Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ski Area Expansion and Canyons 'SkiLink'


The seven ski areas of the central Wasatch fall within three distinct areas: the Wasatch back areas of Park City, Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Each area remains separate from one another and holds their own distinct character. Hopefully it will stay that way.

This year the Canyons resort has upped the ante with a proposal to link the Park City side to Big Cottonwood with a ski lift called ‘SkiLink’. So what does this mean for the Backcountry skiing in the area? I’ll give you a hint; it’s similar to playing with fire.

 The Canyons resort, or just ‘Canyons,’ as it is now called (everything said latte must be good), wants more. And they might just well need more to maintain their current assets, the resort is a real estate development with some skiing nearby; not a proper ski area. It seems they want to draw an eye; to differentiate themselves from the other Park City based resorts. The ability for Canyons guests to go to a different ski area for a day could be an appealing draw. This plan seems less to do with an inter-connected system of ski areas and more to do with a marketing stunt and the possibility for more in the future.

At first glance it seems like a no brainer, connect all the resorts in the region and ski around with glee. Ski for miles, like in Europe, and go where you please. The problem with this concept here in Utah from a backcountry skiing standpoint is that although more terrain may be accessed by lifts that you often can’t go where you please, even in areas on public land. Ski areas can charge whatever they want to use their services (nearing double the cost of skiing in europe) and close areas or access to areas at their discretion, largely due to liability concerns. Aside from the fact that new in-area terrain ruins areas that were once less touched, new lift served areas allow for more limitations on where it is possible to go even outside the ski area. For example, Snowbird closes the ridge access from Hidden peak to the American Fork Twin Peaks (and everything beyond) and for the majority of the season. So not only is the terrain within the ski area a rat race but the terrain beyond it is difficult or impossible to get to unless you walk up from outside the ski area. From a backcountry skiing standpoint the Snowbird tram might as well not even be there and is a far cry from the grand backcountry access points of the Alps such as the cable cars up La Meije in La Grave or Chamonix’s Augille du Midi.

Anyway, back to the dirt:

Canyons ‘SkiLink’ does not claim to expand ski terrain officially or affect the adjacent backcountry ski terrain it travels over in Big Cottonwood Canyon. The plan involves a point to point lift from the Solitude base area to a high elevation in-area neighborhood of the second home elite on the other side of the ridge (within Canyons). There is no planned top station on the ridge to immediately allow access to the backcountry and it would take several ski lifts to access the lift from Canyons base or to get back to the ridge to ski back to Big Cottonwood.

You might ask: why? Canyons claims that the lift will cut down on traffic on the Big Cottonwood road as less people would then have to drive around from Canyons if they chose to, which few currently do. For some reason nothing is said about the additional people that will drive up Big Cottonwood from Salt Lake City because the lift is there; undoubtedly increasing traffic overall in the canyon: HELLO!!!???

Skiers from Canyons would likely still be allowed access to the backcountry and into Big Cottonwood from other access points within the ski area, such as through the current access point off the 9990 lift, virtually creating a massive, unpatrolled, easily accessible backcountry area all the way down into Big Cottonwood. The fact that several lifts would be necessary to turn backcountry laps would surely make it necessary to purchase an all day ski pass for nearly $100 a day (opposed to single ride options such as that offered on the Millicent lift a few miles farther up Big Cottonwood at Brighton for $12).

The terrain affected leading back into Big Cottonwood is fantastic ski touring terrain and a reasonably safe area to travel for those in the know when avalanche risk is higher. It is a sanctuary when other areas are dangerous. Contrary to what Canyons states, this area would indeed be ruined for ski touring by resort skiers going out of the boundary if it remained permissible to do so; many of which skiers would undoubtedly not be able to safely deal with being out of bounds. The average clientele at Canyons is less than the self sufficient type.

