31 March 2016

Turns All Year: Month 52

Having grown up in Montana, my mind always convinces me that February is the absolute BEST month to go skiing. The snow is abundant, fluffy, and playful. The weather is cold and sunny, and it's the ideal time to perfect a google tan. Or that's what my "Montanan mind" thinks anyway.....

The reality, though, is that skiing in the PNW is fickle. It can get warm and rain on our snowpack, or we can get zero precipitation whatsoever. Icy conditions often abound. The last two years my best ski days have been in April and May (I am heading to a hut (via helicopter!!) at the end of April, so I hope the streak continues).

That said, this February - and my 52nd consecutive month of skiing - was pretty good. I spent a fun weekday at Alpental, volunteered for Vertfest, visited my SheJumps gals in Schweitzer (where I skied with at Wookie), enjoyed a Hawaiian Tuesday at Crystal, lost two races but still got my team points for City League Racing, and got lost (oops) touring into The Mountaineers' Meany Lodge, which we eventually found in time to catch the tail end of the historic Patrol Race.

Here are my favorite pics:

Feb 4: Cheers to making good choices at Alpental. 

Feb 14: Starting line for Vertfest. Yes, it was raining.

Feb 20 & 21: SheJumps weekend at Schweitzer! ALL of the Girafficorns!

Feb 20: With 8" of fluffies overnight, we scored some of the best turns all year (according to locals).

Feb 20: Siri getting ready to drop in!

This is Rupert. I love him, and he loves beer. Sounds about right.

What's that Schweitzer? You're having fireworks and a throwback party? Okay,  I guess we'll dress up...

Feb 21: This girl's name is Sierra - but everyone calls her Skierra. She travels with a 3' girafficorn. And yes, she skis faster than you.

Feb 21: Skiing in the sunshine with a wookie and a weirdo. 

Thanks Schweizter. We had a rad time.

Feb 23: Hawaiian Day with the Tacoma Ski Bus.

Feb 23: Here's looking at you kid. 

Feb 23: Love my ladies who rip!

24 March 2016

How To Layer in the Backcountry

Mastering your personal layering comfort is one of the most difficult aspects of backcountry travel. Too many clothes and you're soaking yourself from the inside out. Too few and you're freezing your little tootsie off. No bueno either way.

My first day backcountry skiing was at the edge of a ski resort. We climbed for 500feet (maybe) before I was completely wiped and soaked from sweat. We stopped and I immediately stripped layers. Then we sat while my heart recovered. Three minutes later I was a popsicle, frozen enough to require assistance zipping my coat. We started moving, and in short order I was overheating. Again.

I regret to admit I continued this cycle on more than a few trips. Eventually I got the hang of it, learned a few tricks, and figured out my darn layering program. Here's what I know:

For backcountry travel, consider three categories of layers:

Base Layers
Base layers are just what they sound like: layers at the bottom of your layering pyramid. These are generally undies, socks, and long johns. Personally I don't like keeping track of multiple pieces, so I wear a built-in fitness top and yoga shorts on the bottom. On a very warm day (think: summer volcano skiing), this will be about all I wear - in tandem with a ton of sun screen.

On cooler days, I add a secondary base layer. I love a half-zip top with thumb holes, and instead of your traditional (and expensive) long johns, I like to buy ridiculous leggings. They're 25% the price, insulate almost as well, and make it impossible to have a bad time. I've also found the tight weave makes them perform particularly well in windy conditions.

Important things to note:
Cotton is your worst enemy in the outdoors. It doesn't breathe and will trap moisture close to your body. Cotton = bad. For the best warmth, go with a wool base layer. Smartwool, Ibex, and Icebreaker are all wool-specific brands. Wool - even the really expensive good stuff - makes me itchy, so almost all of my things are polypropeline (and more realistically, spandex).

