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I’d been eying this line all year. I’ve skied down almost every rock and cliff face at Solitude that has snow on it and doesn’t involve jumping more than 20 feet to get in or out of, so when I see something new that I think can be skied, it is pretty exciting. I never even realized you could possibly ski this line until it snowed so much this year and filled in.

Every lift ride I’ve taken for the past 2 months I’ve been memorizing the way down… go past the split tree, stop at the next tree, step carefully over the rock band, down the patch of snow below the big rock. Look for the gap to the right. Hold onto the little tree to climb down the next set of rocks. Ski right across the patch of snow above the huge cliff. Jump right side of cliff.

Actually, I hadn’t planned to ski the line that day – you can ski half way The linedown the top chute and then bail out to the right into a nice bowl that no one ever skies because the way in is hard to find. But I got half way there and it looked so great I just kept skiing. Also I had my helmet camera running so I was psyched to get some sweet footage.

It all went like clockwork — I had to side-slip more than I wanted to — I would have preferred to make turns, but it was pretty rocky and falling would have been death with the 50′ of rocks and cliffs below so I was being pretty cautious.

Anyway, I finally made it to the little patch of snow above the last cliff. The whole thing was pretty straight forward – it went easier than I expected, nothing too terrifying.

The one thing about skiing with a helmet camera is that the more you stop and look around to try and figure out where to go next, the worse the video looks. So if you want to shoot video without having to edit it much or at all, you have to make quick decisions and not move your head around too much. This means yo have to know where you are going and try to not make bad decisions because you haven’t taken the time to think things out.

At the last patch of snow, I saw there was a little line of snow off to my right so I could have skied out without even having to jump the final cliff. But, I had scoped the cliff out from below a few weeks earlier and it wasn’t that high, with a nice steep landing.

Another thing is that recently I have been pushing myself a bit farther than usual. Despite the fact that I ski down very steep scary looking things all the time, I am pretty cautious and don’t usually jump off stuff higher than 10-15 feet which on telemark skis seems pretty bold to me as it is. But lately I’ve been finding myself standing at the top of higher drops thinking…”Well nothing happened last time I jumped of something big…” and then going for it.

There’s a certain feeling you get once you’ve committed to something like this. The same feeling you have when you jump off a high cliff into the water, that brief second as you run forward, see the edge and know you won’t stop and then are in the air, with safety so close behind you but unable to turn back and you look down see how far you have to fall. There is something precious and intense and indescribable about that split second where you are hanging in the air, next to safety but totally committed, unable to stop what you’ve set in motion. Then you are falling, landing with a splash of water or an explosion of snow and you look back up and see what you’ve accomplished and think about that weird fight you undertake between the terror of common sense and the sharp rush of adrenaline.

So there I was, camera running, on a little piece of snow with about 10 feet 45-degree steep snow before a little tree buried in the snow that made a nice launching pad. I couldn’t actually see the landing. Straight down it looked like about 30′ to the ground, and a long ways out. Not at all safe. Next to that, was a clean drop where I knew it was steeper and the landing was clear since I had checked it out before, but still it meant I’d need a bit of speed. I took one last look at the nice easy exit out the side, away from the cliff, looked down below me, and threw caution to the wind.

Afterwards, I’m always flushed with this amazing feeling of pure experience. A childlike glee that fills me with joy. It is why I keep skiing and why I’d happily spend hours hiking to the top of something and then hanging off of trees and rocks to climb down face of a cliff no sane person would think was skiable rather than just skiing down a groomed run like a normal person.

Because I’m on telemark skis, I usually try not to land going too fast because then its pretty easy to catch an edge, end up with one leg behind you in the air as you hurtle headfirst towards the trees and blow out you knee or worse. So in the interest of not going too fast, I decided to hip check on my landing – If you watch pro skiers when they jump of really huge cliffs, they never land on their feet, they turn in the air and land on their back or side because it is a lot better to let the snow absorb your impact than your knees. This is kind of a weird feeling because instead of making a clean landing, you intentionally turn in the air and essentially crash. If you do it right, you ski out in a huge explosion of snow and everything is great.

