that there are other doors to open and explore. I found my path and partner in life and I am going to fight like hell to get back on it and with her stronger than before. Eventually I will get in to surgery to repair my ACL and meniscus and my bruised up bones will heal. Maybe I will learn some cool things along the way, or maybe I will realize that in my mid 30s I need to stop breezing through my physical life and start making my body work harder for it and training. Either way, my eyes are open to what needs to get done and now I need to do it!

So you won’t find the deepest faceshot, most majestic views or insane physical feats coming from me for a few months. You will find me filling you in on the slow road to recovery that I know many of you have traveled down, with the small victories and defeats of the daily struggle. I know a ton of you can relate, and my strength comes from standing on the shoulders of so many of you that have hurt yourselves before me. In the end, no one died, and I should be charging in the hills again before I know it, so really it’s just a flat tire, with a busted spare, and a long walk to the nearest service station for help. And when I get the tire fixed I can continue down my wonderful path in life!

Above is a quick vid showing you the life I am now missing…

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Variety is the Spice of Farm Skiing

January 23rd, 2013

Two nights ago it was so cold that a giant pack rat froze to death in the middle of our barn. 2013 has been frigid and snowy here at Holy Terror Farm in Paonia, Colorado. In between feeding and watering chickens, dogs and cats, we are harvesting carrots and cilantro, and sneaking in as many types of skiing as possible.

For the sake of saving our snow, in 2001, I willingly gave up heliskiing (even free trips) and in 2005 I sold my snowmobile. 2010 was my first year ever without a ski pass, getting just one step closer to the all-human-powered skiing dream. Now that Crested Butte seems like a distant dream, I have new skiing challenges, not as gnarly but potentially more fulfilling.

Skiing here in the peach fruit-belt of Colorado, nestled down low at a mere 6,000 feet is better than many would think. Our farm borders the Grand Mesa, home to Powderhorn Resort and backs up to the West Elk Mountains on the backside of CB. Most days I find myself clicking into my Rando Race skis and tromping off into the mountain lion-infested surrounding BLM lands; adventure skiing at its best! I credit my two Akbash livestock guardian dogs for keeping me alive these past three years.

On low snow days, I opt for nordic skiing – either classic up Stevens Gulch, or skate up toward Electric Lodge. Always an ass-kicker for getting in shape or turning the most benign hill into a double black on the descent!

The original fat skis were most likely invented by the Chinese in the Altai over 3,000 years ago. My friend Nils was so enamored by these skis and this utilitarian system that he is now designing, manufacturing and selling a version of these in North America.

I’ve yet to ski on these gorgeous fatties, but I did order the ones that can fit on all types of boots, just like they use in Asia – that way I can use them for hunting, hauling water, and back-40 adventure epics. I can use them with my ski boots, my irrigation boots, or have my mom use them for ski-shoeing in her KEEN hikers.

I’m not sure I’ll be hucking big cliffs in these babies quite yet, but there is something so appealingly primal about this style that grabs me. The built-in skins are a super bonus, and glide downhill almost like a regular ski.

While I’m not yet trading in my rocketed Armada VJJ’s, I’m thrilled with yet another sliding apparatus that I can incorporate into my everyday life, just like our wintery ancestors would have done. It is also wonderful to think that skiing can be made available to more income levels and can be done in the backyard. It brings me even closer to divorcing myself from the consumerism of today’s ski resorts.

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adventure, Osprey Athletes, Outdoor Activities, photos, Southwest Colorado, Uncategorized , ,

Winter Call (Summer Ski Apology)

December 12th, 2012

Majka Burhardt and her father outside of El Bolson, Argentina.

Winter Call (Summer Ski Apology) was originally posted on Majka’s Blog.

I am not a hoarder. Or at least not of material things. But I might have to confess to being a recent hoarder of snow. And for that, I’m sorry.

Today, December 11th, 2012, I took a hike in the White Mountains and watched yesterday’s thin layer of white turn to clear liquid in the span of an hour. My skis—touring, downhill, classic and skate—are lined up in my garage ready to go. Like most of the northern hemisphere I am ready to ski. But I might be the reason why so few of us are actually getting to shred the gnar.

Here is my confession. I went south to ski and now the north is paying.

More on Majka’s Blog

Majka Burhardt is a writer, climber and AMGA-Certified Rock Guide who lives in New Hampshire… learn more at majkaburhardt.com.

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Alisson Gannett Fights to Save our Snow

September 20th, 2012

Osprey Athlete Alison Gannett seemingly wears a million hats. She’s not just a Champion Big Mountain FreeSkier, accomplished ski mountaineer and Environmental Scientists; she’s also a pioneer in the movement to reduce our global carbon footprint and, most importantly, she works hard to save what she loves most: winter.

