This blog is geared towards all of the awesome climbers, adventures, and lovers of mountains who find themselves living far from the big mountains. Lets all face it we cant all live in a trendy mountain town like Boulder, Jackson Hole, or Lone Pine. The fact of the matter is that many times life happens elsewhere #mountainflatlander
OK so I talk a lot about being a
flatlander, but what does that actually mean? Here is the standard google definition:
“Noun. flatlander (plural flatlanders) (derogatory) A
person who lives at low altitude (used by those living at higher altitudes)
Yep that pretty much sums it up, we live in flat areas and our North Country friends love to remind us of that. Ok so now what is a mountain flatlander? This one doesn’t have an established definition so here is my take:
Flatlander- Someone who lives at a low elevation but is completely in love with
playing in the mountains.”
To be more precise I think its really someone who lives in a low elevation city or area based on life circumstances like work or family. But is completely obsessed with adventuring in the mountains. This could be running, climbing, hiking………really whatever mountain sport or activity that makes you happy. The goal of this blog is to share the stories of Mountain Flatlanders as we try to keep up with our geographically privileged North Country friends. I hope to cover a range of topics such as trip reports, gear, training, key learnings, and most importantly the stories of other mountain flatlanders.
In my last Splitboard post I talked a lot about rushing and the whole host of dangerous mistakes that stem from it. However, it’s also very possible to be on the other side of the spectrum and be moving too slow. To clarify I am not talking about physically moving too slow while skinning up or riding down. While this is a surefire way to annoy a faster partner its generally not a major problem as long as you stick to strict turnaround times and stay as a group. Today my focus in on the issues that stem from moving too slow while the group is stopped or getting ready to start. This could be at transitions from skinning to riding, at the trailhead, or even that one friend who stops to text every ten minutes. While none of these issues are nearly as dangerous as the ones associated with rushing, they all have the potential to shorten the day and frankly suck for the group. Its simple the more time wasted in transitions directly leads to less time riding. So am I saying to rush?
No. But I am saying that I think there is a lot value in being very cognizant around not wasting time. This means working really hard to dial in your transitions to avoid your group standing there just getting cold waiting for you. Or having everyone wait for you while they are in their uphill layers at the trailhead while you run back to the car to get the PB&J (PBR)you left on the dash. Here are a couple examples of times that I have 100% been the culprit of some egregious time wasting:
On my first tour with the Avy group I waited to put my skins on until I got to the trailhead. The group had all their gear ready and was left standing an extra ten chilly minutes waiting for me.
I got to the trailhead and realized that I forgot my buff and goggles in the back of my car and had to go back.
I had my bag super unorganized and added 5 minutes of me emptying it and repacking to get my helmet out at a sub-zero glade run transition. (seriously who wastes time on glade run pow days)
I waited until the last possible second to switch my boots to ride mode, then forgot. Then had to stop the group to wait for me to pull off my gloves and make the switch.
Did any of these cause real harm? No. But they did contribute to some cold hands, shivering partners, and less time riding. Its also important to acknowledge that many of these are beginner issues and dissipate with time and experience. But if you are just starting out here are some ways that Ihelped myself get faster:
Organization-I find it really helpful to pack your pack the night before and really thinkabout how you organize it. Ask the question “what will I need when, what will Ineed first, do I really need this”. This helps to not be the guy emptying hispack on the side of a steep run out transition slope to get the puffy that waspacked at the bottom of the pack.
Take thetime to learn- this means going out on tours with more experienced people. Setthe bar early that your new at this and might be moving slow. This is helpful as it may prompt them to bring an extra layer. Ask lots of questions and beclinical in your observations. I wanted to get faster at transitions so I had amuch more experienced rider (@Sir_st33zy) show me some tricks for folding skins.This saved me a lot of time as I was actually bringing up skin savers and tryingto apply them while the wind was blowing and I was cold instead of just folding the skins.
Develop aplan- I found it helpful to develop a plan that I follow when packing or transitioning. The transition one goes like this: kick nice area to stand, remove pack, put onlarge puffy over shell, remove skins, remove bindings, snap board together, attach Bindings, switch boot to ride mode, open pack and grab a drink, put on helmet and goggles, strap in, asses if partners are ready, take off puffy, and then Go! This varies in different terrain and weather but follows this general process.These helps me to not forget steps and to keep focused.
