First Mountain Bike Rides on Levitate Trail in Draper, Utah

I just got into serious mountain biking this spring so I’m pretty much a newb with a lot of it. I finally took a shot at the trail “Levitate” which is rated as an expert trail. Levitate is part of the Corner Canyon mountain bike system in Draper, Utah.

Levitate has a ton of jumps and I’m really loving catching air. When I’m jumping I feel like I’m getting major air, but the helmet cam video below seems to disagree. Not a badass jumper yet. Just an air bear for now. Making progress.

Bonneville Shoreline Trail – East Mountain Wilderness Park

Rode a new trail this morning, the East Mountain Wilderness Park section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

Overall it’s quite an easy trail, but there were a couple of very rocky steep sections where I had to get off and walk my bike up.

The scenery was nice and there was a lot of shade which helped.  It’s still quite hot, nearing 100 today again.

Would I ride this trail again?  Probably not, unless I’m riding it to access some other trails nearby. It’s about a 45 minute drive and I can find more fun and challenging trails a few minutes from the house.  I wanted to check out something new though, and it was nice to get an idea of something up in Davis County, Utah.

New Specialized StumpJumper Mountain Bike

It only took me 30 years to upgrade mountain bikes. My old Scott Pro from 1990 served me well, but I badly needed an upgrade.  Here was my list of requirements:

  • Full suspension (front and rear shocks)
  • Seat dropper
  • 29 inch wheels
  • Hydraulic disc breaks
  • Modern geometry
  • Good looking
  • Around $2k price range
  • Medium frame size

Shopping was a little difficult because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Some shops were not open or were only open by appointment or special hours.  Some shops didn’t have inventory that met my requirements.  After visiting 4-5 shops I got a little bummed out and bagged the search.  Then after a few days I took it back up again and found a Scott bike and a Specialized StumpJumper in my size and with my requirements at one shop.  I test rode both.  The Scott felt cheap and didn’t ride very well.  The StumpJumper rode very smooth and “felt” like the one. I pulled the trigger right there and have been thrilled with the choice so far.

The bike is a 12-speed (photo below).  I didn’t have enough knowledge about the gearing options and manufacturer to have a “requirement.” I’m happy so far with this 12-speed setup.  It climbs well.  I just wish I had a gear or two more for higher speeds, but this is a mountain bike, not a road bike.

The rear shock (below) is fantastic. After riding a hard tail and hard fork I’ve felt every bump for 1000’s of miles.  Nice to have some absorption now and the shocks are a must when riding bumpy and rocky trails.

Upgrades

After my first ride, I had a flat tire.  We have these nasty, nasty thorns here in Utah.  So after some research I decided to go “tubeless.”  This is a process where they remove the tube and treat the rim with some tape, then fill the tire with air and sealant.  Since then I’ve had no flats at all.  Going tubeless was the right decision for sure.

I also upgraded the pedals.  My feet kept slipping off of the stock pedals.  The new pedals cost about $80, so that may factor into the purchase if considering this bike.

Total upgrades: $140.00.

On The Trail

I’m not the world’s foremost expert in mountain biking.  That said, I’m quite happy with how the StumpJumper performs in varying terrain.  I’ve taken it through mud, sand, rocks, gravel, pavement, slick rock, bark, pebbles, and just about any mix of terrain one could think of.  The only area that the bike doesn’t perform well is in sand, which is not unexpected.  The tires are pretty fat, but not fatties.

I find the bike climbs very well and I almost never need to use the lowest gears.

Downhill biking is a blast with the 29 inch tires and full suspension.  I love catching air and knowing that I can land softly without too much of a kick.

Final Thoughts

I’m just scratching the surface on my StumpJumper, and the whole mountain biking experience.  I’m thrilled with the performance, durability and style and looking forward to many years of riding enjoyment.

