A mountain bike mecca in summer, Tahoe’s east shore is just as spectacular in winter but much less crowded
By Tim Hauserman
Many adventurers in the summer and fall head to Spooner Summit on the east side of Lake Tahoe for epic riding or hiking on the Flume Trail. Some are not aware that this area is equally fine during the winter, when it becomes Spooner Lake Cross Country Ski Area, Nevada’s only groomed cross-country ski resort.
Since 1985, Max Jones and his wife Patti McMullan, have operated Spooner Lake Cross Country. For Max and Patti, running a Nordic center has meant a ton of work and a lot of finger crossing: Will the weekend and holiday crowds somehow pay the bill of keeping 80 kms of trail groomed during the week? Will it snow enough?
It certainly doesn’t help that average annual snowfall on the east shore of Lake Tahoe is about half as much as the west shore, but it works because Max and Patti are expert groomers and are dedicated to providing top-notch XC skiing, and the Spooner Lake area is one of the most beautiful places in the world to put some glide under your feet.
Spend a few hours huffing and puffing your way around Spooner and you will really appreciate the glorious terrain including views of Spooner Lake, Snow Valley Peak, Marlette Lake and, of course, Lake Tahoe.
While these trails may be packed with mountain bikers in the summer, in the winter if you start out early you may have the place to yourself. “We think Spooner has the best wilderness feel of any of the ski areas at Tahoe,” Max says.
While there are a few easy trails close to the lodge, when you go to Spooner make a day of it and challenge yourself to the best that Spooner has to offer.
Start out on the North Canyon Trail, which will be familiar to mountain bikers as the road providing access to the Flume Trail. After the first stiff climb you intersect the Lower Aspen Trail, climb to Upper Aspen and meander through vast aspen groves before reaching the Waterfall, a short steep section that is appropriately named. Soon enough you meet up once again with the North Canyon Trail. If you are tired already, brace yourself Bridget, because from here it gets pretty darn steep as you climb up to the Marlette Saddle.
Once you reach the saddle you may embrace the concept of turning around and heading back to the lodge — but not so fast buckaroo, now is when it really gets good. The Saint’s Rest Trail beckons. A bit more climbing is rewarded when you cross over to the lake side of the ridge, and Flume Trail-like views and fun sweeping ups and downs await you.
Eventually you end up below the Marlette Lake Dam, where a short climb brings you to the edge of the lake and a few miles of level skating (perhaps the only level skiing you are blessed with all day). After enjoying the frozen expanse of Marlette Lake you climb up to the Marlette Saddle, where your big climbs of the day are over and five wonderful miles of downhill lie ahead.
Start the joy with the Super G trail, which gives you a series of Super G-type turns from the top of Snow Valley. If the trail was a little firm on your way up, now it should be softened up to Goldilocks’ conditions, giving you some of the best downhill skate skiing you can find anywhere.
At the bottom of Snow Valley, Super G meets North Canyon Trail and it’s time for a long glide the rest of the way home. If you haven’t had enough (and most of you will), then you can check out some of the lovely trails that lie in the meadow or circle Spooner Lake.
Stay in a Cozy Cabin:
The Spooner Lake folks have created two hand-hewn rustic log cabins available for daily rental just off the trail system. Constructed in 1997 and 1998, the cabins are equipped with beds, water, compost toilets and a true feeling of remoteness — yet you can ski to them easily.
Go for the ski described above, then finish your day at your own cabin right on the trail, and get up the next morning and go for another ski on the quiet Spooner trails. Does it get any better? This should be enough to rejuvenate the most harried city dweller. It is also your contribution to keeping afloat a business that depends on the cabins year round to pay for great grooming in the winter.
The Wild Cat Cabin is located about 3.5 kms from the lodge and has a view of Emerald Bay. The Spooner Cabin is just one km from the trailhead and is situated close to the shores of Spooner Lake. Ski season rates start at $160 per night, which includes the cabin plus trail pass, equipment rental and a lesson if desired.
Last winter Spooner introduced the five-mile long Tahoe View snowshoe trail, which provides snowshoe only access to an awesome lake view as well as the Wild Cat and Spooner Cabins.
