It's been a pretty tough winter for skiing. It's been one defeat after another in XC racing. Dead last in my first race, and taken out by a cold mere hours before the Noque. And the backcountry had been pretty crappy too.
Things finally started to come together the weekend before last though, and I was able to visit some favorite backcountry haunts and actually go out and have fun on skis. This past weekend will probably be the main highlight of my ski season this year: Midwest Telefest 2010.
The plan, as much as we can call it that, was to head down to the Porkies on Friday morning, meet up with some friends, ski, and camp until Sunday night, maybe Monday.
I managed to get down there on Friday before everybody else and had a great time exploring the backside of the ski hill. It was absolutely beautiful out- bluebird sky and a couple inches of fresh powder on top of a solid base.
Once everybody else got in, we made a couple laps around the radio tower and went to set up camp. My plan was to try out a lightweight setup this weekend with just a bivy sack and a sleeping bag. Nonetheless, I took the opportunity to try and make myself useful helping those with wall tents and wood stoves in case my plan didn't work out and I needed a warm place to crash. This started to pay dividends right off that bat when Dan invited me to partake in a fresh lake trout dinner.
Full of trout, we headed back up to the chalet for the first evening's festivities- a screening of "Freeheel Life". Great music and of course some really crazy skiing in it, but I was a little disappointed by all the still shots of classic 3 pin gear, but no video of anybody actually skiing it. After a couple of beers, I did my best impressions of what I had learned from the movie skiing back down to camp and tucked into my new bivy sack and zero degree bag for the night.
So, remember those bluebird skies? You know what happens when it stays clear out at night too? Yeah, that's right- any heat that might have been trapped by the planet during the day beats a hasty retreat outwards into space as we run headlong to absolute zero. OK, maybe it didn't hit absolute zero, but it did hover around zero on the fahrenheit scale most of the night. Surprisingly, I had no problem staying warm- but I did discover an interesting implication of winter camping, condensation. All the moisture my body was giving off was freezing to the inside of my bivy sack. This only presented one real problem- it was icing up the zipper on my bivy sack making it difficult to open. This quickly becomes a "serious" problem when you wake up in the middle of the nigh after drinking too many beers and need to get out RIGHT NOW. It's a good thing I didn't have a knife in there with me. My bivy sack would have a new exit right now.
I came to the next morning, sufficiently rested for another day of skiing. I did learn an important lesson on how well butane stoves do not work in the cold, but I did manage to get some water hot enough for coffee and oatmeal. Anyway, today was going to be a full day. I planned to join the backcountry tour, do the slalom and uphill/downhill races, and of course party down again that night at the chalet.
Most of the folks on the backcountry tour were on big tele gear and using climbing skins. Given that we had a fair number of people, things moved kind of slow. Still, it's the first time I've ever seen skins in use and it was pretty educational. Plus those of us on lighter gear had plenty of time to talk about how awesome we were.
Steve: "Karhu Guides are like, totally awesome."
Other Guy on Guides: "Yeah, we so rule."
While waiting for the skinners, I met Tom from Chicago- the only other guy on the backcountry tour in lighter gear.
Anyway, it wasn't too long before the skinners finally caught back up with us...
Despite the fact that cat was already running that day, we managed to find some nice untouched powder and got a good run in. Tom and I ditched the group and headed off to enjoy some low angle stuff on our own.
I made it back in time to don the heavier gear and head over for the start of the slalom race. I'd never done a slalom race, but then again- most people haven't done a slalom race like this one. Ungroomed, kind of crusty windblown snow, a gate you had to ski uphill for, and ever changing conditions as more people went down the course. I have no idea how I did, but it was fun. I'm pretty sure the two kids in the group probably beat most of us anyway- those guys could rip.
Got a few more runs in and it was time to get ready for the uphill/downhill race. Last year, I got my butt kicked pretty hard in this when I learned that you're not supposed to have any fun at all if you want to do well. Climb until you want to puke, and then bomb the iciest, scariest decent on the skinniest skis you have as fast as you can possibly go. Do not, under any circumstances, take the fun way down through the trees in the soft snow. You will lose. You will be utterly humiliated.
So that's just what I did. I was pretty happy that I managed to hang onto the lead pack on the big climb, but once we hit the groomed cross country trail- they all started to pull away from me. Once I rounded the radio tower, there was no way I was going to catch anybody in front of me, and it didn't look like there was anybody close enough to catch me. So I mostly bombed the downhill. Took a few turns off in the powder here and there to slow me down and came in for a respectable, mostly humiliation free midpack finish.
Then back to camp for a few more beers in Dave's tent. The camera had a little condensation on the lens, but it's a pretty realistic simulation of the effects of a couple of Expedition Stouts right after an uphill/downhill race.
Then back up to the chalet to warm my feet, eat some chili, and rock out with Chasin' Steel. We also took the time to form an elaborate plan to ski the remote Cuyahoga Peak the next day: "Let's uh... meet at the chalet and what, maybe 10am tomorrow and go from there?"
The temperature was a little warmer on Saturday night, so I didn't have any problems with freezing condensation again. Wouldn't have mattered anyway, I slept like a rock that night. The next morning I decided that I'd rather not futz with the stove again and just hopped in my car and headed into Ontonogan for a hot breakfast at Syl's. Oddly enough, I ran into Tom again at breakfast and let him know our plans for the day. Looks like he was in as well.
So, Cuyahoga Peak is the next hill down from the hill the ski area is on. It requires a fairly long cross country shuffle to get there.
We skiied off the backside of the main hill and picked up the trail out to Cuyahoga. It goes through several stands of old growth hemlock that are pretty cool.
It wasn't long before we reached the base of the hill. Most of it could be climbed with pattern bases, but there were a few spots where skins were necessary to follow the trail. A little work could make a nice trail that wouldn't require them though. By the time we got to the top of the hill, it was snowing pretty good.
The ski down was just awesome. Probably my best run of the year. A perfect pitch for the gear I was on, beautiful glades to ski through, and lots of fresh snow. We were all smiles by the time we got to the bottom.
The ski out and back to the lodge follows the snowmobile trail for a bit, which kind of sucks- but it did give us a good view looking back at the peak we had just skiied.
We eventually made it back to the lodge and cornered some poor dude into taking some groups shots of us.
Seeing as how it was Valentine's Day, the married folks shuffled off early and telefest began to wind down for another year. We discussed coming back on Monday to ski Cuyahoga again, but no real definite plans were made. I stuck around and rode the lift for a bit, getting a few more runs in before the hill closed and kicked off myself at the traditional Porkies closing time- 4:20.
And, with almost perfect timing, the cold that knocked me out of the Noque flared up again the drive home. It took a serious amount of willpower to sit in bed and recover on Monday while watching it snow like crazy rather than go out and ski again. I knew I was strong enough to ski, but another day of skiing would probably lay me up in bed for a whole week. Cuyahoga was just awesome on Sunday, and I decided to leave it at that. It'll be there next weekend- with possibly more snow.
Another great Telefest is in the books. Once again, I had a great time, learned a lot, and met some cool folks. Can't wait for next year.