Southeast Russell Slide – December 11, 2013

The middle of the apron on SE Russell slid fairly large at about 1pm this afternoon. Triggered by three people who intended to ice climb the waterfall in the middle of the face, from near the shadow-line in this picture. It’s incredible that the three people were able to walk away with no major damage. All three were without beacons or any other avy gear. Two of the three were taken for a several hundred yard ride from near the top of the path to near the toe.

A couple friends of mine saw the carnage from the ridge near the top of the west side and radioed to my buddy Richard and I who were about to start skinning up Second Creek. We drove over to the Pumphouse trailhead and headed up following their track towards the base of SE Russell. By the time we got to them they were already en route down and were shaken up but otherwise unharmed.

Be safe out there! And remember … if you do screw up, make sure you get lucky. The alternative isn’t pretty.

SE Russell Slide - Dec 2013

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Taking Splitboard Bindings to the Next Level – Introducing Ranger and Phantom

Over the last couple years the number of splitboard models available has gone from a dozen to over a hundred. This is awesome for riders and means you can find a board for any terrain, any condition, and any riding style you can imagine.

But what about bindings?  There are still only really three companies making splitboard bindings. As of last year your widely available options were Spark, Karakoram, Voile. Karakoram had a pretty solid lead on the rest of the pack in terms of their technology, but with two new companies entering the splitboard binding market this year, Ranger and Phantom, and some major tech updates from Spark we’re finally seeing bindings that can hold their own.


Ranger Splitboard Bindings

Ranger Splitboard Bindings - The Bossu

Next level softboot bindings with tech touring capabilities.

Ranger is a company out of New Zealand in their first year of production. Their binding offering, “The Bossu”, is the culmination of several years of R and D and an attempt to completely reinvent the board/binding interface. One of their main focuses has been making a splitboard ride as closely to a true snowboard as possible by totally rethinking the interface between the board and the binding. They have developed a system that actually clamps the board together as you lock the binding onto it, ensuring no movement of the binding on the board, no movement of the two pieces of the splitboard against each other, and perfect alignment of the two pieces of the board. In addition the binding is as light as anything else out there and has a super efficient touring mode, utilizing a Dynafit-style tech touring bracket. I had the chance to interview Chris at Ranger a couple months ago and get a preview of the binding before it was available and I’ve got to say the bindings look pretty sweet and the interface looks like a definite step up from the voile puck system that most people use currently.


Phantom Splitboard Bindings

Phantom Splitboard Bindings

The go-to binding for splitboard guides worldwide, not to be underestimated for freeriding.

Many snowboarders shutter at the thought of riding in hardboots, when it comes to split-boarding those people have no idea what they are missing. Every single person I know who rides hardboots absolutely swears by them. In fact, last season I ended up skiing more often than not in the backcountry simply because of how much better the touring is in hardboots and how much more terrain it opens up for you. Don’t get me wrong, I would rather be on a snowboard any day of the year, but I was completely fine making that sacrifice because the tradeoff of touring in hardboots was that much nicer.

Touring in hardboots, all of your energy goes directly into the board with no slop (which also means no rubbing on your foot, ankle, and calf). You have more lateral stability and the ability to really engage your edge whenever you’re not going directly up the fall line. On top of this you have almost no binding weight on your board on the ascent (you put the plate portion of the binding in your bag to carry it), which means less leg fatigue. Hardboots are also absolutely crucial if you need to kick steps or use crampons. In terms of the ride, everyone I’ve spoken with claims absolutely no compromise vs. riding in softboots.  Personally I’ve consistently felt like even the most rugged soft boots were too soft for me on bigger terrain, when my life depends on trusting my edgehold.  I’m excited to get out on a pair of Phantoms and see how they do on long tours and technical riding.


Spark R & D

Spark R & D Magneto Baseplate

Spark joins the tech party.

Spark’s new Tesla system is supposed to be an awesome step up from the previous pin system. The things that stand out the most are the lack of a pin (which, if you’ve ever lost a pin in the backcountry, is a massive upgrade) and that the climbing bars being integrated into the binding as opposed to being on the board (making it much easier to flip them up and down on the fly). The downside that I see is that it still uses the Voile puck system, the pucks are a pain to setup and change, and are difficult to get a super precise fit.  I find them to always be either too wide or too narrow making it difficult to get the binding on or that the binding slides around on the board. Spark has built a solid binding for a while now and these upgrades should ensure they continue to be a leader in splitboard tech for the next few years as well. I have a pair of Spark AfterBurners on order and should be able to play around with them a bunch this year and figure out how big of an upgrade exactly these updates are.


I’ll check back in with a recap later this winter after I’ve had the opportunity to ride each of these bindings.

