Showing posts with label skiing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label skiing. Show all posts

September 16, 2018

End of the Season in a Mountain Town


M. and I went over to Westcliffe Friday night to watch a movie in a real (and historic) theater.

Westcliffe is not a ski town, not a river town, not a mountain-biking town. When its one ski area, Conquistador, finally faceplanted too many times and shut down in 1993, the town gave a collective yawn and got on with its real industry, building mountain mini-mansions.

There are a bazillion photos taken looking west down Main Street toward the Sangre de Cristo Range, all variations of this one:
Add more a few more trees, neo-historic streetlamps, paving, and diagonal parking,
and you have the Westcliffe of today.


It occurred to me as I sat on a street bench across from the Jones Theater that you could pick up the whole place and set it down in, say, Phillips County—only with neo-historic streetlamps and a "dark skies" ordinance. The two counties' populations are about the same, and the buildings would fit right in.

The only difference is that almost no one is building mini-mansions all around Phillips County, thus supporting numerous small construction firms. On the prairie there is maybe less talk about agricultural "heritage" and more actual agriculture.

Walking down Main Street, it seemed like every third retail space was for rent and almost every restaurant for sale. Chappy's, our favorite bar for Westcliffe visits, was "closed for renovation." I hope that's not a euphemism.

The Chamber of Commerce types want more economic activity. Factories? In all these towns and small cities the refrain is, "We don't want our kids to move away." But guess what, the kids are going to move away.  Maybe some will come back later and find a way to make a living. Most will not. (Did I go back to Del Norte or Rapid City? Nope.)

What you can get in a place like Westcliffe:
  • First-run movies
  • Hardware store merchandise (the Ace store is pretty good)
  • Carhart clothing (at the hardware store)
  • "Western decor" items
  • Paintings by local artists
  • Grass-fed beef
  • "Lowest-common denominator groceries" (M.'s phrase)
  • Hiking boots 
  • Firearms
  • Automotive repair
  • The rural health clinic

What you cannot get:
  • Auto parts
  • Books
  • Other clothing
  • Appliances
  • Specialized medical care
  • All kinds of other things that send people "down the hill," leading to much Facebook angst about road conditions
Then there is the new but growing Amish population (buggies at 8,000 feet!) who have a different set of shopping needs and probably rely sometimes on mail order from Gohn Bros. or wherever.

So there is much complaint about how retail businesses (except hardware) cannot succeed with a season that is only four months long.

On the other hand, there seems to be little desire to be one of those resort towns with a different manufactured "festival" every other weekend throughout the year. The argument goes around and around.

But the views!

February 04, 2017

Out of Asia, Always Something Old

Float like a snowshoe, glide like a ski

At 145cm, Altai's Hok backcountry ski
is about the same length as my old Army
surplus trail shoes — but they glide, some.

When it comes to outdoor sports, Americans tend to favor gear over technique. We want to ride or ski on what the racers use, or what the pros use. "I know that this $1,200 fly reel machined from unobtainium alloy will make me a better angler!"

I chuckle a little at the converts to tenkara fly-fishing with their newly learnt Japanese vocabulary, because I think it is just the 17th-century English fly-fishing that Izaak Walton would have recognized — but with contemporary high-tech materials.

Yet I appreciate and support the minimalism of tenkara. A rod, a line, a few flies —go do it! It really works.

Getting around in the snow.

I have owned snowshoes since my teens, then got cross-country skis in my twenties (I wish that I had started sooner). 

Both let you move through snowy landscapes (not too steep). Both have long historical pedigrees. We identify snowshoes with North American Indians, but they were also used in Stone Age Europe. They are what you make with stone tools. 

With metal tools, you can cut and shape boards, giving you skis. Archaeologists suggest that skis were invented in Central Asia, but maybe they were invented independently in Scandinavia.

In a century, ski touring bindings went from simple straps that you slip your toe under (why Finns wore boots with turned-up toes) to these (or fancier). Synthetics largely replaced wood.

