The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Jan 2013

Winter Resorts for Quick Escapes

Stowe just keeps getting better. There’s the new Stowe Mountain Lodge, a 450,000-square-foot, are-you-kidding-me hotel with the kind of spa that offers herb-infused showers (doubles from $399). There’s the town’s endearing European-style Alpenweiss charm. There’s the new FourRunner high-speed quad, which zips skiers to the summit in just six minutes, offering fast access to classic descents like the winding Nosedive and the five-mile Toll Road. But perhaps the biggest: if you live on the East Coast, you’re never more than five hours away. Stowe is a three-hour drive from Boston. Direct flights to Burlington, just an hour’s drive from Stowe, are available from New York City, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Toronto, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Skiers with a bit more time to spare can even find tickets on Amtrak for under $100 from New York and be dropped off right at the Waterbury-Stowe train station, just 30 minutes from the lift.

Two hundred and thirty: that’s how many airports offer flights into this old ranching town, making it arguably the most accessible destination resort in the country. New this winter are direct weekend flights on United from Los Angeles. Your best bet for last-minute lodging is the Rabbit Ears Motel (doubles from $109)—nothing special, but you can usually find a room. Drop your bags there, then plan your day: keep the clan together with a family lesson, during which your instructor will provide you with tips and drills to help your kids keep improving down the road. Or seek out Steamboat’s ample light powder on 1,790 acres of gladed trails (61 percent of the mountain’s terrain), including our favorite: Twilight, a long run with a decent pitch and perfectly spaced trees that hold snow for days after a storm.

Love tree skiing? Live in the New York City area? This winter, United adds a new direct flight from Newark to Bozeman, just a 45-minute drive from Big Sky, a resort where employees spent the summer creating several new gladed trails on Lone Peak and Andesite Mountain. Moderately pitched, with trees spaced a good 15 feet apart, the runs in the Dakota Territory and Bavarian Forest are perfect trails to warm up on. When you’re feeling more comfortable, move on to Shady Chute, a 40-degree pitch that covers 2,000 feet. At the end of the day, head eight miles down the canyon to Whitewater Inn. Doubles start at $114, but the hotel is always posting last-minute deals online. And it has an indoor waterslide.

Jackson Hole is generally known for great steeps, big snowstorms, and a vibe that’s Wild West meets ski party. The catch is that it’s always been a pain to get to, but new flights will soon make access much easier. Beginning this winter, United will operate nonstop flights on holidays and weekends from San Francisco and Newark, and Delta will fly direct from Minneapolis. What’s more, the slopeside, posh Hotel Terra offers Powder Guarantee packages, allowing guests to book early and adjust their trips in response to snowfall (from $200, including lodging and lift tickets). All of which should add up to you planning at least one weekend getting face shots in the resort’s six inbound bowls—not to mention the other 4,139 feet of cliff bands, powder pillows, and bumps.

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Winter Resorts for Thrill Seekers

Aspen’s Highland Bowl, with its 2,552 vertical feet of 45-degree pitches, has long offered some of the most challenging descents in North America. This winter, nearby Ajax and Snowmass mountains answer with 243 acres of additional terrain. Ajax includes Bonnie Bell Dumps, a steep shot with a 10-foot cliff jump, and Spar Dump, a gladed trail that passes an old mining train and cabin. The Snowmass expansion gives the predominantly intermediate mountain a few more steep lines, thanks mostly to the runs a short hike from the Elk Camp chair. There you’ll find six-foot cornice plunges into a wide-open 35-degree bowl. Regardless of which mountain you tackle, consider splurging at the slopeside Viceroy Hotel in Snowmass Village, which has a full spa and outdoor heated pool (doubles from $550). To go easier on the bank account, try the Wildwood Snowmass, a new hotel with '70s decor and a farm-to-table restaurant (from $159).

