Adventuring with kids

20130419-221439.jpgThis is a blog I wrote for Chill a few weeks ago.  As we adventure with Obie, I often wonder – am I doing this for me or for him?  It’s a good perspective to maintain.  It’s a long weekend and Scott, Obie and I are going down to Mt Cook National Park to fly in by heli and stay at a high hut then ski the Tasman glacier.  I do this a lot for work but the boys haven’t done it so I think it’s fair to say this is a bonafide family trip!

Oh and I didn’t run the Snow Safety courses during the spring holidays.  Look out for them in the next July holidays.  They’ll be advertised on my website.

Kids and Adventure

Is it a good idea to take kids into the backcountry or side country?  Since side country is backcountry in terms of being outside the ski area boundary, then there’s really no difference.  Here in the Craigies at least, it feels like it’s a bit of an issue as people duck in and out of the ski areas.  It’s easy to take the kids on missions with short hikes.

I recently read world champion Adventure Racer, Nathan Fa’ave’s book “Adventurer at Heart.”  I was both inspired and appalled by the level of adventure he was prepared to hit with his kids.  Sea kayaking around D’Urville island, Nathan paddled a double sea kayak with his three kids while his extremely able wife, Jodie, paddled a single kayak.  They got caught in rising seas and a tricky tide as they tried to negotiate their way past a headland into sheltered waters and camp.  Nathan’s water experience from 20 years at the top of Adventure Racing, as a sea kayak guide and his sheer physical strength got them through but I was left wondering: “What if they’d bailed out?  Three kids and Nathan swimming and Jodie trying to pick up the pieces in rough seas…”  Although I’m ok in a boat (I can take care of myself only) sea kayaking is not my thing.  It’s easier for me to view the scenario in the mountains:  Myself and another able adult take three kids into the backcountry – say the Ryton from Mt Cheeseman.  We are two hours from Cheeseman ski field at the quickest and two hours from Mt Olympus ski field.  Weather comes in and stability is changing rapidly – a fast moving southerly hits hours earlier than expected.  Can we adults handle it?  Can the kids?  Are we equipped for it?  We may need to change course and hike further with skis on packs.  We may need to drop straight to the valley or take a longer route on the ridges to get to safety. Worst case – we may need to dig in and wait out the storm.

I’m a proponent of adventure with kids and like Nathan and Jodie, I believe in the benefits in terms of life skills and resilience gained in the outdoors.  However, skiing in avalanche terrain (which the Fa’aves don’t do with their children) takes a new level of seriousness to me.  Last year two promising 20 year olds (friends of a friend) from the US junior ski team died in an avalanche after they crossed a boundary rope in Colorado.  Fresh powder would have been clearly visible from the ski area.
When our kids ski black diamond runs so young, it’s natural that we’d seek out better runs for them – or they’d find it for themselves.  My son (9.5) has been asking to go into Crystal valley for a couple of years now.  I did take him there last year with some other kids and adults but we pulled the pin at the top due to poor visibility and deteriorating snow stability.  Once you commit to skiing into Crystal, there are huge slopes above and you cannot escape.  It was better to leave it for another year.  Everyone was a bit disappointed.

The thing that bothers me about these mostly stable recent years in the Craigieburns is that one year, it will change and become a season with persistent weak layers in the snow pack.  And we must be able to adapt to that change and change our behaviour.  How and what we model to our kids is especially important.  We are churning out these solid skiers.  Where will they take their skiing?  To Europe?  To the great off-piste runs of Chamonix?  To North America (Whistler, the Colorado and Canadian Rockies, Red Mountain, Montana, Utah, California)?  To Japan – where the hazard rises and falls very quickly due to ongoing snowfall?  To Northern India?  In these amazing places, access to the backcountry may be very easy but avalanche conditions can be decidedly less defined.    A world of ski adventure awaits.