Ski like a Mongol/Tuvan/Kazakh/Siberian

Even as tenkara gets rid of the reel and the long fly line, a new Asian-inspired approach to ski touring takes a middle road between snowshoing (slow, utilitarian) and Nordic skiing (faster but trickier on steep slopes).

Some skiers are even getting rid of ski poles and returning to a simple stick, like these guys:


Or, more appropriately, like these guys — contemporary skiers in the Altai Mountains.
Contemporary Altai Range skiers. OK, I do see some ski poles there. (Photo: Alta Skis)
Formed in 2011, with offices in the US and Canada, Altai Skis revived the Central Asian style of wide skis with skins permanently attached. Their first model, the Hok (from Tuvan for "ski"), comes in just two adult lengths, 125cm and 145cm (and a 99 cm kids' model). It has metal edges and a permanently installed nylon skin with waxable Ptex tips and tails.

If you're more of a snowshoer at heart, you can buy bindings that fit any winter boot. If you come from an x-c ski background, you can get regular or cable 75mm three-pin bindings or adaptors for other styles, like NNN.

And for forty bucks, they will sell you a Tiak ("stick") if you can't make your own.

The problem with skiing here in the southern Rockies is that good snow and gentle terrain does not happen often enough. To get good snow, you have to move into more rugged forested areas and break trail. Lots of people use snowshoes with ski poles, which seems silly on level ground but helps when you're in powder on a slope.

After decades of flipping between speed (x-c skis) and flotation (snowshoes), I learned about the Altai Skis and bought a pair of 145cm Hoks (They also have a slimmer, faster backcountry model called the Kom,with fishscale waxless bottoms.)

I put three-pin cable bindings on them, because I have the boots, and in a nod to old-school skiing, have been using some old bamboo poles. I always wanted to be the last guy in Colorado with bamboo poles. One day I will cut a pine stick though; skiers with sticks do have an archaic silhouette. The stick is for balance and braking, but does not give the diagonal-stride push of the ski pole.

I took them out for two short test runs along the Sangres and then yesterday for a two-hour trip along the base of the Sawatch Range. My first thought was "Comfortable! I can go right into the trees with these."

The first two trips were more for familiarization and adjusting bindings. Yesterday I alternated between following a marked trail and going into untracked snow, up to knee-deep with some wind crust in places.

The Hoks certain held me up better than my skinny skis as I moved from soft snow to crusted powder to packed powder-and-ice. But unlike with snowshoes, I could get a little bit of a glide. Breaking trail is always work no matter what you use.

I have not yet used the Hoks in fresh deep powder, but an opportunity will come.

• • •

About that headline: The Romans used to say, "Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre" (Out of Africa, always something new.) They in turn got it from the Greeks, but to them it had the connotation of "Out of Africa, always something weird."

Aristotle, (384 to 322 B.C.), referred to the proverb in two of his books, Historia Animalium and Generatione Animalium, to explain the wild mélange of animals in Africa. He wrote that many of the animals unique to Africa were strange hybrids, suggesting that the lack of water forced the animals to meet at watering holes where they mated indiscriminately with one another.

January 10, 2017

No Farms at Chaco Canyon, Off-Road Vehicles, Lynx Surprise

A "great kiva," restored but roofless, at Chaco Canyon
¶ All boats, snowmobiles, and ATV's in Colorado have to be state-registered. Proof of ownership is required, but the state is fairly flexible about documentation.

¶ Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico is the site of a collection of ancient "great houses," multi-room dwellings. They were not built simultaneously, and it is unclear how many people actually lived there. And apparently they did not grow their own food, so apparently it was backpacked in by the Anasazi equivalent of serfs.  Or maybe they were willing pilgrims.

¶ With typical feline nonchalance, a lynx surprises skiers at the Purgatory ski area in southwestern Colorado. 

UPDATE, Jauary 10, 2017: A sad ending to the lynx story.

September 13, 2016

Skis versus Snowshoes, Neolithic Style

(Photo credit: The Telegraph.)
I tend to think of skis as a Eurasian invention, while I associate snowshoes with North America. Well, I am wrong.  Proto-Italians worked out the "bearpaw" design more than 5,000 years ago.