Spooner Lake Cross-Country is on Nevada Highway 28, just a half mile north of the junction with Highway 50 on Spooner Summit. From Incline Village, drive 11 miles on Highway 28 to the parking lot on your left. From Carson City take the 10-mile drive to the junction of Highway 50 and Highway 28. For more information, or for cabin reservations, go to www.spoonerlake.com, 775-749-5349. 1-888-858-8844.
Tim Hauserman wrote “Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada.” He teaches at Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area in Tahoe City.
Sports, North Lake Tahoe’s premier backcountry ski and outdoor retailer for more than 30 years, has partnered with industry-leading outdoor manufacturers Black Diamond, Dynafit North America, Patagonia, and Marmot to create an unprecedented challenge for the region’s backcountry skiing community.
“Tahoe’s consistently deep snowpack, long spring season and copious bluebird powder days have spawned a tremendously motivated backcountry user group that cumulatively, put in an astounding amount of human powered vertical each winter,” says Alpenglow Sports general manager Brendan Madigan, who with challenge co-creator Jeff Dostie, another admitted backcountry powder addict, logs more than half a million vertical feet each season. “Our goal is track that data and use it to unite and inspire the entire backcountry skiing community.”
This free, “earn-your-turns” event will be characterized by a simple on-line format at www.TahoeVertical.com, where participants can enter their daily vertical feet collected on skis, snowboard, and snowshoe or simply hiking. The challenge will collect data from all participants from Dec. 10, 2010 through May 1, 2011.
The inaugural 2010/11 “Lake Tahoe Backcountry Vertical Competition” will award grand prizes from Black Diamond, Dynafit North America, Patagonia and Marmot to the top three men and women, as well as display daily updates on the overall vertical feet collected by the community throughout the season.
As Lake Tahoe’s original backcountry ski shop, Alpenglow Sports seeks to encourage human-powered backcountry skiing and riding in Lake Tahoe’s world-class terrain while creating a shared forum that is both fun and inspiring. Backcountry users of all levels are encouraged to participate, from professionals to weekend warriors. Weekly raffles will also be held for all participants. The contest will rely solely on honest and accurate data entry from all participants, false entries and exaggerations will not be accepted.
Northstar Sold to Vail Resorts
Northstar-at-Tahoe has instantly raised its profile and market reach as a destination resort with its sale to Vail Resorts, industry insiders say.
Vail, which also owns Heavenly on the South Shore, closed the purchase of Northstar in late October for $63 million from Booth Creek Resorts, which also owns Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort on Highway 50 at Echo Summit.
“We are thrilled by the opportunity to bring Northstar-at-Tahoe into our family of world-class mountain resorts. With substantial and diverse ski terrain, a completely renovated and modern base village and outstanding guest service, Northstar-at-Tahoe has been one of the fastest growing mountain resorts over the past few years,” said Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts. “We believe guests of Heavenly and Northstar will greatly appreciate the flexibility to enjoy both the north and south shores of Lake Tahoe as we introduce pass and lift tickets products that offer access to both resorts starting with this coming 2010-2011 ski season.”
Skiers who bought Double Whammy joint season passes for Northstar and Sierra this season will not be affected; those passes will be honored through the season.
In addition to Heavenly and Northstar, Vail Resorts is the parent company behind such resorts as Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone mountain resorts in Colorado, and Grand Teton Lodge Company in Wyoming.
Meeks Bay to Emerald Bay: 19 Miles of Forgivenes
By Robert Frohlich
There are times in every person’s life that demand a modest act of penance – like when you’ve been ill tempered to your sweetie, or been busted pretending to know the difference between trout flies or climbing copperheads. When you’ve behaved badly a good remedy is to hike Meeks Bay to Emerald Bay in a day.
If executed with rigor this 19-mile hike through Desolation Wilderness in summer offers an ennobling out-of-body experience that approximates a sadist session scolding for the true penitent.
Forget camping, backpacks and a scrumptious lunch. If you’re going to take on 19 miles of agony between dawn and dusk its best to feel as light on your feet as you possibly can. Never mind carting along a bunch of water and food. This is Purgatory after all. Instead, bring a water filter, windbreaker, hat and sturdy shoes. A single energy bar is permissible.