Risky behaviour is fine when there’s low risk and you are aware of the risks you are taking.  However low avalanche hazard never means no hazard and it’s important to understand that – and understand what it takes for hazard to change.  If you have the experience to go backcountry or side country with your kids, teach them about avalanches.  The younger ones can’t really probe or dig – but they should know how to use their avalanche beacons.  Older kids should carry a probe and shovel.  They should be aware of what exactly is avalanche terrain and have an understanding of slope angle, aspect, elevation and slope shape – and how these factors work together to create avalanches if there is unstable snow.  There are simple tricks for understanding surface snow instability and kids can easily be taught the class one signs (avalanches running, cracking, collapsing, snow or wind loading, rapid warming etc) to help them identify when the  likelihood of avalanches increases.  Teach safe travel protocols – how to spread out and how to identify and regroup at islands of safety.

To alleviate my angst over this issue, I’m running a snow safety course for youth (12-18) at Broken River on the best day of September 27 or 28.  Numbers are limited to 8.  Tune into BR for details:  http://www.brokenriver.co.nz/prices/avalanche-courses/
Next year I plan to run them earlier in the season at both Mt Olympus and Broken River.  I’ll probably take 10 year olds by then!

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Weather Forecasting – Art or science?

If you live in NZ, chances are you are obsessed with the weather.  My husband (who is from Utah – where the weather is continentally stable) reckons that weather and sport are New Zealand’s biggest obsessions.  And rightly so.  Before the internet, I tried to never miss the weather on channel one at 6.55pm.  I’m happy I’m no longer so restricted to the 6pm news but I still try to see the news weather if I can.

As a backcountry ski guide who skis 5-7 days a week, weather forecasting is essential for planning my activities.  Last Friday I began one of my Craigieburn Haute Route trips at Craigieburn Valley and travelled to Cheeseman the same day. On Saturday the plan would be to head across to Mt Olympus. For weeks now, we’ve enjoyed fine, stable weather during midweek only to see it crap out for the weekend.  True to form, last week’s forecast predicted deteriorating weather heading into the weekend.  The good news was that the low would cruise right across the south island, hopefully bringing some easterly snow at the tail end of it’s passage.  The cruel news as Friday approached, was that the storm would begin right as we did.  The tricky part of forecasting was the call on wind and rain/snow levels.  Too windy and wet and conditions would be too dangerous to travel with a big group (there being less of a margin for error with a larger group size in rain and wind).

Sometimes I wish I was better at physics and had better skills for weather forecasting but when it came to Friday, the best thing was to get up early and look out the window.  Hazy stars were visible and it was calm with no frost.  I sat down at my computer and ran through all of my favourite weather forecasts in order to get an idea of the rain/snow line and wind speeds.  All forecasts agreed that winds would be calm but the freezing levels differed per forecast.  My co-guide and I decided that we’d need to stay high – above 1500m to avoid the risk of getting into the rain zone. No wind made it good enough.

I recently asked some local experts where they got their weather forecasts.  My neighbour, author of the guidebook to New Zealand Backcountry skiing, James Broadbent recommended WindyTY.  This site gives a broad overview of Southern Hemisphere wind patterns and direction and you can select temperature and rain/snow as well as wind speed.  The format is similar to that of Google Earth so it is handy for general pattern identification.  I often use this for the general picture.

Doug McCabe, head of snow safety at Broken River and a year round patrol leader in both NZ and the US kindly sent me his process.  A man of restraint, Doug avoids the temptation of going straight for forecast models like snow-forecast.com or the computer generated ski field models on Metservice.  He uses a combination of weather station data and the simple act of being out at the weather station, on the mountain, to establish a baseline or “nowcast”.  Like me, he checks out weather radar for the South Island to get a sense of precipitation location, intensity and movement.  Both of us have taken the same Mountain Weather Forecasting class in the US and from this experience, we seek out the pressure charts at the 700millibar level (approximately 3000 metres) for wind speed and direction at ridge top and above.  I’m happy to report (since these are the forecasts I mostly use) that Doug believes that both Metservice and MetVuw do a good job at providing this information.  Doug additionally recommends earth.nullschool.net for the big picture.  This site was unfamiliar to me but it’s actually very similar to WindyTY.
My next port of call was Luke Armstrong.  Ops Manager at Porters, Luke was a mine of information.  The week before he’d shown me a weather site that was completely new to me.  It’s called FNMOC and is put out by the US Navy and Luke uses it for the big picture.  Unfortunately my server did not allow me access to it as it is a US government site.  However, I did read the FNMOC guide to forecasts and analyses.  Although very technical, the usefulness of this model was in it’s ability to predict rain/snow levels using the 540mb line.  You’ll need some time to work this one out!

