On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘Marmot Basin’

My Time with the Pros

The Tour of Alberta is a professional, UCI 2.1, road cycling stage race and has been held in Alberta for the past 3 Septembers. It is the highest ranked professional road bike race in Canada, participated in by many of the same riders who ride in the Tour de France, Olympics and World Championships. I have volunteered at many of the Edmonton area stages in a number of capacities for the first 2 years – as course marshal, crowd control, team parking, and anti-doping chaperone – but this year I decided to go all in and follow the tour around the province. Through a friend with connections, I was able to snag a position as “hydration staff” in the VIP tent. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I mean, how much work can it be to be a bartender? In this case – lots! It was supposed to be a plumb job but I haven’t worked that hard for years! Long hours and more physical than I imagined because we were considered as part of the crew, helping set up and take down the show every day. One of the regular crew described it as like working for a traveling circus.

There were 4 of us volunteers in the VIP area – 2 hydration staff, 1 hospitality manager and 1 hospitality front door manager. None of us expected the work to be as physically exhausting as it was. For the four of us, it meant setting up the VIP area at each of the 6 finish locations – hauling and setting up tables, chairs, and enough cases of beer, wine, pop, juice and water to serve up to 300 guests; decorating the venue with sponsor banners, flags, etc.; serving the guests for a 3 to 4-hour duration; deconstructing the place back to how we found it in the morning; loading it all back into our supply truck, then helping the finish crew pack up everything else on site in preparation for the move to the next day’s finish line. It wasn’t often that we got to sit down. At least contractors set up and took down the tents each day so we didn’t have to do that too! Besides the long hours and the physical effort, the abnormally cold and wet weather was draining as well. The longest day was September 5th, the mountain top finish at Marmot Basin. We were up at 5 a.m., on the road by 5:30, and at the top of Marmot by 6 to start setting up. We opened the bar by noon, “hydrated” the guests until an hour after the race ended at 3:30 p.m., then started the tear down. Once our work was done at 6 p.m., we were able to start the 4-hour drive back down the mountain and home to Edmonton. After 2 nights in Grande Prairie and another 2 in the Jasper area, the next day’s stage was in Spruce Grove so at least I got to sleep in my own bed that night!

All this is not to say that we didn’t enjoy the experience. It gave us a great insight into how a well-coordinated, time-constrained operation worked and was an eye-opening example of organized chaos.

It was also great to see how the pro riders and different teams dealt with the day-to-day challenges. Weather that I wouldn’t think of going riding in, these guys did it for over 200 kms. Of course, that’s their job but it still takes a special type of person to love the sport that much to endure that much discomfort and pain. Dirt – no, check that – mud roads, temperatures barely above freezing, pelting rain and buffeting winds were all in their days work. And the riders we got to talk to were all regular guys. No prima donnas with elite athlete arrogance, just regular guys who like to ride bikes very fast over long distances.

Also a hoot for Chris, my hydration partner, and I was a chance to ride in a VIP pace car for 2 laps in the Edmonton circuit. My driver was an ex-highway patrolman from the U.S. who also taught pursuit driving to his officers. Whoa – what a ride! It wasn’t long on lap 1 before the circuit went downhill and the riders were doing 70 kph. Blasting through the red lights and stop signs and cutting corners very fast was a little unnerving and VERY fun! Something we don’t get to do every day – or ever.

I came back from the tour with a bunch of team bidons (water bottles), hats, and musettes (courtesy of friendly soigneurs) and a ton of respect for the people who put this show on, from organizers to racers. And I’d love to do it all over again next year.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Cycling Team members rode into the VIP tent to have a pre-race coffee.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Cycling Team members rode into the VIP tent to have a pre-race coffee.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Team Cipollini bikes. Yes, I was drooling.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Team Cipollini bikes. Yes, I was drooling.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Bauke Mollema after sign in. He was the GC winner after 6 stages.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Bauke Mollema after sign in. He was the GC winner after the 6 stages.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Ryder Hesjedal after sign-in. First Canadian winner of a Grand Tour (2012 Giro d'Italia).

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Ryder Hesjedal after sign-in. First Canadian winner of a Grand Tour (2012 Giro d’Italia).

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Setting up the finish on a foggy, cold day.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Setting up the finish on a foggy, cold day.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Snow line almost down to race level.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Snow line almost down to race level.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Great view of the stage from the bar but the speakers were deafening.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Great view of the stage from the bar but the speakers were deafening!

