Skiing

On The Hill: The Creeper log and Nightmare wallride at Carter Park (Bull of the Woods video)

February 10, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

VIDEO: In this special mid-week edition of On The Hill, correspondent Z Griff gives a video recap of Zone 2 at the Bull of the Woods log contest in Breckenridge on Feb. 5. Look for back lipslides on C rainbows, switch 50-50 to 360 out on the Creeper, and more stalls, Miller flips and sketchy gaps than you can count on the wall.

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Snow report: 0", 0", 2"

Summit Daily field report: Another beautiful bluebird day in the Kingdom. Enjoy the 40-degree weather.

Weather: High 44 F, low 19 F. Sunny.

Lift lines: Lines could be a bit packed at the base area with the sunshine but it's Wednesday — best day of the week for quick laps.

Breakdown: It's another stunner in Breck on the day after Mardi Gras. Z Griff takes you on a tour of Zone 2 at the Bull of the Woods log contest in the pines above downtown last week.

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Take 5: Gunnar Sorensen, Loveland Ski Club Academy coach

February 9, 2016 — 

Gunnar Sorensen knows his way around speed.

At the start of his career, the former Staemboat Springs Winter Sports Club slalom racer took a job with the U.S. Ski Team as a ski technician. He spent a season traveling with the World Cup women’s team, tuning skis for Olympians like Paula Moltzan, Mikaela Shiffrin and the rest of the technical athletes as they traveled from the U.S. to Canada to Europe and back.

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On The Hill: Test-driving the Carter Park butter pad to down log (Bull of the Woods video)

February 9, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

VIDEO: Z Griff gives an insider's look at the construction, testing and riding of one nasty Bull of the Woods feature: a butter pad to down log. Everything was filmed in Carter Park before and after last week's contest. Enjoy.

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Snow report: 0", 0", 7"

Summit Daily field report: It's gorgeous out there. Pretty warm for a February day and hardly any wind. Enjoy the clear skies.

Weather: High 38 F, low 16 F. Clear.

Lift lines: Should be pretty light, but expect beads and shenanigans for Mardi Gras. Celebration!

Breakdown: It's a perfect day for Mardi Gras riding. Z Griff looks back at the last celebration, Bull of the Woods log jam in Carter Park late last week.

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Surviving Summit: Know the ins and outs of tendonitis

February 8, 2016 — 

Editor’s note: This is first in a multi-part series on common ailments. See Eric Dube’s column in March for a look at arthritis.

There is no exception when it comes to inflammation. Everybody will experience some degree of an “itis” at some point in his or her active (or even sedentary) life.

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On the Hill: Bull of the Woods lightning strikes session (snow video)

February 8, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

VIDEO: ZGriff takes us to Carter Park and in the woods for the first session of Bull in the Woods. This is something special — the first touch of board to build to see if the creation works. Watch as the builders run through the course the day before the Bull of the Woods to test the functionality of the features. Stay tuned for the complete coverage of zone's 1, 2 and 3 and also the finals zones here at On the HIll. #bullofthewoods #othwzg

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On The Hill: SIA demo day at Copper Mountain in the fresh stuff (snow video)

February 6, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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The Limelight: Reigning Bull of the Woods champ Matt Coughlin

February 4, 2016 — 

About 48 hours ago, Matt Coughlin boarded an Amtrak train from Salt Lake City to Glenwood Springs for a ride on the fabled California Zephyr. The nine-hour trip ended with a two-hour drive from Glenwood to Breckenridge (luckily there was a lull in the snow), where Coughlin headed to the woods above Carter Park to preview the course for Bull of the Woods, an underground, grassroots log-rail jam held not at a resort, but on man-made features in the pines.

Rail to logs and back again — it doesn’t get more modest than that.

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On The Hill: Running of the Bulls, a banked slalom months in the making (video)

February 4, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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Take 5: Former Tiger Andrew Ike on the Fort Lewis gridiron

February 2, 2016 — 

College football didn’t quite go how Andrew Ike expected. For starters, he hardly expected to play after high school.