All in all, moving slower has much less dangerous consequences then rushing but I feel are equally important to the enjoyment and comfort of the group. Remember there is always something to learn or to get better at. Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this be cool and give this post a like or a follow. Happy riding & Skiing!
In the weeks after our debacle on Slide Mountain Mike and I avoided planning another winter backpacking trip and mostly focused on staying in shape in the rock gym. There was no real interest in going back out on a winter trip this season. As things started to warm back up, we ended up doing some day-hikes, rock climbing a bunch, and a couple overnight trips to Lackawanna StateForest and the Catskills. We even got a 20-mile day in on the Pinchot Trail in Pennsylvania. As the spring and summer went on, we had some fall objectives in mind but our minds where far from winter. It wasn’t until a chilly night camping on Windham High Peak in the Catskills that Mike decided he wanted to get some winter backpacking redemption. We decided that we would get another Winter trip on the books and after some joking we called the trip “Slide Mountain Redemption”. We set a date for mid-February and started thinking about what we could do to stack the odds in our favor.
While I am sure part of our Slide Mountain mishap was physical, I think the biggest issues were on the mental side. To put it simply I should have been more aware of red flags and noticed when Mike was checking out and had had enough of the situation. I should have been more cognizant of all the warning signs and turned us around. We should have set and agreed on a turn around time. We should have agreed that we both have veto power. This means that we should have had a conversation and agreed that if either of us was not feeling it or felt the other was in a potentially risky state then we could say let’s turn back. We knew that in order to pull off a dead of winter backpacking trip we were going to have to set some strict parameters and really work as a team. For a few weeks we would meet for lunch and go back and forth about what hike would be best for the trip. While there were surely some easier mountains out there, I lobbied heavy for Twin Mountain. Twin Mountain sits on the notorious Devils Path and is known for having a relatively steep climb coupled with a somewhat exposed and beautiful summit. In terms of difficulty it would be much harder than Slide but had a lot of options in terms of camping and bailing out if we needed to. Summiting and spending the night on Twin would be a worthy redemption for our previous years Slide debacle. After some debating, we both agreed that Twin was the goal with one large caveat. If we ran into any issues or were not feeling it, we would turn back early and would asses our level of comfort often. Finally, we agreed that we would have a strict turn around time if shit got weird and we were going slow. Now it was time to prepare.
We decided on February 17th that we would go for it. That week we had lunch a couple times to go through our gear, turn around time, and the route. We established that we would head up Twin from the Prediger Road trail head via Jimmy Dolan Notch. We would start out at Sunrise and would head back to the car if we had not found and established camp by 3:30pm. In terms of gear I went a little on the heavy side to make sure we had enough gear for variable conditions. I made sure to carry most of the extra heavyweight in my pack so Mike could move faster and stay confident in the cold temps. I was used to carrying heavy packs and was coming off a summer trip where I carried a 100lb pack deep into the Bugaboo Mountains. We packed all of the standard winter backpacking gear such as a 4-season tent, heavy sleeping bags ,and many clothing layers. I also brought a few add on items that really made the difference. These included a short 30m rope, Ice Tools, 2 SOL Bivys, 2 stubby Ice Screws, SOL reflective blanket, a harness, ATC, and two Wild CountryRopemen micro ascenders. It seems like a lot of gear for the Catskills but it all would prove to be useful.
The night before leaving we checked the weather forecast and found that some light snow was predicted at the upper elevations after 9pm. This surely provoked some conversation around the importance of being in camp, set up, and hunkered down well before the snow started. That night we also each wrote a gear packing list and reviewed each other’s list to ensure that we did not forget anything. Ideally you would like to pack together but when you’re coming from different locations or live far apart that can be a challenge. Instead we chatted on the phone when we packed and had the option to face time if we needed it. I slept easy that night knowing that everything was packed and that we had a solid plan for another try at winter backpacking.
