Dec 6, 2015: Round your turns, use your edges, find an athletic stance – and look up!

In May 2016, at the end of a wonderful and intense ski season, I had a bad fall at A Basin. I ruptured my ACL and damaged my meniscus. It’s now 6 months later, and I’ll be allowed to ski this season, but only “gingerly” – my doctor used that word several times – and on very gentle, groomed runs. Nothing like my usual playground of steeps, bowls, and trees. The graft takes over a year to reach full strength. This season is going to be tough.

So, as part of my coping strategy, I’m re-publishing the lesson write-ups I did for The Ski Diva last season, 2015/16.

You can see the full list of ski lesson write-ups here: Ski School Experiences

On Sunday morning, I was still in a funk. I didn’t really feel like skiing, but I did want to meet JJ and see how things were going to go. I had mixed feelings; I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up. I’d never met JJ; I’d only seen him at the ski school lineup, where he seemed to always have a hard charging group. Faster than me. The group consists of four couples, with a mix of very hard chargers and modestly hard chargers.

On this inaugural Sunday, only me, my husband, and one of the other couples was able to make it. JJ asked what we wanted to work on. I said that I had gotten overwhelmed with drills the day before, and I really just wanted to get my confidence back. JJ didn’t fully understand what I was describing at first, but this is where I got my first hint that I was really going to like him – he took a couple of minutes to understand what I was describing and what I wanted out of the day. I could tell he was really paying attention and responding to what I wanted, not his own agenda.

We did a warmup run on this amazing, perfect, mellow blue groomer. I mean the snow was so fast and so soft, not a square inch of scrape to be found. My husband sped off, and I quickly followed. We were HAULING. I normally overtake him on groomers, but not this time. I got going so fast that when we came to a roller and big yellow SLOW and NO JUMPING signs, even though I tried to absorb the roller, I still caught air. By the time I got to the bottom of the lift, I felt great. I liked skiing again. Heck, I loved skiing.

JJ is definitely a little more .. hrm … thinky? than some of my other instructors. He wanted to know each of our learning styles. He had a bunch of drills up his sleeve, but he made it clear that all drills were just suggestions, and that I could always feel free to just ski if the drills got into my head too much. And even when we were doing drills, we were skiing at a pretty brisk pace.

JJ’s focus for the first half of the day was on an athletic stance, and specifically the feeling of a basketball jump shot. He wanted us to really feel the balls of our feet. One drill was to ski while constantly pushing both feet forward – sort of like the shuffle Matt had us do, but with both feet acting in tandem. Another drill was crazy fun, although at first I assumed I wouldn’t be able to do it – actually jump off the balls of our feet, like a jump shot, at the initiation of each turn. I mostly found myself jumping upright rather than from the balls of my feet, but it was still a surprisingly fun exercise that reminded me of how much power I bring to my skiing. It’s scary to jump from the balls of your feet because you think you’re going to dig your tips into the snow and go sprawling, but that’s actually pretty hard to do.

Here is where my memory gets fuzzy about drills, but JJ was all about round turn shape and using your edges to initiate a turn, even if you smear the rest of it. He had me follow him down quite a few bump runs, allowing me to get the feel of nicely shaped turns. We skied Volunteer, the bump run where I’d called it quits on Saturday, and I felt great – the first half of the run was shaky, but the bottom was gold. He took us into some recently opened trails with older, manky snow – he described how pushing tails will get your skis caught in that stuff, but if you trust your edges, it’ll cut right through. I was … somewhat successful. Definitely getting tired, though.

I’ve noticed a weird thing about my fourth consecutive day. I seem to get a second wind. It’s like my quads have decided that there’s no point complaining because I’m just going to ignore them, anyway. This Sunday, I announced that “This is probably my last run” – three times. At some point, my husband headed in, but I wasn’t ready to go. And eventually, JJ suggested something I wouldn’t have thought of – he suggested hiking up to get some turns in Contest Bowl.

Once there’s enough coverage, you get to Contest via the T-Bar, but the T-Bar isn’t running yet. Instead, in the early season, Breck allows intrepid skiers to risk their bases via a short hike up Four O’Clock to parts of the upper mountain. We’d already heard that Contest had terrible snow, but the lure of adventure overcame us. As we approached, I noticed that there seemed to be beautiful, untracked snow to looker’s left of Four O’Clock. Definitely an attractive alternative to the known-manky Contest. The group was down to JJ, one of the shredders, and me. Shredder is a high-energy, extremely fit guy, well accustomed to going uphill. I am – well, I am 5’5 and 200 pounds. Even if I were extremely fit, I’d still be hauling a lot of weight up the hill. But dammit, I wanted to get my skis onto the upper mountain. I started the hike. Slow, but steady. Okay, slow with lots of stops. Shredder and JJ were nothing but nice, although Shredder could easily have made it to the top in a third the time. JJ offered a few times to carry my skis, but I declined. I have my pride, and in any case, the skis weren’t slowing me down – the altitude was.

As we got going higher, JJ pointed out that I could turn off to hit that mellow powder run I’d noticed. It was almost certainly better snow than where we were headed. But I had the bit in my teeth and wanted to check out the bowls. I also suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Then someone – not sure if Shredder or JJ – noted that we could go up just a little bit farther and ski the nearest line of Horseshoe Bowl, Stampede. Who knows – it might be better than King in Contest. Oooh. So yes, we hiked just a little bit farther.

