December’s Dying Days

sidedoor2The last month of 2015 saw a continuation of my break from running that started in November, swapping the sport for ski touring which has been infrequent lately as well. I believe this long hiatus from running will be beneficial structurally and in terms of my overall energy going into the new year. My body feels vastly more “together” compared to how I feel at the peak of my training in the springtime — I’m much slower and lack the stamina I’ll develop next season, but at my peak I often feel peculiarly capable of performing extremely well in an event, but beyond that, utterly being shattered.

For now, however, I am the coarse and unshaped boulder, not yet the serrated flintstone. Lots of beer, Christmas cookies and reduced running will turn one into an unshaped boulder, that’s for sure.

v180_3The month kicked off with Vert 180 on December 5, an urban ski mountaineering race at Calgary’s Olympic Park where competitors rack up as many laps as possible in a three hour time limit. The course consisted of a little over a hundred metres of skinning, a short bootpack to the top of the hill, followed by a blistering descent back down again, sans turning. I managed to get nine laps — only half of the winner’s number, to be clear — but more importantly checked off one of my goals for 2015: compete in a skimo race. (2h52m/14.9km/1262m) Movescount.

v180_1 v180_2 Screen shot 2015-12-31 at 4.13.00 PM 1On December 10, I tagged Lookout Mountain in the Sunshine Village ski area. Starting at the parking lot at 7:38am, I reached the top of the Great Divide chair in just under two hours. The resort opened while I was still skinning straight up Lookout and a few people stopped to ask what I was doing or to cheer me on. An older gentleman referred to me as “the man” and “his hero” as I stashed my skis on my bag, ducked the ski area ropes and started marching up the remaining twenty metres to the true summit of Lookout. I stood around taking pictures for a few minutes before noticing a ski patroller bootpacking laboriously towards me: how quickly I went from being someone’s hero to being scolded and skiing down with my tail between my legs, haha… (2h23m/17km/1100m) Movescountlookout5 lookout7On December 11, I tagged Sanson’s Peak — the little brick observatory atop Sulphur Mountain that I frequent in the springtime — from my house on skis. Well, mostly on skis. I carried them on my back for about a kilometre before finding snow deep enough to start skinning near the Cave & Basin. I reached the boardwalk along the top of the mountain in about three hours, had a snack, then hiked up to tag Sanson’s in 3h20m. Fast conditions got me back down to the riverside in only twenty five minutes, followed by another forty minutes of flat travel to get back to my place. A far cry from two hour-something ascents in the summertime but this objective is exactly what I pictured when I purchased these skis — out and back from my house; racking up almost a thousand metres of vert; tagging a summit and getting a fast downhill trip as well. (4h47m/20km/976m) Movescount

sulphurskimo1The month concluded with a Christmas ski day riding lifts at Sunshine Village with my girlfriend and a couple runs here and there, just Tunnel and Ha Ling. The act of running feels delicious and I hope to keep things nice and easy going into the new year. I’ll be attempting to rebuild my endurance base during the first few months and want that foundation to be built on enjoyable, playful running.

redoubtThe last two days of December brought Sean to town for a little touring on the skis. We headed out early on the 31st to Lake Louise Ski Area, skinning up Temple access road to Temple Lodge where we were promptly informed that we weren’t allowed to #skiuphill and would have to #earnourturns elsewhere… It was a half hour after opening and there were a good number of people coming down the mountain; I was pretty bummed but have to concede that this activity is better done before or after operating hours. So we skied over into the bowl between Redoubt and Lipalian, wafted through deep power making frequent kickturns to the top of a ridge, turned around, stripped off our skins and skied back down again.

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December’s Dying Days

Sunshine, Crud & Skimo Lust

3On the first of November we were hammered by snowfall in Banff. I looked out the window and exhaled a sigh of relief. The previous seven or eight months felt like the longest season ever in terms of running around in the mountains and now I was ready for a break. I hung up my sneakers in the basement, swapped them for ski boots, and continued the whole practice of climbing and descending steep-ass hills, except with skinny planks clipped to my toes instead.

The first and most important thing that happened in November is that I stopped running. During the first couple days of the month, I fought the urge to go climb Ha Ling in whiteout conditions for no reason other than my habituation to doing it. I got a gym membership at the Canmore Nordic Centre, started lifting weights and killing myself with circuits, started walking more and stopped running entirely. My goal was to take my body completely out of running shape, into a more traditionally mountaineering, “slow and heavy” type of fitness, and move back into increasingly faster and lighter activity starting in the new year.

