Archive for the ‘snowboarding’ Tag

The Mountain Collective, Banff

I bought one of the Mountain Collective passes, which gives two days each at a variety of West Coast and Rocky Mountain resorts, plus a couple of days in South America, if you can make it there. For $369, it’s reasonably priced, you get an email with a barcode, and exchange it for the tickets at the season pass office. So the resorts are Alta / Snowbird, Alpine / Squaw, Mammoth, Whistler / Blackcomb, Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Sunshine Village / Lake Louise. Sun Valley joins the group in 2016. And if you’re staying longer than two days, extra days are 50 % off.

I managed (so far) to go snowboarding at three of the locations. It’s been a mixed bag conditions-wise, as the western US has generally had a dry winter. So given that, the California resorts were in awful condition, and the plane tickets to actually get to the resorts are not cheap. Still, I bought a plane ticket to Calgary and headed there in mid-February.

My travels started in Calgary, Canada, in unusually warm weather for February, where I caught an evening bus ride to Banff after clearing customs and grabbing my bags. I last visited many years ago, during a chilly, overcast August. It’s a roughly 90 minute ride on mostly freeway, through the national park gate, and then into the town of Banff. I stayed at the fancy-schmancy Banff Springs Hotel, a rather sprawling property that occupies a very prime location uphill, about a half mile from downtown. I could see why after waking up the next morning, it’s a million dollar view, and the facilities and amenities in the hotel are pretty good.

Mount Temple (11627', 3544 m) seen from Lake Louise

Mount Temple (11627′, 3544 m) seen from Lake Louise

The snowboarding was not that great, lots of rocks, rather thin cover for mid-winter, and warm temps. Lake Louise appeared to a magnet for park riders, with a section on the backside full of steep stuff, and more rocks. Of course the views were amazing, it’s kind of a magnified version of the Elks or San Juans, muscular, burly peaks. But it was a mix of ice and spring conditions, more towards the icy stuff at the end of the day.

Bow Range, Canadian Rockies

Bow Range, Canadian Rockies

Sunshine Village, which is much closer to Banff, lies on the Alberta / British Columbia border, and is accessed by this gondola that curls around a mountainside. It leads to this mini-mid-mountain village, with a hotel and a smattering of lodges and restaurants. One lift leads to the ridge that separates the provinces. Another lift crosses the border a couple of times, so that was definitely a novelty. As for conditions, it was a mix. I met a fellow local rider Geoff, who knew where to go, and the place was pretty fun, with lots of side hits and still a bit of powder hidden away. He kindly gave me a ride back to Calgary at the end of the day after some dinner.

Above Sunshine Village, in a wonderland of snowboard-eating rocks

Above Sunshine Village, in a wonderland of snowboard-eating rocks

Geoff, taking in the scenery

Geoff, taking in the scenery

A final word about crossing the ‘border’ at YYC, it’s atrocious, with the combined effect of a holiday and a Monday morning. It was easily 90 minutes of hauling bags and security and immigration lines. Surely this process can be better?

 

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Aspen, March 2014

I flew into Pitkin County Airport, and it’s a real crapshoot. I sneaked in without too much hassle, but my friend arrived more than 24 hours later than scheduled. Lucky me- it snowed nearly 2 feet the night I arrived, and it was a classic powder day that revived my love for snowboarding. And Aspen of course lives up to its reputation for being a playground for the rich and famous, ritzy on and off the slopes. It’s not a place I can afford to go to often, especially with $124 lift tickets, hotel prices through the roof, and budget meals that will run $20 or more. But, I figured that I would live it up for a weekend, cashing in some frequent flier miles and credit card reward points.

Welcome to Aspen!

Welcome to Aspen!

Powder, Aspen Highlands

Powder, Aspen Highlands

No lack of beautiful views!

No lack of beautiful views!

Looking east towards Independence Pass

End of the day, looking east towards Independence Pass

A big thanks to Mike the chef for showing us around!

 

Spring riding

Spring riding, warm temps, cloudless skies, mini-ponds, sunscreen, music, beer, long days, soaked gloves, stinky boots, it doesn’t get much better than this. Two days in northern New Mexico, at Taos and Ski Santa Fe:

rubber duckies, lift station, Taos

Dirty mashed potatoes, Taos

Last day of the season, Ski Santa Fe

Looking towards Sandia Crest (50 miles) from Ski Santa Fe

Snowboard boots + no socks = damp, icky boots. Yum.