We arrived at the trailhead just as sunlight was starting to break through the trees. The parking lot was empty except for a few patches of lingering ice. Despite temps in the low 20s and moderate winds we both started out with a light tech shirt and light shell jacket. This was an attempt to stay cool and not sweat too much as we moved up hill. The first few miles of the trail were just frozen mud with some small patches of ice and snow. I was starting to wonder why I had made the decision to lug around extra winter gear including the MSR snowshoes that had been a royal pain in the ass to get on the back of my large pack. For the first mile or so the trail gently inclines and remained relatively free of ice and snow which helped us keep a moderate pace as we made our way towards steeper terrain. Every half hour or so we checked in with each other to make sure we were staying warm but not sweating and if the pace that I was setting was still manageable. Prior to leaving I had looked at the topo and scouted a couple flat spots that I thought might be good to camp at. As we made our way up, I stopped and marked on my GPS watch a few spots thatlooked like decent camping spots (at least 150 feet off the trail). I marked spots early and often as I wanted to have many known options for later-on. I also wanted to have camping options closer to the car in the event that one of us got cold or if the weather got really nasty and we had to bail.
Things were going great. We were warm, spirits were high, and we had been doing great at managing layers and pace. Then we found the ice. Somewhere just before 2 miles we ran into a large area of 5 to 6-inch-thick ice. This ice covered the trail for several hundred feet and while not on an extremely steep section the low angle, heavy packs, and inexperience meant we were in for a real Catskill winter treat. We had just warmed up from stopping to put on our micro spikes a few minutes back and neither of us were ready to stop and make the switch to crampons. However before starting up the ice I decided to take a few seconds to evaluate the angle, length, and consequences of a slip or fall. While the angle was low the run out of a fall would send you barreling down the rocky trail and into the trees. In addition, the Ice looked to go all the way up to the trail merger with the Devils Path at Jimmy Dolan Notch. I made the call to switch to crampons. We both put our large puffy jackets on and began the switch out. I should note that having a large puffy jacket easily accessible to put on over your other layers at breaks or transitions is a key step in managing warmth. Once we both had our crampons on, we stowed our jackets and headed up. We took our time and had no issues with this section. Soon we arrive at the turn off for the notorious Devils Path.
We made the right turn on to the Devils Path and were soon greeted with plethora of steep ice almost immediately. In terms of elevation gain we had about 500 feet of elevation gain to go before reaching the summit of Twin. This set of ice was much steeper and riskier than the ice we had encountered lower on the trail. We got out our axes to use in the event that we needed to swing into a steep section for added security. I should note that this is the only reason I would carry an axe in the Catskills. I see many people carrying traditional mountaineering axes which is fine but there are few sections in which the added weight make sense to carry these. We had the option to use the rope but the steep sections were short enough that we could take breaks and safely navigate around dangerous sections. We took our time to plan our routes and stay safe. We were really careful to not stand below each other on steep sections to avoid both of us getting injured if the first person fell. The heavy packs made ascending the ice a bit interesting but we made it through the steep sections and were greeted by a gentle uphill mile to the first peak. The views from Peak One and the summit ended up being well worth it!
As climbers we all know that reaching the summit is often only half the battle and in many cases the return trip is more dangerous. We turned around and headed down. We soon arrived at the top of the ice section to watch a group of unprepared hikers fumbling their way up the ice. We decided to wait it out to avoid getting mixed in with the group coming up. The first person to reach us was not wearing crampons or micro spikes and had a large mountaineering ice axe in one hand and a small dog in the other. The next two had micro spikes but no packs, water bottles, or spare anything. The final two in the group had denim Carhart jackets on, muck boots, and cotton gloves. They reached a steep ice bulge and decided to walk off trail for about 75 feet to ascend up steep snow rather than the icy trail. While I think it’s great that newbie hikers are getting out, this shit was just reckless and frankly pretty dangerous. I won’t go on and on about the what-ifs but I will say that I had some questions around how they planned to get down and what would happen if one of them got hurt out there. They were not nearly prepared to keep an incapacitated hiker warm enough to await a rescue. If you are new to hiking and want to try a winter hike there are tons of resources out there to help. Feel free to message me and I can also help or point you in the right direction. Any way I kept to myself and stayed focused on getting Mike, myself, and our 50lb+ packs down the ice.
