Sunday, January 31, 2010

The joys of skiing

It was a nice day for skiing, but sometimes if you want the best snow, you take off your skis, hike up the hill, and then head down through the trees.

Jim Covaleski and I went over at Park City to ski and stumbled across two of my fellow ski hosts, Manette and Sherry. We skied the morning together before Jim had to go catch a plane to DC. We had six inches of snow last night and it was just enough to freshen everything up. Yeah!

Five of my ski buddies (Julie, Loris, Kathy, Greg and Miriam) are all over at Deer Valley in a 3 day clinic, become experts. I just pound down through the bumps and trees and hope some of the impact will make me better. Not so sure yet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

US Snowboarding Grand Prix

While Julie was doing her Sundance volunteer work, I took off for the US Snowboarding Grand Prix at Park City. This was the last stop of the series and at the end of the competition, the US Olympic snowboarding team was announced.

Thousands of people were out for the event. This is actually when everyone was heading down from the half pipe, but that was the first time I thought to catch the crowd.

If you haven't seen a half pipe, think of a long, giant U-shaped ski run. You can get some idea of size from this boarder, who is still heading down into the bottom. They dye the snow blue to help the boarders figure out which way is which.

When they come shooting out of the pipe to do all their twists and turns, they are right there in front of you, moving at high speed. It's a rush.

The boards are very colorful and some have intricate artwork on them. You can get a nice view because they seem to be upside down about half the time.

Or they just come sailing by sideways.

I would definitely kill myself trying this. While I didn't see anyone get hurt, a boarder did get injured very seriously in the PCMR half pipe a week or so ago. He hit his head on the lip of the half pipe. He ended up with one or two surgeries to relieve the pressure in his brain. I think he is doing better, but he was one of our leading Olympic candidates.

This was one of the women competing. While they do things I could never dream of doing, this is one sport where you see a dramatic difference between the men and women. For whatever reason, the men do much bigger tricks.

It is hard for me to tell all the grabs and twists they do. It's even harder at night, in the snow. They just fly by so quickly!

And we will end with a series of pictures from the winning run. Shaun White, a Park City local and Olympic Gold Medal winner, was the last of the men to go. The crowd had already been amazed with earlier performances. Then Shaun came down and launched so far out of the pipe the crowd just erupted.

He came out of the pipe about fifty feet above me and dropped back in a good ways down from me.

Look how high he is above the crowd! If you double-click on the picture, you can see his signature red hair flying behind him.

Fly for a while, then start your tricks.

Still way, way over my head.

And he goes back into the pipe below me.

Another great event, and fun to see another batch of Olympians ready to head to Vancouver.

At some point, I am going to learn how to photograph all this. Last night it was people moving extremely quickly, at night, with snow falling, and you aren't allowed to use a flash. Earlier this week it was a mine tunnel, completely dark, with water dripping everywhere. Even trying to photograph Jasper as he romps through the snow can be a challenge. I think I will switch to shooting indoor flower arrangements.


Jasper and I decided to take a walk down to Main Street to hang with with the PIBs. PIBs are the very common People In Black of Sundance.

This is normal for Sundance on Main Street. Parking is all blocked off. An SUV is trying to turn around in the street. People are walking in the middle of the road. Just general confusion.

Lines of traffic. Police blockades.

Six inch deep slush.

Snow blowers mounted on Bobcats, spewing snow and slush.

But given all this yuck, everyone seemed to be having a grand time. Jasper got a lot of love from passers by. People were shopping and looking for stars. Everyone seemed to be taking it all in stride.

Julie is doing her normal volunteer work for Sundance at the Eccles theater. She has already done two days and is doing her third as I type this entry. I haven't seen any movies yet and don't know how many I will catch. We didn't get a booklet of tickets this year, so it is a lot more effort to get in.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Joys of Deep Snow

It's nice to wake up to a bunch of snow.

When the wind blows, it forms wonderful shapes all over the neighborhood.

And if it is deep enough, you can try and loose the dog.

But he seems to know the technique is just an endless series of lunges.

A joy few humans can understand.

All this because I threw a snowball.

And even without the snowball, just getting around requires a lot of exuberance.

And more is coming down as I type.

Let there be snow

I finally got my wish. Two wishes actually.
  1. Get enough snow to fix our base. It is disgusting to see rocks and sticks in January.
  2. Have a big dump of snow for the Sundance Film Festival. For five winters I thought that Sundance was paying off the weather gods. It is a 10 day event in the snowiest month, and yet they seemed to suffer nothing other than some cold.
Sundance started Thursday and this is the big weekend. We have been getting an average of about a foot of snow a day and it won't stop until Saturday night. The skiing is great and watching the "beautiful people" of Sundance should provide a bit of extra entertainment.

I can't even complain about having to keep blowing the driveway.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Touring a Park City mine tunnel

This afternoon I got to take a tour that very few people get to do.

Park City sprung to life back in the late 1800's when silver was discovered. It's rich with mining history. You can wander around the town and local mountains to see 100 year old mine entrances, smelters, oar bins and much more.

There are hundreds of miles of mine tunnels running every which way under Park City. One of the problems the miners had was trying to drain the water out of their tunnels. They built huge pumps, but the pumps just couldn't keep up with Mother Nature. The mining companies finally started building drain tunnels to haul the water down to lower elevations.