2019-2020 Ski Season Ends With Epic Hike and Ski at Gunsight

Had a fantastic adventure hiking up to the top of Gunsight at Alta today. I’ve now skied in 10 straight months. This has been the most epic ski season EVER. Skied every run at Alta in one season, and bagged many bucket list lines I’ve only fantasized about. Made it through the season with no injuries despite skiing in many ultra-expert and dangerous places. In fact, I only crashed and released a ski once all season. Sadly, I think today is the day I shut it down until next ski season.

Quest for 116 – Final Chapter: Baldy Chutes

GOAL ACHIEVED!

During the 2018-2019 ski season I started tracking the runs I was skiing at Alta Ski Area by tracing them in a yellow highlighter on the Alta trail map. After marking a few runs the idea hit me to see if I could ski all of the marked runs at Alta in one ski season. Unfortunately that goal was cut short when I had shoulder surgery on my right shoulder on February 14th, 2019.

When the 2019-2020 ski season started I once again set the goal to ski 116. This time I marked the map with a pink highlighter.

Alta Ski Area Map
That’s a wrap on the 2020 ski goal! All 116 runs marked!

I went at it hard and fast, skiing Alta 30 times, not including backcountry skiing there during the offseason. After each ski day I carefully highlighted each run and many of them are all-timers. There were several big pow days in Devil’s Castle, and another big pow day on Wildcat. Then I finally skied the elusive East Castle, which is not open very often. What a thrill and pretty steep at the top. Other very memorable runs included big pow in Castle Apron and Catherine’s Area. Can’t do a greatest hits without mentioning East Greeley. That’s a tricky entrance. It was all great preparation for 116.

Run 116 – Main Chute, Mt. Baldy

This run has been some 30 years in the making. The last and only time I “went down” the Baldy Chutes was with my cousin Phil in 1990. Upon entering the main chute I hit a rock which stopped my ski, throwing me off balance. The chute was so steep I fell over onto a mogul and instantly dislocated my shoulder. From that point I slid, tumbled, cartwheeled, fell hundreds of feet, all the way to the bottom of the chute. During the fall I was calm. Everything was moving very slowly.  I was puzzled that I couldn’t stop falling, but when on a slope that steep gravity wins.  At one point during the fall I was sliding and managed to get my feet below me. “I’ll just dig my boot heels in and stop now,” I thought.  When I dug my heels in I flipped. I remember watching the rocks on each side go by in slow motion.

At the bottom of the chute a ski patrolman was there and asked if I was ok. I told him I had dislocated my shoulder. He said, “no, you’d be screaming in pain if you did.” Well he was wrong. I was so full of adrenaline I couldn’t feel any pain. From the bottom of the chute I skied down with my poles in my right hand all the way to the parking lot. I would end up in the Snowbird Medical Clinic where I did eventually go into shock before they put my shoulder back in the socket.

A week or later my dad was up there talking to someone at Alta in the Watson Shelter and mentioned my crash. I’d become some kind of legend up there for falling all the way down Main Chute, surviving, and just skiing away. Since then I’ve re-dislocated my shoulder two additional times, one last summer hiking at…. Alta.

Alta Ski Area Baldy Chutes
Top of Main Chute – Just a wee bit steep!

Each season as I ski Alta I’ve been eyeballing Main Chute hoping to make up for that bad day. Could I do it? Would I crash again? Why even try it? Often times I would ski by and take a picture from below from Ballroom. I always made it a point to say hello and thank the chute for spitting me out alive.

This season at Alta I’ve been skiing my butt off. I’m skiing the best I ever have. I once again set a goal to ski all 116 of the marked runs on the Alta trail map this season and found some incredible, scenic, and difficult terrain I’d never skied before. I was killing it; sure to get in all 116 with several weeks to spare. Or so I thought.

Alta Ski Area Baldy Chutes
Baldy Chutes – Main Chute

Alta shut down for the season early due to the Covid-19. At that point I had skied 115 of the 116 runs. The final run was the Baldy Chutes. It looked like my goal would not be reached this season, which was a punch in the gut.

I’d been working out for over a year, eating better, and doing backcountry skiing since last spring. I lost some 45 pounds. I’ve built up some very good cardio, strength, and endurance. So this past Sunday I gave it a shot; I skinned all the way from the lower parking lot to the top of Mt. Baldy, 11,068 feet.

Alta Ski Area Mount Baldy
Usually going up is tougher than going down when skiing. Not this time.

It was almost three miles from the parking lot to the top, about 2,600 vertical feet. At the top of Mineral Basin near the top of the Sugarloaf lift, I had to take my skis off and “boot pack” up the side of Baldy with my skis on my backpack. The snow kept giving way straight down so it was hard treading. I almost turned around because it was too difficult to boot pack. But I found some better snow and was able to get better traction. Once up a small ridge it flattened out and I could put my skis, with skins on, back on. From there I was to the top in probably 20 minutes.

That’s where the video below BEGINS.

After all the vertical, sweating, leg fatigue, skinning and hiking up, now I had to ski down with rubber legs. At first glance I was stunned at how steep Main Chute was. Look closely when I meet the other skier at the top of the chute in the video. You can see straight down. I’ve skied some shorter patches of terrain that steep, but this is a sustained steepness with rocks on both sides. It is truly stunning and terrifying, especially for someone who has had 30 years to think about falling down it. I skied conservatively, and stopped often to catch my breath and composure. There are no style points here. Just get down in one piece.

Mt. Baldy - Utah
Main Chute – The Line

2 for 1

I got down in one piece and completed the 116th run on what would have been Alta’s final day of operation for the 2020 season, and also exercised a ski demon that had been weighing on me for three decades. I have a spring in my step now. I’ll have until next ski season to ponder….

What next?

Tree Jump Run

Today I skinned from Alta Ski Area’s lower parking lot straight up the Collins lift. That’s way steeper going up than it is going down. Hung a right after the Watson Shelter and proceeded to the top of Wildcat Lift. From there I skinned up the ridge between Alta and Snowbird to a run off of the side of Mt. Baldy called “Tree Jump.”

Quest for 116 – Stuck on 115 Due to Coronavirus

The Coronavirus pandemic has shut down nearly the entire planet. Sadly this includes ski resorts. In the couple of weeks prior to the closing of the ski resorts I had checked off the 115th of my quest to ski all 116 marked runs at Alta Ski Area.  See the map below.

The remaining run is one of the toughest of them all, the Baldy Chutes. Since hitting 115 I watched the run status anxiously, waiting for the fine Alta Ski Patrol to open Mount Baldy up.  There had been several storms during this period, and then winds.  Fresh snow and wind-loaded snow means avalanche danger and thus closure.

You don’t want to be in a slide when in a chute that’s narrow, 45-50 degrees steep, and has rocks on both sides. Trust me.  I know.

Will It Happen This Season?

Alta is now closed. The only way I could get this marked off would be to skin up from the lower parking lot. Totally doable. There are a couple of factors I will have to consider and/or arrange.  First off, I have some knee issues at the moment and walking around the block is not easy.  I have to rest my knee.  Second, I need a partner to do this with me.  A spotter at the least.  I fell down the entire Main Chute decades ago.  I survived (which I’m told was a feat for someone who fell the whole way) and only left with a dislocated shoulder.  I have that in the back of my head.

Bagging the Main Chute would mean the closure of two different stories for me:

1: Taking back that big fall I had decades ago.

2: Checking off the last and final of the 116 marked runs this season.

There’s plenty of time left in the season.  If anyone wants to join me on this run, hit me up.

Top of Devil’s Castle

I started out today with the sole intention of skiing the Baldy Chutes, the one remaining run in my quest to ski all 116 marked runs at Alta Ski Area.  Mt. Baldy was closed today unfortunately.  Probably due to wind.

I decided to take on a line I’d never completely done before as an alternate.  The very highest line one can take in Devil’s Castle.

I knew there would be some hiking involved, and since I missed my workout at the gym yesterday this would be a great opportunity to get some cardio in!

