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Project Zero: An Effort Toward Zero Avalanche Deaths

Monday, November 16th, 2015

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Project Zero is a collaborative effort striving to change perceptions of avalanche risk and shift the goal toward zero deaths.

By Shaun Nauman

The experience of backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the alpine is bliss beyond words. Snow carpets the alpine landscape and shimmers like diamonds when the first light hits. On the approach through snow covered spruce trees, humanity is left behind. It has a peaceful resonance, and tranquility that no words or pictures can truly capture. As you break tree line you are beckoned by a landscape bigger than the mind can comprehend. Rocky crags paint the landscape in an ocean of winter bliss as you work your way to the summit. Within the blink of an eye all that can change. A large persistent slab can shatter across the slope like a windowpane of glass, and the tranquility is suddenly changed in to in to a surreal nightmare.

pz_pres3In the past few years we have lost many legends, and, on a personal level, a few friends. The fact is, if you spend enough time in the backcountry you are eventually going to know someone that has died in an avalanche. If you don’t already, you will. At some point it becomes personal, for all of us. The sobering fact is that the more we read through avalanche incident reports, we see a recurring theme – same avalanche – different face. It has forced many of us to step back and evaluate why this is often happening to people with avalanche training.

The power of avalanche education is the industry-based framework that places everyone on the same page, with the same terminology and understanding. This process forms stronger communication of group dynamics while evaluating avalanche hazards, snow stability and terrain choices. However, it seems that even when armed with these skills we do not see a reduction in accidents and fatalities.

As educators, instructors and industry leaders we realized a need to look beyond teaching just the techniques of avalanche safety. Is the message telling people to get a beacon, shovel, probe and take an avalanche course fragmented? Is there a deeper layer that needs to be addressed? Avalanche safety and rescue techniques are a critical component, but not the entire picture. There is mounting evidence that a pattern of human factors is emerging. People tend to get pulled in to presumptuous and general rule-of-thumb behaviors, often referred to as heuristic traps. The common denominator lies not in the training but in the patterns of evaluating avalanche hazards.

pz_presHow do we address the bigger picture? Project Zero was launched as a collaborative effort with the mission to shift the perception of avalanche risk and to move the goal toward zero deaths. It is a ground-breaking unity of avalanche forecast centers, educators, equipment manufacturers and industry associations across North America.

When I first learned of Project Zero, the message struck me on a personal level. I sought a way to become a part of the initiative and was invited to take a role as a Project Zero Ambassador. I gave a presentation at the 2015 Silverton Splitfest in Silverton, Colorado under the current campaign, The Backcountry Starts Here. At the core of the campaign are the “Backcountry Basics” one should follow before entering backcountry terrain. These are five call-to-action pieces that serve to reinforce the baseline of a positive backcountry experience.

Backcountry Basics • Get the Gear• Get the

The first three call-to-action pieces are relatively self explanatory. (1) Get the Gear: Includes a beacon, shovel, and probe. (2) Get the Training: By taking an avalanche course, it puts you on the same sheet of music, same terminology and same understanding as others in your group. (3) Get the Forecast: Check weather and avalanche forecasts before deciding on an objective.

The next two call-to-action pieces are more complex and are the key components I elaborate on to streamline the complexity of “Get the Picture,” which is the importance of a routine. Backcountry users need to have a rigid, rule-based routine much like any other high-stakes industry. The analogy, as Bruce Tremper of the Utah Avalanche Center puts it, “is much like that of a commercial aviation pilot, performing pre-flight checklists.” The use of a method-based routine prevents us from making assumptions and rule of thumb shortcuts.

alptruthTo fully grasp this concept, people need to put their mind in an analytical mode that seeks and filters facts and look for clues. The clues are everywhere, and are often referred to as nature’s billboards. Systems that are employed for environmental traps such as ALPTRUTH, originally developed by avalanche researcher Ian McCammon, is an acronym used to stay on course and give you mental clues during pre-planning and while you are out. From a practical perspective, when ALPTRUTH is employed as an obvious clues system, it can help us gauge the bigger picture. As McCammon put it, “If I run through this checklist and notice one or two clues it gives me a gauge. If I start to see three or more of the ALPTRUTH clues, I know I am getting pretty far from shore and it’s time to reassess my goals.”

