Dec 20, 2009

Early Season at CMH Valemount

The Columbia Mountains have been pummeled with early season snow and from all accounts the interior of British Columbia was covered with the white stuff. Perfect timing as I was I headed up to visit my fiance at his heli-ski lodge, CMH Valemount located about six hours north of Calgary. Having visited the lodge in full swing, I was curious to see what exactly the guides did to prepare their vast tenure for skiing.

After helping set up the lodge and moving roughly twenty-four mattresses to make way for the comfy new pillow tops in the guests rooms, we changed gears and prepared to fly out and see what we could see. Four UIAGM guides (who also were certified ski instructors) and myself hopped in the chopper with our trusty pilot, loaded to the gills with fuel drums and flag markers for the landings. These four heralded close to a combined seventy years of guiding experience in this region, I was in great company.

Stefan flagging away
George ready to head down to the pick up

Flagging the landings -or flagging as they call - is pretty simple. Weather allowing, the pilot lands at chosen drop off points at the top of each line. Both doors of the heli are slid open and a guide hops out on either side with two flags, marking a box around the chopper for the pilot. The red flags allow him to see what direction the wind is blowing in order to orient his landing and further allow him to see the specified spot in bad weather or sight the landing in the case deep snowfall. As more snow accumulates through the year, the flags are buried and replaced, sometimes on top of one another.

We flew from valley to valley and peak to peak marking as many sites as possible to give the guides a large selection of runs to choose from for the early season guests. While two guides flagged, another guide plus helicopter technicians were dropped at the fuel caches armed with shovels. The tanks needed to be uncovered from under heaps of snow and the fuel lines prepared for refueling while guests are skiing in the field.

Setting up the fuel cache, lots to dig out!

As they dug away,  the remaining guide Stefan and I were dropped into the wilderness to ski a few runs and dig a profile to study the stability of the snow-pack. We skied untracked powder together until about half way down the run. He stopped and used his avalanche probe to measure the snow depth. On this steeper terrain it was about a meter (an earlier measurement on a different run had yielded 1.9 meters). He dug down to the ground, smoothed the wall of the profile and we studied the snow crystals while looking for different layers in the snow. Until this cold front, (it was close to -25) the pack was incredibly stable. Due to the current intense cold, the top layer was hoar frost, or a layer of faceted crystal snowflakes. We studied the angular crystals under a microscope and he explained the sharp edges were not great for stability - rounded edges were better for a strong base. Depending on temperatures and snow amounts, they would have to be careful when it finally snowed on top of this layer. They will keep digging profiles throughout the winter and mark each new level on a chart in the office, at the end of the season they will have a complete snow history.

Stefan studying the snow-pack
Stefan studying the snow-pack

We filled in the profile pit and Stefan let me ski the rest of the run out front choosing my own line while learning to read the terrain. It was an amazingly free feeling - not without a little anxiety. I had to look over my shoulder every few turns to make sure his fluorescent coat was following me. But after awhile it was just me and the sound of my skis on snow, I could so get used to this!

I realized it is a tremendous responsibility these guides take on skiing guests through this wild terrain and I felt a small part of it while skiing to the bottom. I wondered what it would be really like to have ten guests behind me. Finally at the bottom Stefan told me to choose a spot for the helicopter to land. I looked around and found a flat spot free from small brush and pine trees that could interfere with the blade, one strike its an expensive fix. We radioed for a pick up and a few minutes later our ride appeared. I looked at all the endless lines through the window of the chopper as we flew home amazed with all the possibilities. “Amazing!” I said as we landed back at the lodge. “Yup,” George replied, “We sure do like our office.”

I am trying to keep up….


Dec 04, 2009

Thanksgiving Beach Bootcamp in Naples, Florida

Running on the beach is hard, but I definitely was not complaining. I embraced the humid wet wall of air as I crunched along the hundreds of shells lining the shore. The tide was going out and I had just put my toe in at the far end of the beach. Coast to coast it was six miles in total and it didn’t count unless you put our toe in the water at each end - strict rules of the Meyer Thanksgiving Beach Boot Camp.

Beach Boot Camp Leaders

It was the first time I had been to my parents condo in Naples, Florida in about three years and the first time I would celebrate Thanksgiving with them in about fifteen. I had a brief thought as I woke up that first morning - totally out of my mountain element, I was going to have to find some fun new tricks to stay active. I quickly deduced with sand, water, two kids, family and beautiful surroundings we had the prefect ingredients for beach boot camp.

Sand really is totally awesome. Running on the stuff proved to be amazing exercise. The uneven surface created by mini dunes, shells and the advancing and receding waves kept the heart rate up and the stability and plyometric (and surprise) factor high. In fact I was reminded its one of the best workouts around for running lovers burning roughly 1.5 more calories that on harder surfaces, providing less impact, and strengthening lower leg muscles. Running in the loose stuff can cause you to change your stance, so I had to remember keep the weight forward so as to land mid-foot. Other members of camp chose to walk. The slower pace was awesome for seashell collecting which came in handy for the later upper body sand castle building segment. Last, we concluded with a hard session of beach body burials.

Water is another killer element that I rediscovered through the eyes of my niece. Early in the mornings when the tide was out the ocean was like a bathtub and a great time to swim along the shore. I caught sight of a fin out of the corner of my eye. After a brief heart attack I happily concluded it was a dolphin and kept swimming with my new pal. My buddy and the few people out paddle surfing made excellent escorts for my open water excursion. The salt water provided extra buoyancy which makes swimming long distances a bit easier.

The pool provided an excellent place for our workout sessions when the weather was not ideal. With goggles and a small child positioned on your shoulders one can get a total body workout. My brother got at least 20 full body squats each session and then a challenging underwater course of ring retrieval.

We repeated this entire awesome workout regime for seven grueling days complete with the strict dietary restrictions provided by hearty Thanksgiving food The Meyer Beach Boot Camp was a complete success that will definitely be repeated next year.