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Local versus Online: The Modern Ski Shop

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The smell of melting wax floats on the air as a creaking door opens. A warm, usually cramped, space sits before you. Kids are wobbling around in rental boots, men and women are drooling over the well-lit ski wall, the shop crew is speckled about talking boots, bindings, skis and outer layers.  A guy from the back shop gets handed skis to tune and a six pack for a tip. Welcome to a local, independent ski shop.

Each ski shop has its unique culture and specialties, but there always seems to be a similar essence.  Specialty ski shops are still integral parts of the outdoor industry, but many are questioning their place in the world of online shopping and the REIs of the world.

“It’s about the human experience.” That is the secret to a successful independent ski shop according to Martin Volken owner of Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA.  His store’s ethos is ‘authentic mountain culture,’ and it has served well since the shop celebrated its 25 Anniversary this last October.

The outdoor market has vastly changed since he opened his doors in the early 90’s. The retail landscape is mainly crowded with online giants like backcountry.com and big box stores like REI. If you can get skis delivered to your door these days, why take the time to go to a specialty retailer?

So, how have shops changed and evolved in this changing landscape? I spoke with three different professionals in the industry: Luke Morris, Ben Wallace, and Mike Yost. I value Luke’s input because after years in his shop, LB Snow, he moved on to work at Voile Backcountry Manufacturing, and currently, works with backcountry.com.  Ben runs the La Familia program for Evo, which partners with specialty retail stores in the outdoor industry.  Mike manages Martin Volken’s iconic ski shop Pro Ski and Mountain Service.

From Local Shop to Online Giant

Let’s begin with Luke; he knows all sides. Growing up in Breckenridge, Co Luke started tuning skis as a freshman in high school. After college Luke tuned skis in his basement. Eventually, he and his roommate, David Bosler, created LB Snow in Missoula, Montana.  Luke left his business in Missoula moving to head up the sales department at Voile and now landed at backcountry.com

From their basement, Luke and David made a successful ski shop, split board shop

Luke Morris tuning at LB Snow in the Spring of 2014. Photo by Hilary Morris
Luke Morris tuning at LB Snow in the Spring of 2014. Photo by Hilary Morris

, and backcountry shop. As I spoke with Luke, he continually came back to one primary element—it’s all about the customers.  Luke himself grew up finding the best online sales and scrounging together pro deals. The community needs a shop aware of that client.  His passion was tuning skis over retail—hands on working with customers.  Above what he did and sold was a culture, an attitude. He explains his shop as the blue collar side of the ski industry; he was the everyman’s laborer.  “I wasn’t finding very welcoming shops; there was a lot of attitudes. We wanted a space where everyone felt comfortable from the mom outfitting her kids to the avid backcountry skier and split boarder.”

Rather than pushing away online purchasers Luke and David created their business around that consumer. Luke says their success came by establishing a strong customer base. Once they created relationships, customers trust his business and spread the word.  Incidentally, that is now Luke’s job at backcountry.com. He creates a customer base so a consumer can have a personal relationship with an online company.   As I spoke with Luke, he expressed how specialty retailers embody and indeed drive the culture, in this case, skiing and riding culture.

La Familia and Evo

Like backcountry.com, the online outdoor landscape is also propelled by Evo. For me, living in Washington, Evo is a household name.  Washington, on its accord, between Evo and REI, is a driving cultural force in the outdoor industry. Evo created the program La Familia. They partner with specialty retailers in different communities. Customers have their goods delivered to a local shop rather than their home. They also can order from an Evo kiosk at these local stores.  LB Snow is a partner, and Pro Ski and Mountain Service just joined the program this fall.

evo Seattle Photo from evo.com
Evo Seattle Photo from evo.com

I asked Ben about the motivation behind the program. “A big inspiration for creating La Familia came from witnessing the high percentage of customers requesting to buy online at evo.com, and pick up in-store at one of our locations in Seattle, Portland, and Denver. Through this we’ve learned that customers choose to pick up in-store for many reasons, including secure shipping, ability to try on and get fit questions answered, have product service work done, and receive the in-person experience and service that is missing from an online only transaction.” It’s the human interaction, the connection, the culture we seem to crave in outdoor shops.

At Evo, they believe working with small specialty retailers is a great way to serve the customer.  Learning about and understanding new products is hard to do online, but easy while chatting in a shop.  For the next generation in this industry, Evo sees a necessity to partner with shops for the benefit of the customer and the industry.

Ben continues to explain, “We see a strong need for both online and specialty retail, with each side able to offer something to the customer that the other side can’t. Evo can provide an online experience that many of our partners can’t, and our partners can offer the in-person experience in areas where we can’t. Both are important to the customer.” What I believe Luke and Ben both hit on is an acceptance and excitement about the evolving industry.  Rather than bemoan online shopping as the death of the small business, they both believe that small business and online business have a part in this industry.  Of course, the advent of online shopping and big box stores has hurt a lot of small businesses. Like most things in this world, it is better to move forward and create something new.

The local ski shop: Pro Ski and Mountain Service

This brings us back to Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA.  Martin Volken started this business in Seattle in 1991.  With 25 years of business and an addition of a guiding service, it has stood up to the evolving ski industry. Martin himself is a household name in the ski and mountaineering community.  Again, as much as Evo and REI are driving forces in the culture, this small shop has a key place. In this small ski shop and those around the country like it, there is an authenticity that cannot be ignored.  Large stores can drive the culture. It begins and is cultivated in the small local gathering space that lives and breathes what they sell.

Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA with Mt. Si covered in snow in the background. Photo Credit Hilary Morris
Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA with Mt. Si covered in snow in the background. Photo Credit Hilary Morris

Mike Yost, who manages the shop, gives insight into the success of this small business. Other than horrible snow years, the business has been growing for the past 25 years, even as the market has vastly changed.  He attributes a lot of this to their backcountry niche.

