AIARE 2, Powder, and Gearing Up!

I arrived in Utah a few weeks ago and days later was on my way back to Colorado for my AIARE 2 avalanche course. The few days I spent in Utah before my course, I settled into my apartment, got a few good ski days in and unpacked my live-in Honda Odysski.

odyski

Honda Odyski

The snow in Utah was pretty minimal and I was a bit less in shape and acclimated than I was hoping to be 1 month out from my start date. For what was not the first time, and I’m 100% sure will not be the last time I started to doubt myself. “What am I doing?”, “Why do I think I can ski 2.5 million vertical feet in a year?”, “did I just trick myself into thinking this was possible?”

I kept it together and headed to Colorado for my avalanche course. It was so great to get back into the snow science zone. Dig pits, perform test, and look at faceted snow crystals under a loupe.

facets

Facets

While skiing was not the main objective of the 5 day weekend, I did meet up with some great friends from seasons past and got in a few good turns before and after class.

fun in the trees with friends

Fun in the trees with friends

After a white-knuckle drive back to Utah a week later everything was different. It had snow nearly 3 feet while I was gone. I was nice and acclimated to the altitude. I was ready to start putting in the long days and big vertical. I made quick work of getting into the mountains and beginning to rack up the feet.

Aaron Rice finds low angle white gold on a high avy danger day in the Wasatch backcountry, Utah. Beginning January 1, 2016 Aaron will set out to break the world record for most human powered vertical feet skied in a calendar year, 2.5 million feet. [photo: Louis Arevalo]

Aaron Rice finds low angle white gold on a high avy danger day in the Wasatch backcountry, Utah. Beginning January 1, 2016 Aaron will set out to break the world record for most human powered vertical feet skied in a calendar year, 2.5 million feet. [photo: Louis Arevalo]

In the 5 days back in Utah I have but in 35,000 feet and am still ramping up. I don’t want to push my body too hard, too fast. The progression has been 5k, 5k, 7k, 8k, 9k. I am hoping to crack 10k for the first time this season tomorrow. We are lined up for a big atmospheric river event and are looking to get 4” of water equating to 3+ feet of snow in the next 3 days! Avalanche danger is surely going to rise, but the low angle trees should be fantastic!

A huge thank you to the Flyin’ Ryan Foundation for the support allowing me to take my AIARE level 2 and safely work towards my goal to earn and ski 2.5 million vertical feet in a calendar year.
Join me on my adventure at:
http://instagram.com/airandrice
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http://airandrice.com

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West vs. East …. Grand vs. Cozy

Growing up in subrural (the rural equivalent to sub-urban) New England I was always surrounded by forest and the largest mountains I saw were the White Mountains of New Hampshire. When I first visit “The West” I was in awe. Everything was so big. The mountains seemed like they were 10 times the size and everything was steep. I am certainly not the first east coaster to experience this feeling. When I moved out west after graduating from college I began to really explore these mountains that felt so large. I found that they really weren’t that large. A season exploring an area and it would begin to feel small again. I began asking myself what the true differences were between the East and West Coast.

tight New England trees

Tight New England trees

BIg

Big Colorado expansiveness

I have often described the East Coast as cozy and the West as grand. A 360° view in the East is a rare sight. Only the occasional mountain top or large field has a truly wide panoramic view. The West is the opposite. There are lots of arid area with no trees, and where there are forest, you can usually see right through them. Always being able to see a long distance will make a place feel big for sure. I think this is why people always say the sky is bigger out west.

About as open as it gets in VT.

About as open as it gets in VT.

The West is also steeper. Mountain with 2 or 3,000 feet of prominence can be found all over the east, but generally they aren’t steep. They are essentially a very large hill. For sure, out West there are much bigger mountains, but even the smaller ones seem bigger because they are steeper.

big and steep

Big and steep

I believe that there is still a mentality of westward expansion in the minds of East Coast youth. Whether that means moving to Portland, or San Francisco, or moving to the mountains of Montana or Colorado. When you grow up in the East you are always looking West for opportunity and adventure. I can’t say from personal experience, but I don’t think the same can be said for people that grow up out West. Maybe there is some drive to move to a big Eastern city like New York, but there is certainly no mystery and magical allure like the West has for us Easterners.

