Five o’clock

Five o’clock. The sun hasn’t dawned on the tip of Cascade yet. On goes the espresso maker with a flick of the switch. It’s another morning meeting Chris for a pre-dawn skin up Sunshine or John for a session of climbing ice.

Chris and I team up each Sunday to take our planks for a walk. Most days we begin with headlamps and hit the meadows amid a raging wind just as the sun starts to rise. The sky is bathed in pastel colours. Or else it’s a white-out and we’re skinning up a white surface in an ocean of white.

At work, I nag John to see if he wants to go ice climbing. Our relationship is mutually beneficial; I can learn a lot from climbing with John, and he needs a partner to go with, so he agrees. A little something in the backyard of Canmore is arranged for working on skills, not so much a backcountry outing.

Copious breakfast is consumed and workplace politics dissected. We rock up to the Junkyards, “thriftstore alpinists” John calls us. We do a couple laps on Scottish Gully then trade ropes with another party and try their steeper pitch. Lunch is conducted as Kananaskis Public Safety bomb the flanks of East End of Rundle, a very “Apocalypse Now”-ian scene as John surveys the damage while I implore my Bialetti to hurry up and boil.

The day is concluded with a rap down Scottish Gully to bring down our rope, followed with practice lead climbing a moderate pitch. We get back to the car in the dark, John having an eight hour night shift ahead of him that evening.

A stunner day riding the lift to the top of North American at Norquay. It feels like the first taste of spring. I have a pass but yesterday I skinned (read: bootpacked) up here from town for shits and giggles. Today I’m just riding bumps. And steep cruddy crap, even though a few days ago this place was pow-city. Oh well, at least the sun feels nice on my face.

It’s the end of the month and Chris and I are ready for something beyond the whole Sunshine thing. I’m used to riding steep terrain in shitty conditions; the skiing might not be pretty but I can make it down the hill. So obviously I’m ready to ski a couloir in the backcountry. Chester Lake is suggested and although I expect/hope for Chris to talk me out of it, he seems enthusiastic. Fuck.

4-e1519767064575.jpgAfter a few kilometres of easy skinning, we rock up to the huge fan at the base of the couloir and put our skis on our packs. Out come the ice tools and crampons for eight hundred metres of frontpointing. We make good progress up the slope, alternately taking turns to break trail and kick steps for each other, though it’s hard work.

6.jpgA short distance below the top, the climbing turns to wallowing in unconsolidated powder so we say “fuck it” and put on our skis. Chris goes first, his first few turns unsuccessful. He navigates down a narrow section, then I go. The same. I might be used to riding steep terrain, but not in powder, and most of my turns leave me resignedly lying like a heap in the snow. I laugh, but it’s frustrating.

7-e1519766984501.jpgEventually we make a few good turns down the gully. Chris skis down the fan and out of sight. Suddenly the powder turns into ice and my skis are skating down the slope. I’m in an uncontrolled glissade and headed directly for some rocks and/or a cliff. I strike with my ice tool and it’s wrenched out of my hand. I desperately plunge my ski pole into the ice and drive it in with more and more pressure until I slowly and painstakingly come to a stop. My skis dangle from my toe pins, ice tool still planted in the slope fifty metres above me. Otherwise I’m unscathed, save for my dignity. Yeah, so ready to ski a couloir…

Five o’clock

Fresh Blood

bloodLast year’s cuts and scrapes are all healed up, it’s time to make some new ones. I’m off to a great start, seemingly unable to avoid kicking myself in the ankles while wearing Microspikes and there’s some weird bruise thing on my thigh… I’ll let you know if any fresh blood develops.

I’ve been running more in the past week than in the past couple months combined and starting to get my bounce back — my first few runs this month felt frighteningly Frankenstein-esque. My aim has been to get in lots of mellow running in order to develop my distance base over the next eight weeks or so; then it’s time to lay it all against the grindstone and hammer until it’s sharp.

As soon as I got back from Ontario mid-January, I headed up to Edmonton to brainstorm next summer’s Mountain Stride Fitness trail running retreats with Patrick Sperling AKA dumpster_diver. We went for a jog through Mill Creek Valley just steps from his house, romantically admired views of the city at sunset (aww), then worked on the deets over freshly cooked fries. It looks like we’ll be offering three formats this year to appeal to a range of runners and hikers of various experience levels and backgrounds — from beginner to veteran mountain goats! Now that our 2016 offerings are finalized, we’ll have more information here and on the Mountain Stride website soon.

Without further ado, on to the athletic endeavors of January!

