2 killed in WY avalanches, 8 skiers die in bus
crash over the weekend...
skiing and stay young, recent study proves!
From the 'characters along the way' file: Making
music on the slopes...
sweet preview: Winter storm lashes the west, Wolf Creek opens
with a 3' base!
free skiing deals for 4th, 5th and 6th graders across North America...
Greatest Snow on Earth? How about "The Greatest Snow in
the Solar System?"
News and Commentary by Mitch Weber
- 3/4-- "Woman caught
in avalanche dies in boyfriend's arms," the sensational headline read after Wyoming
backcountry skier Liza Benson was killed in a slide that sent
her into a tree, causing major head and body trauma. The 28 year-old
Ms. Benson was described as a "seasoned skier" by friends,
co-workers and family who also told of her deep love for the
outdoors. "I know she died happy and with someone she loved
so much," the victim's sister, Adrienne Benson, told local
reporters, "and it was really fast." The boyfriend,
Jason Ray said "we were doing what we loved together when
tragedy struck." Ray also said the two had planned to marry.
Another backcountry skier, 30 year-old Nick Gillespie of Jackson
WY was also killed in a separate slide over the weekend.
Benson and Gillespie are reportedly
the first two avalanche fatalities this season.
account pointed out to the uninitiated that Benson's "group
was skiing in the backcountry, where the powder is often fresher,
but there is a significant risk of avalanches," which of
course is true, however another tragic news story over the weekend
adds important perspective. 8 skiers from Mexico were killed,
and scores more were injured Sunday night when a charter bus
rolled over while coming down a narrow mountain road. The skiers
had been on a day trip from Tijuana to Bear Mountain Resorts
in California when the driver lost control of the bus, rolling
over at least one other vehicle.
As Big Tim remarked after taking
a scary ride himself a few years ago, "the drive back and
forth is still the most dangerous part."
- 10/12-- Keep skiing and stay
young! That's the message
delivered in a study published last summer by researchers from
the Department of Sport Science at Austria's University of Salzburg.
The 12 week interventional study was conducted using 47 men and
women between the age of 60 and 75. The study group skied 2 to
3 days per week, with an individual average of 28.5 days during
the 12 week period. Among these older skiers, significant improvements
were noted in aerobic capacity, leg muscle power, and strength.
VO(2 max) improved 7.2%, jump height increased on average 6%,
and dynamic maximal strength measured in both legs increased
16%. Quadriceps muscle size also increased 7.1%, with equal improvement
in both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. The study
also showed that the skiers benefited from increased glucose
metabolism, which can help prevent diabetes.
In addition to the reported physical
improvements, several standard and well-established questionnaires
were used to measure and note improvement in psycho-social characteristics
such as well-being, life satisfaction, self-concept, health status,
depression and self-efficacy. Interestingly, the snow skiers
who volunteered for the study already had very high pre-test
scores in all of these areas, limiting the psycho-social impact
of the 12 week study period, but apparently confirming what many
of us have known for a very long time: Skiing and the outdoor
life is good for both body and soul.
Over the course of the 12 weeks
and 342 skier days, just 2 minor injuries were reported due to
The Salzburg Skiing for the Elderly
Study may be among the first to quantify skiing specifically,
however it joins a long list of research results indicating that
activity and exercise can substantially improve physical function
as we age, while also promoting independence, well-being and
an overall higher quality of life. Yet older folks continue to
tend toward leading a more sedentary life. Indeed, a few years
ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by representatives
of the trade group SnowSports Industries America (SIA) to Patagonia's
international sales force, and one of the statistics presented
as a challenge to the industry was this: The average skier hangs
up their boards for good at the age of just 43 (!!), commonly
it would seem around the time their kids have grown up and moved
on with their own lives.
Now we know from the Salzburg Study
that this is more than just a problem for the snow-sports industry,
it's nothing less than a tragedy for moderately trained older
folks who fail to continue to enjoy the low risk, yet significant,
physical and psychological benefits skiing can provide, right
on into the so-called 'golden years.'
