Hearing the words “head for the mountains” brings back awkward college memories of swilling cheap Busch beer in college back in the ‘80s. Thankfully in our more enlightened times, heading for California’s Sierra Nevada mountains won’t lead you to a skunky brew, but to some fine beers, like those of Mammoth Brewing Company.
Located in Mammoth Lakes on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park, the brewery was founded by Sam Walker in 1995, who sold it to current owner Sean Turner in 2006.
Turner explains that what makes his beer unique is that at 8,000 feet water boils at 198 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, resulting in a softer flavor profile during the brewing process. He also adds that at 8,000 feet, the mountain water they use is as pure as it gets.
Among the 10 beers they brew, Mammoth is best known for their Golden Trout Pilsner, Real McCoy Amber, Epic IPA, IPA 395, Double Nut Brown, and Hair of the Bear Doppelbock. They’ve won a slew of awards at the California State Fair and other beer competitions, so they must be doing a lot right.
I can personally vouch for IPA 395 (8.0% ABV, 60 IBUs), named after the main highway through the Eastern Sierra. Mammoth Brewing uses locally grown hops with dessert sage and mountain juniper to create one of the more unique and memorable California IPA’s you’ll find.
Owner Sean Turner explains that what makes his beer unique is that at 8,000 feet water boils at 198 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, resulting in a softer flavor profile.
If hoppy beers aren’t your thing, then give Mammoth’s Hair of the Bear Doppelbock (9.0% ABV, 20 IBUs) a try. A German-style strong bock beer, it tastes like liquid banana bread with its banana-like fruity esters melding seamlessly with the highly roasted malts. In addition to innovative brewing, Mammoth Brewing was one of the ﬁrst craft breweries to distribute their beer in cans.
“Putting in a canning line was one of the ﬁrst things I did at Mammoth, before the sale was even completed,” recalls Turner. “We sell most of our beer around Yosemite and putting beer into cans made it much easier for hikers to carry into the backcountry. We’ve increased our output by a factor of three since 2006, and going to cans was a big part of that.”
The second largest market for Mammoth Brewing is, naturally, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, as the beer is also popular with skiers. Mammoth Lakes is also the home of the mighty Mammoth Track Club, which includes many elite runners, including U.S. Olympic marathoners Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. These athletes are seen training all Among the 10 beers they brew, Mammoth over town, but unfortunately are too focused on running fast and winning races to ramble into Mammoth Brewing’s Tap Room for some liquid carbo loading.
Turner remembers his first encounter with Meb Keflezighi years ago. “Meb approached me about a deal to wear a cap with our logo on it for a couple hundred dollars. I barely knew who he was and I had just started running the brewery, so decided to pass on the idea. Next thing you know, he wins the New York Marathon and becomes famous.”
In early November, Mammoth released its Owen’s Valley Wet Harvest Ale, brewed using organically grown hops from a local hop farmer transported straight from the hop fields into the brew kettle. Mammoth Brewing purchases these hops to support agriculture in Owen’s Valley, a battleground of California water rights for the last 100 years as much of the local water has been diverted to ever-thirsty Los Angeles
To find Mammoth Beers, you might need to head for the source, as Mammoth Brewing distributes only from Truckee down to Kern County along the High Sierra. But check your local Whole Foods store or beer wherehouse. You can also stop by Mammoth’s Tap Room open daily from 10am-6pm at 94 Berner Street in Mammoth Lakes. Two-ounce tasting samples are free.
Derrick Peterman lives on the San Francisco
Peninsula and is the runner/beer lover behind
the blog, Ramblings of a Beer Runner.
A terrain park experience for the whole family
Story by Matt Niswonger • Photos by Cathy Claesson
The idea sounded simple enough: hire some instructors from the Burton Snowboard Academy at Northstar to teach our family how to ride the terrain parks. I even had a “code name” for this particular idea — “Family Shred Day” (FSD).
In the past, I have used code names effectively to manipulate my kids into certain behaviors. For example, “Operation Super Athlete” was somewhat successful in increasing the kids’ broccoli intake.
With age, however, the boys have become increasingly wary of code names. Terrain parks look intimidating, and both boys expressed suspicion. Luckily, I was able to negotiate an agreement-in-principle and before anyone could change their mind, we started making phone calls and working out the details.
The logistics were no problem, really. Cathy and I would take our two boys (ages seven and nine) to Northstar, so the four of us could get better at boxes, rails, jibs, jumps, etc. — all the stuff that makes terrain park snowboarding such a graceful and inspiring activity to watch. Our youngest, four-year-old Mia, was still on skis, so she would be taking a separate class on a different part of the mountain.
We checked into our Northstar cabin the day before our big lesson. The plans for an awesome day of snowboarding were coming to fruition. All we had to do was show up at the Ride Academy in the morning, and everything else would be handled.
“We have to bust out the A-game and be ready to dominate,” I told the boys. My sons love that kind of talk, and soon they were doing chest bumps and high-fives, so I decided to take my speech to the next level.
“That’s right! Yeah! I am talking about carving, shredding, jibbing, blasting, ollie-ing, firing, tail-whipping and all the rest! TOTALLY, DUDE!” I yelled.
Then, both boys got quiet and started looking unsure. Maybe I was overselling it. “The word is RAD, short for RADICAL,” I continued. At this point I was waving my arms to really drive home the point. “My generation invented it. It’s a state of mind, like Yoda using The Force.”
This pearl of wisdom was greeted with silence. “You are the opposite of rad, dad,” Nils finally said. Yep, I definitely oversold it.
We went to bed early, but I couldn’t sleep a wink. Truthfully, I had my doubts about Family Shred Day. My biggest doubts were about pushing our kids too hard on the park features. Sure, all four of us are intermediate or strong-intermediate riders, but that means little in the park. I wasn’t too worried about Cathy; she wasn’t planning on pushing herself very much. The boys, however, had never taken a hard fall in a terrain park. Or, to use plain English, Nils and Lukas had never eaten-it in the park before. That was a potential problem. I knew from personal experience that eating-it in a terrain park can make you never want to ride a snowboard again. For example, backslapping while landing a jump, or riding a rail on your face — more than just humiliating, such events are downright hazardous to your health.
