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

Posts tagged ‘Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club’

Gran Fondo Highwood Pass

I have been investing with Alberta Treasury Branch (ATB) for about 10 years now. My investment advisor, besides making me money, also shares my recreational interests – namely cycling and downhill skiing. Whenever we get together, we generally talk as much or more about these as we do about my portfolio. It came as a surprise, however, this April when he called me up and asked if I would be interested in going for a couple of bike rides courtesy of ATB.

“Umm, sure” I responded, wondering what the catch was and where the rides were. As it happened, there was no catch and the “rides” were the Gran Fondo Highwood Pass in early July and the Banff Gran Fondo in mid-August. No trifling rides these – the GF Highwood is 135 km long with 1700 metres of climbing. The Banff GF is a little longer, at 150 km, but with a little less climb. ATB would pay for everything – entry fee, full ATB kit (jersey, bib shorts, arm skins, thermal jacket), weekly training rides with coaches (followed by complimentary snacks and beers), even hotel room the night before the rides! All I had to do was suffer.

As it happens, I was not able to do the GF Banff due to the fact that I had already purchased tickets for the Edmonton Blues Festival which was being held the same weekend. I have been going to this fest every year since it started, 1999, and have been taking my daughter for the past 10 years so I was not about to miss it. My schedule was wide open for the Highwood though.

The unusually warm and dry May and June enabled me to get about 2700 km of riding in beforehand to get my legs and lungs in some sort of shape. Moreover, our ski club biking group had its annual trip to Canmore scheduled for late June and one of the rides would be close to the base of the main Highwood climb in Kananaskis Country. I had done this climb in 2010 with a few friends when we biked from Peter Lougheed park, at the base of the climb, to Longview. I remembered the climb as being long and exhausting.

Aug 2010 - Highwood Pass. Me on far right.

Aug 2010 – Highwood Pass. Me on far right.

The difference with the GF would be that I would be riding from the casino at the intersection of Hwys 1 and 40, 50 kms from the start of the main climb. I say “main climb” because, although the road is a continuous series of ever rising rolling hills, the last 17 km to the summit is an unrelenting, leg searing, category 2 bitch that just goes UP. No coasting, no chance to rest – just pedal until you run out of gears and then KEEP PEDALING.

By coincidence, one of my friends (Archie) with the ski club was also invited by ATB to ride the Fondos so we did a lot of training together. He, I and another friend (Gary) decided to do a pre-ride of the 17 km climb while the rest of the club rode the trails in Peter Lougheed park. Somehow, Archie got our meeting location muddled and arrived after Gary and I started our climb. It was as bad as I remembered.

The climb. That's Gary way, way back at the curve of the road. I liked waiting for him.

The climb. That’s Gary way, way back at the curve of the road. I liked waiting for him.

Gary, usually a very strong rider, had taken a month or so off and fell far behind. This was a good thing because, being the gentleman that I am, I felt that I should wait for him to catch up periodically. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Eventually we made it to the summit.

Mike and Gary at the top.

June 24, 2015 – Mike and Gary at the top. Hmm – I’m wearing the same shirt as in 2010.

The ride down was much easier, although I limited it to 50-60 kph because of all the grit on the shoulder. Luckily there wasn’t too much traffic so we could ride on the road for much of the time. We flew past Archie, still on his way up. “Where’s the top?” was his plaintive cry.

A few weeks later, Archie and I made our way back to Calgary, where we spent the night before the GF. Up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m., we found a McD’s, had a nutritious breakfast (not!) and drove the hour to the Stoney Nakoda casino, the start/finish of the ride.

Start line. Early morning.

Start line. Early morning.

Thankfully, it was sunny though, at 8:15 a.m, not particularly warm. I got into a good paceline group and made good time to the first check point rest stop at the 36 km mark. This was my first mistake. I felt good but spent too long at the rest stop, about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I had to pee and there was a lineup for the few cans. I should have just wandered into the bush.

Check stop 1 at 34 km.

First check stop at 36 km.

The 14 km from the check stop to the base of the climb was fairly easy, but then came the 17 km of climbing pain. I am usually pretty strong on hills but there is nothing like that in Edmonton to practice on! I started out with 3 other riders, dropped one after the first km then was dropped myself after a few more. After that, I was all on my own. I passed some slower riders, the faster ones passed me. I tried the Jens Voight strategy – “shut up legs” – but they wouldn’t listen. I passed one of my fellow ATB riders, who I always passed on the hills in training. “Damn you, Mike. Again”. I told him he would likely pass me further on when I stopped for a rest. I passed another ATB rider. “I’m out of bullets!” he gasped, already in his smallest gear with 4 km left to go. I planned to stop at a particular point, the Rock Glacier turnout, about 2 kms from the top, and forced myself to keep going until there. However, the organizers picked that precise spot to put up a sign that read “Pain is temporary”. How the hell could I stop there, in front of that sign! Reluctantly, I kept going until I spied another rider stopped about 1 km from the top. I thanked him profusely for setting a good example and chatted for a few minutes. Stew passed me, as I predicted, so I took off again, passed him again and made it to the top, legs cramping. The last km is the steepest, between 6 and 12%, and I don’t think my legs would have done it without the rest, brief as it was.