All of the purposed lift expansion and adjacent backcountry also lies within the Salt Lake City Watershed. With the increased use of the area there will surely be impact to it. Lifts require fluids and maintenance overall and resort skiers leaving the boundary are animals too. Canyons beg to differ.
Canyons also argue there will be significant economic benefit from the lift development over the short and long term. My guess is that there could be some economic benefit over the short term but that global warming will ultimately drive Canyons out of business far before the ski areas in the Cottonwoods as it snows significantly less there and is lower in elevation.

My biggest fear of the entire idea of ‘SkiLink’ is what really may  be being planned; what I would guess is more real estate and or a purchase of Solitude. It would be very sad to see the McMansions of the entire Park City area infiltrate Big Cottonwood. There are thousands of lots in Big Cottonwood and nearly everything has a price tag. The Park City area is a disease really. If we really want a euro style skiing area, we need to lose liability concerns and get rid of the real estate mongers pushing on-mountain private homes; then we’ll talk.

Canyons 'SkiLink' development is pending approval by the USFS or waiting on the approval of an over the top maneuver as Utah senators in Washington favor the idea. 30 acres of Forest Service land must be eased for the proposal to go through. Stinky politics is all over this one.

The negatives on the land: straightchuter

Latest Findings of Canyons preliminary report disputed: The Salt Lake Tribune

Have a look for yourself: http://www.skilink.com/


What are your thoughts?



Help support Utah Backcountry Skiing with a purchase from... Backcountry.com!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Don't Do This, Early Season Dramas

Even with something that is as innately familiar as skiing is to many of us, the early season can to lead to uniquely great and often humbling experiences in the backcountry.  The following is a realistic scenario of an early season day ski touring. Humbly, I will say that I couldn't really make this shit up; it includes some truths of some antics over the years, though not all of these truths occurred at any one time as stated below. Enjoy and try to avoid getting into these situations, avalanches aren't the only thing that can ruin your ski day!
................

Imagine This:

After months away you click into your old reliable ski set-up and shortly after you start wondering how you ever skied every day on these things.  They are noodle boards now, with rusty edges and with spotty patches of petex remaining; relics of once greatly civilized equipment. Memories stir.

You start out with a friend on an ambitious canyon to canyon ski tour; thumbing a ride out from the other side should not be an issue now as a ski area has opened for the season in that canyon.

The ascent seems like more effort than it should be and now it’s already the afternoon; finding batteries for a transceiver caused an earlier diversion. Some clouds roll in and the light is very dim under the thick pine forest canopy. Coming up the trail your head sags as you try to catch your breath, your legs seem heavy. Rounding a turn a moose’s head suddenly appears right in front of you!  Motionless it stares at you, lips sagging as it chews on a tasty branch. The moose doesn’t seem amused and smells quite earthy. You are frozen in your tracks.

You divert off the main trail to get around the creature. Aimed on cleaning up your shorts you struggle through some shrubbery where a willow loads up under one of your ski tips and then releases, making perfect impact with your right testicle or respective area.

At sunset you find yourself on a high ridge with a mellowish slope below. It is a familiar and beautiful sight. You would have preferred skiing something steeper but you fear the additional rocks you might hit and potential for avalanches on the steeper slopes. Just before you start to ski you remove your goggles because you can’t freaking see anything with them on any more. It’s getting dark and it’s really cold, particularly on your face. Your partner is still working out putting his old split board together, one of the attachment points is missing but he should be alright getting down with some finesse.

Your first couple turns feel great, the sound of crystalline snow echoes each turn. The light is flat but you go faster anyway. You clip a small rock before accelerating over a blind roll that you couldn’t see, hitting several rocks with great force. Sparks fly quite noticeably off your edges in the dimming sky. At the bottom of the run you regroup after some nice turns.

You continue on and after ten minutes of log hopping and traversing through a lower elevation thicket you stop to catch your breath and evaluate your route. Suddenly, you hear some loud yelling from somewhere around you; it is coming from the tree, the one above you, huh? A bow hunter perched in his tree stand isn’t amused. You keep moving and then stop to grab some water, a quick bite and to evaluate the condition of your shorts, again. Your water bottle is frozen, the candy bar seriously stresses your jaw with its new-found diamond like hardness, and your pants are thankfully still clean but one pant leg is in fact a bit torn.