The mountain’s Third Bowl has enough powder pillows and cliff bands to elevate anyone’s heart rate. But we’re salivating over a new experts-only trip being offered by Crested Butte Mountain Guides. Groups meet at the resort’s Silver Queen Express lift, ride to the top, then don crampons and rope up for a two-hour trek to the mountain’s 12,200-foot namesake peak. All that scrambling and vertical stepping is rewarded with 45-to-50-degree lines dropping 900 vertical feet ($350, gear included). Not ready for crampons? Try the terrific cat skiing with nearby outfit Irwin Lodge. Either way, grab a celebratory steak on the deck of 9380, then work out the kinks at Grand Lodge’s Wildflower Spa (doubles from $199).

With 23,819 acres of cliffy hike-to terrain—not to mention a helicopter—Silverton is arguably the country’s top destination for adventuresome skiers. But apparently that wasn’t enough. Starting this winter, the mountain will offer guided access to the types of faces most people see only in ski movies. To reach them, clients rope up, then rappel as much as 100 feet in and out of couloirs and snowy aprons. The payoff: drops like the Gnar Couloir, a 45-degree, 2,487-foot pitch that’s regularly wind-loaded with three feet of powder ($495, climbing gear included). In the evening, refuel with a Kobe-beef burger at the Pickle Barrel on Main Street, then crash in one of the mountain-view rooms at the Victorian-style Bent Elbow Hotel (doubles from $60).

Don’t be fooled by the charm of this quaint mining town and its miles of perfectly manicured intermediate terrain. The mountain has teeth—particularly in the form of the Gold Hill chutes, the gnarliest of which, Chute Four, should open this season. To ski it, take the Revelation Bowl lift to the top, hike 20 minutes along the Gold Hill Ridge, then drop into the craggy funnel that doglegs left into an open moraine, finishing at the base of Prospect Bowl. For a less hairy option, try Bushwacker, a groomed leg-burner from the top of the Plunge chairlift all the way to the bottom of the mountain. Grab a late lunch of elk sausage with duck confit at Bon Vivant, a new French restaurant at the top of the Polar Queen Express, and crash at the spa-and-outdoor-pool-equipped Peaks Resort (doubles from $149).

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My Perfect Adventure: Michael Brune

As the Sierra Club’s executive director, part of Michael Brune’s job is to confront the corporations that sully our nation’s great untouched places and to meet with lawmakers who have the power to make environmental destruction illegal.

Brune, who grew up on the Jersey Shore, started out as a grassroots organizer for Greenpeace. After working for other eco-organizations, including ForestEthics, he joined the Rainforest Action Network in 1998, as a campaigner. He worked his way up to executive director and served in that position for seven years. In 2008, he wrote Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal, a book about how we can stop relying on fossil fuels and pressure powerful people, especially lawmakers and corporate titans, to change environmental policies for the better.

In early 2010, Brune became the Sierra Club’s sixth executive director, joining an organization whose leadership legacy has included John Muir, Ansel Adams, David Brower, and Wallace Stegner. Brune got to work right away; in 2011, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $50 million to support the Club’s efforts to shut down coal-fired power plants, a huge vote of confidence in Brune’s guidance.

As Brune makes clear in this interview, he believes that a climate solution is imminent. It will involve listening, he says, and commitment to the cause. And not a small dose of optimism and fun: Here, he reveals that his perfect day would involve a tent and his family, that his wife is his role model, and that he might consider trading places with Derek Jeter for a day. He also mulls that if he weren’t doing what he’s doing, he’d very likely be serving up mai tais on some tropical island.

Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
We get a lot of these days, fortunately. I’m with my wife Mary and our kids. The day starts in a tent in the redwoods, on a soft bed of needles. We’d be up in Mendocino or Humboldt County. A long hike, maybe a bracing swim in the ocean, a guilty-pleasure snack (I’m a sucker for Fig Newtons on the trail) and a soft fire at the end of the day. Kids turn in early.

