The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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All’s Well That Ends Well

Beware the water bottle that arrives with multi-page instructions. Read them.

I’m not totally convinced that Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. Although my last foray into the wonderful world of skate skiing did end well, certain body parts are not screaming “all’s well”.

My first “not well” clue came in the form on an innocuous water bottle. I won a handheld, Ultimate Direction water bottle from a raffle of a 10K I ran on Saturday and brought the bottle along based on the fact that it was sitting on the counter. Halfway up Casper mountain, with a manual transmission and 10 mph switchbacks, I was screwing the entire lid off to get a sip of water. Beware the water bottle that comes with instructions.

I didn’t bring the bottle along for my ski or I would blame the water weight for what happened next. The flat-ish area where I first learned how to skate ski was a bit melted out and some incline was obvious, but not enough to concern me. I started down the incline and gained more momentum than anticipated. Focusing on my form, I over weighted my right ski and crashed hard. Naturally putting my hands out to catch myself (note to self: work on “tuck and roll” form), I luckily kept my semi-injured thumb in close to my hand to no avail. Instead of hyperextending my UCL (ulnar collateral ligament, aka “skiers thumb), I jammed it back hard. Too hard. It’s super sore today and a little swollen – just enough to remind me to wear the thumb brace I bought a while back to prevent such an injury. But I digress.

Pull HARD on the red nipple to drink from said water bottle. It's not intuitive.

Since my beginner area wasn’t seeming so beginner, I set off to explore. To me, “exploring” is roughly defined as “attempting to get lost while meandering in whatever direction seems like the most fun”, and is really easy and maybe more exciting if you’re directionally impaired. And this was the best kind of exploring as following a groomed track ensured that it wouldn’t escalate to a survivalist situation.

Setting off on Bishops Loop, I was pleasantly surprised at the occasional scenic overlooks and snowed in A-frame cabins sprinkled throughout the forest. Intense cardio ensured I got several lungfuls of a heady pine scent and eventually, my route dead-ended into a T. One thing was certain: the left trail went one way, while the right went the other way. I went left, ended up spotting a “Braille Trail” sign posted by the Lion’s and the irony of my semi-lost state hit rather heavy.

Eventually, by looking 360° around me at every intersection, I made it back to the car. I had spent an entire hour in cardio land and actually enjoyed myself. So maybe Shakespeare was right after all.

 

Helmets – Why I wear one and you should, too.

All helmet sales increased 23% in units 2008/2009 to 2009/2010. Junior helmet sales shot up 32%, and adult sales increased 21%.

Helmets are a big part of my life. By my last count, I own six (bike helmet, kayak helmet, climbing helmet, snowmobiling helmet and two ski helmets), and I have a nagging feeling that I’m leaving one out. But today, I’m going to tell you why you need to wear one skiing – all the time.

The year is 2002, and it’s a Colorado bluebird day. I met up with friends off and on for a few runs, but I was cruising Vail’s backbowls and enjoying the slush bumps. Towards the end of the day, I decided to make one last run before making my way down the resort and choose a blue  (intermediate) bump run, which was an easy slope for my ski ability. On my way down, I crossed my tips and predictably ate snow. While I wasn’t going fast I did bonk my head on the way down. Feeling a little dazed, I finished the run and got back on the chairlift, only to realize that I set myself up for another run before I could start to get out of the resort, which was surprising and frustrating. How could I have forgotten?

The next day I was back on campus at the University of Colorado and I got lost trying to find my next class. I called a friend for directions and started bawling. Apparently my snotty phone rant included my ski crash, feeling like crap, being extremely tired and general frustration that I could get lost a month into classes. My rugby-playing friend asked if I might have a concussion. Yup, that made sense.

“You wouldn’t play football without wearing a helmet – same rule applies for skiing. Plus helmets are way warmer than hats.”

— Lindsey Vonn

I was already out of the “danger” window for sleeping and whatnot (during which I slept – oops), but I ended up getting CAT scan, just in case. Nothing abnormal showed up (keep snide jokes to yourself, please), so I slowly coalesced at home. Going upstairs to the kitchen to get a drink of water made me winded and I slept more than when I had Mono in high school. Overall, I was lucky and the entire ordeal could have been entirely prevented by wearing a helmet.