Slushy!

And in typical Southwest fashion, spring was rudely interrupted by snow the following day, leaving a fresh 20″ of snow up at Taos.

mid-March in Lech

Mostly unintended.

I didn’t bring my equipment, as I planned on staying in Frankfurt, but upon reading the forecast, I bought a train ticket, sucked up the steep prices in Lech, and took a 9.5 hour trip down to the Arlberg.

My rental setup was on this year’s equipment, with a colorful and well-maintained Burton Custom 158, and a smelly pair of Ozone boots. The boots were not really suited for my riding style, though, they were comfortable, but too soft and didn’t really agree with my feet. The bindings, Burton Missions, were the toe-cap type, which I’ve never used before, and they were just okay. Somehow a lot of snow piled up around the toe area, at least more so than my normal bindings. The board, though, was great, the right length and flex compared to my current 161 tank.

I met up with my buddy Michael, who made it up from Feldkirch to ride a couple hours Monday afternoon with me, and then had to leave to go to Innsbruck. Too bad it was so short, but hopefully next year!

Riding buddies since 2004.

I caught what is probably going to be the last big snowfall of the season. After snowing around 15 – 20 cm the first day, It dumped nearly 60 cm overnight Monday into Tuesday, mostly starting around 5 AM, and by the time I was up on the slopes, it was deep and mostly untracked. A German lady I rode up with summed it up nicely, as she simply looked at me and said, ” WOW”, which translates in any language. So began a day of above the knee powder, where you feel the snow gently pushing against your clothing, and get the occasional elusive face shot. The visibility, as expected for a place above treeline, was quite bad.

It snowed a bit.

What a view.

The sun came out the next day, which made for more powder runs, and it stayed good until the early afternoon, when the rapidly rising temperatures turned things into mashed potatoes. But I also took a few of the off-piste runs, but still had to stay cautious given that I was riding alone and it’s all too easy to lose your way around here or otherwise end up in trouble. This place is sweet on a day like this, but it’s better to ride with a buddy, or better yet, a local who knows his way around.

Endless fields of goodness!

Valluga and Roggspitze

The downsides to the place: there are several areas of traverses that are difficult on a snowboard. Somehow, even when I point it, I still can’t manage enough speed, so inevitably I end up walking. And as I pointed out, the powder days are amazing, but the visibility can be terrible.

And as for the town, it exudes luxury and money, and is probably the most prestigious resort in the Alps, along with St. Moritz. The food and accommodation will break your budget, but it’s an undeniably gorgeous location to blow your cash. I stuck to the less expensive options, i.e. pasta and pizza, stayed in a reasonably priced pension a short walk uphill from the church, in the Anger part of town. And I avoided the whole apres-ski scene, which is a unique, cheesy only-in-Europe experience.

One last word about the trip back: late leaving Langen, late leaving Bregenz, late leaving Lindau, broken down train in Stuttgart. Five transfers, blech.

Taos weekend

I finally got to Taos mid-season, where everything was open. I chose a fine day to experience it. Last time I was there, the ridges were mostly closed, and it was still early season. Since then, a lot has happened, which has curtailed my snowboarding days by a lot.

At least on this day, it was sunny, the conditions were quite good, the snow was fine, and the winds relatively calm, so I spent most of the day hiking the ridges. The lifts take you to a top elevation of 11819 feet (3603 m), and to access the hard stuff, and a lot of the goods, you need to hike the ridges, accessed from the upper terminus of the top lift. One extends to the right towards the ‘front side’, mostly shorter stuff that involves hiking up about 30-40 feet vertical and about 5-10 minutes, the other ridge goes left towards Kachina Peak, which is the top of the resort, at 12481 feet (3805 m). After doing a few runs on the front side stuff, I decided around 12:30 to hike to Kachina Peak. This hike is a good 45 minutes, and involves the 662 foot vertical difference, and a few ups and downs, so it’s more like 800+ feet up in the process, and more than a mile of hiking. At elevation.

