Hokkaido Snow Report

Saturday, January 21st - 10cm

Sunday, January 22nd - 0cm

Monday, January 23rd - 35cm

Tuesday, January 24th - 20cm

Wednesday, January 25th - 15cm

Thursday, January 26th - 10cm

Friday, January 27th - 20cm

Saturday, January 28th - 10cm

130cm (50 inches) of super-light powder in 8 days. But rewind a bit first.

On arriving in Hokkaido - the snowy northern island of Japan - we set up camp at a simple hotel in Otaru, a port town just north of Sapporo.  With out trusty Toyota Hiace Grand Cabin van, and Paul Krekow as our guide, life was easy. Wake up, decide which direction to head based on the snow report, set off in the van at 8am, pick up some lunch snacks at the roadside mart, ride the un-skied in-bounds trees till the out of bounds called, ski till we couldn't face walking up another hill, and then head to the local onsen (natural hot springs) every evening. Rise and repeat.

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Hokkaido's snow is special because storms travel east across Siberia, pick up moisture over the Sea of Japan, and then just leave it all on the West coast of Hokkaido where the temperature never seems to get much above freezing. And within 45 minutes of Otaru, we had Kiroro Snow World, Sapporo Kokusai, and Sapporo Teine. While we saw plenty of skiers, almost no one went out of bounds so the snow was bottomless. Here are a few sample photos, but I have to admit that on the deepest day, none of us even took a camera out of the bag.

Bespoke Skis

Can't find the right skis for next year? Call Pete Wagner, CEO of Wagner Skis. He'll ask a few questions about your skiing, pass on some snow forecasts, and you'll leave the call wishing you lived in a ski town. Next day, an email arrives with the shape, flex and materials for your perfect ski:

Length: 192cm

Tip-Waist-Tail: 148mm-114mm-131mm

Sidecut radius: 24.8m

Tip: All-Mountain design with 5-5 tip rocker for easy turn initiation and versatility

Tail: Directional tail design with traditional camber for versatility

Construction: All-Aspen core with Titanal (metal) structural layers for a smooth, stable ride with great edge hold

Flex pattern: Balanced. Tail slightly stiffer than tip.

Stiffness: Medium+

Last year, Pete Wagner built over 1,000 pairs of skis, and only four needed to be rebuilt; so trust his process. Wager Skis can deliver your bespoke ski in two months, but first you need to design a top sheet. Their in-house designer, Heather, can help you along in that process or you can design them yourself. Here are some photos from the design and production process.

Final designs

Points North

In April 1996 my father visited Valdez, AK and returned with crisp photos of his tracks down 5,000 foot couloirs among the Chugach peaks, and stories of Doug Coombs' heli-skiing antics. Almost exactly twenty years later, I am sitting 50 miles south along the Chugach mountains at the Reluctant Fisherman Bar in Cordoba, AK. But watching the fishing fleet in the harbor in front of me prepare to go out as the rain comes down for the third day definitely put a dampener on my trip to Points North Heli-Adventures.

I was warned in advance that a week in the Chugach could often result in only a day or two of skiing, but I thought my luck would hold out since my trip to Bella Coola Heli Sports in March 2015 was so amazing - fresh snow, cool temps, clear skies and a heli at our beck and call. Sadly this year, warm temperatures and sun had melted a lot of snow, and rain had done away with more. Each Spring, the owners of Points North, Kevin and Jessica Quinn, take over a little hotel on Nelson Bay and turn it into the Points North base camp. Its basically a big family lodge - everyone plays boardgames together, take anything they want from the kitchen, and there is a big friendly husky wandering around. Even better, each morning, there are incredible views of the mountains and wildlife in every direction.

Points north view
Hotel
Wildlife

While there are a variety of great heli-ski operations in Valdez, AK, I chose to go to Points North Heli-Adventures in Cordoba, AK because of its relative isolation, which meant that there would not be other operations buzzing around us. So rather than end up in a parking lot off of the highway on Thomson Pass just outside of Valdez, we had our own heli-pad right outside the hotel. 

After some gray days, the skies opened, and our guide, Andrew Eisenstark, got us to into the heli. Nothing beats a helicopter waiting right outside your room. Its a beautiful ride up the Nelson Bay and onto the Cordoba Glacier. In 10 minutes you go from lounging in the base lodge to standing on top of a 5,000 ft line in full winder conditions. Between the weather and the snow conditions, we were a bit limited in what we could ski, but we still got to ski 3-4 great zones. Hats off to the Points North pilots who brought us into difficult landing zones even in low light conditions. It lead to some amazing steep skiing - make sure to watch for your sluff on your way down these peaks. 

Helis at base
VIew from heli
 What we waited all week for. Endless steep powder in the high alpine under blue skies.
Points north mounatins

The only downside of Points North (and a few other popular operations) is that they put four groups to a heli. That means it takes about an hour and a half to get all the groups out into the mountains or back into the lodge. It also makes moving around the mountains a little slower. I would recommend making sure that you will have three groups to a heli max wherever you go. But overall, its Points North great place to ski.

After a huge last dinner, and a bondfire under the stars, our trip came to a successful end. We didn't get the conditions we had hoped for, but that leaves more for next time. For 2017 I am planning a trip back to Alaska to visit Juno and the Southern Chilkats.

Bonfire

Winter is Coming

95 Degree weather makes me think of skiing. At least it makes me think that we have reached the dog-days of summer so skiing is only a few more months away. Wishful thinking - right?