And then we traversed into Horseshoe. It was, well, pretty much what we expected – a mix of soft snow, crud, and breakable crust. Not exactly prime conditions, but rather a prime example of “Initiate your turns like JJ, or you’re going to hook up.” Stampede is a short section, and with the kind of snow we had, it’s pretty much going to be big, patient turns. Shredder took a couple of turns and looked up from the bottom of the pitch. So I went for it, and I pushed my tails, and I fell forward and lost a ski. JJ skied down to retrieve my ski, which I couldn’t see from where I’d fallen. He pointed out that from where we were, I could just ski across in a descending traverse and get to where Shredder was standing, but I said, “Hey, I’m supposed to be learning – if not now, when?” So I gathered myself, and I made a long, slow arc to Shredder, having patience and trusting my edges rather than thrusting my tails. And it worked! (I knew that if I did the technique correctly, it would work. The shocking part was that I was able to trust my skis and let it happen.) In retrospect, I think the first turn was also steeper, so that it was scarier to have patience and let the ski engage.

From there, we kept going into the area below Horseshoe and made another few turns in deep, though cruddy, snow. I enjoyed it. JJ described it as “Level 9+ snow.” We popped out above the T Bar. JJ had another tip for deep, cruddy snow: look up. “If you look at your tips, you’re going to sink. Look up.” And really, that should have been obvious – but in that moment, I needed that reminder. It’s funny how much of what you hear in a lesson is stuff you’ve heard a million times before – but you still need to hear again.

I finished Sunday’s lesson feeling accomplished, confident, and proud of myself – exactly what I’d wanted from the day. By skiing the mank in Horseshoe, I also got a concrete demonstration of why tipping your skis to initiate turns is so important, and how tail pushing can get you into trouble. And I racked up over 21k vertical – on my fourth consecutive day. Not bad. Not bad at all.


  • Ski while continuously pushing your feet forward in gliding motions, like a sliding hop that doesn’t leave the ground
  • Actually jump off of the balls of your feet at the initiation of each turn, like you’re making a jump shot
  • Round out your turns. Follow JJ through the bumps to get the feel of those rounded turns.
  • Look where you’re going, not at your feet!

Dec 5, 2015: bottom up turns and one ski drills

In May 2016, at the end of a wonderful and intense ski season, I had a bad fall at A Basin. I ruptured my ACL and damaged my meniscus. It’s now 6 months later, and I’ll be allowed to ski this season, but only “gingerly” – my doctor used that word several times – and on very gentle, groomed runs. Nothing like my usual playground of steeps, bowls, and trees. The graft takes over a year to reach full strength. This season is going to be tough.

So, as part of my coping strategy, I’m re-publishing the lesson write-ups I did for The Ski Diva last season, 2015/16.

You can see the full list of ski lesson write-ups here: Ski School Experiences

Dec 5: Randy

This was my first time meeting Randy. While my other groups are more geared to skiing fast and furious (“fast and furiously,” I guess?), this is intended to be more of a traditional ski lesson – on the spectrum of learning to free skiing, this one tips a little farther toward the learning end.

It might not surprise anyone that I had mixed feelings going into this group. I want to learn, of course, but I am also antsy to just ski, and ten days of intense drills when there’s good snow to be had might be intolerable. A big reason I do this series on weekends is to make Breck’s ginormous lift lines tolerable. Ski school has its own lane at all the lifts – even the T-Bar, E Chair, and Chair 6. On the flip side, Jenn told me that Randy is one of the top 5 skiers at Breck in her book. It was quite a coup to get him for this series.

One of the first things Randy did was to have us all express our goals for this Saturday series. We all had goals related to wanting to ski better in steep or otherwise difficult terrain. I specifically mentioned the “dead spot” I have between turns where I just stand on my downhill ski and traverse across the hill before committing to the next turn down the fall line. That “dead spot” is of course pretty closely tied to not allowing the ski to go through neutral the way Matt had described.

Randy turned out to have a wicked sarcastic sense of humor, so I felt right at home there. Banter was easy. At one point he made a comment about “yet another Delta Bravo instructor.” Yup. I was gonna like this guy.

Early in the day, Randy busted out an iPad and filmed all of us skiing. We each got a chance to review with him individually at lunch. I really liked that and hope we get to do more of it. I didn’t see anything dramatically wrong with my skiing, but neither did I see anything that would make me say, “Wow, that person is a really excellent skier.” (As a counterpoint, I know a skier who skis just beautifully. I would love to ski like her. And go figure, she diligently avoids ski lessons because she doesn’t want to get in her head too much.) Randy showed me the evidence of the lazy traverse I do on steeps – right there on a mellow blue.

(Note from the future: I just skied for the first time post-surgery. I noticed the dead spot I was writing about last season. ARGGH!)

Randy’s focus for our first day was to get us to turn from the bottom up, rather than the top down, meaning we should be turning just by tipping our feet in isolation – no hips, no femurs, just a tiny tip and a whole lot of patience. I struggled. We all struggled. Drills included skiing on one ski in various forms – Randy explained that PSIA level 1 exam just asks you to cross the slope with your uphill ski lifted. Level 2 is a turn with only the outside ski (inside edge) on the snow. Level 3 is one foot and being able to turn in both directions. Let’s just say I won’t be claiming my level 3 – okay, or my level 2 – any time soon. We were all doing crazy things with our upper bodies to get our skis to tip. I also lost sight of the intent of the drills at some point and was definitely adding femur rotation and such to the mix.