If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
Tough choice, but I’ll go with the Arctic Refuge. It’s one of the few places left on Earth where the landscape is still wild, despite the constant pressures from oil-industry benefactors. Another reason to go: There’s still a few million acres we need to protect.

Where is the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special?
Picking a “best” place is like picking your favorite child. Can’t be done. But as a kid growing up in New Jersey, I had my mind blown the first time I saw the colors and dramatic canyons of the desert Southwest. Never before had I seen such great adventure and beauty so accessible. Mary and I hope to take our kids there later this year.

If you could have lunch with any adventurer or explorer, who would it be and why?
I’ve had lunch with Jim Balog before, but I’d like to do it again. This time we wouldn’t be in an office in downtown San Francisco but on the ice, surrounded by glaciers, under a blinding blue sky. Maybe we’d talk about how glaciers are retreating but smart, creative activism is surging.

What’s something you can’t travel without? And why do you need it?
Optimism. Trust me: In my line of work, one needs a streaming supply of optimism when traveling to meet with corporate CEOs and politicos. And when you’re on the road with young kids, what parent doesn’t need a little optimism?

When you arrive at a new destination, what’s usually first on your agenda?
I unpack everything as quickly as I can, then maybe play some music and stretch. I travel often but don’t want to feel transient, so I use a few tricks to get my feet on the ground. Wherever it is, I want to feel like I’m living there, rather than just staying there.

What motivates you to keep doing the work you do?
So many things, but mostly the fact that we have the solutions to climate change at hand. Many of the world’s problems seem intractable—it’s hard to unlock racism or homophobia or prevent violent conflict. But we have all that we need to stabilize our climate and build a society powered by clean energy. Everything, that is, except enough political will. And that’s what we’re working to build.

As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, do you have any regrets?
I really wanted to be the Yankees starting shortstop. Damn you, Derek Jeter! But I have no regrets. To quote another famous Yankee, I consider myself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” to have a career in which it’s my job to do everything I can to make the world a better place. Though if Jeter wants to try beating up on fossil-fuel companies, I’d be willing to switch for a day or two.

How did you first venture into environmental activism?
Growing up on the New Jersey Shore, I saw firsthand how water pollution made people sick, harmed wildlife, and hammered the local economy. And then I saw how a few dedicated people who organized together to stop waste dumping in the ocean and clean up a toxic plant nearby. I was forever inspired.

What advice you would give to a young activist?
Listen, and respond. It’s the most important thing we can do, not just as activists, but as humans. Make an effort to genuinely understand the hopes of your supporters and the concerns of your opponents, and respond accordingly. Your allies, adversaries, and maybe even your spouse or roommate will thank you.

Who has been your most influential role model? What has he or she taught you?
This might sound corny, but my wife is a powerful role model for me and many others. Mary is the kindest person I know, and she sees the goodness in people so consistently that it’s humbling. She is fierce in her advocacy for the elimination of toxic chemicals but leads with a grace that is inspiring.

Do you have a life philosophy?
I try to bring a little joy and creativity into everything I do.

Have you ever experienced an accident during your travels that made you think twice about getting out there again?
Mary and I were in Maui on our honeymoon. Ignoring the gathering thunderclouds, I left one afternoon to wade solo up a river through a narrow canyon to swim in a beautiful—and pretty hard-to-reach—waterfall. Then the storm hit. I violated about a dozen rules for outdoor safety—and a healthy marriage. Suffice it to say I’m lucky to be here.

If you had to choose a different career, what would it be?
I’m going to have to stick with this career for a little while because the only other thing I can think of is to be a bartender at some sleepy little beachside hut in the South Pacific.

Name three things you still want to cross off your bucket list.
I’d like to hike the full length of California’s legendary John Muir Trail.

I still want to throw out the first pitch someday at Yankee Stadium.

