Tuesday, December 31, 2013

US Olympic Trials - Ski Jumping

The second big event this weekend was the U.S. Olympic trials for ski jumping. Here in Park City, this is huge.  Almost all of the women's ski jumping team lives and trains in Park City. The women have been fighting for years to have ski jumping include a women's competition.  It is ridiculous that they have been excluded, especially after you see that they jump as far and as well as the men.  The Sochi Olympics will be the first time women jumpers can compete.
The winning competitors, both men and women, fly over 90 meters in the air.  That is almost exactly a football field. I can't imagine having the guts to do it, but it has to be a rush.
Your score is determined by distance and style.  It doesn't take long to start seeing the difference between a nice clean jump and one where they are struggling in the air to stay on track.
Look at the difference between the pictures directly above and below.
The skis they use to jump are longer and wider than normal downhill skis.  When they land they don't have much room to settle, recover and come to a stop.  This was not a pretty landing, but we never saw anyone take a tumble.
Like the Nordic Combined, only the winner of the men's and women's competitions is guaranteed a spot in the Olympics.  For the women, local Jessica Jerome edged out Lindsey Van (not Lindsey Vonn, the downhill skier dating Tiger Woods) for the win.  Sarah Hendrickson, one of the best women in the world and another local, is out with an ACL tear but is hopeful for the Olympics.

It was really impressive to see the crowd that turned out to watch.  For a lot of events at the Olympic Park, they have a few hundred spectators.  So many people wanted to see the women jump that about 7000 people were there.  We had to park over in the nearby shopping center and walk about 1.5 miles up a hill to get there.
...and we end with a bit of humor.  The Olympic Park has a pair of adventure courses where you have to do a number of obstacles before ending with a short zip line.  This was going on right behind us, mostly as a way for parents to entertain their kids.  Then this guy went.

I have no idea whether he just weighed too much or something went wrong, but he got about halfway across the zip line and just stopped.  He was completely helpless.  He couldn't reach the line above him to pull himself to the end.  A few people even lobbed snowballs his way.  Finally they brought him a rope a pulled him along.  A bit humiliated and certainly not a repeat customer.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

U.S. Olympic Trials - Nordic Combined

One of the cool things about living here in Park City is that you get to see some pretty serious athletic competitions and they are often free.  This weekend it was the US Olympic trials for the men's Nordic Combined and then the men's and women's ski jumping.

The Nordic Combined is a mix of ski jumping and cross country skiing.  You jump first.  Your score on the jump (distance and style) sets your departure time for the 10k cross country ski race.  Because we were going to watch the ski jumping the next day, we only went for the cross country portion.

The leader from the jumping got to leave first, and they take off and fly.  We couldn't figure out how they can accelerate that quickly with those tiny sticks for skis.
 The other 9 skiers left at times set by their jump scores.  Sometimes there was a 20 or 30 second break between competitors.  Other times several went off at once.
Compared to the 2002 Olympic ski course over at Soldier Hollow in Heber, this course was pretty flat.  There was one long downhill that went right into a tight curve.  I was certain that one of them would have to wreck there, but I guess that was why they were competing for Olympic spots. They all cruised through.
The uphill sections were fun to watch.  You could tell they were working a lot harder, but they certainly didn't seem to slow down a bit.
There is apparently some advantage to drafting, just like in cycling.  Most of the passing seemed to happen on the uphill sections.
The bibs were assigned by your start order, so it was easy to tell when one person had passed another: the numbers were suddenly wrong.  Todd Lodwick started first and never gave up much distance, finishing 17 seconds ahead of second.  This will be the 6th winter Olympics for him in this event.  Other 6 time U.S. Olympians are in less athletically demanding sports, like rifle, equestrian or fencing. Pretty impressive!
The one competitor that really made up ground started in 8th, but finished in 4th.  He looked like he might catch third, but then he lost a little speed at the end.
These guys were impressive to watch.  At the same time they made it look so easy and graceful, you could tell that they were going full out for over 25 minutes. The course was 4 laps around a 2.5 kilometer course.  I think they would have lapped me three times.
The winner was the only one who earned a guaranteed spot on the Olympic team.  The rest of the five person team will be named in a few weeks.  Those members will be determined by the numerous competitions held this winter.  The common assumption is that the next three finishers, the Fletcher brothers and Park City local Billy Demong will all be on the team.  Billy won gold in this event at the last Olympics.

Tomorrow I'll cover the ski jumping.  So cool to live in Park City!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

NC State's football bowl game

I was browsing through the TV guide looking for the date and time of NC State's football bowl game.

Then I remembered that we were absolutely terrible this year and only won 3 games.  Back to reality and watching basketball.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Park City and birthday 52

When you live in Park City, most people go skiing for Christmas.  It may be only be for an hour or two, but it is a great way to celebrate out in the fresh air.  Julie and I went over to Deer Valley this morning to grab a few runs.

