Category Archives: Skiing

Spicing up the season with racing and night skiing

I can’t say boredom is a problem for me when it comes to skiing and snowboarding. What’s great about these sports is that every run is different, snow conditions change by the hour, and I can spend a couple days at a large resort without coming close to covering all the terrain.

Burnout is a bigger issue for me with bicycling, but variety is the spice of life, so during a February visit to Steamboat, I tried NASTAR racing for the first time and also skied at night.

NASTAR (NAtional STAndard Race) is described as “the largest public grassroots ski race program in the world” and is available at 115 resorts. You pay a small fee ($12 for unlimited runs at Steamboat) and then get to pretend you’re in the Olympics. Below are some of my video highlights.

Steamboat NASTAR from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

The Steamboat NASTAR course is on a mellow, smooth run, but it was surprisingly tough to negotiate the turns. You really have to anticipate the gates, and it was easy to see how one false move can doom your time in a sport measured by the hundredths of seconds. You’re assigned a number and handicap, based on your age, and your results are available online.

I’d be excited to do this more next season, not only because I’m a competitive person, but also because it’s great for honing your technique.

Racing NASTAR at Steamboat. Photo by Mitch Tobin.
Racing NASTAR at Steamboat. Photo by Mitch Tobin.

Night skiing was another fun diversion. I’d done it once before at Squaw Valley, but that was seven years ago. At Steamboat, they’ve recently installed a low-glare lighting system that uses about 30 percent as much energy as the metal halide bulbs that most resorts use.

There were only a handful of runs open at night, but it was still a thrill to fly down the slopes with dark skies above. Although they groom the runs before re-opening for the night session, it got pretty icy as soon as the sun went down. Great practice for edging.

Below is a video diary of my experience. Before the lifts opened, I took a spin on the gondola so I could film the sunset, and looking back on the season, that was definitely a highlight.

Night skiing at Steamboat from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

After it got dark, It was actually a little creepy to be on a chair lift alone, passing through a dense forest. Seemed like grist for a Jon Krakauer story about a snowboarder spending the night in sub-zero temperatures, trapped in a tree well.

I enjoyed night skiing, but the few resorts that offer it only make a small fraction of their terrain available, so I’d imagine it would get old quickly if you were doing it repeatedly on the same mountain. Still, I’d love to ski at night while it was dumping, and the chance to be on the mountain when the sun went down and the stars came out was worth the price of admission.

Subscribe to updates via RSS and email. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Night skiing at Steamboat. Photo by Mitch Tobin.
Night skiing at Steamboat. Photo by Mitch Tobin.

My favorite photo of the ski season sums up this special moment in my life

I captured thousands of photos this ski season, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the one below, from the top of Baldy Chute at Alta Ski Area, in Utah’s Wasatch Range.

Dropping into Baldy Chute
Dropping into Baldy Chute at Alta

I actually have no idea who this skier is, but I thank him for his service and for aptly illustrating this special moment in my life.

As I write this, we’re five days past our due date, and Ginette is starting to feel contractions, so we could be headed to the hospital any minute. Or it could be a few more days.

I think this photo resonates with me because we’re at an inflection point and on the cusp of a new stage of our lives.

Like the skier in this photo, we’re fully committed, at the point of no return, and on the brink of something wonderful, but the wild ride of parenthood has yet to begin.

Fear and beauty are two words that spring to mind as I view this photo, and ponder the impending childbirth. I’m scared of the major medical event Ginette is about to undergo, and the sudden start of fatherhood. Yet bringing a new life into the world is more awe-inspiring than any scenic vista, and I’d imagine there’s some adrenaline flowing in my bloodstream right now.

Steeps and leaning in

The Baldy Chute run is an example of what some skiers call “steeps.” The main challenge is the extreme angle of the pitch and your sudden acceleration as soon as your skis tip over the cornice. Terrain like this used to terrify me, but over the past couple of years, I’ve become more comfortable “dropping in” on such runs. Now I even seek them out. I’ll confess that I’m sometimes a little scared, but the physiological response to plummeting down a mountain is exhilarating.

One of the places I learned to ski steeps is Copper Bowl. Below is a video I shot of a snowboarder dropping in on a trail that’s known as Bradley’s Plunge.

