Skiing Stoke from Lake Tahoe

Month: December 2010

Product Review and Video: The Dynafit Stoke Ski, TLT Vertical binding and custom skins

By Rob McCormick

Fifteen years ago 90% of my ski days were at ski areas and 10% were in the backcountry. Today 90% of my days are in the backcountry and 10% are at ski areas. Having been on the same touring setup since 2006, I decided I needed to upgrade. My primary motivation was to get something stable and floaty in powder yet versatile enough for all conditions. I wanted a setup that would inspire me for multiple laps when touring and allow me to handle long approaches and big vertical involved with ski mountaineering. I am not a techy guy who spends hours studying product specs and reviews so I spoke with a few friends who tour and the Dynafit name kept popping up. My wife made good on her Christmas present offer of new touring gear by picking up the Stoke ski, the TLT Vertical binding and custom Dynafit skins at the BackCountry in Truckee. I was not disappointed.

The first thing I noticed when I clicked in was the weight, or lack there of. It felt like I had nothing on my feet. The bindings are very minimalistic in design which is durable and practical, but has nothing extra to add weight. The range of motion on the bindings is unbelievable. They pivot so far forward you can literally kneel on the fronts of your skis. This allows for much less wasted effort when skinning. The heelpiece can be adjusted by rotating to different heights depending on the slope you are climbing. The toepiece has two pins that lock into each side of the front of the ski boot. I have the Garmont Radium boot which is Dynafit compatible. Many companies now make boots that are compatible with the Dynafit binding which says something about the direction they think skiers are headed with touring bindings.

The custom precut speedskins are awesome because you don’t have to measure, stencil and cut the skins manually. More importantly, they provide great traction when climbing. The adhesive sides are way more user friendly than my past skins that I had to battle to pull apart at the bottom of every run. The skins have a unique rubber pulltab that integrates perfectly with the metal tips of the Stokes. Combined with the tremendous forward range of the bindings, the tab allows you to easily remove the skins while the skis are still on your feet. I didn’t think I would be able to do it but was pulling it off my first day without taking my skis off at the top. This feature is especially handy since the one drawback to the bindings is the four point attachment system can be tricky to engage at first. It is essential to bring a pointed tool or something you can use to clear ice and snow from the bindings and/or boot pin holes to allow them to engage properly.

Now for the fun part…the skis! The Stokes are amazing! The core is made of bamboo and beech which keeps it very light for climbing. A slightly rockered tip keeps it from diving in pow. The ski handles dreamy at speed yet turns when it needs to. I didn’t think I could get freeride performance and stability out of something so light yet the Stoke does it with authority. It’s only 106 cm underfoot but I found it well suited for climbing up and out of deep snow when setting a track and the perfect dimensions for shredding the backcountry. My wife got me these things for riding pow and it looks like she hit the bullseye.

OK enough chitchat from a non techhead who doesn’t really know much about gear but knows what he likes to ski. Here’s POV footage of my first legit backcountry run on the Stoke. The skier I am following is Jason Mack who is also on the Dynafit binding setup.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to riders everywhere! What a great start to the ski season we’ve had. One can only hope it continues and perhaps holds its own against last years outstanding season. Below is a look back to March of 2010. The footage is from an independent ski film project called Exit Strategy. Limited copies of the movie will be available on SBDC next month. Happy Holidays!

Preferred links on SBDC now offers a hit list of preferred links located on the left side of the home page. We have chosen sites that are Tahoe based and feature quality content ranging from weather and avalanche conditions to equipment sales and rentals.

Real Deep Snow and Tahoe Weather Discussion are weather blogs authored by North Lake Tahoe locals. Both sites analyze a variety of weather models and forecasts and combine them with personal knowledge of conditions in the region.

The Sierra Avalanche Center reports daily on snowpack and avalanche conditions. SAC forecasters dig pits daily and report results from a variety of aspects and elevations in the Tahoe basin. Reports are frequently accompanied by video and photographs especially during active cycles.

