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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Andreas Fransson and J.P. Auclaire are no more

I was hit in the gut when I found this out. I met Andreas a couple of times in Chamonix during the 2012/2013 season and he was probably the most centered, calmest big mountain skier I ever met. A gentleman and an athlete... It hurts just thinking about it. I can't even begin to imagine how hard this must be on the loved ones.

J.P. and Andreas were climbing a couloir up the on the Argentine side of Monte San Lorenzo (12,159 feet) when an avalanche carried them in excess of 2,000 feet downhill. Their two camera carrying collegues made it. For the ESPN news on this click here.
One thing that gnaws at me is that often in our sport (as in this case) it seems dangerous even when you don't do particularly dangerous stuff. Andreas and J.P. got peeled off the mountain in climbing mode, Doug Coombs died looking down a couloir he skied a ton of times before. Remy Lecluse and Gregory Costa got taken asleep in their tents. It doesn't seem to me like these guys were being particularily reckless when they got caught.Sometimes I think that just the fact of being present in the mountains in winter is enough to get you. 

I do struggle with the way I often feel we rationalize the accidents. In order to reassure ourselves I feel that we often seek the preventable reason why the accident happened in the first place. Something along the lines of "if they only had paid attention to this, that or the other predictable factor it would never have happened" and therefore I can go on into the mountains under the illusion that I can make myself safe. More and more I feel that premise is as false as prevalent. These were absolutely expert mountaineers, they sure would push the envelope but incompetent they were not. Neither were  Remy Lecluse, Gregory Costa or Doug Coombs and so many others. I can only dream of getting to their level of competence let alone skill. However they still got caught. 

Not that the sedentary life seems to be all that safe, it only takes a cursory glance at health statistics in this country to realize that. I guess that at the end of the day it is all about figuring out what we want out of life for our loved ones and for ourselves.  I do feel a tension between my love for my loved ones and my love for the mountains. That's probably why I would love to believe I can be safe out there and so make sure I'm there for my loved ones too. It's just that as time goes by and one of these accidents comes after the other, I feel it's getting increasingly hard to believe that. 

To leave on as positive a note as possible here are some words from Fransson:
"Society has an absurd general belief that life is about hanging on as long as possible. So people [are] often hanging on for the sake of hanging on and not for really living. I can go on for days about this, but the important things in life are unsayable, so let's just live it out and see what we find behind the curtains in front of the big game we are all playing."
I'm pretty sure I mostly agree but it still hurts to know they are gone. Here is to hoping they are in a better place.


The pictures (click to enlarge):


Monte San Lorenzo (12,159 feet) straddling Chile and Argentina


Andreas Fransson

J.P. Auclair



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Things are looking up!

Thought I share this beautifully illustrated forecast by the NOAA for Alta UT at 9442 ft. (40.58°N 111.61°W). Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll stop talking right now (click to enlarge):

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How Mondo sizes works

The international standard for measuring ski boot sizes is the Mondo chart. Mondo only applies to ski boots and no other shoes or boots of any kind, which should make us skiers feel extra special…
So how do you figure out your Mondo size? Fortunately it’s not that hard, pretty simple actually. The Mondo size is nothing more than the length of the foot in centimeters (cm). As soon as you know that an inch equals 2.54 cm you’re pretty much home free. The US shoe size chart is not based on length in any way humans are meant to understand so using this as a length measurement won’t work unless you’re the lucky guy that’s an 11 size as that happens to be an even 11 inches foot.What is the Mondo size of a US men’s 11? It is 11 x 2.54 = 27.94 which we’ll round up to 28 cm i.e. a Mondo size of 28. If you are any other size you will need a piece of cardboard (longer than your feet), a tape measure, a pen and a helping hand. Stand on the cardboard, have the helping hand mark the front extremity of your big toe and the end of your heel. Measure that difference and multiply the inches and fractions of inches by 2.54. Et voila! You’ve got your Mondo size. Now unfortunately there is lot more going into knowing what your perfect boot size, liner size, size and thickness of innersole etc. you may need, but knowing your Mondo size will help you narrow down your search a lot. How about half sizes? They often (but not always) mean you have to go up one half a size. I am a Mondo 27.5 and consistently end up fitting the best in a 28 boot.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Valien invasion of Park City

Finally we have a resolution: Yesterday Vail resorts acquired PCMR. I, for one, could not be more excited! For starters we now know we are getting a 2014/2015 and future seasons and that right there is more than we knew last week. Second, I just got local Epic Passes for the family, I did it yesterday as soon as I read the press release. As a BC skier I rarely do more than 10 days in resort in any season or about 10 – 20% of my ski days. Not only is my volume low but it is a bit spread out, I ski more than one resort. A regular season pass is near impossible to justify. However, I do like to do a few hard resort days early on to get enough vertical fast enough to get my downhill legs in place for the season. That’s good for 3 – 4 days right there. For the rest of the season I’ll do a handful of family ski days. With that scenario I was awaiting the litigation outcome and if PCMR would have managed the season I would have bought a locals book of 10 days for a bit over $500. With Vail taking over I get the locals Epic pass for the same expense! The great thing about that is that I get a pass that gives me all the skiing I can handle at “my mountain” PCMR as well access to the 9990 BC gate at the Canyons. What more could you ask for! Well, maybe access to another 20 resorts or so? Done! It’s all in the Epic pass.

