Photo Cred

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Blown Away

Damn, it seems like it's been one of those seasons where I turn back from more skiing than I accomplish.  I mean, we all know that not every day can be a successful mission but this is getting depressing.

Jason Berning and I took Sunday to try and ski the Amore Vide ("Love of my Life" in Italian) Couloir off of the South Teton.  Saturday, of course, was bluebird with little wind--felt pretty good for a massive group ride on the roads.  It also would've been perfect for skiing in the alpine.  Sunday was not.

Feeling optimistic at sunrise.  Photo: Jason Berning

But things were looking pretty good as we clomped away from the truck with the alpenglow of sunrise illuminating the high peaks.  After about a mile we found mostly-consistent enough snow to start skinning, and easy travel from there.  The melt-freeze from the last week had left a remarkably rough texture to the snow surface--it was like having spidey-skins climbing up the steeper pitches into Garnet Canyon.

Looks grey up there!  Photo: Jason Berning

Once we hit the Meadows things started to go downhill.  A thin overcast was rolling in rapidly and it started to get breezy.  As we continued up-canyon the wind picked up and seemed to blow an extra 10mph with every horizon we surmounted until we were nearly reduced to crawling in the final basin below the saddle between the Middle and South.

Jason fights the wind after retrieving a hat that blew away down the moraines.

Phew!  We're out of here.

Getting blown 5-10' sideways and backwards seemed a poor setup for trying to ski off of an exposed summit, so we clawed our way out of the windblasted moraines and onto skiable "snow" to get the hell down.  Which is about all it was--getting the hell down.  Bulletptoof sastrugi peppered with refrozen wet avalanche debris doesn't make for fun or aesthetic turns.  Definitely not the "Love of my Life".


Watching the world blow past my ski tips.

Steeper in the Cave Couloir, and a hair softer.  Photo: Jason Berning

We hoped to find better snow blown into the Cave Couloir, but mostly just found steeper bullet-resistant.  (Maybe a touch softer than bulletproof.)  The Cave offered a welcome break for lunch as we listened to the roar of the wind over the higher ridgelines.  I've heard that exfoliation is good for your skin, but my face appreciated getting out of the wind and ground-blizzard.

Seeking shelter from the storm.  Photo: Jason Berning

The view from the Cave--pretty cool!

This season's favorite ski lunch?  Peanut butter, Nutella, and fruit.  Strawberries on this day, but bananas are another good choice.

The one highlight of the day (other than having an adventure with Jason) was seeing what the new Voilé Vector BC's could do.  I had high expectations from the start, and was not disappointed.  Light, stiff, and snappy.  Paired with Voilé's skins (check out that tip clip!) they climbed like a beast and with a stiff flex, relatively narrow waist (96mm) and long sidecut they handled the "firm" conditions in Garnet Canyon as well or better than anything else I've skied.

Trying to link-up snow as long as possible before walking out in ski boots.

Hard to believe...

And that was that.  The skiing improved the further we descended, until we hit Bradley Lake and stripped to shirts and ball caps.  Hard to believe how gnarly it was up high once we were standing in the sauna-like temps at the lake shore.  Damn.

One more note on the new skis--no skins for the trip out!  The waxless pattern took me across the lake and through the moraines without a thought, and pretty soon we were back to walking a dry trail for the final mile.  If anything, it was a little unnerving working through some of the skinny-snow stretches without skins on to slow me down.  I'm looking forward to taking these things into the Wind Rivers!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Romp

The Stats:

  • 10.8 miles
  • 1650' of climbing
  • 1st-Place Singlespeed, 3rd-Place Expert Men
  • 51:33 to the finish
  • # of Wrecks:  I once again managed to keep my bicycle upright throughout.

Having just spent the week working in Salt Lake City, I decided to skip the dreary weather at home and last-minute-enter the Utah State Championship Series XC race in Alpine on Saturday.  Then I woke up Saturday morning to dreary rain--oh well.  The singlespeed wave wasn't scheduled to go off until 1pm and it had to dry out by then, right?

It actually was nicer--partly sunny--as I drove south through American Fork and found the venue on a sage- and scrub oak-covered hillside at the base of the big mountains.  (Southern Wasatch?)  The morning's deluge had left the course soggy, so our start times were bumped back 90 minutes to allow for a bit of drying.  Perfect for letting me digest the huge brunch I had just consumed with Mary and Nils, and a nice opportunity to take a brief nap in the warm truck.

Race organizer Bob Saffell's bike after re-marking the course.  Yup, it's soggy out there.
Photo: MTBRace Productions

It also gave me time to do a couple of warm-up laps on the course. We were supposed to race 4 laps on a 3.4-mile loop but the soggy weather had forced removal of a fair bit of climbing and an amazing descent, dropping the lap distance to 2.7 miles.  So it made sense to warm up on the course and get to know it before hitting it full-tilt.  Turns out that a 45-minute warm-up was just about right--I hit the line feeling loose and ready.