Grant Kaye is a local photographer with a brilliant portfolio of Tahoe landscapes and beyond. Dr. Robb Gaffney is a frequent contributor to SBDC and the author of Squallywood, a guidebook to Squaw’s rowdiest lines. Tim Konrad and the Unofficial Squaw crew keep tabs on the daily radness going on in Squaw Valley and other resorts with the newly launched Unofficial Networks.

The BackCountry, located on Donner Pass Road in Truckee, sells gear and supplies for all things backcountry with a strong emphasis on ski touring and mountaineering. The BackCountry features a huge fleet of rental gear including skis, snowboards and snowshoes. The BackCountry’s website has a free guidebook and allows users to post all kinds of useful information from equipment sales to trip reports. The upstairs of the store hosts classroom space for AIARE level one, two and three avalanche courses. Field time for the courses is typically held in the Donner Peak, Mt. Judah backcountry. The BackCountry also sponsors the Adventure Slide Show Series held one a month at Plaza Bar in Squaw Valley. Renowned climbers, skiers and mountaineers share their adventures, show great photography and yuk it up with fellow adventure seekers.

A post storm report on Squaw conditions

By Susan’s ghostwriter from Boulder

Last week a college friend of mine emailed me from Colorado, “Have you seen the storm that’s headed your way? I’m thinking about flying out for it.” So I started checking the forecasts.

He arrived Friday night and the waiting game began. Snow, rain, rain, snow… the precipitation was there, but the resorts couldn’t open anything good.

A late start this morning proved to be painful, as I could see KT loading when I pulled into the parking lot at 9:15. KT, Red Dog and Exhibition were mobbed. I headed over to Far East to try to find some pow while lines at KT died down.

There I met up with some friends and traversed from the top of Far East to the Resort Chair. People at the top said it could not be done. We proved them wrong. And the turns were deep.

The face below Far East was mostly soft, but we could feel the rain layer underneath. We banked into the glades and were greeted with soft, deep snow all the way down to the cat track. After a few runs of low-angle pow, the Funi opened and we headed up the mountain.

From there, we hiked up to Tower 16 to find plenty of soft stuff mixed in with some of the crispy rain-affected snow. Several steep, soft runs later, we headed over to Shirley. Looking down, we saw a few tracks on the Shirley groomer, but no one was on it. We asked patrol if the lift was open because there was a sign that said “Shirley lift closed.” Apparently, they were low on signs because the trail was open and the lift was spinning. But the patroller warned, “there’s a bunch of debris down there.” Even though it wasn’t steep, the fresh snow with no rain layer felt blissful under our skis. Then we hit the debris.

The avy debris was disguised under four inches of snow and flat light, so none of us hit the breaks until we saw the the first of our crew flailing after he hit one of the ice chunks. Most of us remained upright, but we all realized why patrol had warned us. We headed down for one more Tower 16 lap that became two. Although the fresh was gone, having the rain layer broken up and mixed into the rest of the snow, evened out the consistency for more predictable, smoother skiing.

My buddy from Colorado didn’t hit the perfect storm, but he did get a great day of skiing. Here’s to more snow later this week!

Just a taste

Tahoe received a nice taste of sweet n’ low yesterday with a perfect rightside up storm. Backcountry enthusiasts should be sensitive to a rain crust layer that formed on December 10. This layer has the potential to create deep slab instabilities that the Sierra Avalanche Center is reporting as a concern.  Let’s sit back and see what happens as the big one rolls in this weekend.

Mt. Rose Rocks!

By Rob McCormick

I am a Squaw Valley pass holder and work in the Valley so I rarely visit other Tahoe ski areas.  This is a shame because Tahoe has many little ski areas with quality snow and terrain.  One such gem is Mt. Rose.  I always suspected the Chutes on Slide Mountain offered legitimate terrain but never motivated to ski them.   When Mt. Rose added the formerly out of bounds Chutes to their in-bounds menu a few years back, it was significant news for serious skiers.  Last Monday two friends and I made the trek from Truckee to check out what Mt. Rose has to offer.  Not only were we stoked on the caliber of challenging terrain and lack of crowds, the service and amenities far exceeded our expectations.