I took Stew’s picture at the sign but never thought of asking him to take mine 😦 I lingered longer than I needed to – time wasting mistake number 2 – then set off on the fast downhill. The second check stop was at 76 km and, again, I lingered longer than I needed. I replenished my water bottle and headed off, only to flat at the 80 km mark. I changed the rear tube with no trouble but it still took me almost 10 minutes. And now it was starting to get hot! The rest of the ride was fairly easy, mostly downhill, except for a 1 km stretch at the 122 km mark with a 6% grade – a Strava segment that someone had appropriately named “L’il nasty”. That was almost the last straw but I persevered and managed to make it back to the finish. Total time 6 hrs 11 minutes, riding time 5 hrs 15 minutes. The Highwood route. Not great but I made it. I wasn’t fast but I wasn’t last. I was also the second oldest person on the ride (only Archie was older), so I can take some satisfaction out of that. Maybe next year I’ll do it faster!

Such an accomplishment called for a celebration so Lucille rewarded Archie and me with my favourite beer once we got back to Edmonton!

Lucille giving me and Archie a celebratory beer.

Lucille giving me and Archie a celebratory beer.

Sun Peaks 2015

For the eighth year in a row, I spent the past week skiing at Sun Peaks Resort, outside Kamloops, B.C., with about 70 other members of our ski club. For the second year in a row, I had to put up with an inconvenient cold, replete with plugged sinuses which left my head in a perpetual fog. The fact that the hill was wrapped in its own fog layer all week somehow seemed appropriate.

Thankfully, the temperatures were mild, ranging between 0C and -8C depending where you were on the mountains. The cloud layer waxed and waned and drifted around the valley but almost always enveloped the middle of the lower runs. So skiing off the Sundance, Sunburst, Burfield or Morrisey chairs almost always started above the clouds, through a variable pea soup, then into the flat light of an obscured sun. The only perpetually sunny skiing all week was off the Crystal chair, which started and ended above the cloud layer. The West Bowl tee-bar isn’t open on weekdays, unfortunately, so we never got to enjoy that sunny area. Because of the sun, Crystal was busier than usual and, with no new snow all week, the few groomed runs got skied off pretty quickly each morning. The ungroomed ones were just slick hardpack.

No that's not frost on my smiling face. It's a winter beard.

No that’s not frost on my smiling face. It’s a winter beard.

Blue sky above the clouds. Top of Crystal chair, with top of Burfield chair just visible at upper left

Blue sky above the clouds. Top of Crystal chair, with top of Burfield chair just visible at upper left

Start of Blue Line run, all of it above the clouds hanging lower in the valley.

Start of Blue Line run, all of it above the clouds hanging lower in the valley.

Al getting ready to ski off the edge of the world, on Blue Line.

Al getting ready to ski off the edge of the world, on Blue Line.

As I have mentioned in the past, my favourite runs are on Mt. Morrisey. All of the blue runs except Showboat, under the chair, are cut and groomed between individual, or islands of, trees, giving you multiple options for a route down the hill. You could do the same run 10 times and not take the same route twice. That variability of terrain, plus the comfortable pitch and length of the runs – between 2 to 3 kms – is a perfect match for my ability. Moreover, the trees give a lot better definition of the ground in flat light and fog which the more open runs on the other mountains don’t provide.

Chairway to heaven. Getting ready to disembark from the Morrisey chair.

Chairway to heaven. Getting ready to disembark from the Morrisey chair. Didn’t find any bustles in a hedgerow, just great skiing.

The start of Mid-Life Crisis, my favourite run on Morrisey. I'm sure I identify with the name.

The start of Mid-Life Crisis, my favourite run on Morrisey. I’m sure I identify with the name.

A happy Al on I Dunno.

A happy Al on I Dunno.

The big Xmas tree on Morrisey. I counted 8 others on the ay up the lift but I'm sure there are more

The big Xmas tree on Morrisey. I counted 8 other smaller ones on the way up the lift but I’m sure there are more. Still don’t know how they got that star on top!

Other than the ever-present and mildly irritating fog layer hanging around all week, the only quibble I have about the trip is that the resort had the least amount of snow that I remember over the last eight years. Numerous runs had the tops of shrubs poking above the snow. The mid-level base was reported as 120 cm (4 feet) but I still managed to hit a rock (on Crystal Run), ski over a lot of shrub tops, and see more than the odd bare spot. Still, it is far and away my favourite resort. Huge number and variability of runs, great accommodation, good restaurants and compact and friendly village. I look forward to returning next year.

Ski the Fish

That is the slogan for the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Montana. But their slogan should more appropriately be “Ski the White”, as in (humungous dumps of) white snow and (vertigo inducing) whiteout.  Our large (121 people) ski group spent last week at the resort, housed in 3 separate condo buildings.  It took us a little over 11 hours to make the bus trip from Edmonton to the mountain, including a couple of coffee breaks, lunch, passport check at the border and a food shopping stop in the town of Whitefish. I find that the anticipation of the upcoming week of skiing seems to distort time, lengthening every trip to the point where even seniors revert to the patience of 5-year olds (Are we there yet??). But we finally got there and what a time it was!

Most of the group had not been to Whitefish before, or even skied in the U.S. for that matter, so it was an experience that we were all looking forward to.  I was one of the four volunteer tour hosts for this club trip, which entailed handling all the fine detail organization of the trip.  As this was our largest trip ever, as well as our first international trip, the planning was intensive and time-consuming. But, gratifyingly, everything worked out fine and there were no big problems over the course of the week.

Ah, the course of the week. We arrived Sunday night in a snowstorm. Interestingly, it wasn’t snowing in Whitefish, a short 10 km away. But it was dumping on the mountain and it pretty well didn’t let up for the next 3.5 days.  After a very nice welcome reception put on gratis by the resort, we all returned to our rooms and prepared for the days ahead. Two of the condo buildings, Morning Eagle and Kintla, were steps away from Lift 3 – ski-in, ski-out at it’s best. The other condo, Edelweiss, just required a short walk across the street to get to the lift.

