Friday, February 26, 2021

Film Review: The Snow Walker

Not every film I review for this blog is completely connected to the mountains.  Occasionally, I post reviews of books and films that are only marginally linked to mountain culture.  Usually these are connected to our mission of bringing you the most interesting mountain content by some small thread.  The 2003 film, The Snow Walker is one of these.  No, it's not about climbing or skiing, but it is about indigenous culture and adventure, two things that we at the American Alpine Institute care about a great deal.

The Snow Walker is an interesting study of cultural understanding.  The story takes place in the fifties in a world where there is little tolerance for individuals who are not white and male.  Charlie Halliday (Barry Pepper) is a brash young pilot in Canada's Northern Territories who is enlisted to fly a sick Inuit woman (Annabella Piugattuk) who speaks very little English to a hospital in Yellowknife.  In the process of bringing her to safety across the barren tundra, Halliday crashes his plane.  The arrogant pilot must learn modesty, trust and understanding as the only way to stay alive in the barren arctic wastes is to put his faith in Inuit survival techniques.

Most of the stranger-in-a-strange-land culture-clash films have two elements to "make them exciting."  First, they tend to take place in a violent setting.  In other words, there is some kind of war or conflict, often between the cultures portrayed.  And second, there is usually a romance.  Sometimes the romance is between members of the same culture and sometimes it's cross-cultural.  Some excellent examples of these types of films include Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai, last year's ubber-blockbuster Avatar, and even Disney's Pocahontas.  The Snow Walker breaks away from these cliche models and does something completely different.  There is no war between cultures and there is no romance between the two lead characters.  Instead, the film documents a story of trust and friendship deep in the wilderness and in many ways, the simplicity of the story creates a far more powerful message than some of the other films that have dealt with this theme.

Barry Pepper -- the film's lead -- is one of those actors you know you've seen before, but often can't place.  He's the guy that's in every movie, but when it comes right down to it, you can't name a single one.  Well, let me do it for you.  Pepper has been in big Hollywood productions like Seven Pounds, Flags of Our Fathers, 25th Hour, We Were Soldiers, Knockaround Guys, The Green Mile, Enemy of the State, and Saving Private Ryan.  He has also played leading and secondary roles in a variety of television shows and lesser known Hollywood and independent films.  The actor has even performed a feature role in a "live action" video game.

Pepper's performance in The Snow Walker makes me wonder why this particular actor has been typed as a supporting character in most of the work that he has done.  The actor has a breadth of range that has been ignored by big Hollywood directors and producers.  As most of us only have the slightest knowledge of Inuit culture, we first empathize with Pepper's character, lost in the wilderness. And then as he begins to connect with his Inuit companion, so too do we.

The Snow Walker is not a film that will blow you away with its originality.  You've seen this story before.  Maybe you haven't seen it with this particular culture being explored, but you've likely seen it with everything from aliens to Samurai. However, it is unlikely that you've seen this type of cultural-understanding story done before in such a tender and "un-Hollywood" way.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/25/2021


--Mt. Rainier National Park has switched its systems to online permitting. In other words, if you want to hike or climb in the Park, you'll have  to obtain an online permit first. To read more, click here.

--The Newhalem crags (including Ryan's Wall) on Highway 20 in Washington, are currently closed due to peregrine nesting.

Skiing the Baker Backcountry

--Gripped is reporting that, "resort and backcountry skiing is booming, and despite the difficult road ahead to approval, a proposal to build a year-round ski and mountain biking area in B.C. got the green light for the next stage of the application process." To read more, click here.


--KTLA 5 is reporting that, "The widow and a friend of a skier killed in an avalanche at a Lake Tahoe ski resort last year have filed separate lawsuits accusing the resort of negligently rushing to open the slopes in unsafe conditions for a holiday weekend that’s typically one of the season’s busiest." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "A petition has been circulating in recent days calling for Purgatory Resort to allow uphill travel on its slopes. Uphill skiing, also known as skinning, is when people climb mountain slopes with skis fitted for backcountry travel. Once at the top, skiers can adjust their gear and glide downhill." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The New York Post is reporting that, "A skier was killed after getting caught in an avalanche in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, park officials said. Matthew Brien, 33, of Jackson, had been leading a group in the upper part of the Broken Thumb Couloir when the avalanche occurred around noon Monday." To read more, click here.

