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Entries about winter

Ski Bumming 2012: Powder and Longboards

Powder, How to Ski It, The Best Day, Coeur D'Alene, Longboarding, Riverside Contemplation

overcast 13 °F

If I never ski again, I will still die a happy man. I have had an amazing week, and I can sum it up in three words: powder and longboarding. Powder is every skiers preferred snow to ski on, we dream about skiing down mountain slopes with eight inches of light fluffy powder on which to glide. In the last eight days, I went skiing five times. On each day, there was at least six inches of powder. On some of those days, it was knee deep, and on others thigh deep. There are days where I can’t believe my luck.
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At first glance, skiing in powder looks easy. Good skiers make it look simple and incredibly fun. In practice, I’ve found it to be a lot harder than it looks. It is incredibly demanding on the leg muscles. Every move you make with your skis has six inches of friction (often more) to work through and it can wear you down. There is a technique to skiing through deep powder, and it takes practice to get proficient at it. Here are some general tips I have used to ski through powder. It is important to use your poles to set up your turns and keep your balance. It is better to keep your skis together to help you stay higher in the snow. It is often easier to get into a “hop” rhythm, where you hop though your turns to stay higher in the powder. All this extra effort wears down your muscles quicker, but the exhilaration of carving up a beautiful line of fresh powder helps you forget your muscles, at least until you reach the bottom of the run.

My Best Day of Skiing

My phone has been going through catatonic fits lately, and so on the night before the start of the snowstorm I wasn’t able to set an alarm. I figured my body clock would get me up sometime around seven thirty in the morning. When I got out of bed, it was eight. I checked the snowfall total on the hill, and found there to be six inches of fresh snow. Nice! I threw on my ski clothes, grabbed my gear, filled my coffee cup and was out the door by twenty after eight. I love walking to the gondola in the morning. It was lightly snowing, and beautiful.

There was not much of a line for the gondola, and I stepped aboard with three other older guys. We chatted for the entire twenty-minute ride up to the mountain house. Mostly, I did the talking, as they had many questions for me once they learned I was a ski bum. I don’t mind, I like to meet people, and introduce them to my lifestyle. I bade them farewell, and went down to the locker room to put on my gear and get my skis.

When I stepped outside, I knew it was going to be good. The six inches of powder was light, and new snow was still coming down hard. It looked ideal. I had taken a three day hiatus from the mountain (which I’ll discuss later on in this entry), and on my first run, it was though I had completely forgotten how to ski. I awkwardly made my way down my first run, a run through a thick gladed section. My legs were not moving, my mind wasn’t into it, and though I made it through the glades, I face planted hard when I broke onto an open area. I got up, wondered what happened to my skiing ability and continued down the hill.

Silver Mountain has two peaks, Kellogg and Wardner. Kellogg is on the east side and one hundred feet higher than Wardner peak to the west. I made it down the runs on the Kellogg side, but I was not in good form. It looked like it was going to be a long day for me. I usually ski the east side of the mountain during the first hour or so, taking my favorite runs until a line begins to form at the chairlift. Today was no different, and I went over to the Wardner side at about ten thirty.

It was though I turned on a switch: My skiing ability suddenly improved. I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden I had gained coordination and in fact was skiing better than I ever had in deep powder. And it was deep! I have not seen it snow this hard in my life, and it was snowing well over an inch an hour. Any tracks I made early in the day were gone by noon. I had a ball, there was no fear of falling, and I took any jump I could find, landing most of them. It was awesome.
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I made the hike to the top of Wardner Peak. I really like this hike. It is a relatively steep, winding mountain path. It exposes you to the biting west wind. I was carrying my skis on my shoulder and using my poles as walking sticks. My face was going numb from the strong breeze that was whipping the heavy snow across the path with frenzied power. There was hardly any visibility, and the tracks of previous hikers were disappearing into the drifts. I was in my element.
I wound my way up to the peak slowly and steadily, breathing hard in the raw elements. I was reminded of Lin Yutang’s observation that, “the winter wind is like ginger.”
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When I reached the top, I stuck my skis in the snow, and waded off to my mountain top temple. The snow was up to my thighs, and it was a bit of a struggle to get to my sitting spot. I sat in the snow, protected from the wind by the tall pines that reside there. I rested, cooled down, and ate a Clementine. I meditated for a while and said, “Thanks.” I really enjoy sitting in the snow in a beautiful copse of trees.

