Vertfest Photo Clinic Trip Report

I’m a terrible photographer but aspiring to be a better one. The first big step forward I made this year was upgrading my Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2, which I loved because it was waterproof, but sadly my iPhone 5 was starting to take better photos. I upgraded it with a Sony RX-100 Mark 2, which immediately was taking way better photos even on auto mode.

Only problem was I had no idea how to use it. Now jumping straight into a skiing photography clinic probably isn’t the best way to learn how to use it, but Vertfest was right around the corner. Why not take it? I emailed the course instructor, Stephen Matera, let him know I knew nothing and he said, no problem!

Now the Verfest description of the clinic was pretty minimal so I went in with no expectations and ended up being totally blown away!

The day started with some time indoors going through gear and the basics and getting introduced to our pro skier. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have a pro skier with us! We then headed up the lifts and took photo after photo of Alpental Andy who hiked again and again for us to give us something to shoot. We worked through lunch, wrapped up a bit before 3.

Only improvement to the class I’d make is to have a laptop at the end to see some post processing techniques.

I highly recommend it!

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More photos.

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Matt’s Guide to Hakuba

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Getting there

We took the train from Sapporo to New Chitose airport, then flew Fuji Dreams (booked through JAL) to Matsomoto, took a bus from there to the Matsomoto train station, and from there a train to Hakuba and from there a taxi to our hotel! It was a long day :).

Getting to Tokyo

We had our hotel drop us at the Hakuba welcome center, then we took a bus to Nagano, and from there the bullet train to Tokyo.

Accommodation

We waited too long to book. We ended up staying at the Hotel Rosenheim booked through booking.com.

Skiing

Conditions on the first day were pretty warm, firm the next two, so we skied Happo One. Big place. But not too thrilling when all there is to ride is groomers. On the last day we went to Cortina which had received over 50 cm of snow. To get to Cortina we walked to the Hakuba info center, and then caught the bus to Cortina. Given that Cortina was the only resort that had received snow there was a massive line. We were lucky to get there a little bit early in order to secure a seat on the bus.

Cortina is smaller, but we had a blast with all the new snow. Sadly we didn’t have a good backcountry map so we weren’t able to take advantage of the backcountry gates which were open. Fortunately the lift lines died down in only an hour or two so for most of the day there was zero lift lines and lots of freshies in the trees.

Nightlife

Even weaker than Niseko! I suspect a big issue with Hakuba is just how spread out the place is. There are many distinct “neighborhoods” all pretty far apart.

Recovery Bar – busy. Full of Aussie’s

Cherry Pub – if you’re looking for a Whistler-style place but with no crowds

Yohei – the most authentic place, and one that has manhattan’s, was Yohei.

Gravity Worx – great pizza

Jack’s – we thought this place was at least 20 years old given the furniture. Turns out it has been only open two years. At least they were showing the Super Bowl!

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Matt’s Guide to Skiing in Niseko

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When to go

January is the snowiest month by far. But beware that it is “busy” over Chinese New Year. We inadvertently booked over Chinese New Year and Australia Day. However, we didn’t find it very busy (at least relative to US ski areas!)

Getting there

A few of us flew ANA from Seattle direct to Tokyo (Narita) then transferred via bus (easy to book when we got to Narita airport) to Haneda airport and then caught a regional ANA flight to Sapporo (New Chitose). We then took a train into Sapporo. Friends were able to get a flight from Narita to New Chitose on ANA. Seems not all sites showed that regional flight. It would have been more convenient and enabled us to get to Niseko in one day. I’d recommend trying to do that!

Place to stay

We stayed in Hirafu which is the center of the action. We booked through HT Holidays who were great. We ended up staying at “Kon D“. One of the nice things about Hirafu is that there is a free shuttle bus making it easy to get to the hill and to the shops and restaurants if you don’t want to walk.

The skiing

The terrain is mellow but man does it snow! We skied eight days, it snowed almost everyone of those days. On the days it snowed, it snowed 6-12″ a day. The good news is, lots of snow! The bad news is that the upper mountain was almost never open. All the lifts were running only two days out of the eight. And the upper gates were only open one day of the eight. When talking to some locals they confirmed that the gates are usually only open one out of seven days.