By pushing my kids into FSD, I feared that they might never want to try park riding again. Furthermore, FSD could totally backfire and make me look like Colonel “Bull” Meecham from The Great Santini, like the time we took the kids rock climbing at Castle Rock State Park. I am talking about the kind of dad that makes everyone cringe.
“Here at Burton Academy, the emphasis is on terrain-based education. Sculpted terrain in the teaching area lets students control their speed naturally. That way your coaches can focus on correcting your body positions and movements.”
The four of us were intently listening to Matt Majersky, our instructor. One hour into the big day, some of my fears had melted away. Our instructors, Matt and Kenji, exuded confidence, and the boys hung on their every word. I looked over at mom, and she was having a good time as well.
Already we had learned that all of our aging snowboards were set up incorrectly for the day’s activities. The first part of the class was spent dialing in our equipment. Our instructors wanted us to have a “neutral stance” that day, meaning legs spread a little wider, with both feet equally “duck-footed.”
Right off the bat I could tell I was going to learn quite a bit.
After this, Matt gave us the run down on basic snowboard shapes i.e., camber vs. rocker. “Until about ten years ago, snowboards were all about camber, meaning the center of the board was raised. This allowed for a nice, solid feel, with an emphasis on edging. More recently, snowboard manufacturers started experimenting with rocker—which is the opposite shape. This means that the waist of the board sits lowest, giving the board a more playful feel.”
Then, Matt wrinkled his nose at my board, which was an old school, highly cambered model. “Great for holding an edge on an icy tree run, but not good for the terrain park,” he explained. He suggested a demo board that was much shorter and more playful feeling.
Good call. Right away, I noticed that the rocker shape, combined with a neutral stance, was less prone to randomly catching an edge while practicing maneuvers, resulting in fewer falls.
Body Position is Everything
After warming up in the instruction area, we were ready for some actual park riding. As we rode the lift, I watched riders hitting the features in the area right below us. These were advanced features, and I could tell that both boys were feeling intimidated. “Are we doing that?” Lukas finally asked Kenji. “Only if you want to, Lukas!,” came the reply.
A massive jump was launching riders 30 feet into the air. “Where is the beginner’s area?” I said to no one in particular.
When we arrived at the Burton Progression Park, I was totally relieved. This seemed a great place to learn terrain riding! The box slides were very wide and not very high. There was one intimidating “rainbow” slide, but that was it. Down below, I could see riders hitting some launches, but these appeared to be tame.
Before we committed to the first box, Matt had some advice: “Keep your lower body loose and springy, with bent knees acting like shock absorbers. Your upper body should be standing up tall. Keep your back straight, and look ahead, not down. Confidence and body position are everything.” Nils was first, and I could tell the whole day was going to boil down to this one moment. If everyone could just hit this first feature without eating it, then FSD would be a success. On the other hand, a hard fall right now would erode the crucial confidence we were building.
Parks are for Families
It wasn’t always pretty, but we all cruised the first few slides, and mom and dad even hit the skinny rail. Kenji and Matt were able to instill in us that negotiating slide features is all about squaring up and staying off the board’s edges. I tested this theory twice, and learned the hard way that putting any weight on my heel-side edge invariably resulted in pain.
Since we were looking pretty solid on the boxes, Matt suggested that we try some jumps. “The trick to getting air on a snowboard is to first transfer all of your weight to your tail until the board begins to flex. As you approach the lip of the jump, lean forward and then retract your knees into your chest at the right instant. No matter what, keep a straight back.” Then, Matt put his words into action. Everyone was impressed and inspired. Matt flew through the air and stuck the switch landing while maintaining perfect body position.
For our part, we all got some air, but needless to say we lacked the grace of our instructors. Our learning curve was fairly steep, however, and the timing rapidly became intuitive. Cathy, in particular, busted a graceful looking air that was captured on video.
The shadows were getting long across the snow as we finished our last run. I could tell my family was exhausted and a little cold, but very happy with their newfound park skills. Family Shred Day was a hit, but I couldn’t take any credit. Burton Snowboard Academy instructors Matt Majersky and Kenji Lim made a wonderful day possible.
Burton Snowboard Academy
The Burton Snowboard Academy located at Northstar is dedicated to the idea that “Progression Never Ends.” This unpretentious approach helps students realize that skill development is the road map to fun and inspiration.
Miles away from the “no guts, no glory” attitude of some within the boarding community, the idea is to take a step-by-step approach to becoming a snowboarder for life. Park features are introduced into the curriculum at an early stage in the learning curve.
In addition, instructors emphasize five basic movements:
- Stance. Students find their “neutral stance.” This means both feet slightly “duck-footed,” and slightly wider than the shoulders. This symmetrical stance is the starting point; adjustments are made with experience as they become intuitive. This differs from other schools of thought that encourage beginners to adopt unnatural stances.
- Rotation. Using the spine and legs to rotate the head, shoulders, hips, and board clockwise and counter-clockwise.
- Retraction/Extension. Getting low and getting tall using your legs.
- Foot to Foot. Shifting the core to weight the tail or nose.
- Toe to Heel. Tipping the board from the toe edge to the heel edge.
Too many people learn the hard way that a boarding apprenticeship can be long and unforgiving. Expert instruction may be just the ticket to propel you beyond a frustrating plateau.
The idea that “only beginners need lessons” has been replaced by the notion that an occasional investment in lessons will pay huge dividends in continued development. Intermediate riders looking to take it to the next level should strongly consider checking out the Academy.
For Northstar, the Academy has helped keep beginners coming back.
“Those who have experienced the Burton Snowboard Academy have had tremendous success,” says resort spokesperson Jessica VanPerniss. “While there isn’t typically a high return rate among those who are first learning to ride at other resorts, the Burton Academy has experienced a 98% return rate. “
Another good tip for learning: Go with a friend or spouse and take turns with a video camera. The video can help you pick up on subtle mistakes in form and posture, and you might even get some hero footage — or at least a good laugh.
