making hay when the sun shines...

The train rolls on through the scenes of frozen lakes, wild prairies, and farmlands that expand outward from my train window's view.  I always get a bit nostalgic with good music in my headphones as the environments of my childhood steadily roll by.  When I go home I usually fly into O'hare airport in Chicago, and then jump on the Metra train north to the Illinois border town, Antioch.  Antioch is a convenient 20-minute drive from the Wisconsin side of the state line where someone from my family comes from to pick me up.  It is a really cheap and efficient way for me to get home.  I was returning for my annual ski movie party with my latest project with Telemark Skier.  Also, there is no better place for me to celebrate all that hard work then with all of my family and lifelong friends at my hometown ski area, Wilmot Mountain.  

^The lights of Wilmot Mountain are near and dear to my heart.  I grew up under these lights and learned the foundations of the skill set that has become my life's work.  I have deep roots in these hills, and it has never once fallen lightly on me how much those roots have fostered my growth.    

^All of my family and friends came out yet again to show me their love and support for all the hard work I undertook last winter with the Telemark Skier crew.  It was a wild and crazy winter of snowfall debacles among others, but we powered through still finding some goods to share with our faithful community of telemark skiers.   

^I also was lucky enough to have the date for a surprise retirement party for my father and lifelong family friend, Bill Curran, fall in the same weekend as my movie party.  These two guys are the last of their kind in this world.  Both of these guys put thirty plus years of their lives into Kenosha, Wisconsin's, Birchwood Foods.  That kind of loyalty and steadfast commitment is no longer found in the modern workplace.  I for one am glad to have been raised in that world.  I feel lucky to have been given examples of work ethic like my father and Bill.  

^I was deeply moved by the party and the shear gratitude of folks at Birchwood Foods.  Phyllis, pictured at left in the back, worked hard to coordinate the surprise event with my mother and Bill's wife, Karen.  All of the people that came out to celebrate these two careers with us were an unbelievable treat as well.  Birchwood's President, Dennis Vigneri, pictured at right standing, showed a moving amount of gratitude and appreciation for my father and Bill.  I was deeply touched by his sincerity and candor.  My father and Dennis grew up together in that company to a certain extent, and I am assured of the greatness of this President by the deep respect that my father holds for him.  Dennis' own father, Charlie, was a profound role model to my father in his career, which is why it is of no wonder to me how Dennis has become the successful leader he has.  He even gave me a job through high school each summer, and as I returned years later for a tour of the new facilities just a year ago I was blown away at how he has grown the company into the modern world.  My father gave a big part of his life to this company and to the Vigneri family.  My family and I are so thankful for their reciprocated support of him all the way to the end of his long career. The appreciation and gratitude that falls short on most of corporate America these days was on full display from this thriving family business that evening.  This surprise party was of no surprise to me because I have had a lifetime of examples of great people from all of the folks at Birchwood Foods and in the Vigneri family.  From my own days working for the likes of Alex, JR, Sandy, Clayton, Chico, among others, to my father's career peers like John, Dennis, Bill, Tina, and many more, I have been blessed with fantastic role models of work ethic and commitment.  Those are good foundations to build on, and I am grateful for all of them in my life. 

^I was luckily able to celebrate the holidays at home a bit early with my family.  I also got a chance to stop by my cousin Alex's new home and burgeoning little family.  His girlfriend has also graced his home with him, and they got these two brand new little puppies to fill it up.  He is a handy kid, and I am excited to see the work he is going to put into the solidly built old home.  He has a lot of room to make some serious equity, and he has the skills, backbone, and work ethic to make it happen.  After all, he is a chip off the old Robinson block, and we just flat out get it done.  I am super proud of him, and excited to watch his life come together for him because he has earned every bit of his success.  

