Route Finder: Summer dryland training for ski bums means biking, rock climbing — and wild raspberries
August 3, 2017
Summer seems like it's flying by this year. The monsoon is upon us and one never knows what the weather will do. Some days we awaken to sunshine and blue skies. Other mornings the clouds are low and eke their way over the Tenmile Range, stalling at the top and spilling slowly over the crest, like fog on the highlands — a misty mountaintop. This morning in early July, we were all shaken awake by intense thunder. Some days you can set your clock to the arrival of the 4 o'clock thunder, while other days it's clear, or at least not raining. The raspberry bushes are starting to produce their bounty and their freshness bursts for those lucky enough to find them.
Winter is coming…
The nights are starting to get cold again and each morning I can't help but think about the season to come. The gear guides will be arriving soon and the stoke is starting to build. The days are getting noticeably shorter and soon the snow will fly again. There's still some snow to be found, but every year it seems like less that remains for summer skiing.
After arriving at Rollins Pass the other day, I was less than inspired to ski the dirty, frozen, egg carton "snow" that I saw across the valley. Uphill both ways for that? It seems like it's a longer walk than before to make summer turns. The alternative is doing multiple laps on short mellow patches, so for now, it's all about enjoying the hills with summer sports.
…But for now, summer
The heat of the dog days of summer can make for sweaty palms when you're playing on the rock. That's why I try to boulder in the mornings or evenings to beat the heat. The best part of it is the light show at sunset — it's your reward for the workout. I love getting that pumped-out feeling and finishing the session on top of the cliff to watch nature's light show, savoring the day's pursuits and the company of friends. The bonds created on the sharp end of the rope, or when highballing boulder problems, are stronger than most since they are forged in true trust — trust in life and death. These are very similar to the bonds created in the backcountry, such as skiing in avalanche terrain.
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With the return of the rains, the dusty mountain bike trails have healed and become a tacky, tire-grabbing playground once again. When it got so bad that the forest burned, the trails were getting super loose. If you can find a weather window for a ride, now is when you're in for a treat. The flowers carpet the meadows in vibrant colors and make those rest stops all the more satisfying. This time of year, it's easy to keep riding until you can't pedal uphill anymore: just link in another loop, stop for lunch to recover, and then do it some more.
Dryland training as adventure
When I'm in summer mode, my mind is still in winter mode. I don't usually do a dryland training program. Instead, I try and bring my dryland to the other activities I do anyway, like mountain biking, hiking and climbing. A few summer ski trips are thrown in to see how my fitness and balance are faring, and then I apply what I learn to the movements on the bike, such as going downhill or through corners. Climbing is all about core strength, so it helps with the balance element. Hiking down the mountain is a great place to pretend you're skiing bumps and it sometimes hurts your knees just as much.
My training plan: Pretend the world around you is your dryland course and mimic the motions you want to apply to your skiing. Repeat until you find those raspberry bushes.
The other day I was driving to a hot spring (it will remain unnamed) and spotted a line in a range with only a photocopied guidebook from decades ago. This graceful couloir inspired me, and so I did some research into it. As with all visits to this range, the approach is a bear and involves serious amounts of bushwhacking. I'm looking forward to seeing the sunrise tomorrow and getting an early start to beat the thunder and lightning.
Summer turns can be a little scary if the sun doesn't do its job of softening the "snow." Hopefully the weather will allow me to pass and I'll tag a faraway summit that's unnamed on the map. The jagged spires north and south of my prize are the real rewards for all the effort, but by then I'll only be half way there.
Those first few turns of a summer ski mission are usually the hardest. Once the mind slips back into that place of balance, the living gets easy again as the turns slip-slide away the vertical. I'm looking forward to transitioning at the bottom and looking back up at the faint signatures in the snow — reliving the experience until the next time, holding onto those precious turns for as long as I can.
There's a simple satisfaction on the hike out through the wildflowers. I'm looking forward to daydreaming about those moments when the realities of the everyday are upon me.
But for now, I guess this summer thing isn't so bad after all.
Fritz Sperry is a skier, author, photographer and artist who has skied extensively in the Colorado backcountry. He's the author of: "Makingturns in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range," and "Makingturns in Colorado's Front Range, Vol. 1," both available from his company, Giterdun Publishing.