Here is an older post about the "true" birthplace of skiing, but the photo link is dead, because this is the Internet.

November 18, 2013

Blog Stew with Sunflower Seeds (You'll Like Them)

¶ You could use this fancy online tool at the Cornell ornithology lab to find the best food for your favorite winter birds. Or you could just put out black oil sunflower seeds because almost all the cold-weather birds like 'em. As one of the local Auduboners once told me, "They're like ice cream for birds."

¶ The US Forest Service takes a step back in its tug-of-war over water rights with ski areas operating on national forest land — which is a lot of them. Durango Herald reporter Joe Hanel writes, "The Forest Service has tried sporadically for years to get legal control over snowmaking water rights, because of worries the rights could be sold to real estate developers or others not interested in using the water for skiing."

That, yes, but also conservation groups like Trout Unlimited have worried about ski areas drying up streams for snow-making.

¶ Workers at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico recently found a large new room. They are calling it Halloween Hall, whether for the date or for the multitude of bat bones in it, I am not sure. Photo at the link.

September 03, 2013

What Killed the Russian Skiers? (2)

The torn tent at the skiers' campsite
Five years ago I first read of what is sometimes called "the Dyatlov Pass Incident" and was thoroughly creeped out.

This article offers another telling and more photographs, but the mystery remains. (Note: the page is "safe for work," but some networks may block the overall Vice.com website.)

If the tent was struck by an avalanche, how did they get out? People have died under relatively small amounts of snow — a foot or two — when it was heavily compacted.How come the skis used as tent poles are still standing if an avalanche swept over it?  And was that even an avalanche-prone slope?

Wouldn't experienced backcountry skiers who survived an avalanche have not reconstructed their camp as best they could?

I keep thinking that the radiation readings might be misleading, not the real issue — but that is just conjecture.

M. wonders if they did not eat bad mushrooms. That seems as possible as anything. Since it was February, someone would have had to make an error while picking mushrooms in the forest the previous season, then bring them along in dried form to be reconstituted and cooked in a stew or something. That could possibly explain the apparent delirium. Maybe.

August 22, 2013

Colorado's Retail Cannabis Producing a Legal Patchwork

What is happening in Colorado with the new legalization of retail cannabis sales is starting to resemble the situation when states had "wet" and "dry" counties. Counties and cities are all making different decisions, e.g., Pueblo County's acceptance of a large growing operation.

¶ The mountain town of Westcliffe turned down a proposal (PDF file) to use an empty industrial building for a growing operation that would supply retail outlets in the ski town of Breckenridge. 

Those sybaritic ski towns, right? Keep 'em high and happy.

¶ Yet Aspen, most sybaritic of all, is located in Garfield County, which has said no to both growers and retailers. The Aspen Times accused opponents of "paranoia."

¶ Touristy Glenwood Springs proposed a marijuana-sales moratorium. So did less-touristy Cañon City.

I could go on.

Meanwhile, people who proudly got medical marijuana cards (a lot of them young men in their twenties) suddenly are realizing that the cops can go traipsing through those records.

The other big problem is money and banking. Banks have been reluctant to handle marijuana dispensaries' cash because doing so illegal under federal if not state law.
"The mere acceptance of the deposit is literally the very definition of money laundering," explained Don Childears, President and CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association.
Dispensaries, therefore, end up trying to places to put all their cash, and piles of cash attract criminals.

Federal legislation has been introduced to remedy the problem, but has not yet gone anywhere.  All states with medical marijuana plus Colorado and Washington with their newly legalized recreational use face the same problem:
In all 21 of those states, federal laws are creating criminal and regulatory barriers to banks and credit unions, prohibiting them from accepting licensed marijuana growers, retailers and dispensaries as customers.
The federal government has the big stick, and the political journal Roll Call reports that President Obama's thinking "hasn't evolved."

Previous post on growers, "Making Money in a Mountain Subdivision."

