Monday, September 29, 2014

Winters Reflection: 6 Months in or 6 Months out

Six months ago in I was in the Monashee Mountains in British Columbia, Canada on a week long helicopter skiing tour. For miles upon miles all that could be seen by the naked eye is mountain tops covered in fresh snow. Fast forward six months from March to today;  I am sitting in a chair looking at a computer screen, which is apparently contributing to my eye sight failure. My eye sight in my right eye has gotten slightly worse, but my left eye has gotten better. Thankfully the chair I set in everyday is ergonomically designed, otherwise I would probably be blind by now.

Like any form of vacation, they tend to go by too quickly. This one was no different. It's always amazing how quickly the distance of an incredible week tends to dissipate from our memory. I remember one week after returning from this trip and falling back full force into the work grind, making it feel like it had been months ago that I had been stepping out of a helicopter and found myself skiing down untouched powder perfection. While I have posted a few initial thoughts from this excursion, I have not fully captured everything that it was. As the summer days dissipate, the weather turns cooler and the air becomes a little bit less thick, we know that winter is soon on it's way and it's only a matter of time before our winter playgrounds are accessible. I felt it was important to reflect on some highlights of the trip  as the working life begins to completely stricken my sight and sends me into blindness, and I am unable to do so.

1. The Waiting

Just like the Tom Petty lyrics, the waiting is the hardest part. The planning for this trip began almost a year in advance. Once we confirmed it was a go, the trip begin to consume my mind. It's amazing how much of my free time became dedicated to the trip. I began reading up on avalanche safety, back-country etiquette and tracking the winter patterns throughout the northwest. Even my daily workout regiment became focused on ways to prepare for powder skiing. You can talk to others who have experienced heli-skiing, read stories of the experiences people have had and even watch video of the entire process. But until you are actually there engaged in the experience you find your mind constantly envisioning and trying to set the stage for what the experience will actually entail.  I don't think I had ever been in a position where I had such much excitement  and nervous energy flowing over a trip. The days leading up to the trip finally began to dwindle and the time had come to set dreams into motion. Here. We. Go.

Go Time

2. There is a first time for everything

There is a first time for everything: what a terrible, cliche saying. But when you add on to that: stepping out of a helicopter deep in the Monashee mountains preparing to ski down an untouched powder tree or glacier run, it has a little better ring to it. We were skiing out of Mike Wiegele's; a five start mountain resort known for some of the greatest powder skiing in the world. Everyone is typically there for a week and guests are divided into groups of 7 or 8 which is the group you will ski with for the week. The helicopter's essentially operate as ski lifts. They pick you up in the morning. They drop you off at the top of each 'run' and pick you up at the bottom. Each morning the group gathers near the heli pickup spot and waits for the distant sound of helicopters to start up from a near by heli hanger. I will never forget our first pickup. The heli comes in from a quarter mile out over the tree line and lands to pick you up; the engine never stops nor do the blades so obviously safety is of the utmost concerns. Boarding beneath thumping blades all communication is non-verbal.  I had so much nervous-energy getting on that helicopter for the first time. Taking in the entire experience: here I am buried deep in the British Columbia mountains about to be dropped off into a powder paradise: Let an epic week commence.

First time ever in a helicopter. So much energy. 

3. Powder, Powder, Powder

I have grown up my entire life skiing and I spent a winter in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and while most of my skiing had been in-bounds to this point, I had what I thought to be some fairly decent powder experiences. Everything that I had ever experienced to that point in my life was no comparison to the six days of powder skiing at Wiegele. Every run: untouched, untracked powder. As a skier, that is what you dream about,. At a resort on a good powder day, you might get 2 or 3 runs before the entire mountain gets skied off. At Wiegele it's untouched on every run. While I had skied some powder coming into the trip, I had never skied powder every day, every run. As the week began, I did not present the best form and found myself exerting more energy than necessary. As the week progressed, my form steadily improved and I became more confident and comfortable with every turn. Over the course of the week I saw a drastic improvement, with some help and tips from our guides who ski powder every day of the winter I found my self flowing in a powder paradise.

Hitting stride, mid-week

4. A Little Wind

One of the more memorable experiences that sticks out that didn't actually take place while on a pair of skies was the wind. Not the wind that was encountered on the mountains but the wind was encountered in the heli while trying to land in our drop off zone. Several times we tried to land, and the wind was simply to much. Strong gusts pushed the heli back and forth. Here you are hovering over a ledge, a glacier and or a tree line and you can't go to the ground. Move on to the next spot.

Throughout the entire trip I think the only time I really felt my heart jump was experiencing some serious winds on a Glacier Tour in the Monashee's. This shot was taken as we begin the travel deep into the Monashee mountain range.

5. Glacier Skiing versus Tree Skiing

Our skiing ether consisted of high alpline (above the tree line) or in the trees. Skiing in the trees is in incredible. It's what powder skiing is all about. Higher degree pitches and deep flowing pockets of powder. Outside tree skiing is high alpine. It's more open and less vertical pitch. One day we did a glacier tour deep in the Monashee Mountains. It was a crystal clear day and the views were surreal. The pictures don't even really service it justice. Your deep within mountains upon mountains surrounded by glaciers and a select group of people. While the skiing is not as optimum as the trees, the views of the glacier/alpine skiing we did will be forever etched in my mind.

The black steak represents the heli-drop spot on top of a glacier. Our glacier tour provided unreal views of the Monashee mountain range. Pictures don't even serve it justice. 

A brief opening in what was one of many incredible tree runs. 

6. Stretching?

Days on this vacation started early, a little before 6:00 am to be exact. There is very few things that make it easy to get out of bed that early, skiing qualifies as one of them.The day started each morning with a 6:30 am stretching class. This was not a mandatory class, but because of the magnitude and the physical level of exertion involved with powder skiing it was highly recommended. It's funny thinking back on the time since this trip and the number of things that have really gotten me enthused to wake up prior to 6:30am. Stretching still tops the list, and it is an experience that doe not justify a picture.

7. Oh, Canada

There's nothing like some dog food nestled in the middle of the steak section. Canadians also love hockey and curling.

8. The Ultimate Chair Lift

Ever since returning from this trip, the sound of a helicopter has never sounded so good.  I look at them with a completely different context. Every time I hear one now, it triggers thoughts and memories of this incredible trip. Unfortunately the context of the sound of a helicopter now takes place in a concrete jungle. For six days I was fortunate enough to have a ski life in the form of a helicopter.  Now as winter approaches as does the time to get back to the mountains, I move back to what I knew before the helicopter chair lift - a soft seat with a bar - never losing sight of what needs to be done to get back to the ultimate chairlift.

One of the great shots of the trip. Seems to sum it all up.

Never lose sight of your dreams.