The amount of information, data and resources available today can be overwhelming. In order to make good decisions we need to be able to sort and prioritize information and filter these facts. The mountains are not static. A complex understanding of terrain and snow science is essential to make fluid decisions. When making key decisions in avalanche terrain I always ask myself how I could be wrong. I emphasize to others to always be willing to reevaluate and change their plan based on new information. Employing a method such as ALPTRUTH can help keep you on track identifying environmental traps.

facetsThe final call to action – Get out of Harm’s Way: Daily, we make hundreds of decisions both large and small and we must make them efficiently. We are largely unaware of making them, even when they are critical decisions. Our decision-making is heavily affected by our biases and reliance on success of habits. Intuitive decisions are made on almost an unconscious level whereas analytical thinking is systematic. These intuitive decisions, or rules of thumb become “heuristic traps” when they are applied unconsciously and can be deadly when we use them in avalanche terrain unconsciously. McCammon also developed an acronym for basing decisions on familiar but inappropriate cues known as FACETS. Like facets in the snowpack, we want to avoid them. Heuristic traps account for the lion’s share of avalanche incidents. Basing our decisions on familiar, but inappropriate clues.

Employing system acronyms such as APLTRUTH for environmental factors and FACETS for human factors are a few tools for developing a routine and helping us stay on track. Consistent use of such routines and changing the mindset of backcountry recreationalists may help evolve the patterns of avalanche accidents and, ultimately, that is the goal of Project Zero. These are practical tools that can help novices recognize the conditions and events that have taken lives in the past and start them on an advanced routine in the backcountry.

This post comes from Shaun Nauman, a blogger ( and Boulder, CO resident. When Shaun isn’t studying snow hydrology and forecasting avalanches, the AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Instructor is finding new adventures in the backcountry on his splitboard. Watch for more adventures, gear reviews and fun reading from Shaun and other Ambassadors of Tahoe Mountain Sports.


Saturday, October 31st, 2015



With forecasts of El Niño ushering a potentially epic winter into the Sierra, Tahoe Mountain Sports’ upcoming Avalanche Education Series will help ensure the safety of you and your backcountry partners.

Tahoe Mountain Sports’ 2015-16 Avy Education Series presented by Ortovox is a free, three-part opportunity to learn practices that can keep you safe while participating in backcountry snow sports.

In addition to free, hands-on activities aimed at learning rescue techniques and how to use and service beacons and avalanche airbag packs, TMS will offer special, in-store deals each night during the series and raffles benefiting the Sierra Avalanche Center.

While the series is not intended to be an end-all education on avalanche safety, it is an exceptional opportunity to learn directly from Truckee-Tahoe’s resident mountain guides, avalanche safety instructors, meteorologists and local non-profits, such as the Sierra Avalanche Center.

All events are free and held at Tahoe Mountain Sports; 11200 Donner Pass Rd. in Truckee. Doors open at 6 p.m. Programs start at 6:30 p.m. For more information contact TMS at 530-536-5200 or

Part I – Reading Avalanche Reports, Understand Mountain Forecasts & Making Good Decisions
Weds. Nov. 18 – 6:30 p.m.
Zach Tolby, a NOAA meteorologist, will discuss mountain-specific forecasts and what a strong El Niño means for the Sierra. Don Triplat from the Sierra Avalanche Center and Steve Reynaud from the Tahoe Mountain School will discuss problem solving in winter scenarios and safe backcountry movement. Interactive weather and decision-making scenarios will follow in a small group setting. Great raffle will cap it all off. Ortovox presents this event with additional support from The North Face and Black Diamond.

Part 2 – Beacons and Beers
Weds. Dec. 9 – 6:30 p.m.
Learn the basics of avalanche rescue including proper transceiver and shovel use and group-rescue strategies. Jared Rodriguez of Ortovox and Steve Reynaud of Tahoe Mountain School will discuss the history and tech behind avalanche transceivers. Attendees will break into small groups for outdoor beacon practice including burial scenarios. TMS will offer discounts on products in the store this night only. TMS can update Ortovox, Mammut, Barryvox and Pieps transceivers for $5 this night only. Ortovox presents this event with additional support from The North Face and Arva Equipment.

Part 3 – Avalanche Airbag Sessions – Rep War & Party
Weds Jan. 27, 2016 6:30 p.m.
Learn the physics behind avalanche airbag packs and understand the differences between passive and active backcountry safety gear. The night’s highlight will be the “Rep War,” where representatives from major airbag companies debate each other on who makes superior airbag systems. TMS will offer free exchanges of all air or gas cylinders this night only in an effort to practice and to test your system. A season-ending raffle supporting Sierra Avalanche Center will follow with the grand prize of a Mammut airbag pack ($900 value) highlighting the evening. Ortovox presents this event with additional support from The North Face, Black Diamond, Mammut and Backcountry Access (BCA).



Leave No Trace: Adventure Dining Guide

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

By Michelle Shea

Who: Sam and Jenna, the Subaru Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers. Michelle Shea (host), Skyler Mullings (cameraman), Connor Stohlgren (sound)
What: Paleo car camping meal and Leave No Trace cooking methods
Where: North Lake Tahoe
When: August 2015

Click on the photo to learn more about leave-no-trace cooking techniques.