And my work won’t be complete until our power in the U.S. is derived from 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

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Tracking the Great Whites: What We Can Learn From Genie and Mary Lee

For the last couple of months, Charleston, South Carolina’s Post and Courier newspaper has made Lowcountry residents—particularly the divers and surfers—acutely aware that a 16-foot long, 3,465-pound great white shark has been cruising local waters. The shark, nicknamed Mary Lee, was captured and tagged last summer as part of a Cape Cod expedition led by the OCEARCH research team. Since early November, Mary Lee’s GPS tracker has pinged with almost daily frequency as she has cruised and hunted nearshore waters from Jacksonville to Charleston to the beaches of Wilmington, North Carolina. On December 9, Genie, another OCEARCH shark, pinged just off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, proving that Mary Lee’s flukes were no fluke.

Southerners are no strangers to big sharks. In 1964, the world record Tiger shark, a 1,780-pounder, was caught at Cherry Grove, South Carolina’s fishing pier. More recently, the viral video of an assault by a big bull shark on a Myrtle Beach red drum made tidal creekgoers from Capes Hatteras to Canaveral just a little nervous. Still, we southerners are not at all used to great white sharks, and Mary Lee has become a source of regular conversation in the surf lineups from Tybee to Masonboro Island—particularly because surf forecasting and Google mapping are pushing more and more of us to explore remote shoals and outer sandbars along our coastlines.

To satiate a little morbid curiousity, I had a chat with Arnold Postell, senior biologist at the South Carolina aquarium in Charleston. Postell then put me in touch with a colleague—Dr. Salvadore Jorgenson, a research scientist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Jorgenson then suggested I finish the conversation with Dr. Greg Skomal, a biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries who helped tag Genie last summer off Cape Cod.

What follows are excepts from those conversations.

Arnold Postell, senior biologist at The South Carolina Aquarium

There’s a good bit of chatter on the surfing and fishing bulletin boards and in the lineups about Mary Lee and Genie. We don’t usually associate nearshore southeastern waters with great whites.
Not a lot known is known about great whites on the East Coast. The focus has traditionally been on California, Australia, South Africa. But I think that the tagging research that’s been going on may point out another geographic area to study them. It’s been known that they were around here—fishermen would confirm sightings, and we had one that turned up dead off Morris Island a few years ago (2008). So every year, every other year, we might get a sighting. But now that they’re actually being tracked—no one had been seeing these animals—I think what we’re realizing is that offshore in the southeast, our local waters, not even out to the Gulf Stream, might be a wintering spot for great whites. That’s kind of an unknown that we’re figuring out right now.

It’s amazing to see the video footage of the guys standing alongside the sharks on the Ocearch boats, and to realize we share water with a predator of that size.
One take home I’ve had from this is that it’s probably been going on as long as we can think of; we’re just now getting real data about it. So I wouldn’t say it’s a new phenomenon—the phenomenon is that we’re learning about it in real-time while it’s happening. I mean, how many great white attacks have there been in Charleston ever? It’s important to keep that in perpsective. I saw the ping off Kiawah, and Mary Lee is definitely close in, but I think that’s probably been going on all along. I grew up surfing out here too.

With this real-time data out there now, I can’t wait to see where they go and come back. The next few months will be quite telling. Really, this opens up a whole new window of opportunity for researchers to study great whites in the southeast.

They’re known as a more cold-water species. Is it a surprise they’re down here now?
Well, temperature is the big quirk. My first response is no because of the nearshore water temperature (around 55 degrees). It’s pretty cold here now, but in August, you have 80, 85-degree water. So they go back to the northeast. In California, the water’s cold year-round. It’s interesting, if you look at their tracks, they’re not really going out to the Gulf Stream; they’re riding out that cold water channel right on the inside, close to shore. Because 40 miles out at the Gulf Stream, the water’s still 75 degrees.

There’s a good zone of food between the Gulf Stream and shore.
Definitely. I’ve been diving in December—we go out to Charleston 60, a real close-in wreck. One of the best dives I ever had out there, we found hundreds of amberjacks, and 50-plus big bull red drum just in a feeding frenzy over baitfish. Now that folks have GoPros, they’re dropping them to the bottom where they’re fishing. I was watching someone’s footage yesterday—hundreds of black sea bass and sheepshead. So we have plenty of food for a big predator.