(Note: the comments about PSIA levels were just for reference. This class is not geared toward passing any PSIA exams. And just to confuse you further, PSIA levels are not the same as ski lesson levels. Someone who passes a PSIA level 3 exam is very very very good at skiing, among other things.)

Randy also had us just do a single turn – many times over – on a gentle slope. The goal was to only use that subtle sideways tip of the foot to generate the turn. At one point I tried this drill and ended up failing to complete the turn, skiing through a copse of trees with soft stuff underfoot before popping out below the group. It’s hard to claim I was disappointed to ski through some fluff and trees, but I want to emphasize that I did *NOT* do this on purpose.

Another drill, which I never quite understood, was to ski in a straight line and then stop. Instantly. I don’t think any of us really figured out what he meant by that or how to do it. I think the intent was to really dig in with our edges. Maybe?

(Note from the future: I’m still not sure what the heck this was about. I should ask him.)

So the thing is, the third consecutive day has always been rough for me. That’s usually the day where, if I ski the trees, I run into one. I’m just shredded. The same was true this day (minus running into any trees). I made some poor layering decisions and was cold all day. It sapped my energy. And while it was lovely to ski in real snow, the grey skies did nothing to improve my mood (or the visibility). So maybe this was not the best day for really trying to grasp the minutia of advanced skiing. On the other hand, I was grateful for the reprieve – lots of drills means lots of short skiing segments interspersed with talking. My thighs appreciated the break.

I also think, even though I liked it, the sarcasm/banter thing may have gotten to me. Randy was quite honest about us not getting it. I started getting cranky. There was one person who was getting it more than the rest of us, and I’m ashamed to say I made a couple of comments to Randy about her being his “favorite.” At another point, I asked if I’d gotten it a little (I thought I had!) and he said no. I said, “Really?” and he said, “Well, maybe a little bit,” and I snapped back, “Don’t patronize me!” I meant it to be lighthearted, but in retrospect, it didn’t come out that way. (Note from the future: Come on now, past Monique. There’s no way you meant that to be lighthearted. That’s just a story you told yourself to feel better about doing something crappy.)

In between drills, we did do some free skiing, including a run through Peerless trees that I was too sore to really appreciate. I was tail pushing like a champion and using all sorts of dramatic body english to pinball myself through what are some very mellow and generally lovely trees.

At 2:30, Randy said that this was generally the point of diminishing returns in lessons, and that we should just go ski and have fun. My husband suggested Volunteer, a wide bump run with some weird contours and some optional big wales (whales?)/rollers to jump on the right side of the run. I did one run, my thighs on fire, my mood deteriorating, and decided to call it. I headed back to the condo. As I clumped along the path, I felt worse and worse. I didn’t know how to ski. I was a mess. Why did I even bother with this stuff? It’s cold and my feet are a mess and I suck at it anyway … fortunately, a part of me was able to sit back and observe all of this and realize that it was way too dramatic to be fully real – I realized that I was just in “a mood,” low energy, whatever you want to call it, and needed to let myself sulk it out. I ate some brie and crackers, drank some wine, and cried a few little tears of self pity while DH was out shredding a few more runs. I tried to be happy for him, rather than cranky that he was having a great day while I struggled.

The strange thing is that, in retrospect, I actually was having fun and very much into the drills for most of the day. What I think happened was that as I wasn’t getting it and wasn’t getting it, my ego got bruised. It felt like this should just be *so simple* and it wasn’t. Add in fatigue from several days of skiing, grey skies, and temperatures dropping throughout the day, and yeah, I put myself into one doozy of a bad mood.

Later on, talking to DH and another friend, they assured me that these are not remedial skills, but rather very advanced skills. That it will take time and that this is the “good stuff.” DH pointed out that this is not how we’re supposed to ski all the time, but just a way to get us to isolate movements. And I know that getting this stuff right will be critical to maintaining control on scraped-off blues just as much as it will be critical to eliminating my “dead spot.”

Next weekend, if I am able to ski Saturday, I will bring a fresh attitude and fresh legs and try to actually listen to the drill as described, rather than adding all sorts of extra stuff into it that I think he wants us to do but didn’t actually say. (Like for some reason, in trying to get the feel for these drills, I added in femur rotation and inner ski turn initiation. In retrospect, this was exactly the opposite of what he was asking for.)


  • Cross the slope using only one ski
  • Make turns with only one ski – inside edge only
  • Make turns with only one ski – both directions. Without using
    your butt or shoulders as counterweights. Good luck with that!
  • From a stop, ski in a straight line and then, only using the tipping of your feet, turn until you come to a stop
  • From a stop, ski in a straight line and then stop immediately (need to get clarification here)
  • Take off your skis in a relatively sheltered spot where you’re unlikely to get run over. Practice tilting only your feet without getting your hips in on the action. Have Randy try to hold your hips in place because they’re not really getting the message.
  • If you have limited (or essentially no) success, console yourself with crackers, brie, and a nice red

Next up: JJ.

Dec 3 and 4, 2015 – flatten the ski, lose the buckles, and don’t stop!

In May 2016, at the end of a wonderful and intense ski season, I had a bad fall at A Basin. I ruptured my ACL and damaged my meniscus. It’s now 6 months later, and I’ll be allowed to ski this season, but only “gingerly” – my doctor used that word several times – and on very gentle, groomed runs. Nothing like my usual playground of steeps, bowls, and trees. The graft takes over a year to reach full strength. This season is going to be tough.