Click on the photo to learn more about leave-no-trace cooking techniques.

Spending time with Leave No Trace experts Sam Ovett and Jenna Hanger during their visit to Tahoe emphasized the importance of taking care of all the little details when cooking outdoors. By planning ahead and paying attention to what we might be leaving behind, we can all do our part to keep the wilderness pristine.

Sam and Jenna are ambassadors of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. The duo live, work and travel out of a brand new Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid. Sam and Jenna came to Lake Tahoe in August to work several events and were kind enough to sneak in an afternoon of hanging out on the beach, stand up paddle boarding and Paleo car cooking with the Adventure Dining Guide team.

This is an episode you don’t want to miss! Click the “view recipe” to get some more Leave No Trace tips and learn how you can prepare this healthy Paleo meal on your next camping excursion:

Check out Tahoe Mountain Sports for your outdoor culinary needs:

I hope that this episode of Adventure Dining Guide encourages you to always be responsible and to always Leave No Trace!

This post comes from Guest Blogger Michelle Shea. Michelle lives at Lake Tahoe and is the host/creator of the outdoor series Adventure Dining Guide. She created Adventure Dining Guide because “food is the unrecognized hero of our journeys, and it’s about time backcountry meals get the recognition they deserve”. Learn more at


Polar Opposites: A photo journey of Antarctica in Truckee

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Todd Offenbacher and Tahoe Mountain Sports host an early season pow wow for pow featuring Todd O’s slideshow from Antarctica.

Who: Todd Offenbacher – Mammut athlete, mountaineer and Tahoe local
What: Polar Opposites: A photographic journey of ski mountaineering in Antarctica and Svalbard
When: Oct. 21 | Doors-shopping specials: 6 p.m. | Program: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Where: Tahoe Mountain Sports; 11200 Donner Pass Rd. Truckee
Why: Get stoked for snow and raffle benefiting Sierra Avalanche Center

Truckee, CA — Join Tahoe Mountain Sports on Oct. 21 to get psyched for snow with Todd O and his Polar Opposites slideshow.

TMS will host its free, all-ages, in-store season kick-off with adventure skier and climber Todd Offenbacher (Todd O) as he takes us on a photographic journey of ski mountaineering in Antarctica and Svalbard. Along with Todd O’s stunning photography, Tahoe Mountain Sports will feature a raffle to benefit the Sierra Avalanche Center, of which Todd O is a board member.

“Penguins in the south and polar bears in the north,” Todd O says about Polar Opposites. “With a little bit of big wall climbing thrown in for fun.”

From 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., TMS will be offering shopping specials for those stocking up on their stoke due to Todd O’s adventures.

“It is a funny and inspiring show,” he says. “I try to explain how to get invited, or invited back, to the best trips in the world.”

The South Lake Tahoe resident and Mammut athlete is also a guide for Ice Axe Expeditions, the host for Outside TV Lake Tahoe and the creator of Tahoe Adventure Film Festival, which will premier this year on Dec. 11 at the MontBleu in South Lake Tahoe.

Tahoe Mountain Sports – 536-5200

A Sky Island Kuna Crest in Yosemite

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Time lapse of the recent Walker Fire outside Yosemite.

Who: Rachel McCullough
What: Hiking and climbing
Tuolumne/Yosemite National Park
August 2015

It was a surprisingly warm morning last month in Yosemite National Park, which was nice because our destination for the day was more than 12,000 feet in elevation.

A week before the trip my hiking partner, Tom, and I studied the Yosemite map and bemoaned that we’d done nearly all the established trails close to the road.

So, we set our sights on a high-elevation hike with no established trail. This hike would take us to the top of Mammoth Peak at 12,117 feet and then south along the Kuna Crest, which rose and fell above and below 12,000 feet.

Mammoth Peak, our first destination.

Mammoth Peak, our first destination.

If you’ve read any of my other posts that involved Tom and Theresa (Hiking Yosemite’s Bermuda Triangle: Tenaya Canyon or Gorgeous Day Hike from Lukens Lake to Tenaya Lake in Tuolomne), you know that while we always intend to get an early start, it doesn’t actually ever happen.

We left the trailhead at 8:45 a.m. and immediately stepped off the trail and into the conifer forest, our objective coming in and out of view to the southwest.

Abandoning our usual fast clip we settled into a one-mile per hour kind of pace that involved frequently looking for the easiest route to the summit and agreeing upon our path. We went from a pond to forest to meadow to forest and then to the craggy upper reaches of Mammoth Peak.

Throughout our journey we spotted sheep poop and hoped to spot a bighorn sheep, which were rumored to be in the Mono Pass area just to our east.