^After I got home and waited for the snow to add up in the Ogden Wasatch, I decided to expedite some work for a friend of mine on his bathroom.  He has been chipping away at this project for a while so when he called me to get back in and finish up the tiling for him, I jumped right on it.  The snow was low and I was anxious to get this project moving further along for him.  I am stoked on the job I did on the shower and floor, and I am excited to get back again to help him wrap it all up.  He still has some more work to go in there yet, but soon enough I will be able to hook up the last of the plumbing for him so he can be off to the races.  My saying became, "I will make hay when the sun shines, and make turns when the snow flies."  The weather is starting to come into the Ogden Wasatch now in a big way, and I am glad I was able to make all that hay while I waited for snow to finally start to fly significantly.  Here comes the wild and crazy onslaught of winter!  Now I am ready. 

make do with what you have...

The snow is still holding out on us in the Wasatch.  My northern home is nearly dry as a bone.  As much as I'd love to get winter kicked off there is nothing I can do.  The nice thing about the Wasatch is that there is always something to do when the weather changes.  When it finally does come I will make the best of it just like I am now.

^Snowbasin opened up for business so I figured I should at least get out for some turns.  It is good to get out and wiggle around a bit even if only for a little while.

^Still really thin though.

^I took one run down the white strip of death and decided my time would be better spent hiking the lowlands with my dog.  She was stoked, and so was I.  Snowbasin being situated where it is I was able to go down into the lower elevations just below the parking lot in forrest service terrain to hike with my dog.  I can't even take her out of the car in the Cottonwoods without getting harassed by the police.  Not up here.  

^We found some beavers getting some winter prep work done.  

^Pretty cool in my book.  I thought that it was a good idea.  If we aren't in the midst of winter, then we might as well do some prep work for when the snow does arrive.  My dog, Murphy, and I hit some of the local spots we like to ski together to scout the situation, as well as branch out to try to find some new slopes too.

^It is cold, and the resort is blowing snow.  There was ice on the trickling creeks, but no snow replacing the melt off up high.  Murphy and I were having a great time tromping around the woods looking for hidden gems, and colorful photos like this one.

^We succeeded in finding some new lowland meadow skipping terrain for her to enjoy with me.  She loves to downhill cross country ski with me in the mornings before the lifts turn.  We found a killer slope that we had never seen before hiding in plain sight.  I was totally surprised when I came around a small ridge to find it.  We only ski small vegetated slopes, and this one is perfect.  I am excited to get out and ski with her, but for now the scouting missions will do just fine.  Make hay when the sunshines, and make turns when the snow flies. 

thin to win...

Thin to win is an old concrete pouring mantra, but it is still the story here in the Wasatch as well.  We have received two good storms, but neither storm pounded both regions.  The first storm favored the Northern Wasatch, and the second storm favored the Central Wasatch.  Both received good shots of snow, but there has also been very little in between.  That being said, coverage is decent, but still a bit thin.  However, I still need to get it into shape so I have got to be able to make the call to ski the thin to win.

^Ben Geiger and I have been touring the thin...

^...and cautiously turning in the thin.

^It is really all about just getting out, walking around, and getting in shape.  It is good to see how the early snowpack is setting up, and start scouting for later in the season.  It is starting to come full on as the resorts begin to open up for business.

^The whirlwind of an early season start left my office in shambles.  I had to address that before I could even think straight.  

^Then my wife, Christine, and I caught some bluegrass in Salt Lake City.  "The Devil Makes Three" put on a fantastic evening, and a bluegrass state of mind is a good place to be.

^Snowbird is open for business so I cruised down south with my bluegrass state of mind focused on getting in some quantity work on the tram with Ben Geiger.  2 for 1 passes makes the early season pounding skiing on a day pass a little easier to swallow.  A good hard leg beating was exactly what I was looking for.  I wanted to get after it for a few hours to really blow out my legs early enough to call it in time for my night shift at Delta Airlines.

^Ben and I hooked up with another telemark ripper, Lance Hamblin.  Lance is a Snowbird pass holder, and a freeheel monster.  I am not sure he knew what he was rolling into when he asked to take a run with Ben and I.  We like to pick our way through scetchy rocks and trees to slip into creamy spots.  Often times most folks are not willing to abuse their gear like we do, or take the time to slowly pick around in the rockier terrain.  We don't get to crazy or anything, but we have acquired a pretty high tolerance for billy goating it around in sharky terrain.  Lance handled it really well, and skied it tough.   

