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Midwinter in Alaska

January 6th, 2010

Surviving winter in Alaska is not for the weak. Months of darkness, polar temperatures, cloudy skies and rain. Stateside friends ask “Does the sun ever come up?” Well that depends on where in Alaska you’re talking about. The Arctic Circle is the southern extremity of the polar night, meaning the sun never rises on one day of the year. I live in Anchorage—along with 42% of the state’s population—564 miles south of the Arctic Circle, so the sun climbs above the horizon  for about five hours on the winter solstice. The sun does a lazy arc just above the horizon creating twilight all day. We loose our sunglasses in October and find them in March.

In winter, my wife and I often vacate Alaska for South America to climb rocks and soak in the sun. This year we’re going to France and Italy, but not until February. I was dreading the midwinter months, but Alaska is all about surprises.

After Christmas, Cathy I made the six-hour drive to Valdez in the Chugach Mountains to ski at Thompson Pass. Valdez is the snowiest city in the US, so we crossed our fingers for clear skies. We got lucky. We then drove straight back through Anchorage to the Kenai Mountains and spent New Years with friends at the Crescent Saddle Cabin. We got even more lucky. Oh Alaska!

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Max Kaufman, a long-time friend from Fairbanks, skiing in twilight from the summit of Girls Mountain, Thompson Pass, Chugach Mountains, Alaska.

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Najeeby Quinn soaking in the midwinter sun above Crescent Saddle. She is squinting a bit, although the sun has zero warmth.

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I’m spotting Jeff Conaway with his Osprey Aether 70 from the safety of a rock overhang as he skis a chute below a dangling cornice. As we prepared to drop in, a bus-sized portion of the cornice snapped off and thundered down the chute. So much for the powder, but at least we know it’s stable!

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Crescent Saddle Cabin in the Kenai Mountains during the New Years Eve blue moon. Here Andy Newton and I are heading out to shoot skeet on Crescent Lake. The wailing and cracking lake ice was creeeeeeepy!!!!! See more photos at: http://www.stockalpine.com/posts/2010/1/4/crescent-saddle-cabin.html

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Silverton Jamboree Rocks the High Mtns

June 18th, 2009

The Osprey Brand Team, a group of 10 ambassadors reporting from the field at consumer outdoor events across the country as well as reporting on adventures in their own neck of the woods, checks in with Theresa Blake, our brand team’r from Durango. Theresa recently headed up Silverton, CO, home to extreme heli-skiing, the high San Juans, and a beloved music festival called Silverton Jamboree. Here is Theresa’s take on this 9,000 ft.-high festival…

Mountain towns are often colorful places when it comes to both scenery and character. Most of these places are not for the meek and the town of Silverton, Colorado has got to be one of the burliest, most rugged towns of them all. So naturally a weekend camping and music festival in such a place is bound to draw a lively bunch of individuals and performers determined to have a blast no matter what the conditions.

The drive from Durango and over Molas Pass reaches close to tree line and imparts glorious views of Molas Lake, the Animas River Gorge and Snowdon Peak. Silverton is situated at 9,320 feet and sits nestled amid Sultan Mountain, Kendall Mountain and Storm Peak. This drive alone is more than most people can comprehend yet we-the-mountain-people commute these roads daily for work and play.

Silverton, with a population or 500, is a tribute to the survival of a gritty, tough community for whom quitting was never an option. The entire town has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It is a favorite destination for train fans, history buffs, and outdoor enthusiasts. Silverton remains Silver Queen of Colorado, beloved by those who live here and those who come to visit. *courtesy of Silverton Chamber of Commerce

Saturday produced some major downpour-age and frigid temperatures but luckily the Silverton Historic District was only a few short blocks away. Here revelers, myself included, took shelter from the storm to enjoy a pint or two and dinner while holding out for better weather. I wasn’t worried at all since I had plenty of layers and winter gear just in case stowed in my Talon 33 for my overnight trip.

The Saturday line up included names like Bruce Hayes, Papa Mali, Tony Furtado and Aftergrass to name a few. The rain continued for a few hours during the afternoon with some hail but by evening had dissipated enough for a rocking session with the Soul Rebels Brass Band where my down puffy coat came in handy and kept me toasty throughout the night.

The night continued on and on with three Juke Joints at various local taverns with a $15 all access ticket granting attendees entry to all 3 shows. Aftergrass, Papa Mali and Bruce Hayes made it tough to decide which show to hit first but the freedom and flexibility to bounce around from place to place kept us going until the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday’s line up included appearances from Turkey Creek Ramblers, Mama’s Cookin’, A-Dub-Rock Band and several others but unfortunately I couldn’t tough it out beyond the Dubs. No dogs allowed at the festival and I missed my pup so we packed up the campsite in record times and headed south on 550.

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Wintery Weather in the Forecast – Thanks to La Niña

January 28th, 2009

Many parts of the U.S. have experienced heavier snowfall this winter, and much to the delight of skiers and riders, have led to some pretty powdery conditions in mountainous regions of the West. According to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, changes in equatorial oceanic temperatures and strengthening trade winds, or climactic “anomalies” as they are called, have led to the development of a climate oscillation event affecting weather patterns across the U.S. and globe. In short, La Niña is back.

Many in the snowsport community are likely ready to pay homage to the “Little Girl”, who has already brought a series of stormimg_0175s and epic snow to the West. La Niña ought to have its greatest effect on ski resorts in the Northwest, but the big story may be in southern Colorado where resorts are boasting snowfall at nearly 175 percent of normal, according to Tony Crocker’s Ski Season Progress Report. Telluride’s tally reached 181 inches as of January 28, due in part to some record-breaking snowfall in December.

La Niña is a weather phenomenon that occurs periodically every five or so years and tends to alter climate patterns across the globe. It develops when there is a build-up of cool water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which is compounded with strong Easterly winds that further this cold-water upwelling. Cooler sea surfaces then affect atmospheric temperatures, which can shift jet streams and cause changes to global temperatures and precipitation amounts. For the U.S., this generally translates to cooler, wetter conditions in the Northwest and drier conditions in the South.

Hoping to witness La Niña’s climate-altering effects in person, I made a trip to the mountains for a few backcountry turns. Knowing that others would be there to enjoy the climate-anomaly conditions, I got an early start to claim my share of the powder stash. I brought along my light and fast Talon 33, which is peimg_01691rfect for making laps off the pass. Its quick on and off capability is also great for stopping and snapping photos of ski partners as they catch up on the skin track.

The NWS Climate Prediction Center is expecting that La Niña conditions are likely to continue through Spring 2009, perhaps to the chagrin of some, but surely to the delight of snow lovers. Check out snow accumulations and outlook forecasts for more info on snow and spring conditions.

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