Monday, January 31, 2011

Flying high with the Iowa nightbirds in search of Templeton Rye....


I was flattered to be invited to the Iowa Bicycle Summit last weekend to speak on "Urban Dirt".  The presentation was successful despite a strange twist in the weekend.  

That strange twist was Templeton Rye, a local IA Whiskey that (as I found out) has become hard to find due to its limited first run.  I had actually met one of the owners of Templeton when a flight I was on 5 plus years ago was delayed.  I of course ended up at the bar and started up a conversation with this fellow.  He explained the whole business idea and that Templeton was just getting started etc.  I still have his card here somewhere.  So it was cool to find out that not only was the first batch of the stuff done, but it had been so popular that it was literally sold out at most of the establishments in Des Moines.  So with Ryan Hanser as the ring leader (although Sam and Justin were certainly motivated as well!), we ventured out to find a living bottle of Templeton Rye (and then kill it).  I thought it would be a worthy quest but I did not realize it would take two nights!  

On the second night the quest became pretty surreal as we drank our fair share of whiskey (you cant just leave a bar if they dont have the Templeton!) and Belgian Sour Beers.  There were huge murders of crows as we walked late into the night to accompany us.  We wandered into all sorts of bars, some bathed in green light, some dark with corner niches to hole up in.

The IA Dirt gang (Clubs from Decorah, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Des MoinesQuad CitiesCouncil Bluffs) can party with the best of them and they really know how to have a great time.  I look forward to any trip, both because of the fun riding and certainly the fun social scene when I am lucky enough to have a trip down there!  Thanks to all those who attended and thanks for the great hospitality as usual!

Watching the sun come up over Des Moines (also the best bike Ped bridge going!)

The Quarry

Dave Dawkins would be proud

Early on the signs pointed to an interesting night


Nope, no Tempelton here!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Casket Quarry, Duluth Urban Ice Climbing Experience...

Took some shots with Adam Dailey on Sunday up at Casket Quarry.  Yet another unsung Duluth Adventure sports location.
Rolling the Zepplin

Casket Quarry

Adam Dailey is focused.

Graffiti Wall

Rick Kollath in the Duluth "Alpine"

Adam and Garrett head on up

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oh to be a kid again

Pine Valley a kids paradise

Going on up to the big hill?

Mont Du, another great place to be a kid
It has been a few winters since we adopted Tae and he is just starting to hit that age where we are getting to ski with him.  Because of that I feel like I have been skiing a lot lately.  It really strikes me what a great quality of life the Midwest brings to families with kids who are just learning to ski.  Last night I skied a 5km race at Pine Valley about 5 minutes from my house.  When I arrived the lights were on both the nordic trails and the ski jumps.  The parking lot was full and kids were hurling themselves down the five or so progressive jumps in the park.  The warming hut was open, hot chocolate brewing and cookies were being baked in the oven!  A tow rope hauls the kids up to the upper jumps, younger kids are just skiing the bunny slopes while other kids are running nordic.  All free.  It blew my mind, what a huge opportunity for a kid like Tae.  The same cool thing is going on with Mont Du Lac.  About 10 minutes from our house ( I actually ski down to it as it is linked to the State Park we live on) it has a great tow rope, free to kids and parents.  Oh yeah it also has great craft beer on tap and a sweet fireplace to hang at while you take turns hauling the kid.  It is certainly fun for me, but I am looking forward to watching Tae progress and utilize all the great skiing he will have in the next 10 plus years before he starts looking at much bigger hills.....

Marquette Backcountry ski review Final Story

Mont Du Testing grounds (Tele Thursday)
First, I need to apologize for the late post on the Marquette Backcountry Ski.  I had a few things hampering me, first I wanted to really ski them in a bunch of conditions (snow and terrain) and I also only had one pair.  That said, I was hoping to get somebody else on them so I could snap some good images for the post, but due to my schedule of being a dad, a husband and a Mountain Bike Evangelist, I had trouble getting somebody to work with my open time slots.  Plus I have to admit that with only one pair I was having trouble giving them up!

