Monday, January 5, 2015

Holidays and bison

The holidays are always a balancing act for a ski racer. You want to visit with people but too much of a good thing can kill your racing the following weeks. I think a good balance was struck this year, and the last few intensity sessions have confirmed both of us are feeling fit and haven’t indulged too much over Christmas.
The skiing in Whitehorse has steadily improved and is great right now. Cold, squeaky snow and bomber tracks make training a pleasure. It was great to have Graham Nishikawa home for the holidays to give us some feedback and keep us on our toes when we’re skiing. A big thanks to Graham for lending us a selection of his skis to use in the coming races.
The biggest news of the holidays though is that Michael Abbott shot a bison! After a frustrating fall getting skunked hunting caribou, moose and sheep everything came together for him on New Years Eve. This was in part thanks to Knute who had been hunting in the same area earlier in the year and gave us the information we needed for a successful hunt. Little things made a big difference. “Keep your rifle in hand and loaded”. “Watch your breath so the scope doesn't fog up”. “Keep the scope on minimum power”. “Don’t spook them, if they start running, you’ll never catch up to them”. “Aim low, behind and below the shoulder”.
The standard method for hunting bison in the Yukon is to take a snow machine out on back-country trails, look for fresh sign and then follow tracks to try and find them. Because this is the normal method, bison seem to be learning to avoid the trails and areas frequented by snow machines. Human-powered bison hunting isn't something that most people do, because of the incredible amount of work it takes to get a 1000lb+ animal out of the bush once you shoot it. We decided that we were up to the task.
Sunrise found us trekking across a frozen lake, towards an open hill-slope with bison tracks on it. An hour and a half later we were looking at fresh tracks, trampled pine trees and fresh beds. We knew they were close. Following the sparsely treed ridge we quietly walked down towards a little hollow with Michael leading, Colin following and Dave Gonda at the back. I think all three of us saw the bison at the same time. We dropped to the ground as a bull walked past us no more than 50 meters ahead. We thought it had seen us but it didn't run and didn't look our way, just walked out of sight down the hill. A few moments later we spotted a mound of fur just past where the first bull had walked. A second one was bedded down close by! We dropped our packs and Michael tried to re-position to get an angle on the second bull. He must have heard us because shortly after we started moving the second bull stood up and immediately moved behind a screen of trees. We thought we were busted. We stopped moving and waited to see what would happen.
Lying in the snow we got colder and colder locked in a staring contest with a big bull bison. He was safe from a shot because of the screen of trees. He didn't know what we were and was waiting for us to move so he could find out. There was no wind and he couldn't smell us. We weren't standing on two legs so he didn't know we were humans. As our legs started cramping and muscles started shaking from the cold, the first bison came walking back up the hill. Michael quickly moved a few steps from cover and dropped to one knee to get a solid shot. The bison stopped and looked straight at him before beginning to move again. Patience paid off and the first shot hit its mark. Knute’s rifle did it’s job well. We went to where the bison lay in the snow and to our surprise saw the second bison standing nearby! we were able to watch him for a few minutes up close before he took off into the bush.
It was only noon, but we knew it was going to be a long day. Colin ran the 5km round trip to the truck to get sleds while Dave and Michael started field dressing the bison. It was dark long before the quartering was complete and we finished the job by headlamp. Just as Dave got a fire going a pack of wolves began to howl in the distance. We cut more quickly. By 6pm we had the meat sectioned into manageable chunks and began the task of hauling it out of the forest. A very steep hill, dead-fall and willows made for a tough trip out with heavy sleds. The moon was bright enough that we could walk most of the way back without headlamps. It took almost two hours to get to the truck the first trip. The second trip was slightly faster with a trail that had set up nicely from our first trip. Back at the truck by 10:30 we headed for town. Our timing upon return to Whitehorse was impeccable. It turned 2015 as we reached the outskirts of town and caught 5 different firework shows on the way in!

The next two days were busy with butchering, grinding, wrapping and freezing meat for the winter. Our next races in Duntroon will be fueled by bison!

 Some beautiful skiing in Whitehorse.


 Bison!

Mike and Dave

Butchering setup.

The end result: a portion of the bison.

