Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

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torpified
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Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by torpified » Tue Dec 03, 2019 6:54 pm

My instigator friend K is instigating a two-night trip to the Ostrander ski hut in Yosemite this March. I suspect that my present complement of gear and skills isn't exactly appropriate to the excursion, so I'm trying to figure out what I can acquire (by renting, buying, or practicing) between now and then to maximize utility.

My deal: I've been xc skiing for over 40 years, which is enough for even me to have become proficient---both at skiing (especially the classic technique) and spending long days outside under winter conditions. However, the bulk of my experience has been on racing skis (the currently favored pair is 202 cm long with sidecut 41-44-44) in groomed trail systems. And while some of these have featured >500 m of relief and stretches that (in elevation gained and average gradient) resemble the last three miles to Ostrander along the Bridalveil Creek trail, I don't imagine that I have any idea what I'm getting into.

I'm guessing that my racing skis aren't exactly the thing for this trip. But what is? I've never downhill skied and my downhill technique, such as it is, consists entirely in snowplows delivered with various degrees of acuity and determination. I'm not going to spend the layover day seeking death-defying descents. So I think I'm asking: what, under the range of conditions it's reasonable to expect, will get me most happily to Ostrander and back, while also facilitating non-gonzo poking around on the layover day?

When I ask the internet this question, I get a lot of pages about "bowls" and "skinning" and "carving", which gives me Thanksgiving flashbacks. Still, I've emerged with the impression that metal-edged touring skis that accommodate skins might be about the right speed. Does that seem reasonable? If it doesn't, what should I be looking for instead? Other questions:

This year (and alas this year only) I'm living in the Bay Area---any tips about where to rent the sort of gear I need?

What would you do on the layover day if you were me? (But see my next question before answering.)

About skills: I understand that avalanche awareness is huge, and that I have none. K has some, and a firm commitment to minimizing risk. That I'll delegate to her. For me, there's still the issue of moving efficiently and undangerously over the surface of the earth. Are there things I might try to do between now and the actual trip to usefully extend my skiing competences? (I'll probably be on snow at least twice before March, once in a hilly part of North Ontario and once at Royal Gorge.)

THANKS!








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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by bobby49 » Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:51 pm

First of all, I used to lead ski trips to Ostrander every year. March is a good time for decent snow. We used to always go up there at Christmas or by President's Day.

I do not like to see people going to Ostrander on rented gear. There is too much chance that you will discover something bad the hard way. Instead, I recommend to rent some gear one time to make sure that it is approximately correct. Go to some hills like what you expect in Yosemite. Then, for the second outing, have your newly purchased gear and go to more hills like what you expect.

I recommend getting some light metal-edged non-wax skis. This will not prepare you for the steepest and iciest mountaineering, but it should be perfectly adequate for Ostrander, because on the layover day you want to ski all or part of the way to Buena Vista Peak. Climbing skins are a very good idea.

People used to try to make it to Ostrander after a late start (11 a.m.), and they always got into trouble. The late start was generally influenced by car issues (traffic, chains, etc.).

I used to push my group to start from Badger Pass by 9 a.m. Then, if we had good conditions, we would make it to the hut by 3 p.m. If we had bad conditions, we would still make it to the hut at sunset. By that time, you are skating on thin ice, both figuratively speaking and literally. That last mile up the hill is awful on late afternoon ice, which is why the climbing skins become important. The reason for the early start is that they groom the first few miles of ski trail on the Glacier Point Road. You want to be the first skiers on it while it is clean and fast and you are going slightly downhill for the good part. The noon to 3 p.m. time can get tricky if you are still going through the trees, and the trees are dripping water onto the snow. That causes your skis to ice up and be totally unmanageable. So, having some light oil applied to the ski surfaces will keep that from getting very bad.

Some skiers used to pack everything but the kitchen sink in expectation of having to spend a night out in the snow. As a result of the heavy pack, sometimes they did have to spend that night out in the snow (not recommended). There is firewood for the stove at the hut, so you do not need an arctic-grade sleeping bag. However, you might need ear plugs for the snoring noise around you. It is a good place to practice ultralightweight backpacking tactics.

Now, if you went in via the Bridalveil Creek Trail, you did your layover day, and then you are heading back out, you have choices. I do not recommend going back out by the Bridalveil Creek Trail. I recommend Horizon Ridge. It is more open and has better opportunities for some fun skiing.

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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by c9h13no3 » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:33 pm

There's very little avalanche terrain around Ostrander. The prime slope angle for avalanches is 38 degrees, and given your skiing abilities you'll probably be avoiding that anyways. Turn on slope angle shading on Caltopo, and just avoid the slopes in orange & red (34-45 degrees), and the areas below those slopes. There's pretty much no avalanche forecast that would have me canceling a trip to the hut.

I'd think thin snow bridges, or navigating in a white out with a dead phone would be your biggest hazards.

I live on the Peninsula, and I've rented AT skis & skins from Helm of Sun Valley San Mateo several times. Their gear is usually older, but well maintained & in good shape. The owner Gary is generally ornery and not interested in small talk, but he's an honest businessman. And $40 for AT rentals is pretty hard to beat. They rent BC cross country skis as well, no experience with that. But yeah, either rent from the target shop before your big trip and try it out, or give yourself another day beforehand to check out your gear.
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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by bobby49 » Tue Dec 03, 2019 11:30 pm

Horse Ridge has shown us a few avalanches over the years. Also going up Buena Vista Peak. The north side of Horizon Ridge has had a few also.

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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by bobby49 » Wed Dec 04, 2019 12:06 am

Ski salesmen will sometimes try to put you into the wrong kind of ski based on their experience and not based on your intended trip.

Sometimes they will try to put you into a heavy alpine touring ski, and that is super overkill for Ostrander. You might be able to do it OK with a standard plastic-edge touring ski. However, the light metal-edge ski is hugely more indestructible. Believe me, you don't want to get about seven miles in and then have your skis fall apart. If the snow is not too deep, you might catch an edge on a rock. The plastic-edge skis might break, but the metal-edge skis won't. Since the metal-edge skis will likely be wider and have more side cut, you might want to get something just slightly shorter and more maneuverable. You also want to get bindings mounted that are not super light, yet not super heavy.

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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by TurboHike » Wed Dec 04, 2019 6:39 am

torpified wrote:
Tue Dec 03, 2019 6:54 pm
Still, I've emerged with the impression that metal-edged touring skis that accommodate skins might be about the right speed.
Yes, this is what I would use, and make sure your boots are appropriate so you can actually drive the skis and use those metal edges if conditions become icy. I've done multiple hut trips and a trans-sierra trip with this type of set-up. It's great for touring, and I can telemark the downhills if I'm looking for fun.

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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by tomba » Wed Dec 04, 2019 10:29 pm

In the Bay Area I had good experience renting Telemark and AT skis from Outback Adventures in Fremont (near REI). More info: http://www.highsierratopix.com/communit ... f=5&t=8992
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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by torpified » Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:09 am

Thanks, all---this is fantastic. The idea of a sidetrip toward Buena Vista Peak is intriguing!

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Re: Advice needed: Gearing up for Ostrander?

Post by bobby49 » Thu Dec 05, 2019 10:42 am

torpified wrote:
Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:09 am
The idea of a sidetrip toward Buena Vista Peak is intriguing!
On the layover day, if the weather is nice, you go to Buena Vista Peak and back. If the weather is poor, you just ski the bowls on Horse Ridge.

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