West view from the beginning of the hike

After plenty of huffing and puffing from this sea level dweller, passing a few people, and being passed by others, I made it to the top. I was tired and feeling like a swamp dweller by the time I got there. The views are magnificent, encompassing a wide swath of New Mexico and Colorado, from the Jemez Mountains to the San Juans and Sangre de Cristos.

Yours truly at the peak.

The view from 12500'

Luckily I was rewarded by a fantastic powder descent, and a well-deserved beer at the Bavarian at the bottom. Normally I don’t imbibe on the slopes, but I made an exception for this occasion.

A nice 18 oz. Oktoberfest beer waiting for me.

A note on the origins of the trail names at Taos Ski Valley: you’ll notice from the trail map a mix of German and Spanish names, reflecting the roots of the founder Ernie Blake, and the state of New Mexico. So a couple of the names stand out, Stauffenberg and Tresckow, who were among the people who died in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

About to drop in!

To cap it off, I witnessed a very nice sunset as I crossed into Colorado.

French Alps, March 2009

Hello there again, I’m back after a week’s absence, and also more than a week being sick with my yearly cold that drags on and on. Being sick and snowboarding don’t quite mix, although I was more or less functioning.

I flew to Geneva, waded through the chaos of the airport on a Saturday evening, and boarded a bus for the three hour trip south to the Tarentaise Valley, via Annecy and Albertville. I was picked up at the very quiet Bourg St. Maurice station by Steve McDonald of the White Room Chalet, and he drove me the remainder of the distance to Sainte Foy, around 20 km away, and 800 m higher. He and his wife Iona run an excellent operation in Sainte Foy, so a big thanks goes out to them for everything, from the transport to the food, and of course showing the secret stashes. So I settled into my bunk on the ground level, which would be my home for the next week.

Morning, looking towards Les Arcs

Morning, looking towards Les Arcs

Now if you’re looking for immersion into French culture and language, the Tarentaise valley is not the place. The region appears to be the domain of holidaymakers from the UK, with some French and Dutch folks mixed in there (although many are fluent in French). It’s not really what I came for, though. This area is the Alps in all its wickedness and awesomeness, dominated by Mont Blanc (4808 m) a few miles to the north, which is taller than anything else in the surrounding region. It cuts quite a different profile from the Tarentaise valley than the more familiar sight from Chamonix, though, but is one massive, awe-inspiring mountain. Mont Blanc was being a bit shy for much of the time I was there, though.

Mont Blanc, hiding

Mont Blanc, hiding

Arrivederci Italia, bienvenue en France

Arrivederci Italia, bienvenue en France

Being on vacation, I checked email and Internet a total of twice in nine days, and avoided all phones and crackberries, and even my lovely MacBook Pro.

Powder turn, Sainte Foy

Powder turn, Sainte Foy, following a 30 cm+ dump

Summit of Sainte Foy, with Mont Blanc

Summit of Sainte Foy, with Mont Blanc

View from the summit, Sainte Foy

View from the summit

Playing tourist

Playing tourist

I spent a very wonderful, powdery six days at Sainte Foy and in the surrounding area, Tignes for a day, and crossed into Italy at La Rosiere and La Thuile. Sainte Foy is a nice moderate-sized resort, with a mix of trees and above treeline riding, plenty of gullies and rocks and the like to explore, and given the right conditions, lots of off-piste stuff inbounds and out of bounds. At the end of it, my legs were jelly, I realized that my technique could use plenty of improvement after seeing it on film, but I got more or less exactly what I was looking for.

Tignes was particularly interesting geologically, with this nice little natural arch next to the lift station. The other highlight was manmade, this very speedy funicular that made the 1000 m vertical ascent in a matter of a few minutes, going at what I estimated to be 80 km / h.

L'aiguille percee, Tignes

L'aiguille percée, Tignes

Steve on the job!

Steve, working hard on the job!

And finally, a mention about Geneva. I’ve been here a few times for work-related stuff and the like, and it just doesn’t excite the senses. It’s got all the stereotypical luxury stuff, from ten star hotels, lots of expensive cars, banks, and watches, mixed in with a fair bit of sleaze near the train station. I did have a nice, filling meal of pot au feu in the old town (perfect winter food), and finished with a bottle of the local artisan beer, Calvinus noire, at the bar next door, for the undemocratic price of 8 CHF. It’s a good place to spend an afternoon or a day, but that’s about it.