Season Openers


The domestic race season kicked off in December as most of Canada was scrambling to find enough snow to ski. Rossland scraped together a race course by moving the scheduled races to higher elevation, changing race formats, shoveling snow onto the track and not grooming between the two days of racing. The Yukon Ski Team showed up in force to use the first norams as part of the selection process for their Canada Games team. We were lucky to be supported for both the Rossland and Sovereign Lake Norams by Alain Masson and the Yukon Ski Team.
While Colin was finishing up final exams in Ottawa, Knute raced in Rossland on a fast, icy course. The 11km classic was a good start with an 11th place in the open men. The 15km classic the next day didn't go as well. Bad luck took Knute out of contention for top positions after two falls and a broken pole set him back from the leaders.
With no snow in the Callaghan Valley, the next weekend of Norams were relocated on short notice to Sovereign Lake. Alain put a couple extra thousand kilometers on the rental vans by driving from Vernon to Vancouver and back to get half the team to their flights home. Colin wound up taking a greyhound out of Vancouver to meet up with the team a few days later.
Stable snow conditions in the week leading up to the first race, a classic sprint, made it look like it would be possible to double pole the course. Conditions changed rapidly the night before the race with temperatures warming, fresh snow falling and the track slowing down considerably. This made for a waxing nightmare. Hardwax was slipping. Klister was icing. Hairies were slow. Double poling a 3.5-4 minute sprint in slow conditions was physically too hard. Hardwax was chosen as the best option. The qualifier went well for both Knute and Colin who qualified 2nd and 4th respectively, both less than 2 seconds from the top spot. The heats didn't go as well. Colin fell on a slippery corner and finished 4th in his heat. Knute got boxed out of the best finish lane and was forced to sprint to the line in a snow-filled track. He finished a tight 3rd and didn't move on.

The 30km individual start skate race was a real challenge the next day. Fresh snow was falling throughout the race making for slow conditions. The altitude and long distance made for large time gaps throughout the field. Knute laid down a solid time finishing 9th in the open men and 2nd U23. Colin was farther back in 24th open.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mammoth Lakes, California


The plan was to go to Park City, Utah with the Canadian and US National teams, the AWCA and a bunch of other random teams from across North America. Who wasn’t in Park City? Well me actually. 2 weeks before leaving I found out there wasn’t in fact room for me on the camp I was invited on… just great. I was at least glad that I'd saved myself from listening to fantasy football nonsense with the guys. The things people waist their time on these days. 

Having strategically planned training leading up to this altitude camp, I was pretty bummed out. Lucky for me, Dave Wood and the Black Jack Ski Team out of Rossland, BC came to the rescue. Dave Wood was the National Team Coach back in the day and I personally would credit him with most of Canada’s skiing successes to date. He now has built the most successful program in BC. I had called Dave to ask about accommodation in the upcoming NorAm scheduled for Rossland. Dave said “no problem” and then invited me on short notice to their annual altitude camp in Mammoth lakes, California, which just so happened to fit in perfectly to my training schedule.

Air North gave me the flights I needed and before you know it I was sun tanning in Cali. By sun tanning I mean going on 3-hour mountain runs and double poling up switchback roads in the sun.

The bulk of our training was in Mammoth Lakes (elevation 2,400m). Training was top notch here- plenty of good roller skiing opportunities: bike paths and quite roads. The Black Jack crew was awesome training partners. They’re very motivated and hard working. It was nice having a small group of us (6 altogether). Dave was able to give us lactates after nearly every interval and during most training sessions. We also did lots of video/technique work. Living up in Mammoth was very comfortable in our condo style apartment with kitchenettes and beds each to our own. Except Julien, he had to sleep on the floor (sucka). Having a comfortable place to chill after a 5hr workout is crucial to recovery. We always had a fridge full of food and time for an afternoon nap.
5 hr workout! Mountain running
Working on my striding
Woking on my skating

After our bodies got used to training at high altitude we’d hop in the van and zip down to Bishop (elevation 1260m) to bang out some intervals. The idea is that we trick our bodies as they take quite a while to acclimatize. Sucking back thin air at altitude eventually becomes the normal, then when we suddenly go back to lower elevation the normal normal feels super easy… if that makes sense. In Bishop we stayed at a campground on the outskirts of town. Dave is like a mad scientist. He would get us to stick electrode things on our chests to track our heartbeats, analyze the data, and decide when we’re going up to Mammoth and when we’re going down to Bishop. I just did as he said.
Camping in Bishop
Julien and Scott doing bounding intervals 

Apart from the awesome training scenery and soaking up the sun, other highlights included going to a hot spring with a 15-passenger van full of gorgeous European babes, and finding a rogue tomato and pepper garden behind a hotel in bishop. Tomatoes for days! The peppers were also among the spiciest I’ve ever tried. One the size of your thumbnail would do a whole pot of chili.