In 2011, back when Ike was a senior at Summit High School, the lifelong Summit County local was a standout on all sides of the pigskin. Quarterback, wide receiver, special teams — you name it, he played it. But, like so many on the Tigers football team, Ike was forced to become generally good at everything, rather than excel at one position like the majority of college prospects.

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Scene from the first Frisco ski mountaineering race

February 2, 2016 — 

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On The Hill: Dropping the One Eyed Jack cliffs after 11 inches of fresh (video)

February 2, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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On The Hill: Sledding the old-school Silver Streak at Carter Park (video)

February 1, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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Annual SIA Snow Show features local brands

January 30, 2016 — 

DENVER — SnowSports Industries America’s 62nd annual snow sport expo is underway at the Colorado Convention Center with over 950 brands showing off the greatest and latest coming to the market for the 2016-17 winter season.

Local Mikey Elstad, of Vail, was at the convention on Thursday checking out the trends and gear coming out next season.

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On The Hill: Breaking ground on Breck's Running of the Bulls Banked Slalom (video timelapse)

January 30, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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Tips and tricks to get over the snowboarder's plateau

January 29, 2016 — 

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on building skills and breaking bad habits. Read the first part for skier advice.

It’s a saying as old as the original Snurfer: snowboarding is hard to learn and easy to master, skiing is easy to learn and hard to master.

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Hit-and-run skier at Keystone leaves woman with seven broken ribs

January 29, 2016 — 

It was late in the morning on Jan. 18 when David Convy heard a sound and took notice.

The distinct hissing of skis gave the first report of a skier screaming down Whipsaw, a blue cruiser at Keystone Resort. Convy watched helplessly as the skier hit a roller, launched into the air, and — before Convy could even utter an oath — plowed into the back of his wife, who had been skiing ahead of them.

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Uphill/Downhill Challenge brings Glen Plake and costumed skimo to Copper on Feb. 1

January 29, 2016 — 

When Glen Plake tells you to wear a costume, you don’t say no.

For nearly three decades, the 51-year-old freeski legend has been a fixture at the SnowSports Industries America Snow Show, held this weekend in Denver. It’s one of the few times you’ll find him in sneakers instead of boots and skis, although he still wouldn’t be caught dead without his signature mohawk. The guy just knows how to wow the masses.

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High Gear: FATMAP 3D trail map app review for Keystone Resort

January 29, 2016 — 

Keystone is one of those mountains I know like the back of my hand.

It’s safe to say the proverbial back of my hand just got way more detailed thanks to FATMAP, a recently-launched mobile app that pairs ski maps with satellite imagery. This marriage of old-school, hand-drawn trail maps and modern-day tech creates a true-to-life 3D rendering of every trail, bowl and lift line at Keystone — plus nearly a dozen other resorts in Colorado and 27 total across the globe (think high-profile areas like Jackson Hole and Chamonix in France, one of three original test sites). The app was built by two GIS pros from the U.K., Misha Gopaul and Dave Cowell, and their professional attention to detail shows.

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On The Hill: Enjoying The Outback before the storm (video)

January 29, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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Team Summit's Grifen Moler at the Freeride Junior World Championships in tiny Andorra

January 28, 2016 — 

About 10 days ago, a group of two local athletes and their ski club coaches boarded a plane from the U.S. to Europe. Their final destination: Andorra, a small (and relatively hard-to-reach) region of craggy peaks and chutes and basins nestled in the thick of the Pyrenees range. Their goal on the ground: the Freeride Junior World Championships, considered the Olympics of big-mountain riding. It’s the premier venue for young skiers who crave powder, cliff drops and unpredictability — imagine your best day on the mountain in competition form — and only the best of the best from 20 nations made the cut.

But Mother Nature had other plans.

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High Gear: Review of the RMU Carbon Apostle men's ski

January 27, 2016 — 

It seems like just about anyone who steps on a pair of skis dreams of heading into the backcountry. These days, it’s no longer just a dream — it’s in your face.

Part of the allure is fresh, untracked terrain. Duh. Resort skiing has always been about the convenience of chair lifts and groomed terrain; but, at some point, folks who hardly thought about venturing into the great, white unknown decided unmaintained snow was better than never-ending lift lines and $100 lift tickets.