So, as part of my coping strategy, I’m re-publishing the lesson write-ups I did for The Ski Diva last season, 2015/16.

You can see the full list of ski lesson write-ups here: Ski School Experiences

Dec 3 and 4: Matt

Thursday and Friday, the first lesson days of the season! The previous week, I had skied all four days of Thanksgiving weekend, but they were short days – Copper was just two hours. I headed back early on Sunday to get what turned out to be some extensive boot work done, then “rested” at work Monday through Wednesday. So there I was back at Breck on Thursday, still a little sore from the previous weekend, excited to see all my ski buddies from last season at the Vista House, and curious to see what exactly might happen at a Matt lesson with no terrain open.

I hadn’t planned to be writing anything up this weekend, so I don’t have full notes on what we did. Matt’s goal for us – his ongoing goal, really – is to feel the neutral part of the turn. To let the skis go completely flat before initiating the turn, rather than rushing from edge to edge. (This is what instructor Kevin calls the “oh ####” zone in the steeps.) We did several runs just thinking about allowing the flat ski to happen on mellow terrain at low speeds. After a bunch of groomers, we skied Peerless (a previous blue/black bump run that with the signage changes is now marked black) and then many laps of High Anxiety, a natural snow black bump run that tilts to the right for the top half and doesn’t typically have much traffic. At this point in the season it has lots of baby trees poking out, which keeps a lot of people out of it, preserving the snow. On Thursday and Friday, High A was still skiing very nicely. You had to watch out for some rocks, but they weren’t omnipresent, and easily avoided by skiing the walls and tops rather than dragging your skis through the troughs. Friday was a very similar day with a slightly different group composition. I have skied with all but one of the people across these two lessons previously; fun group. It skews older than you might think. I guess that’s not surprising, though, since it’s weekdays.


  • Ski with boots unbuckled on a very mellow blue groomer (and then some of the students took that into bumps and steeper sections – I wasn’t ready for that yet).
  • “Shuffle” while turning with boots unbuckled. Shuffling means that you are pushing forward your left, then right, then left, then right foot as you ski. This is easy to do in the more horizontal part of the turn, but the trick is to be able to do it as you tip the skis down the hill and back across. And of course the unbuckled boots make it especially exciting.
  • Ski top to bottom. This is a great drill because it doesn’t feel like a drill. It also feels horribly unfair and impossible when it’s suggested, at least to me, since I usually stop here and there. I find that when I know I can’t stop for breathers, I round my turns more and don’t get going so hot that I need to brake to regain control.

One of the students – an incredibly good skier who’s a good bit older than me – started playing with on the snow 360s (whatever those are called) – full spins – with boots undone. Matt suggested we all try it. I thought he was nuts, because I can’t do those even with my boots buckled! I always catch an edge. But I gave it an honest try, and I was shocked when I had that feeling of continuing smoothly all the way around (there was a very slight pole assist; just a touch). It makes sense, of course – it’s harder to have a little inadvertent edge bite when your feet aren’t communicating so closely with your boots.

I think there was at least one more drill with buckles undone and some other stuff, but I can’t remember exactly. On Thursday, I left the group at 2:30. I got almost 19k vertical that day, and still had plenty of time to take the dogs to the dog park. On Friday, I was extremely sore and kind of freaked out about that. I wasn’t sure if it was related to the changes in my boots, and that worried me. In retrospect, I think it was more related to skiing with buckles undone (engaging a wider range of motion and not being able to rely on the boot for structural support) and then also to the fact that I skied 18+k vertical after having skied pretty short days so far this season.

On Friday, I left one lift ride after lunch – they were heading over to Peak 8 for more laps of High A, and I was too sore to work up enthusiasm for “one more run” – rare for me. The current route to Peak 9 was my deciding factor – it starts with a long green with lots of moving obstacles. Then there’s a steep and scraped drop with lots of “SLOW” signs, but you have to tuck it and blaze through a hairpin turn at Mach Schnell because next is a flat called Sawmill where I always need to pole, no matter how fast I come through the turn (also, there are always people in the way, so that’s harrowing, too). I can’t wait for Frosty’s and E Chair to open. I think it will be soon. So Friday, I “only” got just over 13k feet.


  • Allow the ski to go completely flat before tipping onto that next edge
  • Skiing with buckles undone is awesome, but scary. (Also as Matt was quick to say, it’s a suggestion, not a requirement – it will definitely reduce your control, so use your own judgment about whether it’s a good idea for you.)
  • If you usually stop a couple of times on the way down, use peer pressure to force yourself to ski top to bottom without stopping, and see what that does to/for your skiing.

Next up: Saturday Dec 5 with Randy!

Preface: 2015-2016 Season of Lessons

In May 2016, at the end of a wonderful and intense ski season, I had a bad fall at A Basin. I ruptured my ACL and damaged my meniscus. It’s now 6 months later, and I’ll be allowed to ski this season, but only “gingerly” – my doctor used that word several times – and on very gentle, groomed runs. Nothing like my usual playground of steeps, bowls, and trees. The graft takes over a year to reach full strength. This season is going to be tough.

So, as part of my coping strategy, I’m re-publishing the lesson write-ups I did for The Ski Diva last season, 2015/16.

You can see the full list of ski lesson write-ups here: Ski School Experiences

Here’s the intro, originally posted on The Ski Diva on Dec 7, 2015.

