65th Annual Stowe Derby

(Update: All of the event photos are now available on SkiPix.com. Be sure to tell your friends. Order a photo for Mom or Dad!)

This past Sunday, the Mount Mansfield Ski and Snowboard club hosted the 65th annual Stowe Derby. The weather report was for mixed precipitation, warm temperatures, and fog. When I arrived at my first shooting location, the weather was perfect. Having photographed the derby a few times before, I set up on the first major turn for the freestyle race. The first major turn down the toll road is about 180 degrees and has a steep (for a cross country skier) pitch.

The race starts in waves. Every 30 seconds, five more racers start their way down the mountain. The start order is determined by your finish result in last year’s race. This means that the first racers down the mountain navigate the challenging turns and pitch of the Toll Road (I’d never believe that it could be so challenging, coming from an alpine/telemark background, except that I see it year after year.)

As the race continues, the carnage begins claiming the equipment of some,

the ego of others,

but hopefully no injuries.

The heats continue starting for about 40 minutes. During that time, racers are coming around the bends pretty quickly. It’s not uncommon for me to be looking at a frame like the one below, getting ready for the next racer to come around the bend only to hear someone who has just passed me go slamming into the ground.

This poor guy was talked into racing by a bunch of his friends. He was having a hard time of it and we chatted briefly as he collected himself after a pretty serious fall. It turns out, he’s not even a skier. I didn’t catch your name, but I hope the rest of your race was better!

The race consists of two primary events; freestyle and classical. For the super-athletic, the Derbymeister category requires that entrants complete both races. Between each event, Stowe Mountain Resort grooms the Toll Road and volunteers set a track down on the cross country trails.

The short course and the long course merge on the Stowe recreation path. The kids in who race the short course run the gambit from serious grade schoolers to people who just want to stop and eat the snow.

The freestyle, classical, and derbymeisters come through with a different intensity. In the background, you can see Stowe Mountain Resort. The start is at the top of the Lookout Double, approximately in the middle of the photo at the top of the trails.

Finally, the competitors cross the last bridge to cheering fans, around the last bend, and across the finish line.

My favorite sign of the day was “Ski faster! They’re drinking your beer!” Unfortunately, I was too focused on the race to get a picture before the sign disappeared. I hope all of the competitors and volunteers had a great time; I certainly did! Photos will be posted and available for purchase at SkiPix.com

Valentine’s Day with my wife

Tawny & I celebrated Valentine’s Day by taking her splitboard out for its first backcountry experience. Tawny’s been in the backcountry before, but slowshoes made it hard to keep up and took a lot of energy out of her. With her old Burton board split, and the hardware mounted up, we were ready to go.

Tawny said that the first few steps were awkward, but she soon fell into a skinning rhythm.  It made me remember my first time on skins and my amazement as they grip the snow.

There were a lot of people in the parking lot, but we only ran into one other couple on the trail. We had plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful Vermont scenery.  The trees had a light frosting of snow on them, making the branches blend in with the cloudy skies.

No matter how many times I look at them, splitboards still look odd to me.

Are we there yet?

A peek into the treats that awaited us.  while the lower part of the skin is a buffed out cross country trail, the upper part opens into large expanses of tracked snow.  Considering we haven’t had significant snow in the last week or so, there’s a fair amount up in the Green Mountains and a surprising amount of untracked still available.

Tawny begins her first skin/ride transition.

I had some skin cheater strips hanging around.  I never appreciated them, but with Tawny’s size, new skin glue, and the fact that her skins are super wide, I think they’ll be helpful for her.

I’m amazed that Voile’s hardware keeps the board together.  It’s such a simple set of devices, but it works quite well!

A quick cup of hot cocoa to warm up and provide a bit of sugar for the descent.

Nice, moderately spaced trees awaited us below.  There were tracks down many of the open areas, but we didn’t have to look too hard to find pockets of untracked.

Was it deep?  Nope.  It was fun, though.  I’m so lucky to have a wife that will join me in the backcountry. Happy Valentine’s Day, Tawny!

Backcountry skiing on the Catamount Trail

With temperatures threatening to hover around 0°F all day, a group of SkiVT-L regulars headed into the Backcountry.  The initial plan was to meet at 10am at the trailhead, but due to some slight forgetfulness, I missed that group.  No worries; the skin in was along the Catamount Trail and the area we planned to ski would continue to drop back onto the trail.  As it turns out, driving from Essex, to Waterbury, to Essex, and back to Waterbury to the trail head meant that I would run into the group just as they were finishing their first lap. Watching some of the final descents, I could tell the snow was going to be interesting.  The winds that swept through the region on Friday had done their damage to pockets of snow making for inconsistent conditions that would throw you over the handlebars when you least expected it.

Telemarking is supposed to make you more stable in variable conditions, right?

