Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Meet the Tele Ladies

On my first ski bus Thursday in early January, I was placing my skis in the outside rack, preparing to go in for lunch, when I heard someone remark "there's a telemarker!  Oooh nice skis!"  I looked up to see two older (well, older than me) woman sporting telemark gear.  We proceeded to get into a discussion that revolved around skis, and the gals invited me to have lunch with them.  At lunch, I had a great time talkin' tele.  After lunch was finished, and we'd gone our separate ways, my friend asked me who those women were.  Although they'd introduced themselves, due to my poor short-term memory, I couldn't recall their names.  So I referred to them as the "Tele Ladies."

Sue and Katie - the Tele Ladies

The next Thursday, I again ran into the Tele Ladies at lunch.  Like the week before, we hung out in the cafeteria swapping ski stories.  This time I was sure to catch their names - Katie and Sue.  Katie and Sue invited me to ski with them the following week.

Blue sky teaser

Due to bad weather and other factors, a few weeks passed before I was able to ski with the Tele Ladies.  A couple weeks ago, Katie and I spent a great Thursday on the slopes.  And then last week, I had the privilege of skiing with both of the Tele Ladies. 

Mt Hood rises above the lift

These women are amazing.  They are well into their sixth decade, but drop knee like no one's business. Sue ripped down a slope, making tele turns all the way to the bottom with no rest (I, in comparison needed at least a couple "quad breaks").  Both she and Katie have been skiing backcountry for many years.  They also hike, backpack, and climb mountains.  They've both climbed many mountains in the PNW, and skied down lots of them.

Katie droppin' knee

We made tons of laps all morning.  The Tele Ladies didn't seem to wear out.  They made lots more tele turns that I (when I get tired, I revert to alpine turns).  The ladies took me all over - through the trees and down many black diamond runs.  By lunchtime, I was ready for a break.

Katie and I

Katie was the cautious skier of the duo. A little bit later I found out why. Katie told me she'd recently broken her upper arm skiing here at Meadows (I think she told me the accident happened a couple of years ago, but again with my bad memory, I don't remember exactly). After weeks of recovery and additional weeks of physical therapy, Katie was finally back on the slopes.

Doesn't this photo look like it should be on a Mt Hood Meadows ad?

Late in the afternoon, Katie took me down a trail called "Middle Fork."  We were about halfway to the lift, and I'd stopped for a rest break.  Katie skied up and asked if I'd do her a big favor.  She pointed to a grove of trees not far from where we were standing.  Katie said, "When you ski by those trees, give them a big fat middle finger.  That's the spot where I wiped out and broke my arm."

Katie's revenge on the Middle Fork run

So Katie and I slid over to the infamous grove.  While passing by, we both extended our middle fingers and gave those trees a proper salute.  Then we had a good laugh.  And I have to say, what a great way to face bad memories and get rid of your demons.  You gotta admire Katie's spunk.  Kudos to Katie for getting back on the slopes and not letting anything stop her!

I now have two new telemark skier friends.  The Tele Ladies are more than friends - they are my heroes and role models.  I hope I'm still dropping knee and screaming through the trees when I'm their age.  Sue and Katie you rock!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ski Photographer For a Day

Grant Myrdal, the resort photographer at Mt. Hood Meadows, offers a workshop each month specializing in snow and action photos.  For the past three years, I've wanted to take the class, but it never quite fit into my busy life.  Then this Christmas I got the green light to sign up (a gift from my sweet hubby).

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Mountain scenery from the top of Meadows

I chose the February workshop.  Two weeks ago, I packed up my camera gear for a day of shooting on the slopes.

Lone skier amongst the tracks

Grant is an incredible photographer.  He's a surfer who got his start capturing images of water, waves and other surfers.  His work has been published in a wide variety of surf magazines.  Now he's undergone a successful transition from riding the waves to riding the snow.  For the past three years, Grant's been a familiar face hanging out with his camera on the slopes of Meadows.  You can check out Grant's work on his website here.

Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters

Grant's an awesome friendly guy.  You can tell he really loves his job.  When I'm skiing at Meadows, I often see him on the side of some run shooting away.  He's taken many great photos of me, and I've purchased several of his images (which I've posted in this blog!)

Grant, my photo zen-master

So I was super-excited to be learning from a world-class professional photographer. I couldn't wait for the workshop day to arrive. Showing up for class that morning, I found out - much to my delight - I was his only student. The iffy weather forecast had scared away the other two students. Their loss - and my gain!

A line of little kids

The morning started out with a review of photography basics. Always a good refresher, no matter your skill level. But once all the necessary info was covered, the fun began. Time to get out on the slopes and capture some images!

Cool turns by Hood

As I emerged from the lodge, I was happy to see - bright sunlight! The forecast had hinted at clouds and rain, so this was a welcome surprise. Perfect light for a day of photography.

Happy kiddos on the lift

We started out high over the top of the Mt. Hood Express lift in an area with sweeping views of both the resort and the adjacent mountains. First, Grant had me practice a little bit of landscape photography. When I ski I'm always carrying my little point-n-shoot camera, which takes OK photos. But with my "big girl" camera, I was able to do justice to the wonderful scenery.

Had to get a telemark skier!

Every once and awhile a skier or boarder would appear on an adjacent slope. I switched to my zoom lens to capture the action. Grant was hoping someone would jump off the nearby cliffs, but we only saw one attempt.

This guy is good!

After an hour or so, we traveled to a nearby ski run to do what Grant does best - take action photos of snow-riders. Most resort photographers I've seen take posed still shots of their guests against the resort scenery. To Grant, this type of photography is boring. He's a man of action and action is what he likes to capture. I couldn't agree more! I love seeing photos of myself making turns on skis. And judging by the success of his business, others do too.

Snowboarder spraying snow

Grant put up his flag, and we parked ourselves in the middle of a blue run with a nice view of Hood. He gave me some instruction on how to aim my focus, and what compositions work best. Then we raised our cameras and shot away!

Another happy skier

Skiers and boarders began zipping by.  There were people of every age and ability.  And I tried to capture them all.

More fun from the lift

Oh, what great fun! It didn't take me long, and I got the hang of zooming in and following people as they slid down the slope. Lots of folks smiled as they swooshed by. The chairlift was overhead, and riders occasionally called out for us to take their picture. Everyone seemed to be having a good time

I love photographing kids!

The kids were my favorite subjects. Groups of little kids would come by, skiing in a zig-zaggy line. They mugged for our cameras big time.

This lady was skiing with a camera around her neck

What a blast, sitting slopeside shooting photos of everyone!  What a great way to combine the things I love most - skiing and photography. I told Grant he had the best job in the world.  He smiled and said "yes, I do!" 

Catching big air

After an hour and a half, Grant's memory card was full.  That meant it was time to pull up stakes and head back to the lodge to download the photos.  I was having such a great time, I really hated to leave.

Catching bigger air

After clearing our memory cards and reviewing a few photos, Grant had one more assignment planned for the day.  We headed over to one of the terrain parks, hoping to catch some action on the jumps.

Amazing high jump!

At the jumps, there were a few young men attempting to catch big air.  Grant instructed me to switch to my wide angle lens and position myself near the side of the take-off ramp.  It took quite a few tries to get the hang of it, but I was soon producing clear images of acrobatics frozen in mid-air.  By the end, I'd produced a few great images to be proud of.

This guy shows off his ski bottoms

At the end of the day, Grant and I downloaded and critiqued my photos.  I was amazed by all the wonderful images I captured.  Grant said I did a great job - he even complimented many photos saying they were as good as what he'd shoot (that really made my little head swell!).