The mountain is mostly groomers right now, so we started a few of those off the Wasatch chair.  Honestly, it can get a little boring just cruising down the same runs.  Then the Christmas (or Birthday) Gods took notice and got Deer Valley to open the Sultan lift for the first time this year.  This meant there was a large bowl full of all the snow we have had this winter.  It was basically untracked and a few feet deep.
This is me, wearing as close as I can get to Christmas ski colors.  Orange and lime green is kind of close to red and green isn't it?
We skied the newly opened terrain over and over, until it was getting all skied up and we were getting tired. What an excellent birthday gift!

Now we may take a skiing break while the hordes of tourists are in town between Christmas and New Years.  Nice to be a local.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bosque Del Apache

Last year I went with Dick Pick down to the Bosque Del Apache national wildlife refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque, NM. I decided to give it another try this year.  Why this refuge?  It is a great wintering spot for over 100,000 birds.  They flood several areas with about 18 inches of water, which serves as protection and a source of food. While a lot of the roads through the refuge are closed to anyone but park employees, there is a nice driving route that loops around and gets you access to most everything.

One of the primary residents is the Snow Goose.  Tens of thousands of snow geese. They aren't quite as big as a Canada Goose, but they are a hell of a lot bigger than a duck.
The most amazing scene is when the geese suddenly decide it is time to go somewhere else.  Within seconds, the sky is full.  You definitely want to be wearing a hat when thousands of geese are flying over your head. I don't think scientists have figured out exactly which goose gets to decide that it is time to leave.

There are about 10,000 Sandhill Cranes in the area and they seem to be the photographers' favorite.
They are long and lanky with a definite prehistoric look.  They always take off and land into the wind and if you get a good stiff breeze, they almost come to a complete standstill in the air before dropping to the ground.
One evening a few cranes were flying into a big pond.  One decided to join a few others, perhaps to become friends.  I guess not.  The existing clique was particularly anti-social and aggressively ran the newcomer off.
In addition to the geese and cranes, there are tens of thousands of ducks.  Pintails are everywhere. I think they are one of the more attractive ducks I see.
There wasn't much ice, but I found this little Pintail parade going for an ice walk.  I like their reflections.
Mallards seem to be common almost everywhere in the US, but in the Bosque, they are fairly uncommon.

And back to a bit of snow geese....  This one seemed to be conducting, but his companions weren't really buying into the idea.
Every afternoon when the geese returned from the fields to the ponds, they needed to get rid of the day's dust.  They would flip, splash, and even roll upside down to clean up.  Each bird seemed to want about five minutes of "showering" before it was good enough.
One sad note was the number of birds that were dying.  I think it was avian cholera. Any time that many animals pack into such a small area, disease spreads quickly.  Every day the airboat went out to pick the dead geese out of the water.  If they left them there, the cholera would spread rapidly through the water.  I would much rather be the air boat driver than the dead goose getter.  Seniority?

The refuge has lots of non-waterfowl species, but you have to look a bit harder to find them.  They seem to number in the dozens or hundreds, not tens of thousands. This little sparrow and I were having a staring contest.  He won, but I got his picture.
This little bird was busy hovering a few feet above the ground and then diving for bugs.  He (she?) looked a but like a Kingbird, but I was never certain.
One of my favorite birds to see down south is the Roadrunner.
This one was kind enough to accentuate his name by running down a road. I desperately wanted to see a coyote, and they are on the Bosque, but no such luck.
There were bald eagles, harriers, kestrels, and other raptors, but they tended to be off too far for me to get a decent photograph.
I knew ahead of time that there would be a full moon while I was there.  I thought about the kinds of shots I wanted and tried to be in the right place at the right time.
There was some weird atmospheric thing going on.  When the moon was down by the horizon, it was golden, soft, and a bit wavy.  It seemed like something I might expect when you are looking across a hot dusty desert at a rising moon.  It was neither hot nor dusty, so I couldn't figure it out.
You never quite know what you'll find.  While I was waiting for the moon, I got a nice colorful sunset with some wonderful reflections.  I did leave a bit of moon in.
One morning I was getting ready to shoot some bird photos with other photographers.  I turned around and behind me, the early dawn was making a nice silhouette. No one else seemed to care, probably because it wasn't a bird.
The last evening I was there it was getting too dark to really see the cranes returning to the pond, but the sunset was pretty.  I decided to try a strong silhouette.  The odd shapes of the cranes made for very interesting results.
They were landing into a fairly stiff wind, so they dropped their landing gear (legs) very early and slowly coasted in.  It was really cool to watch.
And finally the sunset was just amazing.  The colors in the sky and reflected on the water were incredible.  It's nice to get lucky.
Unfortunately, the luck ended abruptly.  I went back to the hotel, copied my photos to my computer, and got my cameras ready for the next morning's shoot.  Within minutes, I was suffering from diarrhea and then vomiting.  I either had a stomach virus or food poisoning.   I spent hours worshiping the porcelain gods and then had a miserable day getting back home.  My photography trip was over, but at least I got about 80% of my shooting in.