March 16, 2013

We've Got to Get Out of the House

Fisher on the Mineral Belt—10,606 feet.
First, load up everyone and drive to Leadville to find ski-able snow. (Not shown, M. and Shelby). Ski until tired on the perfectly groomed and completely free Mineral Belt Trail. Yes, it was snowing sporadically.
 
The "State Highway Department" is now a bar, actually, like Phil's Radiator Service down in Pueblo.
Drive back down into the "banana belt" of Buena Vista, where the long-declining downtown is starting to recover as an entertainment district. 

Supper.
Have some "New Mexican pizza"—a basic pepperoni pizza plus roasted green chiles — at the Eddyline brew pub in the "New Urbanist" South Main area. Also drink some amber lager.
  

Stop for a cocktail at the new Deerhammer micro-distillery in downtown BV. Consider attending the Ark Valley Libation Society event in Salida, where all the micro-brewers and distillers will be represented, but decide that we're tired and the dogs need to be fed.

February 20, 2013

How I Spent Last Weekend



I could describe it, or I could just embed Eric Lynn's video. Hmmm, which is harder?

February 07, 2013

Mountain Snow Pack, Feb. 1, 2013 — What It Looks Like

Here is the map . . .

Click to embiggen.
. . . and here is what one of the tan areas looks like.
On the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Yesterday I had some x-c ski and other snow equipment to test in advance of an upcoming overnight trip — will this boot work well in those bindings, and that kind of thing.

So M. and I drove off toward the Sangres looking for snow.

The last time we had gone up this road in winter time was February 2009, and we parked her Jeep about halfway from this spot to the green timber and skied up from there.

This year I was driving on up into the timber, partly on dirt and partly on ice and corn snow, until I came to the end of "easy 4wd conditions," parked it, and got out the gear that I wanted to test.

At least I came away with some ideas about how to modify those climbing skins to fit on these skis. I have been feeling awfully house-bound lately.

All snow pack maps are here.

December 29, 2012

Bad News from Mountain Gazette

If you have been picking up free copies of  Mountain Gazette at your favorite high country coffee house, store, etc, or if like me you subscribed, those days are apparently over.

A recent letter from from MG speaks of a "pause" in publishing and a "next iteration of Mountain Gazette."

None of this sounds too encouraging.

Subscribers are being offered T-shirts and/or bumper stickers.

December 09, 2012

Skiing Aspen When It Was (sort of ) Affordable

Skiers on the bus to Aspen. She brought her corkscrew.
A photo gallery of skiing and après-ski at Aspen and Snowmass in 1974, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency and collected at the Denver Post.

February 21, 2012

Two Nights in Snow

You come out of the mountains after just a three-day trip, go into a cafe, and everyone is so clean. But it is a mountain cafe, and they do not care that you are not so pristine and that you have been sleeping in your clothes.

RIGHT: An attempt at an artistic shot of my shadow while skiing to camp, pulling a pulk.

More than a dozen employees, freelance designers, and "friends of the family" of a small, Colorado-based outdoor-products company gathered for an annual winter rendezvous in Summit County.

Items under discussion included short-staple synthetic insulation, tent and pack design, the intricacies of bar-tacking, other companies that had gone before (reaching back to Holubar and Gerry), the effects of Jameson's whiskey on conversation, hunting, the reality or not of Bigfoot, cross-country skiing, the relationship of the sexes, sources of digital-camouflage fabric, weather, differing designs of axes and hatchets, and why it was better to be in a tipi with 0° F. (-18 C) temperatures outside instead of the most luxurious ski condo in Breckenridge.

This bottle of beer (left) attempted to escape the camp but died of the cold on its path to freedom. Foolish bottle.
Short-term nomadic camp in the White River National Forest

Also, we ate. The menu included venison, green chile, potica, tamales, homemade Spam-and-egg sushi, hot dogs, breakfast tacos, elk sausage, cheese, homemade burritos, biscuits and gravy, and machaca. A good Southern Colorado-northern New Mexico blend with Hawaiian accents.