^Ben is approaching a small rock band to maneuver in this photo.  Again, nothing too crazy, but good technical training and a leg burning workout.  Pretty much about as good as you can get for this stage in the season.  I was pleasantly surprised.

^We were getting the blood flowing and knocking the summer dust off some of the more techy skills that we usually don't get to test this early in the winter.  It was nice to run into a bunch of old and new friends on the tram deck too. Blowing out the legs with a bunch of Snowbird Tram laps was the right perscription.  Ben and I were stoked to get to rip a run with my old friend, Ben Johnson.  He and his wife Katie are the owners of 2nd Tracks Sports in Salt Lake City.  The best new and used outdoor shop in the city.  The season is slowly starting to setting in.  I am anxiously anticipating the winter going full on, but I am still taking advantage to the chances to properly get ready for it.   

Bikes and Brutus...

Late fall in the Wasatch means taking whatever weather mother nature throws at you, and making the most of it.  I started this particular story at the Utah Snow & Avalanche Workshop.  The conversations inside where everything snow, but the hot sun outside was in severe contradiction.  So much so that I would be taking out the mountain bikes with my appreciative bike loving wife.  Only a week later though and I would be entertaining rumors of a beastly storm named, Brutus.  Brutus would quickly bring snow back to the topic of my conversations, and the front of my mind.     

^Pictured above is the Telemark Skier booth at the avalanche workshop.  It was good to catch up with a lot of folks I haven't seen in about six months or so.  We were signing up subscriptions all over the show too.  These are good folks to have on our subscriber list also.  They are all true professionals and advocates of our sport and mountains.   

^This is a photo of one women who is very happy to be getting out on her bike.  My wife loves to ride, but I've been itching for snow.  However, in the Wasatch you can be on a mountain bike one day and on skis the next.  Therefore, I was not too upset to be chasing my wife around on a bike under a beautiful blue sky day in the foothills.  All good in my book.  

^Christine ascends the hill on the right-side of this photo.  The scene of fall was just fine and dandy with me.  I was enjoying a nice warm day on the bikes with my lady.  I knew full well that it fall could be over with at anytime.  All it takes is one big storm, and winter moves in for the season to stay for a while.   

^The creeks were running cold with the snowmelt from the early October snow storm that quickly retreated under the hot fall sun.  By the time of this photo, well into the first week of November, only the shadiest slopes at high elevations retained any coverage.  The rest of that October snowpack was trickling into this creek.  

^I hit up the voting polls, and waited for a new president as well as new snow.  A storm was on the forecast, and looked like a promising lineup.  As the electoral votes were being counted the rumors of big snows were also adding up.  By the next day everyone was talking about Obama, but my mind was on Brutus.

^The cold front moved in late Thursday night.  By the time I awoke on Friday morning the seasonal shift was in full swing.  Outside my window was a winter wonderland.  The same pathway that I rolled my bike down to my car a few days prior was hiding under eight inches of snow.  The same kid that was blowing leaves off that sidewalk a week before was now shoveling snow from the same sidewalk. Unfortunately for myself, I was unable to get up into the mountains to check out the storm.  By Saturday my good friend, Ben Geiger, and I had been going back and forth about the snowpack for two days as he sent me photos and correspondence from his solo tours inside of the storm.    