As I’ve started to ski harder and jump off higher things, the moment of fear and anticipation as I commit has gotten more intense. You spend your life gingerly going to the edge of a cliff and peering over and then kind of hoping off. Now I was heading straight down for 15 feet before launching 25′ into the unknown. It definitely one of the bolder things I’ve ever decided to do, but the camera was on and I had decided that I was going to do it so I went.

Skis straight, no turning to slow down.

Down.

Off the launch, in the air, the snow looks soft and deep, I turned slightly onto my right side, anticipating doing a hip check in the deep snow to lose my speed. I braced myself for landing.

I have the moment of impact seared in my brain. I hit the ground, in an explosion of snow, but the snow doesn’t give at all. I’m turned slightly sideways but my momentum is down the hill – straight out from knee like one of those vector sum diagrams you draw in physics class. My leg stays where it was when I landed, parallel to the slope and I hurtle downwards. I’m trying to yank my leg free – this has happened before and I’ve always managed to make it, but I know what happens if you don’t free the stuck ski instantly.

And then there this distinct pop in my knee, my leg comes free and I’m tumbling downwards, stopping, standing up. Vision white with pain. I’m looking down at me legs and they won’t move. My right leg is numb with pain. I can’t even bend over it hurts so much. I hear in my head, over and over, the moment when I hit and that split second as my knee popped, that I knew that this was the one I wasn’t going to ski out of.

The landingLately as I’ve skied harder and harder stuff, I keep wondering if (when) I will injure myself. I don’t think you can really do something where there is almost no margin for error, indefinitely, without hurting yourself at some point. It’s simple statistics. But I am pretty cautious, and I’ve managed to ski like mad for 30+ years without any real injuries. After the accident, at least two of my friends commented that I had said, on more than one occasion, something like “It seems like only a matter of time ’till something goes wrong…” within the past few weeks, so maybe I knew what was coming. And now, as I hobble around the house, barely able walk, let alone ski, with months of pain and rehab ahead of me, I think about this over and over. Did I do something wrong? Where was my error in judgment? Was I being dangerous? And what if something worse had happened? From the other stories of ski injury I’ve heard lately I’m pretty lucky as injuries go.

In “This Game Of Ghosts”, Joe Simpson talks about living in Chamonix and doing completely insane, “out-there” alpine climbs, day in and day out, and how, as people he is close to die doing similar things, he tells himself stories about how he can avoid their fate because he knows what they did wrong, how he is more careful, he won’t make that mistake. But after a while, and when someone he knows is much more competent than him is killed, he begins to realize that its just a game he plays with himself so he can keep climbing, that fate will do what it will and that when you keep doing something that might get you killed, it often does and there is no way to avoid this because it is this edge where what you are risking really is your life, that is what makes you feel alive.

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After living in Salt Lake City for 7 years, I finally got around to going to the outdoor retailers convention. This is one of those events that you hear so much buzz about and always kind of wonder what the deal is.

The Outdoor Retailers Show is like going to a huge REI where every product has its own huge display with all the newest toys. Half a city block’s worth of toys. Oh and they serve beer and cocktails and you can buy a lot of the stuff at half price at the end of the week. Holy shit, for a gear and tech head like me this is nirvana.

One of the amazing advances in gear lately is how light everything has gotten. Like Mammut is selling an entire quickdraw that ways less than a conventional oval carabiners.

The camping cookware from GSI Outdoors was also amazing. They make a super lightweight cooking pot that had 2 bowls and two insulated cups that fit perfectly inside of it — no more fighting to fit all that crap in your backpack, it all sits nicely inside the cooking pot. They had lightweight everything from completely flat fold-up spatulas to hip flasks. Stuff like this makes me appreciate that we really are living in the future we dreamed up reading sci-fi as kids. You start to see how you could soon have a completely bomber camping setup for any season that would pack down tiny and weigh 10 or 15 pounds – stove tent sleeping bag food and all. It completely redefines what adventures are possible.

