Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Each year there are a few skis I like to knock off and if my list gets long enough I’ll declare it a good ski season. One of those skis is right behind my house....the Canmore Couloir. Also known as Miner’s Gulley, the Canmore Ditch and other affectionate monikers.

This year I really wanted to do this one because the snow is so good if figured I could ski all the way down to the powerline behind my house and right to my back door. Which is precisely what I did! Usually the snow ends quite high...right up to the large open area necessitating a somewhat precarious down boot pack, then hike down the Highline trail and long walk finally to home. But even in low snow years it’s kinda cool to ski and then hike right to your house.

This year there were 5 of us on the expedition. Nathan Smith (nat’l team biathlon), Dave Hibbard (local extrordinare outdoor guy), Ian Murray (top nat’l xc racer) and Eric Carelton, who’d just returned from Russia where he was guiding Brian McKeever to several medals in the IPC World Cup.

With the incredible snow we were able to start skinning right from the parking lot, instead of the long icy hike up with crampons. After a quick snow pit stability check one by one dropped in.

“Couloir” is French for a narrow, steep gully in mountainous terrain, and this perfectly describes the start of the descent. Even though stopping within this steep section isn’t advisable, both Ian and myself (the first two in) took a quick break to clear some screaming lactic acid. After the brief pause we made our way down to a safe zone. On the way we skied over some avi debris that probably came down the day before in response to solar heating. It was a sobering reminder that we truly were “extreme skiing”.

From here the powder was exquisite....knee high. Then we came down to the less steep open bowl. The skiing would have been fantastic except for avi debris under the powder that occaisionally we’d slam into. We tried to read the snow, predicting where the underground bombs were, but they still would emerge and briefly interrupt our dreamy pow run.

We came to the choke where we’d usually have to take our skis off, but now we were able to ski high and go around some of the usual waterfalls. From here we hit the Highline trail where the fast, banked turns really made our day. Amidst the whoops and hollers it was a great way to end our adventure. Oh, and yes, I skied all the way to my back door. What a hoot! I love living in Canmore.

A New Race

Though it's been a few weeks since the last race of the season, the Lake Louise race, I want to post some thoughts. This being the first year it seemed like "the Lake" wanted to keep the race low key and make it somewhat of a test event. It was only formally announced 2 weeks before the event. This being the case though, the patrols and snow safety guys really pulled out the stops.

We started at mid mountain on the front side and proceeded to the top of the mountain, dropping into the “F-Shoot.” If you’re familiar with Louise, this is the steepest offering they have. Your feet literally drop out from under you. The first time I ever attempted this shoot (on Tele’s) my partner fell and slid high speed all the way to the bottom....no way to self arrest on the steep run.

Next we worked our way over to “Speed Run”. Speed run is where they used to run speed skiing contests. You remember that sport. It was even a demo sport in the ‘92 Olympics. They had a fatality that year and this probably sealed its fate as an Olympic sport. Speed Run was a deleriously pow loaded slope, the only downside was the extremely long boot pack to access it. The boot pack had a huge climb, then we walked along a flat ridgeline for quite a long ways.

After Speed Run we tucked it all the way over to the Temple lodge where we started a long traverse into the Purple Bowl. At Temple lodge there was an aid station. They asked me if I wanted water, I said, “sure!” I only found out after the race they also had Monster Energy drinks-one of the sponsors. If they’d asked me I’d for sure say yeah to that! I could have used the energy shot.

If you’re familiar w/ the Lake, you know that Purple bowl (like Speed Run) is beyond the resort boundary. After the long traverse...very cross countryish-what I like!, we ended up at the top of the Elevator shoot. From the name you can only guess how steep this 3rd big drop is. It was great! With more quality pow. It exited into the Rock garden, a really fun area of rock covered pillows. From there we spilled onto the groomers (finally back inbounds) and down to the lodge via the ski out. It was here that xc skiers again had a bit of an advantage as it’s not very steep and skating and double poling were the order of the day.

I brought along a couple of xc friends for their first ever rando race. One is a World Cup top 40 biathlete and the other, one of the top xc racers in the country (top 30 in the recent nat’l champs in Canmore). I think they were blown away by how difficult the sport is. In XC you get some rest on the downhills. In skimo the downhills, especially in this race are total leg burners. And instead of uphills lasting a minute or so, some of our climbs can be 30 minutes to even an hour (the latter more in the Euro races).

I didn’t ski as well as I’d have liked on the downhills in Louise and lost quite a bit of time, but I did make up some ground on the lower angle uphills. One has to know your strengths and weaknesses. Maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses. At this point, my fitness is as good as it can be. This training year is ending after this week and I’ve put in one of my biggest hour years ever. I knew that going to Italy was a privilege...representing your country, and I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could. Unfortunately the Euro races (and Louise!) revealed my downhill weakness, but since then I’ve really been working on it. And yes it has improved. That’s what makes sport fun. Evaluating where you’re at...trying to make yourself better and challenging yourself along the way to bring those incremental improvements that eventually lead to larger change and advancement.