After a hearty breakfast at the Log Cabin in Kings Beach we headed up the Mt. Rose highway into heavy fog and wind.   I didn’t worry too much as the forecast called for the system to blow out after noon.  What had amounted to torrential rainfall and about a half inch of glop in Truckee translated into 7 to 9 inches of new snow at Mt. Rose, which has a base elevation of 8,200 feet.  To put this in perspective, Squaw’s mid mountain High Camp complex is located at the same elevation.   This means Rose receives more snow and less rain than most Tahoe ski resorts.

After buying a Bonus Mondays lift ticket for $39, the special tickets agent told us the Northwest Magnum Chair was on wind hold and the only way over to the Blazing Zephyr Chair and the Chutes was via shuttle bus to Slide Lodge.  She said to ask one of the guys in the orange jackets for a ride.  We walked about 200 feet to the parking lot and asked an orange jacket wearer if we could get a ride.   “Of course,” he replied, “I’ll pull the shuttle out so you don’t have to walk through the snow to put your skis in the carrier”.  20 seconds later we were aboard the shuttle heading to the eastern base facility.  “The Chutes should open in about 30 minutes”, said the driver as he let us off.  About a minute later we were riding the Blazing Zephyr Chair to the summit.  The terrain below us looked like wind buffed sweetness so we opted for a quick run down Big Bonanza to warm up and kill time until the Chutes opened.

After another quick ride on the Zephyr we headed over to the Chutes, which were now labeled “part open”.  The first access gate was closed so we entered through the next gate and dropped into virtually untracked, wind buffed pow.  We found exposed spiny ridges separated by powder filled chutes that opened up to a lightly gladed apron at the bottom.  After one run in the Chutes we had already found what we were looking for…steep, fun terrain with good snow and nobody around.    We continued one satisfying lap after the next exploring different access gates along the way. Between runs we took in surreal views spanning from Lake Tahoe all the way down to the dessert of the Reno/Carson Valley.  Mt. Rose proper, Mt. Haughton, Relay Peak and a cornucopia of tasty backcountry terrain loomed right across the highway.

Eventually we hit the Main Lodge for a late lunch.  Adorned with vintage ski photography and other memorabilia, the lodge and cafeteria are simple, clean and very user friendly.   We grabbed one of many empty tables by the window and studied ski lines in the Chutes while hoarking down the best Chili Cheese fries imaginable.  After that it was up the Northwest Magnum Chair (now open) and back to Chute lapping.  Guess what we discovered on our last two runs of the day?  Untracked snow and no other skiers in sight!

In addition to great snow and terrain, we found the service and amenities Mt. Rose to be exceptional.  Resort staff including parking attendants, ticket agents, lifties and bartenders were extremely friendly and helpful.  Nearly every time we got on or off a lift we were greeted or waved to.  And it did not seem forced, but rather that this team really enjoyed what they were doing.  The parking lot had nicely labeled Mt. Rose trash cans. The path to the lodge and chairlift loading stations had slip resistant mats.  The urinals and toilets had stainless steel baskets for gloves, hats and other personal items.  The lift system is simple and efficient with two high-speed six packs providing access to the summit, one from each base area.   The Timbers Bar in the Main Lodge is swanky by most ski area standards and offers a variety of draught beers and a nice assortment of Scotches and other libations.

Mt. Rose also has ticket specials that make it worth checking out even for pass holders at other areas.  If you present a previous Saturday or Sunday ticket you receive a $29 ticket on Bonus Mondays.  No weekend lift ticket?  Mondays are still only $39.  Two fer Tuesdays offers two lift tickets for the price of one.  On Wednesdays guests over 50 and students with valid college ID ski for $35.   Women ski for $35 on Ladies Day Thursdays.  Buy a three-day consecutive ticket and the third day is free.  Present a season pass from another resort on midweek days and receive a $49 ticket.