Meta commentary: I no longer say that I “am” a level 9 skier. I say, “I ski with the level nines.” This is my attempt to recognize that while I may not yet have the fully developed skills to qualify as a level 9, I do ski challenging terrain aggressively enough that I ski with several groups that identify as level 9. The actual definition of a level 9 skier is hotly disputed on the internet, and as with so many things, it’s not worth arguing about. It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re skiing with people who can ski at about your pace and enjoy the same terrain.

I have participated in the Breck lesson club for at least five seasons. I started as a ski school level 6 and am now somewhere between an 8 and a 9 (or sometimes a 7? some days are rough!). Nine is the max, so I don’t feel I can ever claim it – there is no top end to 9. If Bode Miller attended our ski school, he’s be a 9. So it’s hard to know quite where the line is.

This season, Breck has changed the club significantly, so that you pay for a series of 10 weekdays. So you could choose 10 Thursdays, 10 Fridays, or 10 Saturdays. Additionally, if you have a full group of eight students and a willing instructor, you can sign up for ten of any other day you want.

I should clarify that the tenor of these lessons has not always been very, well, lesson-y. Early season, sure, drills and practice and refinement. Mid season, well, it depends. Maybe instruction happens throughout the day, but maybe it’s just a few words on the lift. It has a lot to do with the mood of the group and the instructor. I would say that mid season lesson club classes do not resemble what you probably picture as a lesson. It tends to be more, “Okay, where do you guys want to ski today?” or “It’s been two days since the big dump – let’s head to this stash I have in mind.”

I signed up for four lesson days in a row. I wasn’t able to choose my favorite instructor, Jenn, because she had schedule conflicts many of the days.

* Thursday and Friday with Matt. Just last season I started skiing terrain fast/confidently enough to be able to keep up with his weekday crew. Widely considered one of the best instructors at Breck.

* Saturday with Randy, a PSIA examiner. He comes highly recommended as one of the top skiers and instructors on the mountain. This is explicitly intended to be a more teaching-oriented class than is typical for the lesson club. I hadn’t ever taken a lesson with him before.

* Sunday with JJ, an instructor known for fast classes without a lot of coddling. This was the group I was least confident about, because of the rep JJ’s classes have (I probably would have felt the same about Matt’s classes if I hadn’t been in some last season) – but the ski buddies we were organizing with endorsed him, and JJ was up for it, so that was that!

So that’s the setup. Next up: Two days with MB!

RAID is not backup – or, how I learned to appreciate S3 storage

TL;DR: Amazon S3 is dirt cheap and easy to use. Unless you’re the kind of person who is still prioritizing privacy over convenience – and I love you guys, but I just don’t want to live that way anymore* – you might as well take advantage of its services. 

RAID is not backup. I knew this. Of course I knew it. But backing up data is a lot like eating kale – we all knows it’s good for you, but most of us would rather eat ice cream and hope for the best. And anyway, I had mirrored drives to hold anything that might possibly be valuable. There were only two ways to lose data: both drives had to fail at once, or I had to mistakenly delete something critical. The likelihood of both drives failing at the same time is minuscule, and obviously, I would never accidentally delete critical data. I’m a pro.

For a while, I haphazardly addressed the backup issue with an external drive to which I could rsync all my important data. But I kept it unplugged when not in use, because a plugged-in drive could be destroyed by a power surge and defeat the purpose. So I had to go down to the basement and dig around for power strips to back up my data. And I mean, really, the backup drive wasn’t fool proof anyway, since a flood or fire would still destroy it. And eventually, I had more data than I could fit on the backup drive, and at some point I just stopped even pretending I was using it as a backup drive. It was a snapshot – a very, very old snapshot.

Backing up to an external server never really occurred to me. It was a lot of data, and when I built the server, it was at a time when the cloud wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Hosted server space was expensive. And anyway, I was allergic to having all of my data stored in a server farm where it could be hacked or swept up in a government seizure.

Years passed. In many ways, I gave up on fighting the battle to keep my data local. I got a gmail account, and I started using it more and more often. I started using google docs. I misplaced my privacy zealot card. But I never thought of how that might change my (non)approach to backing up my personal data.

I started having less and less interest in fiddling with computers just to keep them running. Eventually, my home server just hosted shared files and an email server. And finally, just shared files. And since it wasn’t doing a whole lot, I didn’t worry too much about keeping it up to date. Debian is nice that way – it just kind of keeps going, tolerant of my benign neglect. The kernel became geriatric. Aptitude refused to update glibc. And finally I got some sort of warning about having to fix … something … before I could boot safely. It was still running fine, though. I decided I needed to start from scratch. Most of the configuration on my server was for systems I hadn’t even run in a decade. I didn’t want to keep dragging all of that obsolete history with me. I’d only keep my home directory and, of course, that mirrored drive.

And then I had a bad fall when skiing and hurt my knee. After the initial few days of agony, pain killers did their job, and I was mostly bored. I wouldn’t dare go back to work on pain killers .. but what could go wrong on a reinstall?

Long story short: things can go wrong. Especially when your memory is hazy and you feel fine, but you’re actually kind of dumb compared to your usual self.

We’re still not sure exactly why, but the mirrored drives didn’t mount properly. The drives claimed to have no data. My heart stopped. These drives held all of my photos from at least the last decade. My husband, who had set them up originally and who knows “all the things” about storage, was flummoxed for a while. I didn’t push him. As long as the drives hadn’t been officially been declared dead, my data might still be there. Shroedinger’s photos.