Don’t buy the multi-day lift ticket package. We found that since the mountain was often only partially open that buying 5 hour or 8 hour passes, the day of, made more sense.

For on mountain dining, Hanazono 308 can’t be beat!

Backcountry skiing

We tried to book some guided backcountry skiing when we arrived but almost all the guiding companies were totally booked up. I’d recommend booking well in advance! However, given the conditions we had over the eight days it seemed like only one would have been suitable for backcountry skiing so I’d look closely at their cancellation / rescheduling policy and figure out with them how they handle funky weather.

Here’s a Niseko backcountry map. They call it “local rules” so it took us a while to find it. Wish we had it on the day that the upper gates opened!

Nightlife

We weren’t expecting much of an apres ski scene, but there really is no apres ski scene! The nightlife was pretty quite too. That said, we liked…

Bar Gyu (aka Fridge Door Bar) – great cocktails

Tamashii – closet you’ll get to a Whistler style apres ski place

The Barn – french food in a modern interior

Wild Bill’s – the only busy place at night

Recommended reading

Outside Magazine: Niseko Is Japan’s Mythical Powder Paradise

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Air Combat – Flying Fighter Planes in LA

For Ming’s bachelor party we went down to LA and flew planes at Air Combat out in Fullerton. Here’s a taste of what it was like:

What a blast!

Total time in the cockpit was about an hour. Once the two guys in the air landed within minutes we were all watching the footage on the big screens. Only bummer was that three guys vomited and one blacked out! I was close to losing my breakfast but kept it together :).

Here’s my photos from the weekend.

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My Whistler Recommendations

Stuff to do:

  • In the winter, ski (obviously). I also recommend backcountry skiing with Coast Mountain Guides.
  • In the summer, mountain bike (obviously) or take the gondola and go hiking.
  • Spa day at the Scandinave

Breakfast:

  • Crepe Montagne: best breakfast in Whistler
  • Hot Buns: cheaper crepe place. Better for on the go.
  • Mogul’s: on-the-go coffee shop.

Favorite après ski:

  • GLC, on top of the Whistler gondola building, has the best food and a good vibe. We go here the most.
  • Merlins is over at Blackcomb base and has the largest nachos. Big patio.
  • Longhorn really is the place to be. Great patio and vibe. Though keep your food expectations in check!
  • Citta’s in the middle of the village is good too if everything else is busy.

  • Dubh Linh Gate is another place we fall back to if the above places are busy.

    Fancy dinner:

    • Bearfoot Bistro: make it an experience to remember by asking to saber your bottle of champagne. For after dinner there is a -20c vodka tasting room.
    • Sidecut at the Four Seasons: great steak dinner
    • Hye’s: we would eat here until we discovered Sidecut

    Casual dinner:

    • Earl’s: Canadian chain
    • Brewhouse: decent food
    • Dubh Lin Gate: decent food, Irish pub atmosphere
    • Sushi Village
    • 21 Steps: wine bar and restaurant
    • Quattro: Italian restaurant
    • Keg: Canadian chain

    Dance clubs: a safe bet is to ask your dinner server what is hot that night. If it is Saturday they’ll say they’re all hot :).

    • Maxx Fish: smaller club, usually pretty good
    • Buffalo Bill’s: for the late 20’s/30’s crowd
    • Garf’s & Moe Joes: local favorite
    • Tommy’s: where the 19 year olds go…

    Favorite lounges:

    • The Mixx by Rick’s
    • Cinnamon Bear in the Hilton

    Favorite bars:

    • Tapley’s: lots of TVs, darts…
    • Amsterdam
    • Cittas

    Late night drunkfood:

    • Zog’s, get the poutine
    • Fat Tony’s Pizza
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    Leaving Redfin, On To The Next Adventure

    After seven years at Redfin it is time for me to find my next adventure. Here’s my going away email with a few photos I dug up today to reminisce.


    Redfin!

    We first met at a summer picnic seven years ago. Back when the yard sign looked a little different and the company was a little smaller. It wasn’t long until we were on 60 Minutes and we haven’t looked back since! After-hours we biked to Portlandclimbed mountainshung out and generally had a blast. I learned a lot along the way, made life long friendsmet my wife, and couldn’t be more thankful.

    Anyhowhave fun at RedfernoBut not too much! Roske needs a year without someone giving him heartburn :).