Southern North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia is a region called the South Atlantic Bight. It’s one of the least well-known and most diverse fisheries because it gets a great blend between the warm water southern animals and the cold water northern ones. The waters are also very well managed, and that’s not only a benefit for fishermen, but also for sharks.

So we’re obviously not so high on the food list.
They do a lot of research on feeding behavior of great whites—things like using artificial seals for lures. I don’t think great whites go around just biting everything. Some sharks, like bull sharks, people always laugh at the stuff they find in their stomachs. I don’t think great whites fall into that category.

Given the track of Mary Lee, would you think twice about any of the outer shoals and bars as a surfer?
In the summertime, not at all. In the wintertime, I always lean back on—and I don’t want to brush over the fact that we have a 16-foot great white in our waters, but I go back to the fact that they’ve been here all along and we haven’t had those interactions. Now there is one offshore shoal you and I know of in particular—you’re out in the ocean and the water’s a lot clearer. Would I go surfing out there right now? Well, that probably depends on where the last ping was.

Dr. Salvadore Jorgenson, a research scientist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Can you give sort of a general idea of the known and unknowns of great white migratary behavior along the East Coast versus California?
We’ve been studying white sharks a lot longer on the West Coast than the East Coast—we’ve tracked over 100 out here, so the insights we’ve gained might have some relevance on the East Coast, where they’re much less studied. One thing we’ve learned is that the more you look, the more you see them. They move around and are closer to populated areas than we probably expect. The more we tag them and look for them, the more we realize that they’re around. A good example: We’ve known for a long time that white sharks are here around San Francisco, but recently, we’ve been tracking them entering the San Francisco Bay. Well, there are a lot of people who swim out to Alcatraz—open water swimmers—and the Alcatraz swim is fairly popular. So the talk, when people are pulling their bathing caps on is, "Oh yeah, the sharks are probably here," but it was sort of legend until we started to get some data back that, yes indeed, the sharks do come under the bridge and they do swim around Alcatraz. So the take home from that is: I think the last time there was even a shark that bit someone in the area was back in the 1950s at Baker Beach near the Golden Gate, so we’re over 50 years without an attck. But when we put on the tags, we realize that the sharks are swimming around that area—and under the bridge—all the time.

My friends and I have been amazed at how close Mary Lee in particular comes to the beaches here—we even had a 13-foot juvenile die after it beached on Morris Island a few years ago—right by one of our favorite sandbar breaks. That was the first time most anyone here had even heard of great whites in our waters.
I’m a surfer too—I surf out here in California—and when we realize that they’re there, and they’ve been there the whole time we’ve been surfing, you sort of go, Well, okay. On the East Coast, it’s sort of a new finding because they haven’t tagged too many sharks. But the same point I wanted to make is that, from what we’ve learned from sharks on the West Coast but also around New Zealand, part of the year they move into warmer waters. So it’s not really surprising that in the fall they were out off Montauk and then moving south after the winter’s coming on. That’s what they do out there. And those same sharks will probably end up going back up north the following year.

The waters along the shoreline of the East Coast tend to be murkier and shallower than the West Coast. Maybe our hope is that the shallowness of the water or the murkiness will somehow make it less likely that we’ll have a direct encounter.
Well, really, I think they run the whole range. We have sharks in San Francisco Bay where it can be shallow and murky. The Farallon Islands, the waters are much clearer and right along the edge of the Continental Shelf. So I don’t think they display much of a preference either way. Greg Skomal in Massachusetts can talk more about this, but the fact that they’re seeing more sharks on the East Coast seems to be tied to the fact that more seals have been hauling out in the northeast. Of course, here in Central and Northern California, where they haul out, we have a lot of sharks too.