Starting early is crucial. Be sure to fill out your wilderness permit available in the self-regulating box next to the map at the Meeks Bay Trailhead.
The hike travels over just about every type of terrain that Desolation offers. The first part of the hike follows Meeks Creek up the Tahoe/Yosemite Trail, through sun-filtered dense forests, four and a half miles to Lake Genevieve. From there a succession of lakes appear: Crag, Hidden, Shadow, and Stoney Ridge. It’s just before Rubicon Lake that the elevation rises dramatically in a sequence of switchbacks.
By Phipps Pass you’ve covered 11 miles. From its 9234-foot elevation, panoramic views of the Velma Lakes Basin and the granite character of Desolation unfold under a sky as wide as the face of time. Once past the steep high alpine pass the trail runs into a part of the Pacific Crest Trail that winds its way to the granite carpet of Middle and Upper Velma Lakes and the Eagle Falls Trail which concludes at Emerald Bay.
Your eager smile and polite greeting may alarm other evening hikers and tourists at the end of the trail who don’t recognize an exile returned. Go home and shower. Phone those you’ve offended and apologize. You have already forgiven yourself.
Robert “Fro” Frohlich is a popular Tahoe journalist and book author.
Three All-Day MTB Epics from Bishop to Tahoe
Story and photos by Seth Lightcap
Though the dirt is decent and the rocks are wicked fun, one of the best things about mountain biking in the Sierra Nevada is the fact that there is a trail for any occasion. Whether you only have an hour to cruise or you have all day and are looking for an ass-whupping, there are countless ride options.
Finding a Sierra destination for your average three-hour ride window is easy. Chances are you’ve already spent an afternoon or two on a few great ones. But what about those dawn to dark days? Where would you pedal if you had 12 hours to burn and were allergic to riding laps?
Here’s your answer. Check the specs on the three all-day epic rides profiled here. These rides are adventure testpieces that will challenge your legs, lungs, and navigation skills with big mileage, high elevation, and tricky route finding. Don’t expect your average ‘cross the dam and head into the woods’ endeavours as all of these point-to-point routes cross rugged alpine terrain via some improbable pathways. Due to the distances, these rides also require car shuttles, so read on, feel the stoke, and inspire your friends to join you on the journey.
The Coyote Flat Traverse: Bishop to Big Pine
The Coyote Flat Traverse is no doubt Type II fun. How else could you describe a 35-mile sufferfest that climbs 3,000 feet over an 11,000-foot plateau and includes more sandy doubletrack and hike-a-biking than singletrack? That said, this grand tour from Bishop to Big Pine is a spectacular adventure, well worth the pain if only for the glacial views and the chance to rip rarefied singletrack from the High Sierra to the Owens Valley.
This radical journey should only be attempted by strong riders with a keen sense of direction as route navigation is by far the crux of the trip. Your pedal payment won’t be the only sacrifice as the ride requires an hour car shuttle in both directions. Don’t be put off however. Just prepare well and roll with good company.
The car shuttle begins in Big Pine where you can leave a vehicle along Glacier Lodge Road. Cruise back to Bishop and make a left on W. Line Street (168), then a left on South Lake Road 13 miles later. Park at a turnout on South Lake Road just past Bishop Creek Lodge. The ride starts about a quarter mile up the paved road where you’ll make a left onto the first obvious dirt road and cross a creek on a gated bridge. The road looks like a private driveway but it’s a Forest Service easement.
Follow the road past a home then veer left and begin climbing as the road contours up the side of the valley. After grinding up 3,000 feet in six miles you’ll be greeted by stellar views as you reach the top of the plateau. At this point a map will be key as you’ll need to navigate the jeep roads across the massive Coyote Flat. When you pass a marked landing strip you’ll know you’re on the right route.
About a 1/4-mile past the airstrip you’ll reach a critical junction. If you head left you’ll climb up over a saddle and descend fast moto-banked jeep roads for about 15 miles back to Big Pine. This alternative route stays on dirt longer but misses out on the technical singletrack that awaits if you stay right and follow the original route.