Because shared adversity breeds intimacy, it’s hard to beat winter ski touring
By Leonie Sherman
I have a friend who will not commit to a man unless she has beaten him at a game and deemed his reaction to losing satisfactory. She wants to make sure his ego is not too fragile to handle a strong, smart woman in his life. She wants to know how he deals with discomfort and embarrassment. She thinks this is the best way to test a guy for long-term potential.
Me? I just take my prospective partners winter ski touring.
Is there a better way to determine compatibility than to share a human-size zip-lock bag for 14 hours? Isn’t the true test of a man’s character the way he handles the task of melting snow for morning coffee? Can he maintain good cheer while chipping away at a frozen block of Nutella armed only with a titanium spork?
Lazing around on a beach enjoying a comfortable vacation is for established and complacent couples. Shared adversity breeds intimacy. But shared adversity that involves whiskey and poetry and requires cuddling will seal a relationship better than guiding a hypothermic partner down an icy slope after 15-hours of climbing — so don’t take it too far.
I came to winter ski touring through a devotion to the High Sierra and a new boyfriend who was obsessed with skiing — at least the lift-served variety. We met by chance in August in Darwin Canyon. He stalked me along Roper’s High Route, tromping into the high country to meet me on his days off, bearing gifts of smoked salmon and freshly baked cookies. Our shared love of the mountains brought us through the warm months and landed us at winter’s doorstep.
Snow spelled our demise. He got me free lift tickets and I sulked about the noise and crowds and manicured runs. I pushed him to winter camping and explorations and he cursed the variable snow conditions and frosty mornings. Even the glories of spring skiing couldn’t heal the scars left by a winter of struggle against cold and control and each other’s irritating habits.
Before the snow melted on Piute Pass, we were through.
Despite the hardship and the failed relationship I was hooked. One pre-dawn ski around Tuolumne Meadows, watching a full moon set as the stars fade and the sunrise casts a rosy shadow over Unicorn and Cathedral Peaks, and you’d be hooked too. When conditions are harsh and unpredictable, moments intensify and you are left with shards of memories that never fade. Those moments and memories have a distinctive glow when you experience them with someone special.
“Even the glories of spring skiing couldn’t heal the scars left by a winter of struggle against cold and control and each other’s irritating habits. Before the snow melted on Piute Pass, we were through.”
Any glossy ski rag will tell you what gear you need for winter touring. In the Golden State we are blessed with an abundance of amazing locales for ski touring — the western slope of the Sierra, the Shasta/Lassen region, the Trinity Alps, and even some of the ranges rising from the smog of Southern California. But in my mind you can’t top the Eastern Sierra for pure unadulterated wild beauty. The rangers in Bishop or Mammoth Lakes can give you reliable trail conditions and ideas about where to go.
Rather than relaying those tracks, I’m going to give you some tips on how to keep love alive when you’re neck deep in snow and it’s 10 below.
Arrogance will introduce you to a world of dramatic misery and piss your partner off. If you fail to heed the weather gods, they may remind you of your puny existence on this great spinning, breathing dust ball.
The same boyfriend led me into the Ghost Forest near Badger Pass in Yosemite on the shortest day of the year. We failed to take note of an unseasonable rainstorm that had occurred the previous day. As the temperature plummeted, the water in the dead trees froze and expanded so rapidly that the snags exploded like gunshots. We lay awake all night shivering, waiting for the shrapnel of dead trees to rip through our flimsy shelter.
The mountains are in charge and that’s part of the joy of being out in winter. Most people are charmed by humility and repulsed by conceit. Where better to highlight your modesty than in a blizzard at 10,000 feet in December?
One December evening I shared the Tuolumne ski hut with a man who had tried to break the speed record for climbing all of California’s 14,000-foot peaks. We huddled around the wood-stove as he recounted his days with famously speed-obsessed climber Hans Florine.
Afterward I asked him, “What’s the rush?”
He never came up with a satisfying answer.
Barring horrific weather or acute health issues, I’m not sure there is ever a decent reason to rush through an exquisite place with a charming companion. But I am sure that short of those emergencies, there is never a decent reason to rush through an exquisite place with a charming companion in the winter.
In December, you don’t need to go far to find magic in the Range of Light. Your favorite summer campground, normally bustling with cars and people, is a desolate wilderness in deepest darkest winter. You will find more solitude four miles from the road head than you can find almost anywhere in August.
You’re not going to make 20 miles in deep winter unless you enjoy hypothermia, hypoglycemia and fatigue. Even if you do enjoy those hardships, there is every chance your partner will not. Take some time to enjoy where you are. Make camp before it gets dark and cold. Gaze at the multitude of winter stars. There’s nowhere to get to anyways; you’re already there.Mentally Prepare
It’s going to be cold. You’re going to be lying down in your sleeping bag for 14 hours. Your water bottle will freeze. Each morning you will jam your foot into a block of ice shaped exactly like your ski boot. These are the harsh realities of winter ski touring.
But have you ever snuggled your sweetie and drifted into a dream only to be interrupted by the hysterics of your alarm clock? Ever longed for just one more hour of spooning and sweetness, but work and obligations force a hasty exit from bedded bliss?
Winter camping is the answer. You are sharing a space hardly larger than a double bed with someone you like and there is nothing to do but hang out and make out and talk and laugh and drink whiskey and read poetry out loud and tell stories.
My friend Jason loves taking long car rides with friends. He calls it “captive time.” Winter ski touring and camping provide the same quality of connection, but without the noise and traffic and fuel costs.
The specifics of which skis and down jacket will serve you best are beyond the scope of this article. I only want to offer a few ideas about how to stay close enough for comfort but allow enough space to avoid chafing during your ski-touring days and, more importantly, nights.
Get yourself a three-person tent. That lightweight two-person mountaineering shelter will only make you cranky after 10 hours of forced confinement. You won’t be able to find your socks, or your headlamp, or the whiskey. With a three-person tent you can spread out a little, organize your stuff and make yourself at home.
Do not zip your sleeping bag to your lover’s. When you double the circumference of a circle you quadruple the area, which means you will be warming the dead air inside your zipped up bags, and not each other. What you need is one warm bag and one expander or doubler. This nifty piece of equipment zips to your sleeping bag and transforms it into a cozy double bed.