A miscommunication on when we were actually leaving to go home led me to hire a guy in a Toyota Corolla to drive me to Reno, NV to catch my plane home. 300 dollars later I got there at half an hour before my flight left. We had to stop at Costco to fix a wobbly tire. A+ to Alaska Airlines for letting me on the plane. I slept on my old familiar sleeping bench in YVR and was home the next day on Air North. Another training camp in the bag!

Thanks to the Black Jack Ski Team!

Knute

Monday, October 6, 2014

Haig Glacier


Early August hunting trips were specially planned around training, leading into the second camp outside: the good ol’ Haig Glacier. Colin was in the Yukon preparing for his move back to Ottawa for the school year, while I was joining the Alberta World Cup Academy on their first and only glacier camp of the year. This would be my fourth time on the Haig but my first in five years!

I felt like I was one-up on everyone else having already had a glacier camp behind me this year. The Haig is more of a rustic glacier camp than the Eagle and Dachstein glaciers that I’ve been to the past five years. We hike into the base camp, space like dome huts. From there, it’s another hour-long hike to the skiing. The plan was to do a “yo-yo camp”: four days up on the glacier, three days down, and four days back up again.

late August was obviously the tail end of the glacier season for the Haig. The skiing was marginal at best, having had a long spell of warm weather just prior to the camp. Not helping the conditions was rain for the first few days we were up there. The trails were mashed potatoes most days but we did have a couple nice mornings where the snow firmed up. Because of the long hike to the skiing, we were only skiing once a day, so at the end of the first 24-hour week, only 11 hours were skiing. The training quality was still top notch, however. Skiing in tough conditions is great practice and in Europe these days, tough conditions just like we had on the Haig are the normal.

It was awesome to get some more On-snow technique work done and relax down in Canmore between our yo-yo camp. This was my first time doing two glacier camps in one year. No matter the skiing conditions, it beats roller skiing. Lets hope for an early snow year!

here are some photos of the camp by Russell Kennedy


Hiking onto the glacier

A nice morning of skiing

Hiking back down to base camp

Ready to run out


Thanks to the Alberta World Cup Academy for letting me join in on their camp and particularly Seb for giving me a place to stay in Canmore. And thanks to Air North for flying me there from Whitehorse!

Knute

Monday, September 22, 2014

Back to the land

August has come and gone. Most of it was spent out on the land, testing ourselves by hunting sheep, caribou and moose. If you haven't already read about Knute's epic bowhunt for Dall's Sheep, check it out here http://knutejohnsgaard.blogspot.ca/ . Hunting a sheep solo with a bow is about the most physically and mentally demanding tasks you can imagine.
While Knute was making stalks on Dall sheep, I went into the mountains to try and find a ram by rifle with Dave Gonda. For those of you who don't know, Dave is one of the fastest mountain bikers to come out of the Yukon, and one of the fittest people I know. In other words, a great guy to suffer with in the mountains. The first hunt of the year with Dave took me to a new area that Knute and I had been looking at for some time. Our focus of the trip was to find a sheep, but we knew caribou wandered into the area from time to time so we brought our tags and were prepared for a tough pack out if we shot one. We only had a short time, 3 and a half days, so we were eager to push into the mountains after starting to hike at dusk. The route in turned out to be a horrendous bushwack; an old burn partly regrown with densely packed trees and undergrowth. We wound up hiking by headlamp and setting up camp after midnight. The next morning we poked our heads out of the tent and took a look around. After only a minute or two we spotted caribou on the mountain above us! the animals that were visible to us were all cows and calves so we just watched them for a while as we ate breakfast. We started moving around/over the range of mountains following well-beaten game trails in the alpine. Every bowl or skyline we'd reach we would carefully glass the new terrain visible to us. 

After doing this most of the morning we came over a rise, glassed and started walking down. With heavy packs on we were watching our step on the steep slope. Close to the bottom of the bowl Dave looked up and said "Caribou!" sure enough, there was a bull caribou standing on the opposite slope looking at us. We dropped to the ground and stopped moving. After 20 minutes the bull decided to start grazing, then bedded down to chew his cud while keeping an eye on us. Very, very slowly we moved behind a small knoll for cover. We decided Dave would try and make a stalk on the bull while I kept an eye on the bull from our position. Dave nailed the stalk, crawling slowly across the valley bottom and not spooking the bull at all. Knowing the wind would give his position away going up the far slope, he picked up the pace and topped out on the ridge just as the bull started moving up the ridge away from me. A few minutes later the bull walked past Dave who took time to get a steady shot and pull the trigger. 
This was the result:

After field dressing the bull, we began the hike out. The weather had been blowing all day, spitting rain and was getting worse by the hour. It looked like a storm was coming so we made for a sheltered spot to set up camp. Just after setting up the tent and a tarp to keep the meat dry, the storm came down hard. High winds, driving rain and a long night followed. The storm let up late the next morning and we got ready for a big push out of the mountains. Our packs were about as heavy as I've ever carried; 120-130lbs of caribou and gear each. The bush was soaked by the storm and we were drenched the entire walk out. 