I often see parents of young children cautiously lidding their kids while they themselves wear only a hat. This makes no sense. Part of the welfare of a child is taking precautions to ensure their parents stay alive. Even if you’re skiing well with your ability, my little analogy shows that accidents can happen – and don’t forget about the “everyone else” factor.

I had another ski instructor friend who was skiing green (beginner) runs with his class and slowly skiing a cat track on the way to lunch. An out-of-control boarder came flying out of the wooded section above the cat track, went airborne and crashed into the instructor, knocking him down with enough force to break his clavicle. His helmet cracked in two, but doctors said without his helmet, he’d be dead. Instead, he fully recovered. So wear a helmet – it may not look the coolest, but neither does a coffin.

For more helmet information, check out www.lidsonkids.org.

 

Crazy Casper Backcountry

The Bighorns are highlighted in the salmon color.

Did you just spit out your coffee wondering if Michelle had finally, really gone all the way over the edge? Casper has WHAT country? That’s right – I said it. Casper has backcountry. And it rocks.

This town continues to amaze me. Just when I stuff it in a neat little box I find a whole new way to be active (like Prana) or have a totally unexpected powder day, right in my own backyard. Mind you, my definition of backyard is pretty big – just like my state.

Teton pass backcountry users: riddle me this. If you have a leisurely Saturday breakfast at home and eventually make it out mid-day, what will the parking situation be? The correct answer, assuming the avalanche danger isn’t crazy high, is ‘absolutely dismal’ and you my friend had better start warming up that thumb to bum a ride from the Stagecoach parking lot. In Casper? Not so. But here’s the trade-off – the backcountry isn’t swamped because it’s roughly located in the middle of nowhere.

Located about 1.5 hours from Casper, the Bighorn National Forest is 1.1 million acres and spans into Montana, but the biggest peaks are in Wyoming. Not that we were peak bagging – this was just a Saturday ski.  Lap after lap we explored new lines and enjoyed 18″ of new snow, all to ourselves. Our chosen spot sported less vertical than Teton Pass, which suited my short attention span quite nicely. As an added bonus, we didn’t have to worry about anyone ski cutting the slope above us and causing a massive avalanche, or about beating the 15 parties we saw in the parking lot. Nope, this was backcountry skiing in its purest from – just set a skin track and enjoy the ride down.

So where exactly is this almost epic backcountry? I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you (not really… but I’m not telling so it’s a moot point).

Actually-helpful-ski-video-of-the-day: How to dress while skinning in the backcountry.

Just Sign It – An Argument for Access

Beartrap Meadow County Park as seen on Google, otherwise known as "where you get to play" on Casper Mountain.

When people in Casper learn that I moved from Jackson, they often ask how I like it. How much I lie depends on who I’m talking to, but most of the time I give a vague yet honest, “It’s different. I miss all my recreation options but I’m finding things here that I like.” At this point, they usually (with good intentions) start telling me about Casper mountain. Here’s the thing about Casper mountain – there are trails (but not near the acreage that I’m accustomed to) but there are NO SIGNS. No mileage markers, no named loops, just parking areas and aggressive “NO TRESSPASSING” signs ringing the parameter. For a directionally challenged person such as myself, this presents a problem.

While we traditionally think of access to nature being limited by park fees or geographical location, but it can be as simple as poor roads leading to the area or a lack of signage directing folks around the various trails. When I point out to frequent Casper Mountain users that trails signs would increase the number of people who can enjoy the mountain, I typically hear something like “we don’t want them” or “go back to Teton county”. And to be fair, I don’t want to hike masses, either. But there is a line between an elitist attitude and depriving your fellow population of something as incredibly beneficial as nature.

Over and over we see studies that show humans are designed to move. Walking in the woods, whether it be with sneakers or snow shoes, lowers stress and helps maintain healthy body weight. And healthy people are generally happier, meaning the women serving you coffee may be a little friendlier and a few less folks may need public assistance (that would be your tax money) to help with the various disorders caused by obesity.

Obviously, the next step is to find a public meeting and figure out how to get these signs up. Is it too much to hope that there will be intelligent people present who won’t shout me back to Teton county?

Feed-your-body-recipe-to-try: Portobello Mushroom Strognnoff from Clean Eating

 

Why Michelle Loves Prana, existentially.