Of course, your companion is the most critical component of your equipment. John Krakauer says it best in his brilliant essay, On Being Tentbound:
“A candidate’s repertoire of amusing stories, a store of gossip and a sense of humor that blossoms under duress should be weighed at least as heavily as endurance on the trail or ice-climbing expertise.”
Or how cute they look in their ski outfit, I might add.Even if ski touring does not bring you a partner, it will show you a person’s true nature in a hurry. When you go through so many emotional highs and lows, so much beauty and suffering together, you develop a certain affinity and closeness that can never be erased. They may not prove to be spouse material, but they are at least the fabric of a lifelong friendship.
A writer and self-defense instructor based in Santa Cruz, Leonie Sherman still thinks a snowplow is the most useful ski technique to have in your skill set. She has spent over 50 nights shivering in a tent over the past four winters and cannot wait for the snow so she can take her new partner for a spin.
Ski Racer Daron Rahlves dives head first into the Sierra backcountry with snowboarder Jeremy Jones
Story and photos by Seth Lightcap
You’re only a virgin once so we had to go big. Especially considering the man of the hour.
The task at hand was to take former Olympian turned pro freeskier Daron Rahlves into the backcountry for his first overnight Sierra ski trip. Now, Rahlves had explored the backcountry near Sugar Bowl on Donner Summit, but he had never been winter camping, nor had he explored the towering peaks of the High Sierra. That all was to change when he accepted my invitation to join pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones and me for an adventure in the Sierra last January.
Of course, Rahlves is one of the strongest skiers on the planet, so despite his inexperience in the skintrack, this was not your average rookie outing. We needed a worthy challenge for the man with a mantle full of World Cup trophies. Knowing the scenery would blow his mind, the ski line a classic, and the approach pain inducing, the pretty lady we chose was the North Couloir of Feather Peak (13,240 ft).
The North Couloir of Feather fit the bill, as it’s no roadside attraction. The steep couloir hangs off the Sierra Crest like a spectacular frozen neck-tie seven miles behind and 6,000 feet above the Pine Creek trailhead outside of Bishop, CA. We had a three-day time window, good weather, and stable snow, so we hoped to summit and ski the line regardless of the suffering. Cinematographers Chris Edmands and Canyon Florey also joined us to document the sweat equity.
To share the story of our trip I’ve presented a handful of images that highlight Rahlves’ rookie experience. Did we sandbag the Olympian with a death march, or did he feel rewarded by sweet success? The photo captions tell the tale.
The approach to Feather Peak begins at the abandoned Pine Creek Tungsten mine behind Mt. Tom. Just above the mine the steep drainage constricts into a narrow canyon with holes of open water. The rocky terrain forced us to traverse across an exposed slope right above one of the raging water holes. Florey and Edmands (shown here) led the way through the crossing. With wide eyes, Rahlves sent the crux traverse without flinching. His legs marched a confident step despite the adrenaline in his eyes. No doubt he was used to the feeling of exposure but the methodical nature of climbing left him a longer time to think about it than usual. It was his first valuable lesson of the trip–slow motion situations in the backcountry are often the sketchiest.
Settling in to warm food and a small fire at our camp was a just reward after the strenuous approach. Climbing the windboard snow up the drainage had proven especially difficult for Rahlves, as his skins were too narrow and provided less than ideal traction. “That was quite the mental fight,” admitted Rahlves with a tired grin when we got to camp. “Climbing was a lot harder than I expected.” Hearing that I had to smile. Were we gonna see Superman suffer after all? Only time would tell. We planned on summiting Feather Peak the next day, but first we needed to get some sleep. The temps that night fell into the single digits. Rahlves’ first night out winter camping would be a bitterly cold one.
On day two we woke up with the dawn and didn’t stop moving for fifteen hours. The high point of the day was most definitely standing atop the summit of Feather Peak right at sunset. It was Rahlves’ first backcountry summit by leg power alone, and a new summit for the whole crew. Steep switchbacks up the apron, a 1200-foot knee-deep bootpack up the couloir, and 200 feet of fourth class scrambling to gain the summit were the technical lessons of the day. However, the real test was overall climbing endurance. Needless to say, we saw no suffering out of the former World Cup champ. Rahlves had broken trail for nearly half the approach and he was still in fighting form on the summit!
Dropping into the North Couloir our boards sliced into pockets of wind pack mixed with long open panels of glorious shin deep pow. The turns off the top were steep and sweet, though a tad dark. Upon reaching the apron we knew there was nothing in the fall line to worry about, so we turned off our brains in the fading light, and made wide open pow turns with our eyes closed. These blind turns were an out-of-body experience none of us will soon forget. We were flying down the mountain by feel alone.
Regrouping in the basin we clicked on our headlamps and began the two-hour tour back to camp. A vivid starscape lit the skintrack climbing back over Co Co La Pass. Dropping off the pass we milked more turns before chasing across several long traverses. Skiing by headlamp didn’t slow down Rahlves as he charged ahead descending the final benches. There was no denying Rahlves had crushed the day’s challenge, and that the strength of his tree trunk-like legs had trumped his inexperience.
Day three dawned clear and bright so we decided to climb an improbable line right above camp before packing up to head out. The line held multiple rock bands requiring near vertical climbing on the way up and mandatory airs on the way down. Busting climbing moves using ice axes and crampons was nothing new to Jones (shown here), but it was a different story for Rahlves. He had never climbed anything even remotely as technical. Watching him hammer home his first ever ice axe placements was a trip highlight as you could tell he was in awe of the power of the axe, and the potential of the tool for accessing rowdy terrain.
Once again our climbing effort paid us back a hundred fold. The views of the Sierra crest added countless lines to our to-do list and the turns on the way down were tremendous. We ripped pow, wind buff and sun softened cream to within 200 yards of our tents. Packing up to head down to the cars, Rahlves was already fired up for the next backcountry mission. “We’ve climbed and skied way more gnarly stuff than I imagined,” said Rahlves. “The trip has definitely exceeded my expectations. Where are we going next?” Three long days of climbing, two cold nights in a tent, and Rahlves was ready for more. So much for sandbagging an Olympian. This rarefied rookie had led the charge, and opened his eyes to a whole new world of skiing in the backcountry.