We awoke Monday morning to 13 cm fresh snow and a shroud of fog.  What with the depth of the snow, the limited visibility, and an unfamiliar hill, the day was a challenge for most of us.  Of course, the people who were proficient in skiing powder were in their glory and couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces.

Visibility not the best but the snow was great.

Visibility not the best but the snow was great.

Whitefish refers to the consistency of their massive dumps of snow coating the slopes as “light cream”. Personally, I would label it heavy cream, especially after it has been churned repeatedly by hordes of skiers.  Maybe even Greek yoghurt. Whatever, as the day went on it got harder and harder to ski with any semblance of prowess or elegance.  Not that anyone would mistake me for a polished skier but by the end of the day I was reverting to stem-christie turns and lots of breaks. No top-to-bottom non-stop runs under these conditions!

An appropriately named run for this group!

An appropriately named run for this group!

By 3pm, I and the rest of my ski buddies were wiped. Even though the lifts were open to 4, my legs were jelly and we headed back to our rooms. After a visit to the Bierstube, a pub across the street from the condo, and some supper, I was out like a light by 9:15. I don’t think I have ever been that exhausted by a day of skiing. And I had 3 more days to go!

The Bierstube. Hop eit has good roof trusses, with that snow load.

The Bierstube. Hope it has good roof trusses, with that snow load.

Moose Drool - One of the local beers.

Moose Drool – One of the local beers.

Face Plant - a well named beer, considering the conditions.

Face Plant – a well named beer, considering the conditions.

Tuesday brought more of the same – about 10 cm more snow, fog and temps close to 0C. The fog drifted around, opening up sucker holes then closing in even more densely. The summit of the mountain was always in fog but visibility on the back (North) side runs seemed to be a touch better than on the front side. It was another day of ski-by-braille and lots of breaks.

A break in the fog! Let 'er go!!

A break in the fog! Let ‘er go!!

But not for long...

But not for long…

Had to get pretty close to the signs to read them.

Had to get pretty close to the signs to read them.

Keeping each other in sight.

Keeping each other in sight.

With the limited visibility on the front side, finding our route back to the lodge from the summit was a challenge. The run we chose, Inspiration – a blue (intermediate) run, looked ok on the map but had us all grouped within 20 feet of each other so that no one would get lost. The run traverses a narrow ridge with drop offs on both sides to black (difficult) runs. And when I say drop off I mean just that! Poles with orange reflectors were placed about 100 feet apart in the centre of the ridge to guide skiers in the fog but they proved to be waay too far apart. It was an expedition venturing from one to the other, stretching the crew out so that someone was always visible.

We're the fukowi! Guideposts hidden in the fog made some runs a challenge.

We’re the fukowi! Guideposts hidden in the fog made some runs a challenge.

After we successfully, albeit slowly, made our way back to the lodge, a hot tub and beer were in order! A bunch of us took the free SNOW bus down into Whitefish for supper at the Bulldog, a pub with – umm – atmosphere.  Cheap beer ($CDN at par!) and good pub grub. A fun way to end the day.

Limited soup selection at The Bulldog.

Limited soup selection at The Bulldog.

Wednesday – more snow and more fog – but the temperature, barely at freezing to start the day, steadily rose. By 10 a.m. the flakes were big and very wet.

A wet Wednesday - at the base lodge. No drier up top either.

A wet Wednesday – at the base lodge. No drier up top either.

It never turned to rain but the wet flakes were extremely efficient at drenching everybody. A BIG bonus in most of the condos was an insuite washer and dryer and they were well used drying ski pants, long johns, jackets, mitts and any other sopping item. Although many people had the common sense to call it a day, one of my room mates and I went out for a few more runs after lunch. We took Chair 1 to the summit, decided the fog was ridiculous and took the most direct blue route down (Toni Matt). Mistake. Skiing was like pushing wet cement and it probably took us an hour to make it down, exhausted and soaked again.

At least we had the excuse that the Club supper was at an early 5 p.m. and we had to dry out and rest up before the big do. No, we weren’t wimps – we were just good planners!

Heavy, wet piles of snow. Whew - what a workout!

Heavy, wet piles of snow. Whew – what a workout!

Thursday held the weather that everyone was waiting for. It started off foggy (what a surprise) but by noon it had lifted to reveal what the runs that we had been skiing all week really looked like. Some of the people who had skied Inspiration in the dense fog maybe would have preferred not to see how narrow that ridge was but the views from the top were lovely. To take advantage of the visibility, a lot of people didn’t even stop for morning coffee – just a break for lunch and back at it for the rest of the day. It was another exhausting day, but in a good and happy way.

Still with the fog. But at least not wet.

Still with the fog on the early runs. But at least not wet.

Hey - we can see!!

Mike navigating the slope while it’s still visible.

But 2 minutes later... Damn!!

But 2 minutes later… Damn!!

Pretty clear at the summit in the afternoon. Nice snow ghosts but signs still of limited use though.

Pretty clear at the summit in the afternoon. Nice snow ghosts but signs still of limited use, unless you have really long arms to clean them off.

The snow at Whitefish was the most plentiful that we have ever dealt with on a Club tour but, overall, I thought it was great.  I have never skied in anything that deep, let alone for 4 days running, and it was quite an exhausting experience. The place is noted for fog but I would like to return anyway. I’ve got to learn how to ski that stuff somehow!

Back to the Slopes!

Finally!  Winter in Edmonton has been particularly brutal this year – over double the amount of snow that we normally receive coupled with a roller coaster ride of temperature highs and lows (a long spate of -35C, followed a few days later by rain which, of course, froze into glare ice, followed by another bout of frigidity. Repeat absurdly). I am not a winter cyclist and I bow in my unworthiness before the hardy souls (other adjectives could be used) who take their bikes out in this weather. Me – I prefer to strap on downhill skis and hit the slopes. At least if I hit a patch of ice I’ll have sharpened edges to deal with the unexpected slidiness!