Easterners laugh at UT tree skiing

Easterners laugh at UT tree skiing

Growing up in the East, when I moved West I often found myself feeling exposed and out of place. I was endlessly exploring the grand expanses Colorado and Utah had to offer, but I would always be happy to be back in the cozy shelter of trees. I spent almost 3 years on and off in Colorado and Utah. This summer and fall I am back in Vermont. I am very much in the woods. Line of sight stops 3 feet from the forest edge. There are huge white pines surrounding the house and the small yard gets a maximum of 4 hours of sunlight a day. I feel very at home in this setting. However, for the first time in my life I find myself craving the wide view the West offers.

Wide view

Wide view

I’m sure somewhere in the world there is a compromise to be found, and I will just keep looking.

 

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Fall!

I’ve been doing really great all summer and fall. I’m excited to begin the ski season, but I’ve been happy biking, climbing and enjoying the warmth. I know I won’t have much of that for the next 18 months once the season begins.

But the past couple days, despite the impending triple winter, that time of year has come; all I can think about is snow, skiing, freezing my fingers and toes off, and glorious faceshots. Here’s a little gem from Cyril that perfectly summarizes how I feel.

 

Rustler High Life Episode 1: Freedom from Aaron Rice on Vimeo.

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Vacation, Outdoor Retailer, and a Few Day in Alta

The last few weeks have been busy, relaxing, strenuous, and somewhat overwhelming at times. I left Vermont and spent a week relaxing on Cape Cod. Then I flew from Boston to SLC for the Outdoor Retailer Show. I have never been to anything quite like it. The past few days I was up in Alta getting my August turns in and doing some hiking.

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A little slice of Thoreau’s paradise

Vacation on The Cape has been a family tradition since before I could walk. The pristine kettle ponds, endless oceans, and ripping single track make for full days. We joke that the “Cape Trip” is about doing the most physical activity you can, so that you can eat as much as you can each night.

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Full Disclosure: I fell 2 frames after this

This years “Cape Trip” was similar to years past, but I took doing as much activity as possible a bit further. I swam 1/2 mile across pond and back each day. I did a bit of windsurfing, though the wind wasn’t quite there. I tried my hand at SUP surfing. It took me a good hour and a half just to paddle in a straight line. Then I was able to catch a few good waves. The surf was the best I have seen in many years.

We have always mountain biked on The Cape, but this year I really fell in love with the seemingly endless smooth fast single the National Seashore has to offer.

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Smooth single track

At the sad conclusion of the “Cape Trip” I wasted little time and headed for Utah, the beehive state. Why? no idea.

For the first 4 days back in UT I was trapped downtown at the Outdoor Retailer Show. And what a show it is! There are 1500 retailers and it costs many millions of dollars to put the show on. There are 2 story buildings, built just for the show, inside the convention center. There was a full size Hobie Cat hanging from the ceiling. Here’s a list of 19 WTF products seen at OR. I think I walked about 15 miles a day traversing the convention center from end to end to end for each meeting I had. There were live SUP demonstrations going on nonstop, and there was a whole room devoted to Chinese manufacturing. Yeah, I guess the OR show is a big deal!

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Hobie Cat hanging from the ceiling

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Pancakes?

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Yep, that room is about 1/10th of the show

Once I finally escaped the clutches of capitalism and consumerism I went straight for Little Cottonwood Canyon. Even though it was summer up there it felt like coming home. LCC in full bloom may be just as beautiful as it is in the winter. Wait, what am I talking about!?! It’s beautiful in the summer, but not that beautiful!

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My best touring buddy, Joey Camps, went with me on a quick mission to get in a couple August turns. The upper reaches of Snowbird were still holding on to just enough snow to make some turns. After skiing, to save the knees, we took the tram down.

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Plenty enough to ski:)

I don’t know if it was revenge for making him come skiing the previous day, but the next day Joey totally sandbagged me and took me on an 11 mile hike. Sure 11 miles sounds easy, but it was also 8,500 elevation gain. Still though that shouldn’t be be too hard. It was also nearly all class 3/4 scrambling with some class 5 climbing and much of it had crazy exposure.

Hey Buddy!

Hey Buddy!

We summited Storm Mountain, The East SLC Twin, O’Sullivan, Dromedary, Monte Christo, and Mt. Superior. Coming up to Monte Christo was easily the scariest part. We had to traverse out a 4ft ledge looking straight down at the Tram Club. Then we had to make a couple tricky class 5 moves getting higher up and even more exposed. We finally pulled over the crux and easily scrambled to the summit!

one of the less exposed sections

One of the less exposed sections

Exposed scrambling is something I am pretty new to. It is an interesting head game. No single move is hard. However the continual threat of falling means that you have to stay focused for many hours (10 in this case) and move a bit slower to make sure that you don’t slip or trip. I think I retied my shoes about 7 times during the day, just to make sure they were tight.