Dropping into Copper Bowl from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

It can be a leap of faith to start these runs, but unlike base jumping or parachuting, the consequences of a mistake are relatively minor, at least if you’re like me and avoid the really crazy stuff. You might fall a little farther on a steeper slope, but these runs usually aren’t open at ski resorts unless there’s plenty of snow to cushion a crash.

“Taking the plunge” and “leap of faith” seem like fitting descriptors for having a child. Neither of us has any clue about what the baby will look like or how she will behave. Neither of us has ever been a parent, so it’s like we’re on our maiden run down the mountain.

One thing I’ve learned about these steep runs is that you have to fight against your instinct to lean back and sit on your heels. That posture is unstable and makes it much harder to turn and slow down your speed because all your weight is on the rear of your skis.

After wiping out several times, I realized you have to fight instinct and instead tilt forward, toward the bottom of the hill. It’s good advice for all manner of skiing, especially with the newer shaped skis, and why some instructors will tell you to always make sure the front of your shins are pressing against the tongues of your boot. Just as riding slowly through a rock garden on a mountain bike can be harder than zipping through, it’s often easier to ski if you’re pushing your body toward the void before you, despite what your brain is saying.

“Lean in”  has become a hot phrase since Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, penned a 2013 book by that name (subtitle: “Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”).

This bestseller advises women how to pursue career ambitions in balance with other goals and become more assertive in the business world. “Proceed and be bold” is a slogan on the walls at Facebook.

I’m usually not fond of business bromides or buzzwords (“all in” is another appropriate one for parenthood and the photo), but I must admit that this idea of leaning in, tilting forward, embracing adversity, and doubling down when confronted with a challenge has been bouncing around my head as I prepare to become a dad.

We’ll see how I feel after my sleep has been disrupted for weeks and the baby has been crying for hours!

The making of . . .

Some of my best images from this season merely required me to unglove my hand on a ski lift and tap my iPhone screen. My favorite photo demanded a lot more work. To reach the top of 11,068-foot Mount Baldy, you need to hike 30 or 40 minutes uphill in your ski boots with your skis on your shoulder or back.

Hiking up Mount Baldy

Walking in ski boots, even on level ground, isn’t easy. Some of the worst falls I’ve taken during ski season have been in icy parking lots, on my way to or from the chair lift. Hiking up a steep ridge is no picnic, but at least there was a well-trodden path to follow and soft snow to fall in. At the top of the hike, we were rewarded with expansive views of Little Cottonwood Canyon and the Salt Lake Valley.

Top of Mount Baldy, Utah
At the top of Mount Baldy (11.068′) with my best friend Tom.

It meant extra weight, but I’m glad I brought my Canon D50 DSLR camera with me for the hike. At the top of the chute, I was able to stand 20 or 30 feet away from where skiers were starting their runs and use a telephoto lens. I couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop, and capturing the moment when a skier dropped in was relatively easy because many people seemed to freeze at that inflection point.

It would have been cool to take a wide-angle shot from right next to the skiers, but I was with friends and didn’t want to dilly dally. The first moments of my run were the hardest, but as soon as I negotiated the first turn, the snow turned the consistency of mashed potatoes and became forgiving.

Descending Baldy Chute
Descending Baldy Chute at Alta, Utah

Looking up at Baldy from Alta’s base, the chutes seem super-narrow. But it’s something of an optical illusion. I thought there was plenty of room to maneuver.

I’m not expecting my first days, weeks, months, or years of parenting to go as smoothly as this ski run. My photo atop Baldy was shot on a crystal clear day, so it was easy to see the path below.

Being on the verge of parenthood also feels like a different run from this season, when I was at the top of the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area during a blinding snowstorm (photo below is from the ride up).

Chair 9 ascending to the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area
Chair 9 ascending to the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area

At nearly 13,000 feet, my visibility was about three feet and the wind was practically knocking me over. On that run, I didn’t saunter up to the edge of the cornice and make a graceful entry. I just inched forward until terra firma suddenly dropped away and the run had begun.

My parenting career may even start with a May snowstorm. Denver is forecast to get 4 to 9 inches of snow tomorrow, on Mother’s Day.

Source: National Weather Service
Source: National Weather Service

Subscribe to updates via RSS and email. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Subscribe to updates via RSS and email. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. – See more at:
Subscribe to updates via RSS and email. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. – See more at:

Face shots galore on an epic powder day

Yesterday was the greatest powder day of my life. I’m still smiling about the experience, more than 24 hours after leaving the slopes. Here are some video highlights:

All powder, all the time from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

I worked all weekend to meet a deadline and was grouchy by Sunday evening, but I held out hope that a much-advertised storm would deliver salvation.

