Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Uncoil a New Rope

You've just bought your brand new rope and you are extremely excited to pull it out and get some use out of it. You notice that it is bundled up in a nice tight little coil, and you think, "hey, this is perfect for my pack!" So you take it to the crag.

It's a beautiful day and you're itching to get on a route. You pull the plastic wraps off the coil, you release the initial wraps, and then...you drop the coils on the ground.


Party foul.

Now the whole coil looks like spaghetti, and you spend the next hour trying to untangle the mess.

Sound familiar?

It's certainly happened to me. And it's certainly happened to a lot of people I know. And if it hasn't happened to you, it certainly can...

When you uncoil a new rope, you have to be very careful. Essentially, you have to unspool the coil. The most ideal way to do this is with a partner. One person puts his arms inside the coil, while the other carefully unspools the rest onto the ground.

This can certainly be done by an individual, but you have to be much more careful.

Following is a video (unfortunately not in English) which shows a technique for uncoiling a new rope.

Happy climbing!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 11, 2017

How to Remove Your Skins with Your Skis On

The first time I saw someone remove their skins without removing their skis, I remember being flabbergasted. My first thought was, "that was awesome." It is incredibly efficient to remove your skins without taking off your skis, but it takes some practice.

In the following video World Cup Ski Mountaineering Racer Melanie Bernier demos a few easy techniques that will help with quick skin removal.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 8, 2017

The World's Best Belayer

So, apparently there's a guy out there who is the best of the best of the best of the best at belaying. Petzl has made a very funny video about this individual with all kinds of superstar climbers.

Check it out:

It does look like this video was inspired by a section of a 2012 film called Almost Alpine where they have a very similar sequence. To see the video, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/7/17


--An out-of-bounds skier had to be rescued from a steep slope near British Columbia's Mt. Seymoure on Sunday. To read more, click here.

--The Mountaineers are looking for volunteer ski instructors for Meany Lodge at Stampede Pass. To learn more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Desert Trail is reporting that, "a San Diego woman who was left dangling 150 feet above the ground while climbing in Joshua Tree National Park was rescued by helicopter Saturday, Dec. 2. The entire hoist rescue was performed in darkness with the use of Night Vision Goggles." To read more, click here.

--There was a second incident in Joshua Tree as well. To read more, click here.

--Red Rock Rendezvous will take place between March 16 and 19, 2018. This is a great chance to rub elbows with guides and athletes and to learn all kinds of new skills. For more information, click here.  Please also consider climbing with an AAI guide before or after the event!

--Zion National Park has a human waste problem. Check it out...


--A snowboarder was killed after hitting a tree in the Monarch Ski Resort. To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "The U.S. House voted Tuesday to name two peaks in Colorado after local mountaineers Christine Boskoff and Charlie Fowler, both of whom died in 2006 during a climb of Genyen Peak in southwestern China." Christine was an important figure in the guiding world and owned the guide service, Mountain Madness. To read more, click here.

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "a Durango woman is suing Silverton Mountain on claims that the ski area recklessly disregarded safety protocols after she fell off the top of a high-altitude chairlift platform in March 2016, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down." To read more, click here.

--Rocky Mountain National Park will be having a informational jobs fair next week.

Notes from All Over:

After the decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument
Patagonia placed this image on their website.

--In a press release, the Access Fund notes, "President Trump issued a proclamation that attempts to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, and the impacts to climbing are far-reaching. The President does not have the legal authority to modify or rescind a National Monument. And we are fighting this in court. This fight is about more than just protecting the incredible climbing at Bears Ears. Nearly 60% of our climbing areas are on federal public lands, and if this presidential proclamation stands, it threatens the very foundation of our public lands system. Bears Ears is a crucial battle in the greater fight for America's public lands." Click here to support the Access Fund and other organizations in a lawsuit to protect Bears Ears.

A map showing the change in size to Bears Ears.
Click to Enlarge

--Here's a depressing piece on how little the outdoor industry was able to do to stop the Bears Ears size reduction.