Doubly frustrating this year is that the closest mountain hill to where I live – Marmot, just outside Jasper – did NOT receive a record snowfall in Nov and Dec. Up until last week, they only had around a 60 cm base, which is not enough to compel me to drive 4 hours one way just to rasp off the bases of my skis with jutting rocks and gravel. So I have been almost patiently waiting for our ski club’s trip to Sun Peaks.

Last Sunday was travel day for my first mountain trip of this year.  Leave Edmonton on our chartered bus at 7 a.m., stop in Edson (2 hours west) for a coffee break, on to Valemount (another 3 hours away) for lunch, break for coffee at Little Fort, then the rest of the way to Sun Peaks.  The road from Edmonton to Jasper was in good shape but from Jasper to Little Fort, BC, was not. The Valemount area had received 2 feet of snow on Saturday and, although a valiant attempt was made at clearing the road, it was not altogether successful and many cars were taking it very cautiously. Our bus could have probably gone a little faster, if not for the cars, but I’m glad the driver was cautious. As it was, we only arrived about 45 minutes late to Sun Peaks after driving/breaking for 11.5 hours.  On Monday morning we heard that HWY 16, the route we took, was shut down for the day by a 400-metre (or 40-metre, depending on the news source) wide avalanche in the Mt. Robson area between Jasper and Valemount. Timing is everything. Unfortunately, I have been fighting a cold that decided to plug up my head on Saturday, so the trip was not only long but also kinda drippy and sneezy. I’m sure that I made the people around me a little nervous but I was pretty good at keeping the snot droplets contained.

Skiing Monday was fun but exhausting.  It usually takes me a few days to get my “mountain” legs again. Skiing at Snow Valley is good for finding edges and playing with balance but not so much for building stamina for the long mountain runs.  There was a lot of new snow, mild temperatures and never a wait for lifts. The day was overcast and the lighting was pretty flat, making it a challenge in open areas.  A 1-hour squall that drove stinging snow pellets into our faces and coated our goggles was another irritant, but we persevered. Ah, the things we do to have fun.  Although we never saw the sun all day, and my gps failed to record for 2 hours in the morning (if the runs aren’t documented, did they really happen? Yup, based on how my legs feel), it was a fun day with great skiing buddies.

Downright balmy!

Downright balmy!

Lots of new snow to play in

Lots of new snow to play in

Tuesday was more of the same, without the squall but with more cloud cover of the face-level variety.  Almost the same pattern as the day before – Sundance, Sunburst and Morrisey lifts – hitting as many of the blue and black groomed cruisers as we could.

There is a hill down there somewhere. Sometimes visibility was challenging.

There is a hill down there somewhere. Sometimes visibility was challenging.

The runs off Crystal chair were hidden in cloud so we didn’t bother going over there. My favourite area of the resort is Mt. Morrisey – most of the runs there are cut through the trees and offer great visibility in flat light and fog. The variability and pitch are perfect for me and I could ski there all day. We ended up descending over 42 km, almost 7700 metres elevation, and my legs and stamina were shot by the end of the day. In bed, lights out, by 9:30. What a party animal – I blame this damned cold, since my head is tighter than my quads 😦

Wednesday was the ideal bluebird day. A few scudding clouds cleared up after the lifts opened and we enjoyed lots of sun and warmth for most of the day.  As expected, my legs felt much better today even though we skied longer and farther than on the previous 2 days. Surprising to me, the snow on the higher runs, off the Crystal chair, was a lot softer than that on the lower runs, especially in the afternoon. The lower runs were either lumpy mashed potatoes (a technical skiing term, I am told) on the sun facing slopes or like skiing on broken cobblestones in the shaded areas. I expected to see a sign saying “these runs brought to you by your local orthodontist”, they were so teeth-jarring. With temps just below freezing, I expected it all to be soft.  Thursday, I’ll stay high, elevation speaking.

A warm and snowy Blue Line, off Crystal chair.

A warm and snowy Blue Line, off Crystal chair.

Art and Kathy by the snow ghosts on Blue Line

Art and Kathy by the snow ghosts on Blue Line

OK, I was mistaken. Thursday was the ideal bluebird day. Again, sunny and warm with soft snow even on the lower slopes. Jim took Al and I over to the powder area in the West Bowl. The snow ghosts at the top of Crystal chair were glowing against the blue sky and, unlike every other time I have been to the top, the wind was actually gentle and warm. Not melting warm, thankfully, just not the usual bone chilling gales that are normal there. I haven’t had much experience in powder and the area around the West Bowl T-bar is a great place to practice. Lots of untracked snow, about 3-4 inches deep, yet the slopes aren’t so steep as to scare the bejeebers out of me, especially since turning in powder is the skill I have to work on. Ergo, the practice needed. The only problem is that the T-bar is not open during the week and 1 practice run involves a cat track, side hill traverse, another cat track, lovely gentle powder slope, a long cat track to the Burfield mid-station and a 10-minute ride up the chair – altogether about 20 minutes of mundane to get 5 minutes of powder practice. If the T-bar was open, I’d spend the day there but I felt I was wasting valuable skiing time for not much gain. I guess I’ll have to get my powder practice elsewhere 😦  The rest of the day was spent on the cruisers in the sun. I have come to Sun Peaks for the past 7 years and this has been the best weather we have experienced. A thoroughly enjoyable trip with a great group of friends!