We gained the ridge to the west and followed it to the summit, but not before I called a “food emergency.” Some in our group are known to realize they are absolutely starving just before the “hangry” phase sets in. Instead of the usual summit food and water break, we stopped just below the top of Mammoth Peak, with expansive views to the west, north and south.

Summit bound.

Summit bound.

This is where you can really see the difference between areas in Tuolumne that were glaciated and those that rose above the glacier. The Tuolumne domes that many are familiar with, such as DAFF, Fairview, Medlicott, and Lembert, were smoothed over into their dome shapes as the glaciers ran over them. The taller jagged peaks, such as Cathedral and Unicorn, stood above the glaciers.

We summited Mammoth Peak about four hours in, after a little more than 3.5 miles of off-trail hiking and scrambling. And that’s when we saw that the small wisps of smoke we’d spotted earlier that morning were now billowing. In those few hours, what we would later learn was the Walker Fire expanded quickly, and even closed Highway 120, which is the nearest park exit.

We signed the summit register and saw that the last party to sign had been up three days prior. We had the top to ourselves, but didn’t linger long. We headed south along the Kuna Crest.


Walking along the Kuna Crest.

Walking along the Kuna Crest.

Kuna Crest is a sky island, which is one of the reasons Tom and I (the planners for this hike) were interested to check it out. We were drawn to it after watching the Yosemite Nature Notes Sky Island video, which explains that sky islands are isolated high elevation places with unique plant species that don’t grow anywhere else. There are a few of these sky islands in the Park and Kuna Crest happened to be relatively easy to access.

Although we didn’t see the famed blue sky pilots (you can see them in the Nature Notes video), we saw many of the other plants known to grow in the sky islands, such as alpine gold, Sierra columbine, lupine and buckwheat. From afar, you’d never guess that, such as rocky place, was full of so many plants.

We followed the Kuna Crest up and down, stopping along the way to take a time-lapse of the growing Walker Fire, which started billowing white smoke at the top of the plume partway through the day.

The nice thing about our plan was that we could find a place to come down off the crest whenever we felt like it and pick up the Mono Pass trail to walk back to the car. There was a short section of talus to get off the Crest to reach the lakes below, but after that, it was easy walking back to the trail.

We timed it well and were back to the car well before dark, and were eating our pasta dinner in no time. The only thing we didn’t time well was the line at the Tuolumne store, where we stopped to get typical camping essentials, like chips and our ice cream appetizer.

This post comes from Rachel McCullough, an avid hiker, mountain biker, rock climber, yogi, skier and photographer living in Truckee, CA. Follow @rachelmcphotos on Instagram for stunning images of beautiful Sierra scenery. When Rachel isn’t enjoying her free time in the outdoors, she’s teaching skiing at Northstar California or building and marketing websites for her clients at McCullough Web Services.

Peak Baggin’ the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Monday, September 21st, 2015

Who: Chris Cloyd
What: Trail Running/Peak Baggin’
Where: Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter
When: Sept. 12, 2015

In mid-September Tahoe Mountain Sports Ambassador Chris Cloyd set out from the Rush Creek trailhead (37.78227°N/119.09786°W) off the June Lake Loop on the eastside of the Sierra with Bill Clements and Luke Garten for a dayshot effort on Banner Peak and Mount Ritter. Check out their day in the high Sierra!
And check out the huge selection of topo maps and guide books at Tahoe Mountain Sports for your next adventure…

Using the Rush Creek trailhead for an approach of Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter isn’t the most economical (it’s closer to start at Agnew Meadows trailhead  37.68296°N/119.09263°W out of Mammoth), but Bill, Luke and I had run the River Trail before and wanted to explore a new zone. Seeing the cable tramway up from Silver Lake, the dam at Agnew Lake and new trails was well worth the extra work.

We ascended North Glacier Pass from Thousand Island Lake and refilled our water supply at Lake Catherine. From there, we ascended just north of the glacier via rock and talus to gain the saddle between Banner and Ritter. Ascending Banner was a glorified walk up via the southwest face — and well worth it.

Views of Thousand Island Lake, Mono Lake and Garnet Lake reward your efforts. Retracing our steps to the saddle, our next challenge was the north face of Ritter. Muir waxed poetic on his ascent and our route was every bit as awesome. We utilized a chute rising from the apex of the glacier and gained the summit ridge, summiting our second peak of the day in fine style.

We opted to descend down the SE face of Ritter to Ritter Lakes to take in some new scenery, regrouped at Lake Catherine and then ran back to the trailhead retracing our route. Just under 10 hours!

Chris Cloyd is a TMS Ambassador and lover of endurance sports. When Chris isn’t training for his next big run in the mountains or out exploring the Eastern Sierra on bike, he’s managing the Performance Training Center by Julia Mancuso. Watch for more race reports, gear reviews and fun reading from Chris and other Ambassadors of Tahoe Mountain Sports.