Luke did place credibility on the Metservice “Three-day rain forecast model” and this is one that I frequently refer to also.  Three days out seems like a reasonable prediction in most situations.  The Metservice model is automated and is thus less confusing to look at the the bright pinks and blues and tight isobars of MetVuw (which I still refer to anyway).  We were both dismayed last Friday by the Metservice computer generated forecast for the Craigieburn fields that gave a prediction of snow to 800 metres but a 1700 metre Free Air Freezing Level (FAFL).  Basically this created the distinct impression that Metservice, like the rest of us, were uncertain about snow levels as the low crossed the South Island.  It could snow to low levels or it could rain to high levels.

As it turned out on Friday, we made it from Craigieburn to Mt Cheeseman, thanks to the hospitality of lunch at Broken River’s Palmer lodge and the friendly patrol who let us ride the BR main tow for faster progress.  We hedged our bets on the FAFL and  never descended below 1500-1600 metres unless passing through a ski field and we enjoyed a calm, snowy but wet day with limited visibility and great skiing up high.  Various forecasts had predicted anywhere from 15-25 cm of new snow and we ended up with 15cm new for the rest of the trip across the range.  My studious attention to the forecast in the preceding week had paid off – but not as much as advice from Ski Guide Trev Street, who wrote and told me that his favourite weather forecast would always be http://www.lookoutthewindow.com.  Why? “It never crashes, it’s constantly updated, 100% accurate , and it works off line….”

Get up early and look outside.  If you are not in the mountains, ring someone who is.  Or go direct to the ski field’s website and trust that they are telling the truth.  They’ll provide a 6am nowcast.  Bear in mind that it may change by the time you get to the field – and that’s where a solid weather forecast comes into play.  Look at several of them and get the average prediction for temperature, wind, FAFL and cloud cover.  Good luck!

 

Ode to my Dad, Rick Keeling

A shout out to my dad, a ski enthusiast and the life of the party.  He died on June 13 and we sent him off in huge style from Castle Hill village.  This is from my Chill blog:

Ode to my Father (Rick Keeling)

In 1986 (God, 30 years ago?), I was heading to school one spring morning.  My dad was on the phone making rallying calls (exhortative calls) to supporters urging them to buy into the ailing Porter Heights after several marginal seasons.  There was a triumphant shout from my old adventure racing team mate, Sandy Sandblom:  “I’m in!”  Rick gathered a crew and the place was rescued from closure.  It was the ultimate sacrifice really.  Not only did my parents lose a bunch of money (that was ok because they loved the place and my dad thought making and losing money was just a game) but my brother, Adrian died there on June 19 1994 in an earthquake that astonishingly triggered an avalanche that hit the groomer he was driving, and flipped it.

My dad died on June 13 this year after a long but good fight with Parkinsons and associated dementia.  He still sparked, his wit remained but he became increasingly confused and less mobile in recent years.  Last season my husband Scott Simper, took him up to Porters to ride the Easy Rider chairlift and see recent developments on the ski area.  Inspired, my dad then commanded Scott to take him skiing.  I showed a complete lack of faith in this project and refused to have anything to do with it except watch.  Scott is a methodical man with excellent patience.  He coaxed Rick into his ski boots, got him onto his skis and they rode the platter lift.  My dad skied as he always had – slightly in the back seat (he hated me calling him on this but it was true – he rode the back seat but I reckon he did it because he enjoyed the rush of speed it’d give him).  He made three successful runs on the platter, accompanied by his men-in-black and urged on by a group of lady admirers on the sidelines (myself included).  We then took him to the cafe for a coffee and he announced his official retirement from skiing.

At my dad’s life celebration, there was a big crowd of Porters people.  Uli spoke.  I spoke to or received messages from ex Porters ski club members, half of the Porters staff were there, and many old staff from Springfield, including several who were great friends of Adrian. Many acknowledged that they had jobs or great holidays and memories because of my dad and his optimism and passion for Porters and skiing.  The guy went for it.