Me and Al in the West Bowl.

Me and Al in the West Bowl.

Snow ghosts on Blue Line

Snow ghosts on Blue Line, taken from the Crystal chair.

View from Top of the World hut, top of Burfield chair. Clouds in the valley, sun on the slopes - just as it should be.

View from Top of the World hut, at Burfield chair. Clouds in the valley, sun on the slopes – just as it should be.

Mike in his happy place.

Mike in his happy place.

Coffeeneuring #7 – Last warm ride?

How fortuitous that my final coffeeneuring ride of the year should occur on what is probably the final double digit temperature day of the year. I’m talking plus side here, people! The double digit negatives will be here shortly. This has been a wonderfully warm and dry October, where we have made it to at least +10C/50F for all but 3 days so far.  Unfortunately, the “so far” is forecast to come to an end tomorrow with snow and a high of -4C/25F. Good timing for the last coffeeneuring ride!

It was +12C/54F when I set out on my regular ride to Big Lake at noon. Overcast, with just a light wind, was great for riding and I was thinking that maybe I should have gone for a road ride instead. But I had my heart set on going to a particular café in downtown St. Albert and I hate riding my road bike on the trail system or on the city streets.  So I chose the hybrid and set off on the trail for my coffee ride.

On weekends, the trail is usually pretty crowded with runners, walkers (usually with dogs, on leash and off) and other cyclists. But, remarkably considering the weather, there weren’t many people at all, maybe because it was lunch time, and I was able to keep up a good pace. As I came around the corner by the BMX park, though, the pace ended abruptly.  What the hell were 2 big trucks doing blocking the trail?  Then I remembered that there was some sort of unidentifiable spill reported in the stormwater outfall at that location and the trucks must be cleaning it up. Had to bushwhack a bit to get around them but glad that it was being cleaned up. They were gone by the time I made the return trip.

A "what tha?'" moment after rounding a corner. Vac trucks taking up the whole trail.

A “what tha?'” moment after rounding a corner. Vac trucks taking up the whole trail.

On Big Lake, the geese were making a racket in one of the far bays and the swans were still there too, both too far away for a picture. I spotted an immature bald eagle (no white head yet) perched on a light pole by the highway over the river but my camera and skills were too poor to let me get a decent picture.  All I got was a brownish blob, albeit with a wicked beak and long, sharp talons.

Immature bald eagle perched on light pole by Ray Gibbon bridge.

Immature bald eagle perched on light pole by Ray Gibbon bridge. (Click on picture for bigger view.)

On the ride back to town, I noticed that more trees had been beavered down by the trail near the river. The rascals have been busy getting ready for winter. At least they haven’t fallen any across the trail. Yet.

Evidence of our national animal hard at work.

Evidence of our national animal hard at work.

Thought that I would throw in a few pictures that show what a difference 3 weeks make in the vegetation.

Oct 3rd - path through the woods. Still lots of leaves on the trees.

Oct 3rd – path through the woods. Still lots of leaves on the trees.

Oct 26th - same path. Leaves on the ground, not on the trees.

Oct 26th – same path. Leaves on the ground, not on the trees.

I stopped for refreshments at the Arcadia Café, in downtown St. Albert.  It’s a nice place, though I found my latte a little weak. I have yet to see any latte art by the baristas here either, though that doesn’t detract (or add, for that matter) from the taste. Our cycling group, usually 50 to 70 strong, stops there when we ride in St. Albert at least once a month during the summer and they are pretty efficient in serving us, unlike most of the chains. No bike racks, although there used to be some, but they have a 40-foot long metal fence surrounding their (closed for the winter) patio that is great for chaining to.

Latte and lemon/blueberry muffin on the pastryneuring, er, coffeeneuring ride.

Latte and lemon/blueberry muffin on the pastryneuring, er, coffeeneuring ride.

Arcadia Cafe, with 1 lonely bike.

Arcadia Cafe, with 1 lonely bike.

Coffeeneuring #7

Date: Saturday, October 26, 2013

Place: Arcadia Café and Bar, 24 Perron Street, St. Albert, AB

What Had: Latte and lemon/blueberry muffin

Distance: 16 km

Details: Possibly last warm ride of the year

What Health Means to Me

In response to MG’s blog of a few weeks ago, which, in turn, was a response to a WordPress writing challenge, I have been reflecting on this topic in my own tardy manner.  MG maybe expected just a comment but I think the question deserved an entry in my own blog. Good health is the cornerstone for enjoying life – without good health, life is more of a struggle, where coping takes precedence and enjoyment is measured in tiny successes (the “good” days). Beyond a few broken bones and the occasional minor ailment, I have had a remarkably healthy life.  So I speak from some ignorance of any form of physical limitation. I cannot imagine, or don’t want to imagine, my life being dictated by any sort of health problem. If I experienced some trauma or developed a condition that restricted my activity, I hope that I would be able to meet the challenge head on.  But the thought of every decision or activity being coloured by limitation is terrifying right now. I have been blessed, so far, with a strong, normal, healthy body. For this reason, I will work like hell to retain, if not improve, my fitness so as to stay healthy for as long as possible or at least forestall my descent into decrepitude. So far, so good.  I am in my mid-sixties and am in better shape than I was 20 years ago, due in no small part to retirement and my circle of friends. More on that later.

To me, good health means being able to enjoy whatever physical activity I choose to participate in.  But how is it that I have been able to have a healthy body all these years and why can’t everybody? Lord knows that I eat more than my share of meat and junk food, enjoy other non-recommended treats – both liquid and solid – and, as a result, have more pounds on my frame than I would like.  But, so far, no medical problems.  Hell, my doctor once said that I have the blood pressure of a teenager.  Good health, judging by my own life experience, is a result of a combination of many factors, chiefly genes, attitude, and – most importantly, I think – luck.