If you hang right you’ll begin trending southwest following a road along a low-lying ridge until it dead ends at a hunting cabin. Riding out behind the cabin look for a faint horse trail that crosses a creek just after a barbed-wire fence. From here get ready to hike-a-bike a fair bit as the singletrack trail gets loose and steep as it climbs and meanders across a high meadow that overlooks the Palisade Glacier. After a couple miles of on/off climbing, the trail will drop sharply into rowdy technical switchbacks that cross another meadow or two before descending into the Big Pine Creek drainage and finally to trail’s end at Glacier Lodge. Zip down Glacier Lodge Road for nine miles back to your car.
Do not underestimate this 35-mile adventure. It is long, arduous, and extremely remote. Getting temporarily lost is probable, if not guaranteed. Prepare for a 12-14 hour day on the saddle. Following the route description in Mountain Biking Mammoth, a guidebook by David and Allison Diller, will vastly improve your odds of success as would bringing a GPS. The plateau is quite exposed so dress accordingly and abandon plans for the ride if you wake up to mixed weather. It’s also worth noting that there is a short cut variation to this ride that will take you back to Bishop after gaining the plateau. This route drops off to the north after 11 miles.
The Black Canyon of the White Mountains
OK, so this one isn’t exactly in the Sierra but rather looks out upon them. The White Mountains are the massive and under-appreciated range that looms to the east of the Owens River Valley outside of Bishop. Though well-known as the home of the Bristlecone pines, the oldest living things on earth, few people recreate the sprawling escarpments of the White Mountains as they are hard to access and not quite as picturesque as their High Sierra counterparts to the west.
Riding the Black Canyon is a top-to-bottom thrill that drops from the brushy ridge crest to the streets of Bishop, a 4500-foot plummet over 10 miles. The route starts on singletrack as it traverses into the canyon but soon joins a rocky old road that winds down the mountain. You’ll want fresh brake pads, wide tires and a couple extra tubes for this one as the narrow road is undeniably loose and ridiculously fast.
A Black Canyon descent begins with a long shuttle up to the top. The best place to leave your car is at the end of Warm Springs Road, a road found a couple miles south of Bishop off Hwy 395. Follow Warm Springs Road for approximately seven miles and park at the first major intersection. Head back to 395 and drive south to Big Pine where you’ll make a left on SR-168 going toward Westgard Pass. After 13 miles on SR-168, make a left on White Mountain Road and continue until 1.1 miles past Grand View Campground where you’ll see an unmarked dirt pull-out on the left. Park here.
The trail starts as a northbound dirt road leaving the back of the pull-out. Pass the first faint road heading left but take the second left that quickly becomes a singletrack trail. The trail traverses across a few drainages before dropping into the Black Canyon after a couple miles. The bottom of the canyon is marked by a major intersection with a road, at which you’ll take a left and start ripping downhill. The route is obvious from here as you stay on the main road as it drops another seven miles through alternately lush then rocky, barren terrain. Hang on tight and don’t let the Sierra views distract you too much as the loose trail surface demands attention.
This ride is notorious for flat tires, especially if you have XC rubber on your bike. Throw on wider tires for better scree surfing and bring two tubes per person PLUS a patch kit. A mile-by-mile route description can also be found in the pocket-sized guidebook Mountain Biking Mammoth, a very worthy addition to your trail pack.
Spooner Summit to
Mr. Toad’s: Lake Tahoe
The details don’t lie on this ultra-mega Tahoe Rim Trail link-up: 40 miles, 6300 feet of climbing and 7043 feet of descending. Whoa!
This ride requires some serious gusto but you get paid royally for the pain as you’ll travel through remote Tahoe high country before descending one of the most famous trails in the region, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Other than a few intersecting portions of paved road, the entire ride is on perfect singletrack with several hyper-fast sections.
The route is locally known as the “Super Punisher” but it’s doable for mere mortals if you get an early start. The first 12 miles from Spooner Summit to Kingsbury Grade are a perfect warm-up as it climbs awhile then descends awhile leaving you well-balanced for the big push up to Mr. Toad’s. The climbing on the back half is also broken up fairly well providing opportunities to rest. A quick dip in Star Lake at the base of Freel Peak is also not to be missed.
The shuttle drop-off for this ride is at a OHV parking lot just outside of South Lake Tahoe. To reach the trailhead go south on Hwy 89/50, take a left on Pioneer Trail Road, then a right on Oneidas Road. Park at road’s end. Head back into South Lake Tahoe and drive east around the lake following US 50 to Spooner Summit. Park along the side of US 50 at the Tahoe Rim Trail parking lot.