It’s cold, colder than before, and dark, completely dark at this point. You have one head lamp between you and your partner and it’s really dim as the batteries are nearly dead. You take your jacket off to put on a fleece, your final article of clothing in your pack. In the process you notice the flashing light on your transceiver, an idea strikes you. Mostly out of avalanche terrain at this point you sacrifice the functionality of your beacon for the commodity of light. The batteries that were purchased only five hours ago prove to be dual purpose.

At 6pm you reach the road with your partner, reasonably unscathed but with cold fingers and colder toes. Wearing your black jacket and black pants you stick a thumb out on a dark stretch of road in hopes of getting a ride, any ride. The ski area up canyon has closed hours ago and there aren’t any cars coming this way anymore; it’s going to be a long walk to the valley you think. You joke to your partner that the only person coming down canyon is going to be some drunk spilling out of the ski area bar, as those were the only folks still left in the mountains this time of day.

Twenty minutes pass before a car is sighted, this one driving UP the canyon. Ultimately you need to go down the canyon but with the thought that there may be a greater chance for a ride leaving from the bar up canyon you decide that any ride is a good one. Plus, there is beer and warmth at a bar, an improvement of your current situation. The car stops and helps you make it to the bar without any issue. In the parking area a man walks to his car and happily agrees to give you a lift.

On the way down the canyon the driver, already heavy with booze and drinking a tall boy asks you whether you have any green. You tell the man that you are fresh out but this doesn’t ease his paranoia.  Every so often he asks in a loud raising voice, “Is that Johnny?” He is hyper-paranoid about getting pulled over and slows every now and then to allow cars from behind to pass. On one of these courtesy maneuvers he succeeds in getting stuck in the snow bank off the side of the road.

It is dark and cold, really cold. You have your avalanche shovel assembled and are shoveling some drunken asshole’s car out of the ditch, somewhere in the wilderness. You ask your friend, “So, do we just keep hitching now or what?”  Before long you are underway again, still with the drunk jackass. He drops you off at your car and you look at your friend and laugh at the end of a fine day.

What was the most dangerous part of your day?


Help support Utah Backcountry Skiing with a purchase from... Backcountry.com!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Mountain Range Has the Best Snow?


Snow, it is the median which makes it all possible for skiers and snowboarders alike, fuel for an entire culture of winter addicts. But who gets the best snow? Well, this may be a more difficult question to answer than you might expect. The answer? well, it depends, largely on what type of skiing that you want to be doing.

It is fairly common knowledge that snow varies in its density, or water content. In general, the colder that it is the less moisture you will find in falling snow. If it snows near the freezing point snowfalls will generally be of heavier density than if it is colder. Warm air masses also hold a far greater amount of moisture than colder ones, so a warm storm is not only more likely to produce heavy snow but it is also far more likely for it to snow more in general.

After snow falls out of the sky, the elements take over manipulating its destiny and changing its form. Snow is constantly changing from the moment it starts to form in the sky, every moment it spends on the ground, and to the moment it melts entirely. The warmer and sunnier it is, the more likely settlement (the more air that will come out of the snow) and the more snow crystal bonding and cohesion that will occur. The cooler and shadier it is, the less the likelihood of settlement that will occur will be and the more faceting (angulation) that will occur to snow crystals, which creates a greater lack of cohesion between snow crystals. (To be specific the true cause of snow crystal metamorphosis is one of gradients of temperatures and coinciding vapor pressure. Snow and ice continually sublimate just as liquids evaporate, causing a transfer of vapor out from, into and around individual crystals).

Some will argue that high elevation coastal areas such as the Sierra Nevada's, CA have the best snow because the powder skiing is great during storms and it sits on a thick base left by other past storms that cover and stick to the mountain like super glue. It often snows so fast that, even though the snow is of a higher density it simply can’t settle fast enough. The result is high quality deep powder skiing conditions that after storms sets-up more rapidly than it does in more interior areas due to comparatively mild temperatures. Avalanches in coastal ranges are often frequent and massive during and shortly after storms and then stabilize quite readily afterward.