Genes: I certainly have the genes – my mother, and most of her large family, lived well into their nineties.  My dad smoked himself to an early death, but that was fairly common, I think, for the males of the greatest generation. (Thankfully, society now recognizes the scourge of nicotine addiction and is trying to eradicate or, at least, minimize it. I don’t care if the methods are by laws or humiliation, that disgusting dependency needs to be ended.) There is nothing you can do about your genes. Blame your parents if you want to but that part of health is pretty well outside your control.

Attitude: This is the part that is all under your control.  Well, mostly anyway. I know that I need no extra motivation to be active. I actually like going to the gym and working out or pushing hard on my bike! I’m not sure where that came from. Neither of my parents were particularly active or even sports fans, so affinity for working up a sweat isn’t genetic for me but it is certainly part of my makeup.  Maybe I’m just addicted to endorphins.  Whatever, it works for me.  I can’t remember any part of my life where I wasn’t active in a sport of some kind, organized or not.  Hockey, baseball, football, soccer, wrestling, broomball, squash, racquetball, tae kwon do, skiing (downhill and x-country), cycling, running… I’ve done them all at one time or another and continue with some even now (skiing, cycling, squash).  Some not very well, mind you, but that’s not the point.  Not having to force myself to be active is a blessing but it is still a conscious decision to push myself out of my comfort zone. That pushing, I believe, is where the most progress occurs in upping the fitness level.

Luck: The overriding factor of all, in my opinion. I don’t care how good your genes are or how much you like to sweat or compete or how fit you are at the moment, life is capricious and sometimes bad shit (I’m sure that is a medical term) just happens. An accident or illness can blindside anybody and totally disrupt a life. I don’t know how many times during my life that I have been this close to seriously incapacitating myself, or worse, by some ill-advised venture or just fluke of fate. But luck was on my side and I escaped unscathed.  Luck is partially under our control – all of us have been told not to push it for a reason – but also at the whim of nature.  If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, through no fault of your own, it’s often sayonara.  Control, or at least mitigate, whatever situations you can and hope that the fickle finger stays furled.

I firmly believe that being physically active is an absolute necessity to maintain health. I have friends in my seniors ski club that are well into their 80’s and still skiing at a high level, comfortably doing double black runs at the mountain resorts. And in summer they bike, not because they feel they have to but because they enjoy it! And with the enthusiasm of a teenager! What I hear from them all the time is “use it or lose it”. It may be an overworked expression but it is very true.  But it is more than that – you actually have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise activity just becomes obligatory drudgery.  I joined the seniors ski club in my late 50’s, after I retired.  And I echo the same sentiment that I have heard from many of the members, that it was the best thing I could have done after giving up the working life.  It not only offered me a diverse social group of interesting, active people but it also shattered my preconceptions of what it meant to age.  Having a supportive social circle of slightly (some more than others) competitive, physically active people is an important part of maintaining health. Solo workouts are fine but I find the group rides and skiing with friends much more enjoyable.  One should always be able to smile when sweating! I intend to continue being active, and pushing my abilities, for as long as my body holds out.

May Flowers

After a ridiculously cold and snowy April, Mother Nature finally pulled herself from under the duvet and looked at the calendar. May? Already? Time to warm things up a bit…  So we went from a low of -5C on May 1st to a high of +31C on May 6th!  Making up for lost time I guess.  The warm weather not only did in the last of the snow banks but it also brought out the cyclists in droves.

As I have mentioned before, the ski club that I belong to has a large and active biking contingent.  Typically, 60 to 80 of us meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning for rides on the bike trails in the Edmonton area, with a mid-ride break for coffee, and usually get in 25 to 35 km, depending on location and terrain.  We break into small (i.e. manageable) groups according to ability and experience – either green, blue or black, just like ski runs. Those of us with road bikes also get out for Wednesday and/or Friday rides as well, cruising the quiet roads in the countryside.  The  warm, sunny weather and general lack of rain for most of the month meant that we could finally get our legs turning and our butts used to bicycle seats again.

The North Saskatchewan River valley through Edmonton is a wonderful place to ride, with 100’s of kilometres of paved and dirt trails from one end of the city to the other.

Edmonton skyline from the river valley trails

May 14 – Edmonton skyline from the river valley trails

Riding on one of the wider dirt trails in Mill Creek ravine

May 14 – Riding on one of the wider dirt trails in Mill Creek ravine

St. Albert also has a nice trail system, albeit short, beside the Sturgeon River. Unfortunately, the trails tend to get flooded every spring, so cycling there proved to be a bit of a challenge this month.  With all the snow melting at once, high tide swamped the underpasses and forced the 5 group leaders to be a little creative in choosing their routes.

Flooded walkway under St Albert Trail

May 16 – Flooded walkway under St Albert Trail

Flooded walkway under Perron Street bridge

May 16 – Flooded walkway under Perron Street bridge

Flooded trail under railroad trestle bridge

May 16 – Flooded trail under railroad trestle bridge

May 16 - Converging on the coffee shop!

May 16 – Converging on the coffee shop!

The trees seemed to go from bare and wintery to fully leafed out in 2 days, with blossoms sprouting everywhere.

May 21 - Proof that the black group does stop periodically to smell the roses, er, apple blossoms.

May 21 – Proof that the black group does stop periodically to smell the roses, er, apple blossoms.

May 21 - Riding through the Chinese Gardens in Louise McKinney Park.

May 21 – Riding through the Chinese Gardens in Louise McKinney Park.