Rolling onto the trail the route is straight forward as you follow the Tahoe Rim Trail for 12 miles as it climbs and descends about 1800 feet to the intersection of Hwy 207 (Kingsbury Grade). Once across 207 the route follows Tramway Drive up to Heavenly Ski Area where the Tahoe Rim Trail picks up again.
The next 15 miles of the route are the physical and mental crux as you climb over 3000 feet up to Freel Pass (9,700′). Dropping off Freel Pass, the pain eases for a bit as you descend awhile before climbing another couple miles to Armstrong Pass (8700′).
Five miles after Armstrong Pass you’ll reach the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride turnoff, also known as the Saxon Creek Trail. Bust a right and muster some energy as you have another five miles of fast and technical singletrack to rally down to the car.
The sheer distance of this journey demands respect, let alone the fact that you climb 6000 feet over the 40 miles. That’s a lot of pedaling giving you ample opportunity to do stupid things like flail shifting gears and rip off a rear derailleur. Be patient climbing and don’t hesitate to put a foot down before you tie your drivetrain in a knot. The rocky sections of Mr. Toad’s are also quite challenging so keep your game tight in the last five miles. Finishing a 40-miler with a broken collarbone would put a serious damper on your day.
By Mike Erbe and Katrin
Team ASJ entered the extremely rugged Big Blue series of adventure races as a three person co-ed team. The following are the results from the first three races of the series, with the Tahoe Big Blue finale coming on September 11. Tune in next issue for Tahoe and final series results.
Silver Sage AR, June 19, Reno. FIRST PLACE (3 Person co-ed )
Red Tail AR, July 14, Walnut Creek. FIRST PLACE (3 Person co-ed)
Ocean Blue AR, August 7, Half Moon Bay. THIRD PLACE (3 Person co-ed)
Three Down, One to
“I am getting REALLY SICK of these damn hills!” We are five plus hours into the Red Tail Adventure Race as Katrin Tobin vehemently spits out the words…along with a mouthful of trail dust. I catch Tim Johnston’s wink – we’re counting. This is the first complaint we’ve heard Katrin mutter since we bought a bottle of cheap Chardonnay, five years ago.
We’re on our mountain bikes, backtracking after having realized we’ve descended right past the last checkpoint. The three of us, aka: Team Adventure Sports Journal, are shredded and bloody from running
through fields of star thistles. We are hot and tired due to the endless hills and the dozen or so hike-a-bikes already behind us. Only after hobbling to the post-race meal do we realize each one of us was pondering
the same question: “Why do we do this?”
The Red Tail race was held on July 14, in the Briones Park area of the East Bay near Walnut Creek. It took place a month after the June 19 Silver Sage, which staged & started at Wingfield Park right on the Truckee River in Downtown Reno.
At the Silver Sage Race, the inner tubes we were issued were useful immediately as pumping them up gave Tim something to do with his exuberant pre-race jitters. Once the maps and race instructions were handed out,
things were less straightforward, however. We decided to ride first, before the heat scorched the Sierra Foothills to the West where we’d be looking for the majority of the cycling checkpoints. We did a lot of scrambling up the steep, shaley knolls out there. When our eyes weren’t crossed from gasping for air or staring at our contour map, there were spectacular vistas of the sage hills and the Sierras to appreciate.
Tubing the Truckee River was, initially, even more refreshing than expected…even after running up river two and a half miles in our PFD’s. But, by the time we emerged, I was shivering and numb; dependent on my hardier teammates drive and encouragement to get me through the trans-river zip line challenge we faced next.
Hypothermia was ultimately averted by 90 degree temperatures and running the Downtown Dash. Aptly named, the Downtown Dash required hours of running in order to find answers to questions like: “There is a statue
at the main gate of the university stadium. To whom is it dedicated?” “In the El Dorado casino, there is a brewery. What is the percentage of alcohol in their beer?” What is playing tonight at the Pioneer Theatre?” But, after five hours of hard racing, we stumbled, rather than dashed, between marching bands, parade floats, festival booths, past tourists, and Black Jack Tables. We nabbed the answers while zigzagging through the streets of Reno…crisscrossing the campus of UNR in the process… and finally looping back to Checkpoint F (F is for Finish…In case you were wondering).
