Chugach Magic

Yep, it's as big as it looks. The bottom 200' is obscured by a rock band in the foregroundThere's no hiding the fact that this winter has been somewhat grim in Alaska. We've been high and dry and occasionally oddly warm during the last couple of months. We knew the drought would end eventually and it did in grand fashion this past week. Not all the local ranges got snow, however, and, in my opinion, the Front Range and Western Chugach faired the best. I sampled both offerings this week.

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The Pierra Menta

My trip to Chamonix looms close now. I leave in 12 days. Hard to believe it's almost here. Along with the general planning for skiing and staying in the World's epicenter of ski alpinism, I thought I'd try to get into the Pierra Menta, the so-called Tour de France of skimo racing. Of course, I really haven't raced for nearly two years but I figure as long as I'm over there I should try to do this amazing race. 

I got Nate Brown, the other member of the "B Team" to come on board. Getting into the race is no foregone conclusion. Aside from the obvious language barrier when communicating with race organizers, there're a few hoops to leap through, as well. While I consider the United States to be the most painfully litigeous nation on the planet with people suing over the stupidest shit, France, apparently, has similar worries. Not only did we cough up the 900 Euro for the team entry fee, we had to purchase rescue insurance ($450 through Global Rescue) and join a French ski club (110 Euro) to ensure we had the requisite liability insurance, too. Additionally, the PM is organized by a group responsible for a few other large format skimo races, collectively known as La Grande Course. It's 20 Euro just for the priviledge of considering your application.

But, hey, we figure you only go around once so why not? If you Google the event you'll see why it's a must-do for every skimo racer with the means to make it happen. The courses are long, mostly high in the mountains off piste and the competition fierce. Not that the B Team plans on racing too hard. We'll bring cameras and try to enjoy ourselves while still skiing reasonably fast. Some of the technical sections develop slow ques along ridges so anyone out of the top 30 teams is going to be one nostril breathing at times anyway. 

The race takes place over 4 days and all stages start and finish in the same town. The price of admission includes a bed to sleep in and breakfast and dinner for the 4 days. Not bad. We're pretty excited to be totally immersed in a skimo orgy. I'll get there two weeks ahead of Nate so I should be able to get acclimatized a bit so I don't suffer up high. I'll also get to work on my downhill fitness since I don't get much of that at home, especially with our lean winter thus far. 

Gearing Up

Although I'm not racing these days, I couldn't help but equip myself appropriately for the event. I bought some Scarpa Alien 1.0 and a pair of this year's Hagan X-Race skis.
I need to equip my Plum Race 145 bindings with the little toe lever widget to make them IFSM legal.The guys at Plum have graciously offered to mount my skis when I get over there. I'm psyched to pay a visit to the factory and meet the crew. Stay tuned for some inside info on that scene. Should be interesting.

Some of my training has involved tooling around a hilly section of Nordic trail near my house. I go in the dark after work so I can avoid the stares and questions when I go skinning by on skimo gear. Most folks don't know quite what to make of it. The boots are kinda loud so it's hard to hide. But it's allowed me to get a feel for them anyway. I finally took them out for some real skiing last weekend with my Cho Oyu skis. I'd say it was not a great combo as the snow was punchy and those skis may have been a bit much to push around with race boots. The thing I noticed is that with the thin race liners, it was hard to feel like I had a tight fit around my skinny ankles. When I tightened the cuff cord enough to be snug, the act of throwing the lever became very hard and the cuff dug painfully into my ankle. Not good.

I started thinking out how I could improve the fit and performance. Two springs ago I put Intuition liners in my Dynafit TLT 5 Performance boots. I kep the old liners. I decided to see how those slightly more substantial liners would fit into the Aliens. I think it's the answer to both my issues and comes with a 53 gram penalty. Given our level of competitiveness, that's perfectly acceptible. The other thing this solves is the annoying difficulty I have getting in and out of the Scarpa sock liner. Without a tongue, it's a serious struggle and I find that levering against the sharp carbon cuff edge can result in near laceration of hands and fingers. Glad to be done with that.

I recommend this mod without reservation for those who need a better fit and more performance from their Aliens.  



Kicking the Dragon

I've made no secret about our pathetic winter so far up here in Alaska. Mat (Anchorage Avalanche Center) and I've be making the best of things and skiing boiler plate and rare chalk where we can find it. But a odd little storm blew over the Kenai Mountains yesterday and left a lovely little gift of softness and sunshine that we enjoyed today. Oddly, most of the other mountains in South Central AK saw little to nothing. 

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Chugach Lemonade

Vista Peak, left of center and Mt. Magnificent, right of centerNope. Still not snowing up here in Alaska. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. At least it's cold. What snow is left is staying put...for now. Most locals say they can't remember a skiers' winter this grim. Many have given up and have taken the mountain bikes out. The Nordic trail grooming crew is trying to work magic turning water ice into skiable snow. So far, it's working. For ski mountaineers, we're not going down without a fight. The coverage is there, if not the quality. You just have to be willing to walk to it. This past weekend, Mat (Anchorage Avalanche Center) and I did just that.

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Has Anyone Seen Winter 2014?

This site’s been quiet lately. We’re in the middle of the worst winter in several years. They say in Alaska you have to have a short weather memory. The frequent rain and wind can be demoralizing in both summer and winter. For skiers who only know AK from ski porn, well, that’s mostly fantasy. The reality is more painful and far less glamorous. I like to say that when it’s good, it’s pretty damn good but you’re gonna have to wait for it.

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