Sunday, September 13th, 2015
Need a race-day wetsuit or just want to take one for a demo swim? Contact TMS and we’ll get you zipped up.

Need a race-day wetsuit or just want to take one for a demo swim? Contact TMS and we’ll get you zipped up.

Tahoe Mountain Sports can’t do much to lessen the elevation for those taking on Ironman Lake Tahoe on Sept. 20, but TMS can help racers and their support crews handle chilly mountain temperatures and the cold water of the Sierra Nevada.

Whether it’s in the lake, on the bike, out on the run or spectating, Tahoe Mountain Sports has everything to cover the pre-race, post-race and race-day nutrition and gear needs of triathletes and their families.

Starting Monday, Sept. 14, Tahoe Mountain Sports, located just off the bike course in Truckee at 11200 Donner Pass Rd., kicks off its annual Ironman appreciation days with a variety of steals, deals and schwag. Make sure to stop by the store to stock up that transition bag and at the TMS booth in the Ironman Village at Squaw Valley for a chance to win gear.

Forget race-day nutrition? Don’t stress; Tahoe Mountain Sports stocks all the best offerings from Hammer, Clif, Gu, Nuun and Epic Bars.

From goggles and swim caps to wetsuits, Tahoe Mountain Sports boasts Truckee-North Tahoe’s best supply of triathlon-specific gear from Tyr, Nathan and 2XU. Need a race-day wetsuit or just want to take one for a demo swim? Contact TMS and we’ll get you zipped up.

And whether it’s a racer taking on the 26.2-mile run leg of the triathlon or the family exploring the area’s trails, Tahoe Mountain Sports has a top-of-the-line selection of footwear for road and trail running and hiking.

From free wetsuit demos and the chance to win a $100 store gift certificate, Tahoe Mountain Sports welcomes those taking on the challenge of Ironman Lake Tahoe. Good luck!

@ TAHOE MOUNTAIN SPORTS (11200 Donner Pass Rd. in Truckee)

Mon-Weds (9/14-9/16) – Take 20 percent off all nutrition products, compression and warm/cold weather gear. Check out brands like Hammer Nutrition, Gu, Clif, 2XU and CEP compression.

Ironman Week (9/14-9/20) – Free 2XU wetsuit demos all week long. While supplies and sizes last, stop by the store and take a 2XU wetsuit out for a swim in Tahoe or nearby Donner Lake. 24-hour rental rates are free; anything over 24 hours is $25/day. Race day rentals are available for $25. Inquire at the store for available sizes and rental reservations.


Thurs-Sat (9/17-9/20) – Visit Tahoe Mountain Sports and 2XU at the Ironman Village at Squaw Valley. There will be a huge selection of 2XU compression and triathlon gear and clothing. And don’t forget to stop by, say hi and enter to win a $100 gift certificate by signing up at the booth during the expo.

Castle Peak 100K Runners Go Big

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015
Chris Cloyd, TMS ambassador and Truckee local, placed third overall in his Salomon Running kit at the inaugural Castle Peak 100K.

Chris Cloyd, TMS ambassador and Truckee local, placed third overall in his Salomon Running kit at the inaugural Castle Peak 100K.

By all accounts the inaugural Castle Peak 100K trail race on Aug. 29 was a success, but by no means easy.

Of the 55 runners who started the race at 5 a.m. Saturday at Stampede Reservoir, 48 crossed the finish line at Donner Memorial State Park — the majority in the dark.

Shout out to Tahoe Mountain Sports ambassador and Truckee resident Chris Cloyd, who finished third overall. Cloyd covered the 62.5 miles and 11,000 feet of elevation in 12 hours 42 mins. Jace Ives, of Ashland, OR, hammered the course finishing first at 10 hrs 53 mins. The first woman was Roxanne Woodhouse of Weaverville, CA at 13 hrs 02 mins.

Congratulations to all who took on the Castle Peak 100K challenge. TMS looks forward to Chris’ recap of the event, next year’s race and what race organizers — Donner Party Mountain Runners — have in store for the future from racing to group runs.

And while Donner Party Mountain Runners is a great place to connect about the trail running scene, TMS has all your trail-running gear needs covered. Whether you’re gearing up for an ultra-running event or just hitting the area’s amazing trail offerings for your own running adventure, TMS has you covered from head to toe.


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Salomon’s S Lab XT 6

If running 100k wasn’t challenging enough, the Castle Peak 100k threw in another surprise at mile 49 — ascending a steep, exposed cliff band in the Palisades between Mt. Disney and Mt. Lincoln. How steep? Steep enough that runners tackled the ascent assisted by ropes.