- 10/10-- We've heard of making
turns like sweet music, and
we know a few people who regularly either sing out loud or in
their head while arcing down the hill, however I'm not sure we've
ever seen anyone play guitar and singing while skiing, but according
to a recent
story we came across, that's exactly what longtime folksinger
John Winn does occasionally at Powderhorn, near his home in Grand
Junction, Colorado. "Singing on the chairlift, then skiing
down the hill doing telemark turns with my guitar, and trying
to sing the song in rhythm as I was going down," is how
Winn explained it near the end of the article. And why were we
not surprised in the least by Winn's choice of turn style? Once
more we are reminded that, all these years it's the characters
we've met along the way that have been part of the fun.
- 10/9-- Winter came early
to parts of the western U.S. last
week, and on the other side of the ski world as well. It started
with the first National Weather Service Winter Storm Warning
of the season. In words that always sound like sweet music to
left-coast skiers and snowboarders, the message came down from
on high Monday afternoon: "VERY EARLY WINTER STORM TO AFFECT
THE SOUTHERN SIERRA NEVADA TUESDAY NIGHT THROUGH WEDNESDAY NIGHT.
A STRONG STORM DROPPING OUT OF THE GULF OF ALASKA WILL BRING
UNSEASONABLY COLD WEATHER TO THE CENTRAL CALIFORNIA INTERIOR.
TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATIONS COULD BE AS HIGH AS 18 INCHES OVER THE
HIGH COUNTRY." And 18" turned out to be exactly what
our hill ended up reporting, but not before more than an inch
of rain in less than 5 hours fell, reportedly
l hammering as much as half of this summer's Central Valley raisin
Leaving a nice, 15" start on
a base behind on Mammoth Mountain, the fast moving storm moved
west, socking the Wasatch on Thursday. White-out conditions were
in Little Cottonwood Canyon around Alta, lasting for more than
Again a good start, however it was
after this that the storm got serious, slowing down and finally
stalling completely as it slammed into the western side of the
divide, pounding Colorado Friday and on into the weekend.
By Sunday afternoon Wolf Creek was
open and reporting a storm total of 46", with a 3 foot base
already at the top.
From Wolf Creek's
webcam yesterday afternoon.
Fall snow storms like this are viewed
as a mixed blessing by a lot of winter weary folks in mountain
towns, but of course ski tourism officials were ecstatic. Colorado
Ski Country's Melanie Mills was quoted by the Denver
Post's Jason Blevins boasting that, with just three months
between A-Basin's 4th of July closing day and Wolf Creek's opening
this weekend, "Colorado is practically a year-round ski
Yes, it's early, and with slowly
returning warm weather in this week's forecast, Indian Summer
is indeed coming. Yet it's easy to get excited by this storm
and the way it tracked down from the Gulf of Alaska, indicating
support for the view that another massive winter is on the way
(see recent story below).
- 10/5-- Here's some awesome
news for 4th, 5th and 6th graders (and
their parents) who want to learn to ski or simply get in some
resort ski days this year on the cheap. But first, let me just
say that this is such a great age to introduce kids to skiing,
especially those that haven't grown up with hardcore skiing parents.
By this age they are tougher, with well developed motor skills,
making it more fun for them in the cold, and easier to learn
The ski industry recognizes this,
and thus provides some really great deals to get kids of this
age started on what can end up being a life-long passion for
skiing and snowboarding. And for those of us with children who've
been skiing for years, these programs offer an economical way
to introduce their friends to the sport, which has been both
fun for my kids, and quite simply among the most rewarding experiences
I've had on snow.
Here's a rundown of programs we've
found for the 2011/2012 season:
For $25, Ski
Utah's Fifth and Sixth Grade Passport gives 5th graders three
free days at any Utah ski area, and 6th graders get to ski one
day at any of Utah's resorts, from Brian Head in the south, to
Beaver Mountain up north.
Not to be outdone, Colorado
Ski Country USA's 5th and 6th Grade Passport program gives
Colorado 5th graders three days of skiing for free at each of
22 member resorts, and 6th graders can get a $99 pass, good for
four days at each resort. Confusing things somewhat, Vail, Beaver
Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone do not participate in this program.