Dave, with a heavy pack!

A busted Skigo pole still made for a great hiking pole!



A few weeks later, Dave and I headed out on a second hunt. We hunted an area that I had seen sheep on before but never been able to get to. Unfortunately the first two days of hunting we didn't see much that was approachable. A few groups of rams on distant ridges, one lone ram closer to us that was close to legal and a few 6-7 year old rams tucked away in large cliff bands. We only had four days of hunting total so that ruled out going after the distant groups. We decided the next day to take a closer look at the lone ram we could reach. From a ridge well above the bowl he was grazing in we got a good look at the ram. Even from a few kilometers away we could tell that something was wrong with his face. We couldn't tell if he was legal (full curl) from there so we moved in for a closer look. Stalking around the edge of the bowl to get downwind of him was simple enough, but we had a tough time getting eyes on him because of the small ridges and gullies in the bowl. We first saw him from no more than 75-100 yards away as we crawled over a rock-covered convex slope. He was tucked away in a rocky hollow, invisible unless looking from above. With the scope on him that close, it was clear he wasn't full curl (3/4 inch short from full). However, I was able to clearly count the growth rings to at least 8 years, likely 9 or 10. 
I decided to take the shot as I was confident enough he was legal based on age. While I had been debating whether to shoot or not, he had been standing and looking towards us for about 10-15 minutes. Just as I decided I would shoot he went out of site and reappeared moments later, walking away from us. The first shot was rushed, I was shooting a new rifle with a cast on my hand and no rest to speak of. I missed. I settled down, let out a deep breath and took my time with the second shot. Just as he was about to disappear over a rise, I took the second shot. His legs kicked out from under him, flew up in the air and he rolled over the rise, dead. His growth rings confirmed him as a 10 year old ram. As we approached him, we finally got a proper look at his face. Two holes, one still bright with blood, the other swollen, black and clearly infected were on either side of his face. He'd been shot by another hunter no more than a week before (Biologists at Environment Yukon guessed 3-4 days before). While the body was in good condition (fat, good meat) there was blood all through his feed in his stomach, he was missing most of his teeth and his upper jaw was smashed to pieces. I was glad I ended his suffering. He also had a bone bulge on a rib broken years ago and a strange growth ring pattern that slowed at 5-6 years old and sped up (larger growth rings later in life) a few years later. It's possible that he was injured years ago and this stunted his growth until he recovered. He was a small bodied ram with small horns and 10 years old. 
After dressing and packing him out down a sketchy, talas-covered mountain, we floated out on a river back to the road with packrafts! This was a great way to end the trip after thrashing our bodies for four days.

Glassing for sheep




We found the remains of a ram that had likely died of natural causes a few years ago, quite close to the kill site.

Steep sidehilling





A beautiful packraft out!



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summertime

Summer is flying by, and it seems like we've been too busy lately even to take pictures of all the awesome things that are happening. After the Eagle Glacier we had a bit of down time followed by a trip to Haines, AK with some of the up and comers on the Yukon Ski Team. We put in a lot of good hours rollerskiing on America's lovely roads, working especially on skating technique. A huge thanks goes to the Deulings for putting six of us up in their waterfront home in Haines. Downtime was especially fun on this trip as we had access to crab pots, ocean fishing gear and Paul Deuling's brain to pick about sheep hunting. 
Since then we've bar tended a wedding (our old coach Jonathan Kerr got hitched about a week ago), laid plans for open season in August, thrashed ourselves at the gym, chased the Nish around on rollerskis and spent some time on the water enjoying the all-too-short summer. 

Post workout packrafting session at the intake:

Baby eagle above the Yukon River

Momma bird watching close by. 


That's all for now! lots more coming up for the YES men in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Eagle Glacier Video from Julia Kern

Julia Kern put together an awesome video of the week on the Eagle Glacier, it gives a great sense of what it's like to be up there! Some good heli shots in there too. Thanks to Alpine Air for helping to continue making the Eagle Glacier camp possible. Thanks again to Erik Flora for getting us back up there for a third year of some of the best ski training I've ever done.