--TV 6 Fox is reporting on an ice climbing accident in Michigan: "An ice climber in Munising had to be rescued Friday after falling roughly 20 feet during a climb. According to the Alger County Sheriff’s Office, at 3:43 p.m. Feb. 19, Alger County Dispatch received a 911 call reporting that an ice climber had fallen and had significant injuries.  The sheriff’s office says the victim was climbing the ice formation known as “Sweet Mother Moses (WI 3+)” which is located approximately 1/2 mile east of Sand Point in Munising." To read more, click here.

--The National Park Service has quietly launched an app that provides a tremendous amount of information for the park visitor in each park. To read about it, click here.

--Holy smokes! Snews is reporting that, "there’s seismic news in the media, outdoor, endurance, and tech industries today. Pocket Outdoor Media (parent company to SNEWS, Backpacker, and nearly 30 other active living brands) announced news that will catapult the Boulder-based company into a powerful position in these industries: It has purchased Outside Magazine, Outside TV, Gaia GPS, Peloton Magazine, and athleteReg." To read more, click here.

--ABC News is reporting on an unusual bear attack.  An Alaska woman had the scare of a lifetime when using an outhouse in the backcountry and she was attacked by a bear, from below. 'I got out there and sat down on the toilet and immediately something bit my butt right as I sat down,' Shannon Stevens told The Associated Press on Thursday. 'I jumped up and I screamed when it happened.'" To read more, click here.

--E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin -- the team that brought us the Academy Award Winning Free Solo -- have multiple new projects lined up. From a documentary about the Tai cave rescue to the a series about outdoor adventure athletes, the pair are getting very busy. To read more, click here.

--It's important to respect others on the ski slope, and if you accidentally cut someone off, apologize. And if you get cut-off and you're not injured, no harm done. If someone is out-of-control, it's fine to say something, but it should never turn into a fight. But that's what happened at Vermont's Mt. Snow when a skier and a snowboarder got into it. One person is thrown to the ground. It's BS. A video of the incident is making the rounds.

--Two large new ice routes have been established in the Valdez area of Alaska. To read about them, click here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Avalanche Awareness: Beacon Check

The American Mountain Guides Association and Outdoor Research have come together to create a video on avalanche beacons and the morning beacon check. Arguably, this check is one of the most important parts of the day. If your beacon doesn't work, you're not going to be found if you get avalanched, and you certainly won't be able to find your friend if he gets avalanched...

Check out the video below:

Here is a good process for completing a beacon check:

1) Turn on the beacons and confirm that there is power. Each individual should state their battery life. Batteries that are at less than 80% should be changed out. Rechargeable batteries are not as good as off-the-shelf batteries as they appear to have a lot of power but then lose it quickly.

2) Everybody accept for one person (the leader) should switch their beacons to search mode. They should see if they can "see" the person in transmit mode and the distance on their beacons. Don't touch beacons together when you practice this as direct contact can fry the circuits.

3) The team should turn their beacons back to transmit. The leader can then switch his beacon to search and have the members of the team file by as he checks that he can "see" them with his beacon.

4) Once this is complete, one person should watch as the leader turns his beacon back to transmit.

5) Beacons can be stored in the beacon harness or in a pocket. If in a pocket, the pocket should be integrated (so that it can't tear off) and it should have a zipper.

6) Note that cell phones, Go Pros, radios, or other electronic devices may adversely impact the effectiveness of a beacon. These devices should be stored away from the beacon.

Your avalanche beacon is your life. Make sure that it's on and that it has been adequately checked before going out to ski!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, February 22, 2021

Avalanche Awareness: Beacon Search

Seventy-five percent of all avalanche deaths are due to asphyxiation. After fifteen minutes of being buried in an avalanche, your chances of survival drop sixty-percent. Knowing how to use an avalanche beacon well is an essential skill for the backcountry traveler.

In the following video, the concept of an avalanche beacon search is described in detail:

Understanding the process of searching for a victim is essential. Practice with your beacon and take an AIARE Avalanche Level I course!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, February 19, 2021

Body Position and Finger Strength Training

The Climbing Movement Essential Training Series on Youtube is kind of awesome. The series is composed of a number of well produced videos that focus on different aspects of training for climbing.