Jet d'eau, surprisingly quiet.

Jet d'eau, surprisingly quiet for a 140 m ejaculation

Oktoberfest, September 2008

A weekend of Absinthe and beer

There’s really little more to say- this is the beerfest to end all beerfests. For two weeks in Munich in late September, the city swells with visitors from everywhere who quaff expensive, stronger than normal 1 L denominations of beer. I’m one of them.

I arrived on Friday night, the day before the keg was tapped, to catch the premiere of the new Absinthe snowboarding flick, Ready, but aside from seeing plenty of kids there primarily to get trashed, it was a mellow, though late evening for me. I did get to meet a number of the cast and crew, which included some of my favorite pro riders. It’s also clearly not as much fun going on your own.

some of the cast and crew

some of the cast and crew

But now a bit about the main event, I went twice, actually, the day of the opening, and then for much of Sunday afternoon. Didn’t get a seat inside, so I stood outside on a chilly, overcast September day and had my high quality Augustiner brew.

YES!

YES!

boyzone. . .

boyzone. . .

crazy aussies

crazy aussies

the 8000 person tent. . .

the 8000 person tent. . .

And then Sunday I went with some friends and six hours later, I didn’t even recall shooting off 270 photos, was too drunk to catch my train back, and ended up staying the night before taking the 6 AM train back to the office.

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Weekend in the Arlberg

First trip here this season, after I took the plunge on the steep train fare and took the 7-hour journey to meet up with my buddy Michael in Lech. I’d love to go more often, but I just live too far away. After relaxing in the evening, and still staying up way past my bedtime (1 AM), I managed to get some sleep, never enough, though. It had been a roller-coaster week at work, and I had not been riding in three weeks. 

 

chillin' in a "chilliges Abteil"

chillin' in a "chilliges Abteil"

Here we go, this is what happens when it puked a bunch of snow during the week, and when you put an old guy with a bunch of early 20-somethings. You get a powder day on steroids, in a clockwise loop from Lech to Zuers and back. And plenty of that indecipherable Vorarlberg dialect.

 

gonna be an excellent day

gonna be an excellent day

9:30 AM, off to the races, and the first of many extended powder runs. It’s this undulating terrain with numerous gullies, cliffs of different sizes, and all sorts of natural terrain features. So off we went, taking the usual set of chairlifts and surface lifts to get to Zuers, and then gradually back to Lech. They knew the way, I just did my best to follow them around.

2 PM, time for a quick lunch with a view. And a brief check of our transceivers for safety’s sake.

 

lunch with a view

lunch with a view

4 PM,  a long-ish hike out of bounds, that hour when you start to feel the temperature falling, and when the light on the mountain starts to take a slight pinkish glow. What a view, what a day.

 

last steps, way out of bounds

last steps, way out of bounds

 

the crew

the crew

 

 

The flat spots, however, really got me. Despite pointing it, I found that I had to skate or unstrap to get going, so I probably irritated everyone. To all of them, danke fuer deine Geduld, thanks for your patience, and sorry!

I’ve been to the Arlberg several times now, but I think this trip took the cake with regards to quality. The sun came out for just one day, the temperatures still stayed below freezing, and hooking up with a bunch of locals, they knew where to go.

Now it was harder to get up early the next morning, crawl out of bed, and pull on the clothes and my still-damp, slimy boots. I had a long journey back to the flatlands of Germany after riding, and I decided on another loop of Lech / Zuers, albeit this time it was a solo mission, and abbreviated.

 

weather moving in, a 60+ cm dump is on its way

weather moving in, a 60+ cm dump is on its way

I revisited some spots from the day before, some of which had become suncrusted and choppy, but ended it on a happy solo run to the Lech tunnel. And then it was a breathless set of bus and train connections, a postbus to Langen and on to Feldkirch, a six minute connection, a standing-room only train to Lindau, another six minute connection, a delayed train to Ulm, a two minute dash to the bullet train, and a growling stomach from not eating quite enough over the past couple of days. 

A few lessons I picked up out of this:

I’m old and out of shape. My abilities are headed south, but I can still do a mean powder turn. Safety first. Still among the best days of the year so far.