So now I'm inspired to get out on the slopes with my big SLR camera.  I agree with Grant, shooting photos of people in motion is much more fun that taking stills.  Thanks Grant for such a wonderful day.  And thanks so much for your words of encouragement to this rookie photographer!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tilly Jane Tour

Last Saturday the Mazamas ski mountaineering class scheduled its first all-day ski tour of the season.  Students had the choice of three locations, and I chose the Tilly Jane Ski Trail.  I'd heard about this tour from many different people over several years.  Now was the chance to finally ski it for myself.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Yes, I love trail sign photos!

The Tilly Jane/Cloud Cap area is located on the NE side of Mt. Hood.  It's an officially designated historic district.  This area contains some of the oldest structures on the mountain.  There's the Cloud Cap Inn, built in the summer of 1889.  At an elevation of 5837 feet, it's the country's oldest high alpine ski cabin.  The Inn is still in use today by the Crag Rats, a local climbing club.  Other historic structures include the Snowshoe Club Cabin, constructed in 1910; the Tilly Jane Guard Station, circa 1934; and the Tilly Jane Ski Cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939.  In order for skiers to access this cabin, the CCC also created the Tilly Jane Ski Trail.

Skier obstacle course

Early Saturday morning, two Mazama groups gathered in the sno-park adjacent to Cooper Spur Ski area.  The faster group put on their skis and took off quickly up the trail.  That left my group, dubbed the "leisurely group"  (we didn't want to call ourselves the "slow group") with Kevin, our fearless leader. 

So off we started from the trailhead.  Precip from the night before had frozen on the needles of the fir trees.  Sunshine filtered through the branches, turning the forest into a mass of glittering tiny icicles.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Only a half mile in and I'm already pooped!

This year the snowpack has been less than usual.  Not far from the trailhead, my group encountered the effects of low snow.  In many areas, the snow was totally gone from the trail - washed away by rains.  That meant we had to ski over areas of dirt, rock and pine needles.  (Lucky we had our climbing skins on - that saved our ski bases!)  Then we began to encounter a bunch of blown-down trees across the path.  Between the bare spots and the trees, the first half mile was a true skier's obstacle course.  It was so bad, two people from our group turned around and headed back.

We began our tour to lovely blue skies

But it was a lovely blue-sky morning.  The nice weather was a surprise, as the forecast had called for clouds and precip.  Bonus!

Hello from Young and Julie

After the first half mile, things began to get better.  The trail stayed relatively snow covered, the forest cleared, the there were no more trees to hop over.  But skiing uphill is hard, hot work.  Most of us got so warm we stripped down to our long john tops and zipped open the sides of our ski pants.  Even so, sweat poured from my body.  No worries about keeping warm as long as I kept moving!

The snow was sparse in some places

Our group climbed until we reached an area where a fire had recently scorched the forest.  In the fall of 2008, the Gnarl Ridge Fire burned a large portion of the Tilly Jane woods.

Checking the map

The burned tree trunks made for an eerily beautiful landscape.  And the great thing for us skiers - the fire-cleared forest created nice wide glades.  Epic tree skiing on a powder day.

Blue sky and smiles!

Sadly, today's snow was hard and icy.  No powder to be seen anywhere.

Burned out remnants of the fire

But the lovely blue sky made up for the crunchy snow.  And it was great to be in the backcountry on such a nice day.

There are some photos you just have to post at ginormous size

I, of course, had a grand time taking photos.  Whenever our group stopped for a break, the first thing I'd do is whip out my camera and start shooting.  Sometimes I spent so much time snapping away, it left almost no time to take in food and water.

Happy skiers

But I couldn't help myself - as we climbed, the scenery kept getting better and better.  If it wasn't for the fact I needed to stay with the group, my photo count would've been much higher.

The Tilly Jane A-frame

Finally, we climbed a steep pitch, and there before us was the A-frame of the Tilly Jane Ski Cabin.  Yahoo!  Time for a well-earned lunch break.  After skiing uphill for the last couple hours, my body was ready for some food.

The cabin made a great lunch spot

The cabin was rustic, but charming.  The downstairs was full of picnic tables, and had a wood stove off to one side.  There was an upstairs loft that appeared to be a sleeping area for anyone who wished to spend the night.  The cabin was full of outdoor recreation-lovers, all enjoying a dry, warm place to take a break.  Besides our group, there were a bunch of snowshoers in the cabin having lunch.