In 2013 as part of my ski column for the Christchurch Press, I interviewed Stu from Chill about his vision for the Chill pass twenty years ago.  Initially Stu’s idea met a chilly (sorry – pun so unintended!) reception from ski areas.  When I asked him who made the leap of faith, Stu told me “it was actually your father.”  My dad was an ideas man and he liked people with ideas – especially those who could follow the ideas through!  So years down the track, now that I’ve returned to the Craigieburns, there’s a real satisfaction in joining forces with Chill, working with the Craigieburn ski areas and carrying on the type of vision my Dad had.  Of course, Rick was all about lift expansion and I’m all about lung expansion and linking the ski areas by good, honest hiking – but we are kind of the same (although I’m less cavalier with money).

Rick Keeling was a good man, kind of brash and direct but generous, with a total lack of self-consciousness.  One friend recounted the time he rallied a big posse to ski Bluff face with him.  She joined nervously, linking hesitant tele turns down the big face.  My dad yelled encouragement to her, leading the fray in his mad and heinously awful Union Jack jacket, charging the slope in his oh-so-slightly unorthodox style.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to shout to people to let him ski first or they wouldn’t be allowed to ski at Porters anymore.  I used to die of embarrassment but now I’m proud.  He was a crazy visionary, the life of the party and a character with a capital C.

Throw some turns down for him this season….

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Dementia

I just returned from six weeks in NZ due to my dad, Rick, breaking his hip.  He has a combination of Parkinsons and dementia…. it’s been a tough run as Rick has struggled through delirium, confusion and agitation (but surprisingly little physical pain). As his primary caregiver, I returned to help figure out the next move.  It’s easy to attach judgement to this situation and feel a bit hard done by as his diagnoses came on the heels of my mother’s death in 2009.  Couple that with my brother Adrian’s death in an avalanche in 1994 and life does feel unfair at times.

So what to do but look for the silver linings?  One is that NZ is a country with socialized healthcare with some wonderful and varied medical people.  Rick has been in the psychogeriatric ward at PMH since March 9 and he’s been treated beautifully.  Another silver lining is that shit happens and you just spiral into negativity if you dwell on the negs.  So the lining is positivity.  Another positive is that we are loved and Rick has an awesome group of friends and family who do not give up on him.  Those are friends I’m happy to call my own.  Another great thing is that Rick still lives in my hometown of Christchurch and he fell down in early fall.  I stayed with great friends by the hills and enjoyed many bike rides and surfs.  The great Sarah Macnab coordinated my living in the moment and I enjoyed music and good times that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Uncertainty certainly remains but what I learned (and posted on FB) is that people with dementia are forced to live in the moment, painful though that moment may be, it will pass.  We ride the downs and focus on the good moments.  Some are even great.  We cry when it’s hard and sad – and then patiently recover our equilibrium.  There is lots to learn about acceptance and understanding of neurological illness and aging (which don’t have to go hand-in-hand of course).

I used to think that strength was about effort – but it’s not.  It’s about letting go and accepting that heaps of things are beyond our control and you just have to remain nimble, able to flow with the conditions and do what you can, when you can.  It’s like that in the mountains, especially in changeable old NZ.  I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to take what I’ve learned in the mountains to my lowland life!

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Me and my parents at Scottie & my wedding December 2000. 

Mt Kenya

I’ve managed to hit 4 continents in the past few weeks. It’s 5am and I’m up writing – the jet lag from Africa to Utah has well kicked in.

Obie and I arrived from NZ on December 18. Scott had gone ahead to film an Animal Planet shoot about bears. After a merry Christmas week I dashed off to Kenya to guide my friend Michele Gilbert up the sunny, south facing Nelion peak. Mt Kenya has three main summits – Lenana at 4995m, is the trekking peak, Nelion at 5188m and the slightly higher Bation at 5199m.

Michele and I have talked about Mt Kenya for years. We’ve been climbing together since 2001.  Michele has had an unfair share of injuries and illnesses in recent years so was game to seize the day.