^Brutus finally began to clear out on Saturday.  Ben sent me this photo of his last cautious tracks in the early season snow coming into view with the break up of the storm.  The coverage looked good, but you could still tell that it will be some time before it is a green light.  The avalanche conditions were ripe, especially in the higher elevations.  Ben was treading lightly in fear of the white dragon.  The northern Wasatch was not experiencing as much rotten faceted basal snowpack as the central Wasatch because of the difference in elevation.  The higher central Wasatch was reporting vast and drastic avalanche activity above 9,000 feet.  The northern Wasatch tops out at about 9,700 feet so the basal snowpack actually went isothermic in the heat rather then faceting out.  Most of the activity that was taking place just to south of us was on northerly slopes above 9,500.  Ben reported some natural avalanches in the northern Wasatch's highest peaks due to some windslab formation, but he could not find any evidence of facets in even the highest northerly terrain up in our neck of the woods.

^Murphy and I were watching the storm move out on Saturday night.  As the sun set below the remaining clouds of Brutus, we walked through the brand new winter wonderland.  With my mind fully focused on running through avalanche scenarios for the upcoming week, I paused as I approached a danger I have not had to think about for a while...   

^...which was walking under a pedestrian bridge that was primed for a different kind of avalanche of snow.  This tunnel of hanging snow probably would not hurt me, but it would fill my jacket with an unpleasant surprise.  Murphy was not afraid, but she is covered in fur.  Just like Ben was backing off suspect slopes up high, I backed off from walking under this hanging slab of whitewash.  It might have given some passing drivers a good laugh to see this whole load of snow come down on top of me, but I figured that I would spare them the hilarious distraction.  We turned around. 

^Walking back home I stared up at the last clouds of the storm stretching out across the valley.  The mountains were wringing the last flurries out of Brutus as it departed the Wasatch to move across the Great Plains towards the Midwest.  My mind was still going through all of my conversations about the new snow, and how my weekly operations in the high country would play out.  The week of bikes followed by the weekend of Brutus has brought the big shift that will place me at the beginning of another wild and crazy winter.  One that officially kicks off this week.  Here we go!   

Ready or not... here comes snow!

The Northern Wasatch Mountains are in winter bloom.  The season opening storm was a whopper.  The Salt Lake City mountains to the south of my northerly home did not receive nearly as much snow as we did in the north country.  Ogden City was blessed with a what I call an "Ogden Special".  The westerly to southwesterly flows bring storms into the Ogden mountains on a track that favors the region in snowfall totals.  I could get real deep on why that happens, but I will spare the details.  It just does.  Snowbasin and Powder Mountain ski resorts reported totals in the 40 inch range.  It was a wet and heavy snow as well.  Good base.     

^Waking up to a foot of snow in the yard at 4,500 feet in elevation is a treat for Murphy just as much as me.  She was super pumped up.  Get some, Murphy!  A foot here translates well up high.

^However, I was completely unprepared for the storm.  We always get some snow around this time.  Sometimes it is skiable, but often it is not.  I had nothing mounted or ready for early season conditions.  I had to resort to a really old pair of Atomic TeleDaddys that I had stashed away from my Atomic deals way back in the day.  Hilarious.  I mounted them in the morning with an old pair of Voile Switchbacks I had laying around.  Who cares, it is early.

^I decided to go for a backcountry tour at the Snowbasin ski resort.  Snowbasin had not yet taken on any avalanche control work, or opened up for business.  The drive up was inverted as the clouds lingered in the valley floor.  Driving in the thick fog always plays tricks on my emotions that were geared toward sunshine and blue skies.  

^As always the blues break out just as the first sights of Snowbasin come into view.  The vast basin of peaks appeared through the fog like a gift from the universe.  All of the sudden the music in the car sounded a little clearer, and the beat hit home just a little harder.  The coverage looked substantial for this spot on the calendar.  I was pleasantly surprised.  My smile was only matched by that of my buddy Ben's smile that awaited me in the parking lot.

^It took me forever to get my gear dialed in the parking lot, but I eventually made it to the skin track.  Ascending through the man-made snow flurries under blue skies was a bit surreal.  At one point I was inundated with rainbows as multiple snow guns sprayed in intersecting patterns through a swirling wind that created an entire world of prisms.  As we passed through the prismatic whirlwind the light was bending into rainbows all around us like we were in some kind of downtown gay pride parade.  It was so crazy that our quiet ascent was broken by Ben's holler, "Rainbows everywhere!" 