I guess some alien invasions are just better than others, so just take me to your leader!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review of the BCA Float 32


This blog has posted about avalanche airbags since 2009 so half a decade already. It started off as me sharing my research when I was looking for an airbag system for myself.  Since I bought my first avalanche air bag back in 2010 I have not been out on a single outing without it. Once I own it I would feel like a first class idiot if I got caught in a bad one “the-very-day-I-didn’t-bring-my-pack”… So being on the compulsive side of things it’s all or nothing. The problem I have with approaching this any other way is that, for the days I decide to NOT carry one, I would have to KNOW that I am not going to face any avalanches. If I knew that…
Optimal usage rates may be debatable stuff. The one thing that in my opinion is NOT debatable is that everybody that goes out in the BC in winter should absolutely have an avy back pack. For a quick overview of the underlying principle of these click here, and here for animations of avalanche releases. If you do not want to read too much about the underlying principles then know that the airbag systems rely on the “inverse segregation principle” which in really short means “bigger stuff stays on top”. In an avalanche you can then see the benefit of becoming “bigger stuff” when your airbag inflates.
Avalanche bags have been around for a very long time, especially in Europe. We are now to a point where I think it’s safe to say that there is a consensus: You are safer with one than without. So why isn’t everyone using one of these? Two enemies: Price and weight. More on that below.
Back Country Access - BCA is a company that for a great many years have pioneered or improved on a great deal of back country safety products. It is one of those companies that truly understand their users and the intended (and, at times, unintended) usages of their products. With now half a decade on the airbag market they have been through a fair amount of trial and error and in the process learnt a lot and it shows in their avy packs.

The BCA Float 32
This pack was introduced for the 2012/2013 season so not new, but not geriatric either. As the name indicates it’s a 32 liter pack - 1,593 cu inches. So what does 32 liter translate into? Everything you’ll need on your day tour and then some. Enough for a week on a European hut to hut (food and bedding provided by the hut). Enough for a 2 – 3 day tour if you pack right. Basically more than you need on the vast majority of your tours and then some. Is 32 liter overkill for a day tour? Sure it is. However unless you want to buy a quiver of these I always recommend to go bigger than you need for day touring. In this case it is really a no brainer because the weight is so low on this system that you’ll save marginally on that with a smaller pack while still cutting yourself off from some options. The verified weight of the entire system including cylinder is 6.6 lbs.
Recommended Use: backcountry skiing, heli skiing, snowmobiling and snowboarding (with minor rework of some straps, more on that later).
I am not going to duplicate all the specs, for all the details go to BCA’s Float 32 page.