And, every now and then, we had to contend with other biker gangs on the trails!

May 23 - This gang looked mean.  We gave them a wide berth...

May 23 – This gang looked mean. We gave them a wide berth…

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?

Panorama – more “Holy Shit” Moments

The ski club that I belong to, the Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club, organized a trip to Panorama Mountain Village again this year.  Although I found the mountain a tad icy and even a little intimidating last year, I decided to chance a return visit.  And am I ever glad that I did!

As with most of the other mountain resorts in B.C. and Alberta this winter, Panorama is suffering from a distinct lack of snow.  I didn’t record the snow levels last year for comparison but the packed base at the bottom of the Mile 1 Quad this year is a paltry 66 cms.  It was a little better at the Summit, with 121 cms, but still far less than what is preferable.  There were more than a few bare patches on the runs, although mostly avoidable, and the occasional rock/gravel/grit area that tattooed the bases of my new skis with undesirable patterns, but the overall conditions were surprisingly good.  I think that the warm weather, sunny and around 0C every day, had a lot to do with it.  The snow was soft and, even in areas that had been skied off or wind blown where I did a lot of skidding last year, my edges had no problem.  That was a nice change since I generally dislike chittering sideways down the hill on armour plate!

Good sliding fun!

Good sliding fun!

Monday was Family Day in B.C. and there were more kids and families on the hill than we are used to seeing. One of the joys of being retired is that we can go to resorts in mid-week and almost have the hill to ourselves.  Spoiled, for sure, and selfish to a degree but having to wait more than one or two chairs to get back on a lift is not something that we are used to!  The hill sucked them up pretty well though and long waits were never a problem. Most of the 50-plus members of our club who made the trip to Panorama went out with the Mountain Friends, a group of locals who volunteer to show visitors around the mountain.  I just wanted to refresh my memory of how to get to the various lifts and runs so only went with them for the morning.  After lunch, it was time to play and explore with 3 or 4 other ski buddies.  After a few cruising runs, we took the Summit chair to the top of the mountain to enjoy the spectacular view.

View from the top of Summit chair. Mt Trafalgar and Mt Nelson prominent.

Spectacular views from the top of Summit chair. Mt Trafalgar and Mt Nelson prominent. (Photo: Byron J.)

During our morning run with the guide, we had descended on a blue cat track trail from the top (Get Me Down), which connects with a number of other trails to eventually bracket the south and west extent of the resort.  Deciding to complete the circle, this time we took the black run (Stumbock) which connects with the blue Taynton Trail cat track to bracket the resort on the north and east side.

Monday skiing routes, recorded by my Garmin 305 .gps

Monday skiing routes, recorded by my Garmin 305 gps

The next 3 days got progressively warmer, maxing out at maybe 3 or 4C, and we skied longer distances and more vertical each day.  We explored every area of the mountain, with the exception of the double-black Taynton Bowl – far beyond my capability and that of my ski mates.  We definitely had our favourite runs, mainly groomed cruisers off the Mile 1 Quad and Sunbird chairs, and did those numerous times, but we also got adventurous and tried a few friendly moguls in the Alive Glades and more challenging ones – the type of moguls that bite – in Founder’s Ridge and on the Stump Farm run. Thankfully, we were the only people there at the time since a mogul run, in my estimation, is akin to a mine field and I treat the two similarly – with “Holy Shit” trepidation and slow progress.  Watching me ski moguls is probably as wince-inducing to the viewer as it is for me to manoeuvre them 😦

Thursday, our final day there, was abbreviated in 2 respects.  We had to load our bus at 3 p.m., so we had to quit early anyway to change and move our gear. But in mid-morning, Al, Byron and I came across an injured snowboarder alone and prone on a flat part of one of the lesser used trails (the runout at the base of Schober’s Dream) and we stopped to attend to him.  It was obvious that the fellow was concussed (thankfully, he was wearing a helmet or it could have been much worse), as he lay on his back in the middle of the trail.  Neither he nor us had any idea how long he had been lying there, but it was probably only a few minutes at most.  I called the ski patrol on my cell while Al, a paramedic, checked him out.  Byron kept going downhill to tell our other mate that we would be delayed.  While waiting for the patrollers, Al kept asking the fellow (Jerome) questions to assess his condition, which improved steadily. It turned out that he was a priest from Calgary, up with another priest and some families for the upcoming Alberta long weekend.  It took about 15 minutes for a ski patroller to arrive – pretty fast considering that the location was not well trafficked, only accessible by black runs, and she was snowplowing a sled.  Shortly after she arrived, another patroller came up the trail on a snowmobile and yet another patroller skied in with a back board under her arm.  Luckily Jerome had no broken bones but, as a precaution with a head injury, he was immobilized with a cervical collar.  They then slid the board under him and wrapped him up in the sled.  A funny part to the incident – the patrollers dug Jerome’s cell phone out of his pocket, put it on speaker (he was immobilized and couldn’t hold it) and asked him who they should call so he could tell them about his impending trip to the hospital.  Jerome gave them the name of the other priest in the group, the patroller dialled and Jerome told the other priest he was coming down in the sled.  “Holy shit” was the response, much to the amusement of the patrollers, who obviously thought that “dear me” should be a more appropriate expletive from a Catholic priest . The original patroller then skied off with him to the Sunbird chair, with a tow from the snowmobile to get her started on the flat trail.  It was very impressive how these patrollers handled the whole situation.  It took 45 minutes off our skiing time but it felt good to assist.  My first good deed of the day, and Valentine’s Day to boot!  My second good deed was later that evening, back at the parking lot when we arrived back in Edmonton.  One of the ladies couldn’t start her car so I gave her a boost.  Tame in comparison.