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Early Season Guide To Berthoud Pass

Early season skiing and riding at the pass is about knowing where to go and timing. Oftentimes the October and November snowpack is more elevation and aspect dependent than it will be in the middle of the winter. In addition the runouts of many common lines (especially lines in Current Creek) may not be in, even though the skiing and riding above is nice. Finally, these suggestions vary season to season and snowfall to snowfall, every year is different and every snowpack is different. Take this with a grain of salt…

The following are my top 10 early season lines, in the order that they are usually skiable:

  1. Hells Half Acre
    • North facing, high elevation, minimal obstacles, and sees lots of traffic even if there isn’t much snow. This means the base gets packed down faster than almost anywhere else and because it’s north facing the snow doesn’t melt out between fall storms.
  2. Shop Chutes
    • Same situation as Hells Half Acre and it’s more protected in the trees from wind scouring and sun.
  3. East Side Runs
    • Mellow pitch, high elevation, and a generally grassy surface makes this fairly reliable early season spot as well. Does hold snow as long as some other things, but it’s a good option right after a storm.
  4. Mainline
    • Steeper than the East Side Runs, but slightly more north facing and equally grassy underneath. Also sees tons of traffic so once the base gets a little bit consolidated you don’t need to be afraid of hitting dirt on your turns.
  5. The Meadows
    • Even higher elevation than the stuff off the pass, more north facing, and a mellow pitch. The downsides are that it can be easily wind scoured and it sees less traffic (over a larger area) so doesn’t get as well skier compacted as the lines right off the pass. Also, in areas, it’s rocky underneath so you need to be careful.
  6. South Chutes Runout
    • This area usually fills in pretty well early season for some reason. Might have to do with it catching snow no matter which direction the wind is blowing.  The downside is that it’s usually in before the Bobsled run is in, which means a hike in and a hike out for a fairly short pitch.
  7. Moonlight Bowl
    • Similar situation to the South Chutes Runout. Neither of these areas are steep enough to be too exciting in midwinter but both fill in decently well early season.  Watch out where the pitch steepens down towards the aqueduct, people have hurt themselves on buried obstacles early season here.
  8. High Trail Trees
    • North facing, high elevation, and open trees are the ingredients for early season snow. A little steeper than most of the other previous lines but with a slightly less predictable surface under the snow. Also a larger area so the base doesn’t get packed out as well as some other areas. Watch out for downed trees!
  9. Current Creek Bench
    • Usually the first line up high to be ready. It usually blows in fairly consistently so often times you get a more firm base early in the year and you can lay out some bigger, higher speed, turns up here. Although this is low angle for an avalanche be careful because that same wind effect that makes a nice solid base makes nice solid slabs that would be easily triggered from a thin point early season.
  10. Flume
    • North facing and high elevation. Usually the first line in the 90s to be ready. Also sees a decent amount of skier traffic relatively early so it starts to get packed down and consolidated before it would otherwise have a deep enough base to be worthwhile.
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First Timers Guide to Berthoud Pass

Whether you are a seasoned backcountry vet taking your first day at the pass, or completely new to the backcountry it’s most helpful to take some time to get your bearings on what’s what at the pass. There are numerous places within a 15 minute skin from the pass that could be disastrous if you were to end up there on accident on the wrong day.

Unless touring with someone else who is familiar with the pass the first two laps I would recommend would be one lap to tree line on the east side and back down to the parking lot via the open slopes directly below you and one lap up to the top of the rock pile on the west side the following the main artery down hill back to the parking lot (pay attention to where you came up from because it’s not quite as direct with the fall line as the east side). Doing these two laps will help you get oriented, help you gain an appreciation of the scale surrounding you (and figure out how long it takes you to travel relative to the size of the terrain), all in fairly safe terrain with easy route finding.

Basic Laps on the West Side and East Side

Continuing to get your bearings my next move would be to head north off the pass down to the first switchback skiing either Hells Half Acre or Shop Chutes. This run is short and you will need to car shuttle, hitchhike, or skin back up to the parking lot.

Basic Laps On The North Side of The Pass

If it’s mid winter (or the base is ~30+ inches) the next two areas I would recommend to explore would be the 90s and the terrain on the south of the pass.

You can drop right off the south end of the parking lot following a streambed down a line called “Hoop Creek” this is also fairly safe from an avalanche perspective and would be difficult to get lost on. Another straight forward alternative is “Telegraph” which follows a set of phone lines down to the same place, to access this hike up the summer road for a couple hundred yards until you see the telephone lines downhill from you. These will both bring you down to a switchback on the south side of the pass where you will need to arrange a car shuttle or plan on hitchhiking back up. On a busy day there can be dozens of people here hitchhiking, which makes it a headache, so plan accordingly.

Easy Lines Off the South Side of the Pass

If you head north from the pass on highway 40 for a few hundred yards you will notice a gate and what appears to be a road heading up and left as you face downhill. You can follow this road to immediately before the SNOTEL station. Before you get to the SNOTEL site you will notice the aqueduct heading to the right into the trees. If you follow this it will contour around and open up into an area called the 90s. These runs can and will slide so be careful. The skiers rightmost lines here are fairly rocky so unless the snow is deep you will want to keep traversing along the aqueduct left until you see something that looks good to you. These lines will bring you down to the Current Creek turnout where you will also need to either arrange a car shuttle or hitchhike back to the pass.