Eventually, he got one of the drives to mount individually, finding the data in an abnormal configuration. The first thing I decided to do is to copy everything to S3. A year ago, this would have seemed daunting to me – but I’ve been using it daily at my new job, so I knew the basics.

I ran into some snags. The main thing I’d advise others – if you want auditing, don’t enable it until after your initial upload. You’ll probably want to revise some things, and you may end up with versioned binaries that are a pain to identify and permanently delete. Once you’ve enabled auditing, you can’t turn it off. And while S3 is cheap, you probably don’t want to be paying monthly fees for data you will never, ever want to look at.

The S3 command line tools are … not perfect. They are finicky, and you’ll probably want to create an alias or script to do exactly the same thing every time. There are some things you just can’t do, or couldn’t do without pulling down the meta data and writing a custom script. For example, searching for any and all files that have multiple versions.

The sync command is made for backup scenarios, but when I first started uploading data, I hit a lot of HTTP error codes. After a few starts and stops, sync started working. I saw this pattern repeat over the next few days – if I hadn’t been uploading in a while, the first attempt at a large sync would fail. After a few minutes, I would run it again and it would work as expected. My best guess is that a server needed to spin up to respond to multiple simultaneous requests.

Be careful with following symbolic links, which is the default for sync. It turned out I had a recursive symbolic link … and the sync happily slurped it all up until I finally got suspicious, stopped the sync, and deleted the symbolic link.

Sync doesn’t default to deleting, only copying and updating. This may or may not be the behavior you want. (I don’t typically want delete, but I do if I’m cleaning house.)

Ultimately I’m spending about $10/month to store about 300Gb of data on an external server with instantaneous access. I can likely trim that down a good bit because I don’t really need to be backing up 15 year old CD rips, but at the time I was just focused on copying everything and worrying about nuance later.

Useful Links:

AWS cost calculator:

(For storage only, click “Amazon S3” on the left – you don’t care about EC2 instances, etc)

In order to use AWS command line tools, you need to set up a user and give it an access key and secret access key.

Use the command ‘aws configure’ to set up your credentials locally.

Once you’ve set up your credentials and have them in your ~/.aws, you can use the AWS S3 Sync command:

Note: you probably want to use –exclude to make sure you don’t upload your aws credentials to S3! (This may not really matter when you’re using your account purely for backup and will never create another user account in S3.)

Removing versions from audited S3 buckets:

Allowing public access to an S3 bucket (if you want to be able to allow public web access to certain files from S3):

Sample command line calls

aws s3 sync foo s3:///foo --no-follow-symlinks
aws s3 sync foo s3:///foo --no-follow-symlinks --delete
s3cmd du -H s3:///some/arbitrary/directory

*I realize that by putting my data on a well-known service like S3, various nefarious interests (like governments, both foreign and national) are more likely to get access to my data than they would be if I kept my data in a basement server or some small mom and pop hosted service. But I’m already using facebook, gmail, and google drive – not to mention super creepy services like mint. I’ve clearly already made my choice in the battle of convenience vs. privacy.


Note to self:

If permalinks don’t work, it’s probably because the permissions on my .htaccess file don’t allow it to be written from the install.

The Settings->Permalinks section on the admin page tells you what to add to .htaccess

TR: Downhilling at Keystone

@skiNEwhere and I seem to be a good pair – he’s more comfortable with wooden features; I’m more comfortable with drops. I have a fair amount of coaching and technical riding knowledge under my belt, but I get hung up on how scary a section looks; he will try a lot of things that I initially want to walk, and then I give some pointers and in the process often decide to try it, too. We push each other in good ways.

I had my little-used GoPro attached to my handlebars and taking photos every two seconds. It was a lot to sift through, but I did get some decent stills.

We skipped the green warmup trail (it involves a fair bit of pedaling and takes a lot of time) and instead started on the easier blue, Mosquito Coast. We’d both felt good riding it the previous weekend, so it was a good, confidence building warmup.  skiNEwhere rode the elevated wooden feature several times; I never got up the nerve. It will happen some other day.

skiNEwhere rolling off the end of the wooden feature

After Mosquito Coast, we headed back up and rode the other blue, Eye of the Tiger. I last rode it years ago, on a sloppy, muddy day, and the steep pitch, tight turns, and wet roots, all in mud you couldn’t brake in, did not instill me with fond memories. SkiNEwhere had just ridden it last weekend in mud with a flat front tire. So … yeah. The top part went well, although I balked at a root drop right inside a tight turn and just couldn’t bring myself to ride it. Shortly thereafter, skiNEwhere got a flat – so, that wasn’t so hot. He managed to fill it (and then some) with a CO2 cartridge, and we were off, although a little concerned about the tire. Nevertheless, when we got to the branch where Boy Scout and Wild Thing split, I somehow convinced him to try Wild Thing. I remembered riding it years ago, and there were lots of technical features, but no huge jumps or anything. So we went for it. Right at the entrance, you have the option of riding around a log drop, but we decided to go for it. Next time I need to remember to look ahead more – in the middle of the drop, I was pretty sure I was going to endo, but I didn’t. Speed would help, of course, but that doesn’t play well with stopping to evaluate the obstacle.

Wild Thing entrance / log drop

So we rode the log drop, and felt pretty great about that. Next was a wooden bridge with a slight curve that I’ve never been able to ride – wooden features just freak me out somehow. It doesn’t help that I recently lost a lot of skin to a wet wall ride. But skiNEwhere rode it like it wasn’t even there, then encouraged me to ride it. Not only did I ride it, but I managed a series of decently sized root drops right after it. I felt like a superhero.