With the popularity of backcountry continually growing, Mike sometimes wonders if it is a bubble.  Mike notices, though, anyone who gets out there and starts skiing and split boarding in the backcountry gets hooked.  It doesn’t seem like a trend that is going anywhere.

Mike explains it well, “alpine skiing is easy [to understand], backcountry ski touring is nuanced.”  There is only so much you can learn online about the aspects of touring.  Skins are hard to decide on and have a bad reputation, tech bindings are bizarre, not to mention the wall of touring boots to choose from.  Then, of course, you have transceivers, books for route planning, and different types of tech clothing.  It is hard to even to understand what goes into ski touring, let alone get outfitted for it, without a shop.  A lot of ski shops focus on alpine skiing. Martin and Mike make sure their employees are knowledgeable about backcountry gear.

In the end, it also comes down to culture.  Both Martin and Mike present an attitude of stoke and excitement for the outdoors whether you are renting your first ski set up or have been avid in the backcountry for years.  They focus on being the community ski shop, while also being the backcountry specialty store in Washington.  People come into the store and feel comfortable enough to ask the basics. They also know they will get answers for the intricacies of the industry.

The small store is about having the niche, but also the culture and the atmosphere.  As Luke says, it is not a place where you should be getting an attitude.  What makes these stores special is their knowledge plus their acceptance of all customers.

These three guys encouraged me about the direction of the industry.  The online world of sales will always be prevalent and a threat to small businesses.  There is a way for these two pillars of the industry to have a symbiotic relationship.  I think the threat pushes small stores to be drivers of the culture, and it also asks big online retailers how best they can serve their customer.  Either way, it all comes down to what Martin Volken tag-lined during his stores recent anniversary. It’s about authentic mountain culture.

SBM Holiday Outdoor Gift Ideas

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Let SBM ease some of the burden of the season with our outdoor gift ideas.  Tis the season for REI gift cards and boxes of Clif Bars you say?  We here at SBM say Bah Humbug – Tis the season to rock the outdoor gift ideas and let that special outdoor someone know just how much you care!

With Black Friday and the even more ominous Cyber Monday just around the corner, it is time to make your list and check it twice.  This year we thought we would let you in on a little outdoor adventurer secret…we like gifts, actual gifts, not just the kind used at the checkout.  For the first time in the history of Seattle Backpackers Magazine, the somewhat skeptical, always creative, super knowledgeable contributors of SBM have come together to give you some hints on great holiday outdoor gift ideas to stuff in your special someone’s stocking this year.

Holiday Outdoor Gift Ideas Under $$

Gifts for your outdoor enthusiast don’t have to break the bank.  Here are some amazing outdoor gift ideas that will show your adventurers you know what makes their blood rush while still leaving you cash to buy groceries.

Nuun Hydration

outdoor gift ideasWhen you are adventuring, hydration is important business.  Nuun makes great tasting electrolyte replacement tablets that are light weight and easily packed on short or long expeditions.  Electrolytes play a key function in maintaining fluid balance, preventing muscle cramping, and aids in muscle contractions and movement.  Most electrolyte powders or pre-made drinks are packed with sugar, the innovative effervescent technology, plant-based ingredients, and lack of sugar in nuun makes it a great choice for your outdoor enthusiast.  Single containers or variety box sets are available.

SOL Survival Kits

outdoor gift ideaHere is a hint; most outdoor enthusiasts skimp on first aid and survival gear – boneheads! Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL) makes compact inexpensive excellent survival gear that experienced adventurers can use.  Check out one of the many emergency blankets, survival kits, or compact first aid kits all under $25.  These kits are packed full of items that are absolute necessities in emergency situations and just plain nice to have when you are exploring the outdoors.  These are the items your loved ones will not buy for themselves, do them a favor and show you understand their outdoor itch and want them to come back safe.

Recover Brand Eco-Friendly Performance Wear

outdoor gift ideasWhat do eight empty plastic bottles get you?  A great looking performance Tee!  This is the perfect gift for the eco-concerned person on your list…or anyone that needs an awesome performance Tee.  Recover apparel uses 100% recycled materials (post consumer PET and post industrial cotton).  The shirts are awesome moisture-wicking performance wear that can go from the woods to the gym and everywhere in between.

Cairn Outdoor Gift Box

outdoor gift ideaCairn makes it easy to give the gift of the outdoors to the adventurers on your list.  This is a subscription program, so you gift a Cairn box to someone and each month a box arrives packed with personalized outdoor gear or themed products.  A questionnaire is used to tailor the products to the interests of the recipient.  The products are high quality and useful…and who doesn’t like getting a package every month!

Holiday Outdoor Gift Ideas for $$$

So you have a few extra dollars in the budget this year, or maybe this is the year you eat Ramen for a month so you can buy cool holiday gifts for your friends and loved ones.  Whatever your situation, these gifts may cost a few extra ducats, but the smiles will be worth it.

Tentsile Tree Tent

outdoor gift ideaThis may be one of the coolest outdoor products currently made.  Tentsiles are hanging tents, yes awesome hanging tents like something out of a Sci-Fi movie.  Tentsile Tree Tents were conceived as treehouses that you can take anywhere. The Tentsile tent has an attaching system that makes the floor semi-ridged even when suspended by tress.  It is simply something you have to experience to believe.  Models come in several sizes and are not for the ultra-light crowd.  If you decide to gift a Tentsile, order early, these popular tents go fast.

ThermaCELL Heated Insole

outdoor gift ideaHeated wearable technology has increased in function and comfort in recent years.  ThermaCELL makes a rugged heated insole for those on frigid outdoor adventures.  The insole will keep your feet warm with a rechargeable heater housed in a durable flexible polyurethane insole.  Control the temperature with a remote to keep your feet comfortable in changing temperatures and levels of exertion.  The insoles can be customized to fit different boot sizes and individual preference.  This is a great gift idea that many outdoor adventurers would not think to buy.  Nothing says “love” like warm feet!