I did not mention that almost as soon as Mike and I stopped to wait we decided that a rappel down was safest with the heavy packs and Mikes inexperience on Ice. While we waited we both threw on a puffy jackets, started flaking rope and put on our harnesses. I padded the tree with a piece of an old foam sleeping pad to avoid damaging it while I rapped off. Prior to me rapping I had Mike pre-rig his rappel so I could make sure everything was correct. I rapped down, then Mike removed the pad and starting rapping down. Due to the angle of the rappel there was some swing potential that could become dangerous with a heavy pack so I gave Mike a fireman’s belay from the bottom. After he made it down I quickly coiled the rope and we were on our way. This was much safer then down climbing with a heavy pack and I actually think took us less time even including the extra time it took to put on the gear and rig the rappel. Sometimes it’s just better to be safe.
We made it back to the notch well ahead of schedule at 12pm so we decided that we would take advantage of the ice to try out some different safety systems. Specifically, I wanted to try out a system I recently learned that is designed to help tired or newer climbers. We dropped our packs near the notch and went down to the lower angle ice. Mike and I went out on the middle and about 25 feet down on a fairly consistent section of hard ice. I tied in like I was going to lead climb. I then secured a Wildcountry Ropeman ascender to Mikes harness with a girth hitched alpine draw and locking carabiner. I then took Mikes end of the rope and attached it to a well-placed Ice screw with a tight clove hitch. I made my way up to the top of the angled ice and attached the rope to a large tree with a runner and then pulled all slack out of the rope with a tight clove hitch. This creates a tight line that the team can tether to in order to safely ascend consequential terrain. I should note that in steep or dangerous terrain the leader can be belayed on lead and place gear as they ascend. This system can also be used to descend low angle terrain but a true rappel should be used on vertical terrain. We played around with this system for a few minutes and then made our way back to our packs to start looking for camp.
We arrived at our packs at 1:45pm and had plenty of time to head down and select a spot to set up camp for the night. But first we decided to check out the view point at the far end of the notch. As we approached the viewpoint, we came across a section of hard but deep snow that was protected on three sides by the steep hillside and large section of rocks. Mike joked about how this would be great place to camp for a night and how it would give us plenty of time to set up and get warm in the tent. I agreed but figured Mike would want to head down closer to the car in case he got cold. That’s when Mike suggested that maybe we should actually camp here. I first check our elevation and found that we were only around 1000 feet higher then where we parked the car and then checked on my watch the elevation of the other campsites I had marked. I found that many of the other sites we had marked were only about 400 to 500 feet lower on the mountain. While it would be slightly warmer there, I figured it would not be significant. Next, I checked to see where the winter bear den that the Catskill Mountaineer site warns about was. We both walked around for a while and could not find anything that resembled a bear den. We decided that it was likely not in use. Finally, I brought up the weather on my phone and found that the winds would slightly pick up and the snow showers were not predicted to drop significant snow. But we did find that if the wind did pickup that it would be coming from the one unprotected side of the site. However, we both agreed that we had enough time to set up and that the burley mountaineering tent would be more than enough for slight snow and moderate winds. I was excited to be camping in such a beautiful location and we were both confident that we could pull it off safely. Only being 2 miles and not having any serious terrain between us and the car also helped with confidence. We grabbed our packs and started setting up.
Prior to laying out the tent I did my usual check of the trees and hillsides above. I am careful to look for dead branches, precariously placed rocks, or unstable snow/ice. I found on the right side of the notch a large chunk of ice that was sitting halfway down the steep slope. I kicked some steps up to it and smashed it with my ice tool. While it would not have done much damage, it would have been startling in the middle of the night. We used our avy shovels to flatten out the area and then set the tent up kind of in the middle of the notch area (more than 150 off the trail and water sources). Just as we got the tent set up Mike said that his feet were getting a little cold. We decided that he would go in the tent and start setting up sleeping pads and bags and I would stay out and start staking down the tent. This would allow him to get out of the light winds and then get inside his sleeping bag sooner. Staking down the tent was easier said than done. The snow was way too hard to shovel to burry anchors and the trees ended up being so far away that I used the climbing rope to reach them. I also got clever and used an Ice screw to make a few v thread anchors in the frozen snow. Basically you use the screw to make two holes that intersect into a V deep into the ice. I then fed the tent fly cord through these and tied them off. This ended up working great but took some dexterity to complete, this forced my hands out of gloves which led to cold fingers pretty quick. I took a few breaks to put my gloves back on and dig a slight depression under the front vestibule to use as an area for cooking. Finally, after about a half hour or so our tent was tightly secured and ready for a cold and windy night.