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Beginner-friendly ski mountaineering race comes to Frisco Jan. 27

January 26, 2016 — 

The folks at Summit Skimo Club want everyone to try ski mountaineering at least once. Today is your chance.

Around dusk, organizers with the local skimo club are partnering with the town of Frisco for a beginner-friendly race on the wide-open terrain at Frisco Adventure Park. It’s the final event in a four-part “intro to skimo” series the two groups launched in early December, which began with three technique sessions to prepare curious newcomers for today’s race.

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On The Hill: Ripping down the noon groomer at Copper (video)

January 26, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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February 4, 2016 — 

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On The Hill: Immaculate wind-loaded snow in Double Barrel and Way Out chutes (video)

January 25, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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Retrofitted: Greg Gutzki's original Snurfer

January 23, 2016 — 

Greg Gutzki remembers the exact moment he heard about snowboarding, only it wasn’t known as snowboarding.

On Christmas Day in 1966, the Michigan native and his younger brother came downstairs to an odd-shaped gift beneath the sparkling tree. The contraption was about 3 feet long and no wider than two skis, made of painted yellow wood with a single rope attached to the slender nose. The tail was entirely flat and the base was ever-so-slightly tapered, like the keel of a small boat.

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Ski Through History in Breckenridge

January 23, 2016 — 

As our group of four stood on the base of Peak 8 in Breckenridge after stepping into gear, we marveled at the size of the construction going up next to the gondola, the future home to The Grand Colorado on Peak 8. Building is still underway for Breckenridge Grand Vacation’s newest timeshare resort, but the 75-unit property will stand on the exact spot of Breckenridge Ski Resort’s original Berganhof Lodge, built in 1961.

Our guide, Sharon, hands me an old postcard showing the Berganhof Lodge back in the day. Breckenridge has a long history from the time miners began showing up in search of gold, to the early days of the ski resort, to present, and the names of the runs shed light on some of that history. We were about to get a glimpse into the town’s colorful past during the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s (BHA) Ski Through History Tour.

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On The Hill: Face shots off Falcon Chair with no one else in sight (video)

January 23, 2016 — 

On The Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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Meet your local avy forecaster

January 22, 2016 — 

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s a blue sky Wednesday morning on Mayflower Gulch, a popular backcountry area near Copper Mountain, and while other backcountry users traipse past in search of powder, Scott Toepfer has dug himself a handsome 3-by-4-foot snow pit.

The veteran Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster runs a series of tests, sawing off columns of snow, tapping the surface to see where the weaknesses lie and even measuring snow crystals through a magnifying lens. In one test, he slides the long saw into what he sees as a weak layer some 2 feet below the surface. In a split second, the layer cracks horizontally across and a 100-pound block of snow leaps out from the cross section Toepfer has cut and lands at his feet.

“This means that even in a low-avalanche risk area, a slide is still possible,” says Toepfer.

Toepfer can talk snow all day. It’s his job, after all, and here in the avalanche-prone Colorado backcountry, Toepfer and his Colorado Avalanche Information Center colleagues are on the front lines of providing avalanche-risk information, using field tests and weather forecasting technology to help backcountry users plan their trips and, hopefully, get home safely.

It’s a job that requires dedication, long hours and early mornings, and it is laden with a high-stakes responsibility — of course, it doesn’t hurt that part of the job description is backcountry skiing several days a week. Toepfer explains that forecasters try to get all the information out there through a variety of outlets and in a timely manner. It’s up to individuals to make their own decisions when it comes to what they’ll ski and how prepared they’ll be, but the forecasters are well aware that what people decide to do with the reports and warnings can be a matter of life and death.

“This is why people can’t outrun avalanches, and why if you get buried, you can’t breathe,” said Toepfer, gesturing to the dense slab of snow that just fell out of his snow pit. “Even on days where the risk is labeled ‘low,’ people tend to forget — there may be a low probability of a slide, but the consequence if there is is really high. A number of people can ski something just fine, but someone can hit a weak spot and set something off.”