Vote for Michelle! Just kidding, it’s not that kind of contest. But I did make a video in an attempt to win 5 personal training sessions from my indoor fitness place of choice in Casper, Prana Yoga & Fitness. Did I win? Nope. But the video got me thinking all existentially. Here it is: I think to be truly successful in our highly varied society, the ability to adapt is key.

I have seen extreme athletes succumb to their demons when their human bodies aged or injured and refused to perform as they had in years past. These individuals suffer a severe identity crisis which can manifest itself in really unhealthy ways. In my humble opinion, the key to avoiding this inevitable demise is being able to bob and weave with the changes life throws your way. Changes like not having two national parks in your backyard and moving from five minutes to five hours from the best skiing in the lower 48. A snapshot of my personal evolution in this sense is in the video below (along with shameless plugs for Prana).

Untitled from Michelle Drechsel on Vimeo.

Need more gear? Of course you do. Patagonia stuff is hard to get on sale (seriously hard), and the following sale is for the next five days. It just started today, so you’ve got a good chance of getting your size if order sooner than later. Click the ad to go right to their sale page.

 

Be-safe-article-of-the-day: This is why you don’t duck lines at a ski resort. Closed means closed, not because ski patrol is mean but because they want you alive. Read Colorado avalanche article.

An Ode to Dogs (and walking)

Wendell, my Lab, up close and personal.

This post is exactly what you think it is, because what animal is as wonderful as that sweet fur face with four legs, the canine?

Yesterday, my neighbor commented when I walked outside, “boy, we were just taking about how dedicated you are to your dog walks. This sure proves it!”. Sure, it was 4° with 20 mph winds, but if I let silly things like ‘wind’ and ‘cold’ stop me, I would never leave the house. And bodies need movement, be they canine or homosapien.

Lately I’ve been struggling with some sinus issues that sap my energy. Do I still walk the dogs? Yep! Here’s why: I’m very rarely too sick to walk. By getting light to moderate exercise outside, I’m avoiding spreading my germs to my wonderful friends at the gym AND my all-important lymphatic system gets a boost. One of the main functions of the lymphatic system is immunity, and the way to get it going is to move your body. It doesn’t have a circulatory system and depends excursively on skeletal movement and breathing.

Does this mean you should run a marathon with a cold? Of course not. Overexertion when your body is already stressed can be a bad thing.

It’s gusting up to 55 mph as I write these words, but I still took the dogs out this morning. The value of good outdoor gear cannot be underestimated and a windproof shell with a solid hood with a good audiobook through earbuds can be a good defense against the misery of high winds. But do the dogs mind? They sure don’t! And a 30 – 40 minute walk every morning is the least I can give them for their unconditional love and support. Besides, it does my body good, too.

NOTE: Our litigious society has me paranoid that I should insert “I’m not a doctor so consult someone with an MD behind their name before beginning any exercise regimen.” There, I said it.

Avoiding Avalanches & Snowmobiles

Scenery to Skin to - Pinnacle Butte on Togwotee Pass, Wyoming.

To be clear: I’m not trying to avoid avalanches on a snowmobile, because taking a snowmobile out in dangerous snow conditions on avalanche terrain is just plain stupid. No, I’m trying to avoid the snowmobiles altogether, as well as avalanches.

Before you scream, “Hypocrite! You own your own personal snowmobiling helmet!”, let me clarify. I love the smell of 2-stroke in the morning. However, when your goal is a peaceful, quiet tour with great scenery, it helps to avoid the ‘whah-WHAH’ of snow machines. And if there’s one place sled necks like to go, it’s Togwotee Pass (pronounced toe-go-tee). Which also happens to be on my way home from Jackson.

As you can see in photo above, Pinnacle Butte (pronounced “be-YOOT”) is a gorgeous fortress of breccia cliffs, peaks, and spires in the far southern region of the Absorka Mountains.  We parked at the Deception Creek Cross Country trail, but as we wanted to be in the trees, we headed across the highway from the official trails and up towards Pinnacle.

We had our backcountry ski setup with no intentions of making actual turns, which was a good thing. The snowpack was so unstable that the “whomp” of settling snow was a constant on near flat terrain. To a seasoned backcountry skier, this is a very spooky sound. It is not unlike the thump from an actual bass drum compressed into a terrifying second. To explain what causes the sound (and avalanches), I’ll launch into a horrifyingly simple overview of snow science.