Casio Expedition Watch

outdoor gift ideaCasio has long been known for making bombproof watches.  The new ProTrek line combines that indestructible construction with expedition features that are a must for extended adventures into wild places.  Most adventurers hesitate to spend a lot of money on a watch, but they will be over joyed that you cared enough to gift them the very best in outdoor technology.  One of the best features of this watch is the incredible solar battery that lasts for seven months on a single full charge and can be charged with everything from sunlight to a headlamp.  The watch is packed full of features you need on an expedition; barometer, altimeter, compass, thermometer, stopwatch, sunrise/sunset data, world time, and multi-band atomic timekeeping.

Contributor’s Top Picks

These experienced adventures have racked their collective brains to offer you unique outdoor gift ideas.  Find out what these outdoor experts think you should put under the tree this year.

Liz Forster:  Glacier Stainless Nesting Wine Glass

outdoor gift idea

One of my favorite drinks during the holiday season is mulled wine. It combines the citrus and spice of a great cranberry sauce and the comfort of a hot drink. What better place to drink mulled wine then the backcountry? With the Glacier Stainless Nesting Wine Glass, you and your loved ones will never have to make that compromise.

outdoor gift ideaSarah Vaughn:  ENO Twilights LED String Lights

outdoor gift idea

I don’t know about you, but I love to decorate. So when I learned I could be jazzing up my campsites with a set of string lights, I was ecstatic. ENO offers a variety of colored lights that are battery powered, 120 inches long, and packable into a tiny pouch perfect for creating that unique ambiance in any outdoor situation. Coming in at under $20, they are easy on the wallet and would make a great gift for practically anyone on your shopping list.

outdoor gift idea

 

dutch franz:  Outdoor Books

outdoor gift ideas

You never know when the winter weather will keep you couch or tent bound.  For times when you can’t get into the wild, my outdoor gift ideas include amazing adventure themed books for all abilities and interests.

Hiking Washington’s Pacific Crest Trail guidebook breaks down Washington’s portion of the PCT into sections and legs that renowned guidebook writer Tami Asars took years to document.  Each leg is illustrated with a detailed relief map that will tell you much of what you need to know at a quick glance; mileage, water source, trail numbers, camp sites, and elevation gain/loss are all at your fingertips.  Sections itineraries are also suggested to help you plan your time on the trail.

Woman’s guide to the wild.  As the outdoors increasingly becomes a mystery to our screen bound society, Ruby McConnel writes a practical guide to all the secrets of the wild that beginners need to know.  This woman’s outdoor guide is humorous, conversational, and packed with vital outdoor skills and tips.  Reading it is like having a lively chat with your best friend at your favorite coffee shop.  Everything from how to start a fire, to how to handle hygiene on the trail, Ruby covers it all with humor and humility.

Good food for outdoor adventures.  Food is important, especially in the outdoors where weather and exertion can put the body in a diminished capacity to perform.  Beyond the physical need to fuel the body, food is also an important aspect of positive mental attitude and resiliency in the wild.  Tanya Krezevska understands the importance good food in outdoor adventures and has written a wonderful and informative trail recipe book for the rest of us.

outdoor gift idea

 

Kristin Wuhrman:  The Perfect Survival Kit & Fun Necessities for the Backcountry Female

kristen

Dark Chocolate Varieties
A cute hiking skirt
FUD (Female Urination Device) like GoGirl or SheWee
Feminine Disposable Wipes (urine issues solved)Action Wipes (no need to shower)
Body Glide for Her for Chafed Areas
A cute Buff! Create a head scarf! It works great for hiding dirty hair, preventing food contamination, and keeping the bugs at bay while preparing or cleaning up a meal.

 

Jonathan Burnham:  Kickr Snap Bike Trainer

outdoor gift ideaDon’t let rainy Seattle stop you from riding! The new Kickr Snap Bike Trainer from Wahoo Fitness is ready to take your indoor training to another world, literally. This smart trainer allows you to ride in virtual locations with programs like Zwift and Bkool. These virtual programs automatically adjust the tension to simulate hills, weather and even drafting! Some of the important features are ANT+ connection for reliable power measurements, electromagnetic resistance for a super quiet ride, ultra-stable stand, wireless updates to continue to bring you the best performance and compatibility with iOS, Andriod, PC (Mac & Windows). The SNAP’s legendary flywheel also gives you that real road feeling, making it a much more realistic experience when you’re cranking out the watts. The Kickr Snap is a real game-changer for your training, don’t let this winter’s goals slip away due to soggy weather and get after it.

outdoor gift idea

 

Stocking Stuffer Bonus:

Muscle Roller/Trigger Stick: Show your beloved fitness gurus that you really care by helping them recover faster and stronger. Trigger point sticks are great for working out all the knots and tight spots after a long day of charging and you can easily find one for under $20 on Amazon.

 

Melissa Farage:  Umbrella Hat – Seriously

outdoor gift idea

In the great Pacific Northwest, we spend a disproportional amount of time trying to figure out how to stay dry in the lovely liquid sunshine. In our efforts to stay dry, there are always trade-offs. If you wear a raincoat, you’ll soak through from condensation. If you hike with an umbrella, you’re stuck holding it for hours on end. Make your loved one’s day by giving them the option to stay dry – hands free! With an umbrella hat they can enjoy all the benefits of the umbrella – superb ventilation, superior coverage and exceptional style – without the hassle of having to carry it all day. Why wait? Take a new spin on an old staple with the umbrella hat today. Give your loved one an unforgettable gift this holiday season!

outdoor gift idea

Book Review – Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

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Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Washington:  Section Hiking from the Columbia River to Manning Park
By Tami Asars
286 pp. Available through Mountaineers Books for $24.95

hiking the pacific crest trail

Tami Asars is quickly becoming one of the Northwest’s most cherished guidebook writers.  Her latest work will serve as the definitive source for anyone considering hiking Washington’s section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  What makes Tami’s work so great is that she takes her years of experience as a former REI guide and brings that detailed knowledge and expertise to her guidebooks.  She knows what you need to know and what questions you will have before you ever think to ask.  Want to know the reliable water sources between Hope Lake and Stevens Pass?  Tami will show you.  Want to know where to find the best pastries on earth after a long day on the trail?  Tami will give you directions (here is a hint… p. 185).