    Matt

    DSCN0620

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    How to Recover Your Stolen Bike

    Having recovered not one, but two stolen bikes I often get asked, how do I recover my stolen bike??

    1. Find where you wrote down your serial number. If you didn’t write it down try looking at your receipt or call the bike store you bought it from
    2. Call the police and file a police report
    3. Log it at the Stolen Bike Registry
    4. Search your local Craigslist obsessively
    5. Consider an iPhone app like Craigslist+ that lets you search Craigslist across the country. Often times bikes are stolen in one city and taken to another (mine was)
    6. Create a saved search on eBay and get email alerts for matches
    7. If you’re in Seattle check @GetYourBikeBack
    8. Search Racklove’s Stolen Bike Finder or Find That Bike
    9. If you have a blog, write a blog post about it. I recovered one bike from someone Googling the brand name and stolen and found the blog post I wrote about having it stolen!
    10. Don’t give up hope!
    11. When it turns up call your police and set up a sting. If the police aren’t interested take matters into your own hands. Just use a little caution…
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    Climbing the Tooth in the Alpental Valley

    Another multi-pitch trad climb done!

    This Sunday we climbed The Tooth, a 400′ 4 pitch 5.4 climb in the Alpental Valley (summit is at 5,604 feet). Not particularly difficult it is often someones first multi-pitch trad or trad lead. Since I did the west ridge of Chair Peak last summer this was my second multi-pitch trad climb. No leading just yet!

    Since I often ski in the Alpental valley it is super cool to check off another peak here. However, with the long multi-hour approach to the climb with scrambles over boulder fields and snow I don’t think it is high on my repeat list :).

    Thanks to Dave for leading the way.

    Here’s the hike in and out on Strava. Funny enough I forgot to bring my GPS with me on the climb :).

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    All my photos.

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    Maui Honeymoon

    Just got back from eight great days on Maui! The best decision we made was bumping up our flight from Monday to Saturday. I don’t know what we were thinking flying out on Monday. Foolish :).

    Since we’ve been to Maui twice before this trip was focused on lounging by the pool, sunning at the beach and eating, a lot. Though we did go offroading to “shipwreck beach” on an offshore island… We tried to go night diving but it was too murky and kiteboarding but it wasn’t windy enough then likely too windy. Oh well!

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    Accommodations

    We started off our stay at Makena Beach & Golf Resort and then moved to the Fairmont for our last three days.

    Makena Beach: We thoroughly enjoyed out time at Makena Beach. It is definitely one of the smaller Wai Lea hotels but that’s nice because it makes it way more relaxed.

    I was bummed you couldn’t see the ocean from the pool area, but on the plus side, the pool had decent service, okay drinks, was never crowded and you could get a little cabana thing for free. I quickly grew tired of the background music though. They need to cut that out.

    The beach was nice because it too was uncrowded, easy to get chairs, though you had to pay for an umbrella and the snorkeling was really good. Makena Beach is the beach that a lot of the boats stop at to go snorkeling.

    For the first part of our stay we had a “premium oceanview room” which was okay. For the second half we had an “oceanfront room”. We highly recommend the oceanfront room! You can even hear the ocean from bed, at night, with the doors closed.

    Other pluses, free wifi, free bikes and free valet.

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    Fairmont

    The rooms at the Fairmont are definitely way larger, way nicer, and the grounds at the resort are huge. But I wasn’t as blown away by the service as I was hoping. Even though we only visited the Four Seasons, they did a better job remembering our names than the Fairmont.

    It was nice that you could get an umbrella on the beach for free. And apparently you could drink on this beach, but not Makena. However, the pool side service was slooow…

    Other negatives, $15 wifi, $25 valet.

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    Food

    Molikini Grill Sunday Buffet: We started off our trip with this breakfast buffet. And wow, what a great way to start! Ahi Poke, crab legs, scallops and more. In hindsight, this was a great deal at $40/person. Highly recommend.

    Coconut Fish Cafe: One of our more affordable dinners, it was still very good. $12 for two monstrous fish tacos. Worth the line and the wait if you’re looking for something low key.

    Cuatro: Bring your own wine! (And there’s a grocery store next door if you run out.) And some of the best seafood we had too. Too bad it is in a Kihei strip mall but fortunately it won’t totally break the bank. Some of the best service we had all trip too. We highly recommend.

