Notes From The Elk Mountain Grand Traverse

by Ethan Linck and Peter Innes

Two weeks ago, we had the privilege of lining up to race the 20th annual Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. The “GT,” as it’s commonly known, is a 40 mile point-to-point backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen. Because of the stunning tableau of mountains en route, the unpredictable weather, and its midnight start, it’s hard to think of a more iconic ski mountaineering event in North America. As both of us have served as winter caretakers at the nearby Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, where daily life provides ample preparation for a long day of low-angle mountain travel at high elevation, the GT is near and dear to our hearts as a celebration of one of Colorado’s more beautiful landscapes.

Gothic Mountain and the East River Valley: home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and yours truly, team Rocky Mountain Ski Lab. Photo (c) Ethan Linck

Read on →

Shorts: How to Wax Skins

This Saturday as we were skiing up on Mt Hood, I noticed that my skins weren’t getting amazing glide. The snow was a bit wet, and the skins are new, so it was no surprise. My solution to this problem is to wax the skins, a tactic stolen from the Euro race scene that is largely unheard of in the US. (Most US skiers will think of glop-stopper when talking about skin wax, but we’re talking about hot-waxing).

It’s hot-wax time.

The technique of skin waxing is simple and easy to do at home. It improves glide as well as water/glop resistance of the skins. It causes no damage to skins when done properly, and it takes just a few minutes to complete. I’ve waxed both nylon and mohair skins, though waxing nylon skins is pissing into the wind as far as glide goes. Read on →

Making a SkiMo Tow Rope

When I started researching techniques for partner skimo racing, a common theme emerged: lots of winning teams use a towing system to attach the partners to each other. I had an inkling that this happened because my Camp Race 260 pack had come with a tow system built in. Still, it seemed silly. However, as I though more about the psychological and logistical difficulties of racing with a partner, who no doubt possesses different skills and strengths, the potentially massive benefit of a tow rope became clear to me. In this post, I explain the pros and cons of using a tow, how to make one for yourself, and how to use it. For those not familiar with a rope tow, the system is simple: A length of elastic material connects the back of one racer to the front of another, usually with a carabiner-style attachment.

Purpose: Why Use a Tow Rope

The primary use for a tow rope is to help to average out the pace and fitness of partners. Without fail, one racer will be better on the climbs, or stronger at longer distances. By using a tow rope to remain tethered to one-another, the team is able to work as an average of their abilities. Without a rope, the team must travel at the pace of the slower partner (many partner races exact penalties for excessive distance between partners). With a tow rope, the stronger partner is able to assist the slower partner, and the team moves together at a pace faster than they would otherwise. The rope can also provide some physical assistance to the slower partner, offering a tug uphill or across the flats to make their effort less.

Distant partner needs a tow rope

Does your partner love you? They might love you more with a tow rope. (Ethan Linck crossing snow dome, Mt Hood.)

Read on →

The Munter Hitch for Ski Mountaineering

It’s time again.  For what you ask? For me to download some more knowledge into your brain. Today, we’re talking Munter.

The munter hitch is, or at least should be, considered essential climbing knowledge. Without it, should you forget or drop your belay device, you’ll have a long and cold night waiting to be rescued.  If you know how to tie this simple hitch, then you’re prepared to belay and rappel even if all you have is a locking carabiner. “But I’m not a climber!”, you say, “I’m a backcountry skier!”. Well, you silly hippie, I’ve got news for you: the munter is also a sweet tool for you!  Be it cornice stomping, ski cutting, rappelling, or impressing girls, this baby will come in handy.

Below, I explain how to tie and use this hitch, as well as it’s applications in backcountry skiing.  For those of you who are yawning and thinking, ‘I already know all of this’, well, I’ve got a treat for you down at the bottom.

Tying a Munter Hitch

Tying a munter hitch is something that you can do in the dark with your eyes closed if you have a little bit of practice.  If you’ve ever tied a clove hitch, then you’re 90% there already, and you’ve probably accidentally tied a munter when you screwed up a clove hitch.  Another name for the munter is the Halbmastwurfsicherung (obviously), which means ‘clove-hitch belay’ in German.

how to tie a munter hitch

The Munter and Clove hitches.

Read on →

Pro Style Backcountry Transitions

Backcountry transitions, meaning the transition from uphill to down or downhill to up, are a hidden source of massive time wasting.  Don’t believe me?  Maybe this sounds familiar:

You and your friends arrive at a transition zone and slowly spread out to get ready to shred. Larry pulls off his jacket and gloves, tossing them in a pile, and starts looking for a Snickers. Curly has taken both skis off and stuck their tails into the snow, and he’s sitting on his backpack.  Inexplicably, he hangs his skins from the skis by their tip loops. Moe has unpacked his entire backpack, trying to get to the helmet at the bottom. He looks up at Larry, who’s now freezing and putting back on his snowy jacket. Curly has headed off to chase down the skin which blew off of it’s hanging place.  Moe’s taking a pee. Larry stares off into space, a half-eating candybar in his hand, the wrapper long blown away in the wind. The transition zone looks like a bomb has gone off… Read on →