Easy Access Laps in the 90s

These five runs should take you most of a morning and give you the beginnings of some good perspective on the terrain at the pass. You will have been to the four most popular areas to start or end tours. And hopefully will be able to orient yourself better in terms of knowing what terrain you would want to shoot for or what terrain you want to avoid. The two places closest to the pass that you don’t want to accidentally find yourself are Rush Cliffs (West Side) and High Trail Cliffs (East Side). There are fun lines through both of these in the right conditions, but there have been people who have gotten disoriented and gone through the wringer in both of these lines on accident as well.

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Intro to Berthoud Pass and Words of Caution

What we have today at Berthoud Pass is a very unique backcountry community that at times can feel just as much like a resort as it does like backcountry. Some people enjoy the atmosphere, some people hate the crowds. Regardless of what it feels like, it is important to remember and realize that Berthoud Pass is backcountry and needs to be treated accordingly.

Personally, I never leave the parking lot without avy gear (and the knowledge of how to efficiently use it), even if I have 100% confidence that what I’m skiing on that day will not slide. Carrying this gear isn’t only for your own good, or the good of your group, but rather it’s a duty that you have as a participant in this sport to have the ability to look out for other people if the need arises.

Beyond avy gear it’s also your (and your group’s) responsibility to know the area you are going into well enough to make smart decisions. In a crowded environment, like at Berthoud, you’re not only putting your life at risk but you’re impacting the other people around you as well when you make a decision. In addition, you can have the best intentions to ski safe terrain, but if you get disoriented and end up somewhere you don’t want to be those intentions mean nothing.

Finally, it’s helpful to have an idea of the specific hazards other than avalanches that the different areas at the pass present at different times of year. Whether it’s falling in a creek, hitting a log or stump, getting cliffed out, or hitting one of the numerous concrete boxes near the aqueduct there are many hazards out there other than avalanches.

The traffic that the pass gets can be a good thing or a bad thing from a safety perspective. There are obvious situations where someone else (either inexperienced, inattentive, or inconsiderate) can put you directly at risk and it’s important to stay aware of what people around you are doing at all times.

On the other side of that coin, the amount of traffic that the area can see, especially early in the season, can actually be really helpful to the consolidation of the snowpack on the more popular lines. This can help some lines ski much better early in the season when we have storms dropping snow on top of an already consolidated base as opposed to fresh snow falling on previously unconsolidated loose snow. This can also be helpful in packing down a more solid base on lines that otherwise would be susceptible to becoming wind scoured. Finally this consolidation can reduce the likelihood and severity of avalanches on lines that see a lot of traffic, but this is absolutely not something you can count on if you don’t have substantial, recent, direct experience with the snowpack on that specific line.

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Thoughts on Berthoud Pass

I’ve run into every reaction on the spectrum over the last year since I started this project intended originally as an online guidebook to Berthoud Pass.  I’ve met people stoked and wanting to contribute, people pissed off that I was ruining their “secret” stashes, and every shade of indifference in between.

The reality is that backcountry skiing is getting dramatically more popular every year, it’s really the only segment of the ski market that’s growing. Berthoud Pass is less than an hour and a half from 3.5 million people, and it never has been, and never will be, anyone’s secret. What’s more important than protecting the “secret” of the pass, is providing the appropriate information to help people who are inexperienced with the pass that are going to head there either way. Whether they are just getting into backcountry skiing or just getting to know the pass it’s possible for everyone to have a safe and fun experience which will help keep the pass safe and fun for everyone else that already calls it home. Because whether or not this project exists new people are going to flock to the pass every year, and personally I’d rather those people have an idea of what they are doing.

I’m going to be writing up a few different “guides” to the pass targeted at different people and different situations. Hopefully we can help keep people more or less out of harm’s way and help everyone have a good time up there.

Intro to Berthoud Pass and Words of Caution

Early Season Guide To Berthoud Pass

First Timer’s Guide To Berthoud Pass

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Take it From the Top

After a pretty solid October we finally have some base built up in places and it’s time to play. Derek, Betsy, and I took a lap from the top of Russell down Current Creek Bench, the South Chutes, and the South Chutes Runout. Take a look for yourself, looks a little different than this time last year…

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Mellow November 1st Pow Laps

We’ve had a pretty decent early season so far. We’re about 40 days ahead of last year’s snowpack and 15 days ahead of the average snowpack for the pass. Friday was the first time that we’ve been able to make turns and have it really feel like winter! It’s still thin out there in most places, and the early season holds many dangers that mid-winter doesn’t. Watch out for rocks, stumps, downed trees, the aqueduct, and think twice about the consequences of setting off a slide (even a small one) that could drag you through any of the above.

See you out there!

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Thoughts on FKTs, FAs, and FDs

Just guest authored a post on Kuhl’s “Born in the Mountains” blog about First Ascents (FA), First Descents (FD), and Fastest Known Times (FKT). Specifically on how the growing FKT scene is something really enjoyable to be a part of, unlike the current state of First Ascents/Descents.

Check it out: Are FKTs the New FA? 

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Rollins Pass on October 4th 2013

Feeling awfully midwintery for October 4th. Single digit temps, and double digit snow.

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