^As usual this time of year, the tour was really all about getting out to walk around in the hills.  It is good to get a read on the snowpack too.  Ben and I spent most of our time talking hypotheticals on what might happen with the snowpack.  There is no crystal ball, but it is a good exercise to talk about it.  We like to try to run through every scenario until I finally end it with, "Yeah, but as always it will be whatever it will be."  Then we laugh and move on poking around with our poles.  Mount Ogden was looking rather glorious so I had to snap the picture above to capture it in time.  

^We did some early prep work with shovels on one of our favorite techy little entrances.  If the entrance can hold up then we can have a really great run at a stash that we love to get into early in the season.  It was filled in just enough for us to get into it and ski too!  We were all smiles at the early season gift.  I was not expecting to make much of any turns at all.  However, the careful powder was more then I could have hoped for.  I was not dropping any freeheel turns deeply into it, but the float was definitely full on.  I think this snowpack is here to stay.  My only hope is that the slight chance of snow we have for later in the week comes through with at least some minor significance so that the snowpack retains some health.  It is still early, and a rotten base would not be an ideal start to the snowpack.  Like my father always says, "It is what it is."  

^"Hey Ben.  Is this really happening?"  I am pretty sure I was asking him something along those lines as we crested the knoll to be warmly greeted by a view of the heavily blanketed peak in the distance.  Not only was I unprepared with my gear, but I was not ready in my head either.  I have been so busy with the operations of Telemark Skier, and the daily life of the fall, that this wintery world completely snuck up on me.  I have barely even started my workout routine to get in shape for winter.  The next few weeks will be interesting to see how it holds on, but I was thankful for the pleasant snowy surprise.  With the heat coming on this week, I will go back to simply getting ready for winter again.  However, maybe I will luck out with more on-snow respites that I don't expect.  There is a slight chance at the end of the week that we could really use.  We'll see... one day at a time.    

striking out in the sand...

I am always trying to stay above the negativity.  I try to control my emotions to keep my head in the right place all the time.  However, even this cool cucumber looses the cool sometimes.  It is the nature of the human existence.  We are emotional beings.  I am no different.  Christine and I cruised back down to Moab again to rip the mountain bikes on some slickrock.  Everything was going smoothly until it wasn't, and then I started to unravel.  A series of mishaps started to add up, and I could not fight the mind control that the downward spiral of our first day had me in.  

^The drive down was littered with scattered thunderstorms.  No big deal.  Made the drive a little more gnarly on Utah's deadly Highway 6, but relatively smooth sailing.  No problems...yet.

^This rainbow over the slickrock landscape gave us a rather warm welcome, which was quickly followed by the let down of the "Campsites Full" sign.  We rallied on to the next spot to look for a campsite.  The sun was setting so we were running out of daylight to see what we were doing.  Still not a too much of a problem, but the scales are starting to tip.

^We found a site and were in a hurry to get our setup rolling when the first real kick in the pants came.  Christine locked the keys in the Jeep.  We had nothing out of the vehicle yet.  Also, we were in the middle of the desert with nothing to even try to break in with except rocks.  Christine walked to a neighboring site, and managed to get a coat hanger.  After much struggle I managed to break into our Jeep.  We were saved.  The two of us quietly worked through our campsite setup with frustration lingering just inside our ability to speak cordially.  A campfire burned off all of our locked door anger, and the rest of the night rolled out like the starlight sky.   

^Morning brought a whole new barrage of setbacks that brought me to this pouty face photo.  A slow morning gave way to a few annoying trailhead parking lot experiences.  Then the shove off on our first ride attempt resulted in my realization that my bike was totally incapable of making it through the ride in the first 100 yards of the trail.  My chain was jumping off the gears like rats off a sinking ship.  We called off the ride, and descended back down to Moab along with my descending attitude.  The $250 bill at the shop was an additional slap in the mouth.  By now my attitude was so bad that my wife was walking around me on eggshells.  We had a while to wait as the techs solved my bike problems, so we took advantage of the time to get on a Wi-fi signal at a local restaurant.  I needed to correct a bonehead move I made in forgetting to submit some ads to Cody Smith, the Telemark Skier magazine designer.  So we ordered the worst pulled pork sandwich either of us have ever tasted, and struggled through a bad internet connection.  My poor frame of mind made the lingering "sending" message and dry pork so annoying to me that I could barely stand myself.  I was boiling over.  Poor Christine was just trying to hold me together.        