Instead, along with Arapahoe Basin, they offer their own 5th
and 6th Grade "School of Shred" Program, which
includes 4 free days of skiing and a free first-timer lesson
and rental (the free lesson and rental does not apply to A-Basin).
You need to jump on this one early by showing up with your kid
and their report card at one of the resort's pass sales locations
before November 6th.
Ski Vermont's Fifth Grade Passport essentially provides free skiing all year
for 5th graders, accompanied by a paying adult, at any of the
organizations alpine resorts and Nordic ski areas. Cost of the
passport is just $10.
York 4th Grade Passport Program offers two options for a
$20 processing fee, a free Learn to Ski Package, with discounts
on future visits for the child and their adult. The other deal:
A booklet of coupons for three free lift tickets per resort (with
Ski New Hampshire offers a fun twist
and and a tip of the hat to Mr. Craig
Dostie (whether they realize it or not) with their 4th
Grade "Earn Your Turns" Program. To participate,
students must research some aspect of the history of skiing in
New Hampshire. They can write an essay or a story, draw a picture,
build a model or interview a grandparent or friend who skied
in the time of rope tows and wooden skis. Once the project is
complete, students submit it to their 4th grade teacher. If it
is satisfactory, the teacher submits the student's name to Ski
NH, which then sends the student their passbook containing lift
tickets to each of 37 Ski NH resorts! Very cool. The organization
also offers a 5th
Grade Passport Program that includes a free lift ticket to
every member downhill and cross country ski area, and even two
or three at many, all for just $25.
WinterKids Passport offers
the state's 5th, 6th, and 7th graders discounted tickets, lessons,
and rentals. Last year the package included two free tickets
per area and no blackout dates. Check out their site for this
In Canada, the Canadian Ski Council
offers a Grade 4 and 5 Snowpass,
which provides 3 free lift tickets at participating resorts.
This is billed as a "once in a lifetime offer" and
they aren't kidding: If you use it in 4th grade you don't get
to reapply in 5th grade, but the price is just $22. A fine deal,
Michigan Snowsports Industries Association
has its three free tickets "Cold
is Cool" program for 4th graders, and the Pennsylvania
Ski Areas Association offers a 4th
and 5th Grade Snowpass booklet good for more than 67 days
of free skiing at 22 Pennsylvania ski areas.
Last but certainly not least, Ski
the Northwest Rockies has its own 5th
Grade Ski Free Passport Program that gives the holder 3 free
days at each of 22 resorts for just $20, and some of the resorts
include discounts for parents, brothers and sisters. Participating
ski areas include Sun Valley, Brundage, Grand Targhee and more,
nd you don't have to be a local, making this one of the more
spectacular deals around for 5th graders.
- 10/4-- Scotland's ski resorts
should give guests access to better snow, higher up on the mountain, according to
an independent report in the news today. These new findings come
on the heels of an idea advanced last year that Scotland's resorts
should consider covering their slopes in bubble
wrap to preserve their snow and extend the season, the length
of which at one resort has reportedly declined over time by two
In this latest study, researchers
looked at five Scotland resorts with base elevations of around
2,000 feet, and determined that these low elevations made for
unreliable conditions. According to the BBC,
the report's authors said Scotland's resorts may have to follow
the example of Switzerland, "where they found access to
better quality, higher snow fields." To reach this conclusion,
the authors also conducted research at ski areas in Japan, Sweden
and New Zealand.
We've heard that next up for these
clever folks is a report suggesting that surfing should be promoted
in Scotland at areas along the coast with the best waves. Extended
research will reportedly be conducted in Hawaii, Costa Rica and
at Malibu, California.