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The days hike left to right.

So, nice and puckered, I left Utah and headed back to VT. Coming off the OR Show, I am more stoked than ever for 2point5mill. I have a workout regimen that I will begin this week. I have some great mtn bike rides planned and I have started back up jumping in the stream every day!

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Why?

I started talking to friends and family about my plan to ski 2.5 Million feet about a month ago. About a week ago I officially announced that I would be going for the record. When I tell people my plan the most common question they ask is

“Why do you want to earn and ski 2.5 Million feet?”

You might think I have a great answer all lined up, but it’s not that simple. There are a bunch of reasons that all go together that made me decided to go for it.

Among the reasons I decided to do this is for the challenge itself. Often it doesn’t matter what the challenge is, what matters is doing something that is difficult. I get a lot of satisfaction in setting a difficult goal and working to achieving it.

If that was the only reason though, I could have just tried to become the best chess player. That’s certainly a hard challenge. So there must be more to it than just the challenge.

I grew up skiing on family vacations. In high school I started alpine racing. During this time I started to fall in love with skiing. I began heading north with friends on weekends to ski and chase powder, as best as a high school student can. When I got to College I was so hooked. I started backcountry skiing and leading trips around New England. I almost skied my first 100 day season my senior year (I’m still a little bitter about the March thaw that year.)

hsracing                                                    A young Aaron ready to bash some gate [2006]

When I graduated, I got a well paying job in my field, which I quickly quit and I moved to Alta to be a ski bum. This became a theme for the next couple years. Over these few years I learned that skiing was truly what I wanted to do with my life, at least for the not too distant future.

I love skiing more than most other things in the world. I love skiing untouched snow. I love the peacefulness of standing atop an empty mountain peak for sunrise. I love skiing spines, and jumping off cliffs into a bed of stellar dendrites who’s sole job in life is to catch a falling skier and then decompose into some lesser fragmented form. And my love for all of this is amplified when I spend hours hiking uphill for each turn.

1425400_10151906153436891_1045415107_oStanding on mountains [Photo: HardcastlePhotography – Wolverine Cirque, UT]

So, if I had to summarize that into one sentence I would say, I love skiing and skinning more than most other things and what better way to enjoy it, than by skiing as much as I can fathom in a year.

But that’s still not the whole story. Since hearing about Greg Hill setting the record for most vertical in a year, I was super impressed. But, I always said it doesn’t take being a super athlete to do what he did. People who run 100 mile trail races, and sub 4 minute miles are super athletes. However to walk uphill with skis on for 10 hours a day just take commitment. OK, not just commitment, there is a certain level of fitness required, but as a non super-athlete I firmly believe it is much more a mental battle than a physical one.

Very few people have the combination of passion for skiing, physical fitness, mental craziness, willingness and ability to commit and free time to make aiming for this goal a possibility. For me the timing for all of this is perfect right now. I am young and free of responsibilities that tie me down. I have been training both physically and mentally the past 3 years for this, albeit I was unaware I was doing so.

408388_636102922781_407410201_nOld stomping grounds new angle [Photo: Adrienne – Cardiac Ridge, UT]

One person I was chatting with the other day about why i wanted to do this, asked if I was attempting the record to set a new high bar that would be hard to beat. I didn’t think to long about my answer and quickly said no, I am doing this because I love skiing, and the record just happens to be a nice way to quantify the whole process.

However in thinking about that question a bit more, I realized there was still more to it. While I am not trying to break the record in order to set the new high bar, there is an added benefit that the sport of backcountry skiing will be pushed a bit. People will see the potential that backcountry skiing offers.

Backcountry skiing does not necessarily mean less downhill than lift-serve skiing. As skiers we can backcountry ski and still spend a huge amount of time on the downhill and do it all self powered and in perfect or near perfect conditions with less crowds.

patagonia2014Down in Patagonia skiing pow with great new friends!

So why am I trying to ski 2.5 Million vertical feet in a year? Skiing is my biggest passion and it is what I love to do and what makes me the happiest. I love challenging myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I do think that by setting a new high mark for backcountry skiing it will show others the realm of possibility that the sport offers. And lastly the timing is right. If I don’t try now then when?

superiorridgeteague2013Aaron on the south ridge of Superior at sunrise [Photo: Teague Holmes]

 

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It’s All Mental!

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When I think about the upcoming year it is inevitable that I begin to wonder if what I am attempting is possible. So much could go wrong, and it is a very difficult task to imagine taking on. However, when I start to think about the possibilities, I am not worried about my legs being able to carry me, or my lungs being able to support me. That’s the easy part. The hard part is the mental game.