Wild Thing wooden feature

.. and that was the last time I was going to feel like a superhero on Wild Thing. It was jam packed with root and rock drops, often in the middle of tight turns. We walked most of it and saw some crazy riding – apparently, if you don’t touch the ground, you don’t have to worry about the roots and rocks at all! SkiNEwhere’s tire was also deflating very gradually – I would bet it was 50 psi when we filled it on Eye of the Tiger, and somewhere around 30 by the time we got back to the base.

We searched for a bike shop. Keystone Sports wasn’t going to be able to look at the bike for 45 minutes to even evaluate it, but they helpfully suggested NorSki, which isn’t right in the village. They were able to look at the bike right away, find that there was dirt in the tire ruining the seal, and got the tire cleaned and mounted in less than 20 minutes, for less than $20 including a whole lot of Stan’s. I would definitely take my bike there if I needed a quick fix during the day.

Lunch time! It was actually already 1:30. We shared an outdoor picnic style table – from which we could see our bikes – with a lovely couple and had an extended conversation. He no longer skis due to MS. We suggested lessons and we suggested that he check out EpicSki – I hope he makes an appearance.

Honestly, by the time we were done with lunch, I was ready to be mellow. SkiNEwhere wanted to revisit Eye of the Tiger and build some better memories, but I had wanted to ride a series of black runs that I swear are less difficult (except for a few specific spots) than that blue. Cowboy Up -> TNT -> Paid in Full -> Money. Despite the Wild Thing fiasco, he was up for it. As it turned out, TNT was closed, so we rode Motorhead (umlauts go in there somewhere) instead for that section.

There’s a famous rock garden on Cowboy Up. Just last week, while getting my bike fixed, I told the shop guy that I would happy if one day I could just see the line through the rock garden – never mind riding it. Shop guy told me he was sure I could ride it. So anyway, I had told SkiNEwhere repeatedly that we were just going to walk that section, no worries, and everything after that would be gravy. So we get to the rock garden, I start walking alongside the trail, and he says he’s just going to ride it like a fool and see what happens. I think he’s joking until I look over from where I’m walking the bike and see – he’s actually riding it! Well. I re-evaluate. I hem and haw. I finally go to the top of the section and – actually ride it! We both had a couple of spots where we had to, um, pause for reflection, but we rode that damn impossible rock garden.

Cowboy Up rock garden
Last bit of Cowboy Up rock garden

There was another technical rock section that we sessioned. Again, I was just going to walk it, but skiNEwhere decided to ride it. His first two attempts were not entirely successful, but in the meantime, I worked up my nerve and decided I could ride it (those 9″ of travel on my downhill rig are awfully confidence inspiring). SkiNEwhere said that he half wanted me to make it, and half didn’t, and I totally understood. The problem was that the entrance had a rock that created a ledge and then there were two rocks that formed a pinch. It just plain looked intimidating and tended to get you to do stupid things in an attempt to avoid those bits at the top. As I stood at the top, I saw the solution: don’t look at the intimidating bits at the top. Look straight ahead to the bottom of the section. And when I did that, it all just worked and I rolled right through the whole thing without a problem. So then SkiNEwhere rode it one more time, after I’d explained my “brilliant” tactic, and he made it, too. There was much rejoicing.

Not quite clearing it
bounceswoosh giving “expert” advice

When we finally got to the main section of Paid in Full and Money, it was all swoopy flow trail with lots of low-consequence tabletops scattered in. A couple of the banked turns on Paid in Full are steep enough to give me serious pucker factor, enough that I remember yelling “Oh SH*T!” and then “Oh JESUS!” about 5 seconds apart from each other. Kinda like a roller coaster. Super fun.

We got back to the lift with minutes to spare before they closed down. This time, skiNEwhere was up for riding the blacks again and reinforcing what we’d learned. Me, I was pooped and just wanted to get to the bottom without hurting myself. I felt I needed to take it down a notch (as per A Conversation with Fear). Plus, I wanted to see what Eye of the Tiger felt like after doing those more intense rides. Specifically, that one root drop in the middle of a turn that I’d been unwilling to ride earlier in the day. And hey, SkiNEwhere hadn’t had a chance yet to ride Eye of the Tiger without a flat. So we rode Eye of the Tiger, and honestly, I was exhausted, but it was still fun as hell. I had this weird two-brain experience; whenever I got to a technical piece, I had both the memory of it being scary, and the memory of riding things just so much scarier than what I was on. My only real problem was that I was so tired that I kept sitting down on the saddle and being super lazy with bike handling, so everything felt pretty off kilter. This time, having learned that Wild Thing is not for us just yet, we finished off on Boy Scouts.

Overall, a super great day. It doesn’t sound like we did a lot of riding, but we really worked the hell out of the trails we rode.

Three ways to make eggs and beans more palatable in the morning

We’re doing the slow carb / “Four Hour Body” diet, which means a lot of eggs for breakfast. Like, three eggs every morning, plus beans. This can get to be a bit boring. My husband likes scrambled eggs with hot sauce; I don’t love hot sauce, but I do love fried eggs. I make them sunny side up and attempt to straddle that thin line between “practically cold yolks that can probably give you salmonella” and “oops, the yolks are completely solid and chalky and frankly kind of gross.” And then there are those beans, necessary for energy because we’re not eating grains and fruits and whatnot. King Soopers has helped us out here with their Simple Truth brand of beans – they sell a “Tri-Bean Blend” that, well, has three different beans, so it’s a little more palatable than just a big pile of one type of bean.