OK, not everyone is hitting rated pitches on their trail runs, but wearing shoes designed for mixed trail types will cover most situations. Salomon’s S-Lab XT 6 Trail Racing Shoes offer the company’s Contragrip, which features outsole hardness combinations for a blend of grip and durability.

The shoe company that’s taken the trail-running world by storm the last few years is Hoka. You’ve undoubtedly seen the unique shoes on the feet of your hardcore running friends. Hoka’s thick, rolling rocker and midsole geometry features a high volume, soft density rebounding foam that scores of runners swear by.


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Ultimate Direction’s SJ Ultra Hydration Vest

The distance of your run will dictate your hydration needs. Will a hydration pack, vest or hand-held water bottle do the job? Whatever your needs, TMS has it all. For those long runs the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Hydration Vest allows for plenty of water with two 20oz bottle holders and space to accommodate a 70 oz. bladder. Another cool feature is the stretchy pockets so the vest expands as you need it.

If you’re heading out for a shorter run or just don’t like wearing a vest or pack, a hand-held water bottle may be your best option. The Salomon Park Hydro Handset  features an innovative 16-ounce flask that compresses as you drink and eliminates annoying sloshing as you deplete your liquids nearer the end of a run.

For more on the Salomon Park Hydro Handset checkout this TMS review.

Footwear and hydration are just two aspects of what will help you out on the trail. Find everything for your trail running needs from technical apparel, nutrition, headlamps and more at Tahoe Mountain Sports.

Running a Remote Aid Station at One of the Toughest Ultra-Marathons: Hardrock 100.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

This post comes from Shaun Nauman, a blogger ( and Boulder, CO resident. When Shaun isn’t studying snow hydrology and forecasting avalanches, the AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Instructor is finding new adventures in the backcountry on his splitboard. Watch for more adventures, gear reviews and fun reading from Shaun and other Ambassadors of Tahoe Mountain Sports.

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The Hardock 100 is a mountain run that passes through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountains in the world. The Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run is an ultra-marathon of 100.5 miles in length, plus 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. The race is held on a loop course on 4WD roads, dirt trails, and cross country in Southern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

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The San Juan mountains are home to some of the most rugged mountains in Colorado. The run starts and ends in Silverton, Colorado and travels through the towns of Telluride, Ouray, and the ghost town of Sherman, crossing thirteen major passes in the 12,000′ to 13,000′ range. Runners must travel above 12,000 feet (3,700 m) of elevation a total of 13 times, with the highest point on the course being the 14,048′ summit of Handies Peak. This is a test of runners against the mountains. The course is on trails as much as possible. There are 13 aid stations; major aid stations are located in the towns and a few remote aid stations throughout the course. The run is a salute to the toughness and perseverance of the hardrock miners who lived and worked in the area.

For the past five years, I have been part of a team who runs a remote aid station at roughly 12,200’ elevation just below Engineer Pass, known properly as Engineer Aid Station. The logistics and planning that go in to running a remote aid station begin several weeks, if not months, before we even arrive in Silverton, CO. To start, last year the design and engineering of new lightweight canopy shelters would replace the tarp shelter we have used for many years, it was enough to make even the most weight consciences backpacker jealous. Several boxes of gear are inventoried and packed away for the trip to Silverton. Once in Silverton we draw even more equipment from Hardrock 100 (food, beverages, emergency bags, and all the fill-in items that complete an aid station). We then attend general, medical, and radio communication briefings. Once the briefings are complete, equipment is loaded and the last few things are gathered to fill empty spots, and the pilgrimage to Engineer Pass begins.

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We typically arrive at the top of Engineer Pass via a four-wheel drive road late Thursday afternoon the night prior to the race start. From there we load up packs and descend in to the Bear Creek valley right at tree line below Engineer Pass. Wildflowers and snowfields fill this valley, and when the light is right, it is a natural spectacle beyond words.

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It takes a full day to get the aid station setup. The Hardrock 100 begins the next morning (Friday) at 6 a.m., at the same time we are setting up our station. Engineer Aid Station is right at about the 50 mile mark. Each year the race is run in a reverse direction, but since we are in the middle, it has little bearing on us. The logistics of bringing in food, beverages, tables, and cooking supplies are calculated almost to the pound. Water has to be filtered from a nearby stream, roughly 75 gallons of it. 15 gallons of broth will be prepared, and over 200 pounds of food and beverages will be packed in. Two large wing canopies, four ultra-light tables, lights, a stove, fuel, and emergency supplies are also packed in. All of this is just for the runners and their pacers. Volunteers at the aid station are responsible for packing in their own food and supplies beyond what they are hauling on behalf of the aid station.