A Colorado transplant gets his feet wet and more in his ﬁrst – if not the ﬁrst – “SUPathlon”
By A.J. Johnson
Being completely new to the water and stand up paddling, this event seemed perfect for my novice experience. The SUPathlon was part of the Malibu Half and Full Marathon on Nov. 13. We would run the ﬁrst six miles of the half marathon, along the Paciﬁc Coast Highway to Leo Carillo Beach, where we would jump on our boards and paddle the ﬁnal seven miles to the ﬁnish at Zuma Beach. According to the race organizer, this would be the ﬁrst SUPathlon in the world.
I ﬁgured with the run we wouldn’t all be bunched together at the start, and being a ﬁrst year event it should be pretty mellow. Really, the biggest draw was that there would be only a handful of racers and spectators to witness me struggle through the paddle. The only problem was that the race was the next weekend. And I had never paddled more than four miles.
After hemming and hawing all week and doing two short run/paddle workouts, I registered on Friday night after looking at every surf-forecasting website to ensure my safety. Picking up my packet on Saturday I was able to talk with the event coordinator Shane Springer. He told me there were only eight entrants and gave me insights on how to handle the conditions. This put me at ease and turned my nervous fears into nervous excitement.Race morning started early at 5:30. I had to drop off my board at Leo Carillo before heading back to the start line. After years of setting up transitions for triathlons and feeling the nervous tension of the other athletes, setting my board in the sand next to two others was positively serene. I was already hooked.
At the start line another SUP’er, Peter, introduced himself. The board shorts and Rip Curl hat told me instantly he was a waterman. He also told me he was a trail runner and was hoping to run the seven miles near 45 minutes. I hoped that if I could run fast enough, hopefully in the 42 to 43 minute range, I could hold off the paddlers. In a few quick sentences that idea was gone; Peter was going to win. Peter and I ran the ﬁrst miles together, then I took off, playing my only card. Running along the PCH on a beautiful Sunday morning the views were stunning.
Turning into Leo Carillo I saw my wife and got ready to brave the surf. I was now about to get way out of my element. As I pulled on my Camelbak I could hear Peter grabbing his race board right behind me. Heading into the minor surf I was nervous.
My experience level is low, especially in this realm. The jet ski in the water made me feel better. I powered through some whitewater but a small wave hit me, turned me sideways and dumped me off. I was really hoping to get out cleanly, but hitting the water really cooled me down. As I got back on my board, I saw Peter cruise out nice and easy.
Thankfully I got past the breakers, stood up and headed south to Zuma. The water was smooth and the downwind was pushing us nicely. I concentrated on good form, taking in some ﬂuids and being strong. Watching Peter pull away in the distance, I concentrated on having fun and enjoying this new sport.
I looked out for seals or dolphins, took in the view of the water and the shore and simply thought of how lucky I was. Even as another athlete overtook me, I stayed positive. I wasn’t here to win, or even to push for a victory, I was here to have fun.
Seeing the tents that marked the ﬁnish, I angled toward shore. I was hoping to catch a wave in since I’ve never done any race where that was possible. Instead, I missed one, got knocked down in the whitewater from the wave behind it and rode the board in on my stomach — smiling the entire way. After undoing my leash, I was directed to the ﬁnish line, crossing with the runners while holding my paddle.
After two hours and 12 minutes, I had run and paddled 13 miles, was soaking wet and smiling with exhaustion. More than a race, it felt like a true adventure. Who knows if this new athlon will take off. All I know is that it was fun and I hope to do it again.
A.J. Johnson is an editor of tri magazine.
Tips for keeping warm, hydrated and frost-bite free
Winter ski touring doesn’t have to be a sufferfest. In fact, with knowledge, preparation and the right gear, backpacking on skis in the dead of winter can be quite comfortable, says Mike Schwartz, an experienced winter camper and owner of The BackCountry store in Truckee. “I think ski touring in winter is actually a lot more comfortable than people think. Usually you don’t have to ski very far to feel like you’re deep in the wilderness — although skis can get you back to the car quickly if you do. Then you climb into your tent and sleeping bag and you’re warm and comfortable.”
Hot Water Bottles
The key is staying dry, Schwartz says, or if that’s unrealistic, knowing how to get dry. He recommends putting wet socks and gloves into your down jacket pockets and then your sleeping bag. “Filling a Nalgene bottle with boiling hot water will not only keep you toasty for hours, but speed up the drying process,” he adds. “I bring two. Camelbak-type bladders don’t help in this critical task.” You should be able to do most of your cooking and snow melting right outside your tent door, in the open or in a vestibule with ventilation, while still in your bag and down jacket. “Bring enough fuel to melt water and make sure your stove works well beforehand,” he warns. “If you’re using butane fuel canisters, they ﬁ zzle out in the cold when they get low so just stick them in your jacket to warm them up. And protect your stove from the wind as best as possible to use less fuel.”
Though not recommended by tent manufacturers for obvious liability reasons, Alpine Skills International, the venerable Truckee-based guide service, teaches students how to safely cook inside their tents using a hanging stove, and in the process provide some ambient heating. “The key is having good ventilation,” says ASI guide Logan Talbott, to protect against carbon dioxide buildup. This means at least two vents to provide cross ventilation, ideally one high and one low. The stove provides enough ambient warming that bulky insulation layers are usually not necessary to bring, helping to keep packs lighter and slimmer, he says. “We’re trying to keep weight down to a minimum so people can tour more comfortably and efﬁciently, and enjoy down skiing along the route.”
Bring a Garbage Bag
Another component of ASI’s interior-stove cooking and heating system utilizes a sturdy plastic garbage bag. Rather than going in and out of the tent to fetch snow to melt, ASI teaches campers to collect all the snow they’ll need for water and cooking in the garbage bag, compact it and bring it in the tent. By condensing the snow in the bag you get more water from it during melting, rather than heating air particles, saving fuel and weight through efﬁciency.
underestimated, not only for comfort, but for performance when climbing and skiing. When you’re at altitude in a cold, dry environment, performance and warmth are highly dependent on adequate hydration.