The following video is specifically oriented toward training for body position and strength. Essentially, you will put yourself into some difficult climbing postures and hold yourself there to build up strength.

Following is a breakdown of the workout from the video:

--12 Climbing Postures
--3 Times Each
--30-45 Minutes
  1. Set a variety of climbing positions using 3 points of contact.
  2. Choose 3 holds (2 arms, 1 foot)
  3. "Freeze" and balance your weight with the points of contact.
  4. Time each posture.
  5. For strength training, muscle failure should occur before 10-12 seconds.
  6. Recreate postures that you encounter in your climbing projects.
  7. Work with higher footholds and harder handholds.
  8. Increase the intensity and pressure as you progress.
  9. The key is to maintain a static contraction without momentum or movement.
  10. Repeat each posture 3 times.
--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/18/21

Avalanche Note:

February of 2021 may go down as one of the deadliest months for avalanche fatalities in history. At this point at least sixteen people have been killed, and maybe more (articles are inconsistent). This is terribly sad. Please be careful out there. If you're unsure about the hazard, go home, or ski/ride at a resort. We want everyone to come home from every mountain trip...


--Gripped is reporting that, "An avalanche in Brandywine Bowl (Whistler area) on Saturday afternoon claimed the life of climber and snowboarder Dave Henkel, 45, a member of the Squamish community. Outpourings of grief and disbelief flooded social media from his many friends and connections." To read more, click here.


--Snowbrains is reporting that, "Over the past year, healthcare workers have made an indelible impact on communities around the country. To honor their unwavering commitment and offer thanks, Homewood Mountain Resort is giving away lift tickets, access to the mountain an hour before the general public, and complimentary breakfast to 200 healthcare workers on Sunday, February 28, 2021." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A historic 5.14c in Joshua Tree National Park has been seriously downgraded, now clocking in at a still-quite-hard 5.12d. However, the original grade of 14c made it one of the hardest climbs in the country. Now? Not so much. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Two avalanches resulted in fatalities in Colorado on Sunday. To read more, click here.

--A skier died after striking a tree Breckenridge Ski Resort last week.

--The Denver Channel is reporting that, "A snowmobiler remains missing after an avalanche near Ruby Mountain in Jackson County on Tuesday." To read more, click here.

--The following is an excellent snapshot of what happened on the February 6th avalanche that killed four people in the Wilson Glades area of Wilson Peak in Utah:

--The avalanche hazard in Utah is off the charts right now. Little Cottonwood Canyon has been closed, as have some resorts. To read more, click here.

--Fox 13 is reporting that, "Officials are looking for help in identifying who vandalized parts of Bryce Canyon National Park." To read more, click here.

--A new gym is being planned in Moab. They're interested in hearing the community's thoughts.

Notes from All Over:

--Avalanches aren't the only hazard right now. On Sunday, a 27-year-old died in a tree-well at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Another skier died in a tree-well at Montana's Bridger Bowl. A third died at Vermont's Stowe Mountain, but this appears to be the result of a tree collision.

--A production company owned by the Obamas will be making a film about Tenzing Norgay for Netflix. Tenzing was on the first ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953. To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "Kilimanjaro could soon look quite different, and not just because of its shrinking glaciers. The Tanzanian government recently approved construction of a cable car on the 19,341-foot peak, the highest summit in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Still, while it may technically be approved, the project is far from a sure bet." To read more, click here.

--Late last week, several ski resorts in Montana closed due to life-threatening cold weather. To read more, click here.

--Ski slopes in parts of Europe are yellow due to a storm in the Sahara that blew sand into the region. To read about it and to see photos, click here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mixed Climbing Training

I really like mixed climbing. It's tremendously fun. But it's also tremendously pumpy. Clearly to do it well, you should train a lot.  And while I haven't built any special training walls or anything yet, I certainly love seeing what other people have built to train for this particularly odd type of climbing...

In the following video, a farmworker without easy access to the mountains demos several of his training contraptions while talking about mixed climbing.

--Jason D. Martin