December 30, 2012

Superior with the Dorais- Twice as good.

The silent and super low density snow fell perfectly on all aspects of the Little Cottonwood mountains this week. Amazingly no wind accompanied the last storm so the fluff produced turns that have been out of this world. Yesterday morning, in an effort to stay on safer compass aspects while still thoroughly enjoying the white puff we chose the sunny sides. Jason, Andy and I getting a late morning start, cruised up the skinner to the top of pole line then traversed the ridge to the summit of Mount Superior which was seeing a lot of attention. Traveling on light race gear the ascent was enjoyable (even though people probably laughed at Jason and Andy's skin suits). The snow was incredible. Reaching the bottom of the apron and then to the canyon road the smiles were covered in white.

Realizing how much fun we had we started back at the standard skinner and repeated it. Reaching the top the same way and skiing the same Southeast face of Superior again. Our times reaching the top  both times were quite similar. Just like seconds for dessert this was twice as good.  Mount Superior's Southeast face is so beautiful. I am grateful to have been able to feel its immense energy with great friends. After just over 3 hours from when we first put on the skis for the morning,  I got in my car and headed home to pick up the kids and Marcie for an afternoon at Alta.

Top of Superior

Looking down main chute (are those moguls?)

The newlywed Dorais ripping the pow high on Superior

Andy all smiles

Andy, his new Ski Trab pack and the Apron

December 27, 2012

Shelter in the Storm

The skiing this week has been outstanding. The day after Christmas brought soft and deep powder turns on low angles. Upper Silver Fork was left untouched for us to enjoy over and over again.  Great friendships made the trip even better!

Scott W.
Justin W

Scott W

Eric B

December 25, 2012

Skimo/Rando Racing in the Wasatch

While a newbie to the sport of ski mountaineer racing I have come to appreciate what a great sport it is. I have only done a few events, two races on heavy metal-- one being the Powderkeg and two on light gear. While I have skied  and climbed in the mountains most of my life, the combination of the two disciplines is special. I thank Jared for helping me see the light. The past week or so there have been a couple Wasatch Citizen SKIMO races that brought out a great group of folks. I wanted to give my simple perspective on my experiences of these past two events and what I have learned. Andy Dorais along with some other key folks work very hard to assess conditions and set courses that are manageable and safe for all abilities regardless of equipment styles. First of all THANK YOU ANDY FOR YOUR EFFORTS TO BRING US ALL TOGETHER.

Tuesday's Skimo race (Dec 18th)- First event for me using lightweight gear. They always say and I have found that you learn far more in events where you struggle miserably. This was the case on this event. The group took off like a pack of deer being hunted by a desperate group of men in orange. Tom and Andy cruised off the line (apparently like always) and this was my first mistake.  I should have gone at my own pace. I jumped on their backs until we reached the first switch back. Here's my second mistake. As I went to kick turn I slid back about 3 feet (Bart G. got a front row seat). The same happened on nearly all the steep switchbacks during the whole race. Why? I was borrowing the SKIMO Yoda's skins (guess who that is?) because I was dealing with some glue issues on my other ones. He was gracious enough to let me. Well, Yoda likes his skins to be cut ultra short in length and being the SKIMO master that he is, he can skin up just about anything. Me on the other hand, a young (really actually old in age) padowan racing skin guy failed miserable. I am new to skinning on race skins and simply put, I need more practice. Before I knew it all I could see was spandex in front of me in a line of trailing headlamps. Then came the transitions. Mistake number 3. I need to learn how to transition fluidly and patiently.  I'm working on it. The race couldn't end quick enough for me. At the conclusion of the fourth lap I hung my head low, licked my wounds and headed home. It was a great course though!