Snow falls in many, many forms which is why 12″ of new snow can be slushy gloop on the Pacific coast and a dry, fine powder in Utah. And of course, the snow may fall in many different forms in the exact same place depending on the air temperature and humidity. So maybe you get a wet, heavy snow in November followed by fluff in December. This would be a good snowpack, since the heavy stuff is on the bottom. But what about when the scenario is reversed? This is what skiers mean when they say that the snow is “upside down”. The heavy stuff is on top of fluff, or worse yet on top of a rain-crusted icy layer. In this scenario, picture a few feet of fluff falling on the side of steep, ice-covered slope. The fluff is going to slide down, right? But maybe it doesn’t slide down right away; it may stick just a little bit until somebody or something weights a certain spot on that slope- and the fluff is released.

To access Pinnacle Butte, park at the sign for the Deception Creep cross country ski trail.

Anyone who has experienced an avalanche burial (thankfully, I know this second-hand) will tell you that fluffy snow ceases to feel like fluff in an avalanche. In fact, the process is very un-fluffy.  Skis, packs, and even clothes are ripped from the skier as a concrete sludge tumbles the body in a hyper-active spin cycle. If conscious, the skier tries to swim up in attempt to be towards the top of the pile when everything stops moving. This assumes the skier knows which way is up. Skiers have reported been partially buried up to their chest and if their hands aren’t free when the pile stops moving, they feel as if they have been cemented in concrete and must depend on their friends to dig them out. This is why you don’t ski alone, and also why you MUST wear a transceiver, carry a shovel and probe (a big expandable stick to find the body) and know how to use them to travel in avalanche terrain. Going without any of these four items (the knowledge to use the tools and evaluate terrain being a crucial item) is Russian roulette.

And this is why we weren’t making turns. The snow pack was so unstable that it didn’t even need the gradient to settle onto itself. There is little question that had we ventured onto the prime avalanche angles, we would have caused an avalanche. And the prime angles are 25° to 45°, which is the same angle as blue and black slopes at a ski area – in other words, the fun stuff. If you absolutely have to get out in dangerous snow conditions, take a cue from us and go for a cross-country tour. It’s great for the dogs, too.
Find an avalanche class by clicking here.

Holiday-detox-of-the-day: 7-day Portion Control Challenge from Vegetarian Times. I would make some substitutes for additional protein of the meat variety but they make it easy with shopping lists and recipes.

Skiin’ the ‘ghee: Grand Targhee Resort

To understand crossing into Idaho from Wyoming to get to a Wyoming resort, note the lack of roads over the Tetons.

With low levels of snow and high avalanche danger, skiing around the Teton Valley last weekend required careful decisions. We settled on Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming and it proved to be an excellent choice.

To get to Targhee (or, the Ghee, as the locals say) from Jackson, one must drive over Teton Pass, into Idaho in order to cross back into Wyoming. If you’re coming from Jackson Hole Airport, the drive will take you 1.5 hours, but only about an hour if you’re coming from town, which can be totally worth it.

Grand Targhee gets a lot of snow – as you have to if you’re so bold as to mark the POWDER AREA on your trail map. That’s right- grab a trail map and locate the POWDER AREA for likely powder. While Sunday wasn’t exactly ‘blower’ (as in so much powder snow in blowing in your face), the snow was actually good.

The groomers were fast and grippy with the only speed limits imposed by how adept your are at dodging tourists, and there weren’t many of those. In fact, we skied on to every lift all day long. The only crowds worth noting were in the Trapper Bar, but given the calendar (it was New Year’s Day) and the amount of ball games on, that’s not exactly a surprise. They’d had 12″ of new snow in the last two days and the rocks showing were equivalent to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on any given heart-of-winter powder day.

And the best part was the lack of rush. On a really blower day (see above for definition), there’s an underlying push to get in as many laps as possible in order to find the best, deepest snow on the mountain before everyone else. Since 11″ of the new snow fell the day before and 1″ overnight, the rush was off. We could cruise groomers or soft, pillowy snow and eat a leisurely, full-service lunch instead of horking down Cliff Bars on the chair lift. We were in such a not-hurry that we left before the lifts closed to stop for beers in the driveway of a good friend living in Victor, Idaho and again for wine in Wilson. It was a very, very slow drive back to Jackson (lest you worry, I was not driving). As I get older and dare I say wiser, I am beginning to suspect that it’s all part of the fun of skiing.