^It was like trying to push this boulder.  My head was in a downward spiral.  We finally made it to a point where we could get out on a short ride after the whole day was pretty much gone.  We chose a short out and back as a result of time.  I was starting to emerge from my spiraling attitude when I snapped this metaphor of my wife struggling to push me up and out of my terrible mindset.   

^It would actually be this wrong turn that would start to break me.  Obviously we didn't know it at the time, but I snapped this photo right about the time we were making a wrong turn that would take us off our route.  When we realized our mistake we were too deep.  We had to roll with the mistake and cut our ride short.  Something snapped in my brain.  All I could do was descend into hysterical laughter at the realization that nothing had gone right all day.  I had just officially chalked the whole day up to a proper baseball analogy of just flat out striking out.  We would get another chance at the plate tomorrow, and the acceptance of the strike out actually calmed me down.

^The riding was shot.  Now we had to find a campsite again.  However, we totally lucked out by founding this killer spot among some slickrock.  The tide had turned along with my attitude.  We could only laugh at the experiences we just had as the sun set on our dismal day. 

^Dinner brought some more baseball analogies as we discussed how we needed to fuel up for another at bat with the next day.  We were happy with our great campsite, warm full belles, and the promise of a full night sleep of ahead of us.


^...and shine.

^A new sunrise was another chance to us to knock one out of the park this time.  Yesterday's strike out was behind us now.  We were ready for any curveballs that the universe could throw at us.  

^Just like in baseball, being able to swing and whiff at a few pitches allowed us to get a read on things to come back better prepared.  Hardened from the disappointments of the day before we were calloused to anything that would try to hold us down.  We even went back to the same restaurant that gave us the dogpile pulled pork.  They totally redeemed themselves with a stellar breakfast burrito.  The beginning of our ride began just as smooth as the red slickrock we were riding on.  The tide had turned.

^Christine's smile shows it.

^The Shrimp Rock trail marker came and went with ease and speed.  We were ripping.  I had overcome myself and my salty emotions.  It was not easy or pretty, but the downward spiral had turned upward toward the bright blue sky.   

^All the while ascending big slickrock spines.

^On the bright side.

^By this time I was only going downhill on the bike.  My attitude was on the up and up.  Christine and I took our swings with our second chance at bat, and we hit one out of the park.  Striking out only sucks if you don't get back up to the plate to take another swing.  No one can hit a home run every time at bat in baseball.  You can't even expect to get a base hit every time.  Even the best hitters strike out sometimes.  These human lives we lead are no different.  Sometimes we blow it, get beat, strike out,  and totally fail.  The difference comes with what you do with your next chance.  How do you fight back and emerge with resilience.  

^We drove out of Moab with tired legs, dusty red sand smiles, and a soundtrack of the bluegrass angel, Allison Krauss, singing some vastly appropriate lyrics from her song, "The Lucky One".  The insightful lyric goes like this; "To you the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing."  I have always tried to live by ideas like that, but it can be hard.  Sometimes when your losing you can also lose the perspective that you are still playing the same great game.  A game far greater then America's great baseball pastime, but with many parallel lessons to be learned.  This is the game of life, and it is a wild and crazy game with all the twists and turns of any legendary World Series game seven.  There are heros and goats, home runs and strike outs, winners and losers, and we all get our turn at all of it.  However, the key lesson to take from it all in both baseball and life is that it is not always about the wins and loses, but how you choose to play the game each and every day.  Swing... batter, batter, batter... swing!