Christmas Eve Race (Dec 24th)- Andy, Tom (he also won the race) and others (thank you) set a longer course which covered about 3,000 feet of elevation gain over three progressively shorter laps on Great Western. It was a beautiful morning, snowing at the first part and the course was magnificent. Everyone was cheery for the holiday season. As I had tried to work on some of my failures on the last race, the event went a bit smoother. Rather than spaz out at the beginning I went at my own pace. My skin glue issue was resolved (I only have one race set) and I was back to a longer, full length race skin. I have a long way to go before I can skin like the Yoda. It will likely never happen. At the top of Great Western Tom was in front of me and gaining real estate fast.  I topped out behind him with Nick and Tim nipping at my heels. They did this the whole race.  By the time I transitioned these boys were already transitioning. On down some great powder we went. Nearing the top of the second lap, Tom was already long gone. I could see him way up ahead and there was no chance I could reel him in. The third lap was shorter and I could see Tom through the trees skiing down as I was nearing the top. My transitions continued to be sloppy (perhaps I can blame it on my leather work gloves, or my baggy jogging pants-- but probably not). As I reached the bottom, there were two figures standing there. Tom standing with his cheerleader and sweetheart, already with a big coat on and a smile. Probably already had a sandwich. Tom is amazing. Tim and Nick then came in along with Eric, Courtney and other folks. It was so much fun to talk with Nick and Tim while we (I) frantically transitioned. They are wonderful. I was contending with a super stoke factor in Tim as this was his first day on his lightweight set up (Hagan skis) and he was loving it. Family traditions were on my watch so immediately following the race I cruised home to be with my wife and kids. It was a fun morning.

I love my Hagan skis, La Sportiva RSR bindings and of course my TLTs. 

December 22, 2012

Congratulations Jason

The first time I met Jason Dorais was what we laugh and call our blind date.  The arrangements for our meeting up back then were made by Jared as he was unable to join me. That day Jason and I did an excellent ski tour ticking off some of the Wasatch's greatest gems all in a push.  Our adventures together have continued. Fast forward to December 20, 2012. Andy being the incredible brother he is, put together a bachelor party unlike most where spirits were elevated by wintery mountain peaks, a barbeque on top of East Silver Fork and endless low density powder all to be lapped by just us guys (or so it seemed). Andy faithfully stood by the grill, cooking brats for us all. Our celebration was for Jason and his marriage which occured just yesterday to Amanda.  Their marriage was so special. I am ever grateful for people like the Dorais. Their boundless positive nature, filled with limitless energy and a sincere desire to eek out of every moment that opportunity to be happy is one in a million.  Jason and Amanda, congratulations! Here are some memorable pictures of the party. I had to leave early and apparently and luckily missed out on some additional festivities.

Shuttling the gear. Andy and his big wall haul bag

The Man of The Hour, Mr. Jason Dorais

Bart G


Jared, reliving his days on Denali

The goods and Andy the chef

The puffy and colorful crew

December 12, 2012

Local Heroes Ch.3 Brian Smoot

Courtesy Brian Smoot- 1978, 18 year old Brian, 2000' up, Roof- Salathe Wall, Yosemite

November 8, 1997 was a cool morning with the autumn leaves shining in glory. Eric Badger and I were moving up Tingey's Terror in Little Cottonwood, when this guy with thick dark framed glasses came up behind us having placed maybe one piece the entire route below him. While he waited for his companion to join, he introduced himself to Eric and I as Brian Smoot. I immediately said "hey, wow, amazing, aren't you the author of that Wasatch climbing book?" He humbly confirmed.  That day he gave me a copy of the  Wasatch Rock Climbs book written by him and Les Ellison which was published in 1984. A 3-year project, this book was the third comprehensive Wasatch guide book of our time and details hundreds of routes that both you and I regularly enjoy.

Rewind back to 1972 and when it all began for Brian and his twin brother Jonathan at the ripe old age of 12. On a summer day Brian's older brother guided his two younger brothers, led by a trailing rope up Sunrise and then over to Salt Lake Twin Peaks. These two youngsters tasted high mountain travel in a time when there was hardly anyone stirring in the Wasatch Range.

It was this trip that hooked Johnathan and Brian. Brian's life would forever be enhanced. In those days the beta was extremely limited but pioneers like Ted Wilson and George Lowe were quickly putting up new routes throughout the Wasatch. Brian and Steve Aldous climbed the north face of Mount Olympus at 14 years old, by themselves without a rope.  As experience increased, their ever supportive mother would drive Brian and his brother to the Gate Buttress, drop them off and let their climbing imaginations run wild. Here they learned to climb, following a lean but important guide book called Desperate Grace, by Marshall Ralph and Dennis Turville.  Realizing that the potential lines were endless, the boys started working on new routes, putting them up in pure alpine style from the ground up, just like George Lowe.