3Jan. 04/16 – Whitehorn (ski) – 19km/1161/4h09m
Skied up Whitehorn Mountain at Lake Louise ski area after Sean and I got denied the previous week. This time I woke up at 4am and got started at 5:25am, reaching Temple Lodge in less than an hour. Groomers were humming about so I switched my headlamp to “stealth mode” and puttered up the ski-out, trying to avoid being seen. I tagged Top of the World in just over two hours, skied south along the ridge to tag Paradise in 2h12m, then headed towards my objective, the summit of Whitehorn. I tagged the top of Whitehorn in 2h46m and hung around for over half an hour as dawn broke over the Slate Range, illuminating the peaks of Lake Louise.

Eventually I had to descend and received mixed responses on the way down, including from a liftie who was stoked to see I’d skinned up there, and from a couple patrollers who weren’t so stoked… But like Calgary ultrarunner Majo Srnik joked the other day in a Facebook thread about ski patrollers, “They’ll survive”.

Max speed: 63.3 km/h 😛

bramptonsucksJan. 09/16 – Run in Brampton – 11.8km/39m/1h07m
A run in Brampton while I was home visiting; a long, paved loop in which I struggled to find some semblance of nature and otherwise dodged cars or waited at traffic lights. The run started by visiting old landmarks — my primary school; grandma’s house; where we used to drink and smoke-up as teenagers — but eventually pounding the pavement started to hurt. I headed into the park near my high school where I used to train with the cross-country team but here the trails were also paved. This corridor, containing a burbling stream, some tall, bowed-over willows and small meadows of reeds, was socked in by the urban landscape at its least aesthetic: a rumbling highway overpass on one side and endless warehouse complexes on the other. I know cities have the potential to be beautiful — and Brampton has its moments — but overall this sprawling maze of cookie-cutter housing, congested traffic and drab commercial/industrial architecture is the opposite of “beautiful”.

skogan passJan. 21/16 – Skogan Pass (ski) – 17km/790m/3h25m
Skiied up a long cut-line route connecting Bow and Kananaskis valleys. During the ascent I focused on a speedy cadence, tagging the top of the pass in two hours flat. Doing the full 30km traverse to Kananaskis Village is an objective I might consider one day, though there are surely much more scenic tours out there. This kind of fare — fire road and cut-line skiing, for example — is becoming my specialty.

anntunnel1Jan. 22/16 – Tunnel – 8km/324m/1h06m
Up and down Tunnel with my friend Anne. Jogged to her place, then we jogged to the trailhead, mostly hiked the ascent, hung around on top for a couple minutes, then ran back down. A really warm day on which I wore shorts and reveled in it.


Jan. 24/16 – Ha Ling – 14km/1138m/2h30m
Up and down Ha Ling via Grassi Lakes. Not many people on the trail — neither on Grassis nor on Ha Ling — which was surprising for a Sunday. Maybe the trace amounts of snowfall we received yesterday scared everybody off, or they went skiing. The run in general was disproportionately labored, which is fine because I’m just starting to slog again consistently. This is “fat and lazy Tom”, as fat and lazy as I ever get. I packed a puffy jacket but wore a long-sleeve shirt from trailhead to summit, a particularly delectable occurrence for January.

Screen shot 2016-01-29 at 9.09.12 PMJan. 25/16 – Tunnel Circuit – 8.5km/196m/56min
A loop around Tunnel, starting and finishing at home. I decided to go for a “flatter” run, something more horizontal, to try to build up my distance base. Plus I think it’s good to mix up vertical-heavy days with flatter ones. Jogged at a fairly conservative pace but it was really enjoyable; nice to not be sprinting or powerslogging up a steep slope, but that will come… I need to remember to keep my pace easy for now or it’s going to undermine the purpose of my training.

tom_haling_jan292016_2Jan. 29/16 – Ha Ling – 23.6km/1300m/3h25m
Up and down Ha Ling from downtown Canmore. This is something I’ve done many times before but this is my first time doing it this season, and is my biggest run yet this year, so it was tougher than usual. Took the bus to Canmore and jogged/slogged from town to the trailhead via Grassi Lakes. The actual ascent of Ha Ling seemed easier than the other day, which was a bit of a deathmarch. Donned a puffy jacket at the col and hung around on top for only a couple minutes, enough to take one picture before my phone died, presumably from the cold.

11Jan. 31/16 – East End of Rundle – 6.3km/982m/4h01m
Up and down EEOR with Glenn from trailhead. A pretty cold day to start, with light snowfall and clouds socking in Canmore and the surrounding peaks. As we climbed, however, the top of EEOR stood out crystal clear against a blue sky. The crux of the route — grovelling up a snowy ramp then traversing along ledges to clear the headwall — was tedious but typical for wintertime. This snow climb has the potential to be perfect for climbing and glissading but I’ve never been there for perfect conditions, usually the snow is either rock hard or isothermal and the thawing headwall is pitching rocks at me.

And in other news, FUCK YES:

Fresh Blood

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.

seanlake1 leevinglake

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…


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)

b s

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)



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.

3 4 sunskimo1

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 do 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