Category Archives: Outdoor Adventures

Ski Term: Crusty Undertoad

crust·y un·der·toad



The frozen layer buried under just enough fresh snow to make you think it’s safe to make a turn.

(Undertoad: A bogeyman, or in general, fear and anxiety about the unknown and mortality. From “The World According to Garp”.)

Termed by me after wiping out on the Crusty Undertoad.

A Grizzly Encounter

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

DISCLAIMER: This was not a safe situation, we should have not let anyone out of the car until we knew what the animal was. Bears are wild animals and unpredictable and will attack without warning, don’t try this at home!

Last week I had two friends, Vicki and Kirsten, visit me in Wyoming. We all grew up in Azusa, California together, played flute in the Azusa Aztec Marching band in High School, and we were all in the class of ‘79. The three of us now live in different states and although we have seen each other over the years the three of us have not been together for 25 years. We spent the weekend in Yellowstone National park, the whole time chatting away like teenagers except the conversations were not about cute boys and shopping malls, they were about the men in our lives and the woes of pushing 50.

On day two of our trip we were getting a little disappointed we had not seen the usual amount of wildlife. Vicki and I have been to Yellowstone together several times but Kirsten had not been there since she was a very young child, and for this visit she had her son with her. I was beginning to think all the big animals were hiding from them. That afternoon, between Tower Falls and Canyon Village we topped a ridge and there was a critter jam, traffic was stopped, we could not see the critter due to the angle of the hill. There was a crowd running with their cameras down the road in a frenzy. I let Vicki out to go see if it was something worth stopping for. I figured it was a bison or an elk, maybe even a moose, I told her if the traffic started going again I would pick her back up on the way through. She was gone several minutes, more than enough time to see what it was and come back. I saw a parking spot in the pull out on the other side of the road, only a few yards away so I took it. Kirsten and I got out and told the kids to stay in the car until we evaluate the situation. I had just closed the car door and was adjusting my camera when I was Vicki running to the car, full speed, making the cut sign with her hands across her neck, then she put both hands around her mouth and shouted as loud as possible “GET BACK IN!!!! IT’S A [BLEEPING] GRIZZLY!!”

Vicki had seen the bear and wanted to get a quick photo before she came back to the car. She said it was close to the side of the road, she aimed, zoomed in, and took her shot, just as the bear started walking towards her. She thought ‘what am I doing’ and turned to run. The crowd would not move out of her way, here comes a grizzly bear, only a few yards away and NO ONE was running except her! She pushed the people out of the way, regardless of age, and ran to where I let her out of the car. She said it was just like a movie, she was running for her life and the car was gone!!

All is well, she found where I had parked and we were all safely in the car. We looked out the window and watched the crowd running along side the road, chasing the bear for photos. We waited until they passed then Kirsten and I got out, lagging way behind the crowd, and saw the bear from a safe distance, with plenty of food, I mean people between us. Kirsten got her photo and we left before we witnessed something we would rather not see.

It reminded me of a song…

The other day (The other day )
We met a bear (We met a bear )
Out in Yellowstone (Out in Yellowstone )
A-way out there (A-way out there)

The other day we met a bear
out in Yellowstone a-way out there.

Vicki aimed the camera
At that bear
She zoomed right in
A-way out there

Vicki aimed the camera at that bear
She zoomed right in a-way out there.

He said to her
“Why don’t you run?
I see you ain’t
Got any gun”

He said to her “Why don’t you run?
I see you ain’t got any gun”

And so she ran
Away from there
But right behind
Her was that bear

And so she ran away from there
But right behind her was that bear

Ahead of her
There was a crowd
A great big crowd
And so she plowed

Ahead of her there was a crowd
A great big crowd And so she plowed

But Julie moved
That great big burb
Holly crap!
Where is that burb!

But Julie moved that great big burb
Holly crap where is that burb!

And so she ran
Across the road
Telling us
It’s time to load!

And so she ran across the road
Telling us it’s time to load!

The moral of
This story is
Don’t get out for bears
In Yellowstone

The moral of this story is
Don’t get out for bears in Yellowstone

That’s all there is
There ain’t no more
So what the heck
You singing for

My First Time Skinning

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Last week was crazy! Along with working every day, I had a performance Tuesday with the Jackson Hole Community Band for the Wyoming  Special Olympics, then an Avalanche classes after work Thursday & Friday, and classes all day Saturday & Sunday with field work, AND I went to the Banff Mountain Film Festival Saturday night.

My turn to be the victim

The field work for Saturday and Sunday’s courses needed either Back County Skis, snowboard & snow shoes, or just snow shoes. I have snow shoes and am comfortable on them but I thought I’d have more fun on skis so I rented a back country ski package. Backcountry ski gear is different than downhill and come in a couple different skiing types, I rented an AT set up. The skis are the same as what I’m skiing on this year (fat skis) and  the boots are just a little different than downhill boots. The bindings are different, they lock down and ski just like alpine skis but the heals release for hiking and climbing, mechanically they are quite simple. You attach a ‘skin’ to the bottom of the ski, a removable traction enhancer that allow the skier to walk uphill on snow, referred to as ‘skinning.’ (I found a nice report on backcountry skiing at: ) I’m not the best skier out there, but can ski almost anything, but I need to work on my technique.

View from the top

Saturday we skinned Philips Canyon off of Teton Pass, we dug snow pits, we skinned, we searched for beacons, we skinned some more, at the end of the day we skinned up a ridge, took off the skins and skied down. That was the second worst ski run of my life, I fell every turn, the snow was so crusty I could not make my turns! (My first worst run was my very first day on skis when I was a senior in high school and fell in the lift line.)  The snow was so crusty I could not make little adjustments to my skis to balance, trees were everywhere so I did not have a long stretch to figure it out, and trying to lift my ski out of the crust was messing with my balance. Whenever I tried to lean back a little to get my tips out of the snow crust I fell on my ass, so I tried to pick up some speed to let my weight power through the turn and did a face plant. I did find one spot with better snow where I made 3 good turns, the instructor that had to say stay with me said “there you go” and BAM! back to the crust and more falling. I resorted to snow plowing just to get to the bottom. Once we got near the bottom, out of open area and between all the trees I did much better but by that time I was so tired I was moving pretty slow. I only had one moment where “what was I thinking” ran through my brain and that was on the way UP the ridge, I was pretty winded. Sunday we did it again! This time we skinned from the top of Teton Pass to the top of a bowl called Avalanche Bowl stopping to dig a couple of snow pits along the way. There were a few inches of fresh snow, I had a much better ski down. My calves were sore for 2 days!

Teton Pass

I learned a lot in the class including I have a lot to learn, I’m wearing my transceiver wherever I ski, I’m perfectly happy skiing a 25 degree slope, I need to add some more cardio exercises to my daily exercise routine, every one who plays in the snow should take the class, and “Pucker Factor” is a technical term used by avalanche experts.

I’ve driven over Teton Pass many times over the last 29 years, whenever I saw people hiking up the snow covered mountain to ski down I’d think “look at those crazy people” who knew I’d be one of those crazy people and have fun doing it.

Overall I would still say I had a fun weekend.

Digging Snow Pit