A lifelong skier, Toepfer takes stock of the surrounding peaks and points out several small slides that he thinks took place one to two weeks ago. He observes the slow, smooth, lens-shaped clouds that are moving in over the jagged peaks and notices that a number of contrails are lingering in the air. It all points to changing weather patterns, he said.

There’s the fun part, too. He decides to skin up a mellow slope nearby, taking some measurements on a windblown cornice at the top before making tracks in the powder.

“I certainly don’t want anyone to get the impression that I don’t love to ski,” he grins.

Snow science

Toepfer is among 15-plus Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters who cover 10 areas around the state. Besides the glorious part of being out in the field, their job also includes weather forecasting at the Boulder headquarters, teaching avalanche safety classes around the state and keeping tabs on slides and avalanche-related injuries and deaths.

Possibly the biggest unsung heroes of the organization are the highway forecasters, who work with the Colorado Department of Transportation to mitigate avalanche risks on the state’s interstates and highways. If it’s dumping snow through the night, you can bet one of the highway forecasters are up and keeping tabs on the conditions so that the state’s roads stay safe and open.

The forecasters come from a number of different backgrounds and span the age spectrum from mid-20s to 60, but almost all have extensive ski patrol experience and graduate educations in subjects like meteorology, geology and snow science. (Yes, that’s a master’s program.)

Toepfer is from Iowa, but he came out to Colorado to do some skiing and take a break from college in 1974. He landed at Arapahoe Basin, where he found himself on the same chairlift as the resort owner, who offered him a job as a breakfast cook. That began a long string of winters at Colorado’s resorts, and he remembers his first encounter with an avalanche while full moon skiing on Loveland Pass. A friend was caught and buried up to his neck in the debris.

“I had no idea what an avalanche was. I don’t think I’d even heard of an avalanche before,” he said.

Toepfer eventually spent 17 years as a ski patroller at A-Basin and Vail and overseas in New Zealand and France. He decided to go back to school for meteorology and started with Colorado Avalanche Information Center in the winter of 1992.

“Snow was always my interest, and avalanches come as part of that. And weather is always a very important part of the forecasting process, so it all comes together,” he said.

Working the weather

It’s 4 a.m. on a Friday, frigid and pitch dark, and for Toepfer, it’s time to start forecasting avalanches for the state.

He’s rolling in to work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Boulder, where the Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters take turns rotating through field and office duty. He’s not the only one there — it’s quiet, but the forecasters are wrapping up their graveyard shifts. He clicks through the weather models, looking at screens that tell him information about the humidity, jet streams and temperatures, providing satellite and radar images and forecasts for the state.

Other forecasters begin chiming in at 4:45 a.m. via Skype to compare information and give their reports. On this particular Friday morning, the consensus is that most of the high country got a few inches of snow and saw some high winds overnight.

The avalanche danger is getting bumped up in many areas from low to moderate today, and there’s a lot of chatter about that decision. They take into account the fact that new snow is on its way and that strong winds are developing.

Toepfer sends out a one-minute recorded update on the conditions to the radio stations and updates the website with the day’s new information. The rest of the morning is spent writing up condition reports for different regions and sorting through field observations from backcountry users.

It’s been a relatively quiet avalanche year so far, but January is in the thick of the season. There have only been five reported avalanche accidents so far this winter, and no fatalities. Toepfer said that in his 22 seasons with the center, there’s never been a year when there hasn’t been at least one avalanche-related death, but he remains hopeful, as more people get educated and technology and reporting advances.

“I’d love to see a season without an avalanche death. That would be amazing. I might retire after that,” he said.

Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

Tips and tricks to get over the skier's plateau

January 22, 2016 — 

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on building skills and breaking bad habits. Read the second part for snowboarding tips.

It’s happened to everyone. For the first time since you stepped on snow, you’ve reached the limit of your skiing knowledge and just can’t seem to get better. It happens to beginners and experts and everyone in between: the plateau.