Bill Fleming having the time of his life on Wizard Rings, Chugach Mountains, Alaska.

 

Others swear by the “cold smoke,” or the super light density snow which falls in more interior, often high elevation ranges. It doesn’t snow as often here, nor nearly as much as it does on the coast, but when the conditions are right it is the true “white room” experience. The issue at ski areas in this snow climate is getting enough new snow so that you are not skiing on a hard surface below the storm snow; as due to the light nature of the snow it takes a lot of it to keep you afloat. High quality surface snow conditions often last great lengths of time after storms here. Avalanches  in continental areas are slightly less frequent than in coastal areas during storms but, however, are large and less predictable when they do occur. Instabilities often last long after storms, even through whole ski seasons. The Colorado and Canadian Rockies are great examples of this snow climate.

There are several ranges which share a bit of both coastal (maritime) and interior (continental) snow climate characteristics. These inter-mountain areas often still get lots of moisture though not as much as coastal ranges. Being a bit colder than on the coast; the result is often significant amounts of dryer snow which stays good longer. Variations in weather can at times can make it seem like one climate extreme or the other. Good examples in North America include the Tetons, Wasatch, Sawtooths, Selkirks, etc.

The latitude of an area also plays a significant role. In addition to overall temperature it plays a large role in which aspects of the compass will spoil or not due to sun exposure. You might be skiing powder on a south aspect in Canada on a given date where in say Utah it would be greatly unlikely to do the same. In mid winter there is less and less sun exposure over the entire compass the farther north one travels, come late spring the opposite is more or less true as the far north starts seeing a great increase in daylight hours which keep slopes warm longer. (It gets to a point where there is very little cool down during the night).

Megan Boyer trying to stay afloat in the Uinta Mountains, Utah

 
  An argument can be made for so many different places having the best snow for the best skiing that it is hard to say that it isn’t true of any one location without serious consideration. Additionally, it is unlikely that you would see the best chance of superior snow or skiing quality in one region for the course of a whole season. Another large contributing factor is terrain, as the snow is pretty meaningless without steep mountainsides for it to reside.

I therefore would like to break my opinionated answer to this grand question down to two places which offer great and very different skiing from one and other:

Best Powder Skiing: The Wasatch Range, Utah.

Because the license plate told me so… and a multitude of other reasons, to name a few of the many: It's in an Inter-Mountain snow climate. There is a large elevation change from valley to peak creating a huge amount of lift and cooling potential for air masses. The valley is also occupied by a large body of salt water which is reluctant to freeze and provides immense amounts of added moisture to storms, particularly when the lake is at its warmest early in the season. The overall elevation is reasonably high which cools air just enough, but the mountains are not too high as to be dramatically affected by extreme winds in the free air mass. The range is in a virtual bowling alley for storms that come off of the west coast of the continent.

The terrain of the Wasatch is comprised of reasonably steep and consistent fall lines of moderate length. The snow is often bottomless (unsupported underneath) and breathing can be a commodity. There is a speed limit in this sort of snow though because of its unsupportable nature to a rider. Rocks still loom over steep break-overs and super steeps as the snow that falls is often too dry to stick and stay on the mountainside, but rather it sluffs off steeps during storms.

Best Snow for Having the Ride of your Life: Chugach Range, Alaska.

The Chugach is a coastal range and it snows a lot there, a real lot, a different sort of real lot! Snow comes in warmish (remember we are talking about Alaska here- it’s still fairly cool) and sticks to the steep mountain sides. As storms pass colder air comes into the area and virtually sucks the moisture out of the surface snow. It is sort of a best of both worlds snowpack, but really it’s just a maritime snowpack on steroids.

The terrain is limitless, just as the legend states and the snow is what makes riding it possible. Supportable denser powder underneath, blower on top = often no speed limit for a rider. Five star.

Let the discussion begin!