I struggled back to my skis, snapped in, and did not look back. It was an epic day, and I have never skied better, or have had better snow conditions. All told, I spent seven hours straight in temperatures near ten degrees (F). My body was exhausted at three. That is when I decided to stop for the day. I was once warned that if I continued to make weird faces that my face would freeze that way. Well, I have proven the old adage is true, and my face has frozen for eternity with this dumb grin on my face. Ah well, it was well worth it.
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I stepped off the gondola and started walking home through gently falling snow. I saw a young girl maybe about 8 years old. She was standing out in the open, her mother watching nearby, and she opened her mouth and gazed skyward. She began to catch snowflakes on her tongue and smiled with each success. I smiled too, it was too cute not to. Long live winter!

A Longboarding Love Affair
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I have fallen in love with my longboard again. On three consecutive days, I took it out for a ride. I spent most of that time riding the deserted “Trail of the Coeur D’Alene.” I also went to Coeur D’Alene, the city, located on the north side of the lake of the same name. It seems like this section of Idaho is all about the name “Coeur D’Alene.” I spent all afternoon in the lakeside park. I enjoyed cruising the pathways and enjoying the gigantic trees that preside there.

The Magnificent Trees of Coeur D’Alene
The sun broke through the heavy clouds and lit these trees in perfect light.
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The city of Coeur D’Alene is probably my favorite city in Idaho. Though I haven’t spent a lot of time there, I have been impressed when I have. It has a cool downtown area, a good park, one of my favorite restaurants in northern Idaho, The Moontime, a groovy yoga studio that I attend, and a nice lake.
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The people are friendly, and it has a good vibe to it. There were many longboarders out, along with other people chasing their muse.

I went on a couple of longer jaunts covering ten miles and six miles on different sections of the Trail of the Coeur D‘Alene. I have talked about the finer points of the Trail of the Coeur D’Alene in past entries, see Exploring Silver Valley (Jan 2010). I love long boarding, I love the freedom it offers me as I pump my legs easily and ride the board for as far as gravity will take me. It is good exercise and fun at the same time. I can easily cover a lot of distance in relative ease.

I took my small camera along and the following is my first collection of longboarding photos.
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Excerpt from my journal, 2-25-12
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"I went on another longboarding excursion today under bright overcast skies. It was pleasant as I cruised over a bare asphalt trail covered in a scattered bed of pine needles. After three miles, I was stymied by ice and snow, so I found a place to sit under an old red pine. I watched the life of the wintering river, and heard the chorus of Canadian geese bugling in the distance. At one point, it became silent, and I heard the distinct scream of a red-tailed hawk. You know, the “Keeee-hhhhurrrrrrrrrrrrrr” the clichéd punctuation of a truly desolate place. It was marvelous."

I now have options: If it snows, I head up to my wintry mountain. If it is warm, I stay down in the valley and take my longboard for a ride! It is a good life.
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Until next week!
Cheers!

Posted by Rhombus 18:21 Archived in USA Tagged mountains snow winter skiing hiking photography trails idaho powder longboarding Comments (3)

Ski Bumming 2012: The Winter Scenes

On Snow, Skiing Techniques, Mountain Photography, and Mountain Top Temples

overcast 24 °F

Winter.

I have been reunited with winter, and I must say I am enjoying myself. Winter has a beauty all its own.
I was raised in the wintry wilds of northern Michigan. Where I grew up, a long winter was a fact of life, and not something to be taken lightly. In my mind, it isn’t winter if it isn’t snowing. Snow is a remarkable substance that has increased man’s vocabulary by thousands of words. Everyone I meet seems to have their own vernacular for describing it. “It is: sticky, silky, powdery, creamy, chunky, chalky, grainy, and fluffy, to name a few. The Eskimos have over 2500 words to describe it. I like to simplify, and I like to think of it as, “beautiful.”
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At times, an odd transformation happens to a skier when they have seen and partaken in twelve inches of fresh powder on skiable mountain slopes. They immediately transform into a snow snob. From that point on, nothing else is good enough. I was with such a gentleman just the other week. We were skiing a few runs together, and he had nothing good to say about the snow though he used a dozen words to describe its poor condition. I thought it was just fine, and maybe a little more work than perfect, but certainly nothing to complain about.