I spent a few days on them in the Winona, MN area, skiing the bluffs of the Mississippi River.  The descents there are about 200-300 feet.  The snow conditions while I was there were awesome.  Really deep base with about 2 feet of fresh, fresh high moisture snow on top of that.  The temps were relatively warm, 25-28 degrees.  The snow as not super heavy, but it was certainly not Montana "Cold Smoke" either.  Most of the tours I did I just utilized old logging roads.  The MBS (Marquette Backcountry Skis) climbed really, really well for being a fish scaled ski.  Some times those skidder roads get really steep and the MBS could handle a pretty good grade. However if I started back sliding, the skis were short enough that I could quickly cross fall line and not lose much ground and keep gaining elevation.  Hopping over logs and downfall was easy as well and worry free too, I did not care much about stomping the sidewalls or pushing off rocks to gain leverage.  I did note however that the touring speed of the skis once I got onto the top of the bluffs and could really motor was slow in those conditions (high moisture snow etc).  However before anybody notes that as a negative I think it is best to recall that the MBS is most certainly a hybrid ski/snowshoe etc.  So breaking trail and staying high in the snow pack was exemplary but again if you are looking to really kick and glide, or do really long approaches you will note the resistance.

Hanging off one of the bluffs near my folks place in Pickwick (yeah I grew up in a place called Pickwick!) are some great old Oak and Walnut groves and my intended descents centered around those.  Some are pretty mellow pitches and some are more steep, fall line chutes that open up to more mellow grades.  On the mellow pitches the skis were slow enough where I had to really let them run.  I did not cut a turn at all but just rode the line figure 11 all the way to the bottom.  Again, it would be easy to call that a negative but if you are a beginning backcountry skier I could also see where this would be very predictable and inviting and if you are coming at this from the snowshoe perspective it would beat the hell out of walking down that slope on a pair of foot anchors.

However the steep chutes gave me a whole new look at the skis.  I would classify these skis as "Schuss" skis.  A lost art dating back to the wooden ski era.  Basically in Schuss skiing you point em, embrace fall line, keep your speed as high as you can and turn only when you need to and generally at the end of your arc.  It is a really exhilarating way to ski in deep snow and if you start to think that way there is a wide world of fun to be had.  After a few of those chutes, my mind left the more open slopes and went seeking really steep, tight and exposed lines that were a ton of fun.

In speaking with Dave O, he wrote these lines and I would have to say I agree with them.

"First my use case: My "skiing" style on these skis is more akin to free ride mountain biking on a 6"x6" suspended trail bike. 
I'm going from one rock nob to another picking an aggressive but efficient route up and a challenging but clean run down.
Think of the skis as having two gears, high and low.
The low gear is ideal for slow maneuvering, breaking trail and climbing. Generally speaking low gear is engaged when you are <5mph and <15 degree slope up
The high gear is for steep descents and engages around >10mph and >15 degree slope down
The slowness you feel is the lack of mid-range gearing, long flats (particularly on packed snow) and moderate downhills 5-10mph <15 degrees"

My other really interesting day on the skis was right here at home in Jay Cooke State Park.  The conditions were totally the opposite of Pickwick.  The temps were really cold, 8 degrees and the snow was light with an almost sugary base to it.  The MBS had almost 20% more glide.  So there is no doubt that the ABS in these puppies reacts differently in cold temps.  I was touring much more quickly and getting way more speed on the descents and because of that I was also able to nail some more mellow open slopes I would have normally passed up to get to the steeper stuff I was looking for.

In Jay Cooke my tour times are much compact and because of that I felt I was in more of a "session" mode where I was quickly scrambling up small but steep stuff and then Schussing down.  Jay Cooke is basically an area where there are a myriad of drainages all rolling off an escarpment to the St.Louis River which eventually drains into Lake Superior.  The ground consists mainly of clay and sand so when the water eroded the area it made thousands of small fluted, steep ridges (sometimes 50 degrees plus).  The MBS is right at home in that stuff.  Like I had mentioned in my last post on the MBS, we dont really get that much snow so hitting logs, rocks and maybe even bottom is going to happen and my ride on the MBS on that day was no exception.  Again, I felt no pain when I slammed, smashed and smeared logs on those skis. I should also mention that in both days I am recalling I was using a two buckled semi stiff leather touring boot.  Those were a bit light.  The MBS has enough width and beefiness where there is no doubt that a T2 or a mid level plastic boot would drive the ski more aggressively and you could turn even more than I was.  With my boots, if I was thrown into the back seat I really had to work to get back over the skis.  So again, shooting steep short slopes and really pinning it on stout lines made the skis sing and I have some great ideas on where I want to haul some buddies once they get a pair of the MBS so I can document what I am mentioning.

In conclusion.  I really had a great time on these skis.  They are most certainly everything that Dave O claims they are and I think that they will create a new niche in skiing for me and a lot of other folks.  Due to the speed of the skis however I dont think that they will be the "holy grail" ski I have been seeking but for sure another tool in the quiver for fun on the type of slopes that I have mentioned and the price warrants that as well.