Tami provides exceptional detail and is a thorough researcher.  Her Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail guidebook breaks down Washington’s portion of the PCT into sections and legs that Tami took years to document.  Each leg is illustrated with a detailed relief map that will tell you much of what you need to know at a quick glance; mileage, water source, trail numbers, camp sites, and elevation gain/loss are all at your fingertips.  Sections itineraries are also suggested to help you plan your time on the trail.

The book is full of guide tricks and knowledge only gained when you lead people around in the wilderness for a living.  She quickly and easily demystifies the web of rules, permits, and land management agencies you encounter on the trail.  She also provides advice and helpful hints about camping spots during busy seasons along the trial.  Besides this very specific advice, Tami also gently reminds you of trail etiquette and hygiene considerations.

While Tami’s book it packed full of must-have PCT knowledge and entertaining writing, the information is not the only reason to purchase the book.  Tami is also an accomplished professional photographer and her book is beautifully illustrated by her own photos.  Glimpse into the wild through Tami’s lens and see the sights you can hope to see when you take your own journey on Washington’s PCT.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Tami Asars is a Washington based writer and photographer. Her latest guidebook – Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is available through Mountaineers Books.

Future PCT publications by Mountaineers Books

hiking the pacific crest trail

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Eli Boschetto (January 2017)

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California by Phillip Kramer (Fall 2017)

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California by Shawnte Salabert (Fall 2017)

Glamping Hub

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By: Jessica Armstrong

Glamping Hub

glamping-hub-washington-1

Saying hello to winter and goodbye to summer, is not so hard when campers and travelers can still take advantage of the amazing areas to explore in the PNW. In an area with such a close access to nature and adventure, there is no better time than the present to begin planning this holiday season’s once-in-a-lifetime getaway with family and friends!

glamping-hub-washington-2
So why not finally try glamping? Trade in your store-bought tent for a luxury tree house, or your small metal campfire for stone-built fireplace. By visiting Glamping Hub, a unique portal full of hand-picked glamping destinations around the world, roughin’ it just got a whole lot more glamorous. Make life easier and avoid searching through endless websites to find the perfect accommodation, when Glamping Hub allows travelers to easily browse through a variety of collections featuring Washington’s most one-of-a-kind glamping retreats. Treehouses, safari tents, cabins, yurts, Airstreams, and more, there is an accommodation to fit one’s every desire for the perfect glamping outdoor experience throughout the PNW.

glamping-hub-washington-3
Glampers now also have the option to browse through a variety of stunning pet-friendly accommodations on their new portal, Glamping with Pets. Being able to enjoy a closeness to nature with a four-legged friend, whilst benefiting from the five-star amenities, ordinarily found at any high-end resort, makes for a trip of a lifetime.

 

It’s never too late to start making your holiday wish list, and after browsing through the collections of Washington and PNW getaways, glampers are sure going to wish that the gift of glamping makes their Christmas list.

Five North Cascades Fall Destinations You Can’t Miss

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North Cascades Fall Destinations
Looking for great North Cascades fall destinations? Nothing beats the historic town of Stehekin for fall adventure. Photo by John Chao, courtesy of The National Park Service.

Before the winter snow (and cold rain) starts to make outdoor excursions more a practice of survival than outdoor recreation, checkout Washington’s North Cascades region for wild recreation, wine tasting, and magnificent sightseeing opportunities.  The North Cascades National Park serves as the recreational hub, but outside the park the area comes alive with magical experiences from the wild to the refined.  Come with Seattle Backpackers Magazine as we take a tour of the area, stopping to highlight some of the special places adventurers can find in this gem of the northwest.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 1:  Mount Baker

Starting our trip in the north and approximately 31 miles east of Bellingham, Wash., you will find picturesque Mount Baker.  At 10,781 ft., Baker is one of many active volcanos in the Cascade Range and the second most active after Mount Saint Helens.  The mountain is a favorite of climbers, hikers, and snow sport enthusiasts.  Baker offers downhill skiing in the winter months with the season normally running from late November to early spring.  When ski season is over, the mountaineers arrive to attempt one of the premier alpine climbing experiences in the Northwest.  Hikers and backpackers can enjoy the unspoiled wilderness and dramatic fall colors throughout November. White water rafting is also available in the area on the Nooksack River.  Stop at the Glacier Public Service Center to plan your trip into the northern reaches of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

North Cascades fall destinations
Fire lookouts are a part of Washington’s history. Let your North Cascades fall destinations take you to some of the region’s best views. Copper Ridge Fire Lookout, photo courtesy of The National Park Service.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 2:  North Cascades Scenic Byway (Highway 20)

They say “getting there is half the fun,” and with the North Cascades Scenic Byway this is true. After enjoying Mount Baker, head south and catch the North Cascades Scenic Byway.  The byway winds 140 miles from Sedro-Woolley to Twisp and is part of the 400 mile scenic Cascade Loop.  Stop at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount for the latest conditions and for help planning your fall adventure.  Continuing east, skirt the translucent green waters of Ross Lake before heading up into the mountains and awe-inspiring views of rock spires, hanging valleys, waterfalls, and alpine glaciers that give this area the nickname, the “North American Alps.” Reaching the high desert of the Methow Valley, enjoy all types of outdoor recreation, charming restaurants, and vibrant nightlife.  The byway is a favorite with cyclists looking to test themselves on the steep inclines.  Many of the popular hiking and climbing routes in the area start on trailheads adjacent to the byway.   This road truly traverses wild places and is therefore a seasonal road.  Check the latest travel advisories because the byway closes in late November when heavy snow hits the pass.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 3:  Ross Lake