US guide friends linked us with James Mwangi at Alpine Trekking Kenya. He provided super outfitting services – top trekking guide Antony Kibaki and an entourage of cooks and porters. We embarked on a gentle acclimatization schedule. It served us well as we saw zebras, waterbuck , baboons and a tortoise as soon as we entered Mt Kenya national park at the Equatorial Sirimon gate. The trek wandered through ancient volcanic valleys, some undeniably scribed by glaciation from the last ice age. The initial jungle gave way to many types of giant lobelia plants and surreal Suess-esk landscapes. The closest living relative to the elephant, the rock hyrax, appeared at around 4000m. They look like big rodents – like the marmots common at 10000feet and above in North America. But they are pachyderms! Go figure! We stayed at trekking huts and enjoyed the sunrise on New Year’s Day on top of peak Lenana.

Summit day arrived on Jan 2. I awoke with the queasy feeling that I’d eaten something disagreeable (nothing to do with our cook, who was excellent)!  A complex stroll across the dying Lewis glacier to the base of the technical climbing , gave me some fresh air and we enjoyed a pleasant 16 pitch rock climb to the summit of Nelion. Other parties were on the route as well. Since they were Kenyan guided parties, I respectfully let them go ahead and Michele (who is a strong technical climber) and I cruised along behind. We arrived later than anticipated to the pointy summit. The cloud had moved in but we parked up next to the tiny Howell bivouac on the summit and enjoyed the views to the plains.

I began to dry retch on the rappels. It made things tiring but not dangerous. By the time we arrived back at the Austrian Hut, I was really pukey! That continued through the night, much to the concern of poor Michele, who is used to me as robust. The following morning we packed and made the dash to lower altitudes – 25km and a nice 1800m descent via the spectacular Chogoria route with red rock gorges and speccy waterfalls. It was a fantastic walk and as the air thickened, I improved until I was good for a beer by the time we arrived at camp.

Michele and I spent the next few days on safari.  It was a pretty fancy affair with nice hotels and our own driver, the very knowledgeable and low-key Michael.  Initially visiting the Ol Pejeta wildlife sanctuary, my highlight was the sunset viewing of a family of elephants bathing in the river.  Elephants hang out in matriarchal family groups and they are fun to watch as they are so social and take such good care of the young ones.  The poor old bulls lurk around the edges on their own.  Our second safari took us to the Samburu area north of Mt Kenya.  Much hotter and drier, this wildlife park was more rustic with rougher roads.  Michael took us on a long drive to a place called Buffalo springs where, during the second world war, the British accidentally attacked a herd of buffalo thinking they were an Italian camp.  There’s a spring created from the bomb crater and I went for a swim in the clear water.  My only swim for the NZ summer!  We glimpsed a few ostriches on the way.  The males look like frilly, fussy ballet dancers on thick legs.  The females, like most birds, are way less glam than their male counterparts.  Another highlight, the “Giraffe breakfast” – was a take away breakfast eaten in the safari vehicle as we watched a family of Samburu’s ‘reticulated’ giraffes.  Giraffes are silent creatures and very graceful.  Michael told us that they communicate by sign language.

Because I am now an elephant fan, the final highlight was visiting the baby elephant orphanage in Nairobi.  This was maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and a fantastic money spinner for elephants.  The babies jog out of the forest to meet the keepers who hold out two x 2 litre bottles of formula.  The littlest elephants drink their bottles in about a minute then go to play (and get petted – see Michele all covered in mud!), much to the entertainment of all of us watching.  The second group of elephant orphans are older like 2-3 years – they can hold their own formula bottles with their trunks.  The head keeper gives a talk about the history of each elephant then the crowd disperses to go and sponsor these cute charismatic mega-fauna babies.

Michele then headed to Uganda to see the Mountain Gorillas and Golden monkeys.  I headed home via Amsterdam, a city I’d never visited.  Heading downtown at 6am, I entered a ‘coffee shop’ for a coffee, only to be escorted out without coffee.  It turns out it’s not a coffee shop, it’s a smoke shop and I don’t smoke – “no coffee without smoking,” I was told.  Not exactly Utah!