I also think that if I were an east coaster or even a Rockies guy skiing in lower elevations that the MBS would open up a whole bunch of terrain in low snow conditions.  Take for example Brian Mohr's video of low snow skiing in VT this fall and you will see what I mean.  I also think that if you are coming at this from the snowshoe perspective then you will love these things.  We have a pretty crazy group of folks here in the upper midwest who love to huck huge on snowshoes.  Its their deal, I dont really get it but it is amazing what they do!  I think that the MBS will change their activities for sure.  Lastly for the rank beginner it will open huge doors as far as accessing really cool backcountry terrain and learning the sport in a friendly low key way.  So all in all I think Dave O is onto something and I for one am singing its praises.  If I had one suggestion for Dave it would be this.  Create the Marquette Backcountry Ski Pro Model.  Give it a real base for much higher end speeds, charge a premium and watch it sell like even hotter hot cakes than the MBS is right now.....

Monday, January 10, 2011


Tae getting in the "Fast" position

I have been fortunate in my life to have skied a great many places and with a great many folks.  My former boss, John Schweizer told me once that after 50 years of skiing he can only remember a few distinct ski days, that they all sort of started rolling together.  I did not agree with him then but now, many years later I have to admit that after so many great trips, tours, powder days and resort days, they do start to blend into one another.  However that said, I do remember a few key days (not all here obviously).  Here are few images to support those memories but if I could add a few I dont have pictures of...

First is skiing in Garmisch, Germany with Josh Mac and watching him throw one of biggest hucks that I have ever witnessed off a wind lip just to shame the shit out of "Rudi" the German ski instructor we happened (not by choice) to be skiing with.

Second is skiing with John Zeigle and Doug Coombs in Lagrave, France.  We skied Doug's famous Couloir to Bar line. 7,000 vertical feet and at the bottom I watched in amazement as Doug pounded on some boarded up, building deep in the embrace of a huge snow drift.  After a few knocks an old woman opened up the door and gestured us in for the best Rabbit Stew and beers I have ever tasted.

Third is skiing in Fernie, BC with the indestructible Tyler Merrit and watching as he jumped into a huge, scary chute without attaching his left tele cable to his boot....

Just another day in Norway
I remember, skiing with my wife Margaret in Norway, this day was just off a road between two destinations.  We had just pulled over, parked the car, strapped the skins on and went for a tour, it was just jaw dropping.  The snow pack was perfect, fast deep and because of that the Aspen trees were almost too picturesque.
The pirates negotiate their share of the booty
I remember skiing with the "BD Ski Team" (an informal and wholly incorrect name but those on it know why it is called what it is).  This time was at WhiteCap alpine with Rich Marshall.   Chris Clark was having a birthday and to celebrate it we hired a helicopter and had ourselves dropped off miles and thousands of vertical feet distant and toured our way home.  We skied our hearts out and Chris had one hell of birthday.
Me-happy winner of paper scissors rock....

Craig Hatton AKA the Reverend about to marry Kass and Elmo
 I remember skiing the day Mike Elmgren and Kass Harstad were married.  Of course I also remember the day of skiing that "Elmo"was buried but I try and put that one behind me as much as possible.

To add to all those great memories on skis, I can now add the first time I skied with my 2.5 half year old son Tae at Spirit Mountain, Duluth MN!  It ranks up there with easily all of the things I mentioned above and I can honestly say, this day will go with me to my death.

I hugged Tae and I asked him if he wanted to turn or go fast.  He looked up at me with his big assed helmet on his head and a very, very serious face and said, "go fast dad" and my heart just about burst...........

Monday, January 03, 2011

Cocktails with Christian: A fundraiser for CAMBr with Christian Vande Velde

Christian Vande Velde and his daughter

Country Mouse-City Mouse


SRAM walls of fame
I am inspired every time I head to Chicago but this time was especially awesome. Pro Cyclist (Garmin Connect)  Christian Vande Velde was gracious enough to throw a fundraiser for the Chicago Area Mountain Bike riders and it was a huge success.  It is a rare thing to have an athlete of his stature take the time to really give back to his local community and to his sport, so this was a really, really cool event.

Joining Christian were Robbie Ventura (US Postal), Jason McCartney (Radio Shack, Discovery) and John Vande Velde (Christians father and Cycling Hall of famer himself).

As usual I stumbled around with my jaw dropping and my eyes wide as I toured the city.  Man, what a crazy place.  I was also really stoked to swing by and see my friends at SRAM.  SRAM is another huge inspiration, they were a big sponsor of Christians event and are also huge supporters of IMBA, not only financially, but there is solid support from literally every employee I have met there as well.  Thanks again SRAM, I work that much harder after every time I stop by!