Back on the trail again

After lunch, I assumed Tilly Jane was our day's destination, and now we'd ski back down to the trailhead.  But Kevin surprised me when he said, no, we were continuing our uphill climb. 

Skiing through the snowy fog

Although disappointed at first (I was getting tired of skiing uphill and really wanted a break), I'm glad we continued.  Turned out the best was yet to come.

Our fearless leader Kevin demonstrates how to dig an avy pit

We skied through dense forest until finally reaching a wide, treeless gully.  And much to our delight our group discovered that at this higher elevation the gully's slopes were covered in a couple inches of powder!  Woo-hoo!   The sky clouded up, and began to spit snowflakes.

Husband-wife digging team

At the top of the gully, Kevin stopped and announced this would be our turn-around point.  But before we could ski back down, he wanted the class to dig an avalanche pit to determine the snow's stability.

Colorful gear decorates the forest

Our group shed it's gear, dropping backpacks and sticking skis and poles into the snow.  The colorful gear really stood out against the white snow.  We dug out our warm jackets and grabbed snow shovels.

Julie tests the snowpack

Everyone took turns digging the avy pit.  After Kevin determined we'd reached the proper depth, each person got into the pit and analyzed the snow.  We were looking for any weak layers, which indicated a potential slide.

Giving it the shovel test

Then Kevin instructed our group to dig out a column of snow and give it the "shovel test."  Whacking the column with a shovel, first with light taps, then graduating to heavy blows, would give us an idea of how the snow would react under loads (like the weight of a skier).

Time to click in the heels and ski!

After determining the snow was indeed safe to ski, next came the moment we'd all been waiting for.  Time to ski down that nice powdery gully!  As we were putting away our gear and clicking in our boots, the first group came whooping down from above, making tracks through our perfect snow.  Poachers!

Downhill is so much fun!

But there was enough pow for all, and once everyone was ready, we picked our lines.  It was a run of pure bliss.  The snow was soft, and the gully the perfect pitch.

I was the only telemark skier in my group. Although my tele skills still need lots of improvement, I gained the admiration of my group-mates when I somehow executed a few perfect turns through the pow (it helps when you're the only telemarker - no one to compare to!)

Zipping through the forest

The rest of the ski down was way funner than I expected. Winding through the forest was a blast.   And once we got down lower, the warm temps of the day had softened the icy snow enough to be skiable. We skied down in about a fourth of the time I'd taken us to ski up.

Class group photo

But our group had one adventure left in the day. About a mile from the trailhead, the snow became thinner, and thinner. We had to navigate our skis around a host of obstacles; trees, rocks, vegetation. Finally, fearing for our bases, we decided to take the skis off and hike the rest of the way out. I was able to figure out how to carry my skis on my little backpack, and it wasn't as hard as I though I'd be. We walked out on a different trail, and ended up at the top of Cooper Spur Ski area's lone chairlift. Of course no one was going to pass up the opportunity for one more downhill slide.  We put our skis back on and had a final run down the slopes of Cooper Spur.

We had to carry our skis for the final mile

At the bottom of the hill, who should I meet snowshoeing to the parking lot, but my hiking buddies Chuck and John.  Boy, what a small world!

I was ever so grateful to see my car.  The tour had completely worn me out.  My body was so sticky with sweat, I felt like I'd run a 20-miler.  My legs, back, and arms all ached.  Backcountry skiing is such a full body workout. 

Thanks to my fellow "leisurely" groupmates for such a wonderful day.  You were all great people to ski with.  And also kudos to our leader Kevin for volunteering his time to take a bunch of rookies skiing out-of-bounds.  You totally rock!

Total stats for the day: 8 miles round trip and approx. 2000 feet elevation gain.  And the satisfaction of knowing I'd earned every inch of that wonderful downhill run.