Our next stop is the Ross Lake National Recreation Area for fall kayaking, camping, and a visit to the famous Ross Lake Resort.  Ross Lake is approximately 20-miles long from Ross Dam in Washington State to southern British Columbia.  Enjoy off-season quiet and watching the changing colors from the seat of your kayak or canoe.  Kayaking and canoeing are popular fall activities on the lake and the area features 19 boat-in campsites available along the shores for adventurous paddlers with a backcountry camping permit.  There is no direct road access to the Ross Lake; canoes, kayaks, and other portable craft can be launched on Diablo Lake and paddled five miles to the end of the lake and then ported over a mile around Ross Dam (that will get your heart pumping!).  Visitors can also hike to Ross Lake or take the Diablo Ferry.  Ross Lake Resort provides portage and water taxi service on the lake and rents out small power boats, canoes, and kayaks.  The resort was established around 1952 from an old floating logging camp.  The resort offers 12 individual cabins and three bunkhouses built on log floats. Guests can enjoy the scenic mountain views and kayak from their front door at this one-of-a-kind remote resort. Accommodations are available by reservation from mid-June to October 31, so put this destination on your list for next year.

North Cascades fall destinations
Kayaking Ross Lake is one of the fun North Cascades fall destinations for the whole family. Photo courtesy of The National Park Service.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 4:  Methow Valley Towns

Continuing down the North Cascades Scenic Byway will take travelers through Mazama, Winthrop, and Twisp.  These towns serve as the cultural and recreational hubs of the North Cascades.  Mazama is on the Methow trail system and near well-maintained rock climbing routes.  Mazama is a popular stop year-round to fuel-up with great food and supplies at the Mazama Store while cross-country skiing, mountain biking, fishing, or hiking the Pasayton Wilderness.  Pedal power is a great way to enjoy fall colors, bike rentals are available in Mazama along with outdoor supplies and friendly local advice about the best places to go. The Old West town of Winthrop is next on the list of stops.  Winthrop has great restaurants and eclectic shops.  Outdoor gear and bikes can be purchased or rented at many of the outfitters that call Winthrop home.  Finally, at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow Rivers is the town of Twisp.  Twisp is home of a thriving artistic community that draws inspiration from the region’s natural beauty.  Stop for lunch and watch the golden leaves sway in the breeze on the banks of the Methow River.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 5:  Lake Chelan

Our tour ends at Stehekin, the quiet lake town nestled into the headwaters of Lake Chelan.  The remote town is connected to the outside world by foot, boat, or float plane.  The journey to Stehekin is part of the charm and ensures a quintessential North Cascades experience.  Early settlers established homesteads in Stehekin in the late 1800s and engaged in logging and agriculture.  Today there are several lodges and restaurants in town and approximately 78 campsites.  Free backcountry passes are required for most campsites; check with the Golden West Visitor Center for details.  Stehekin serves as a hub to explore the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and offers hikes for all abilities.  Visitors can also rent bikes and kayaks in town and even go horseback riding.  No trip to Stehekin is complete without visiting the Stehekin Pastry Company for amazing pies and cinnamon rolls. While it is possible to hike into the town, most visitors arrive on the Lady of the Lake ferry from Chelan.  Lake Chelan is over 50-miles long and the third deepest lake in the United States.  The lake hosts all types of water sports and fishing and is a great fall destination.  After a day hiking and taking in the fall colors, try one of Lake Chelan’s 24 shore side wineries and enjoy placid lake views while sipping some of the best wines in the country.

Intro to Ski Touring

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ski touring
Read the four things you need to know about ski touring in the Pacific Northwest. Find out where to go and where to get gear for your excursion.  Photo Source: galleryhip.com

Is this the year you start ski touring?  As the weather cools, the leaves change, and the clouds roll in, true PNW folk delve into the joys of fall.  A sense of festivity floats in the air this time of year.  We enjoy long drives full of dark colors, excessive coffee consumption, apple pie, and pumpkin picking.  Yet, for many of us, excitement is building behind all the fall fun—snow is on its way.

Skiers and snowboarders live by anticipating snow.  Our sport is based solely on what Ullr decides to give us, and we wait with open hearts praying to snowboard bonfires and shots of whiskey…please, please bring snow and bring lots.

Ultimately, we are all looking towards the upcoming season and new adventures to pursue. Are you tired of weekend lift lines and the same old runs? Maybe this is the year you step into ski touring.  That leap is not always easy, so here are four basics to get you started.

