10 June 2011

Ski Days 28 & 29: Sunny Nuts & Bolts

The annual Pacific Northwest Division Nuts & Bolts clinic for the patrol was this past weekend, and while I didn't ski all 3 days, I had a great time. The weather was, for the most part, perfect. I say "for the most part" because it was a tad breezy on Saturday.

Okay, understatement.

It was windy as hell on Saturday, to the point where the upper lifts were on standby almost all morning. This wasn't a catastrophe, because the lower mountain still has a crap-ton of snow. We skied the Pucci lift while we waited. Pucci. In June.

It was, however, still a big problem. All of the toboggans we left on the hill for the clinic from Friday's session were at the top of Palmer. I don't recall if I ever heard why we didn't ferry a bunch of the patrollers or instructors up top via snow-cat to ski the toboggans down, but it didn't happen. We did manage to get enough toboggans to start in on some of the clinic stuff.

Rewind to Friday, though. It was EPIC. Gorgeous day, got to see a bunch of familiar faces from last year's Nuts & Bolts (including the Michigan contingent), as well as some of the evaluators and advocates from when I took the NSP Senior S&T test last season. Very cool. The instructor shop talk session was excellent once again, and the whole clinic was an eye-opener for me in terms of how we need to approach toboggan-handling techniques and training. I had a lot of really good conversations with folks from different areas, tried a handful of slightly different things, and came away from the two days with an even more inspired perspective on teaching and evaluating. I'm really excited about next season.

Friday also was probably the best ski day, since it was a little cooler. We got to venture out west of Palmer a good ways and really crank and bank out in the untracked windpack. Gorgeous day, great snow, epic fun.

Back to Saturday. I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to get out of Saturday. I thought I'd just attend one of the toboggan enhancement sessions, and maybe just see what else I could pick up that might help. Instead, I got asked to help instruct one of the toboggan enhancement sessions. I was a little flattered, but mostly super excited to get out there and do it. I had a great time working with a really solid instructor named Dave, whose home area I can't recall. We took turns working with our group on various ski-skill drills in the morning, then working on toboggan-handling in the afternoon. Great day. Snow got a little sticky late, but the wax job from Fuxi Racing the afternoon before held up well.

I got off the mountain and caught the tail end of one of the other off-hill instructor clinics, then headed off to the patrol building in Govy to help set things up for the 'luau'. Burgers, taquitos and beer followed, as well as some more really good conversations about toboggan-handling training with a handful of MHSPers and one of the instructors from Bogus Basin.

I can't say enough good things about Nuts & Bolts. I hope we can get more folks from outside the west/northwest to come out next year.


05 May 2011

Ski Days 26 & 27: Last Chance Saloon, Closing Time @ Bowl

A view of Tom Dick Peak, from Outback 1

Another bout of blogslackery has me a couple ski days behind, so I'd best get back to it. Inching closer and closer to 30 days skied now, and this marks Day 55 on the repaired knee. That's one shy of equaling last season's with-brace total, now without the brace. I'm still skiing smart and focused, but it feels great.

Day 26 was Saturday, April 23rd. We still had a handful of ski patrol apprentices who needed to complete their toboggan-handling tests, so once again, we saddled up some evaluators and an advocate to do some testing.

It was a pretty freakin' awesome day at Ski Bowl that day. Some new snow had fallen during the week, but we had a bit of a melt-freeze situation the night before, so the snow was firm and fast in the morning. It softened up pretty quickly, though, so we had some pretty challenging conditions to test in. Things got awful mushy and sticky awful fast, but we managed to safely conduct our evaluations. Unfortunately, not everyone passed, so we'll have to give them another shot next season.

Day 27 was the last day of 'normal' winter operations at Ski Bowl. The announcement about that came via e-mail about a week beforehand, and I managed to snipe the Hill Captain slot for the day (May 1st). The dispatch was looking pretty woeful the first time I looked, so I sent out a plea to my fellow patrollers to come help me out.

The response was better than I'd expected, and we had a GREAT crew. We even had FIVE (!) of this year's hill apprentices come out to get a shadow day in, which was pretty special. I knew I would need to provide some refreshment at the end of the day, so I brought up a box each of Deschutes Brewing's Red Chair NWPA and Black Butte Porter. I figured a pale and a porter would cover the range of tastes pretty well, and the names were evocative of patrol colors, so it fit the theme of the day. Also, one of the chairlifts at Ski Bowl has red chairs on them, even the same style as the chair on the Red Chair label.