Skiers are connoisseurs of snow. After all, it is our medium to create, to carve, shape, and slice into physical artistic beauty. We love to create perfect lines of arcs down mountain slopes. The symmetry is beautiful. I like to add my own artistic design to my lines. Usually about half way down the slope I like to put a man shaped divot into the snow. These impressions can take on a variety of shapes, often with legs and arms akimbo and the head shape of a bearded man planted firmly in the snow.
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One can tell where I’ve skied by following the arc from the top of the mountain. First, you’ll see a nice symmetrical arc winding its way down the mountain. The arcs will become a bit less symmetrical, a bit more chaotic, as if someone had gained a lot of speed and seemed to have a bee stuck in his coat. Perhaps you will see the two lines of ski tracks suddenly disappear into one. Then, a small pine tree will be completely devoid of any snow whatsoever, even though every other tree around it is covered in snow. Soon after this tree, you will see another man shaped divot pounded into the snow. This is followed by a floating blue cloud of muttered obscenities hanging near the scene. To ski through one of these clouds is an eerie experience, whispered voices proclaiming annoyance of “bad form” and “stupid pine tree.“ More nice parallel arcs follow the cloud. I’ve got my own style, you might say.

I am reminded of Homer Simpson who was skiing and takes twelve pine trees to the groin, yelling the whole way down. Then at the bottom, giggles, and jumps back onto the chair lift while calling the liftie a “sucker“.

Among “Average Joe” skiers, I’m a good skier. I can handle double black diamonds, though it may not be pretty. Sometimes it is, but not as often as I’d like. Among elite skiers, I am piss poor. I can admire the form of a skier who really knows how to ski. Like most things I know how to do, I taught myself. I’ve never had any lessons, and it shows at times. I have gotten a few tips along the way, and those have been very helpful, but my bad habits often impede my improvement.
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I don’t mind challenging myself. I love steep, skinny lines through glades in powder. I’m happy inventing my own lines on the sides of runs, through trees, and anywhere that catches my eye. I use the chairlift as a reconnaissance, and try to decide what line I want to run on my way up. More often then not, I’ll change my mind and take a different route.

I grew tired of not being able to take my camera up on the hill. As you know, I love taking photos, and it was killing me not to have my camera with me up in the mountains. To remedy this, I bought a small point and shoot that slips easily into the pocket of my jacket. It has worked well, and I’ve enjoyed bringing some of the wonderful mountain views home with me to share with you.

The following are views from this week.

GREEN LICHEN
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FROSTED SILVER PINES
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LONGBOARDING IN WINTER
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There isn’t as much snow down in the valley, and I took advantage of a dry afternoon to go longboarding on the Trail of the Coeur D’Alene. Three minutes after I took this picture, it started snowing. I guess if you want it to snow, one should go longboarding.

SNOW COVERED PINES OF WARDNER PEAK
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MY COMMUTE
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It's two blocks.

NO. 2 CHAIRLIFT IN CLEARING SKIES
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PINES AND SHADOWS
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The chairlift offers a unique perspective of the world, humming away high above the tops of some of the pines.

HOAR FROST CHAINS
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I found these delicate chains of hoar frost well off of the beaten path. They were so very fragile and quite beautiful. It is a masterpiece of natural sculpture.

PINE BOW HIGHLIGHTED IN HOAR FROST
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This photo reminds of me Chinese Art for some reason.

SILVER MOUNTAIN WONDERLAND
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My Playground.

MY MOUNTAIN TOP TEMPLE
These pictures were taken in a small copse of pines on top of Wardner Peak. I love the fact that to get here one has to hike over 300 yards up a steep winding path that is whipped by a fresh west wind and stinging snow. In a moment of inspiration, I hiked through knee-deep snow to sit quietly and admire these pines that sat silently in the deep snow. It was dark in the pines, and I contemplated this magnificent mountain temple of pine trees. I grabbed a handful of snow, and ate some of it. I realized I hadn’t eaten snow in a long time, and I smiled in spite of myself.
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After awhile, I grew chilled from sitting in the snow, and hiked back up to where I had left my skis. I snapped in, and launched myself down an untracked line of eight inches of powder. Half way down I started laughing. Winter is wonderful.