Camp Site Prep
When setting up a tent in the snow, ASI teaches students to dig out a platform and use the excavated snow to build a snow wall around the tent or at least on the windward side. This helps protect the tent in nasty weather and keeps it warmer and calmer inside. Trying to sleep in a wind-battered tent is challenging, to say the least, and potentially dangerous.
Tents need to be guy-lined to the ground or snow anchors, says Schwartz. Extra stuff sacks, ﬁlled with snow and buried, work well as “deadman” to guy your lines to. “Be prepared to dig a snow cave if you think it could really storm,” he adds. “Believe it or not, you will be warmer under the snow as you can expect it to be 32 degrees down there. And have good shovels and goggles to dig the hole. Probe around before digging to make sure it’s deep enough.”
Dreaded Wet Boots
For comfort the next morning and to guard against frostbitten toes and digits, ASI’s Talbott reiterates the importance of drying out your boot liners, socks and gloves in the tent or in your sleeping bag overnight. Even if not completely dry, at least they won’t be frozen solid when you stick your feet and hands in them. Bring some cheap VBLs (vapor barrier liners) — plastic bread bags work great — and put those over your socks before jamming your foot into your boots if your feet tend to sweat so much that it’s impossible to dry out your liners overnight. Wet boots, especially, will kill your motivation to get out of your bag in the
morning and ultimately turn you off winter camping quicker than just about anything else. ASI teaches these winter camping principles, and many other tricks discovered and honed from decades of experience in the elements, in their backcountry ski and snowboard programs.
Their two-day Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley tour, in particular, is designed to introduce clients to ASI’s “high and light” ski camping system and serves as the ultimate prep for longer multi-day ski touring in the High Sierra and elsewhere. The Sugar Bowl to Squaw tour costs $365 and will be run on weekends in February and March this season.
See www.alpineskills.com for more information or call their winter ofﬁ ce at the Backcountry Adventure Center at Sugar Bowl at 530-582-9170.
For gear needs or advice, as well as recommendations on where to go in the Tahoe region, call or stop by The BackCountry in
Truckee (530-582-0909 or 888-625-8444), or check out their Tahoe Guidebook and Backcountry Forum at www.thebackcountry.net.
By Tim Hauserman
At Royal Gorge Cross-Country on Donner Summit, you can wind your way past the Snow Mountain hut to the jaw-dropping views from Point Mariah, ski along the edge of the ridge on Stage Coach, or catch the prevailing winds and ﬂ y across the ﬂats of Van Norden.
For 40 years, Royal Gorge has given Nordic aﬁcionados something to smile about. But in August, after the owners of Royal Gorge defaulted on a $16.7 million dollar loan, a receiver was appointed to maintain Royal Gorge’s assets and prepare the 3000-acre property for sale.
What does this mean for the future of one of America’s largest cross-country ski areas?
David Achey, general manager of Royal Gorge, is optimistic. “We are deﬁnitely open this winter, six days a week, seven on holidays,” he says. “We haven’t withered away. The receivership has made it quite clear that the importance of keeping the ski area they will give Royal Gorge the resources necessary to make this a great season. It has been very positive. We’ve had guys painting, doing maintenance, summer trail work, looking into signage and maintaining the grooming ﬂeet.”
Royal Gorge is also announcing that for the ﬁrst time this year you will be allowed to take your dog out onto some of the trails. The Wells-Fargo-Emigrant trail loop near Summit Station will be available for dogs on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. If the program is successful, Achey says they may expand the network of dog-friendly trails.
Tom Olson, managing director of brokerage services for the receiver of the property, Douglas Wilson, conﬁrms Achey’s assessment. “(We’re) working to keep all the operations in place. We will try to do it in a way that maintains the value of the property. We want the community to be happy with the way it is run.”
But what is the long-term prognosis for Royal Gorge?
Olson says that the receiver’s task is to intercede while the lender and borrower are working things out. The receiver is a neutral party whose task is to maintain the asset and market it for sale.
“We are going ahead to market the properties with a price of $24 million, all cash at close of escrow,” Olson says. “In addition to Royal Gorge Ski Area, which includes some 3000 acres of land, the Summit Station and other buildings, the offer includes 300 residential acres above Donner Lake in Negro Canyon, and Rainbow Lodge, which includes 114 acres on the Yuba River.”
“The properties need to be sold as a group,” Olson adds. Ice Lakes Lodge, sitting on the edge of the Serene Lakes and adjacent to Royal Gorge trails, was also part of Royal Gorge until fairly recently, but it is not included in the sale.Olson said the property will be marketed internationally. Cross-country and downhill ski resorts throughout the world, as well as potential buyers who may be interested in the conservation potential of the property, will be contacted.
“The judge wants to know that every rock has been turned over looking for a buyer that will pay the most for the property,” said Olson.
One group that has expressed interest in the property is the Truckee-based Truckee Donner Land Trust. “We have been interested in the property since our founding in 1990,” says Trust Executive Director Perry Norris. “The Royal Gorge property as a whole would be a perfect ﬁ t for our organization — it has high natural resource values, recreational values, scenic and historic values.”
If the Trust acquired the land, Norris says, the plan would be to continue to operate it as a XC ski area through a operating partnership with the neighboring Sugar Bowl downhill ski resort.
“The ski area is an international destination for Nordic skiing and it needs to continue. Keeping the ski area thriving is an extremely high priority for us for both conservation and economic reasons. Sugar Bowl is interested in operating the ski area. We would really look at a partnership with them to run the area. They have the equipment and the expertise. They don’t do things for the short term. They have the right mindset that a conservation organization would want to work with.”
An additional potential public beneﬁt is that the Donner Lake Rim Trail, built by the Truckee Donner Land Trust, goes through Negro Canyon, and the land trust owns 280 acres in Negro Canyon which border the 300 acres owned by Royal Gorge.
How did we get here?