Mt. Rose provides a stellar experience from start to finish.  The Chutes are dynamic enough to keep strong skiers interested all day long.   The lack of crowds and minimal competition for powder makes you realize not all ski areas are raped by 10am.  The amenities and staff make pulling yourself away from your home area seem like a breath of fresh air.  Put simply, Mt. Rose rocks!

Mt. Rose Proper across the highway from Mt. Rose Ski Area

Vintage ski photography in the Main Lodge

The Chutes as seen from the cafeteria and sun deck

G.N.A.R. Movie to Premier Friday, December 17 at Alpine Meadows

Lake Tahoe, CA – Skiers and snowboarders worth their salt have certainly descended an expert-rated run, naked, while simultaneously talking on a cell phone with their mom; however, this act has rarely been captured on film as well as it has in the new movie, G.N.A.R. 

See for yourself by attending the World Premier of G.N.A.R. at the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort base lodge Friday, December 17 at 9pm.  Doors open at 8pm, and the entry fee is a suggested donation. 

What started as a game featuring 20 riders vying for a winner-take-all purse of $25,000 has transferred into a film that’ll likely be dubbed “instant classic.” Edited by filmmaker Scott Gaffney, the movie stars a bevy of local skiers and snowboarders including Ralph Backstrom, Chuck Mumford, George Hjelte, Greg Lindsey, Spencer Cordovano, Mattias Sullivan, Kevin O’Meara, Alex Cox, and Dr. Robb Gaffney; and features archived footage of the inventor of the game and inspiration for the movie, Shane McConkey.  On-camera interviews with the Gaffney brothers, Mrs. Sherry McConkey, and renowned photographer, Grant Kaye, set the bar for what is sure to become the ski and snowboard industry’s all-time funniest movie.

G.N.A.R. the movie was inspired by G.N.A.R. the game.  Included as the final chapter of the book, Squallywood (penned by ski legend Robb Gaffney), G.N.A.R. was written by the late great Shane McConkey as a way to simultaneously celebrate and make a parody of skiing and snowboarding’s most treasured holy grails: hilarious antics, shellacked bravado, embarrassing your friends and yourself for a laugh, good-natured competition, and of course, naked skiing. 

Also consistent with the game, G.N.A.R. documents some of the west coast’s most coveted steep lines and deep powder stashes guaranteed to resonate through the audience.  

Important movie premier details:

G.N.A.R. is intended for mature audiences, due to nudity (albeit good natured), the “s” word (used 79 times excluding opening credits), and a few acts which have resulted and will continue to result in arrest (please do not scale the wooly mammoth statue at a certain central California resort).  Those who have aversion to snowlerblading or monoboarding should also not attend.  Movie-goers can look forward to delicious beverages presented at the Alpine Meadows lodge, with names honoring various attributes of G.N.A.R., the game.   

For additional information about the movie premier, G.N.A.R., please call the Alpine Meadows events department at 530.581.8332 or visit 

Ranked as a top winter resort by SKI Magazine, Alpine Meadows Ski Resort blends an authentic mountain experience with cutting-edge technology to enhance the guest experience.  Focusing on online savings programs, Alpine Meadows offers guests everyday ticket savings with adult prices starting at $50 for winter 2010/2011.  Alpine is situated in the picturesque Tahoe National Forest and offers skiers and snowboarders 2,400 acres of terrain.  With 14 lifts, more than 100 trails, and majestic views of Lake Tahoe, Alpine Meadows is accessed via Interstate 80, 45 miles west of Reno, NV and 200 miles east of San Francisco, CA.  Alpine Meadows’ parent company is San Francisco, California based JMA Ventures, LLC.  JMA is a full service real estate investment firm, serving as managing member of over $500 million in existing projects. Visit or call 530-583-4232 for more information about Alpine Meadows.