I typically choose to starting slow and gradually work into my race pace (metaphor for life?), but with this being more of a sprint I wanted to try a different approach.  My plan, given that I rarely go out for these hot-and-fast type races and I already had my heartrate up, was to get off the line at full-speed and try to enter the twisty singletrack in the lead.  I had no idea if it would work, but why not give it a try?  Turns out that I wasn't the only one with that plan, and that Alex Smith had pre-loaded his quads with lightning and was almost out of view by the time I got my feet clipped into my pedals.

So I spent the remainder of the race trying to close the gap between us.  Shannon Boffelli and I got stuck behind a couple of slower riders in a tight, hard-to-pass section of singletrack midway through the first lap, which allowed Alex to open up a bigger lead, and when we rolled through basecamp to head out on Lap 2 we heard that Alex was 55 seconds up.  Crap.

So I picked it up on the climb out of basecamp and was 30 seconds back at the end of lap 3.  Then starting into Lap 4 I could see Alex about 35 yards up and started to feel a shred of hope.  By this point I had recognized that I was making time on the climbs and losing it on the twisty descents.  In reality, I'm not in technical racing form--too early in the season for me to have spent any significant time on dirt.  So I mashed as hard as my quads would support on the ups and did my best to stay off the brakes on the downs.  I kept catching glimpses of Alex's white jersey through the scrub oak but didn't really get close enough to feel optimistic until the bottom of the lap heading into the climbing back up to the finish, with about 1/2-mile left.

I finally made contact when we came out of the woods onto the 200-yard pavement climb to the end, and we sprinted it out right through the line.  Alex is damn strong; I just had a touch more juice left in my legs and was able to squeak it out by 2 seconds.  Definitely the day's most exciting finish according to the finish line spectators.

It felt great to go that hard--we don't really do that in the 100-milers.  The LES and AC wheels performed beautifully once again, and the new Endless Bikes cogs are proving to be freaking awesome.  Now I just need to remind myself how to charge the downhills.

Damn, mountain biking is fun.

*Sorry about the lack of images--I was there solo and my camera batteries were dead.  Lame.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stuff N' Things

I had high hopes of getting up into the Tetons for some adventure this weekend, but between our "unsettled" weather and a sore back I've been stuck at home riding rollers and contemplating the things that help me get out on adventures.  In all fairness, I could have bundled up and ridden through the wind-driven snain, but why?

Some fun stuff came together in the last week, in both the skiing and singlespeeding worlds.  On Monday a pair of Voilé Vector BC's arrived for me at Yostmark--quite possibly the ultimate mountaineering ski.

WAY light, with a relatively narrow waist at 96mm (at least compared to your average Teton powder ski) and a long turn radius--can't wait to get out on these boards.  They're pretty similar to the Dynafit Manaslu (similar dimensions and weight,) but unlike the Manaslu these are wonderfully stiff and Voilé didn't skimp on edges or base material to achieve their svelte figure.  These things are bomber, and they're manufactured right here in the USA--down in Salt Lake.

Speaking of base material, perhaps the biggest reason I'm stoked for these skis is what they have underfoot: a waxless pattern!

Freaking brilliant.  No more skins for all the flat travel into and out from the mountains.  Across the lake, through the moraines...  Sure, there's some question about how much glide I'll give up in exchange for the grip but I don't think it will be that noticeable.  If everything comes together I'm hoping to take these into the Wind Rivers for some long miles and steep skiing at the end of May--will report back on the waxless performance after that testing.

Voilé also sent some skins, a ski version of what they've been offering for their splitboards--standard orange plush, but check out that tip clip!  Burly.  So I pulled a pair of Dynafit Speed Radical bindings off of another pair of skis and got these mounted up, ready to chase Z around the mountains once the weather clears.  At least I won't be able to blame my skis for being too heavy.

On the mountain bike front, I finally completed the build on the LES.

Some beautiful red cogs arrived from Endless Bikes, along with a Fibonacci Spacer Kit.  Manufactured in the US out of 7075-T6 aluminum the cogs are WICKED light, and at a full quarter-inch wide at the base they'll sit snug and won't damage that expensive freehub.

I went full-geek and weighed the new 20-tooth Endless cog against the 20-tooth steel cog that I've been riding on: less than half the weight!   Damn.  And far more attractive.

"The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two. The sequence is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, etc. Numbers in this sequence are found throughout nature, such as the number of spirals in seed bearing plants like sunflowers and pinecones, as well as in the number of petals on flowers."

Endless' spacer system is pretty amazing--provides a complete variety necessary to achieve a perfect chainline and instructions on how to do it.  Why does it matter?  Silence.  And efficiency.  (Any bending in the chain adds friction to the system.)

The last bit of riding-related stuff was recommended to me by Fitzy teammate and self-described cycling junkie Dave Byers.  As a singlespeed rider I'm swapping out cogs on the rear wheel with some frequency depending on the amount of climbing/flat spinning on a given course, and this new tool from Abbey Bike Works totally changes that experience.

No longer do I have to remove the skewer and find a wrench to use with my standard lockring tool--this thing fits around the end of the 10mm thru-axle and has its own ample handle.  At $35 it was well worth purchasing.  Makes me happy.

And that's about enough gear spewing for one day.  Heading to Pocatello in search of rideable singletrack; whatever we find will for sure be better than what we have at home right now!