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The canopies were made using aerodynamic wing designs reminiscent of that seen in MSR Wing or Kelty Noah Tarps and designed from lightweight Tyvek, shock cord, and high tensile strength aluminum. They proved to stand up to all the elements this year, which in a 24 hour period included rain, snow, lightning, wind, sunshine…you name it. While the wing canopies each cover an area of 24’ x 30’, they weigh less than 8lbs apiece!

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Once the amenities of the aid station are set up, a radio base station is established between aid stations and with Silverton headquarters some 15 miles away over mountainous terrain. The radio communications are critical, and the use HAM radios and creative uses of radio equipment are employed. Often times we can hit a radio repeater on Engineer Mountain at 13,200’, but not always. At times it is a matter of aiming a lightweight yagi antenna at a cliff wall and bouncing the signal down Bear Creek Canyon to Ouray. Other times it might include a cross-band repeater set up in a vehicle parked several miles away on Engineer Pass. In many instances, our communications have to be intermittently shut down due to electric storms. We stay busy, to say the least.

In actuality, the radio network to cover the 100-mile race is quite a marvel. A diagram of the radio schematic from various aid stations would look like a spider web to some. But it all falls in to place. With all the challenges, we make contact and track every single runner and pacer that comes through our station. Our first runner usually comes through at around 4pm on Friday. For the next 16 hours runners will continue to pour in to our station. Our busiest time is between 10pm and 2am, but we will see them well in to the morning hours.

We have seen just about everything imaginable come through our station. Some runners appear as if they are taking a casual stroll through the park, in high spirits. But, with Hardrock, and the elements of the mountains, a pass that is sunny and still one moment can be a whiteout of graupel, rain, and lightning the next. The runners reflect the experiences they encounter on the course. Even though we only see the runners briefly at our aid station, their experiences will be remembered for a lifetime.

7 Hardrock100

After all runners are accounted for to the next aid station, we get the all-clear to pack up our station. We practice Leave No Trace ethics. In essence, the aid station and any clue of its existence vanish upon our departure. The long hike out of Engineer begins, hopefully getting to the top of Engineer Pass to our vehicles before the afternoon storms hit. This year we encountered a blinding white mix of rain, graupel, and snow ascending to the top of the pass.

In all, it is a tremendous amount of work running this station. But we love doing it and have returned for many years, as a group we have run this station since 2010. The runners in Hardrock are quite honestly some of the most genuine people I have ever had the opportunity to meet. Hardrock is a race like no other, and from a runner’s perspective is a mental challenge as well as a physical one. All of the runners have stories of Hardrock 100 and how they persevered both the external and internal challenges. It’s the inspiration of the runners, and the genuine human spirit that keeps us coming back.

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Sierra Crest 30K/50K – Course Preview

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

This post comes from two Donner Party Mountain Runner members, Lorenzo Wimmer and Jon Murchinson. Both are avid runners and in preparation for the Aug. 8th Sierra Crest 30K/50K Ultra Run, they took to the trails to give us a course preview!

Register TODAY and enjoy these scenic views:

Donner Panorama-600

Donner Ridge (Ph: Lorenzo Wimmer)

Jon Murchinson’s Sierra Crest Preview:

Distance: Approximately 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2k+ feet


Ph: Jon Murchinson

The Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center is the starting point for the 30k. Runners pass through the corals and head west into the extensive Tahoe Donner trail system. This first section of the course is largely on horse trails (roots and manure are the obstacles to beware of) which winds through the trees. It is largely flat until the course turns up Boot Hill and starts a slight climb on a broad and exposed trail at Marker 37.


Ph: Jon Murchinson

Runners continue on Dogs in Space past Marker 38 and onto Marker 38a. At this point the course turns right and starts up a series of switchbacks. This is the first significant climb of this section of the course. It is exposed so runners will benefit from having a visor, hat or bandana and sunglasses. As the course climbs it provides views of the Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area, Prosser Creek Reservoir, Martis Valley and Northstar. The climb ends at Marker 17b,and runners turn right onto Crazy Horse. This section is rather flat although it is somewhat rocky.


Ph: Jon Murchinson

Crazy Horse leads down to Marker 17 at which point the course turns left and starts a long climb up Andromeda towards Hawk’s Peak. This is the longest climb in this part of the course although runners will enjoy additional views of Martis Valley and Northstar. Runners will pass the Hawk’s Peak Loop Trail, at approximately 7,600’ the high point of this section, and continue on towards the Drifter Hut and some of the most stunning vistas of this part of the course.


Ph: Jon Murchinson

At Marker 36 the Euer Valley is off to runners’ right and Castle Peak comes into view for the first time. After a brief singletrack uphill, the course continues on towards the Drifter Hut, turns left and starts a welcome downhill towards Marker 18a.