    Monkeypod: We went here twice so that should say something. Their food is sourced as locally as possible. Best Mai Tai too. And likely one of the best burgers we’ve ever had anywhere. Don’t worry we had plenty of seafood for appetizers :).

    Kimo: This is a reasonably rated, reasonably priced Lahania restaurant. The best part wasn’t the food but that it is right on the water with a great view of the sunset.

    Duo at the Four Seasons: The raw bar (available Thursday, Friday and Saturday) isn’t cheap at $69 a person but it is all you can eat freshly shucked oysters, lobster tail, crab, ahi and more. If you love seafood you’ll love this. Just don’t go back for a third plate. Two is plenty :).

    Nick’s Fishmarket: Chelsea’s friend Amy got married at the Fairmont and the reception dinner was at Nick’s. I was seafooded out at this point and got the filet and it was great!

    Activities

    Haleakala: We woke up at 3:15 AM to drive for an hour and half, climb 10,000 feet (by car) and still didn’t make it up in time to get into the upper parking lot! We were one car shy of making it in and had to settle for the lower lot :(. None-the-less, I’ve probably seen too many spectacular sunrises while backcountry skiing for this to be the moving experience that everyone describes it as. Also, be sure to bundle up. It really is cold up there! Perhaps we just didn’t catch a good morning, but my recommendation would be to skip sunrise and catch a sunset instead.

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    Lanai: Lanai, an island that is a 45 minute ferry ride from Maui, seemed like a cool day adventure. There’s supposedly dolphins often in the bay, and 4wd is required to get to many of the island sights. Unfortunately it is a $60/person ferry ride (roundtrip) and renting a Jeep isn’t cheap ($159/day + gas is $5.80/gallon!) I enjoyed our time there but the off roading proved dusty and bumpy. And there were no dolphins :(. But the snorkeling was good. However, in our rush to not miss the ferry we lost a snorkel.

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    Scuba Diving: We did a two tank dive with Pro Diver, who we’ve been out with before. Hit up Molikini and Red Hill. Saw a shark, some turtles… After diving at Maui a number of times I think it is time we branched out to some other diving locations. Do note, that we recommend Pro Diver, they only take six divers on their boat so it isn’t nearly as crowded as the competition.

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    Photos

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    Points North Heli Alaska – aka ManCamp

    This post is like two years late. Oh well… Here it is!

    Most of it was written before one of our guides, Kip Garre tragically passed away this spring.

    Kip, thanks for showing us Alaska.

    Before reading this go check out Brian Nevin’s photos of our trip. Brian’s a Redbull photographer that we lucked into riding with and captured better than words can, the awesomeness of the Chugach Mountains in Alaska.

    Back?

    A few years ago we got hooked on heli-skiing. At the time we vowed to go on one heli-ski adventure a year. Oddly, the next year, 2009, we didn’t carry through with our promise. For 2010 we hit up Silverton. For 2011, our third adventure, there was no question, it was time to go to Alaska, the home of extreme skiing powered by helicopters. In the lower-48 there are six operations. In Alaska there’s over 20.

    So how was it?

    FUCKING AWESOME!

    Here’s a photo of me on top of Humble Pie, one of the taller peaks in the Chugach range. I was scared shitless! Notice I’m wearing a climbing harness. That’s in case I fell in a crevasse or bergschrund and needed to get pulled out.

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    It was fucking awesome, even though it hadn’t snowed in six weeks. Wait? How is that possible!? :)

    For starters, Alaska is just absolutely beautiful. Flying up from Seattle I was glued to the window watching the endless mountain ranges. Touching down in first Anchorage, then Cordova, it felt like we were in a black & white ski movie. Standing on top of one of the highest peaks in the Chugach on a blue bird day you could see forever.

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    Day 1, Saturday, “Travel”

    Flew from Seattle to Anchorage to Cordova.

    Flying into Cordova from Anchorage.

    Our mugshots.

    Day 2, Sunday, “Skied”

    Skied.

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    About the only hundred feet of

    Day 3, Monday, “Skied”

    Skied.

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    Flying home

    Day 4, Tuesday, “The Beach”

    Beach.