These days mechanical cams weren't part of a trad rack, leaving their options to only passive protection or bolts.  Their quest for even bolder lines continued, however the fact that they couldn't yet drive limited their possibilities. The day finally came; they got their learners permits and the world expanded before their eyes. They knew their right of passage to climbing had to be big wall climbing.  At the age of 17 they took off and climbed Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park. Moonlight was only a stepping-stone as graduation week from Olympus High School was celebrated in their own way, climbing 6 big walls in Yosemite Valley without incident. They cheered their graduation summiting the North West face of Half Dome at the time of graduation commencement. They finished their trip off by successfully climbing the Salathe Wall of El Capitan with Rick Wyatt. Bare in mind, these are a couple of 18 year old boys, alone, only a rack with stoppers, hexes and tri-cams. This entailed huge runouts, and 5 long scary days. Royal Robbins called the Salathe Wall "The greatest rock climb in the world."

After multiple first ascents in the Wasatch Range,  these brothers set a crown jewel route of the range  in 1978. The Fin monolith on the north side of Little Cottonwood soars over head, showing a smooth and super steep hump almost like a fin jutting out of the back of a fish. When looking at the fin while coming down the canyon it appears like a vast sea of granite with impressive exposure on both sides of it. It is the hallmark image, even keystone of the Canyon. On a summer day Johnathan and Brian completed the first ascent of the Fin Arete and putting the 4-pitch route together. The route is super smooth, scary and a smearer's delight.  If you've ever climbed it you will concur it is bold to say the least. At 5.10b it calls out three stars and is a Wasatch Classic. Brian explains "the Dorsal Fin and Fin Arete routes were climbed more thirty years ago than they are today. The style of run outs and exposed climbing is not as sought out as it once was."

Realizing that many new routes had been established and a sincere desire to share information on the climbing possibilities in the Wasatch, Brian Smoot and Les Ellison went to work as a labor of love on the foundation of Wasatch guidebooks of today. Recording new ascents, information and writing the "Wasatch Rock Climbs" book was a consuming endeavor, to which we all owe a great deal of gratitude.

Between 1972 and today, Brian Smoot has first ascended more than 100 routes all either logged in the guidebooks or Mountain Project ranging from Parley's Canyon to Zions, Utah.  He has climbed over 35 big walls in Zions and Yosemite with some of them being first ascents. At the age of 52 he manages to climb once a week with either his daughter, his son, wife and of course Johnathan.  In fact just this year, Brian, his wife and two of his three children had a family outing climbing Ancient Art Tower in the Fisher Towers.  His life is balanced among owning a company (Signtech), raising his family and being a supportive loving husband. One of his first ascents of which he is most proud is Angel of Fear Santaquin, Utah likely the first grade 6 ice climb in Utah.  Rising 200 feet this pillar of ice offered very little protection at the time both he and Bill Robbins climbed it in 1985.

Brian feels blessed to have climbed with so many wonderful partners sharing the remote alpine rock one with another over nearly 37 years.  Imagine a time when the only routes being climbed in Lone Peak cirque were the Lowe route (one of Brian's all time favorites) and the Open Book. Imagine a time here locally, climbing a long time famous route ground up for the first time. It meant questions like "will this antiquated protection hold or do I have enough pieces of gear or what will the next move be like?" We can imagine as each of us touches the rock with our own hands and senses, feel that burning fear of the unknown, even though the route has been climbed many times. Each moment is ours, but remember those that came before. Those that had the "you know whats" to set the conventional aside, take a rudimentary rope, a few hexes and frail harnesses and embark upon the unknown all for the love of being in the mountains.  Those words of information we read in our guidebooks were written by the hands of those who have experienced what you and I are about to encounter but for the first time. Each letter is filled with the emotion of being there first. Thank you Brian Smoot and the many others that have and continue to share their insights of experience with us all!

By Chad Ambrose
Courtesy Brian Smoot- Crack in the Cosmic Egg- Mt. Moroni Zion National Park
Courtesy Brian Smoot- Father and Daughter in the beloved Wasatch

December 9, 2012


This week amidst lots of work, family activities, community service things and trying to get ready for the holiday season, I was able to eek out a bit more vertical, all of which was resort skinning in the darkness of morning.  Unfortunately due to heavy loads these days,  I have been unable to break away and ski some of the higher alpine lines this year. I have missed out. More will come though I am certain.