I got to go travel through the Keetly Drain tunnel, which runs from the Jordanelle Reservoir to a spot deep under the Deer Valley ski resort.

I expected a modern mine to look like the picture above. That was only the first few feet. The rest of it looked more like the picture below.

Notice the narrow gauge rail tracks on the floor. Turns out it isn't the floor. Each support structure looks like a squared-off capital "A". The track is actually running on the crossbar of the "A". Underneath it is about 4 feet of water. The trains made a little wake as they cruised along and you had to keep your feet on a timber because water ran through the cars.

This was our train. We road in the little red wagons. They were pulled (or pushed) by a little diesel engine. It wasn't a short trip. We ventured 15,000 feet into the tunnel, almost three miles. When we stopped, we were almost 1,500 feet beneath the surface. They gave us a lecture about keeping our hands and heads inside the train cars. They meant it. At times, the tunnel got small enough that carelessness could easily result in injury.

This was one of our miner/tour guides. He has worked in mines for many, many years.

There is still a lot of very old mining equipment in rooms off the tunnels. This was an air compressor. It allowed the miners to switch from drilling holes in the rock by hand, to using early versions of air hammers.

To get huge pieces of machinery into the mine, they would cut the equipment into pieces and then put it back together when it got to its destination. They even did this with a large flywheel, which really shouldn't be possible. The miners were incredible engineers.

There were only a few places, mostly bigger rooms, where they really had to reinforce the ceiling. It almost looked like the early 70s computer-generated art.

I had never heard of a flat steel cable, but that's what they used for the lift to the surface. It was about five inches wide, but not very thick. That gave it the strength it needed, but it spooled up a lot tighter on the big wheel. I guess that's a concern when you are spooling 1000+ feet.

While I am sure most of the jobs in the mine required focus, the hoist operator was one of the most important. He sat in this little booth and no one was allowed to talk to him while he was working. The pisser is that the hoist is in another room and the operator can't even see it. It is all done by sound and signals.

There is a pedal on the floor that acts as a dead man's switch. If he dies or leaves, at least the hoist doesn't keep running forever.

We ran through different seams of rock as we traveled our three miles. Some areas were hard and didn't require any support. Others were soft and likely to shift occasionally. There was even a chunk of volcanic rock from 35 million years ago. Probably the same damn volcano that created the ash we had to dig out of our foundation.

I liked the vein of green rock. Can't imagine it is anything special though. Some of us were disappointed to find out that there aren't any silver veins or nuggets. If you found some rich ore, it would have 20 ounces of silver in a ton of ore. That's a lot of blasting, digging, hauling and smelting for so little.

Deep into the tunnel we came into a work room. It seemed like they had stuff to fix most anything.

They had drilled and marked a demo blast. We got some education on how the blast is set up and timed so that it mostly blasts in place. You don't want it to blow out all over the place.

The normal routine was to finish your shift with a blast. The next crew would haul out the ore, set the next blast, blow it, then head home. Shift after shirt after shift.

For every miner working in a tunnel, there would often be three or four other workers. They did all sorts of different jobs but quite a few of them involved caring for the horses that were down in the tunnels. I've heard of bad jobs, but how would you like to work deep in the mountain, in a dark, wet drainage tunnel, picking up the poop from the horses?

Alison Pierce is a fellow Wednesday Host over at PCMR. She's wearing the every so stylish plastic poncho and miner's helmet. This was one of the many warning signs we saw.

This one wasn't as clear about the problem, but you got the point.

A more subtle warning.

The biggest concern for the miners was fire. The flames weren't the big fear. It was the fire's consumption of all the oxygen. There were large metal doors along the tunnels that could be closed to shut off the air flow.

This was one of my favorite sights. When a fire broke out in the mine, you wanted to let the other miners know. The problem is that there wasn't any easy way to communicate through miles of tunnel. They used a combination of the natural air flow through the tunnel with a stink bomb. The "stench bottle" contained a chemical that smelled like rotten eggs. It's the same idea they use so you can smell propane leaks. The smell would float through the tunnel and everyone would know something was wrong.

They are lucky with the natural air flow in this tunnel. In the winter, it flows from the mouth of the tunnel to the top of the shaft. In the summer it flows the other direction. This keeps them from having to do a lot of mechanical ventilation.

A big thanks to Ian Patrick and Stephen Long for making this visit possible. It is great to get to see a bit of what really created the town of Park City.

Funky clouds make a pretty day

I was up at PCMR doing my Mountain Host job yesterday. It has snowed about 2 feet over the past few days and some little stormlets were rolling through during the day. When it wasn't snowing, the play between the sun and the clouds was really interesting.

It was hard to capture the contrasts with my little pocket camera, a bright sun, and not moving from my job at the map.

Still pretty though.

And here is a late one I forgot was on my camera. A week ago Julie and I took a history tour around Park City ski resort. It was given by Hal Compton, who is the head researcher at the PC History Museum. Interesting to keep learning more about the rich history of the town.

Which leads to today's adventure. Weather permitting, I get to go over and actually venture deep, deep into one of the actual mining tunnels. This is a really rare opportunity because all the tunnels are either sealed or very tightly controlled.