Somehow I missed the fork in the traverse in the Castle, and ended up on the wrong/lower traverse.  I took off my skis and boot packed straight up.  It was easily a 45-50 degree angle, though the photo above doesn’t show it. That got the cardio going.  But just getting to the higher traverse was only probably 1/3 of the hike.  The rest was sidestepping on a 45 degree angle and winding under the rock ridge at the top of the castle.

Conditions were not optimal. Lighting was overcast and gray, making seeing undulations in the snow almost impossible. The temps have been high as well, which caused melting on the top layer. That melted layer then freezes at night.  The result is an ice crust on top of very heavy snow.  Very hard to turn in or have any control.

The ski down from the top of the Castle was fun. The snow quality was not bad. Not as much crusting up that high (probably 10,800 feet).

Quest for 116 – No Name Christmas Tree Blitz

I came into today needing only four more runs to finish off my season long goal of skiing every marked run at Alta Ski Area.  The Baldy Chutes were on the list, but I opted to try and bust off the other three remaining runs, No Name, Blitz and Christmas Tree. I made that decision because today I was testing out some new skis I just picked up.

New Skis

The new skis are Atomic Bent Chetler 100’s.  They’re narrower than my typical big mountain ski, and quite a bit shorter.  I got them in hopes that I can make some quicker, tighter turns in steep and narrow areas.

My first run testing out the new skis, and busting another run off the list, was “No Name.” No Name is accessed from the High Traverse.  The run is quite similar to many of the other runs which come off the High Traverse like Watson Line or Jitterbug. It’s extremely steep.

No Name

It was “interesting” to say the least, on new skis doing my first run on very steep terrain.  It was early in the morning, about 9:40, and the snow was very hard pack with ice.  At that point I realized now comfortable I am on bigger skis.  I was lacking confidence in these smaller skis and really struggled to make turns in them.  So No Name ended up being more of a “try not to fall” type of run. Not my favorite kind of skiing.

Blitz

For my second run I decided I needed to take it a little easier and try to figure out the new skis, so I went up Wildcat lift where I could then access “Blitz.”  Blitz is a black diamond run (advanced skiers), but compared to No Name it was pretty much cake.  It had some small moguls which gave me my first mogul challenge on the new shorter skis. Not bad.

Christmas Tree

After Blitz I only had one more objective to claim on the day, “Christmas Tree.”  Christmas Tree is a small pine tree shaped area off the High Traverse, to the right of Stone Crusher as one is looking up at it or at the trail map.  Getting to Stone Crusher is quite interesting one has to navigate a maze of trees which on about a 40-45 degree slope.

I remembered that Christmas Tree was about half way down off of Stone Crusher.  So I skied Stone Crusher and cut right into the trees.  The snow was very bad.  It had been melted by the sun the day before, and then frozen overnight. So it was very hard, icy, thick and very difficult to turn in. I wasn’t quite sure where I was and kept going at it through the trees.   After I came out of the trees and looked back up, I wasn’t quite sure I’d actually skied Christmas Tree.  Once I looked at a trail map, I realized that I came out into Lone Pine.  I skied the wrong side!

Christmas Tree –  This Time I Mean It

Armed with better directional awareness I headed back up to the top of Stone Crusher again.  It’s such a tremendous, and frightening looking run at the top.

This time I properly cut LEFT about halfway down Stone Crusher.  Voila. Found it.

One More

Christmas Tree was run 115 of the 116 at Alta Ski Area.  One more to go, and it is a biggie, the Baldy Chutes.  Stay tuned.

First Look: Arva Access TS Shovel

One of the most essential items in a skier’s backcountry equipment list is a good shovel.

The shovel must be light and compact for carrying, while being strong and efficient when digging in a rescue situation.

In for review is the Access TS Shovel, which looks to be up to the task.

The Access TS features a telescopic “T” handle with 32cm and 46cm lengths, anodized aluminum blade, and weighs only 620 grams.

I’ve been carrying the Access TS Shovel in my backpack for a few days in the mountains.  Have yet to put it through some tests of pit digging and rescue training.  I will report back with a full review when I’ve had a chance to fully evaluate the TS.

Stay tuned!