Four Basics for Ski Touring

  1. What you need. There are a few key items to get into the backcountry. First, you need skis and bindings that tour.  These range from alpine like bindings that transform into touring bindings to something called a tech binding.  The tech binding is significantly lighter, but you need alpine touring specific ski boots.  Either way, you want your ski boots to have a walk mode to avoid blisters and an uncomfortable tour up hill.  You also need skins, which are a synthetic material you attach to the bottom of your skis to glide up the mountain and not slide down.  Finally, if you are going into the backcountry, you always need to have an avalanche beacon, an avalanche shovel, and a probe.
  2. Getting the Gear. It is a lot of new gear to get! To purchase the entire touring kit in one sitting is a large investment.  However, there are a lot of shops around Washington that will rent out this gear for you to try at an affordable price. If you are going to Snoqualmie Pass area or live on the east side, stop by Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend.  They will get you the complete set up. Near West Seattle? Mountain 2 Sound Outfitters will hook you up. Or, are you heading up to Mt. Baker? The Glacier Ski Shop has the goods to get you going. Possibly you live in Seattle, then Second Ascent in Ballard is the place to go. All these shops are local, so feel free to ask them any questions about touring and terrain in the region.  It is a great way to try out touring and shop local!
  3. Education. This year, you want to get away from the crowds and explore the mountains. Just remember, once you leave the secure, avalanche patrolled, ski area ropes, it is up to you and your group to stay safe.  Nature is an elusive, wild, threat, and snow filled mountains present many dangers.  Although this is not to scare you away, every person in the backcountry needs to be aware of the implicit danger that comes with wandering away from ski area boundaries.  Begin by finding a group of people who have experience in the backcountry.  Also, check out an educational book, specifically Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper.  Pick up a copy of this book where you are demoing your gear.  However, the best way to prepare for backcountry skiing is to take an AIARE Level 1 Course (an avalanche safety course).  These are offered throughout the winter by many different organizations. Take a look at the AIARE website to find one that suits you.
  4. Where. You’ve got the gear, you’ve found a group, now where do you go? Start with the side country around the ski area you are most comfortable with. Moreover, it’s always a good idea to pick up a book about backcountry skiing in Washington. One great book to pick up at your local ski shop is Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes-Washington by Martin Volken.  Additionally, there is also 100 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes in Washington by Rainer Burgdofer.  Coupled with Turns All Year, which is a great website for backcountry skiers in the PNW.  It’s always a good idea to have a route plan when heading out, so use these resources to be prepared.

Finally, the most important thing about ski touring?  It’s so fun!  Live the life of fresh untracked lines, solitude in nature, exercise, and joining a community of great people.  Winter is on its way, is this the year to leave the ski area?

ski touring
Photo by Hilary Morris.

 

G-Shock RANGEMAN Master – Gear Review

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The G-Shock RANGEMAN Master or G-GW9400-3 is definitely a niche watch in today’s smartwatch world. Let me start by saying I put this watch through the gauntlet over the past three months, this watch has been with me on some hardcore downhill MTB rides, several triathlons, ice climbing, and a proper backpacking trip in Alaska. Also, as a quick note to give you a better idea of my impressions/judgments, I also currently own a Samsung Gear 2 and a Garmin 735XT.

g-shock rangeman
The G-Shock RANGEMAN took me into the wilds of Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains and helped me get back again.

I broke this review down into five categories, which will give you a good idea of where this watch fits into your collection.

g-shock rangeman1.Style. For a watch built for toughness it is a darn good looking watch. My first impression was it might look like a beast but it isn’t too big and I really do like the look of this watch. I will always choose comfort over style, especially with a piece of gear I need to depend on in the backcountry. Luckily, I don’t have to make any sacrifices with this watch. Casio did a great job making this watch look the part and still be stylish while packing in all the capabilities it has to offer. I especially like the look of the digital compass in the top left-hand corner, that little touch of gold in the face is a subtle accent of style in this rugged build.

2. Features. This is the real reason you’re going to spend the money on this watch: Casio packed this watch full of some very useful and important capabilities. Here are my top five functions on the watch since there are too many functions to cover in detail.

  • Tough Solar Power: You will never need to charge or replace the battery with this watch! How awesome does that sound in today’s world of always looking for somewhere to plug in. Even if you were living in a cave this watch would still last you seven months on a full charge. Having the solar power really makes this watch stand out, especially in the smartwatch era that we are approaching. The last thing I would want is my watch to go dead if I was lost in the wilderness and it isn’t a worry with this watch.
  • Triple Sensor (Altimeter, Barometer, and Thermometer): Super important features to have when you’re headed out on an “epic” in the backcountry. For me, knowing the temperature, altitude, and weather are deciding factors for going forward on a big objective and having that information to make the right decision can be priceless if not life saving in some situations. I found all three functions to work well in the backcountry, the thermometer, of course, got a more accurate reading when off my body.
  • Shock/Mud/Water Resistant: Another strength of this watch is you can beat it up without worrying about it handling your adventure. I took a brutal fall on the downhill bike where I went over the handlebars and the watch didn’t even get a scratch but the rest of my body couldn’t say the same. I also grinded the face against a glacier while ice climbing and the same thing happened, I got some cuts but the watch was good. As for water resistance, I did a lot of open water swimming during triathlons and there was never any issues. I wore this watch when I knew my other watches would not be able to withstand the punishment I was going to be dishing out.
  • Memory Capacity: To be honest, this is a function I didn’t get to dive very deep into but I could see it being a very useful tool on longer trips into the backcountry. Up to 40 records (shared storage with date/time, bearing, and barometric pressure/temperature records). The main reason I did not get too deep into this is because in today’s smartwatch world it is not as simple to use as I would like. It just doesn’t have the technical ecosystem that we’ve grown a custom to.  
  • Digital Compass: A pretty common feature in watches these days but the G-Shock RANGEMAN did a great job of making it clear and easy to use on this watch. It measures and displays direction as one of 16 points with a measuring range from 0 to 359 degrees and a graphic direction pointer with bidirectional calibration and magnetic declination correction. On my last backpacking trip we were off trail and route finding almost the entire time so having a spot on compass was invaluable.

3. Comfort: An important part of every watch and one this one does well. The watch fits great with a ton of length options on the band and it actually feels pretty light. For backpacking, I would rank this watch very high on the comfort level. For the day-to-day use I rank it as just OK. As I mentioned before it got through several triathlons but wasn’t the most comfortable watch I’ve worn for endurance sports. Although, this watch was not made for triathletes and belongs at home in the backcountry.

4. Durability: Another one of the key traits to this watch is it can just take a beating. On the durability side, I don’t know if there is anything I would change, it is a beast.

5. User Friendliness: Here is where the G-Shock RANGEMAN looses a lot of points. I know Casio did not build this watch to compete with all the smartwatches out right now so it’s probably a little unfair to put them in the same category. But with that said, if you are into everything being super intuitive like your smartphone then you might get a little frustrated when setting all the functions up with this watch.