Really as a surfer, I consider it more dangerous to actually drive to the beach than actually being in the water. But there’s this morbid fascination—the idea that you’re not in control. That there’s this larger, wild animal that could get you. You don’t feel that way driving a car, but it’s many, many times more dangerous to drive than to paddle out.

Dr. Greg Skomal, a biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

Dr. Jorgenson pointed out that we know far less about the movements and habits of white sharks on the East Coast than most other so-called hot spots around the world.
It’s true. The bottom line is that we don’t know a lot about this particular species in the Atlantic. Up here on the northeast coast, we’ve known that in the summer months you can find lots of blue sharks. More recently we’re finding the same is true of white sharks. There’s a changing dynamic up here, and in the last few years we’ve had unprecedented access to these animals, and that’s let us put tags on them.

Because of the increase in seal populations?
Like many other parts of the world, we’ve had a restoration of the seal population up here—a high seal abundance and thus a high predator abundance. They’re being drawn in close to Cape Cod. We’ve tagged 34 sharks in the last four years, but the ones that get the most attention are the ones that are tagged by OCEARCH because you can track them in real-time.

It’s nothing really new that they do occur off the southeastern coast in the winter, but what’s bringing it home to people is the fact that it’s now being brought to them live so to speak. They’ve been there, but they’re just not a conspicuous species. Not a lot are caught. They keep to themselves and don’t spend a lot of time very close to shore—they tend to stay a few miles out. You don’t have seals piled up on the beaches like we do up here, which draws them up on the shoreline. Off the southeast, they’re shifting gears, to feed on porpoises, dolphins, and big drum and amberjack. And they love to scavenge dead right whales.

I guess it’s as much an issue of being comfortable in your ignorance than when you can see them right there on the screen—right offshore.
Folks up here have said, "Jeez, I felt a lot more comfortable when I didn’t know these things were around." Some don’t like to surf up here in the summer because it’s a psychological issue. We haven’t had an attack on a surfer ever, but last year we did have an attack on a swimmer. Up here, because the seals are drawn right up on the beach, those fears may be a little more founded than yours.

The other tags you’ve put on sharks have been done without actually capturing them. But you helped tag Genie, the shark that pinged off Savannah, by getting her aboard the OCEARCH platform. The video of that capture was remarkable.
That was my first time tagging a shark that way. It was amazing. It’s probably the same feeling you would have looking at really big waves. It has to do with how insignificant it makes you feel. We put big, black towels over their eyes to keep them calm. Then, to see an animal in excess of 2,000, 3,000 pounds before your eyes, just laying there, docile like a big old St. Bernard, and being able to tag it, take tissue samples, test for parasites. It’s just remarkable.

How long is it safe to keep them on the platform?
Nobody wants to push it. OCEARCH is conservative. They say no more than 15 minutes. You could probably push it to half an hour, 45 minutes and the shark would be fine, but nobody wants to do that.

Are these eastern sharks as battle scarred as the ones you see out west?
We’re just finishing up some research that indicates that this species may live 70 to even 100 years. So these are big, old animals. You think of any big, old animal that’s dealt with the elements and survival—even though they’re the top dogs in the ocean, there are other top dogs, too. And every time a shark goes after prey it’s taking a risk. So they’re going to be scarred up. I’ve been down in a cage with them and it’s like looking at an old Navy veteran—like Quint in Jaws—where you look at them and sort of ask, Wow, where did you get that scar?

Any surprises to you in the movements of these Eeastern sharks?
Well, almost all the information is new, and that’s the beauty of it. One of the things we found out from early tagging in 2009 and 2010—we knew that white sharks spend winters off the coast, anywhere from southern North Carolina down as far as Cape Canaveral. The classic thinking was that they move off the northeast and then to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and then Florida, but in fact, the movement is not linear at all. Mary Lee—she moves from Georgia to South Carolina in a few days and just goes back and forth. It’s almost a random movement, and we’re just learning about all of it as we go along.

