The next two days are probably the most relaxed days for the Alpine Skiing section of this all. The first day is spent at Sunshine Ski hill practicing and showcasing to the new Guides our level of skill at skiing. As a prerequisite of the course you are to be able to link together two parallel turns…. Thank god I practiced skiing at Marmot basin the week before this course, for 7 hours after not skiing for about 8 or 9 years. Prior to this trip I was, or am still a snowboarder however I grew up skiing. So a quick refresher on Marmot, and on my new touring equipment got me back in the swing of things. By the end of the Sunshine day I was confident on my wood planks. The groups skill ranged from near novice to advanced skiers, with some of the guys who have gotten out over a dozen times this season both at resorts and back country.
Thank god I practiced skiing at Marmot basin the week before this course, for 7 hours after not skiing for about 8 or 9 years.
While skiing Sunshine we stopped for a brief lunch at one of the lodges, naturally accompanied by a few beers to help… loosen the muscles. Our guides Darcy and Don are very laid back ski guides with decades of experience and I think the group of us and the new guides really clicked.
The second day was a day trip to Bow summit for a practice day of Ski touring. I wouldn’t call myself an expert ski-tourer however I have spent most of my youth on skis so really fine tuning my ability to skin, transition and ski was easy. The real learning came with picking routes to walk up the hill prior to skiing down it. Partly inexperience, partly excitement and maybe a little youthful energy tends to make one consider throwing your risers on and walking straight up the hill. There are two problems with this technique; first of all it is extremely tiring and not always faster than creating switch backs. The second is you can often expose yourself to terrain traps or dangers without recognizing it. So the basics for the day were leaning how to place tracks maintaining a balance between efficiency and ease.
Oh, and if some of the terminology is confusing I will attempt to explain to those who have not ski-toured. Lets start with the skis, you need something that is powder friendly, slightly long and with a wide waist. The waist of the ski being the width in mm of the ski somewhere around the place your boots attach to the ski. The bindings you need will be either tech toe bindings or classic hinge or frame binding style. The new tech to bindings can cut a lot of the weight of the ski by eliminating a large portion of the binding. Essentially there are two metal sockets on either side of the ski boots toe. On the binding itself there are two spikes of sorts, that when the toe is pressed into the binding the spikes jam into the sockets and create a secured point in which to pivot the toe from. This allows a ski binding to act as a cross-country ski and hinge while walking.
AT Bindings (Alpine Touring) include risers as well, kind of wedges on the heel portion of the binding that keep the heel from having to travel all the way back to the ski and instead support the heel a few inches up. This allows the climber a better angle when walking up steep terrain.
The boots themselves must be Tech boots to work with tech bindings, and there is a big difference between touring boots and resort boots with a walk mode as one of the guys found out the hard way…..but more on that later!
Tech boots have the sockets on the toe to allow the binding to attach and hinge, as well a walk mode that allows for a long range of movement to make the touring portion of the trip easier. Alpine touring boots also include a ‘Vibram’ tread on the base so you can walk with the grip of a hiking or climbing boot in your ski boots.
Sort of like fish scales that are smooth one way and gross the other way.
Finally you have ‘skins’ for your skis. These are essentially a large sticker with a synthetic (or other) type hair on opposing side of the sticker. The skins are typically purchased in length with the ski you have and include a trimming tool to cut the skin to the ski. The skins are ‘stuck’ to the ski with a hook on the front and latch or tensioner at the back of the ski to help keep the skins in place. The hair along the bottom are oriented to allow smooth movement forward, but engage with backwards pressure to prevent slipping….most of the time. Sort of like fish scales that are smooth one way and gross the other way.
The day included doing a lap or two up bow summit and skiing down to practice placing tracks and transitioning (Going from walk to ski mode) and skiing with a sizable pack on.
For anyone living in Alberta for the last eight months you have likely notice how moderate of a winter we have had. Well unfortunately for this section the same is true for a lot of the Rockies. The snow was moderate in condition, and warming and melting fast. The good news is my fair Scottish/German skin burns easily in the beautifully warm and sunny weather as does the snow. But we made the best of the condition and enjoyed the day skiing.
Oh, and this section as well as some the next sections include AST 1 and 2 so we can comfortably and safely navigate the terrain. And AST1 and 2 is Avalanche Safety Training. So don’t worry Mom, I’m safe! Ish.
Skins: G3 Alpinist Climbing Skins
Skis: Volkl 100Eight
Bindings: Marker Kingpin 13
Boots: Solomon Mtn Lab