The manual alone might cause some fear but to be fair it wasn’t terribly hard to get the necessary features dialed in.

g-shock rangeman
The user guide for the G-Shock RANGEMAN looks thick, but is easy to navigate.

Should You Buy This Watch? Yes, but only if you plan to be in the backcountry a lot. Sadly, I feel the G-Shock RANGEMAN is a bit outdated when it comes to the intuitive technology we’re accustomed to today. So if you’re looking for an everyday watch, I don’t think this watch is worth the money. For my own personal use, I am excited to have the Master of G-GW9400-3 in my collection but I think it is most likely going to be on the shelf and only come out on the big adventures because that is where this watch shines.

 

Adventures in Yellowstone’s Black Canyon: The Trail to Nowhere

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Yellowstone's Black Canyon
The boneyard on the Hellroaring River in Yellowstone’s Black Canyon.  Photo Source: twoinatent.blog.com

This was one of the most terrifying and exhilarating backpacking experiences of my life. It was my first time in Yellowstone’s Black Canyon, and I was just starting to realize what I’d signed up for.  Sulfur smelling rivers, bones littering the ground, and meandering game trails – just another day in the Yellowstone backcountry.  You may have read Part 1  of this epic tale of adventure and folly, here is the second in this two-part series.  I hope you enjoy.

My morning started by skirting down a cliff brimming with antlers and bones. I followed the buffalo tracks down to the Hellroaring River to filter water. I pumped halfheartedly, scanning the wild Yellowstone River for any signs of buffalo, bears, or stampeding antelope. As a Pacific Northwesterner, whose greatest backpacking fear is finding too few huckleberries, I was a bit out of my element in the Yellowstone wilderness.

I finished filling the water bottles and it was right back up the hill, dodging buffalo patties, to retrieve food for breakfast. I shivered under a set of down jackets and pants while the water steamed to a boil. It was the end of May, after all.

We’d camped at the fork of the Yellowstone and Hellroaring Rivers on our first night at Yellowstone. The Helloraring River, in case you were wondering, smelled appropriately of sulfur and all things demonic. Our tent was pitched on an isolating little outcrop of land, edged by a dropoff on two sides and a rock wall on the third–essentially a natural funnel leading the wildlife right towards campsite 2H2. After a few cups of coffee we packed up our tent, molted our layers and headed out.

We took the same strategy exiting the campsite as we’d used entering. Follow the least dangerous looking game trail. Yes, to avoid the bright eyed, bushy-tailed tourists at Yellowstone, I’d decided that we’d start from the less popular Hellroaring trail. The strategy was a success — so far the only bright eyed creature we’d seen was a buffalo, and the only bushy-tailed creatures around were the snooping foxes.

The one downside to this approach was that signage was a bit lacking. (Or missing all together.)

Yellowstone's Black Canyon
Rolling hills upon rolling hills in Yellowstone’s Black Canyon.

My partner and I picked our way through a quarter mile brimming with hedge bushes and slippery cliffs, finally breaking out into the plains. Grasslands for miles, as far as the eye could see. In wild land like the Yellowstone backcountry, trying to find the actual trail among a lattice of game trails was quite a skill. An important skill.

One that we lacked.

We picked the most traveled trail up the grassy knoll. We knew the trail headed west and this trail seemed like it could take us there. We were just 15 hours and one sleep-deprived night into acclimating to the 7000 ft elevation, which made every step seem deserving of a chapter in our personal memoirs. When we made it to the top, all we could see was a second hill to climb and a tangle of reasonable-looking trails leading the way.

A sea of hills beyond that. A network of convoluted game trails.

At this point I’d kill to see a tourist.

A decent climb and several uneducated guesses later, we finally stumbled onto the Yellowstone River Trail. At this point, our standard for the Yellowstone River Trail was just a narrow strip of dirt cut deep into the grasslands. Sometimes, there’s no shame in settling.

Dutifully, we followed. We meandered through the grasses, soaking in incredulous views of Hellroaring Mountain as we climbed higher onto the plateau. The grasslands brimmed with sunshine, speckled with sage hedges. It was spectacular. Not a tourist in sight. I was proud of my choice.

Yellowstone's Black Canyon
Navigating the plateau in Yellowstone’s Black Canyon.

The Yellowstone River Trail finally led us up the plateau towards a small lake. On one side of the lake: a snoozing buffalo, on the other—a well-trodden trail through the reeds. The previous day I’d learned just how large and terrifying buffalo could be, so of course we chose the buffalo-free option.

We followed the trail, admiring the dramatic scenery until the trail just disappeared into the grass. Gone. We looked around, dumbfounded. At this point, the sun had faded to gray and dark, heavy clouds were rolling in. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees.

Using our stellar route finding skills, we chose a game trail to follow, inching up the knoll towards a cliff that separated us from the Yellowstone River. That didn’t work, so we tried a second. And third. We were fairly close to the drop-off as a sheet of rain rolled across the Blacktail Deer Plateau.

The valley echoed of an oncoming storm. Drops of rain became sheets of rain.

A gust of wind hit us and within a fraction of a minute the rain turned to snow. Aside from my colorful language, the only sounds to be heard were the bellowing wind and the distant roar of the river. The clouds were swollen and low, nearly tangible. Bruised and violent. As the wind gained momentum the snow blew sideways, accumulating on the yellow grass. Our visibility deteriorated to a matter of feet. The priority became seeking shelter.

Yellowstone's Black Canyon
A storm rolling in over the Blacktail Deer Plateau in Yellowstone’s Black Canyon.

We’d exhausted all of our trail options—the Yellowstone River Trail was nowhere near us—so we ran down the hill towards the shelter of pine trees. Slipping through the trees, we scrambled down a buffalo path and sat under the trees as we tried to determine just where we were. I’d come to know the large, dug-out area we were standing in as a buffalo sleeping area. We strategized as we pulled on our rain gear. The plan was brilliant: we were going to find the trail.