Other than material, you also want to consider clasps/hooks/join seams. Pants and sports bras can be especially troublesome. Just remember: many more layers go on top of your base layers, and you'll be carrying a pack which cinches around the waist and puts weight on your shoulders. Avoid wearing clothing with extra frills in these areas.

You'll also want to consider fit. Avoid loose fitting items as they create air pockets (which can hold in cold air. But don't go too tight - you want to be able to move.

Kristina's favorites: LEGGINGS! My new Black Diamond Equinox Shorts. REI quarter zip top.

Leggings FTW!

Insulating layers are also exactly what they sound like - layers to keep you insulated and warm. I love insulation, because your options are endless: fleece, down, wool, synthetic fill, the retro sweater your grandmother knitted, a tutu. If it keeps you warm it counts as insulation.

I always ski with a backpack, and part of the reason is because different conditions call for different layers. If I'm working a lot (aka hiking) I want a fleece layer, because it wicks moisture while keeping me warm. If it's cold, I want my synthetic or down jacket. If I want to look cool, obviously I'm wearing grandmother's knit sweater. So what do you do when the day calls for various conditions? Backpack = ability to carry all of the layers. And generally my pack will have my fleece and a down/primaloft layer so I can swap out what's needed.
Important things to note:
Down - traditional goose down - is completely worthless when it gets wet. If you travel in damp climates, you're better off to buy synthetic fiber. That said, if you can pack a down layer in a waterproof pouch for when you really need it. It can be a life saver. Note: my favorite piece of gear is the down skirt. I break this out in the evening generally, after a day in the backcountry, to warm my bum and provide that extra layer where women need it most. The down skirt has changed my camping life.

Also, things don't need to be expensive. Just like my "backcountry leggings", I occasionally will use a pair of (yes, cotton) leg warmers from Goodwill to keep the snow out of my boots. Find things that work for you

Kristina's Favorites: TUTUS (for safety)! Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down. This rad fleece I bought from MacPac in New Zealand. 

Helmet and Tutu create added insulation and increase safety factor!

Shells are the outer layer of your "backcountry costume" and are really supposed to keep the insulation in and the wet, damp, coldness out. When it's snowy or rainy or windy, shells make you feel like you're living in your own personal tent.

Shells come in all prices and features, and personally I prefer full zip pants (so you can remove them without taking off footwear) and jackets with ample-but-not-excessive pockets and pit zips (zippers to air out your armpits).

Important things to note:
Shells come in two different types: hard shells and soft shells. The descriptions are exactly what you think - hard-shells serve as stronger barriers to the elements, whereas soft-shells are good if you are in less extreme conditions. For my purposes, I use hard shells, which are designed to keep moisture out, but they'll keep moisture in too. Carefully evaluate both your activity and the conditions before choosing to wear a shell. Sometimes it's better to be wet from the outside-in than the inside-out.

Kristina's favorites: I'm just a really big fan of Mountain Hardwear and Arc'teryx gear. Find a fit, style, and color that work for you.

This is how you work it work it.