All this is tempered by the fact that I essentially traded trail running for fast and light ski touring AKA “Skimo” as soon as I was able this season. Last year I purchased a lightweight Dynafit setup with the intention of staying fit and exploring the mountains during the wintertime when options for running in the alpine become limited. I didn’t expect to do much true backcountry travel, more avalanche-safe objectives where I can rack up some vert and get sweet views solo without the risk of getting buried.

nakiskaskimo1 The month started with a few forays to get myself reacquainted with being on skis. I skinned up to Sunshine Village the day before opening; broke trail halfway up the backside of Sulphur; climbed and skied unopened Mystic runs at Norquay and messed around at Nakiska too.

That was when a tingling lust for the Ski as a tool for mountain travel began stirring in my heart, and I felt obligated to reciprocate with some type-2 fun adventures…

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The next three days, I hit the skis hard. The goal of climbing a thousand meters on skis stood out in my mind arbitrarily. On my previous trips this year, I just hadn’t been able to accumulate it so far.

On November 26, I skinned up the old Norquay ski-out that begins at the Juniper Hotel. This is my (and Sean’s) now standard route from town to reach the trailhead for Cascade Mountain. I fortunately found someone’s skintrack up the old black-diamond run but it was so steep I had to bootpack for long sections in deep powder. At last I reached the top of the yet unopened North American lift which services the longest and steepest of Norquay’s ski runs. The view overlooks Mount Rundle, the town of Banff and the Bow Valley corridor stretching towards Canmore. I shredded the wide powder slopes of North American then whizzed back down the narrow ski-out to the Juniper. (6.6km/838m/Movescount/Strava)

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On November 27, I still hadn’t climbed a thousand metres on skis. I decided to stay close to home and see how far I could make it up Sulphur, my usual springtime stomping grounds. I started at the Cave and Basin, 0.5km from my apartment and walked for another half kilometre with the skis on my back before reaching good snow where I was able to start skinning. I made good time along the river and up my old tracks from the previous week, seemingly walked-in by someone (or something) and topped up with a few inches of fresh snow.

All of the various animal, boot and ski tracks petered out around my high point from the previous week and so it was trail-breaking time. I slogged for another four or five hundred vertical metres, step by painstaking step. The thought that I could turn around and ski down at any moment was as stifling and omnipresent as the sun but I continued to march — I wanted to touch that stupid observatory on top of Sanson’s Peak, just like in the summertime, but with skis on my back. I haven’t experienced that level of deathmarch in a long time.

Cue the boardwalk, the upper gondola terminal splayed open among tarps and cranes, and that little brick observatory sitting on top of the mountain. I threw the skis on my back and walked up the wooden steps, wading through the snowdrifts, to touch the stupid little brick house that means so much to me. I took some pics, walked back down, click-click, then skied one of the most fun downhill runs of my life. (18km/981m/Movecount/Strava)

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Whilst deathmarching up Sulphur, I had plans to go ski touring with ultrarunners Majo Srnik (@majocalgary) and Andy Reed (@canmoremd) the following day. Fuck, I said to myself, I hope I don’t die… Next morning we met in a surprisingly busy parking lot at Sunshine Village at 8am, an hour before opening. Andy and Majo both had brand-new Dynafit PDG setups with race bindings which, combined with my last year’s PDG skis, definitively made us the Dynafit rando crew.

We reached the upper village in about an hour and proceeded towards Lookout Mountain AKA Brewster Rock via a wide arc just outside the ski area boundary. We approached the sustained climb up Lookout and Andy charged towards the sky, setting a steep track across hardened snow where little more than our steel edges gripped the slope. Did I mention Andy is “tapering” for TNF 50 in San Francisco next weekend?

The higher we climbed, the crustier the snow became and bare rocks started to punctuate the skimpy snowpack until we topped out at the Great Divide lift at 2700m, eleven hundred vertical metres above our start-point.

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After a brief snack overlooking the crest of the continent, we skied down the run, ducked the rope and descended through steep crud to reach an area of thirty degree champagne powder that we milked for two laps of exquisite riding. Then we were off in another wide arc through the meadows — over rolling terrain that had us stripping skins for short downhills, then replacing them moments later — to reach Mount Standish at 2398m.

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After taking in the views of Rock Isle Lake and a snowy continental divide, we stripped off our climbing skins for good, stashed them in our jackets and tore down through the ski area and back to our vehicles in the parking lot in less than twenty minutes. (23.5km/1446m/Movescount/Strava)

My newfound respect for the skis are akin to how I came to recognize the bike as a tool for mountain travel this past summer. Each tool has its place in the kit of a well-rounded mountaineer and I suppose the goal is to become competent in each domain, whether it’s running, hiking, climbing technical rock, skiing, biking, swimming, etc. Besides, if you live in the mountains in Canada and don’t ski, snowboard or doΒ something to keep yourself busy, then winter just sucks, and as a summer-loving mountain runner it’s more like some kind of sadistic hell.

And now it’s a buttery heaven of lung-hucking bootpacks and surfin’ through pow. Hallelujah.

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Sunshine, Crud & Skimo Lust