I bought a full length insulated sleeping pad from Pacific Outdoor Equipment that weighs barely more than a pound,it was made from sustainably grown bamboo, and the price includes carbon offsets for the CO2 to produce it. Pretty sweet.

Another toy I couldn’t get enough of was the helmet camera from GoPro. GoPro ads show up in practically every Google search I do since I’m always researching camera gear and it was great to finally get a look at one. What they’ve done with the setup is amazing. The camera weighs just a little more than the 2 AAA batteries that run it, comes with a housing waterproof to 100′ and can take an hour of video or 2 hours of 3 megapixel stills at 1 per 5 seconds. All you do to run it is push a button. It attaches to pretty much any surface from a ski boot to helmet, plane wing, surfboard, motorcycle, you name it. It retails for $180 which is seems like a lot of money, but considering what you get is pretty dang cheap since for most digital cameras, just a waterproof housing costs 2-3 times that.

One shortcoming of the GoPro is that it is hardly low profile (I mean do you really want to look like a cyborg when you ski?), but since it is self contained, this is hard to get around. Another issue is that if the clamp or sticky-mount fails you loose the whole camera since its not like a typical helmet camera where there would be a cord running into your coat to the recorder.

Video Quality — The camera records mpeg4 avi files @ about 550×350 (can’t remember the exact specs). this is reasonable quality for online use and actually looked surprisingly good on the wide-screen tv’s they were showing it on. . Unfortunately, by their own admission, the video doesn’t look that great on YouTube because it gets recompressed. They didn’t seem to fazed by this and were encouraging people to use other sites that have less compression, but to to me this seems like a major shortcoming. I mean really, the only reason anyone is going to buy one of these is to put their video online to show off what they do and probably 99% of people putting video online use YouTube. If you make a camera that seems directly targeted at YouTubeusers, having video that isn’t optimized for YouTube seems kinda lame. But hey, this is thing is only a year old so maybe they’ll see the light.

As someone who always wants to buy digital toys with the most available options, part of me really appreciates the simplicity of the GoPro. It has 2 buttons, nothing to adjust and almost no settings at all — it only does what they sell it to do, take pictures and movies when you push a button. I’m sure this will be annoying after a while, but as a product development paradigm it seems like something useful to think about.

Its supposed to snow 40 to 50 inches in the next two days so I’ll take the camera for a ride and post the video soon.

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Lately I’ve been obsessed with a climb called Helix in American Fork Canyon, about an hour South of SLC. Back in its heyday AF was at the forefront of hard sport climbing and had some of the hardest climbs in the world. It is kind of a trip to go there because there are plenty of walls where almost every climb is 5.12 or harder. Its also fun to be able to see climbs I remember reading about way back when they were first put up and everyone was amazed that someone could climb such a thing.

Since we are still trying to figure out the moves on Helix, and it is way hard, we spend a lot of time falling off and hanging in the air so I thought it would look cool as a timelapse.

We’ve been trying to get down there after work but there isn’t much light left these days. Climbing with only a headlamp in total darkness at the top of the cave is pretty awesome, kind of like being underwater or something. You see the edge of the roof of the cave and then blackness. I once went scuba diving where there was a 3000 foot wall down to the bottom of the ocean. We were at floating 60 feet down facing the wall which was full of huge amazing coral. Behind us was this endless inky blackness. I’ve never seen deep endless blackness like that. It was blackness that could hold a scary thing of any size. Hanging from the roof in the mouth of the cave reminded me of that. The ground drops off so steeply below the cave that in the dark I couldn’t see anything, the darkness just swallowed up my headlight.

I was having fun until the centipedes started crawling out of the cracks to hunt and then there was that giant spider in one of the holes in the roof that made me wonder about what was in the holes I was blindly sticking my fists and feet into.

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