I woke up at 5:45 am, expecting maybe 4″ of snow, but I was giddy to see nearly 11″ had already fallen at Loveland Ski Area. I could tell that it was still coming down hard along the Continental Divide when I looked at web cams from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

My companion on the ski lift
My companion on the ski lift

You can never leave Denver too early on a powder day, and I was at Loveland by 7:30 am. I parked in the first row, grabbed a bagel sandwich in the cafeteria, and did a solid hour of work to assuage my guilt and clear my head. I’m usually super-productive in that cafeteria before the lifts open because I’m always in a good mood.

By the time the lifts opened, there was around 15″ on the mountain. I was expecting the snow to be rather heavy since it’s already spring, but lots of people on the chair lifts were remarking about how light and fluffy the powder felt (“blower snow” in the alpine argot).

This type of powder is unbeatable because it’s easy to turn in, unlike the thick “Sierra cement” that’s common in California. When you hit a deep pocket just right, snow blows right over your head. It’s a rare, exhilarating treat that powder hounds will drive hundreds of miles to experience.

Face shot at Loveland
This is what I call fun

It’s almost always windy at Loveland, so there was huge drifting going on, including some spots I measured at 30″ deep. Conversely, I still hit a couple of hard patches, and even after 417″ of snow have fallen this season, you’ll still see bare spots at Loveland (and other resorts) that just won’t hold any snow. Weird.

Although we’re well into April, it felt like the middle of winter, with wind chills well below zero and whiteout conditions that induced a little vertigo.

It’s been an incredible season, and I feel so fortunate that Colorado has been as snowy as California has been dry. This year, it looks like the pending arrival of our baby will cut short the ski season before mother nature does.
Westwide snowpackSubscribe to updates via RSS and email. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Pineapple Express ski videos

Over the past two months, Colorado has been slammed by three waves of warm, wet storms that dumped snow measured in feet across the state’s northern and central mountains. These atmospheric rivers are nicknamed the Pineapple Express because they transport subtropical moisture from around Hawaii to the Western United States, as shown in this National Weather Service graphic:

Pineapple Express
Source: National Weather Service

The animation below illustrates the last of the atmospheric river events. The map doesn’t show what happens on land, but this depiction of water vapor gives you a sense of what’s transpiring.

Atmospheric river
Animation of atmospheric river event, February 2014. (Source: NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division)

Good things happen, from my perspective, when the jet stream taps the Pacific Ocean and plows it into the Continental Divide. A couple of weeks ago, I skied at Monarch Mountain after 118 inches–nearly 10 feet–had fallen in the prior 14 days. In the shot below (click to enlarge), I would guesstimate the snow drift was 15 feet tall right along the Divide.

Snow drifts atop Continental Divide at Monarch Mountain. Photo by Mitch Tobin.
Snow drift atop Continental Divide at Monarch Mountain. Photo by Mitch Tobin.

Here’s a video I filmed during my day at Monarch, where I’ve been able to ski for free this year in abundance thanks to the perks of annual passes at Loveland and Copper/Winter Park.

118″ at Monarch from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

The atmospheric rivers haven’t been enough to overcome California’s epic drought. In Colorado, the San Juan Mountains have been bypassed by some of this moisture. But most of Colorado’s ski areas are enjoying one of their best seasons in years.

Here’s a video I shot with my buddy Forrest at Loveland Ski Area, which includes some of my best impressions of farm animals during the walk under the I-70 tunnel.

Loveland Jan 30 2014 from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

I had fun with these two videos, but there’s no story, so I decided to create a clip with some narration and a narrative. The video below, filmed at Copper and Winter Park, includes cameos by friends Pat and Diane.

Rocky Mountain Way from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

I flexed some new video muscles with this last piece, though it did require a fair bit of time to record and time the narration. My goal was to create a 90-second video with about 30 clips averaging 3 seconds each.

In addition to skiing/snowboarding as much as I can before becoming a father, I’m trying to improve my video skills (see more clips here). I’ve found the only way to do all of this while maintaining a full-time job is to combine the alpine exploits with the filming. It’s the editing that takes forever, and it’s not nearly as fun as pushing the start button on the GoPro camera and then carving turns down the mountain.