--John Krakauer sued Outside magazine for republishing his article, Into Thin Air. The piece was later turned into the best-selling book about the 1996 Everest Tragedy. Outside placed the article online. To read more, click here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Job Information Session for Rocky Mountain National Park

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Rocky Mountain National Park:

Rocky Mountain National Park will be hosting a Job Information Session on Tuesday, December 12, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  Come learn about the job application process for Rocky Mountain National Park and how to apply online for specific jobs at the park.  Information will also be available regarding park volunteer opportunities as well as fellowship positions with Rocky Mountain Conservancy.  Short presentations by park staff describing the jobs will begin at 5 pm. 

Beginning in mid-December the park will be accepting online applications for work in campgrounds and entrance stations for this summer.  In January, online applications will be accepted for custodial workers and in February, for general maintenance workers.  Individuals interested in seasonal positions at the park should regularly review the USAjobs website.  All Federal job announcements for Rocky Mountain National Park are posted on www.usajobs.gov 

For further information about Rocky Mountain National Park please visit www.nps.gov/romo or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pamela Shanti Pack: "The Kill Artist"

Pamela Shanti Pack is one of the best off-width climbers in the world. This video chronicles her battle with  the "Mental Block," an off-width detached block on the second pitch of Kill Artist (5.13) in Long Canyon, Utah. The off-width section on the Mental Block is incredibly dangerous because the block could come off during an ascent. Additionally, climbing the Mental Block requires inverted off-width movement.

This film does feature a cameo by Scott Massey. Scott was an AAI Instructor and Guide for several years.

Please note that there is profanity in this film.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 4, 2017

Gifts for the Backcountry Skier in Your Life

Tis the season to be thinking about holiday gifts. And boy-oh-boy, if there's one person who needs a lot of stuff, it's the backcountry skier in your life.

Backcountry skiing is an expensive sport. Skis, boots and bindings are all extremely expensive. A thousand dollar purchase is not uncommon for an individual outfitting themselves with a mere part of the backcountry kit. So it may come as a surprise to find out that there are many inexpensive items that a backcountry skier could certainly use.

Following is a list of not-to-crazy-expensive gift ideas for a backcountry skier:

Ski Straps ($4-$8)

This is one of those items that skiers lose all the time. They are also one of those items that skiers can use to fix a myriad of backcountry problems. They are a very nice thing to have. We recommend the Voile Ski Straps.

Glop Stopper Skin Wax ($12-$15)

Nothing is more frustrating that having snow glop up on your skins during a spring tour. This inexpensive wax can quickly be placed on the skins to eliminate the problem. It is a must have... We recommend, the Black Diamond Glop Stopper.

Warm Socks ($8-$30)

Darn Tough Hike/Trek Boot Sock

Who doesn't need a new pair of warm wool or synthetic socks.  Look for a pair that is tall and will protect the skier's shin from the boot. I am personally a big fan of Darn Tough socks.

Lightweight Gloves ($20-$40)

OR PL Base Glove

Skiers often wear heavy thick gloves for their descents. But a good chunk of a backcountry skier's day is spent going up hill. No one wants to wear super heavy gloves while skinning up. Most want light gloves that breath, but still keep their fingers protected from the cold.

There are several options out there, but we recommend the OR PL Base Glove.

Brooks-Range Field Organizer ($20)

At this point I don't think I know any guides who don't have one of these protective book covers for their avalanche "blue books." This inexpensive piece of gear is a well-loved part of my everyday backcountry kit! I'm not sure if anyone but Brooks-Range makes these...

Buff ($10-$25)

A Buff is a tube of fabric that can be worn over the face, head, ears or neck. There are several companies making these accessories, but Buff is still the original and best.

The first time I ever saw a buff, I thought it was goofy. But now I wear one in the snow, in the desert and in the summer on the rock. This essential piece of equipment protects me from the sun, but also can protect my face from stinging snow. Nearly every AAI guide regularly wears a Buff in some form or another...

Portable Battery Charger ($25-$100)

As smartphone technology has improved, most skiers have begun to use their phones throughout their tours. That means that they're also using up battery power. Portable chargers have become a key piece of equipment, just in case one's battery starts to run low. The Goal Zero Flip Series works well and there are several sizes available with different charging abilities.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 1, 2017

Backcountry Skiing - How to Start!

