Posts Tagged With: hiking

Multi Sport Season

For most people there are four seasons: Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall. But when it comes to the state of Utah, there is one season not mentioned in the previous four that rules them all – Multi Sport Season.

By definition, Multi Sport Season is the short window of time when the cool, yet dry, weather of late Winter pairs with the warm, long days of Spring creating the unique opportunity to experience silly good skiing and quality mountain biking and/or trail running in the same day.

Disclaimer: I totally made up that “definition.”

I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure no other destination, city or state, offers the quality and quantity of Multi Sport days like Salt Lake City and Utah do. Sound off if you disagree.

From making turns at Alta to hittin’ the singletrack on Antelope Island, here’s what this year’s Multi Sport Season in Utah has looked like to me:

First Tracks in Main Chute. Approximately 11 a.m., Friday, April 26

First Tracks in Main Chute. Approximately 11 a.m., Friday, April 26

Trail running Salt Lake City

Trail running on Jack’s Peak. Approximately 7:00 pm, Friday, April 26

And one more example, just for good measure:

East Castle Alta Ski Area

Topping out on Alta’s East Castle hike. Approximately 10 a.m., Saturday, March 16

Biking on Antelope Island

Mountain Biking on Antelope Island. Approximately 2:30 pm, Saturday, March 16

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Earning it Inbounds

Earning it is an art at Alta Ski Area. And while the “earning” part of this phrase takes many forms – traversing, side stepping, boot packing – the “it” means only one thing – fresh, untracked snow.

Alta Ski Area

The “it”: Blue on white. Photo: Joe Johnson

Perched at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon and annually coated in 500″ of the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” Alta offers 2,200 acres of some of the best skiable terrain in North America. From Baldy Shoulder off of the top of Wildcat Chair to East Castle off of Supreme Chair, signature stashes call out to skiers promising first tracks and guaranteeing snow in their face.

So, why isn’t all of Alta tracked all of the time? The answer can be found in an old Alta adage – “Ain’t no side step like an Alta side step.” Translation: You gotta earn it and it ain’t easy.

Alta Ski Area

Sidestep. Photo: Joe Johnson

Every resort has its own hikes. Yet no other resort requires its skiers “earn it” quite like Alta does. Baldy’s Main Chute and Little Chute, require a sturdy bootpack that tops out at 11,500 feet in elevation. Devil’s Castle asks skiers to to participate in the traverse side step combo move. At 30+ minutes, East Castle offers up what might be the longest side step in North America. The best of the Backside is only accessible via a side step-traverse-side step-traverse. Gunsight, Eddie’s High Nowhere, the list goes on . . .

Alta Ski Area

Top of the Baldy booter. Photo: Joe Johnson

While this may turn off some skiers, it’s the reason many, including myself, love skiing at Alta. If you don’t like what’s downhill from the tips of your skis . . . just go farther. Some will call it quits too early. Others will make their way into the backcountry. Meanwhile, I’ll be making my way to the inbounds goods. Believe me, the payoff at the end is well worth the pain in the present.

Adam Clark Alta Ski Area

Kalen Thorien and Caroline Gleich enjoy the view from the top of East Castle. Photo: Adam Clark

Baldy Alta Ski Area

The view from Baldy. Photo: Joe Johnson

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My Top Photos From the 2009-2010 Ski Season

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So, instead of using the written word to eloquenty describe to you how great my winter was at Solitude Mountain Resort, I figured it would be best to use photos.  No, I’m not being lazy and not wanting to write.  I’m actually doing this for you!  I want you to be able to SEE the terrain, SEE the snow and SEE the mountains, so that maybe, just maybe, you can feel what it’s like to ski in Utah and ski the “Greatest Snow on Earth.”

I’m not a professional photographer.  In fact, my skill with the camera would be more aptly described as a work in progress.  However, I did get to shoot a lot of photos this winter.  Some were good.  And some were bad.  Yet, no matter how many bad photos I took, the feeling I got when I captured an image that I knew was a winner made it all worth it.  Will my photos make it on the cover of Powder MagazineSkiing Magazine or Freeskier Magazine?  Probably not.  Nonetheless, here are some of my favorite photos I shot this season:

After being behind the lens and experiencing the pressure of having to get “The shot,” you would think that being the skier in a photo shoot would be less stressful.  I beg to differ!  In fact, I would say I was more nervous as the skier.  Not only do you have to concentrate on skiing, but you have to try and look good at the same time.  How’s my line?  How’s my form?  So many things to think about!  Here’s a few photos from this season where it all came together:

Jealous, huh?  Maybe wishing you’d spent your winter in Utah?  Or perhaps you’re regretting not skiing enough this season?  All reasonable feelings to be having after seeing pictures of Utah’s famous powder.  I believe Dolores LaChapelle summed it up best when she said, “Powder snow skiing is not fun.  It’s life, fully lived, life lived in a blaze of reality.”