Yesterday Jared, Eric and I met and worked in some vertical before meeting up with Andy, Courtney, Noah, Tom and Nick, to put in more up in a blizzard and wind. I ended my morning with 7,000 vertical.  I then cruised home for breakfast with Santa. Besides being in great company, what added to the fun was the fact that I am finally on a super light set up. My history is as follows: For years I tele toured with a series of different set ups then several years ago saw the alpine touring vision, purchasing some heavy Dynafit TF boots, big skis and Dynafit Vertical binding. I skied with some of my key lightweight influencers with this monster set up and knew that I had to go on a gear diet. The issue like always for a family man is cost. Light gear is expensive and from what I discovered yesterday there is a reason.

So about 2 years I took the intermediate step and bought some BD Gurus, mounted my Verticals and purchased the Scarpa Maestrale boot. With this set up I shed some weight, improved ski performance and was able to more fluidly travel in the high terrain.  On this set up I have skied some dreamy lines throughout the Wasatch Range, Timpanogos Range (still Wasatch I guess) and the Tetons. I have even done a couple skimo races. All and all it is a great set up unless you are trying to chase down super humans for hours on end (for which I need a jet powered flight suit).

Enter the new realm. Just recently I ultimately caved and took the plunge and it has opened my eyes super wide. I have shaved nearly 2 full pounds in boot weight, 2.7 pounds in ski weight and  1.5 pounds in binding weight! This is what tips the scale for me.

Yesterday we started the morning in icy corduroy then as time passed ulitmately we skied in 6" of powder.  Important to note my entire set up was brand new. Hagan X Race skis 160 cm, Dynafit TLT performance boots and La Sportiva RSR binding.  Let me begin by saying climbing in the set up felt like a massage to my legs and mind. Does it still hurt to go up? Yes but it is a heck of a lot more fun.

Hagan X Race Ski
The descent was quite amazing. I found the Hagan ski to ride fast, and smooth whether I was making super G turns on the groomer or powder. Their performance to weight ratio is impressive.  You do weight the ski bit more sensitively but the sweet spot is vast. While skimo really is about the up, Hagan has not forgotten the down. I look forward to putting them down steeper terrain in the very near future. Although you can expect a lightweight racing ski to handle a bit differently than a big mountain ski, the truth is the Hagan X Race ski rips. For more information on the Hagan Ski quiver check em out at:

La Sportiva RSR Binding
The RSR binding is a minimalist racing binding which is a rapid in out and does everything you'd expect a racing/touring binding to do. Perfection. In fact the binding cost more than my first car. It is worth it right? The touring mode has a clasp that folds over the prongs of the rear entry keeping you forward for the climbs. The ski mode is super slick. Simply fold over the clasp and you are in.

Dynafit TLT Performance Boot
You can imagine the amount of research that goes into buying a boot. Yep,  you need to try things on, measure the weight and performance to value. Lucky for me I have friends that know just about everything about gear. I bought one of the more tried and true light weight ski mountaineering boot of our time. The Dynafit TLT Performance (carbon cuff/black and yellow and white). The boot easily drove the Hagan ski and from what I can already see it will drive a bigger ski as well. It rides stiff on the down and smooth and slipper like flexible on the up (if the extra tongue is removed for the up). The boot has been raced for years and although there are others out there that shed even more weight, the boot is race ready. For the things I enjoy doing in the mountains I think it will be perfect.

So the bottom line: Don't mess around. If you want to shed weight and keep performance, first start with the boot. The two buckle lightweight boots of the day are the way to go. They ski as well and in many cases weigh half as much as 4 buckle boots. The lightweight ski of today has been engineered to nanometers to save on weight but still delivering a great ride when you need it most.

December 1, 2012

Winter's Deja Vu

The past couple of weeks have yielded a scanty harvest in the way of skiing. With super dry conditions, lower trails are completely clear for mountain biking, trail running and the rock climbing has been like September too.  My wife and I have spent more time together on bikes or with trail shoes this November than ever before it seems. 

With skis on my feet, I have been able to log some vertical in the faded white mountains a couple times this week in either the dark of the morning or late at night. Traveling alone with the moon, the wind has been more of a foe than a friend. However this morning with the winds trying to taper and a few much needed inches, the resort skinning at Brighton was better than I had expected. Right now I feel like I am reliving last year.

A blurry dawn Dec 1- 2012
My middle boy moving up on "Crack in the Woods" 5.9 , LCC-- Thanksgiving Week 2012