I became enamored of a Swedish splitting axe that I do not really need, but it was so elegant.

Afterwards, I always wonder how even though it takes much planning and the assembly of food, gear, etc., produced in many different places, even a short trip into the woods like this feels more real and vital than daily life.

January 05, 2012

Montana Corgi Survives an Avalanche

A couple from Bozeman were cross-country skiing near Cooke City, Montana, when an avalanche carried away Dave Gaillard, 44. His wife survived by clinging to a tree, but their dog was presumed lost.

Only he was not.

December 21, 2011

Waiting for Snow on Tennessee Pass

Map from Channel 4, Denver.
My informal aggregate snowfall total for this year as measured on hood of the Jeep CJ5  is 66 inches (1.68 m).

So it was a shock to read that Ski Cooper, up on Tennessee Pass at the top end of the Arkansas River drainage, still has not opened.

Owned by the city of Leadville, Cooper developed from the 10th Mountain Division's World War 2 training area. It relies on natural snow—and usually has plenty.

Just the opposite of last year, when there was good snow up high but nothing here in the foothills until January—and then not enough.

Spring is always "the decider."

UPDATE: Ski Cooper to open December 24th, 2011.

October 23, 2011

On Building Ski Fences

Photo: Jon Kovash
Mountain Gazette blogger Jon Kovash muses about that design classic of mountain towns, the ski fence:
If you live in a ski town, you can amass old skis with a perusal of ski swaps, free boxes and dumpsters. Most prized are skis without bindings because the bindings are a pain in the ass to remove. If you want a tall fence, with the advent of short skis, the old 200s will be harder to find. For colors, I prefer just going with the random cacophony of industrial day-glo, which gives you a kind of happy camo look, but you can also look for matches or color groupings.
The trouble is, you can't build one if you live in some planned development — "The Turds at Elk Meadow" — because of all the covenants.

And as Kovash experienced, some towns like Telluride reject "new vernacular architecture that supports our lifestyles and doesn't hog energy" because it doesn't fit the Mining Era historic-district look.

Leadville or Salida or Walden would probably let you build one though.

February 11, 2011

Ski News from All Over

• In Stockholm, Maine (not the other Stockholm), a resurgence in cross-country skiing.
Laurie Spooner, the school's principal, said there's no data to quantify the healthful benefits of the skiing program, but there's anecdotal evidence to suggest it's good for kids and educators alike. "We don't have as many disciplinary issues on the days the kids ski," she said.
You don't say.

• If we were still in a Cold War mind set, we would need the Stockholm program across the North, because the Red hordes are coming.

• In Colorado, a similar approach to Stockholm, Maine's, but downhill skiing and snowboarding are emphasized. 

• At some Colorado ski areas, lift passengers are being searched as resorts bring in the Law.
But under its permitted lease agreement with the US Forest Service, which grants the resort rights similar to private ownership, Steamboat can legally search its paying customers.

January 28, 2011

Ski Troopers of 1941—And Re-creating the Look

In January 1941, before the United States entered World War II, before there was a Camp Hale, Colorado, or a 10th Mountain Division (over which some Coloradans wax nostalgic), there were infantry "ski patrols" practicing on Mount Rainier, Washington.

This drawing is from a Life magazine article from its Jan. 20, 1941 issue. Those are GI canvas leggings, not "puttees," which were even more evil—something the Brits picked up in northern India and which we copied from them for World War I infantry battledress.

These are puttees.

I had wanted to be the last cross-country (Nordic) skier in Colorado with bamboo poles, but I broke the tip off one last winter.

Googling around, I find antique poles sold at high prices as decorator items. (More reasonable prices on eBay, however.) Various firms offer high-tech carbon-fiber poles wrapped with bamboo for an antique look.

But people are discussing how to find or replicate 1930s ski clothing! On the Internet, you are not alone.

April 25, 2010

Mountain Community Photo Gallery

If you can't get enough of pictures of people telemarking down the Great Sand Dunes and the like, visit Mountain Gazette's Community Photo Gallery, where you can upload your own shots.