Timothy Ferriss would have you believe that eating some microwaved eggs, spinach, and beans from a can every morning is plenty tasty. Well, maybe for him. I need a little more pizzazz, or I can’t choke it down, and then I won’t have accomplished the “30 grams of protein in the first 30 minutes” principle. I’m sorry, but yes, I need to dirty a pan in the morning. I need my fried eggs, and I need a little more flavor than a pinch of salt can provide. Here are some of my go-tos.

Leftover greens – spinach, chard, kale, collard, whatever.  But instead of microwaving up some frozen spinach (ugh), take the greens left over from last night’s dinner – the greens with sautéed or sweated onions mixed in. This is one of my favorite ways to add both veggies and flavor to breakfast. Unfortunately, I seem to have trouble cooking enough greens to regularly have leftovers … they’re so tasty that they get gobbled up as soon as I cook them.

Leftovers Wahoo’s Banzai Bowl, without rice of course. Or your 4HB-adapted leftovers from Chipotle or Qdoba. This stuff already has beans and whatever meat you chose, so it’s a great accompaniment to your eggs – and it has veggies, too. It is probable that the banzai sauce is not fully compliant, so if you can stick to not using it, more power to you.

Green Chili. This is my most common addition, just because you can buy it in a jar. To be completely straight with you, the flour (whether wheat or rice) used as a thickener isn’t strictly allowed. A couple of tablespoons over the eggs and beans make them a lot more interesting. A salsa verde would have a similar effect and could be completely legal.

So, yeah. You see here that I’m not 100% compliant, but my compromises are pretty small. I’m seeing results, and maybe I would see faster results without any thickeners or tiny tubs of banzai sauce, but this way, I can keep it up without gagging on my breakfast. Definitely worth it.

Taking Avy One

During the last weekend of 2014, I took the AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course through Colorado Mountain School (CMS). I took it because, more and more, I’m becoming aware of the fact that safe ski slopes don’t just happen. There’s an enormous amount of science, engineering, and intuition – not to mention just plain hard work – that ski patrol puts into keeping skiers safe on the mountain. The more I ski “extreme” terrain at the resorts, the less comfortable I am with my own ignorance about the process.  I also took the course because I want to understand more about the risks I might be accepting in the backcountry, and how to mitigate them. I’ve owned the equipment – beacon, shovel, probe, and skis with AT bindings and skins – for several years,  but I have skied in the backcountry only rarely. Actually, only once outside of a class. I didn’t have the knowledge to evaluate avalanche terrain; then again, I didn’t want to have to blindly trust in my friends’ judgment. I also had the general impression that in Colorado, snowpack is so fickle that anything safe to ski would be either relatively boring (low angle) or relatively unpleasant (wind-scoured or sun-baked).

The boring, low-angle, sunbaked and wind-scoured slope we actually skied on Monday

The course spanned three days, each consisting of some classroom time and some field work. Because of the extremely cold weather, we may have spent more time in the classroom than another class would – in particular, the last day had more classroom time than planned. I don’t think anyone minded – the cold was brutal. On the flip side, we were also blessed with plenty of fresh snow, allowing us to observe changing Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) bulletins – and allowing us to play in the powder.

Before this class, I had a fair amount of previous exposure to snow safety information. I attended a free REI seminar on beacon usage; I took the Intro to Backcountry day trip through CMS; I’d read Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain and Snow Sense; and just the weekend prior, I’d attended the Copper S.A.F.E. A.S. women’s snow safety clinic, which was an intense day of classroom and snow time, focused on avoiding human factors and practicing rescue scenarios.

I had heard that in the last few years, Avy 1 has converted from largely teaching snow science – digging a pit and other observational tools – to focusing on human factors. That’s not exactly what I experienced. What I saw, instead, was that the course taught us how to interpret the daily avalanche bulletin and develop a plan based on that information. We did touch on human factors, but I suspect the idea is more to avoid human factors – and just plain errors – that might come into play when novices try to interpret snowpack test results. Or maybe we didn’t get a ton of time to discuss human factors because I kept asking so many questions …

Our class had 24 students and four guides. We did the classroom portion as a large group, then broke into smaller groups for the field work. This gave us an opportunity to work closely with three different guides.

On day one, we learned about the types of avalanches, the conditions for their creation, and their indicators. We then went to the entrance of Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) to learn about our beacons and practice with them.

On day two, we learned how to read the daily CAIC avalanche bulletin (there’s a lot of information packed into that site!) and how to fill out a Field Book to create a trip plan based on the bulletin, as well as recording our own observations. We dug a snow pit somewhere near Bear Lake. I struggled with kick turns; then I struggled trying to ski down through trees and powder on my skins, and intentionally fell rather than risking a run-in with a tree. It was not my day to shine.

On day three, we discussed human factors, then broke into our smaller group to interpret the bulletin and use it to plan a trip that would meet all of our objectives. I’d never actually planned a trip by looking at maps and studying the route, so that in itself was valuable to me. (Mental note: take some orienteering/navigation classes this summer.)

Day three is also when I found out that skiing supposedly low-angle terrain can still be exciting and challenging. While I’d heard people say that they enjoyed meadow skipping, I pictured practically flat expanses of powder, where you’d be poling as much as you’d be sliding. Pretty, but not exactly fun skiing. