Sunday, March 18, 2012


A few weeks ago, when I was at the doctor's office, I asked him what I could do to prevent injury on the trail. "Hike," he replied without hesitation. He went on to explain that many hikers did not hike enough miles in training and, too often the training miles are on flat terrain that does not simulate the PCT.

"But it is really hard to get in enough miles when Sierra has ski team each weekend" I explained. He just looked at me and chuckled. "I didn't say that Sierra needed to train," he laughed. "Sierra has eight-year-old knees".

After so many people questioning whether an 8-year-old could really hike the PCT, my dawning realization that my doctor clearly thought that I, not Sierra, was the weak link in the chain, struck me as both sobering and humorous. And so I train, running with Sierra several times each week and then donning a pack for a long hike and/or cross country ski at least one day each weekend, while Sierra is shredding the snow.

This weekend's destination was Buttermilk Country, best known for the Buttermilk boulders (a bouldering mecca), but also home to miles of trails and dirt roads that are below snow line for most of the year.  Bumping over the washboards on Buttermilk Road I could feel my teeth rattling in my head, but I did not have to drive far before I reached my trailhead, with its sandy, snow-free trail and constant views of Basin Mountain and Mt. Tom, pictured below.

After spending the previous day on the snow, it was strange to be hiking in the high desert wearing only a T-shirt and shorts.  And after years of backpacking and trying to get my pack as light as possible by eliminating what I don't absolutely need it was also strange to be carrying a pack full of dead weight.  But carrying a full pack is better training, so I stuffed my pack with two different tents, 3 extra liters of water, and several other useless items.

Even with a full pack, the miles went by quickly, and the high desert solitude was a welcome contrast to the noise and relative crowds of Mammoth Mountain.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Moonlight Training

"What time is it?" Sierras voice mumbled from underneath the covers.

"5 o'clock in the morning, time to get up" I replied, although the clock on Sierra's table clearly said 4:00, as we had failed to make it "spring forward" to Daylight Savings Time the night before.  Sierra dressed quickly, and we were soon on the road to Mammoth, for early morning ski team training.

You might think that ski team training at 6:45 a.m. the morning after the time change is cruel and unusual punishment for the parents who, after all, have to drive their kids to the mountain and then can't even ski until the lifts open to the public at 8:00 or 8:30.  But in truth, early morning training is even more difficult for the coaches, who have to arrive even earlier to check conditions, get the lifts going, and then set practice courses in icy snow, only to remove them when the lifts open to the public two hours later.  I really can't say enough about the wonderful, dedicated team of coaches (and race department crew) at Mammoth Mountain!

Thankfully, this weekend's early morning training happened to coincide with a waning, nearly full moon, adding to the pale, tentative glow of dawn. 

The kids had a great time training, and were thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Speed Trap!

Speed Trap! Those two little words bring fear to the hearts of BMW owners across the nation. Most people hear the words "speed trap" and immediately picture a highway patrol car complete with radar gun, hiding on the bushes or around the next corner, just waiting to tag the white Beemer that just tailgated you and then reached 90 before completing its pass. But at Mammoth, the words speed trap bring fear to one's heart for an entirely different reason. Once a year Mammoth ski team hosts the Footloose Speed Trap, a straight downhill race where results are recorded in miles per hour (your speed when you reach the bottom) rather than elapsed times. For kids who like to go fast, the chance to straight line a black diamond run is the stuff dreams are made of. But for nervous parents, it can be a nightmare.

Fortunately for me, I had no nightmares. Instead I spent a restless night asking "what if?". What if she falls? What if she breaks something? What if we have to cancel our trip? What if, what if, what if. But by morning I put on my supportive ski team parent face, and pretended not to worry. And when another J6 parent explained to us that the J6 kids start lower than the older kids and said his daughter was just hoping to break 40 mph, I stopped worrying.

But the first J6 boy clocked in at just over 59 mph. He was followed by a string of boys and girls whose speeds ranged between 50 to 56 mph. Then one of the J6 boys broke the 60 mph barrier, clocking in at just over 60 mph. I was just telling Jeff that I thought Jordan would be 60 mph too, when Sierra got on course. Pushing off with a few powerful skating strides, Sierra quickly got herself into a low tuck. When she reached the bottom the announcer called out her speed: 58.226 mph! The fastest girl so far.

Of course, Sierra's friend Jordan was yet to come, and when she did my prediction came true. Over 61 mph, the fastest J6 time, beating all the boys! As soon as she heard Jordan's time Sierra clicked out of her skies and ran up the hill to congratulate her, giving Jordan a hug that ended with Sierra, Jordan, and Jordan's mom in a dog pile on the snow. Sierra was so excited about Jordan getting first place that Sierra seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she herself had gotten second place!

I think it finally sunk in at the Awards Ceremony afterward, where U.S. Ski Team athlete Stacey Cook was on hand to sign posters and hand out awards.  Thanks Stacey!