I know, I'm a dork.

The day was getting off to a decent start, and I was kind of moseying out the door of the Palace, just preparing myself mentally for what we'd have to do. Most of the mountain 'tear-down' was going to be done by the paid patrol, so we really only had to worry about getting our own equipment off the mountain. I was on my way to RC when a call came in from operations about someone with an injury near the Warming Hut.

I was closest (for a change!), so I jumped on the radio to respond, and sped up to get to the case. After a brief focused assessment, it was clear what we were dealing with, and pretty fortunate that we were standing not 10 feet away from a pair of toboggans. It's nice not to have to wait around for someone to bring one to you. With the help of another patroller and an apprentice, we got the patient's injury immobilized and I took the toboggan down the hill to the first aid room.

Mt. St. Helens. Gorgeous day.

That would end up being the only real busy part of my day, other than coordinating getting the toboggans and other equipment off the hill. Sweep was kind of weird, since we had to close and sweep the Outback a little early, then round back up to the top to close/sweep upper bowl, then Multorpor and lower bowl. We got it all done and it was off to the Palace for beer and de-brief. Mountain Ops was nice enough to tow us and our toboggans over to the Palace from the bottom of Multorpor. Definitely appreciated that, as it was getting pretty warm.

Mt. Hood, from Skyline Trail, as some apprentices towed toboggans down to Multorpor

Great way to end the season at Ski Bowl. They're still running a rope tow and a terrain park in the lower bowl, and they have so much snow there that I have to wonder how far past Memorial Day they will go...


22 April 2011

Ski Day 25: Still Winter @ Ski Bowl, Kinda

Crap, I forgot to blog about last weekend. Sunday the 17th was another day of toboggan training for some folks who needed a catch-up day to be ready for testing. Glorious partly sunny day, that started out in the high 20s.

Not much else to say except that the off-piste stuff was terrible in the upper bowl, having gone through a melt-freeze since the last snowfall. The groomed stuff was firm and fast, and in great shape all day.

Saw a small avalanche in the upper bowl on the West Wall about mid-afternoon (2-ish, I think). Nobody was skiing over there, thankfully. My apprentice group and I observed it from the chairlift. Looked like the point of origin was one of the exposed rocks a little ways down from the top of the ridge, probably having heated up from sun exposure and released. Origin looked like maybe a 4-5' wide (if that) spot broke loose, and the toe ended up being probably about 30' wide or so. If I ever remember to upload the photos, I'll post 'em.

Good day of training though. Had to be towed over to the Palace from the bottom of Multy via snow-mo since the handle tow wasn't running. Still plenty of snow all around the area, and it sounds like they had some accumulation up there this week. Going back up Saturday to do the last round of toboggan-handling tests for this year's apprentice group.


11 April 2011

Ski Day 24: Toboggan Testing at Ski Bowl

After taking a weekend away from patrolling, I was kind of excited to get back into it. I'd been sick the couple days prior, which meant missing out on dragging pal Barkernews up for night skiing on Thursday night. Pretty frustrated about that. But Saturday was looking to be a decent weather day, and I was pretty stoked at the prospect of getting to see some of the folks I've helped train this season take their toboggan tests for the patrol.

I was also kind of stoked to get back to Ski Bowl. I hadn't been there since all the recent snow, and since it was a day after the second anniversary of my ACL repair, I hoped I'd get the chance to visit the scene of the crime.

I carpooled up with one of the other coaches (last year's Alpine Coach of the Year, in fact), and he was going to be spending the morning training the folks that hadn't yet been recommended to test, then sending folks from that group over to myself and an instructor-trainer for evaluation in the afternoon.

We started the day just getting warmed up, and seeing how the snow was in various places in the upper bowl. Just about anywhere that'd had a lot of direct sun was hard and choppy, the typical result of the melt-freeze that happens, but the stuff that didn't get the direct sun was pretty sweet. Around the middle of the day, I found a line in the trees that was so much fun I was chuckling aloud.

The toboggan testing started out a little shaky for a couple of the apprentices, and I attributed that to some pre-test nerves. They settled, mostly, and once we really got into the meat of the test program, things got better for the most part. We had one apprentice who had been out of town for a couple weeks, so she missed some key training days, and I think we rushed her into testing. We should have just had her train instead of test - in hindsight, I don't feel it was fair to her to throw her to into a test scenario without having seen her run toboggans recently. I was kinda bummed for her, because she's worked pretty hard and has had a great attitude all season. She's not far off from passing, however.