Got any great powder shots from this winter?  Comment below with links to your favorite ones!  After all, I showed you mine, now you have to show me yours!

Check out Solitude Mountain Resort’s photostream on Flickr for more great photos!

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What’s Your Fantasy?

From the first time I saw Fantasy Ridge, towering high above the east face of Solitude Mountain Resort’s Honeycomb Canyon, I knew that I wanted to ski it . . . I just didn’t know if I had the guts.

Fantasy Ridge as seen from Evergreen Ridge

You see, Fantasy Ridge isn’t your normal ski run.  In fact, it’s not a ski run at all.  There is no lift access.  There is no groomed terrain.  And there is certainly no easy way up or down.  It’s a bootpack, and one of the gnarliest bootpacks you’ll ever encounter.      

A section of Fantasy Ridge

Last week, after months of excuses, some good (avalanche danger) and some bad (scared stiff), I finally set out to hike Fantasy Ridge.      

Backpack and helmet – check.  Beacon – check.  New Blizzard Answer skis – Check.  No time like the present to see what they can do!  It might seem like I’m overpacking, but believe me, when skiing in the Wasatch mountain range, particularly lines like the ones off Fantasy Ridge, you’re better safe than sorry.  With all gear ready and accounted for, I left Solitude Mountain Resort’s village and caught the Sunrise chair up to the Summit chair which brought me to the south edge of Honeycomb Canyon and the base of Fantasy Ridge.     

A spiny, knife-edge ridgeline, Fantasy runs north, northeast above the Honeycomb Canyon cliffs creating chutes or “shots” 1-26.  These 26 distinct spillways are not for the faint of heart as some require mandatory airs and most feature rock lined no-fall zones.  With my skis strapped to my backpack and my beacon turned on, I stepped through the Fantasy Ridge gate and started hiking what some have called the most technical inbounds hike in North America.     

Fantasy Ridge from the Black Bess Traverse

The first pitch is pretty mellow, bringing you to the Black Bess traverse and giving you your first view of Mt. Millicent, Patsy Marley Peak and the famed Wolverine Cirque.  But from this point on, there’s no turning back.  This may sound cliche, but it’s absolutely true.  When it comes to Fantasy Ridge, turning around and trying to climb back down is much more dangerous than continuing to hike  up.      

Mt. Millicent and Wolverine Cirque

From here the hike gets interesting, and by interesting I mean down right sketchy.  For the next 10-15 minutes, you’ll climb pitches so steep that you have to use your hands (or the cable that has been bolted into the rock) to pull you up.  You’ll walk along sections of trail so narrow that there’s barely enough room for your boots to be next to each other.  You’ll tight rope your way across narrow sections of trail with steep, long drop-offs on both sides.  And you’ll inch your way around rocks that jut out into the path by holding onto a cable so you don’t take a tumble down one of Fantasy’s many rock strewn chutes.  Before I hiked Fantasy Ridge, I’d heard the stories of people freezing part way up and having to be talked down or helped down by Solitude Mountain Resort Ski Patrol.  And after hiking Fantasy Ridge I now understand why.      

Climbing the steeps of Fantasy

“Don’t drink too much coffee if you’re gonna hike Fantasy Ridge. It’s like walking a high-wire; you don’t want to shake yourself clear off.” – Kristen Ulmer, extreme skiing pioneer     

“During the hike, if you can bear to look around, you’ve already started to come to grips with the steepness. The terrain falls away on both sides, but it’s particularly intimidating on the Honeycomb side: cliffy slabs of snow hanging in space. Thus, when you get to the top, and look into the gut of the first line a hanging triangle of snow which funnels into a mandatory straightline which then dumps you out into a huge apron you are ready for steep.” – Matt Harvey, Editor, Freeskier Magazine       

The top of Fantasy - Mt. Superior in the background

But if you can conquer the climb and your fears, the end result is worth its weight in fresh, untouched tracks.  First, the view from the top is breathtaking.  On a blue bird day there’s nothing more beautiful!  Mount Superior, Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, Alta Ski Area, Silverfork, Brighton Resort, Honeycomb Canyon, Wolverine Cirque and Twin Lakes backcountry area are all visible.  Not only can you see some of the best backcountry lines the Wasatch mountain range has to offer, but because of your willingness to hike, you’re about to ski some of Solitude Mountain Resort’s best, and most advanced terrain.      