Once I got back in the tent Mike had done a great job setting the inside up. He had put our SOL space blanket on the floor of the tent to create a reflective liner to trap in more heat. All our packs and spare gear was in the back vestibule and he was fully in his bag and staying warm. When I first got in the tent the inside temp was around 25 but after a few hours of hanging out while heating and sipping some “fine” whiskey (Black Velvet) and tea, the temp had gone up to 32 degrees in the tent. Around 6pm I fired up the stove in the well-ventilated vestibule and made dinner. Shortly after dinner I climbed into my bag and fell asleep almost immediately. I slept great until around 11pm when the winds really started to pick up and snow was blowing through our vent and down into the tent. I hesitantly closed the vent and went outside to see what the problem was. I found that new snow was drifting through the notch and getting caught in our tents vent. I cleared the built-up snow and hurried back into my sleeping bag. I was happy to have brought two sleeping pads for added insulation which immensely helped to keep me warm. I used a cheap Z-lite folding pad and a nice Nemo inflatable pad. The Z-lite is great because it can easily attach to the outside of a pack and be used for sitting on breaks and stops. I fell back asleep and slept until at 5am. We awoke to a few inches of fresh drift snow and bluebird skies. We packed up and made our way back to the car. We started celebrating as soon as I could start to see the reflection of my Jeep in the parking lot. A worthy winter backpacking redemption indeed!
On the drive back South I took some time to reflect on the importance of this trip for both of our backpacking confidence levels. For Mike he now had the confidence that he could winter backpack safely. In just one year Mike had learned a ton about the gear, technic, and most importantly the ability to know when he should stop and turn back. For me the learning was around being able to recognize and manage red flags in both the group and environment. Now by no means does this mean we are pros or know it all, the fact of the matter is that there is always more to learn. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment or DM with any questions. I would be happy to chat about gear, trails, or cheap beer!
The more time I spend outside, the more I realize the
importance of balance. Balance is a topic that I think we all struggle with
from time to time. I find that this balance ends up being applicable to so many
diverse situations and scenarios. It could be the balance between work and play
or maybe finding that balance between playing in the mountains and being home
with your family. Some less deep examples are more situational such as the
balance between having enough and too much gear on a big alpine climb or finding
that right balance of enough training and training way too much. I plan to
write more about all of these balance games in the future. Today my focus is on
my recent splitboard trip to NH and finding the balance between rushing and going
too slow in the mountains. While I have always been decent at finding this
balance while climbing and traveling in the mountains I recently got a stern
reminder of the importance of this balance when it comes to backcountry riding.
Prior to this trip 99% of my snowboarding was done in the
confines of a resort. Here it’s easy to not care about this balance, if you get
cold there is usually a nice warm lodge to warm up in. If your water freezes
you can just buy another and many times I find my only real concern is making it to
the summit bar before last call. All this changes in the backcountry. While
moving fast is great in many cases, rushing can and often leads to mistakes.
These mistakes range from minor embarrassing issues to major life-threatening
ones. Luckily for me my rushing mistakes just led to some good old fashion
embarrassment. To set the stage it was our first field day of our Avy class and
I was pumped to be the only Splitboarder (is that a word?) in my group. However, Tyler and I had to stop for gas prior
to the group meeting at trailhead and we ended up running a little late. To add
fuel to the fire Tyler had a longer set up time as he was hiking with snowshoes
and carrying his board which still needed to be mounted to his pack. This led
to frantic scrambling and rushing around to get set up before our start time.
We got to the group just in time for the beacon checks and after 5 minutes we
set off up the trail. I was relieved that we had made it but quickly noticed
that something felt off.