In 1971, John Slouber started Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Area. Over the years he slowly expanded it to several thousand acres, built surface lifts and purchased Rainbow Lodge. His efforts turned a humble idea into North America’s largest cross-country ski area. He created a place with a tremendous variety of awesome cross-country ski terrain and ample snow within easy reach of the Bay Area and Sacramento metro areas.
While during Slouber’s reign Royal Gorge developed a reputation among Tahoe locals as being less friendly than the competing cross-country ski areas in Truckee and Tahoe City, no one could dismiss the great skiing at Royal Gorge.
In 2005, Slouber sold Royal Gorge to Kirk Syme and Todd and Mark Foster for a reported $35 million dollars.
Given the economics of cross-country skiing, $35 million is a lot to pay if you are just selling trail passes. The Fosters and Syme bought the property with the intention of creating a unique cross-country ski resort development, with approximately 900 homes and condos in several “camps,” as well as commercial development.
Before they could get the concept off the ground, the developers ran smack into a freight train full of problems:
First, there were difﬁcult to solve questions about whether there was enough water or sewage capacity for all that development.
Secondly, since the Serene Lakes/Royal Gorge area is only accessible via one two-lane road, which happens to go over a busy railroad crossing, an expensive second road into the development would be required for emergency access.
Then, there was a hostile Donner Summit community that was ﬁercely against the project.
But probably the biggest kicker was the downturn in the economy. By 2008, real estate prices were declining and existing luxury resort developments in Truckee couldn’t unload their inventory, even at signiﬁcantly reduced prices. There was no longer the market for almost 1000 new homes in an area as remote as Donner Summit.
Throughout, the developers understood the importance of keeping the ski area running to maintain the value of the property. Although there were some cutbacks in service and the number of kilometers groomed declined, it remains a wonderful place to skate away the day.
However, this past summer the developers couldn’t take the economic bleeding anymore and they defaulted on the loan.
This chapter of Royal Gorge is complete. The next one is yet to be written. By the time this hits print, Royal Gorge will be on the market and the receiver looking for a buyer. The Truckee Donner Land Trust hopes they will be that buyer, but certainly not at the current price of $24 million dollars.
Whoever buys Royal Gorge, hopefully they will see its value and continue to run it as a cross-country skiers’ haven. A place that in less than an hour’s ski you can stand and look to the south and east and see the Sierra Nevada crest unfolding before you, or look to the west and gaze into the 4000-foot deep gorge from which it gets its name.
Tim Hauserman is the author of “Cross-Coun-
try Skiing in the Sierra Nevada” and teaches
at Tahoe Cross-Country in Tahoe City.
The True Story of the Race Across America
The Race Across America is an epic, 3000-mile bicycle race from the Pacific to the Atlantic. First held in 1982, RAAM is considered one of the most challenging sporting events in the world. Top riders finish in less than 10 days, riding over 300 miles per day and sleeping only a few hours per night.
Amid the sleepless grind, riders must endure the searing heat of the Mojave Desert, the agonizing climbs of the Rockies, the driving winds of the Great Plains, and the twisting switchbacks of the Appalachians — before the final sprint to the finish line in Atlantic City.
With little prize money at stake, the fundamental goal of the race is simply to finish, a challenge half of all riders fail to meet.
The film Bicycle Dreams, which won a number of film festival awards when it was released in 2009 and was being screened this fall in Northern California, presents the race from a competitor’s viewpoint. By the end of the film, you feel as if you ridden the race yourself, at least emotionally. Distilled from more than 600 hours of footage, Bicycle Dreams hooks you in and keeps you in the saddle from start to finish.
Recently, ASJ caught up with the filmmaker, Stephen Auerbach, in town for a screening in San Jose.
Why did you decide to do a documentary on RAAM?
Auerbach: As a filmmaker, one looks for the most compelling stories to document. When I discovered this little-known but monumental event called the Race Across America, I knew that it would be a worthy experiment to train my cameras on the race. When I heard that one cyclist rode from California to Lincoln, Nebraska without stopping (71 hours), I knew that the race had great potential for exploring the unknown. This guy finally stopped when he began to have hallucinations of UFOs and aliens trying to knock him off his bicycle. That illustrated the mental aspect. Physically, there are few challenges that put a greater stress on the body. Many cyclists have had to ride straight into the emergency room.
Finally, there was the spiritual component: What would compel an individual to attempt something so outside the norm? For me, this movie was like the one that explored the space program (The Right Stuff) in that, at the end of the day, these explorers were on a unique journey, oneexploring inner space.
Bottom line, when I learned of what happens, under the radar, every summer, upon the highways and byways of America, it occurred to me, “How could I not document the race?”
What special insight will viewers take away from this film?
Auerbach: For viewers, the film works as a mirror to their inner landscape. Many of the viewer’s dreams, whether attempted, discarded, or realized, are reflected in the dramas that the various characters go through. The viewer is on the saddle each pedal stroke, while these brave souls attempt the seemingly impossible. The hook is that these are not professional athletes, they are ordinary people doing extraordinary things — in other words, people like you and me. Ultimately, the film is about desire, and how to re-connect to desire in its most primal form.
Why did the festival judges react so favorably? I believe the reason is that the film is so truthful. What happened, happened in front of our 24 cameras. There was no writer, no screenplay, no re-takes. My goal as a filmmaker was to be a sponge of reality, pure and simple.
How did the project affect you?
Auerbach: Making Bicycle Dreams taught me to never give up until I reached the desired goal. I came home from the journey with 650 hours of footage. That’s something like 39,000 minutes. I edited this down to 106 minutes. I would not let go of the film until I knew in my heart that I had done the absolute best job I could do. … When I finished I had no idea if anyone, anywhere, would ever see the film or care about it. When it took off and began developing a following, it confirmed for me that I should follow my instincts and never quit. There were many times when I wanted to just give up at telling this story.
What was your best highlight from the project?
Auerbach: My highlight was getting to know the cyclist Jure Robic. His soul
contained a madness that I can relate to very well. His determination was so impressive. The power contained in his pedal strokes and the endurance to going seemed to flow straight from his magnificent heart. His passing last year was a great blow to his many friends and fans. But Jure lives on as one of the greatest athletes ever. (The Slovenian rider, who won RAAM five times, died in a traffic accident in September 2010.)