Help support Utah Backcountry Skiing with a purchase from... Backcountry.com!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Go Pro? If you are lucky.

For years I have favored the Contour HD POV cameras; mostly due to their lower, less obtrusive profile (particularly when laid flat on the top of a helmet). Lets be honest, the video quality with the Go Pros is as good as any POV but they look super hokey and can get in the way a bit more than the competition.  I'm not saying that a Contour POV wouldn't get in the way also, but the following scenario just seems a lot less likely with one. Yes, this guy is getting after it pretty seriously doing some arco on a speed wing and does mess up, but the fact remains that things might have been a little more in his favor if it wasn't for that THING sticking off of his head several inches! I have always wondered about this senario and well, lookey here.


Help Support Utah Backcountry Skiing with a Purchase from Contour!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Avoiding Early Season Avalanches

Nearly every winter season the story is the same; avalanche burials with often fatal consequence. I suppose it is somewhat late to be writing this now considering that it was just yesterday that a skier died in a slide in Little Cottonwood canyon, but I feel compelled to try and help shed some light on why this phenomenon is so common in an attempt to help others make better decisions in the backcountry.
A few common contributing factors why the early season can be so troublesome for human involved slides are as follows:

1) Weak Snow: During the early season snow can become very weak (hard to make a snowball with) due to the often thin cover on the ground and cool temperatures. When this snow is then snowed over again, the new snow on top can act as a slab which can fail and cause an avalanche either naturally or with the added weight of a skier. In the early season the preservation of weak snow is most common in shaded higher elevation areas; in Utah it is often most prevalant on northerly slopes above 9000’(though it can be problematic on all aspects, particularly at high elevations). The development of weak snow (faceted snow) becomes less likely the deeper the amount of snow on the ground becomes (with some exceptions) and the warmer the temperatures.

2) Scarcity: In the early season it is often very difficult to ski at all in areas where the snow isn’t the deepest. The deepest snow is often found in the same areas where preserved weak snow is found too, so the most skiing takes place in areas where the snowpack is at its weakest. Sometimes this phenomenon can last for several weeks or even through the winter in a cold and dry year; good quality skiing in the high northerly terrain and nearly impossible skiing through shrubs and rocks in all but those areas. All the skiers, snowboarders and other users want to use the same terrain and there simply is less real estate for the masses to use causing areas to get very tracked up at times. Inevitably people start entering steeper and more avalanche prone terrain the more tracked up an area becomes. Peoples comfort zones expand when they have no other reasonable options for getting pristine snow; regardless of the avalanche hazard.

3) Frenzy: At the start of the ski season people want the goods and they want it bad! Thinking becomes secondary to getting; people have been waiting all summer. Images of skiing epic powder crowd the brain often well before any desires to stop think and behave including remembering to bring and practice with the requisite backcountry avalanche safety gear. People are crazed for powder.

A word of advice: Take it slow and easy in the early season and show a bit of prudency and skepticism when evaluating ski terrain. Freshen up on avi safety skills, use the gear and act cautiously; this goes for the backcountry and inbounds. If you are skiing in steep terrain early in the season it is likely that it is in an area where there has been some weak snow present at one time or another. Deeply buried, faceted weak snow in this context can be very tricky to manage even for ski area patrols with explosives, at times resulting in falsely positive indications of stability (Bombs go off, nothing slides but it still may not be safe).This was the case twice in the last five years at Utah ski areas alone including inbounds slides at Snowbird and the Canyons resorts which both resulted in fatalities in OPEN ski terrain. If terrain is being opened for the first time of the season use EXTRA caution. Remember when the snowpack is thin, if it slides there is a higher likelihood of being battered by rocks too.

Moreover, use some common sense and live to ski another day!


Help support Utah Backcountry Skiing with a purchase from... Backcountry.com!

Jamie Pierre Dies in Little Cottonwood Canyon Avalanche

Yesterday, Nov. 13 2011 an avalanche claimed the life of Jamie Pierre, a well known facet of the pro film skier community. According to the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center, the accident occurred in the South Chute area within the yet to open for the season Snowbird ski area. Pierre was dragged through rocks and partially buried, as reported by his skiing partner to the UAFC.