- 10/3-- Forget about Utah's
"Greatest Snow on Earth," how
about "The Greatest Snow in the Solar System?" Thanks
to information and photos gathered by NASA's Cassini orbiter
on a recent fly-by of Saturn's moon Enceladus, we now have a
pretty good idea just where that snow might be found. "Bulky
space suits and extremely low gravity aside (about 1% that of
Earth), the particles themselves are only a fraction of a millimeter
in size, roughly a micron or two across, even finer than talcum
powder. This would make for the finest powder a skier could hope
one thousandth of a millimeter
per year. Nevertheless, after examining high-resolution enhanced
3-D images, scientists estimate the snowpack in a region near
the moon's south pole to be about 100 meters deep. Likely taking
millions of years to accumulate, but hey, with an endless winter
it simply has no where to go!
explained Dr. Paul Schenk of the
Lunar and Planetary Institute during a presentation today before
a division of The European Planetary Science Congress.
Enceladus is not only blessed with
the greatest powder imaginable, the little moon also enjoys an
endless winter. And that is fortunate for future snowsports enthusiasts
as it is believed its snow falls at a very weak average rate
of less than
For more about Enceladus,
including a really cool virtual tour, click
It is in this area that huge geysers
of water vapor and ice have been observed. Functioning much like
giant snow guns here on earth, it is these massive plumes that
are responsible for the deep powder snow of Enceladus. Isn't
Will this be the future of inter-planetary
skiing and snowboarding? How long will it be before Powder Magazine
will feature the "Top Ten Condo Deals on Enceladus?"
- 10/2-- Is another massive
winter in store for the Northern Hemisphere? A little over a year ago Geoff Sharp, an
scientist, made a stunning prediction many thought highly
unlikely. In July, 2010 Sharp wrote:
""I predict the extra boost from my predicted solar
grand minimum, along with the current oceanic conditions, the
next northern winter (2010/2011) will experience conditions similar
to the Little
Ice Age (1250-1850)." His prediction proved to be spot-on,
with record cold and record-breaking snowfall all across the
contiguous U.S. and Canada.
Indeed, from Squaw Valley's all-time
record 810 inches and Mt. Bachelor's 665 (breaking its previous
high by 5 feet), to Loveland's record 593 inches, to Jay Peak's
nearly 400 inch season, and of course our own hill's epic, 40
year Mammoth record-shattering 669 inches, it was defintely a
winter for the memory banks. So now the question becomes, what
is Geoff Sharp again
predicting for our coming winter season?
"There is only one component
in my mind that can stop another massive winter occurring in
the Northern Hemisphere during 2011/2012," wrote Sharp,
who goes on to explain that in his opinion, historically low solar
activity of late will continue to affect the jet stream,
which last year "remained strongly contorted, (bringing)
warmer winds from the Atlantic to Western Europe, but maintained
a very strong cooling presence over eastern Europe and North
America." Sharp also observed that last winter in the U.S,
"during a strong La Niña, basically the jet
stream overrode the normal pattern expected... For these reasons
I expect more of the same to follow this winter
Happily for us, two months down
the line from Sharp's latest mid-summer prediction, the pieces
of the puzzle once again seem to be falling into place. On September
8th the U.S. National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center
(CPC) issued an advisory
with the synopsis: "La Niña conditions have returned
and are expected to gradually strengthen and continue into the
Northern Hemisphere winter 2011-12." In the weeks since,
key indicators such as Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies,
and what is known as the "PDO," a measure of spatial
temperature changes in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, have
changed significantly, prompting the CPC to become more bullish
in their outlook for a strengthening La Niña, notably
dropping the word 'gradually.' On September 26th, the CPC issued
the following update:
- La Niña conditions are present
across the equatorial Pacific.
- Sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies
have become increasingly negative in the east-central equatorial
- Atmospheric circulation anomalies
are consistent with La Niña.
- La Niña is expected to strengthen
and continue into the Northern Hemisphere winter 2011-12.
Also of note: Similar to this time
last year, sub-surface temperatures east of the dateline are
currently 4 degrees lower than normal, and reports from the southern
ocean are that the tradewinds have significantly strengthend
recently, further indicators of a building La Niña. Observers
are watching carefully to see if another massive pool of warm
water forms rapidly along the surface north of Nuw Guinea, as
happened last year around this time. Stay tuned, and get your
gear ready, for once again:
The days are getting shorter. The
nights are getting longer.