We plopped down our race passport and were giving each other high-fives when a soft voice said, “You missed one.” Seems that when we read the marquis to determine “What is playing tonight at the
Pioneer Theater?” we overlooked the note on the bottom of the marquis that said, “Starts tomorrow.” Running back over to find the correct answer bumped us down to fifth in the overall finishing order, but we still managed to win our 3 Person Co-Ed division. As we recovered in the shade anticipating race organizer Todd Jackson’s generous raffle drawing, we stretched, joked, and discussed all the things we’d have to do better at Red Tail to get in the hunt for the overall win…
At Red Tail, we were one of only a few teams that opted to do the orienteering section first. Since it was already cooking hot at 8 AM, we would again save the water sport, in this case, the kayaking, for last. In an attempt to reduce the inadvertent body piercings from those nasty star thistles, Katrin and I strapped on gaiters just prior to the orienteering section. Good thing we did, because they sure were spiky!!! Tim’s only comment as he stoically plowed through miles of them, sans gaiters, was: “These things sure keep me light on my feet!” We then blasted out on the bike section and quickly learned that there is not ONE INCH of flat ground in Briones Park. In looking at the trail map, the contour lines simply blurred together to form trails consisting of pitched descents and steep, gut-busting hills. We were spending a fair amount of time in our granny gears, and trudging up the aforementioned hike-a-bikes. By now, it was 90 degrees, and we were wilting.
As we jumped off the bikes and transitioned for a three mile run DOWN to the kayak start at San Pablo Reservoir, thoughts of cool water, similar to a mirage, popped to mind. The paddling gave our aching legs a much needed respite. In coming off the lake, we faced the three mile run back UP to our bikes, followed by a short ride to the finish.
As usual, Tim’s horsepower was impressive as he took turns towing first Katrin then me with a bungee cord. As we rolled toward CP-F and the finish line, Katrin’s rear tire went flat. It was, rather fittingly, the last victim of star thistles. We had persevered and in the process, completed the race in 7 hours and 31 minutes for another category win…eked out by a mere 10 minutes…and fifth place overall finish.
We considered the Ocean Blue race, held in the Half Moon Bay area, to be our home turf and were committed to racing hard. The race led out with a run prior to jumping in the kayaks. After a paddle through the harbor at Pillar Point, we portaged over the breakwater to the open ocean. The waves were huge and we were really glad that we had taken the time to put on the spray skirts. We hopped on the bikes and were immediately challenged as we pedaled up the steep canyons away from the coast. Katrin was in superb form, and spent the day leading us on the twisty singletrack and switchbacks. We lost some time due to a navigational mistake, but were determined to make up for it. We transitioned to the last leg, another run, knowing that we were in the hunt for another good finish. As usual, Tim provided loads of serious horsepower, and took turns towing both of us with the bungee cord. We sprinted in to the finish for a 3rd place in our category and 6th place overall.
Due to their consistent finishes, Team Adventure Sports Journal has garnered the points to hold down the lead in the Big Blue Series Championship. There is one race remaining in the series, The burly Tahoe Big Blue. Stay tuned for a full report appearing in the next issue of ASJ.
In Tahoe filmmaker’s “My Own Two Feet,” snowboarders turn backs on mechanized backcountry travel
By Seth Lightcap • Photos by Chris Wellhausen
With snow conditions for steep lines gone sour with the warm temps,
Josh Dirksen finds adventure on our terrain park built close to basecamp.
Helicopter drops onto surreal Alaskan peaks, snow cat tours to misty Canadian mountains, snowmobile rides to wherever, whenever … Welcome to the fossil-fueled lifestyle of the ski and snowboard film industry for the last 20 years.
Though it has only become apparent in recent winters, there is no denying that such petrol-fed cold-smoke fantasies are a serious conflict of interest for an industry that will live or die on the frontlines of the battle against global warming. But despite this contradiction, the cameras in the copters roll on. Why? Because the fans fiend for the footage, and no one has been willing to sacrifice what it takes to venture out to film without the comforts of combustion.