Good to know this is Ski Country and progress is the name of the game. Summit County is a hotbed for professional instructors and coaches who have helped hundreds of other skiers correct bad habits and reach the next level, whatever that is. For some it’s powder, for others it’s just keeping up with the kids. No matter what, pros at every level recommend one thing: find someone — preferably a certified someone — who knows what they’re talking about.

“Try to have one mentor, whether it’s an instructor or you read about them or watch them on a YouTube video or anything else,” said Jonathan Lawson, ski and ride school supervisor at Copper Mountain. “You can even find a pro here, someone who is a certified instructor, someone who is a very skilled skier and knows how to bring that information to your ability level. It’s so you don’t run into the roadblocks: You can progress without having to unlearn old moves before you get to new ones.”

For everyone except for true never-evers, the biggest roadblocks to moving higher and higher are bad habits. We talked with local instructors and coaches for tips on how to break the worst.

Bad habit: Sitting in the backseat

It’s one of the first and most difficult lessons for any skier: lean downhill, not uphill.

“This is the trick to being efficient,” said Doug Pierini, vice president of skier services at Breck and a ski instructor with more than 15 years of teaching under his belt. “When you’re back in the boots you’re using big muscles just to stand up. You need to move with the mountain and move downhill, following with your center of mass.”

It’s also one of the most frightening sensations for beginners, especially when you move from flat terrain to steeper terrain with obstacles like bumps, trees and more. But if you aren’t centered it’s nearly impossible to initiate turns quickly, effectively and with minimal effort. In other words, it’s the first skill you need to master.

Pierini has a simple trick to remedy the backseat: pretend you have a few $100 bills tucked between your shins and your boot tongues. This keeps you in the proper position to initiate turns with your legs and feet instead of your arms and shoulders.

Bad habit: Overcorrecting for the backseat

For every old and remedied bad habit, there’s at least one way to form an entirely new one.

“Usually the quick fix for the backseat is to get forward, but what you’re really looking for is to be centered over the arch of your foot,” said Jeff Lifgren, director of the Keystone Ski and Ride School and another instructor vet with 15-plus years of experience. “If you lean too far forward it can almost be as detrimental as being in the back seat.”

The trick, he says, is to feel your entire foot on the base of your boot: on your toes is too far forward, on your heels is too far back, centered over your arches is just right. Take a few runs on slow, mellow greens and pay close attention to your feet and how it affects body position. Once you find the balance point, remember what it feels like and check in with your feet every few runs. Soon enough it’ll be second nature, aka a new, good habit.

Moral of the story: Be careful to avoid overcorrecting. Again, working with a pro even once gives you a second set of eyes to spot these issues.

Bad habit: Lifting skis to start a turn

Proper form is all about efficiency, but proper form isn’t easy. At Copper, Lawson sometimes sees intermediate skiers lift and pull their skis off the snow to start a hard turn. It can work and usually does, at least on groomers. But when you move to powder and other advanced terrain it sets you up for failure.

Why? Because your balance is compromised. Lawson (known as Johnny Law around Copper) calls it a “gross movement,” meaning you’re using major muscle groups to perform a demanding — and inefficient — movement.

To remedy, head to easy and comfortable terrain for fine-tuned movements. Make, deliberate turns, Lawson says, beginning the turn with your foot and ankle before engaging the leg muscles. When you feel comfortable taking turns at low and high speeds move to more difficult terrain.

Bad habit: Wacky, waving, flailing arms and upper body

You’ve mastered the basics. Your body is centered and your skis are parallel. You can even maintain that form on steep terrain and mellow bumps. But, once things get real steep and it’s time for snap-quick movements, you begin to flail. Your arms are doing all the work and your legs are struggling to catch up.

It’s something even ski racers struggle with, which is one of the major reason Team Summit athletes train in the gym and on the hill.

“It’s really about discipline through the core, tightening the core to keep the body from twisting abnormally,” said Greg Needell, the club’s alpine director. “We spend our entire off-season trying to handle the forces we’ll encounter in racing. Once the season starts, we have a maintenance program where they’re getting strength and weight training at least once a week, plus another core session with that.”

It’s good advice for skiers of any level. Core exercises two or three times per week can maintain your strength and help prevent strains, Needell said.

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