About 25 feet into the trail I noticed that something felt
odd with the way by bindings where impacting the board. I looked up to see that
I had put the bindings on backwards and while they had full range of motion in
uphill mode they were slamming into the top of the boards deck and not on to
the binding heal rest. In more simple terms: my board was backwards. Previous
to this I had attached the bindings many different times both at home when I
got the board and also on a casual backcountry day. How could I have made such
a stupid mistake? The answer is easy, rushing. In my hurried frenzy to get
moving with the group I overlooked that my board was backwards when I put the
bindings on. This was an easy fix but could have been much worse. The next day
we met at the same location for our tour and arrived much earlier so we would
not have to rush as much. However, as our group was gearing up I got talking to
another student about a local climbing area and ended up having to rush after
all to be ready on time. I vowed not to make the same mistake as yesterday and
made sure my bindings were now facing the correct direction. Although a few
minutes in I felt and heard a few loud bangs and realized that I had put the
bindings on the wrong feet and the buckles where now banging into each other
between my skis. My only thought was…….Idiot. Another easy fix but more
embarrassment as I had to stop and make the switch.
Luckily both examples are ones that had easy solutions, had
no real consequences and happened close to safety. However, let’s consider a
few higher stakes rushing mistakes that could lead to more dangerous situations.
One mistake that we as climbers hear too often are mistakes surrounding
rappelling. These could be forgetting to tie knots on your ropes, failing to
properly secure your device, or simply losing control of the rappel. These
accidents are often triggered in an attempt to rush off the mountain to escape
weather or darkness and in many cases end up being fatal mistakes. In the world
of backcountry riding there are many rushing mistakes that can end with the
same outcome. This could include rushing into avalanche terrain because your
excited about the epic powder that fell last night. Or refusing to take the
time to put crampons on because you are rushing back to the car and don’t want
to stop. Both have serious consequences. So how do we combat this behavior? For
me I find that the number one way to avoid falling into these rushing traps is
to stop, take a deep breath, and really focus on making observations about what
is going on in the situation. Taking this second to consider all threats and
options helps me to slow down, reset, and not rush into a potentially dangerous
situation. In addition to slowing down in the situation I have a couple pre-event
items to consider that I think help to also avoid rushing:
Prepare ahead of time. Put your skins on before you leave or at home so you avoid doing it in the cold parking lot.
Pack your pack the night before when you’re not rushing to get out the door and have time to double check everything.
Give yourself enough time to get there safely without rushing. This means give yourself more than enough drive time, factor in for stops, road delays, and weather events.
Have a large warm jacket that’s easy to access either in your pack or car. This can be thrown on when everyone is gearing up. This helps to avoid getting cold and then being in a rush to get moving. I use the Patagonia DAS Parka for this but there are many other great ones out there from brands like Marmot, MountainHardwear, and Eddie Bauer. I ordered mine a size larger then I typically wear so that I can easily throw it on top of my other layers, that way I don’t fumble around with layers during transitions or prep. For example, when I stop on cold days to transition from skinning to riding I put this jacket on over my shell and leave it on until the last second before riding down.
A lot of this post was centered around the notion of slowing
down, however it’s also possible to be on the other side of the spectrum and be
going too slow. Stay tuned for my next post on this. Thanks for reading and
feel free to comment or DM with any feedback. Enjoy the snow!
When I started this splitboard journey, I knew there would be a learning curve but after one full day out skinning and riding, then another day getting used to the Splitboard in the resort I was honestly thinking that I had it down. I let myself get cocky and started thinking that I was ready for some big days in the mountains. I felt so confident that I opted to use the Splitboard as my main source of transportation for a 3 day AIARE 1 Avalanche course in NH. My original plan was to Snowshoe with the group and carry my board on my back, however after a few days out prior to the class I decided to go with the Split. I quickly found out that my confidence was awfully premature.
Tyler Dye and arrived at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunk house early Friday morning for our first day of the AVY class. We spendt the first half of the day in class room instructions and getting to know the group. The instructor went around the room asking how we would be traveling in the backcountry- skis, skis, skis, snowhoes, skis, snowshoe……..then it came to me. I boldly said Splitboard. It felt good to be one of the few people doing something different, but certainly put the pressure on. We finished class around 5pm that afternoon and many of the students made their way to the local bars and breweries. However Tyler and I decided it would be fun to skin up Mount Washington’s Cog Railway and ride back down at night. I was amped to be heading up the Cog on a Splitboard as I had snowshoed up and road down on crappy snow the previous winter. We arrived at the trailhead around 6:30pm and met up with NH locals Joe and Kellen. I have had many adventures with Joe and he is the one who ultimately introduced me to Splitboarding, so I was pumped to finally be out on the Split with him. I was eager to show the locals that the Flatlander could keep up…………..