Soon the snow will fly. Life is
- 9/30-- Jerry Brown, the iconoclastic California governor from
the 70's, known here for having once taken a Jesuit Seminary
School vow of poverty, chastity and obedience before dating then-pop
chanteuse and rock star Linda Ronstadt, while also eschewing
the governor's mansion in favor of a flop house apartment across
the street, is back once again as governor of The Golden State.
Once nationally known as "Governor
Moonbeam," Brown has, in these his later years, become a
surprisingly level-headed, progressive yet almost libertarian
leaning leader, making ski news
recently by vetoing another attempt by San Francisco State Senator
and child psychologist Leland Lee to require skiers and snowboarders
under 18 to wear a helmet.
In so doing, Democrat Brown appeared
to side with state Republicans who predictably criticized the
the bill as more "nanny government."
Said Brown, "While I appreciate
the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing
and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to
the state. Not every human problem deserves a law."
Brown and his rock star girlfriend
Supporters of the bill jumped on
Brown for his veto, which mirrored a veto by skiing enthusiast
and former republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a year earlier.
The California Psychological Association said Brown "chose
to ignore the scientific evidence (and) the ski industry's support."
Others have noted possible enforcement issues. First
Tracks Legal Correspondent and lawyer David Cronheim says,
Heavenly Valley straddles the California-Nevada border
...A child who started the day in Nevada without a helmet would
have had to don one before crossing the border into the California
portion of the resort. And critics of Brown's veto also
point out that according to the National Ski Areas Association
(NSA), 19 of 38 skiers, or half of the skiers and snowboarders
who died at resorts in the 2009-2010 season were not wearing
helmets. On the other hand, supporters of freedom of choice would
point out that this statistic is all but meaningless since it
merely reflects the overall rate of helmet usage, which the NSA
itself currently pegs at 57%.
Perhaps the best argument for requiring
those under the age of 18 to wear ski helmets is that its gives
parents a tool to use in getting their own kids to use lids.
However, many of us parents might question the effectiveness
of such laws, based on our own real-world experience.
For my part, despite our bike helmet
law, I've struggled in recent years getting my own risk-taking
17 year-old to wear his helmets, both at the BMX bike park and
on the slopes. I've explained to him that when he's 18, and financially
responsible for himself and his injuries, he can make his own
call. And yet at the bike, park local police regularly sweep
through and try to enforce the law, but to no avail, to him and
his friends it's just part of the fun, a game. At the ski hill
I have taken his pass away for leaving his helmet at home, only
to have him then take his helmet in the morning and ditch it
in the woods for the day while going huge in the park. Now guess
who doesn't have a pass for next year and who's going to go from
a hundred day season to a zero day season? So yes, at the end
of the day I suppose Governor Moonbeam is right, it's a question
of parental authority, and for us the bike helmet law only worked
when he was still listening to his mom and me enough that he
was going to wear his helmet anyway.
Oh, and my son's counter-argument
for not wearing his helmet is that we have insurance, which I
guess, given the current debate over Obama-care, brings to mind
a whole other question of just what constitutes 'nanny government.'
Personally, I don't care much about all that, I just want him
to wear his darn helmet.
- 9/30-- SnowSports Industries
America's (SIA) 2011 Snow Sports Participation Report is out, and perhaps the biggest surprise
in the annual survey is that despite the ongoing down economy,
skiing and snowboarding are up, 5.4% and 10.4% respectively.
Also of note is a significant jump in the number of crossover
snowboarders who also say they ski: from 26% in 2008/09 to 34%
Less surprising is the steady, continuing
diversification of snowsports. African American, Asian and Hispanic's
now collectively make-up about 30% of all snow sports participants,
growing at a rate of about 5%/year, and it's still largely a
rich man's game: 47% of alpine skiers and 32% of all snowboarders
having annual incomes of $100,000 or more.
Interestingly, 7.5% of the total
U.S. population (6 and older) participates in at least one snow
sport discipline, and a little over 60% of the alpine skiers
snowboarders are said to be concentrated in just 10 states.