As you can see, I like to wear a lot of layers, AND I like to talk about them. So here are a couple of bonus pieces of "advice":
  • Safety equipment should be close to your body. I like to wear my beacon right on top of the layer I am least likely to remove. If it's a hot day, put it right on your super-base layer. If it's a medium day, put it on your mid-base layer. You never want to have to take off your beacon, so do what you can to secure it in advance.
  • Yes, a tutu counts as safety equipment + more. When you're wearing a tutu, your friends ALWAYS know where you are. And to me that is important. Do I look like someone who can be unsupervised? NO! Plus, the tutu works as a bum warmer, a chair, emergency gauze in the case of first aid need, a pillow, and an instant icebreaker. Really, you should try one.
  • You'll need a backpack, so make it a good one. Before I was an adventurer, I dated someone who was an adventurer and scoffed when he said he owned seven backpacks. "What do you need SEVEN backpacks for?" I asked in confusion. Well, now I know. I own eight, and I really do need them all. But for a regular backcountry day nothing is better than a 30L pack, and I have to say I super love my Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30. Figure out what size you need, go to a store to try them on, then buy the one that fits the best. 
  • Don't forget your head: You can lose a lot of heat through your head - which is a good thing and a bad thing. My ears get cold, and I wear sunglasses, so for headwear I normally opt for a headband + sunnies. Other folks like to wear ballcaps. I also bring a (small) hat, and my climbing helmet (for the descent). If it gets really cold, my jackets have an abundance of hoods. Never tour in goggles unless you like them foggy.
  • Weight matters, but safety matters more. I count ounces, but when your headlamp battery dies, you will wish you had brought extras. Be strategic with your luxury items, but bring a few. I've never regretted bringing extra sunglasses, gloves, batteries, or food.
  • If your "program" works for you, stick with it. I continue to wear my blue REI baselayer top even though it's super old and semi-falling apart. But, I like it and I don't want to mess with what works. It has good vibes. I'm keeping it. 
It'll take time to get your backcountry setup dialed. It took me a while too. Rest assured everyone has suffered in this endeavor, and the journey will be well worth the effort.

17 March 2016

Why I Created a Wikipedia Page

When I accepted the gig running membership and marketing at The Mountaineers, I had no idea it would unlock my secret, kinda-nerdy passion for mountaineering history. Sure I'd read pretty much all of the books on mountaineering when I was in college - Into Thin Air, My Life on the Edge, Touching the Void - but I had never considered the foundation they were laying.

One of my first assignments on the job was to read The Mountaineers: A HistoryThe book chronicles the early days: who founded the club, where they explored, how they made an imprint in national and local conservation efforts. I found this stuff fascinating. Fun facts (at least to me):
  • Out of 151 founding members, 77 were women. In 1906! Think of the disruption that would have caused to social constructs.
  • In 1907, The Mountaineers got 39 people to the summit of Mt. Baker in a single day, forever changing what people thought possible in the mountains (on an international scale).
  • Each one of our three National Parks in Washington state was founded in part by help from Mountaineers members.
I could go on, but to me what stands out is how Mountaineers members were truly game-changers. They broke down social barriers, shattered outdoor records, and did so with the mindset toward future protection of outdoor playgrounds.

Lest you think this is just another one of my ramblings about my "amazing job", I'll get to the point. Dr. Charles Crenchaw, a veteran flight engineer turned Boeing employee and mountaineer, joined The Mountaineers when he moved to Seattle. In 1963, he was one of the first climbers invited on a trip to Denali, and on July 9, 1964 he made history as the first African-American to stand on the highest peak in America.

Climber Charles Crenchaw. The Adventure Gap Cover. Author James Edward Mills.

This feat is notable in the climbing community, and has been chronicled beautifully in James Edward Mills's book The Adventure Gap. Crenchaw's summit is also included in the history book, and you can actually read a first hand account of it from Crenchaw himself in the 1964 edition of The Mountaineers Annual

What you won't find though - or couldn't find a few days ago - was any trace of Crenchaw on the internet outside of posts by Mills and the Annual. In putting together a blog post for work recently, I was shocked to see Crenchaw didn't have a Wikipedia page. Anyone who has ever even thought about climbing Everest has a Wikipedia page, and here one of the most influential African-American climbers of all time doesn't?

"Equality" is a bit of a buzz-word right now, and rightfully so. As a female who is decent at skiing I've dealt with my fair-share of 'bros' out to prove they're better than me, but I've never experienced shock to this level before. When I didn't find Crenchaw on Wikipedia I was floored. I actually could not believe it - I thought maybe I had typed his name in wrong.

My next thought was, "Am am I over-reacting? Why do I care so much? This isn't even my fight to fight." But then I thought, why not me? Women are stronger because men in positions of power are speaking up and doing something. Crenchaw broke down barriers and deserves to be recognized for it. I feel honored to give his story another boost. 

I made Crenchaw a Wikipedia page. It doesn't fix the problem, but it's a step in the right direction.