Notable features and design considerations

Inflation: Compressed air cylinder. Ease of use, ease of traveling and low refill cost… Operated by a trigger that can be placed on either the left or right backpack shoulder strap. Air intake is boosted by a venturi inflation system that allows full inflation of the 150 liter bag in about 3 seconds. The trigger is mechanical so no explosives and so much easier to travel with as you avoid all the travel restrictions explosives comes with.
Trigger access: The trigger is by default on your left strap for right handed operation. If you’re a leftie, just switch it to the right strap. The strap remaining unused can host your hydration tube.
Clam shell: Some object to this design as they find it sloppy, floppy and, if you don’t pay attention, add to the risk of losing your stuff on the hill. In this case I like it because it’s a sturdy construction but also in general because it allows me to select my entry point into my bag. I always pack the same way so I know where the stuff is in my pack, the shell construction allows me to make my own 4 – 6 inches opening anywhere I want. I like that.
Frameless: Here again there are pros and cons. Frameless is shape-less and so feels floppy to some. On the other hand frameless saves the weight of the frame… When it comes to these packs there are really only two barriers to a wider usage and that’s price and weight. Anything BCA can do to eliminate weight is extremely valuable and may trump some comfort considerations. Regarding price – we’ll get back to that. Soon.
Wet compartment: This is a great feature that I now make a necessary requirement. I will only consider bags that have them. You put your shovel and probe here and on the up track, I put my skins there. Very convenient.
Alloy waist buckle: I hear a fair amount of grumbling about these. First I will state the obvious, it is for security reasons it’s there – its main objective is not to be easy, comfortable or user friendly – it’s there to save our life when time comes. Second, not only are we skiers but we are back country skiers. We are resourceful people. Most of us have made stepping in and out of tech bindings a second nature thing, surely we can figure out how to get that miserable alloy waist buckle on in two seconds flat- blindfolded! This is how the vast majority of avy back packs are buckled and the last thing we want at the critical moment (which has been described as “the hand of God” lifting you out of the avalanche) is to have your plastic buckle snap...
Helmet: The helmet hammock has two positions. One half way down your back and one on top. Use this last one whenever you want to attach your skis and your helmet to the pack.
Diagonal ski carry: This works fine for skis and is pretty straight forward. The only issue (and this is the only problem area of this bag) is if you’re a snowboarder. The snowboard straps are meant for horizontal carry. Not what most of you guys will want to do so you will probably have to customize this with some added straps of your own.
Cool extras:
There is a fleece (or microfiber) lined goggle pocket that will keep your eyewear protected from scratches. The pocket is on top so you’ll always have easy access to your goggles.
Waist pocket: Camera – glasses –nutrition gels, bars or whatever you need handy.
The easiest to use ice axe holders 
The bottom line:
This is one of the absolutely best avalanche airbags I’ve seen so far. Why? Because:
It is by far the best standard back pack offered with an avy airbag system. To get anything similar you would have to buy a system that cost a lot more, toss their standard pack and buy a compatible zip-on that you’d like. By the time you are done with this little process you are very close to paying twice the price of the Float 32.
It offers the ease of refill and travel that comes with a compressed air system. Not only do you have a lot more options on where to refill, the cost of refilling compressed ($5 – $30) air is a fraction of the cost of refilling gas cartridges.
BCA’s long experience with the BCA Stash products is definitely showing in this very high quality pack. In December of 2010, I wrote: “It is possible that a few years from now, as more research and data comes to light, either or both BCA’s Float30 and Snowpulse’s bags will come out on top but that day is not today.” Well, today (September 2014) I feel that day is here; the BCA has proven itself over the years and the product improvements are such that I now feel this is the best value in airbag systems available anywhere. The price including filled cartridge is $725.00.

BCA has achieved a major feat by successfully resolving the tension between weight and price without sacrificing functionality.  This is the best slayer of the Weight/Price monster that I know about. And that’s important because the more back country skiers use these types of bags the more lives will be saved. 



The bag

The cylinder kit

To the right (user's left) the trigger.
The other strap can host your hydration tube.

Goggle pocket on top - lined with felt.

The "wet compartment" for shovel,
probe etc and your skins on the up track

Main compartment in clam-shell design... 
...it also hosts some important elements
 of the safety system...

...here's the detail of that...

The opening in the zipper that will let the air bag out
when the time comes.

What the airbag looks like. It comes with...

...great and easy to perform
folding instructions.




The helmet hammock allows you...

to carry your helmet half way down your pack...

..or on top. This helps keeping your helmet
out of the way when you carry your skis diagonally.

Efficient, simple and easy to use axe holders...

...here with an axe in. 

Hip belt pocket. Carry your camera, nutrition
or anything else you need handy.

Alloy waist buckle: Easy as 1 - 2 - 3?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Therapeutic Pictures?

Over the years I have taken a ton of mountain pictures. Most of them are unremarkable at best but I am doing something about it: I am signing up for an October "Landscape Digital Photography" class. Hopefully that will enhance the photographic standing of this blog. In the meantime, every so often, I have gotten lucky to get the odd good shot. Whatever the case may be with that it is in the fall, when the wait for winter becomes unbearable, that I spend time staring at my average pictures and draw unmistakably positive therapeutic effects from it.

Here are some of the less mediocre selection (click to enlarge):

Grands Montets, Chamonix, France

One of many unnamed peaks in the Chugach, AK 

Little Cottonwood Canyon north of Alta, UT

Lighting effects on Glacier de Lescheaux, Chamonix, France

Iguana Backs, Chugach range, AK

Cathedral Gap, Mt Rainier, WA

South face of Mt Superior, Alta, UT

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix, France

In the distance: Mt St Helens, Cascades, WA

Mt Blanc, Chamonix, France

Cardiac Ridge, Wasatch, UT

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Good tidings

It is always an exciting time when the temps drops and our precipitation becomes productive. Yesterday Mike sent me below picture of Pinecone Ridge in Park City:
Blue arrow shows a sprinkle, red arrow: Is that coverage?

















Then today I took these from Maybird Gulch. It's not a lot but hey! its only August 24th!

For detailed view see below...

Yep, That's SNOW!