Here is a quick clip of the way up:
The tour started out great and I was doing fine heading up and could easily keep up with the group. It felt effortless as we glided up the mellow incline. The recent months of many workouts had me feeling great. However as things started to get steep things started to go downhill……..literally. We got to a steep section just before the famous Jacobs ladder section of the Cog Railway and I felt my Skins starting to slip. I started to push off my poles hard and forcibly engage my legs to push forward. However every time I made one step I would slip back two. Joe started giving me direction to stop pushing hard and just lean back on my heals. Me being me decided fuck that and kept fighting. This went on for a couple minutes until Tyler decided to help. Tyler was behind me on a solid pair of snowshoes and made an attempt to stop me from sliding backward. I was happy to have the help but knew it could end in disaster. I was right. Sorry Tye. Just as Tyler pushed forward I lost traction hit him and we both slide down the side of the steep gully into the trees. The last thing I remember hearing was egregious laughter from Joe and Kellan. I can’t say I blame them it must have been hilarious to watch two Flatlanders sliding backwards down the mountain. This is how I got the nickname “bowling ball Piotrowski” and I coined the term “riding the flatlander express”
Turns out we both ended up unscathed and Tyler quickly caught up with the group and made his way up to the transition spot. I however was forced to switch to crampons and basically run up the slope to keep up with the group. It was a sobering moment for me as I have long been used to being in the lead pack when heading uphill. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t frustrated, and starting to doubt if I should use Skins on the next day’s tour. However, Joe and Kellen offered some advice that turned out to be key to me getting through the next couple days tours. My first problem was that I was stepping and not sliding. Instead of sliding the skis which keeps the skins against the snow and drives traction I was instead stepping and lifting the skis. This led to poor traction as I stepped I removed all skin contact with the snow, forcing my other foot to hold the load. To avoid this I would have to focus on sliding my ski forward with short deliberate motions. My next issue was that I was leaning forward onto the front of the ski and trying to muscle through the slippery section. This also leads to poor traction as the back of the ski is unweighted which reduces friction. The key move here is to put your weight on your heals. This forces the entire skin to make good contact with the snow which creates friction and holding power. My final issue was trying to take large steps on steep terrain. I quickly learned over the course of the next few days that I had to make small sliding steps on steep terrain. By doing this it allowed me to evenly balance my weight over my skis and maintain good traction.
After some parking lot beers and pizza I returned to the bunkhouse that night and stayed up watching some skinning technique videos to try to further prepare myself for the next day’s tour. I debated if I could actually make it skinning but ultimately decided to give it a go based on a few key factors. First off our planned tour was up to Hermit Lake from Pinkham Notch and then down the mellow Sherburne Trail. I felt that the low angle terrain would be a good place for me to learn. I also felt that since we had a larger group we would move slower and my overall fitness would allow me to keep up even if it meant switching to crampons at some point. The next day I started in the back of the pack and really focused on my technique. We encounter a bunch of short but steep bulges, water crossings, and icy spots which all made for great practice. By the end of the day I was feeling much better about my abilities and was easily staying with the pack. I did however encounter my first downhill section on the Splitboard Skis. That went about as well as you would guess, but that’s a story for another time. The next day we skinned up the Gulf of Slide trails where I encountered the steepest uphill terrain yet. While I certainly had my struggles I felt like I got better as the day went on. Here are a few shots from that day:
Finally, on our last day in NH I was able to skin up some short but steep sections in local only Glade area. I again had some struggles but absolutely felt like I was improving. Each time I started to slip I stopped, focused on the technique, and took my time. However Tyler was kind enough to take this video of an epic struggle in the glades, warning the video quality is poor and the language may be mildly offensive:
Overall these past four days of backcountry touring taught me some key lessons:
No matter how good you (think) are there is always something to learn.
It helps to have great mentors.
There is no place for ego in the mountains.
I suck at downhill skiing.
The turns are more fun when you earn them.
Stay tuned for a couple posts on some other key learnings. These include transitions, problems with rushing and cold stress, and communication. Thanks for reading. Feel free to hit my up on Instagram with any questions. pack_mule_piotrowski