Targhee-tip-of-the-day: There’s a new shuttle from the town of Jackson to Targhee! At just $94.88 for shuttle and lift ticket, it’s a must for apre lovers. For more info on the Targhee Express, click here.

 

Shooting in the Dark

Reason to get out of bed: early morning light on the Platte.

Mornings are a difficult time for me. When I was little, my two sisters employed wildly different tactics to wake me up. One would open my door, turn on the light and shout, “Mom and Dad said to get up.” I promptly chucked whatever was closest, usually a paperback, in her general direction.

My youngest sister, however, would crack open the door so the light would gently fall into my room, and then snuggle with me in bed while whispering, “It’s time to get up!”.

Although I awoke like an angry grizzly bear, my first sister had more success.

Action Lab with Sports Mode on camera! He's more of a snuggler than a duck retriever.

Fast-forward to the present, when my husband has the privilege of prying me out of bed to engage in an activity that I participated in planning. It always seems like a better idea the night before, less so when the alarm goes off and it’s still dark outside.

I tried “I don’t want to go anymore.” At first, he was surprised and then realized it was just a stalling tactic. A few minutes later a bowl of oatmeal was plopped down by my head (which I will admit is very sweet and sneaky tactic). Because I wake up famished every day of my life, I woke up to eat.

The mighty hunter with the duck. Look hard for the duck - camo works! (click photo for larger view)

Fast-forward again to the great outdoors, both of us shooting. My hubby with a gun, me with a camera. It wasn’t dark anymore but it makes a catchier title. I alternated reading the Nikon D3100 Digital Field Guide (v. helpful) and taking pictures of slightly annoyed canines and a much more willing landscape. The husband shot a beautiful Mallard drake (that’s a boy duck). We’ve learned the hard way that plucking the duck and cooking it whole is far tastier than breasting it out, and a 350° oven for a little over an hour rendered Mr. Duck quite delicious. As for a camera trick, my very non-technical advice is that the sports mode works great for pets, too.

Being a Skiing Student + Announcement

People (not me) skate skiing on Casper Nordic Center.

So I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good at most of the sports I do. I only fall over in yoga every now and then and haven’t hurt myself skiing in more than two seasons. I didn’t even hook my dog last time I went fly-fishing, so I was a little nervous when my latest gear came with a lesson from the sales person.

And exactly what gear comes with a lesson (or should, at any rate)? Skate skiing gear. For those of you that need a refresher, cross-country skiing has two types- classic and skate skiing. When doing the classic style, the skier appears to be on a Nordic track and their skis are indeed often in tracks. For skate skiing, imagine ice skating on really narrow skis and add in poles that come up to your nose. If that sounds incredibly awkward, then you have the correct mental picture.

I met my instructor at the Casper Nordic Center, which has 42 kilometers (26 miles) of groomed trails. This is exceptional. The alpine skiing in Casper is less than exceptional, hence the reason for my new sport. He first had me bumble around without any poles, practicing the basic skating motion, which is a great first step in all skiing disciplines. Shortly after, I added the poles in and learned the various V1 and V2 techniques. I won’t bore you with the details here, but suffice to say I felt like a torso barely held upright by four randomly flailing appendages.

After jaunting up and down a straight bit for a while, we went for a ski. The downhill sections didn’t worry me much since I’ve been flinging myself down steep slopes for too many years to remember. This was a gross oversight. I had one fantastic spill when I knocked my jaw with the handle of my pole, all because I tried to turn on the edges of my skis. Downhill skiers, Heed My Warning: skate skis do not have edges. You must step turn. Noted.

By the end two intense cardio hours, I was more or less gliding with gradual but significant weight shifts over the active ski. I even feel confident in several of the poling techniques. But the biggest lesson was how awkward my new gear felt and the ensuing trepidation which resulted from said awkwardness, which is a great reminder for any instructor. We get so comfortable in our chosen vocation that we can forget the sheer terror that is a perfectly normal response for most students, which is why I recommend that all instructors learn something new every now and then for a healthy dose of empathy.

Announcement! In a hopefully brilliant attempt to boost readership, MountainKidd will now post every Wednesday. Ideally sometime in the AM hours, but hey, I’m human. Feel free to forward this blog onto anyone and everyone who might marginally enjoy it (or just read it, even if they don’t enjoy it).

 

 

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