I’m now back ski guiding for Utah Mountain Adventures and am soon to begin an AMGA Ski Guide Training course.  Obie is back at his school here in Salt Lake City and is on a local ski team.  Scott is trying to ice climb as much as he can in between film shoots for Animal Planet. On the agenda after the AMGA Ski course is another exciting opportunity – I’m heading to South Georgia Island as a climbing guide on the Polar Explorer.  The plan is to cross South Georgia Island in the footsteps on Earnest Shackleton.  It’s big year – the centenary of his legendary survival and crossing of South Georgia Island.

Watch for the reports.  They’ll be late – but interesting!

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The Sirimon hut situated under the north face of Batian.  Lobelia plants in the foreground.

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Michele at the giraffe breakfast

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Michele and I on New years day on the trekking peak Lenana (5995m).  Surprisingly cold on the Equator at dawn at this height!

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Lewis glacier – not long for this world

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Michele  about half way up Nelion – the Austrian hut can be seen across the glacier

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Buffalo springs

 

Another winter 2015

Greetings,

Another excellent winter draws to a close (my feet thank me).  Below is a recent blog I posted to the CHILL website about the doings of Anna Keeling Guiding.  Yet another NZMGA Ski Guide assessment saw the fantastic attainment of IFMGA by world-famous mountaineer, Lydia Bradey.  A big year for Lydia – the launch of her book (Getting Up is Easy), major hip surgery and now IFMGA.  I was thrilled to be part of it and so were the rest of the crew.

We are rolling to the end of our NZ time.  Next on for me is guiding Michele up Mt Kenya in late December.  This is huge as Michele and I have been climbing together since 2002.  I’ll be in touch….

Working with CHILL 2015

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Helping Sean with his phd

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Snow safety class working the turns!

Snow safety class working the turns!

Winter rolls on in the south

Back in NZ for just over a month and already it feels like we never left.  Scott arrived from Greenland, skied some excellent powder and is now in Wanaka filming the Winter Games for Kinetic Media.  He’s seeing some hot shot action on the slopes with many world class athletes training here during the northern summer.

The Broken River freeride team showed good form at the Canterbury primary school champs this past weekend.  Young Obie won his first ski race.  Unfortunately both Scott and I were working and missed this great moment!  Big ups to the Hendersons for hosting Obie over the past several weekends.  Their fine ski techniques, enthusiasm and tasty baking are a great influence.

My connection with the multi-mountain pass CHILL has proven super effective this season with four two day snow safety classes and one one dayer under our belts.  I also taught a four day backcountry avalanche course from Broken River with some terrific folks – friends old and new.  Most exciting this past four-day fine weather spell, was the inaugural Craigieburn Haute route.  Similar (yet not) to the Chamonix to Zermatt route, the trip uses the rope tow ski lifts to access the tops and uses the fine accommodation provided by the club fields – Craigieburn, Broken River, Cheese(person)man and Mt Olympus.  Our team of five travelled in style with light packs.  Stu Waddel of Chill as the tail-end charlie, coordinated hospitality and treated us to a waiata on one amazing day.  Conditions couldn’t have been more perfect with powder on the south faces and corn on the northern aspects.  We even skied the remote Waterfall basin to access the amazing Ryton basin between the main range and Mt Olympus.  This basin was mapped for a ski area by the late avalanche Dave McNulty in the 80’s.  Luckily for those of us who love to skin, the plan was never realized.  We now have the perfect backcountry bowl.

Stu Waddel and I are  excited to offer more Craigieburn Haute Route trips in coming years. There are just so many bowls to ski!  I am very very psyched about my patch this year!

Pics….

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Checking the stability before dropping in

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Sean Waters flagging chapter three of his phd to stomp cornices and ski sweet pow

Sean Waters flagging chapter three of his phd to stomp cornices and ski sweet pow

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Skiing Tim’s stream (Scottie pic). 700m of excellence….

The Ryton from Mt O

The Ryton from Mt O

Our wee freerider showing versatility on the planks!

Our wee freerider showing versatility on the planks!

Snow safety course scores!

Snow safety course scores!

The Broken River BAC crew

The Broken River BAC crew

The inspirational Juliana in Waterfall basin

The inspirational Juliana in Waterfall basin