I refuse to speculate my opinion on the accident as I was not there and there are limitless possibilities of what and why decisions led to this fatal mistake. All I can say is that I am saddened by the accident and feel for those who were close to them. Jamie was well known world wide for his antics of "going big" and died virtually in his backyard, an area he had undoubtedly skied more than anywhere else.

Jamie pushed the sport of skiing a great deal for longer than a decade and gave the Wasatch a huge amount of exposure. He was the first person to clear the storried 90' Pyramid Gap, the 165' east facing cliff in Wolverine Cirque and the infamous 255' cliff outside of Grand Targhee, WY (largest intentional cliff drop world record) among  dozens of other feats. Jamie changed the idea of what was possible and is truly now a man of legend

Photos of the Avalanche were released by the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center



An article by Skiing Magazine found here: jamie-pierre-story sheds some light on the unique individual that was Jamie Pierre.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tribute to Antoine Montant

With the terrible news of the passing of a person that defined the sport of speed flying, we can only pay tribute and revel in awe of a once seemingly super-human individual. Thanks Antoine for doing the impossible for the rest of us, you are a true legend of the skies. Antoine apparently died while on a BASE jump near Collet d’Anterne in Haute Savoie, France. He was 30 years old. For more details see: justacro.com

Friday, April 29, 2011

Kip Garre, a Ski Hero Lost


On a very sad note Kip Garre and his girlfriend Allison Kreutzen died this past Tuesday, April 26, 2011 in an avalanche while approaching a ski line on Split Mountain in the High Sierras of California. Though incredibly humble Kip was a highly regarded ski mountaineer and perhaps one of the best international voices for American ski mountaineering.

Kip was a friend and co-worker of mine guiding at Point North Heli Adventures in Alaska and with Ice Axe Expeditions 2009 ski trip to the Antarctic. I can say first hand that he was a dynamic, fun-filled and tireless personality who had an unwavering passion for skiing and the mountains. He had a soft heart and wanted to spread the joy he saw in the mountains and in all of life to everyone he met, so much so that he based his entire life around it. Skiing has lost one of its best worldwide representatives. I personally respected Kip as much as anyone I knew and it is extremely difficult to imagine the mountains without him. The ski communities of Alaska, his home in Lake Tahoe and where he grew up in New Hampshire will miss him dearly. Allison will equally be missed by her many friends and family.

Powder Magazine has details of the accident and recovery effort here:
www.powdermag.com/mantle/kip-garre-1973-2011/

ESPN has another good article here:
http://sports.espn.go.com/action/freeskiing/news/story?id=6445398

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hellgate by Air

These boys are going off... Literally

Friday, April 1, 2011

Huck Yo Meat

Wicked Wolverine Cirque huck footage.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A South Pacific Nightmare


This past November I was jet-set and bound for the States and the coming ski season in Utah. Little did I know but a short stop in Tonga on the way lead  me straight into some pretty intense drama. A few days of summer turned into a medical mess. That's what you get with summers, this is why I am a follower of WINTER!