I have to admit that, even though I still find some of the steeper black runs intimidating, I have grown to really like this mountain.  I’m not fond of cat tracks (who is?!) but I realize that they are a necessary evil when the runs are so widely spaced. And sometimes they have saved my ass when the only alternative is down a double black.  As I mentioned after our visit last year, the staff here are noticeably friendlier than at any other resort we visit. I know that lifties are not well paid and that they probably have a lot to grump about but these guys and girls still greet everyone with a smile and a friendly comment and actually seem to enjoy their job. It’s a nice touch and brightens everyone’s day.  I look forward to going back again, hopefully next year.

Back to The Mountains

My blog has been sorely neglected for the past few months 😦  That snow storm in November squeezed the life out of any further cycling in 2012 and , if it wasn’t for MG and her coffeeneuring challenge, it is unlikely that I would have even attempted that last ride in the snow.  It was an interesting experience, to be sure, but it was way too bumpy, slow and slippery for my liking.  So I had to resort to my fallback activities – gym workouts and squash –  to get my exercise-induced endorphin kicks.  It’s not all bad though.  I miss biking, but winter in Alberta let’s me do my other favourite outdoor sport – downhill skiing.

The local ski hill (Snow Valley) opened a few weeks after that November storm and I have been able to get out once or twice a week. It’s a small hill and not any sort of cardio challenge, unless I walk up instead of taking the chair – and it will be a cold day in hell before that happens – but it is great for practicing technique.  And, of course, for staying in touch with all the other Club bikers who have traded 2 wheels for 2 skis until next April.  After all, my biking friends are all members of the Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club, which, in the summer, is known as a ski club with a major biking problem. In winter, though, we ski.

My first mountain trip of this year was to my all time favourite hill: Sun Peaks Resort, about 60 km from Kamloops, B.C. Sixty of our Club members spent 4 days last week skiing in great conditions – lots of snow, warm weather and, for one day at least, sunshine.  After last year’s arctic temperatures, this year we got to enjoy a much more skiable climate.

2012 temperature. BRRR

2012 temperature. BRRR

Jan 2013 - much nicer temperature!

Jan 2013 – much nicer temperature!

The trade off seemed to be the howling wind for the first 2 days. It was so bad at the top of the mountain that the Burfield and Crystal chairs were both shut down for Monday and Tuesday.  Talking with a local in the Sunburst Lodge, he said that it is the first time he can remember both chairs being closed for 2 consecutive days. Didn’t bother me much though. I don’t ski off the Burfield (a long, painfully slow chair  – 25 minutes from bottom to top on a good day – with mostly double black runs) and I was sure that Crystal would be open for at least 1 of our 4 days there.  So I spent a foggy and warm Monday and a sunny and warm Tuesday playing off the Sundance, Sunburst and Morrisey lifts. My biggest disappointment on Monday was realizing that, after 1 picture, I had loaded the wrong SD card in my camera – a 16 meg instead of 16 gig! Big difference there 😦  Luckily, I had a spare 2 gig in my netbook back in my room so I was able to take pictures for the last 3 days.

Being a gadget geek, I also brought along my gps watch that I use for cycling.  It’s great for tracking where I went all day, as well as distance and elevation skied, speed, etc.  I don’t bother with the HR monitor though – I don’t ski hard enough to push my cardio. All it would be measuring is the fear spikes when I do something I shouldn’t be doing.

GPS routes Jan 15, 2013. Yeah, I know - geek.

GPS routes Jan 15, 2013. Yeah, I know – geek.

On Wednesday, the wind had died down so we finally got to ski off the Crystal chair.  This is one of the higher chairs on the mountain and I expected the runs to be wind-polished armour plate after the past 2 days but I was wrong.  The mild temps had left the snow nice and soft and it was great skiing, the best condition I have seen those runs in my 6 years there. So we got to enjoy the snow ghosts – the eerie looking snow encrusted trees at the verge of treeline – and actually ski the runs without being in a semi-controlled skid down the usual hardpack. The only negative was a 15-minute wait on the chair while the maintenance crew fixed a minor breakdown, but we were out of the wind and in the sun so we didn’t mind hanging there and resting our legs.

Tony skiing out of the snow ghosts off Crystal chair

Tony skiing out of the snow ghosts off Crystal chair

One of the best things about skiing mid-week is the lack of people on the slopes.  Coffee time in the Sunburst lodge seemed to be just seniors and Aussies and there was rarely more than a 2 chair wait at any of the lifts.  Most times, we were able to ski right onto the chair.  Yes, we are spoiled!

On Thursday, our final day there, my group started with a few runs off the Sundance chair but since it was cloudy, with no sun on any of the slopes, Tony and I skied over to the Morrisey chair.  It faces north and never gets much sun anyway.  On dull days, the layout of the Morrisey blue runs – all of which are cut through groves of trees – provides better definition in flat light.  We ended up skiing the rest of the day there.  I didn’t even go in for lunch, just kept skiing right through until 3 p.m.  My gps said that I descended over 10,000 metres elevation and over 63 kilometres downhill. Not a bad day for our last day there. The 10-hour bus trip back to Edmonton on Friday seemed to pass a lot quicker than the incoming trip the previous Sunday, probably because my exhausted body was thankful for the rest!

The group coming out of the trees on Three Bears

The group coming out of the trees on Three Bears

The group on Cruiser, off Sunburst chair.  Sun Peaks village in the valley.

The group on Cruiser, off Sunburst chair. Sun Peaks village in the valley.

Tony and the Xmas tree on Showboat, off Morrisey chair.

Tony and the Xmas tree on Showboat, off Morrisey chair.

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