2015.09.04 Miette5

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Stage 3 winners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Cloudy below but sunny on top.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up at 7 a.m. Cloudy below but sunny on top.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up the fences and banners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up the fences and banners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The presentation stage and beer garden area. Still cloudy below the summit finish.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The presentation stage and beer garden area. Still cloudy below the summit finish.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The crowded VIP area.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The crowded VIP area.

Sep 6, 2015. Spruce Grove. Mike and Chris in their bar.

Sep 6, 2015. Spruce Grove. Mike and Chris in their bar.

Sep 7, 2015. Edmonton. The Timeboard moto message, taken on my VIP car ride.

Sep 7, 2015. Edmonton. The Timeboard moto message, taken on my VIP car ride.

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Snow – The Good and Bad Kind

Our ski club held it’s annual Marmot in March trip last week and Bob, Al and I made the 3.5 hour drive to Jasper.  The forecast for Sunday was iffy, so I was anticipating snow-covered roads and a slow trip, but the snow didn’t materialize and the trip out was pleasant and uneventful.  I like the drive to Jasper but not when the roads are crappy.  If only the snow would just fall on the hill and not the roads! Unlike our trip to Marmot in January, where we spent a lot of time avoiding rocks, bare patches and gravel floating up through the barely sufficient snowpack, this time the hill had piles of new snow.  The base, 135 cm, was close to double what they had in January and it is certainly the amount they need to make skiing enjoyable.  This time there was nary a rock or bare patch to be found, on the runs that I ski anyway.

A sunny but windy view from the top of Eagle Chair. Jasper town site in the valley.

A sunny but windy view from the top of Eagle Chair. Jasper town site in the valley.

Tuesday was the highlight of the trip – just a spectacular bluebird day, the kind of day where you just don’t want it to end. We didn’t even go in for an afternoon coffee, as we usually do when it is colder.  The ski patrollers were busy that day too, setting off numerous charges for avalanche control, wiping out part of the Knob Traverse run at one point.  They had to bring up a groomer to re-open the trail after that slide.  Of course, that was the day that I forgot my GPS watch back in my room, so I have no idea how many kilometres I skied or the vertical, but my legs were telling me that it was significant.  The hot tub sure felt good afterwards!

Sunshine and corduroy at the top of Paradise Chair.

Sunshine and corduroy at the top of Paradise Chair.

View of Knob Chair from Solace run. Avalanche field on left.

View of Knob Chair from Solace run. Avalanche field on left.

Robbie standing at the bottom of an induced avalanche on Knob Traverse.

Robbie standing at the bottom of an induced avalanche on Knob Traverse.

Me on Basin Run, after coming down Solace.

Me on Basin Run, after coming down Solace.

There was another ominous weather forecast for Thursday, our departure day.  A system was moving in and supposed to pound Edmonton especially, but we skied until 3 p.m. anyway.  It was snowing heavily in Jasper when we left for Marmot, about a 20-minute drive up the mountain. But the higher up we drove, the lighter the snow got, until we broke through the clouds at the base of the lifts.  We skied in the sunshine most of the day, watching the clouds move farther down the valley and giving us a false sense of security for the upcoming drive home.

After a quick change out of our ski clothes at the Wapiti campground washroom (LOVE those heated floors!), we were on the road by 3:30 p.m.  The first half hour was sunny and the road was dry, then, within a kilometre, the snow gods decided to pummel us with huge snowflakes and whipping winds.  Just like that, the visibility dropped to a hundred feet and the road quickly disappeared.  I was just following the ruts in front of me for a while, hoping for a glimpse of the centre line every now and then. Thankfully, the squall only lasted for 30 km or so, then it cleared up as quickly as it hit.  We were listening to my “Drive” playlist on my iPod and didn’t have the radio on, so were unawares of the conditions coming up.  All was well until around 50 km west of Edmonton, when Highway 16 turned into a 1 lane icy track. The snowfall had stopped but the havoc was left behind.  Back following ruts again!  At least the traffic was light and most drivers were acting sensibly, averting anything like the 100-car pile up on Highway 2, just south of Edmonton, that occurred earlier in the day.  I only saw a dozen or so vehicles in the ditch, which was surprising considering the conditions.

All things considered, it was a great 4 days of skiing, although I was dog tired after getting home. The coupe-de-grace was then having to shovel the 25-cm of snow off the driveway! I slept soundly that night.

This is spring?

This is spring?

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