After a couple days of scuba diving off of the idyllic tropical island of Vava'u, in the remoteness of the South Pacific, I fell ill. Not the sicky-flu-like ill but more the hard to breath, my chest hurts, why is there so much pressure behind my eyes? kind of ill. "Oh Shit I'm bent," I thought. What do I do now? Well, you go to the hospital is what you do, but there isn't a decompression facility anywhere nearby, not a one in the country as matter of fact. Ultimately I was admitted to a medical institution which was more what I would have imagined a prison in Southeast Asia to look like. First and foremost there was no soap, instead there were cats. There was morphine though and I will say that it is an interesting experience being awakened by dozens of biting mosquitoes when writhing in an opioid sea. At first the local doctor wasn't convinced that I was suffering from anything related to the dives. By morning however he began to reconsider his evaluation after results of a normal blood count came back. He didn't quite know what to think. Ironically this is close to where I am sitting with the illness even now.
Jesus is honestly a pain in my ass. You could be plagued with illness but the only thing you are going to be able to do in Tonga on a Sunday is go and pray, rest assured.  In this religiously absorbed area of the third world there is nowhere to buy anything, including a phone card. Obviously these people must have not been praying hard enough if a white boy from afar can't use a telephone on a Sunday, right?. With no help from anyone and in a hazed delirium, it took incredible effort to achieve even the most basic of communications. Eventually, I found that I actually could make calls to far away places with the assistance of my credit card number. This, however, was like signing the phone receiver with blood as the calls were more than $6USD a minute. It was somewhere around this time that I remembered that my international evacuation insurance had lapsed. My calls to the nearest American embassy (in Fiji) were unfruitful as well due to the Sunday effect at hand.
In the case that I was suffering from the bends the best solution was to be re-compressed in a hyperbaric chamber as soon as possible. This is generally a problem when you are on a remote island without a chamber. The only access to or from the island is either by boat or by plane. To get to a facility a boat would likely  be too slow and a plane would likely take you too high, which can exacerbate symptoms even further due to the pressure change. I'm not sure what was worse by this point, illness or anxiety.
Three and a half days later I walked down the tarmac of the local airstrip, approaching a small prop plane bound for Tongatapu (the main island of Tonga and the only international connecting hub). Very nervously, I approached the captain of the plane while boarding the aircraft and explained my situation. The Kiwi recruited pilot said to me that he would see what he could do and that he would try to keep the cabin pressurized to a near sea-level equivalent. I sat in the first row of seats on the puddle jumper, right behind the pilot. As we took off I noticed that he had the operations manual open on his lap, obviously this wasn't standard procedure! Every now and then he looked back and signaled to me with his hands to see how I was handling the ascent. I was very uneasy about what was going on as I really wasn't sure if my head was going to explode at any minute! (That wont actually happen but it can still be dangerous for a bent individual. I didn't know the extent of the danger at the time) I had close eyes on my altimeter watch during the entire flight.We ended up landing without incident less than an hour later at our destination.
The captain had kept the pressure below a 1600 foot elevation equivalent. I still wasn't sure if i was safe yet though, I didn't know how I was going handle the 12 hour flight from there to Los Angeles. I knew very well that the captain of the trans-Pacific, jumbo jet was certainly not going to fly by the seat of his pants the way the puddle jumper pilot had. Ultimately, after a 12 hour round of the local diarrheal pleasures, I postponed my flight 36 hrs. Unfortunately  I then had to fly back to New Zealand to be able to get to L.A.. Scheduling was as such for the rest of the week, adding another good five hours of flight time and a six hour layover in Auckland to the already long haul. Eventually I got back to Salt Lake City where I rolled out of the plane and into the emergency room for evaluation. I received hyperbaric treatments the two days that followed.
As I sit now I feel I bit better but not even close to normal and doctors are puzzled as to what I have or have had happen to me. The Bends? Maybe. Something else? Maybe. Skiing is on hold for this lad for the near future. This is ironic considering the massive winter that has unfolded over much of the North American continent and Utah particularly. The piles of snow in the woods of CT are going to have to please my visual senses for now. We shall see how well that works out. Wish me luck.

Funny Note: Over the years I have learned some tricks of the trade when it comes to maximizing the amount of baggage that you can bring onto the plane while minimizing the cost of it. In this trick-of-the-sick I asked the check-in lady at the airport desk in Tonga to take my photo after putting on my ski boots to wear onto the plane. The guys at security had no idea what they even were and I doubt that they had ever seen snow in their lives. They asked me what they were and I responded, "Oh, I have bad ankles," so that they wouldn't question what I was doing. Once through security, they went straight back into my carry on bag. I have thought to threaten to do this for years and it's ironic that the first person that gave me enough shit about baggage weight for me to actually do it was in a random tropical island!
Up yours AIR NEW ZEALAND!

Famous Words