August 29, 2015

Nevados de Chillan, Chile

South of the equator in late August, Volcan Chillan snows are still falling, and Andean winds are still blowing.


Refugio Garganta del Diablo, Devil's Throat Refuge
Ski touring in an Andean wind storm, coming upon Refugio Garganta del Diablo was an unexpected and welcome sight after getting blasted with icy pellets driven by staggering gusts. Touring around Nevados de Chillan for the first time was a lesson in complex volcan topography, quite enjoyable, but also unnerving.  To an Alaskan skier experienced with ridge-top cornices, happening upon cornices mid-mountain was a reminder to follow the sage Canadian advice: "if you can't see it, don't ski it." Along with unexpected mid-mountain cornices, I happened upon unexpected bowls full of powder! As you might guess with all this unexpected stuff, keeping one's bearings was difficult. Lost in the Andes, what could go wrong?
Refugio Garganta del Diablo

Refugio Garganta del Diablo Loft

Except for a rat, I was alone at the refugio listening to the windstorm bang the tin roof in an uneven, unrelenting cadence. I left the shelter feeling very thankful for having a break from the wind, and backtracked about an hour to find what was left of my uptrack. Established around 1937, Refugio Garganta del Diablo is maintained on Volcan Nevados de Chillan by Grupo de Refugio del Amigos. Finding my way back to my uptrack only required about an hour of backtracking.
 
Nevados de Chillan has substantial housing around the end of the road, Termas de Chillan and even more at Las Trancas, 15 minutes (in good weather) down the road. Probably all of the accommodations are slightly more comfortable than the Devil's Throat Refugio.
Gran Hotel Termas de Chillan
Hotel Alta
Delightful Austral Parrots flock around Nevados de Chillan eating seeds that blow from the trees.  Hundreds of these beautiful birds were chirping, flying about, and enchanting los esquiadores de Alaska.

Enjoying Fresh Austral Snow in August
Nevados de Chillan skiing was very good! We enjoyed fresh snow 4 of 5 days, but also a lot of wind. The wind prevented opening the upper most lifts 4 out of 5 days. Ski touring around and above the upper lifts during wind storms helped me appreciate the reason for closing the lifts, but leeward bowls amazingly retained great snow, much of which was wind deposited, and some of which was unstable.
Nevados de Chillan Sidecoutnry
We observed slide debris on approximately 35-degree slopes, but never saw or felt anything move.

Traversing back in bounds
Chillan was a fun trip - hope to return!

 

January 3, 2015

Bringing in 2015 Touring the Talkeetnas

Touring the Talkeetnas around Hatcher Pass in the winter sunshine combines ghost town-like historical interest, magnificent vistas, and exquisite skiing. Independence Mine is mostly a ghost town, save the single building still maintained for occupancy, and above Independence is Gold Cord, one of my favorite places.
Approaching Gold Cord

Friendship Pass overlooks Gold Cord, Independence and the Hatcher Pass Lodge.
Upper Reaches of Gold Cord Bowl
Skiing to Friendship Pass involves travelling in avalanche terrain. See the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center for important information.
Approaching Friendship Pass
Friendship Pass vistas of Denali and the Alaska Range stoke the spirit. 
Friendship Pass, Alaska - Looking North

Her nickname is Sunshine.

Sunshine Tracks
Exposed ridges had some small areas of unsupportable crust. But it was easy to avoid, and snow quality was mostly excellent. 

Hillary at High Grade
For the first time in many trips to High Grade, we found people in the cabin built by Gerrit 'Henie' Snider in 1938. A nice lady at the cabin explained that 6 families descended from her grandma share the place now.

We had an adventure skiing home in alpenglow, we found exquisite powder for our last line. Daylight was short, but our experience was full. 




December 4, 2014

(Another) Dynafit Binding Failure

While Dynafit celebrates 30 years of 'tech' style alpine touring binding/boot systems, some users are simmering with frustrating failures of Dynafit products. I have experienced two binding heel piece failures in 17 ski days, and one of my ski buddies suffered an essentially identical failure during this same period.

These failures occurred on the 'Radical'-style heel piece. The top portion of the binding, including the heel pins, separates from the lower portion of the binding. In the most recent failure, it appears that the failure initiated with the two screws connecting the top plate to the lower portion of the heel piece.
Intact Heel Piece on the Right
The two screws forward of the heel elevator mechanism connect the binding top plate to the lower portion of the binding. In my most recent heel piece failure, remnants of these two screws were still present.
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I believe the two screws failed, and then the rear portion of the binding plastic failed due to the upward force on the heel pins
Dynafit was one of the most significant skiing innovations in my lifetime. But, the failures described in this post, and other failures not described here, indicate that we need a more robust, yet still lightweight, binding/boot system for alpine touring.


Heel Piece Plastic Fracture Surface in Red Polygon