Until last winter.
Debuting this fall, “My Own Two Feet” by South Lake Tahoe-based production company Leeward Cinema is the first ever full-length freestyle snowboarding movie filmed solely with human power. The brainchild of Leeward owner and veteran snowboard cinematographer Chris Edmands, “My Own Two Feet” was shot in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada and chronicles the adventure and reward of searching for freestyle fun using only snowshoes and splitboards for ascents.
Edmands, along with fellow Leeward cinematographers Kyle Schwartz and Jason Hogan, spent 30 nights under the cold starry sky and hiked nearly 200 miles over the course of the winter filming for the production. Looking to bring amazing riders to never-been-shot locations, and capture not just the tricks, but the camaraderie of a crew with widely varying backcountry experience, Leeward succeeded in producing an adventure snowboard movie that could serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the ski/board film industry.
Connecting the Dots
When Edmands founded Leeward Cinema in the summer of 2007 he had nothing but his years of filming experience on his back and a motivation to break the shred-flick mold by taking a stand for something he believed in. He had no riders clamoring to film with him and definitely no sponsors lining his pocket. So concept in hand and with a few key recommendations from past associates, Edmands started shopping around his idea looking for both support and talent.
One of the first riders he cold called was big mountain ruler Jeremy Jones. But when Jones got Edmands’ message, he planned on denying him.
“I already had three film projects slated for the winter so I only called Edmands back out of courtesy,” said Jones. “But when he got me on the phone, he said the only two words in the world that would have convinced me to film with him – hiking and Sierras.”
As it turns out, Edmands project was in perfect alignment with Jones own environmental initiative, Protect Our Winters, “POW,” a non-profit org he founded in 2007 dedicated to creating awareness of the global warming crisis among the winter sports community. “POW” became one of Leeward’s key partners on the project.
As Edmands continued to spread the word, he found that much like Jones, most riders and many sponsors were intrigued by the environmentally conscious message he had to offer.
“Everyone was open to it because they were ready for a change,” said Edmands. “Even the young guys. People were amped on trying out the human pace rather than the machine pace.”
Though Leeward’s roster of riders ebbed and flowed through the season, the diversity of rippers that rode in front of his cameras by season’s end was impressive. From legendary big mountain veterans like Jones, Tom Burt, and Jim Zellers, to seasoned freestylers like Chad Otterstrom, Josh Dirksen, and Finnish Olympic halfpipe medalist Markku Koski – Edmands convinced both backcountry experts and backcountry virgins to bring freestyle snowboarding to the wilderness one step at a time.
Tackling the Learning Curve
The common denominator among all the riders involved was that everyone obviously knew how to shred. But beyond riding ability, the backcountry and winter camping skills of the group varied from multi-continent mountaineering veterans to riders who had literally only hiked a halfpipe before. This diversity of experience proved to be both the subject matter and the solution as the Leeward cameras caught genuine first-time perspectives on the winter wilderness while the gurus of the group handed down tricks and techniques to help teach the cold ropes to the newbies.
As one might expect, Leeward’s first few outings of the season proved to be the most humbling and educational. In late November, they spent three nights in the howling wind up on Mt. Shasta. They learned that their camping gear was horribly inadequate. Returning to Tahoe with a bone chill, Edmands got to work securing sponsors such as The North Face to help provide gear better suited for the extensive winter exploration they were to embark on.
Perhaps the least expensive and technical of all the gear proved to be his favorite score – down booties.
“You put on those down booties and you may as well have been sitting round a fire,” said Edmands. “You’re that comfortable.”
With booties stuffed into their packs, the Leeward crew set out for Mt. Ritter, a massive peak 12 miles behind Mammoth Mountain, for their first trip into the Sierra high country. But after their first night on a windswept ridge, dissention mounted. Their position seemed miles away from anything worthy to ride and their intended route looked like it cliffed out.
Just as it appeared mutiny was about to unfold, a snowboard angel shuffled up on a splitboard – Tahoe native and legendary rider Tom Burt.
Chasing down the crew in a mere two hours, Burt flipped the sinking morale on its head by announcing that he was there to ride pow and anyone who cared to join him should follow along. In but a few hours, Burt delivered the crew to an ideal camp awash in riding possibilities. Pushing past this crux proved pivotal for the rest of the season.