We headed uphill, away from the cliffs and towards the mountains. We climbed hand over hand among the bones and antlers as the stormy skies made their way over the mountains. The snow abated and the sun tore through the clouds as we finally stumbled onto that dirt track we’d grown to love and hate.

From that moment on, we never left the Yellowstone River trail.

Yellowstone's Black Canyon
We were eventually rewarded with a rainbow over Yellowstone’s Black Canyon.

Sol Escape Lite Bivvy – Product Review

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Lite Bivvy
Sol Escape Lite Bivvy ensures critical warmth and surface protection in outdoor emergency situations. Photo by S.B. Patlan.

In the wild with the Sol Escape Lite Bivvy If you are sleeping in a bivvy, chances are your day did not go as planned. Often overlooked as a part of the 10 Essentials, a lite bivvy or emergency shelter is crucial for staying warm, dry, and comfortable. Well, as comfortable as you can be when you using an emergency bivvy.

Sol’s Escape Lite Bivvy not only serves as a means to protect you from the elements when caught in a tough situation, but can also be used as a liner to give you a few extra degrees if you are unprepared for cold weather.

Lite Bivvy
The compact and lightweight Sol Escape Lite Bivvy is the perfect emergency shelter for the outdoor minimalist. Photo by Kelley Goetz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was surprised to find how well my sleeping bag fit into the bivvy which measures 32″ x 82″.  It would definitely work well as rain protection in case of wet conditions or as a minimalist ultra-light summer bag. There is the inevitable crinkly noise if you move around so if you are a light sleeper looking for the extra warmth, you are better off using a sleeping bag liner.

Sol’s Escape Lite Bivvy is constructed with proprietary Escape fabric and weighs  only 5.5 oz.  The proprietary fabric lets moisture escape at the same time that it keeps rain, snow, and wind on the outside – all while reflecting 70% of your body heat back to you for warmth.

Overall, the bivvy is small, light-weight, and easily fits into a small cranny of your backpack. If you are in a bind or sleeping outside without a sleeping pad, this will do a good job keeping your sleeping bag dry and clean but if you’re like me and dislike the extra noise, you’ll prefer the sleeping bag liner. While you can’t always bank on good weather, you can always fall back on good planning.

 

The Hiking Brain – Boost Your Creativity and Happiness

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hiking brain
Recent research shows how the hiking brain can boost our creativity, cognitive skills, and actually make us happy. Time to lace-up your hiking boots! Photo Source: letsgoplayoutside.com

 

Outdoor exercise can do more for your brain than just the familiar runners-high.  Most of us have experienced a euphoric feeling while on the trail or reaching the summit of a difficult climb.  These pleasurable feelings are a result of a complex interaction of chemicals in the brain.  The hiking brain uses endorphins to mask pain and dopamine to motivate goal attainment that combines to give you an exhilarated high that lasts for hours after the hike has stopped.  However, recent research has shown that the hiking brain might also boost your creativity and attention.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, researchers at Stanford University wanted to see how walking inspired the creative centers of the brain.  To do this, participants were tested under three conditions; seated, walking, and walking outdoors.  The participants were then given tests to measure creative thinking.  An example question from the study included finding alternate uses for a button, one participant answered, “as a doorknob for a dollhouse, an eye for a doll, and a tiny strainer.”

What the researchers found was that creative thinking improved by an average of 60 percent while walking, and improved even more when walking outdoors.  The reason for these findings is still unclear. Researchers think that hiking in nature may relax competition among different brain activities.  This relaxation is believed to allow for the opening of flexible new ways of thinking that increase the hiking brain creativity.

hiking brain
Scan shows how the hiking brain is energized, boosting creativity and cognitive skills. Photo Source: exotichikes.com

 

Reboot and be Happy

Besides increasing creativity, the outdoors can also improve mental and emotional renewal while increasing positive feelings. A study published in the Journal of Psychological Science conducted at the University of Michigan found that walking outdoors improved attention and performance on difficult mental tasks.  Researchers believe that walking in the city requires so much attention that the brain cannot relax.  Crowded sidewalks, honking horns, and careening cars demand active attention to avoid bodily harm.  This study found that natural environments offer what researchers called a, “soft fascination” that is in sharp contrast to the attention grabbing aspect of our normal urban experience.  The relaxing scenes of nature allow the brain to reset and ultimately restore focus.  To test this theory, researchers had participants walk a 2.8 mile wooded path.  Participants were then given a series of numbers that they had to repeat backwards.  These scores were then compared to scores after a similar walk in a busy urban area. The researchers found that participants scored significantly higher on the test after walking in nature.  Researchers also found that the participants’ feelings of emotional refreshment after the nature walk were related to higher scores on the test.

In a related study, Iowa State University further tested the relationship between outdoor walking and emotions to determine if participants needed to walk a particular pace or time to feel good.  In a study published in the journal of Psychology of Sport and Exercise, participants walked for 15 minutes at a moderate pace to test the effects of outdoor exercise on mood.  Previous research assumed that exercise had to be done for an extended time to experience improved emotional states.  The study found that participants walking outdoors still experienced increases in both energy and positive emotions, even when conducted for a limited duration of just 15 minutes.

What these studies are telling us are things we already know, but often forget in our busy lives. We know hiking makes us feel good, we have amazing epiphanies on the trail, and we feel more energized and peaceful after a hike; even though our thighs are burning.  An unanticipated finding in the Stanford study was that participants also talked more and had better conversations while walking in the outdoors. The conclusion here is that people are funny social animals born of nature, we remember this connection the second our feet hit the trail. So this weekend conduct your own experiment, grab a friend or two and go for a hike.  You will not only become more interesting, you will have fun doing it.

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