Ph: Jon Murchinson

Runners start the final uphill of this section at Marker 19, which is the bottom of Sunrise Bowl. The climb is undulating and steep in sections, although not as long or taxing as the Andromeda Hill, it could present challenges due to some loose and rocky terrain. Once again views of the Tahoe Donner Ski Area are abundant. At the crest of the hill there is a stand of trees that provides welcome shade. Runners will enjoy a mild downhill that starts at Marker 19.


Ph: Jon Murchinson

The ridge behind Donner Lake is directly ahead and Tinker’s Knob and Mount Judah can be seen off to the right. At Marker 20, the course turns left and runners do an out-and-back section to the Glacier Way Aid Station.

Lorenzo Wimmer’s Sierra Crest Preview:

I began the run from the Glacier Way aid station number two. I bypassed the starting line to Aid Station #1. The Glacier Way Picnic area was quite a beautiful setting!

The course starts off flat, with a series of gentle rollers following the winter cross country ski trails. (It probably would have been more understandable if I had skied or gone out on snowshoes these runs in the wintertime) I didn’t know any of the names or side trails, therefore I was a little uncertain at some trail junctions. I’m confident with trail markers the ambiguity will disappear.


Ph: Lorenzo Wimmer

The trail is in pristine condition, especially from Glacier Way to just below the Donner Ridge, dropping down into Negro Canyon. No obstacles that I could recall, very few tree roots or loose footing to worry about. Only a few areas of vegetation growing over the trail but not enough to make a difference.

One confusing sign was that of the Negro Canyon Overlook near the picnic table, that said the trail was a dead-end, when in fact it was not. Fortunately for me a mountain biker came by and I watched him fade into the distance, asserting that it was not a dead-end. With the mountain bike traffic, one would think that trail may have been torn up a little, but it was fine.


Ph: Lorenzo Wimmer

The switchbacks started down the hill, all footing in good shape. Only slippery areas were under the pine trees that had lost a considerable amount of needles from the recent strong winds, and the green needles over the dry, made for a couple of loose steps. It was a warm day in spite of the wind, and the shade now and then under the pine trees was quite welcome. I was the only runner on the trail, so it felt like Disneyland, and I had it all to myself. Only four mountain bikers total that day, two going up and two going down.

The trail junction for Wendin Way Access Trail splits off to the northeast (left) at the creek with decent flow enough to refill water bottles (with a filter) This was the only water source along the route. (No problem as the Aid Station was close by) There is the possibility of someone turning to the right, but I’m sure with trail markers, everyone will be fine.

Not far after that split, a large sign indicating the new Wendin Way Access Trail goes to the left. It is well marked and in good shape, however more stones to navigate around than the earlier part of the trail. This rerouted trail does have a more convoluted route than the trail indicated on trail maps on iPhone applications.

One different turn I took it would seem, was about 100 meters from the Second waypoint. The route on the website indicates that that the trail turns southeast to join the service road… but I didn’t see any obvious trail showing that direction. As you can see from my tracks, my route was a bit more direct to the open area near the Aid Station.


Ph: Lorenzo Wimmer

That’s about it, it was over too soon for me, I wanted to keep going as I had just finally warmed up enough to run. I was waiting for a girlfriend to come pick me up, so unfortunately that was the end of the line for me today. My friend wants to do this segment with me again sometime, as it is quite easy and with such beautiful views, you can’t pass up an opportunity to see it all again! (Follow Lorenzo at

On Aug. 8, the Auburn Ski Club will host the Inaugural Sierra Crest 30K / 50K which is an exciting point-to-point trail run that takes advantage of some of the Truckee/Donner Summit region’s best single track. The Sierra Crest begins at 6650ft, on trails heading out from Tahoe Donner’s new Adventure Center, joining up with the Donner Lake Rim Trail, and finally ending on the trails at the Auburn Ski Club Training Center at 7200ft. For those new to trail running, the 30K (just 18 miles), is an excellent opportunity to join the sport and push themselves in a beautiful environment!

This unique race offers spectacular views of the Sierra Crest and some of the Northern Sierras most spectacular mountain peaks (including, Euer Valley, Frog Lake Cliffs, Donner Lake, Summit Lake, Castle Peak and the many other mountain peaks along the Sierra Crest). Fully stocked aid stations along both courses will be in place to keep runners well fueled, 5 stations for the 50k, and 3 stations for the 30K.

The Sierra Crest Trail Run is organized by the Auburn Ski Club as fundraisers to help support the work the Club does in the Truckee, Tahoe & Foothill regions. Hundreds of local children and teens benefit from the Club’s low cost cross country ski trails, their support of High school skiing and its own quality Nordic, Alpine & Snowboard Teams.

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