I worry about the 15th day in a row of 10K+ days, where my touring partners are working and the snow is a bit crusty. This is when I will have to really dig deep and convince myself that it’s worth getting out of bed at 6am for the end goal. That warm cozy bed with my down comforter and my red pillow that I have had since I was a young kid. I need to pull myself out of the comfort and jump outside into the freezing cold. However, I know that an hour into the day, as I stand on my first summit I will have no regrets about leaving the comfort of my bed. Nobody has ever regretted waking up early and climbing a mountain, at least I never have.

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Training for the physical aspect of climbing mountains all day has a formula. Set goals for vertical climbed, cross train on a bike or by running and hiking, eat right, don’t sit for long periods during the day, all things that athletes will naturally do. There is no formula though for the mental game. How do you train yourself to be better at getting out of your cozy bed every morning? How do you train yourself to not be lonely when you haven’t socialized with anyone but your touring partners in a month and a half? These are the questions I have been trying to answer recently.

One answer I have come up with is to do things that are hard. Push yourself mentally. Practice overcoming the mental battle. Right now this is taking the form of a very small goal. There is a little mountains stream that runs through my backyard. It quickly rises and falls with the rain, and the temperature changes with the sun and rain as well. But it is cold. And I mean really cold. When it has been sunny for a few days, it is bearable, but most of the time it is breath stopping, foot cramping cold. No matter how cold the stream is though after you jump in you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

The Raging Miller Brook Dex Admiring the Raging Miller Brook

I was jumping in occasionally, maybe when other people wanted to I would push myself to jump. I realized jumping in the cold creek was the perfect mini mental battle to practice on daily. I decided for the rest of the summer, I would jump in the creek each day. If is was sweltering heat, or a grey rainy day, or I worked all day and wasn’t home in until 11pm, I would still force myself to jump in. Because after you jump in you always feel better, I am not forcing myself to do something I don’t want to do, I’m pushing myself to do something that is difficult.

While jumping in a creek is a small act each day, I hope it will be great training for getting myself up out of bed at 6am and heading out into the cold winter to walk uphill and summit mountains. I am currently on day 8.

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2.5 MIllion

So, I’m doing it! I want to officially announce that I will be attempting to ski 2.5 Million self-propelled vertical feet in a year. I plan to start December 1st.

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What has gone into this decision? I have been saying for the past few years that, while impressive, it would not take a super-human to break the record for most vertical. It would only take someone with the right amount of time and commitment. Luckily for me as a not-so-super-human, I have made myself the time to do this and I am giving myself the opportunity to prove that I have the commitment.

Over the past couple months I had my annual spring time “crisis”. You know, when skiing stops occupying all of your physical and mental space and now you have time to think about what you are doing with your life. For me this happens every spring. One year, I decided to get a desk job. Another spring I decided to follow a girl and when that didn’t work I took the opportunity to head to Patagonia for an endless winter.

This spring I was on the fence again. Work? in VT? software? in CO? guide? Climb? Pimp out a van and live in there? or commit fully to the insane endeavor of trying to break the record for most vertical feet earned in a year? After a few weeks of clearing my head in the desert, climbing, mountains biking, and even skiing a bit, I had made up my mind. It still took me a couple more weeks to really understand that this was my decision.

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Once I was in and knew it, I started getting ready. The past few weeks, I have been working on a website, planning for the year, and talking with companies and non-profits to work with. This has been close to a fully time job over the last couple weeks. I have been living in my friends basement, picking up random craigslist jobs, working just enough to break even.

So what does this mean looking into the future? Achieving this goal is as much, if not more, a mental battle as is it physical. I plan to ramp-up my training as the summer progresses. The training will reflect the goal. For example, I have decided to jump in the creek behind my house everyday. Jumping in a freezing cold creek is never easy, especially if it is wet out, or night time. However, nobody has ever regretted the refreshing feeling after dunking in a mountain stream. Just as skiing a straight month of 10k days is will never be easy, it will be incredible rewarding if I can overcome the mental battle each morning to just jump in.

I also plan to start pushing the length of my mountain bike rides. 3-4 hours on a mountain bike can be exhausting, but I want to be able to go 6-8 comfortably by the end of the summer season. I think this is a good reflection of the pace of backcountry skiing. I also have a couple trips planned for the summer to keep me on my toes.

I will be posting near daily updates to Instagram @airandrice, on Strava, and right here at airandrice.com

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