I'm not going to go into the other person who didn't pass, other than to say I was more than a little disappointed in how things went down on Saturday with regard to his performance and some of the things he said.

The four apprentices who passed looked pretty solid, and I'm pleased to see more of them finish up. I'll get to see them finish OEC as well, since I've signed up as I usually do to help out at OEC finals night next month.


27 March 2011

Ski Day 23: Another Tune-Up

Last Saturday the 26th was a big day. Not only were a handful of the patrol trainees that I worked with last weekend going to take their toboggan tests, but I was putting on another tune-up clinic for the folks we hope to have ready for the next weekend of testing. In the morning, coaches John, Jeff, and I gave a pep talk to the folks going over to Ski Bowl to test, then I went with Jeff and a group of 6 trainees to Meadows to train.

It was a freakin' great day to ski. Almost a shame that we weren't there to free-ski. But we had work to do - the gang we had with us needed more work to be ready for their toboggan-handling tests coming up. So Jeff and I set about getting them ready. Most of what we worked on was stance and balance stuff. We did manage to get in a free run, though. The gang needed it, and it was epic.

No real exciting or memorable moments came from the day's session, however. Pretty routine day of toboggan training. We started off with some drills, then dragged sleds around, pretty much like last time.

When we got done, however, we called one of the coaches that was up with us last week. He was with the group that was being tested, so we wanted to find out how things went. We were very pleased to find out they all passed. After we got back to Govy, it was congrats all around, and we did some shots from the shot-ski at Charlie's. Congrats to the apprentices who passed, and best wishes to the ones testing this weekend.

I'll be away from the hill this weekend, but back coaching next week for whoever is still preparing. Hopefully there will be more good news on Sunday.


21 March 2011

Ski Days 21 & 22: Tryouts and Tune-up

Sunday the 13th was Day 21, and the first day in a long time that I wasn't training patrol apprentices. Instead, I was helping evaluate candidates for next year's group, same as back on Ski Day 4. One thing was different this time, however - I got put in charge of the ski test portion of the tryouts program.

Since this one was kind of my baby, and we were expecting maybe half of the number of applicants we had in December, I thought we'd try a station-based approach instead of having it group-based. So, we had pairs of evaluators looking at all the candidates doing different ski/ride skills instead of groups of evaluators only looking at 8 or so candidates doing all the ski/ride skills for the test.

The weather wasn't as bad as we had expected, but it did rain on and off at Ski Bowl. Our scorecards held up better, thanks to some better paper and better use of zip-loc bags. The tryouts went pretty well. I paired up with "Tool Time" again, and we were evaluating the candidates' ability to handle bumps and off-piste skiing. We ran laps on Calamity, and the snow and bumps over there proved pretty much perfect for seeing what the candidates were made of.

After the last group came through, we packed up our stuff and headed back over to the patrol building in Govy to wrap things up. Mother Nature had other ideas, however, and it wasn't too long after we settled into the discussion that we lost power thanks to what turned out to be downed trees. We had a nice little thunderstorm going on as well. After a flurry of phone calls and everyone at the patrol building waiting anxiously for word on whether or not we'd have to run off to one of the areas to help with lift evacuations, we got word that we weren't needed.

We'd heard a lot of different reports about road conditions and blockages due to fallen trees and so on, so tried to check and see what the trip home would be like. We didn't get any good indications one way or the other, so we headed home on US26 per usual. We encountered stop-and-go traffic maybe halfway to Sandy, and it was pretty slow going even after we passed where the major power-line problem was. There was no power to anything in Sandy - it wasn't until we got to the A&W just west of Sandy did we see any lights or evidence of power.

Day 22 was Saturday the 19th, and it found me back coaching again, this time at Meadows. As part of my bid to become an Instructor-Trainer (IT) for the patrol, I was asked to put together a training plan for a more focused clinic than our usual training days call for.

I put together what I felt would be a good tune-up for the skiers, focusing on getting back to some of the fundamentals and really exaggerating some of the movements and stance stuff that they all were still having issues with, to varying degrees. I split the group up into two groups: one group that would work on more ski-skills stuff to try and get some of the more basic things addressed, and the other group would work more on fine-tuning their technique running the toboggans. I probably could have done a better job in the initial briefing to make sure no egos were bruised, but at the end of the day, everyone seemed to have gotten what they needed out of the training.

It was a gorgeous day, too. Sun, fresh snow, light and smooth. We made sure we didn't go off and track out all the good stuff early, so we stuck to the groomers - which had probably about 3-5" of fresh on them anyway. Glorious warm-up runs on the smooth stuff.