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    Day 5, Wednesday, “Tried to Ski”

    Tried to ski. Visited Cordova.

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    Day 6, Thursday, “Glacier”

    Hiked around the Sheridan Glacier.

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    Day 7, Friday, “Skied”

    Skied.

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    Day 8, Saturday, “Travel day”

    Cordova to Yuakata, to xyz, to Seattle.

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    FAQ

    For those of you thinking about going heli skiing in Alaska and are considering Points North here’s all the details!

    On the conditions

    What could be bad about a week of clear skis? Well, if it is week six of no snowing and there was a major windstorm the week before you have some seriously dicey conditions.

    I think it is safe to say that for everyone in our group these were the worst conditions we’d ever skied in. The conditions were “firm”, which was code for extremely hard packed and covered in sastrugi. For the most part you couldn’t see your tracks. There really was no snow for our skis to dig into it. Occasionally we found brief patches of breakable crust snow (dubbed creme brulee) that was skiable for five turns.

    In terms of temps, one day someone in another group skied in her bikini. Another day our guide was wearing two large puffy jackets.

    In terms of wind, sometimes we encountered some wind, sometimes not. We did have one day where they flew us out to the zone, we skied one run, and then they pulled the plug because it was too gusty for safe heli operation.

    On why we picked Points North

    The default option was to go with Silverton’s heli trip as that is what first lured us to Alaska. Our other option was Points North as JJ had a friend who had gone with them and recommended them.

    Silverton appealed to us because we had ridden with Aaron and his guides before and loved it. They were also a little cheaper. However, their dates were likely to conflict with the Whistler Telus Festival.

    Points North appealed to us because of their private heli option (which we didn’t end up doing) and potentially nicer lodging and better food.

    We ended up picking Points North, primarily because of the cost of their private heli option. But once we had settled on them we then decided not to go the private route based on a few phone calls with them.

    On private or not

    Turns out that private really only makes sense if you are a group of crazy good skiers. Likely only pro skiers need to go the private option.

    On when we decided to go

    We tried to put some thought into when to go but ultimately I think it boiled down to when all our schedules aligned. In chatting with the guides it sounds like any week could be a good one (or a bad one). In chatting with someone who had been coming to PNH for nine or so years he said he favored their first four weeks. That said, one advantage of going later in the season is that the days are longer. While we were there they were gaining 7 minutes of daylight a day!

    On the food

    Awesome!

    On the lodging

    Kinda of reminded me of summer camp.

    Misc

    “Just don’t fall.”

    Hasn’t snowed in 6 weeks. Last week they had a major windstorm come through and it is very hard pack. If you have skinny/race skis you should definitely bring em since the forecast for this week has no snow in it. What made us feel better about getting 6 very hard pack runs in today was that the folks on week 1 and week 2 only got 2 days in each and it looks like we’ll be skiing all week unless another wind storm comes in. Our guide said that the skiing we did today was the best skiing he’s done in the last 2 weeks and I considered the conditions to be some of the worst I’ve skied in. That said, the mountains here are huge, the terrain is beautiful, helicopters are fun and the food is great!

    - A few groups here are pulling out early. They skied Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and then are flying out today. So that’s an option for you guys if you want to plan ahead for that. We’re not going to. Yesterday they offered us the option of going to “the beach” instead of skiing. This is apparently a pretty rare excursion and I highly recommend it if you are offered it. We’re going to ski today and then maybe pay up for another day. Otherwise there’s the local ski hill or hiking around a glacier.
    - AT&T has really spotty service here.
    - The wifi is very slow and sometimes down for long stretches
    - Bring warm clothes!
    - We’ve been introduced to a dice game. If you like gambling, bring some one dollar bills.
    - You don’t need to buy too much beer in Cordova as they’ve been providing a keg a day and we’ve been drinking a lot of that.
    - You’ll have lots of time to hone your ping pong and foosball skills
    - There’s a TV w/DVD player in the lounge if you want to bring movies
    - It is really sunny on the mountains. Bring good googles.
    - The guides are very optimistic and all smiles which helps keep us going in this no-powder situation.
    - The food is great! You may want to pick up some light snacks but not really necessary.
    - If you lose something skiing you owe the group a bottle of gin
    - No one has gone swimming yet but there has been talk of it

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