In honor of winter, however much further away it might be, here are a few photos from my trip to Bella Coola, BC, Canada in April 2014. Despite the warm March/April weather that melted all snow below 5,000 feet, we got a few feet of new snow on arrival, and then a week of blue skies. Conditions were so stable that we got on a few very steep, exposed lines. But Bella Coola Helisports pilot Richard Lapointe and Lead Guide, Jia Condon had it all under control. Jia is also an incredible photographer - all photos below are his (see more @jiacondon).

Alex_bella_coola_heli
Alex_bella_coola_shadow
Alex_bella_coola_orange
Alex_bella_coola_group
Bella_coola_couloir
Alex_bella_coola_steep

City Greenery Redux

"No self-respecting gardener buys seedlings." Mrs. Gintet exhaled in her distinctive huff.

Blame her challenge for leading my poor seedlings to an early demise last spring. Or, one might argue, in my haste to become a gardener, I bit off a bit more than I could chew and the fault lies closer to home. Potato, po-tah-toe.

Either way, in an effort to add some greenery and perhaps some truly locally sourced food to my diet, I purchased squash, yellow squash, lettuce, and tomato seeds and the necessary accoutrements for a garden. Then one under-whelming April day in the bedroom of my thirteenth floor New York City apartment a quick read of blogs on seedling success (e.g. Seed Starting Simplified) fortified my unsteady hand as I poured moistened potting soil into each cup-like planter. A few seeds into each planter and another protective coat of soil was the simple part. Even remembering to dutifully spritz them each morning for a month wasn't bad. But after the rapid rise and significant height of the seedlings, to see them die within 24 hours of transplanting them into a larger plot of soil was quite disappointing. I hadn't paid enough heed to the instructions on precise temperature ranges (must be kept 65-80 F) and I assumed the sunlight gently coloring my room would suffice (it didn't). It turns out, the height was more a sign of lack of good sunlight than of any success.

After mourning the swift death of the plants I had coddled for a month, and nursing my wounded ego, I purchased some healthy blooming seedlings from a local store and ultimately enjoyed a great crop of squash, yellow squash, lettuce and tomatoes.

And onto this year. I have scaled my ambitions as a gardener back this year. I purchased a "self-watering garden in a jar" with cilantro seeds. I just planted them. I don't have to move another muscle. Updates to come.

garden in a jar.jpg

A Mind of its Drone

Standing in the mountain air December 25th, searching the grey winter sky for any sign of the falling done, I felt some resignation. But despite the drone's disappearance, we were hooked on flight.

A few steps back: That morning, Christmas brought a Parrot Rolling Spider Mini Drone into our home. After a few minutes of fun plastering an evil looking mouth sticker on the front, we plugged in the tiny battery for 45 minutes to ready the ten inch, quad-coptered "beast". Lighter than an iPhone, it seemed an unlikely candidate for flight, but on connecting it to the appropriate iPhone app (there are imitators that do nothing) and hitting the liftoff button, it came to an steady buzz five feet off the floor. It took the better part of three or four six minute flights banging into the dinner table, wall plants, the ceiling and most definitely the floor to get a semblance of control. Soon a few twists of the thumbs let us send the spider dancing around the room to the cat's glee. And all of a sudden we had the confidence if not the skill for outdoor flight.

Outside we went to test our luck at flying over the house to photograph the house with the imbedded camera. Lo and behold the "60 foot range" and "height limit parameters" we were counting on to limit any potential disaster let us down. Upon a simple liftoff the drone took off like a bat out of hell, stopped responding to the controller, didn't stop its engine on the kill switch order, and quickly rose straight into the sky to a few thousand feet before disappearing into cloud cover. Meet the gift from hell.

Parrot mini drone

I sincerely hope that no one was hurt. The drone could easily have gone into the flightpath of the local airport or fallen from its six minute assent straight onto a car or worse a head. I completely agree with Seth Stevenson of The Slate's assessment "maybe there ought to be some regulations out there to protect us from ourselves." No kidding! A permit or required training might not have been a bad idea. And a functioning drone without the tendency to escape its master would have helped as well.

Parrot seems to know about the bug because they immediately offered a replacement. But perhaps we'd better fly indoors for a while until we can pilot like a pro and Parrot gets the kinks worked out. In the meantime, we are sadly awaiting our replacement drone and eyeing a few larger ones too. Someone better add a few regulations before we go buy a drone large enough to crush a car!

New Trend on Instagram: #instachart

Just over six months ago Instagram drew me into its fold. As a private person I never wanted to share photos of my own life, but I did decide to share meaningful charts and graphs and #instagraph was born. Here are the top 5 most popular charts over the last few months.

 

#5. The Universal Chart


Snow Reports

Jackson Hole Resort Comparison

As the late fall snowstorms roll in, the opening day lift lines form, children dream of a white Christmas and skiers plan their yearly trips, I engage in one more annual ritual - pouring over snow reports. I engage with the reports as if each might contain the magical code unlocking insight into where to be for the next big snowfall. Here are the best of the lot.

Snow-Forecast: While each ski resort globally has their own page dedicated to snowfall, Snow-forecast is invariable more accurate. The one error that they may be excused for is to often underestimate snowfall at higher altitude by about half. The graphical representations are wonderful.

Jackson Hole Resort Comparison (above): The cynical may argue Jackson publishes to brag of their dominance year over year, but it is a wonderful overview of the snowfall in the American Rockies.

NOAA Forecast: A wonderfully accurate general forecast for the United States by zip code.

Rockies Radar: Watch each weather system roll into the Rockies on radar.