We all had our moments adjusting to the snow.  I certainly played ostrich more than once, but I was lucky enough to capture Bobby with a spectacular display on his first run.

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As much as we joked around, complaining about the snow conditions, it was really quite good skiing in many places.

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Definitely good enough to slap the skins on a few times and hunt out more pockets of non-wind affected powder.

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Roger – you look like one of them Famous Internet Skiers here.

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With temperatures hovering just above zero, not all of our skin glue worked all day.  Seeing as it was a simple out and back, the penalty for complete failure was pretty low.  Any good backcountry skier will have a bag of tricks to dip into when equipment (bindings, skins, boots, etc.) breaks.  In this case, Patrick had duct tape (plaid, mind you) holding one skin on and zip ties holding the other.  It’s worth paying attention when you zip tie your skins, though, otherwise you end up with a predicament like this:

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As usual, it was great skiing with all of you.  Pray for snow!  We could use some.  Roger Hill posted a graphic on the SkiVT-L Listserv that compares this year’s snowpack to the 2009 season. It’s pretty dismal.

More photos from our backcountry excursion are on my SmugMug site.

Perfect Last Day

Our last day at Snowbird provided soft snow and sunshine.  The initial plan was to ski in Mineral Basin in the morning and then head over to Little Cloud, where we had previously spent little time, but had good runs.  Well, Mineral Basin was too nice to leave.  The snow on skier’s right was mostly in the shade and softer while the snow on the left was baking in the sun, soft, and heavy (but not manky / mashed potatoes.)

After skiing “Living the Dream” we felt like we were.  Soft, swooping turns down a relatively steep untracked face.  Being on a snowboard, the traverse was some work, but worth it.  To the guy that we met at the bottom, you can see one of the photos below and some more in the gallery titled Snowbird – 1/3/2010

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At some point, I’ll finish going through most of the photos and put up a combined set of galleries from our Utah vacation. What a great trip!  We can’t wait to head back.  Next time, later in the season when the snowpack is a little more consistent and predictable.

Solitude

While it’s full on puking snow in Burlington, VT, we’re out in Utah. It’s snowed a bit over the last few days out here, with 16+ a few days ago and a few fresh inches on top, so Solitude skied wonderfully yesterday. It’s not the 30″ that I see reported in Vermont, but we’ll take it.

Tawny and I met up with Jorden, Pete, and Brian giving us one snowboarder, one telemarker, and three alpine skiers. Brian was also skiing with a camera, so we’ve got a couple extra photos.

The day began by heading up, and then up, and then up to get to Honeycomb Canyon. We were going to traverse out the high line skiers left right off the lift, but it wasn’t possible on a snowboard. The traverse was more of a horizontal sidestep that fought gravity the whole way across. So down we went, finding a few inches of fresh snow on top of skier packed perfection. It wasn’t deep, but the turns were delightful. About half way down we passed through a gate and traversed through to a gully that had deeper snow and nice turns, but a long runout to get back to the lift that would bring us back to civilization.

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Opting to save our energy, we stayed on the front side for a few runs, finding pockets of untracked snow 2-4″ deep in the trees. Weaving around on the mid-mountain lifts, we had a ball.

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Tawny then decided to take a breather and let the guys take the high traverse into Honeycomb. Off we went, heading left for a ways, but not quite to the second gate. We came down a pitch that had few tracks, and beautiful snow. It was supportive and thick, but somehow still easy to ski. Westerners probably wouldn’t call it powder, but I would. It was great! Over the next knoll, into some shrubby trees that had been largely ignored, and into more great snow.

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At the same middle gate we hit on our last run out here, we traversed out further. Brian and Pete dropped in where it looked pretty good, but had some rocks lurking beneath the tempting snow. Jorden had a theory that people had started dropping here because the rocks got more prevalent, desiring good skiing before the terrain got worse. He thought that over the next rise we would find a stash of great snow (No experience, just a gut feel..) Follow Jorden’s gut. We discovered an open bowl area as opposed to the chutes & gullies we had traversed over. The snow was just like above and lightly tracked, making for a few dozen great turns.

The rest of the day was spent on the front side of the mountain, meandering around from soft snow to soft snow, with some bumps thrown in. Solitude’s a great mountain with a feel more like the east coast resorts I’m used to (Smuggs, MRG) The terrain may not be as challenging as Snowbird or Alta, but it’s a whole lot of fun and there’s a feeling of freedom when you ski a mountain you’re not familiar with and don’t have to worry as much about what’s over the next rise or below the next roll. Snowbird could contain a rocky chute, cliff, or something else; Solitude seems to just have good snow. Sure, there are some spots that you can scare yourself, but you have to try to get there instead of stumbling into them.

Solitude posted some of Brian Kretschmar’s photos on their community website / Flickr stream.