The words skiing and fun are essentially synonymous with one another. The art of skiing is one of the most pleasurable pastimes in the world. There is nothing quite like sliding on the snow at a beautifully maintained ski area—

Except – that is – skiing the backcountry

But skiing in the backcountry can be intimidating. Indeed, assuming one has easy black diamond movement skills, there are three elements that might keep a skier from venturing into the backcountry: equipment, avalanche danger, and navigation. Once an individual has been introduced to each of these elements, a journey into the winter backcountry seems far more reasonable.


There are two major types of touring skis, telemark and alpine touring. Telemark skis are designed with a free heel that is never clamped down. This is in direct opposition to alpine touring skis. These skis are designed to have a free heel when moving uphill and a fixed heel for downhill skiing.

Unless you are already a telemark skier, it is not recommended that you venture into the backcountry with a telemark ski. Most resort skiers will have a much better time transitioning to alpine touring skis.

A backcountry skier rips down a clean line on a beautiful slope.

There are dozens upon dozens of touring skis on the market. Each ski is designed with a different thing in mind. Some are designed to be super lightweight, whereas others are heavier, but are designed for better performance skiing downhill. Most of those that are new to backcountry skiing should use heavier skis to start with. While this adds weight for uphill travel, it will make the downhill portion of the day much easier to deal with, especially if the conditions are variable or difficult.

There are two major types of backcountry alpine touring bindings on the market. The first is the standard AT set-up, which allows for a skier to easily step into the binding. And the second is the super lightweight tech binding. The first type of binding (Fritschi Diamir, Marker Duke, Atomic Tracker, etc.) will be easier for the standard resort skier to adapt to, but most people these days ski on the second kind of binding (Dynafit, G3, BD Plum, etc.).

Like the skis, there are dozens of different boot options for AT skiers. The biggest difference between alpine ski boots and AT boots is that AT boots are designed to have both an uphill and a downhill mode. In other words, they flex forward and backward for good uphill movement. Ideally a new AT skier will be able to find a boot that works well for both uphill and downhill movement. Ski shop employees can help you find a model that works well for you.

AT skis are designed to go both uphill and downhill, but they need assistance going uphill. You will need to purchase a good set of climbing skins to place on the bottom of the skis for uphill travel. These will then be removed for downhill action.

A skier skins up a slope.

And finally, you will need to carry four essential pieces of avalanche safety equipment. You will need an avalanche transceiver, an avalanche probe, a shovel and formal avalanche education. Nobody should ever travel in the winter backcountry without these essential items.

Avalanche Danger:

The final equipment items on the list are an avalanche transceiver, an avalanche probe and a shovel. These items are for the worst-case scenario. They are in your kit so that you can rescue your partner after an avalanche. They are not avalanche repellant.

An average of 27 people die in avalanches every year. Avalanches are a real threat and they kill people.

There is really only one way for the new backcountry skier to adequately address avalanche danger. He or she will need to take a full 3-day Level I Avalanche Safety course. The best avalanche safety programs conform to American Avalanche Association standards. Locally, these are identified as American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) compliant programs. The American Alpine Institute provides AIARE Level I courses at Mt. Baker every weekend.

Backcountry Navigation:

Skiers regularly enjoy resort skiing in flat light buried in a fog bank. This marginally dangerous resort activity provides significant additional danger in the backcountry. Obstacles with difficult visibility are only the beginning of the problem. You also need to know where you are and how to get home.

There are four additional tools that the backcountry skier should learn to use. These are a topographical map, a compass, an altimeter and a GPS. These are all tools that you can learn to use by playing with them in the frontcountry; and you can find numerous resources online to help you understand these tools in order to use them effectively.

Historically GPS units have been very expensive. However, today there are a number of apps that can be used on your phone in airplane mode. My personal favorite is Gaia, but there are several others out there as well. These apps are not super intuitive though and will take time and practice to perfect before using them in the field.


The fastest way to get dialed into all of this is to take a course. The American Alpine Institute has several courses available. To learn more, check out our list of backcountry skiingsplitboarding, and avalanche safety programs.

Resort skiing is great, but in a straight-up comparison, backcountry skiing is just more fun. There is a lot more that you have to know. Your skiing skill has to be a great deal higher and earning your turns just feels more rewarding. It is well worth any resort skier’s time to step off piste and to explore the world of backcountry skiing.

--Jason D. Martin