I was with the second group, and we started off with some rope-handling drills to make sure everyone was getting on the same page as far as hand position, and focusing more closely on what they were doing with the hands at transition. So we had them out of their skis, walking the ropes in and out, with tension. I think it worked pretty well, and we moved from that into rope-a-goat, and then started working on some more stance stuff. I wanted to get the apprentices to really square up their shoulders, and we did a drill where the 'driver' takes the inside hand off the handle and puts it on the downhill thigh. To keep the toboggan under control, we had tail-ropers, empty toboggan, and we ran on a gentle slope. Pretty neat little drill, as it works the driver and the tail-roper on different things. The tail-roper kind of gets some rope-a-goat practice, while the driver works on body position. Seemed effective.

We did sneak in some turns in the trees over on Star just before breaking for lunch, and it was glorious. Managed to find a few untracked lines over there, which was a bit of a surprise after 11am.

We moved on to the steeper stuff after lunch, loading 'em up and working on transitions in the steeps in chunky snow and getting some traversing in as well. We moved on to the really steep and challenging stuff later on, and while some fatigue set in, we saw some really good things from the apprentices on the last couple runs. They were really clicking, for the most part, and apart from a couple tactical bobbles that caused some falls and frustration, they looked good. Some of them looked to me and the other coaches to be ready for testing next week.


06 March 2011

Ski Day 20: Training in the Glop @ Ski Bowl

Saturday was another training day, and I found myself back with B Team once again. One of their regular coaches couldn't make it, so I joined them for some more toboggan training over at Ski Bowl.

It was snowing, and with the temps where they were, in my mind it was threatening to rain. Thankfully, the precipitation on the hill remained snow, but it was pretty wet stuff. The fresh/overnight snow was fairly heavy, kind of like mashed potatoes. Good snowball snow - the kind of stuff that ends up causing a lot of slow, twisting falls that end up needing patrol help.

Skiing this kind of glop concerns me more than most, having had/repaired/rehabbed a torn ACL, but some recent little tweaks to my technique had me actually fairly unconcerned with the snow after a few tentative turns. Some of the glop-skiing was actually fun.

The apprentices all still need to work on the same things, which is a little frustrating at this stage in their training. I think they are understanding what we are telling them they need to do, and why it's important for them to make the technical adjustments we're giving them, but it seems like they're having trouble applying it. I think they need to spend more time making the adjustments out of the handles, on gentler terrain, then get back in the handles.

That said, some of them made some really good progress this week. Test weekend looms ever closer, so hopefully they all make strides this coming weekend.

Since I didn't want to get up at 3am to do it, I had to do my P90X workout when I got home. Legs & Back / Ab Ripper X is not the workout you want to have to do after a day on the hill.


02 March 2011

Ski Days 18 & 19: Flippin' Cold and Flippin' Awesome

Day 18 was another training day with the patrol. I was covering for one of the A Team coaches at Ski Bowl, and it was VERY cold. Probably the coldest day I've skied since coming out here to Oregon. Temps were in the single digits as the day started. Not as cold as that GS at Burke that one year, but pretty darn chilly.

The cold, plus the recent fresh snow, made it a pretty damn good day to be on the hill. Too bad we had to spend the bulk of the morning on the gentler groomed slopes. All the apprentice groups seemed to have jumped right into the steeps a little before the trainees were really ready for it, and some of them were really showing that they needed a little more time working the fundamentals.

So, we spent the morning over on Multorpor, tweaking things and working on reinforcing stance/balance and their importance to good, smooth transitions in the handles an on the tail rope. I think it helped - they all looked like they had made improvement by the afternoon. Good day of training, and some of the stuff in the upper bowl was still pretty good skiing, even in the afternoon.

Day 19 was today. I'd gotten permission to take the day off because it'd been just DUMPING snow on the mountain the last few days. Fellow patroller NoPoGirl and her friend were already planning to ski, and invited me to tag along.

It was awesome. Snowed all day, a little breezy, but some freshies and wind-blown stuff were to be found all over the hill. Place was practically empty, and we just cranked out run after run. I saw Grant Myrdal (the photog from Day 14) over on Star, so we skied by to hopefully get a few shots taken. He managed to get a handful of each of us, which we got to check out on the big screen in the lodge at lunch. We called it a day a little early, but I wasn't complaining - Bex and I recently started P90X and today was Plyo X, so my legs were pretty beat anyhow.