Our friends at Grist  recently wrote up a story about Alison’s inspiring eco-efforts, and it goes something like this:

At first blush, Alison Gannett’ssacrifices in the name of fighting global climate change don’t seem all that sacrificial. In 2001, the world champion extreme freeskier gave up helicopter skiing. She sold her snowmobile in 2005. Several years ago, she rejected a lucrative contract with Crocs because of the shoe company’s questionable environmental practices. (She kept her contract with the more sustainable Keen Footwear.) Just recently she turned down a photo shoot in the Alps because the flight over the pond was too much for her carbon footprint to bear.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. (Oh muffin … no heliskiing??) Then take note: Gannett walks the walk when it comes to living green. She and her husband grow their own food on an earth-friendly farm, and she’s battled to bring sustainable eats to residents in her rural corner of Colorado. Gannett has also leveraged her personal experience into a business that helps individuals and corporations — including a few of her athletic sponsors — reduce their energy consumption by up to 50 percent.

Of course that’s just a tidbit of where Alison’s coming from. You can read the full inspiring story via Grist here!

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Seven Weeks, Seven New Episodes of On The Road With SOLITAIRE

June 14th, 2012

The guys behind the beauty at Sweetgrass Productions have done it again; On The Road with SOLITAIRE is an emmy-nominated twelve-part series that delves into the details of two long years skiing the Andes, filming the incredible Western-inspired, beautifully-filmed SOLITAIRE and making friends (and enemies) along the way.

Over the next seven weeks, we’ll bring you a new On The Road With SOLITAIRE episode every seven days. Every Thursday, look on the Osprey Facebook Page and Osprey Twitter stream to find a brand-new, never before seen episode of On The Road With SOLITAIRE and — as is the case with all Sweetgrass films big and small — prepare to be awed.

Read more…

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Life at Elevation: Navigating the Cordillera Blanca Range with 20

May 17th, 2012
I have been a part of a variety of backpacking experiences. Time and again, it is assured the group will bond in a unique way. The backcountry strips us of traditional interactions, of blinking lights and honking horns. Give it 48 hours… then, you start adjusting to the efficient method of packing, and hoisting your pack, making a pillow out of your down jacket and remembering to look up, and around to the mountains and streams, instead of simply the feet that are transporting you there.

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High Pressure and Deep Pow in British Columbia

February 27th, 2012

The last two weeks has had it all in British Columbia. It started with blue skies and a bomber snow pack, and then the snow hose got pointed at us, for 130cms of new snow in the last week. This quick video gives a taste of a few runs from the last few weeks at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Enjoy!

Evan Stevens is a fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide, examiner and instructor for the AMGA, a member of the AMGA Board of Directors, and owner and lead guide of Valhalla Mountain Touring, a backcountry ski lodge in the Selkirks of British Columbia. Somehow he managed to do all of this whilst only escaping from the suburbs of New York City just 10 years ago.  When not on his skis, he can be found climbing hard rock in his summer home of Squamish, BC, or trying to fire off alpine rock free ascents through out the world.  Highlights include numerous first descents in the Valhalla Range of BC, traditional rock ascents of up to 5.13, first free ascents in BC such as IV 5.12 Man of Steel in the Adamants, IV 5.12 R Lost in Space on Mt. Gimli, and speed ascents of big walls in Greenland. Besides that he is usually being humbled by his super human wife Jasmin, and trying to keep up to his dog Benny on the skin track.

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High Pressure Bonanza at Rogers Pass, British Columbia

February 13th, 2012

Inversion in the Pass

From my last post you might think that all it does is snow up here in the Selkirks of BritishColumbia. Well, usually it does and for most of January it sure did. Alas, last week the snow hose shifted its focus, and squinty eyes and sun burned noses returned to the mountains of BC.

With my father in law, the original owner of my backcountry ski lodge Valhalla Mountain Touring, in place as the hut keeper, I knew I needed to get out of my neck of the woods and go play in the big peaks of Rogers Pass. A quick 2.5 hour drive from home (not including the snowmachine ride to my truck and the half-hour ferry ride inland), Rogers Pass is the number one place I go to play when I have some time off.  If you haven’t been, its time to change that, as it is host to some of the best road-accessed ski touring in the world, hands down.

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Travel Tuesday: Telluride Makes National Geographic Adventure’s World’s Best Ski Towns List

February 7th, 2012

Our own backyard of Telluride, Colorado makes National Geographic Adventure‘s list of the World’s Best Ski Towns…

Remote and unrelentingly beautiful, Telluride may be the most picturesque ski town in North America, a Victorian-era silver-mining hamlet set deep in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. The steep runs of Telluride Ski Resort spill right into the edge of the town’s National Historic District, where a gondola whisks skiers back up into the area’s almost 4,000 vertical feet of absurdly scenic skiing. Only 12 blocks long and with no stoplights, neon signs, or billboards, this charming town of 2,325 people combines fine wine lists and funky bars with a spirited culture of diehard mountain lovers. The town sits at a gasping 8,793 feet above sea level, and lifts reach to over 12,500 feet, so come prepared to acclimatize.

PHOTO: Tony Demin, Corbis

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