10 March 2016

Set Up Your Emergency Contact Information

Two years ago my friend Loren died in a skiing accident. A huge February storm had rolled through the Pacific Northwest, and a bunch of us took extra days off to go skiing. He and a friend were skiing Crystal in-bounds on a Wednesday when Loren fell into a tree-well. He suffocated before he could be rescued.

The experience was both shocking and heartbreaking. One of the worst parts, though, came hours after we were down from the mountain, when we were finally able to call his father to break the news. Loren had a passcode on his phone and we couldn't get in. None of us knew his family or emergency contact information. Only through Facebook and lots of difficult phone calls were we able to get to his dad. No one should have to wait 10 hours to get news like that.

I've always used Loren's death as a reason to NOT have a passcode on my phone. But now I've learned there's a better way - a way which is applicable to most everyone. If you have an iPhone, you should set up your emergency contact information so anyone will be able to access it, anytime. (Don't have an iPhone? These types of apps also exist for Androids and Windows Phones.) Here's how:

Find the health app on your iPhone:

Select the Medical ID icon in the lower right. If you haven't set up a Medical ID already, you will see a text screen with a link to "Create Medical ID":

Here's the MOST important part. Be sure to turn ON the toggle option to show the Medical ID when your phone is locked:

Enter your personal information - as much as you are comfortable sharing. It's a good idea to have multiple emergency contact people listed. I have three people listed, plus my medical considerations including pre-existing conditions, medications, blood type, height, and weight.

Once you've entered everything, click done.

To test it, lock your phone, and swipe right on the lock screen. Select "Emergency" in the lower left of the screen. Then, select "Medical ID" on the lower left of the following screen. This will allow you  - or anyone - to access this information if it's needed.

From the medical ID screen you can make phone calls to emergency contacts and access valuable medical information that could prove critical during a time of need.

You never know what life is going to throw at you. Just yesterday, an explosion rocked my neighborhood, blowing up multiple businesses just 9 blocks north of my home. I'm not an alarmist, this is just a good idea. Please do this now.

03 March 2016

Things We Don't Talk About

We all have things we don't talk about. Fiascos. Flounders and missteps. Broken promises and wrong turns and failures of the heart. We hold close the things that make us feel most alone - the things that make us most human.

Everywhere, every day, people are NOT talking about things. One thing I'm not talking about: how completely inadequate this current housing market is making me feel. I'm trying to buy a house and I get elated every time something in my price range is listed! I make time in my schedule to go look at the house. I walk through - sometimes with dozens of other people also searching for their forever-home - and imagine myself living there. I fall a little bit in love, which I know is a mistake, but I can't help it. I make an offer and cross my fingers.

The house sells for $80,000+ over asking price. I feel defeated and battered.

And it keeps happening. Over and over and over. Find house > fall in love > get priced out of this ridiculous market. So I'm not talking about it. I try to not even think about how I should have bought sooner or gone into a different career to make more money or written to Bill Gates to get him to sponsor my life. I just don't talk about it.

But that's a mistake. If there's anything I've learned from writing this blog, it's that people respond the most strongly to all things personal. My most popular blogs of all time have been about feeling vulnerable (at a date auction), being disappointed (in a trip abroad), struggling with a pivotal life-choice, and coming to terms with a decision to quit climbing. These blogs aren't spectacular. They're no more well written than my other blogs. But they're me in the most me way possible.

Writing is personal. It should be. It's me and my "pen to paper" and my hopes and dreams that someone, somewhere, will open their heart and mind as a result of what I have to say. We all want that. That personal connection to help us feel like we matter.

That's why, today, I want to encourage you to stop. Stop suffering in silence. Stop NOT talking about the things that scare you. You deserve to not feel sad and lonely and alone. Words carry power, and a tremendous opportunity to help us connect with each other and build a community of support. We are equally molded by failures as we are by successes. It's time to start talking.