“Burt finding a way down for us that day set the tone for the entire winter,” said Edmands. “Now everyone knew that anything was possible and that sometimes you gotta step into the unknown to get the goods.”
Burt’s memory of that moment was that he merely reminded them why they were out there in the first place.
“When you’re inexperienced and you’re out there working hard it can be tough to remember that you’re supposed to be having fun,” said Burt. “When I caught up to the group that day I tried to bring back that spirit of fun.”
Getting in the Groove
Having come away from the shakedown trips strong and hungry, the Leeward crew pushed on to grander adventures throughout the rest of the winter. Featured trips in the film include multi-day missions to the Desolation Wilderness, Treasure Lakes, and Mt. Whitney, as well as day trips to Donner Summit, Mt. Rose, and Ebbets Pass. Often times pushing trips back to back, Edmands and his film crew got ample opportunity to not only catch the cadre of riders ripping wild freestyle features, but continuing to learn what it takes to explore the winter wilderness day after day.
As reward for the countless miles hiked, Leeward collected some insane footage. A Jeremy Jones descent of a wicked steep face near Donner Summit called TB Super Spines was one such jaw dropping shot they captured.
Jones had backed off the line, one first ridden by Tom Burt, several times in previous seasons. But to Edmands’ delight, he sacked up and just barely rode it clean while the Leeward cameras were rolling. Even Jones was impressed by his effort that day.
“The TB Super Spines line was one of those lines that if I tried it ten times I would only get it once,” said Jones. “After I stuck it I screamed and laughed uncontrollably for the next few minutes while my body came back to earth.”
A late-April trip to Mt. Whitney was another of the season’s highlights. Although the snow was meager and wind hammered, the crew found several creative jib lines below Iceberg Lake, and unbelievably, got the entire posse of riders on top of Whitney’s 14,494-foot summit. The snow in the Mountaineer’s Route was bulletproof so little footage resulted from the summit day, but the climb was a testament to how strong this group of riders, many with no prior winter mountaineering experience, had become.
After six months of hiking and shooting in the Sierra, Leeward wrapped up filming in mid-May. Director Edmands spent the summer crafting the hours of digital footage into what became a chronological story of the season’s adventures. Mixing cutting-edge freestyle shots with campsite and travel footage, the storyline of “My Own Two Feet” plays out just as it unfolded, from early-season suffering to spring glory.
While the environmental message is inherent to the film’s concept, Edmands doesn’t dwell on it in the finished production.
“The act of how we did everything was the environmental message so we didn’t have to play on that much more,” said Edmands. “We’re not telling anyone how to live their life. We’re just trying to show people a way to put adventure and fun back into snowboarding while respecting the environment.”
They certainly achieved that in Jeremy Jones estimation. “The highlight of my film season was my time spent with Leeward,” he said.
The elimination of snowmobiles from the filming equation made a mark on many of the riders.
“I had veteran pros like Otterstrom and Dirksen tell me that once you get your legs and lungs in shape, hiking was less work than trying to operate a snowmobile in deep snow,” Edmands said.
Young gun pro rider Ben Lynch felt that, as opposed to racing from parking lot to destination on a snowmobile, hiking gave him a much greater respect for the mountains. You get to “experience every step,” he said.
With DVD’s on shop shelves and premieres popping up throughout the West, Edmands is thrilled to get the first Leeward Cinema production in the hands of other riders. But as far as what’s up next, negotiations are still in the works. The only thing Edmands is sure about is never losing sight of a challenge.
“Anything I get involved with in the future has got to have an element of testing your will, seeing how far your mind will let you go,” said Edmands. “Without that I’m not interested.”
See it for Yourself
Check out “My Own Two Feet” teasers at www.leewardcinema.com and don’t miss the film on the big screen at these regional premieres: Berkeley, CA @ Clif Bar HQ – Nov. 13th, Truckee, CA @ Fifty Fifty Brewing Company – Nov. 15th, Incline Village, NV @ Sierra College – Nov. 20th, Reno, NV @ Reno Bike Project – Nov. 22nd. For further information on premieres check out www.protectourwinters.org