Posted by Rhombus 17:02 Archived in USA Tagged mountains trees snow winter skiing photography idaho Comments (0)

The Long Road to Idaho: The North Dakota Sessions

North Dakota's Frozen Splendor, A Twelve Hour Drive

semi-overcast 27 °F

Friday, February 3rd: North Dakota’s Frozen Splendor, American Road Trip Realities

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Who knew North Dakota could be so beautiful? Well, in truth, I did, and this morning proved it once again. I had left my hotel at 8 a.m. It was still gloomy, the fog still hasn’t burned off. The air is cold and fresh. The parking lot is a little slick, and I step into the driver’s seat and settle in. I stop for a cup of coffee, set up my mp3 player to listen to a book, and head out onto the freeway.

After a snork or two of coffee, and a few miles later, I really start enjoying the view. It is beautiful out! The fog has frozen onto everything, leaving everything encrusted in a thin layer of delicate frost. The thick mist still holds over the prairie, and the crispy grass and rolling landscape lines fade off into the clouds.
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I am enthralled. I take the first exit that I can, and pull over on a small dirt frontage road. I grab my camera, and step out into the cold. I see a barbwire fence covered in frost. I set up a few photos with the fence as my leading line that leads to the dull gold glow of the rising sun obscured by the fog. It is glorious.
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I love starting my day with a good morning photo shoot. I jump back in the van and drive along the dirt road. I see a grove of trees on my left, and in them resides a cemetery. I pull over, get out and begin exploring the trees for possible angles. The frost has softened the world, giving the landscape a sepia like feel to it. I spend twenty minutes out in the cold, and my hands are freezing by the time I get back in the van.
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I drive back to the freeway, and accelerate back onto I-90 west. It isn’t long before the sun breaks through the thick fog, and above me, a bright blue sky is forming above the clouds. It is too much for me to take, and I get off on the next exit. Just south of the freeway are long rows of cottonwood trees. Cottonwoods are among my favorite trees, commonly found along the streambeds of the American west. They are huge trees. They have charisma and charm in their trunks and branches. I find they often photograph very well.
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I head south along a crunchy frozen farm road and take in the magical landscapes all around me. It’s beautiful. The crisp white branches of the cottonwoods made for a pleasant contrast with the high blue sky of northern winter. For the first time in three days, the sun came out, and brought a cheerful brightness to the long landscapes. I got out of the van, and began walking up and down the road, composing and shooting, thoroughly enjoying my impromptu photo shoot.
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Satisfied, I saddled up once again, retraced my way to the freeway and headed west. I made one more stop at a rest area to use the loo, but after that, I didn’t make any recreational stops for the rest of the day.
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For those of you who have never driven across America, let me say that America is huge. I drove for 11 hours today, and covered 630 miles. I’m still almost 500 miles away from my destination. Most of this distance will be crossing the broad plains and river valleys that weave between the “island” mountain ranges of western Montana.

I bring this up, because I as an advisor on TravellersPoint for the United States, I often get asked how long it will take to drive across the country. There are many people who have three weeks of time to spend in America, and they want to see everything. I have to tell them that they are going to be spending a lot of time in a car. That’s where I was at today, burning up the miles, listening to two books and music in between. Today I listened to “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsythe and “The Atlantic” by Simon Winchester. Both are very good books.
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Eventually the boredom set in, and I let my mind wander. I tried talking to my manatee who is riding shotgun on this trip. He seemed more interested in looking out the window than conversation, and I eventually left him in his brooding silence. I don’t think North Dakota has much to offer a manatee, and I suppose that is why he was so gloomy.

I sang along with my music, I yodeled, I took pictures, I ate cheese and crackers for a snack, and had a bologna sandwich for lunch. Steady Rolling. I rambled on, and on, and on. I passed through an entire weather system, crossing underneath a cloud that stretched for 450 miles between central North Dakota and Billings, Montana. I watched the sunset, and was almost blinded by the intense last light of day that lined up perfectly with the road ahead of me.

At dusk, I still had another hundred miles to go, and I figured out my plan for the next couple of days. I've decided to stop my photo shoots every 100 miles. I would still be in North Dakota if I kept that up. I like the idea a lot, but it isn't worth it on this trip.

Tomorrow, I’m going to take a detour off the beaten path, and head down into Yellowstone National Park. I want to soak in a hot spring, and I know just where to find one.

“The enjoyment of an idle life doesn’t cost any money…It must come from an inner richness of the soul in a man who loves the simple ways of life and who is somewhat impatient with the business of making money.”
~ Lin Yutang

Posted by Rhombus 21:37 Archived in USA Tagged trees winter landscape driving roads ice photography frost philosophy fences roadtrips Comments (0)

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