Auerbach: I’ve started working on what I hope will be the final film in a cycling trilogy. It’s tentatively titled Stay On The Bike. I hope to have it ready for release by the end of this year.
A safer way to learn
Story by Haven Livingston
Each and every year, my mood darkens with the arrival of the first snowflakes. It’s not that I’m against winter as a season—it’s more that I miss my favorite outdoor pursuits, which all involve fair weather. And truth be told, I have a bad relationship with particular winter activities, namely skiing and snowboarding. Winter’s arrival has traditionally resulted in a seasonal downward spiral of my life’s overall fun factor, but that may be changing, sooner than later.
While the outdoorsy folks around me seem to revel in the season, its arrival sends me into a panic, searching for the nearest exit door that leads south. Friends proudly strut their new snow gear while I hold a death grip on my bikini and sandals, ready for any chance to bail to a warmer clime. I would like to think there is nothing wrong with this reaction. After all, millions of birds migrating south every winter couldn’t be wrong. But after so many years of bemoaning and running from winter, I am beginning to realize that I could be missing out on some thrilling, snowy fun.
Snowboarding and skiing have an obvious appeal to most outdoor enthusiasts: bending the body into sweeping, graceful turns, the rush of speed, the quiet beauty of a winter landscape. Being a surfer, and a climber who occasionally looks for a quicker way off the mountain, I have to admit I am intrigued. However, my problem isn’t just that I don’t like winter. I am actually afraid of snow, or more precisely, steep snowy slopes.
The fear began with a traumatic childhood experience. I was frozen—a deer in headlights–at the top of my first bunny hill and forced to go down it against my will. My run (and the rest of my day) ended abruptly when I careened off course and crash-landed into a small stream. My fear was reinforced with a one-day snowboarding adventure in graduate school that left me with a debilitating back injury. I hadn’t made any effort to befriend the snow for eight years until last winter. A no pressure, three-day introduction to downhill skiing sparked a desire as I connected my first few turns. Thus, I am now determined to give winter a chance, and to even learn to love the “pow”.
Learning a new sport as an adult is not only a physical challenge, it also can be a humbling mental exercise. This is especially true when five-year-old “rippers” zoom past you, or when you have a fearful memory to overcome.
Teaching yourself can be a painful waste of time. Unfortunately, learning from friends can also be a lost cause if your friends are long time skiers. They tend to give you ridiculous instructions like, “just follow me and do what I do–you’ll be fine.” This might reflect a foggy memory they have from taking lessons at age seven, but this technique certainly doesn’t reflect the realities of physical learning. As adults, we have busy lives and want the most efficient learning process possible so we can start following our friends on the slopes. Yes, finding professional help was the only way I would get back on a snowboard.
Much to my relief, I learned that I didn’t have to buy a lift ticket, gear, or warm clothing to begin my journey into snowboarding. I also didn’t have to wait in line or fear getting creamed by people flying down the mountain at light speed. I simply drove to the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco, and hopped on the Endless Slope.
Endless Slope in San Francisco is owned by Adventurous Sports, a business dedicated to helping people find their way to fit and happy lives. Brightly lit and colorfully painted, the Endless Slope studio houses little more than the equipment itself: a giant treadmill for skiers and snowboarders. The sloped, six by six-foot deck is covered in carpet, and bordered in front and back by safety bars. The instructor has full control over the speed of the treadmill, and the boarder is harnessed to the back bar as an extra precaution. Boots and skis or boards are provided.
When I arrived for my introductory session, my anxiety immediately fell away. The atmosphere is completely non-threatening (there was no snow or five year old rippers). My lesson was one-on-one with professional instructor Ian-Michael Hébert. Hailing from Alaska, Hébert is at home in the snow and on the slopes. With a resume full of experience in coaching, teaching, training and a level two certification from the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, he provides expert instruction for all levels and ages. He’s one of five instructors for Endless Slope, all with equally impressive backgrounds.
Hébert kept things light and simple and got right to the point. After an overview of snowboarding on the ground, I was gliding down the carpet, finding my balance and being instructed on the key points of snowboarding success. We covered the basics of how to slide, stop, turn from front to back, and the beginning motions of carving turns.
The endless slope is the perfect learning tool for skiers and boarders. The focus is to develop the muscle memory needed to react quickly to situations without having to think first. Lessons are tailored to suit the individual from beginner to expert. A beginner’s advantage is that instructors will catch inefficient movements before they become bad habits and guide the student to develop their own riding sense naturally. Intermediate and expert riders can focus on specific technical skills they want to develop.
Along the way, you also get a great workout. The number of turns made in a half-hour session on the treadmill is roughly the same to an entire day on the slopes, but the number of falls on the Endless Slope is usually zero.
During my time on the slope, Hébert was patient and thoughtful with his instruction. By the end of my second session I felt myself becoming more secure in my balance, and was feeling the rhythm of carving. I wasn’t comfortable enough to completely abandon the railing, but I was close. Two or three more sessions and I’m certain I would be ready to hit the slopes with enough confidence and endurance to enjoy a full weekend on the snow. It’s an exciting prospect to think about finding joy in something that I have been afraid of for so long.
On my way out the door I passed a family of four on their way in. With kids ages four and five they explained that they came every weekend as a family event because it was easier than driving to the snow. The kids tore around the room, excited to get their gear on, while the parents chilled out and watched them learn. “When they’re old enough to last a whole day on the mountain, then we’ll take them,” the parents explained, “but for now, they love this!”
This method of learning is smart and efficient for both the body and pocket book. Using the Endless Slope as a beginner’s classroom saves time and money that would have been spent on long drives, rentals, lift tickets and group lessons with many distractions. I also saved myself from all the falls and bruises, cold lift rides, and potentially embarrassing moments on resort slopes. Clearly the Endless Slope was the perfect way for me to ease my way back onto the snow. I also highly recommend it as an excellent way to get warmed up for the upcoming season of riding or skiing, regardless of your ability level.
For more information, or to book a lesson, contact Adventurous Sports at 415-397-7678 or visit them at www.adventurous.com. You can see more on the Endless Slope at www.endlesslope.com