“The rowdy access deters most, if not all, of the tourists who vacation in this beautiful part of Utah, which is one reason that the lines off of the top of the ridge back down into Honeycomb Canyon stay fresh. The other reason that most of these lines stay fresh is the fact that they are steep. Very steep.” – Matt Harvey, Editor, Freeskier Magazine        

From here, the only question you have to ask yourself is, “How gnarly am I willing to go?”  Looking for mandatory airs, mandatory straight lines and super skinny chutes?  You can find all this and more in the first 10 shots.  For my inaugural Fantasy Ridge run I chose shot 12, a steep and mildly technical run in the middle of the ridge.  After dropping in and making 4-5 turns on the spring like snow, I straight lined it through a chute and into a wide apron full of untouched powder.  Pure bliss!      

Shot 12 - my first run on Fantasy

Were the turns worth the hike? Definitely! Would I do it again? In a heart beat!  In fact, I made another fantasy lap later that same day.  Is Fantasy Ridge for everyone?  Definitely NOT! If this article makes you nervous, or if you’re not completely and utterly confident in your ability to hike and ski advanced terrain, then it’s probably best to leave the fresh tracks off of Fantasy Ridge for . . . me!    

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Gear review – The North Face Cat’s Meow

Great gear is necessary for great adventures.  So it only makes sense that a blog about my adventures should include the low down on the gear that makes it possible.  Lucky for you, I get the opportunity to regularly write gear reviews for the Gear Junkie, one of the top online publications and blogs for product reviews and news in the outdoor world.  This was my first review:

“On a recent three-day backpacking trip in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming, my sleeping bag of choice was The North Face Cat’s Meow. Touted as a “classic bag for three-season mountaineering treks,” the Meow has a polyester fiber fill for insulation and is rated for temps as low as 20 degrees F. My main concern in the Tetons, with temps forecasted to drop into the teens, was whether this mummy-style bag would keep me warm through the night.At 2 pounds, 10 ounces, the Cat’s Meow is one of the lightest synthetic bags in its price range and class. It packs down to a size smaller than a soccer ball when stuffed in its included compression sack. A better compression sack could pack it even smaller.

North Face Cats Meow Sleeping Bag Photo.jpg
The North Face Cats Meow Sleeping Bag

The bag retails for $159 (regular length) and $169 (long). It is a bargain price to start with, and I bought it earlier this year after finding a good deal at a local outdoors shop. In almost a full year of use, the bag has yet to disappoint. In the Tetons this summer, we hiked into Death Canyon and came out at String Lake. In between, we crossed over Static Peak divide at 10,790 feet, hiked up Cascade Canyon and over Paintbrush Divide to a camp.We set up camp at Holley Lake, pitching the Alps Mountaineering Comet 2.0 tent, a two-person backpacking model, and then going to sleep.

Despite a chilly night that dropped as low as 18 degrees, the bag kept me warm with only a base layer on. I tend to sleep a bit warm, and in fact at one point had to use the bag’s full-length zipper to vent my feet.

The adjustable hood, which has a one-hand draw cord, kept heat in without completely covering my face. Sometimes looked at as excessive, I loved the bag’s chest pocket for my watch and headlamp. Plus, the glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls and the welded no-snag stiffener in the zip column made zipping the bag a breeze. This is the first time I’ve had a bag whose zipper has not snagged.At 5 foot 11 inches tall, I use the regular-size bag, and it fits me well. Its shoulder and hip girth measurements provide just enough space to move around without losing heat.In my tests — in the Tetons and beyond — the bag has proven to be durable, warm and great for camping in all seasons. For the price, versatility and features I would recommend the Cat’s Meow for all-around outdoors use.”

*This review originally appeared on Gear Junkie*

With winter in full swing, stay tuned for more reviews on winter products.  I’ll be putting gear to the test on the mountain and in the backcountry all winter long!

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