Bosque Del Apache is a great place for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers to visit, primarily between November and January.  Not only can you see birds, if you're lucky you can see elk, deer, bobcat, mountain lions and coyote.   You can get more info from here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Traveling light

Tomorrow I am heading down to the Bosque del Apache national wildlife refuge in New Mexico for some photography.  I went last year and got some good shots, but I am hoping that I can do better with some experience.

I just finished packing and I think a casual observer would assume that I am heading on a self sufficient expedition to the Antarctic.  It is a very, very casual trip so I can get by with some socks, underwear, t-shirts, extra pants, and some warmth for the pre-sunrise shooting.  Somehow, I end up with a large suitcase (42 pounds), a camera backpack (20+ pounds) and a day pack (10+ pounds).

The good news is that if I lose interest in photography while on the trip, I can stop and open a well-stocked camera store.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Park City skiing update

I have now skied one day at each of the three Park City ski areas and they are all roughly the same right now:  not all that much open and what is open, is blue and green runs.  The good news is if it's open, it's probably in good shape.  We could definitely use another big storm or three, but the cold weather is allowing them to make a lot of snow and open more territory.

Today Julie and I went over to Deer Valley.  They had just opened the Jordanelle run, so we went over and did it a few times.
I took a quick, easy fall and popped right back up.  When I looked down, I had snapped one of my carbon poles off.  Neither one of us could offer a guess at how that could happen with such a trivial fall.  Bummer.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Skiing in Detroit

Julie told me that she skied a bit as she was growing up in the Detroit area.  I figured skiing in Michigan can't amount to much, so I never gave her a lot of credit for that experience.  Apparently I was wrong.  Now I understand what skiing in Detroit means.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Bobsled World Cup

On Friday I went down to the Utah Olympic Park to watch a bobsled competition.  I was going to head back on Saturday for some more photos, but it was extremely cold, snowy and windy.  With the snow, I am worried about moisture getting into my camera and lenses, even though they are "sealed".  I decided this has happened enough times now that I needed to order a rain cover for the camera.  You see them all the time on the sidelines of football games.  An inexpensive cover can save you a huge repair bill.

There was a Skeleton competition Friday morning. The sun was shining and two world records were set.  Of course, I wasn't there for that. In the afternoon and evening when I was there, the sun was behind clouds, and then behind the mountain.  It was frigid and snow showers started.

While it wasn't a great day to be a photographer, the competitors were hammering.  The level of competition really cranks up right before the Olympics.
There seemed to be all sorts of sleds being used.  The photo above looks like a traditional USA sled.  The one below looks like a KOA campground ad.  One of the South Korean women's teams was using a Jamaican sled.
You might expect that with the sleds flying into the turns with such speed and momentum, that they would take a nice straight line.  Not at all.  When you try panning with them for photos, you notice how much they are going up and down the wall in a curve.  Driving has to be intense!
There were dozens of guys along the track who were responsible for making sure the ice was good for each competitor.  They patched ruts, swept loose snow, and smoothed everything out.  I was hoping not to witness a catastrophic accident between a worker on the very edge of the track and a sled coming by at 80+ mph.
This is a two woman team starting.  They get the sleds moving in a hurry and the first five seconds can make the difference between winning and dead last.
Their track spikes give them traction on the ice.  I was walking across it near the start in nice winter boots and almost slipped and fell.
I really enjoy watching them hop into the sleds at full speed.  I wish I had seen the 4-man on Saturday.  The starts of those are really impressive.
This month's lead to the Olympics should be a great one here in Park City.  Next week we have a world cup Luge competition.  Around Christmas there are US Olympic trials for speed skating, ski jumping and Nordic Combined.

Friday, December 06, 2013

A day of frost

I was hoping for some serious hoar frost because of the -10 degree weather, but no such luck. There must have been too much of a breeze. Just the same, I got a few pretty shots.

Taking selfies with your camera phone has become a big thing.  Here is a more mysterious shadow in the fog selfie.
I went down by the boat ramp where I was rowing this summer.  There was a lot of steam coming off the water, but for the life of me I couldn't seem to find a great picture.  They all just looked like variations of a fog bank.  I did like the shape of the snow on these rocks.
When I left the reservoir, I went down to Heber and drove around to the base of the Jordanelle dam.  The most interesting things there were all macro shots of the frost. A Bald Eagle flew by, but I never found him again to get close enough.
This is frost on a sheet of ice on the Weber River. I'm not sure how it decides whether to be a clump of frost or little stick-like frost.
This was probably my favorite shot of the day.  You can see the plants growing in the river, but there is a very, very thin piece of ice along the surface.  Sitting on that ice is this little lump of lacy frost.
Lots of the tree leaves were decorated.  My favorites only had frost around the rim.
And we end with a trio of different berry shots.  While they look pretty, I had to get close to them to get these pictures.  At some point I realized the plant they were growing on had thorns.

Seems like everything I shoot for the next week or so will have a strong winter theme.  More snow coming tomorrow, a bobsled race at the Utah Olympic Park, and temperatures never hitting 20.