Chris Dixon is author of Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth. He is more afraid of big sharks than big waves, but just barely.

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The Power of EPO: Debunking the Flawed 'British Journal' Study

By now, you’ve seen the headlines: “EPO Doesn’t Boost Performance.” That’s right: In the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, researchers reported that “there is no scientific basis to conclude rHuEPO has performance enhancing properties in elite cyclists.” But should you believe them?

We could answer that question with anecdotal evidence—Outside’s own Stuart Stevens dabbled with EPO for a story and found it to be incredibly effective—but we turned to Dr. Michael J. Joyner, a physician-researcher and one of the world’s leading experts on human performance and exercise physiology for his take.

“This thing is nuts,” he says. “It’s correct about only one thing: There are essentially no studies on really, really elite people.” In other words: Don’t go reinstating Lance Armstrong into the pantheon just yet. 

So where did the study go wrong? It goes back to basic exercise physiology and the science of how races are won, Joyner says. The researchers don’t understand the relationship between VO2 max—your body’s maximum ability to consume oxygen, or your “performance ceiling”—and other metrics like lactate threshold, a key predictor of endurance performance, Joyner says.

(In the context of cycling, a five-minute-long pursuit would best correspond to a VO2 max effort, while a 60-minute time trial would closely match your lactate threshold.)

After reviewing the existing literature on EPO, the researchers found that a doping regimen can lead to between a 7 and 9.7 percent increase in VO2 max, with an “increase in performance estimated by a time-to-exhaustion test of ... 9.4 percent (versus 1.5 percent in placebo-treated subjects) and 16.6 percent in trained subjects.”

Here’s how: EPO is a naturally-produced hormone that regulates red blood cell production. Red blood cells happen to carry oxygen, the delivery of which is a limiting factor in endurance performance. More EPO means more red blood cells which means a faster you.

The researchers actually pointed all of this out, but they weren’t convinced that EPO would have an effect on race-day performance because “cyclists only work a small amount of time at their peak intensities,” they wrote. 

That was mistake number one, Joyner says. Even if most racing happens well below VO2 max territory, the racing that matters—mountain-top finishes and time trials—happen much closer to VO2 max. Mistake number two: Ignoring that boosting your VO2 max can lead to other benefits, such as a jump in your lactate threshold. “They don’t realize that your lactate threshold is a percentage of your VO2 max,” he says. “If your LT [lactate threshold] normally is 80 percent of VO2 max, and your VO2 max goes up, it’s 80 percent of a higher number. Your performance improves.”

What about a real world example? Luckily for us, Captaintbag—a mysterious cycling blogger—has done the math. The numbers are solid, and based around one very basic relationship, Joyner says. Haemoglobin—a protein which carries oxygen—and your VO2 max are naturally linked. Captaintbag can estimate the changes in a rider’s haemoglobin based on how much EPO he is taking (or blood he is transfusing). From there, he can predict the rider’s new VO2 max and threshold power. In other words, he can tell you how quickly a rider can race clean, and on the program.

The numbers are startling. In one example, Captaintbag looked at the power output of domestic pro cyclist Brad Huff and put him on three simulated doping programs—a very-low dose that probably wouldn’t get you caught, a medium-dose (which might also fly under the radar), or a high “Postal” dose. 

The results: From putting out 4.875 watts/kg at threshold, Huff could see his numbers rise to 5.25 watts/kg on the very-low dose program, 5.44 watts/kg on the medium dose, and 5.74 watts/kg on the “Postal” program—up to a 17 percent increase. “Presumming that he’d still be wurth [sic] a damn after 4hrs/ he’s not quite winning GTs [grand tours like the Tour de France]/ he’s a sprinter anyways/ but its [sic] a likely ticket to europe [sic],” Captaintbag writes in verse.

THE BOTTOM LINE: There’s no denying that EPO enhances performance. In fact, it can turn low-level pros into world class riders.

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