Quest for 116 – East Castle

Finally skied East Castle at Alta Ski Area. This was run number 112 in my quest to ski all 116 marked runs at Alta this ski season.

East Castle is big, steep run which takes a long sidestep hike to get to.  The run is not often open due to the avalanche terrain it occupies.

East Castle - Alta Ski Area
Make sure you have your sidestepping chops!

After a pretty strenuous sidestepping hike up, the skier is greeted with a 50 degree angle slope at the top.  Rather than sidestepping the hike, I brought my backcountry skis and skins, and skinned up.  That was a much better plan and I was dusting people that were sidestepping.

The near the top I couldn’t help notice the incredible view.  There was a strong wind coming from the opposite side of the peak and the sun was backlighting the snow as it blew off. It created a surreal photo opportunity. See below:

In this spot the sidestepping trail narrowed and the slope became more severe.  I could no longer skin at that point.  So I took the skins off and boot-packed the rest of the way.

Challenges

I was fighting a few battles, so my skiing wasn’t great and I had to rest often.  The first challenge was the hike up.  Second was the snow conditions. The snow was quite thick and chunky with patches of better powder in the shade.  The third challenge was my backcountry boots hurts my feet and make my feet go numb. I need to do some tweaking to improve that.  It’s hard to ski well with numb feet. I had to keep adjusting boot pressure and resting them.

Despite the issues with fatigue and my boots I was thrilled to bag this one.  I’ve admired East Castle for decades and always wanted to do it.

East Castle 360 Degree Video

Below is a YouTube video of the ski down. The views and angles are amazing. The skiing, well, I got down in one piece which is my primary goal.

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!

First Look: Backcountry Access Snow Saw

One of the snow study tools I’ll need when in the backcountry is a snow saw.  I finally picked one up.  It’s a BCA (Backcountry Access) 35cm Snow/Wood Saw.

This is a very solid saw with measurements up to 35cm, and even a snow crystal study card right on the blade.

I’m looking forward to trying this snow saw out the next time I’m in the backcountry.  I’ll post a review in a few weeks after I’ve had ample time to test it out!

Stay tuned.

 

First Look: Osprey Kamber 32 Men’s Backcountry Riding Backpack

Now that’ I’m getting more serious about backcountry skiing and in general, being better prepared on or of piste, I needed a better and bigger pack.  After a lot of research I settled on the Osprey Kamber 32.  This pack is designed for backcountry enthusiasts and holds 32 liters of gear, snacks, drinks.

32 liters is a good fit for slightly longer day tours or even overnights. This pack came in very handy for me during my 4-day Level 1 avalanche training course.  I was able to store all my needed avalanche gear, roughly 60 ounces of beverages (hot and cold), as well as all the snacks, cameras, and other gear I needed in all-day sessions.  Here’s the Kamber 32 in action:

I’ve had the Kamber on the mountain a few times now.  I have a hydraulics reservoir on the way and will be implementing that as well. Stay tuned for me review soon.

First Backcountry Tour in American Fork Canyon

I usually tell people that when it comes to backcountry skiing, my limited experience is that it is harder going up than it is going down.  That may not have been the case a couple of days ago in American Fork Canyon though.  After attempting and failing to go downhill skiing at Alta Ski Area, my ski buddy and I decided to do American Fork Canyon. It is close to where he lives.

The canyon isn’t super high in elevation.  I’m guessing 6-7K. As such there wasn’t a 100 inch base, but there was quite a bit of snow in many areas, especially at the peak of our tour at Silver Lake Flat reservoir. That section of snow was deep and we were cutting our own skin track. My calves and knee have been quite unhappy about that since. Vitamin I (ibuprofen) and CBD oil are in play.

Overall the skin up was fun and challenging. The ski down was not worth the effort though. Not enough snow on any slopes worth skiing. So it was mostly skiing back on an access road which was flat in many areas.  Navigating flat road without skins on and skis in downhill mode is probably harder than skinning up.

6+ miles, mostly work. There were THREE nice pow turns I made though, right off the cornice on the reservoir’s dam (video below).  All in all a fun day, but the reward was small for the amount of effort.

First Look: Arva Axe Snow Shovel

As I get deeper into the backcountry skiing world I’m learning more about the gear needed.  One of the most important parts of a backcountry setup is a good shovel.  I’m currently testing out the Arva Axe, seen below.

The Arva Axe shovel is quite cool.  It breaks down into 3 pieces for easy storage in a backpack.  It has two shovel modes, standard and hoe mode.  Hoe mode is in the photo below.

I’ll be putting the Axe to the ultimate test in my upcoming Level 1 avalanche training course next week.

After I’ve had enough time in the field and shoveled enough snow to formulate my opinions, I’ll post my full Arva Axe review.  Stay tuned.

 

First Major Backcountry Session of the Season

I’m hammered physically, but in a good way. Had a great skinning session in Little Cottonwood Canyon up Grizzly Gulch to the top of Patsy Marley. From there I went along the edge of Wolverine Cirque, which is a spectacular sight to behold (photo below).

I de-skinned at the top of Wolverine in brutal high winds, then traversed through some south-facing gnarly wind blown crusty junk snow to drop into Alta Ski Area. My legs were hammered.

Had a hard time controlling my left ski and I attributed that to fatigue. When I got to the parking lot I noticed that my left boot was still in walk mode, not ski mode.  Duh.

 

Picked Up Some Blizzard Zero G Skis

I’m upping my ski game. I just picked up a pair of Blizzard Zero G’s with Marker bindings which work for downhill or backcountry.

This rig is a little heavy for backcountry, but looking forward to testing them out this coming season.

First Look: Arva 18 Liter Ski Backpack

Now that I’m going to be doing some backcountry skiing, I need a pack.  That pack needs to hold my avalanche gear: shovel, probe, skins and so forth. I picked a light bag to start as I’m going to start out with some shorter tours which won’t require me to carry several days worth of supplies and gear.  I chose this Arva 18L pack.

Here’s a shot with some of my avalanche gear inside:

I’ll be posting a full review after I’ve had ample tours and time on the slopes to evaluate the pack.  Stay tuned!

First Look: Smith Vantage Men’s Snow Helmet

After about 50 years of skiing, it’s time I got a helmet. I have to many years of knowledge crammed into my cranium to risk a blow to the head now. For the job I’ve got a new Smith Vantage ski helmet.

I’ll be putting this helmet to good use backcountry skiing and downhill skiing this spring and next fall/winter, then posting my full review then.

Stay tuned.