The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Jan 2011

Tree Well Immersion

Last week, massive storms pummeled the mountains with snow. Unfortunately, in a 48-hour span, four more cases of tree well accidents were reported. On December 28, a snowboarder went out of bounds from a Tahoe resort and was found in a deat in tree well two days later. On December 27, a snowboarder was missing and found in dead in a tree well the next day. On December 29, a snowboarder on a guided backcountry tour in Canada died. Also last wednesday, an inbounds skier at a Montana resort was found in critical condition in a tree well. For the beta on safety, read my post from December 21 or this journal paper.

--Christopher Van Tilburg

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Team VeloSport: The 2011 Scoop

Besides running a successful design firm, Damion Hickman also runs one of the biggest club teams in Southern Califorina, Team Velo Sport. The 700 members blanket the sport of cycling, with riders from numerous disciplines: mountain biking, time trials, cyclocross, and road. Don't be intimidated by the big number, racing is not a requirement to join Team Velo Sport. We checked in with Hickman on how you can join, what inspired his team, and what's up for 2011.
--Heidi Volpe

New kits look great! Are there any new features to the design this year? Fabric or cut?
Thanks! No big changes other than some redesigned back pockets. We've stuck with what works. Squadra has been a great vendor and apparel partner for us. They've jumped thru hoops to get us the massive size order we place every year.

Did you design the kits?
Yes I did. The toughest part is making the sponsor logos look good next to all of the other logos.

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The Top 10 Ways to Not Look Like a Tourist

Chile's Rio Baker, Photo by Michael Hanson
Cruise ships are for tourists. Real travel is for wanderers who don’t want to just see, but experience something different. Packing and planning take a back seat to learning how to simply be in this game. So leave your guidebook at home, snip the Canadian flag patch off your pack, strip down bare, and walk into the world. You’ll come home different from how you left.
--Porter Fox, editor of the travel writing journal Nowhere

10. Lose the Technical Travel Wear
It is no more essential to wear waterproof microfiber pants that turn into shorts in a foreign city than it is in your local grocery store. Dress well when you travel. Nice clothes like button down shirts tend to blend in better than blue jeans or T-shirts. Spend the money you make selling your technical travel pants and waterproof fanny pack to buy a few local garments. Shop at an open market or a thrift store and try to avoid boutiques that sell to tourists trying to not look like tourists.

Pentax w90 9. Sell Your SLR
You aren’t shooting photos for a magazine. You’ll probably look at your travel photos less than five times in this lifetime. So get off your knees and put your ridiculously advanced camera away. A camera lens is a barrier between you and the place you are. Live in the actual place instead and reflect on the memories for the rest of your life. If you must, get a 10 megapixel point-and-shoot that’ll make your blog, Facebook or Flickr page pop, and keep it in your pocket where no one can see it.

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Skier Greg Hill Hits 2 Million Feet

Greg Hill                                     Greg Hill (Tommy Chandler/

After 266 days of climbing and skiing, and climbing and skiing, and climbing and skiing, Greg Hill hit his goal. His watch registered 2 million vertical feet on Rogers Pass, near his hometown of Revelstoke, British Columbia, on December 30th.

“The incredible feeling of no longer having this immense goal looming over my days is amazing. So much has gone into this tiny number on my watch – so much dedication, perseverance and passion,” said the 35-year-old athlete. “We all have dreams. I’ve realized that the fact is you have to work hard to achieve them and if you work hard enough it is possible to accomplish them.”

How did Hill do climb and ski 2 million feet in less than a year? Here's a quick by the numbers on his quest.

Greg Hill 4 Countries he skied in—Argentina, Chile, the United States, and Canada

4 Pairs of skis used during his quest

7,570 Average feet per day skied by Hill

238,000 Feet skied by Hill during his biggest month, December

77 Days that Hill logged more than 10,000 feet

71 Peaks climbed during the quest

69 Times climbing and skiing Everest, which is the equivalent of climbing and skiing 2 million vertical feet

40 Lbs. of gear strapped to his back on average during each session

163 Lbs. The weight of Hill at the start and end of his quest.

6,000 Calories Hill consumed in an average day to keep that weight.

1 Wedding ring lost. As much of the weight from Hill's body moved to his thighs, everywhere else, including his fingers, lost heft. "Midway through this quest I lost my wedding ring since my fingers were a little skinnier than usual," says Hill. "But luckily I combed the beach for a few hours and found it."

1:30 pm on December 30, the time at which Hill's watch registered 2 million vertical feet, leaving him with more than 1 full day to rest before his official deadline.

--Joe Spring

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7 Questions with David Vann

David Vann Author David Vann discusses his new novel Caribou Island, Sarah Palin's Alaska, and how to defend yourself from Mexican pirates. To listen to the extended interview click here, or subscribe to our iTunes podcasts.
--Stayton Bonner

You’re an Alaska native. For us Lower 48ers, how accurate is Sarah Palin’s new show?
Wilderness is a giant mirror. Sarah Palin’s Alaska is about her hypocritical family values and is nothing like the Alaska I know. She’s oblivious and breaking rules, as in when she’s too close to the bears and hassling them while trying to use them as a metaphor for how she’s a momma bear. But actually the momma bear in that footage is trying to protect her cubs from Sarah Palin.

Okay, what’s your Alaska?
As a kid, I’d run through the Ketchikan-area rainforest and fall through the floor to hit a second floor of old growth. I always felt as if bears and wolves were chasing me. The first king salmon I caught was taller than I was. It was a 45-minute battle and I thought the salmon might win. My grandfather caught a 250-pound halibut. My father helped him pull it up inch by inch for 300 feet. I remember looking into dark brown and green water, seeing the halibut start out small and then get bigger as it neared the surface. I always think of that as a metaphor for how imagination and the Alaskan landscape work for me.

For our 2010 Life List, you wrote about traveling the world on a teacher’s salary. What’s the secret?
A willingness to be sketchy.

Such as?
Nobody would publish my first book for 12 years so I got a 200-ton master’s license and ran charters along the coast of Turkey, the BVI, and Mexico. I once hit a freak storm in the Caribbean where it went from flat calm to 60-foot seas in one hour. It was far worse than The Perfect Storm. Our 90-foot, 200,000-pound boat went up a wave and then fell off it. We popped out like a cork and were then broadsided by another wave and dropped. Our ½ inch steel plate in the hull cracked. It literally broke us. 

You wrote about Mexican pirates for our October 2008 issue.
I ended up on a boat with a broken engine in a drug-running port on the Mexico/Guatemala border along the Pacific coast. A place called Puerto Madero. It took me four months to get the boat out of there. While trying to leave in a disabled boat that could only travel at one knot, I was circled by two pangas whose pilots began ramming the boat, demanding cocaine, trying to climb aboard, and threatening to return with guns. They weren’t professional pirates like you come across in Somalia. They eventually went away and I sailed straight out to sea with no lights on.

So writing’s a pretty boring job.
The Mexican navy once bound, beat me, and searched my boat for drugs. One of my crew members had left a bong in my bilge. I thought I was going to Mexican prison. I was stiff and had trouble walking from where they’d hit me in the back with a rifle butt. One of the beggar kids I’d given peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a couple weeks came up and handed me the pipe. The little pickpocket had stolen it from the police—whom had taken it as evidence—to keep me from going to prison.

This is good stuff. Why bother with fiction?
If that memoir ever gets published no one will believe it.

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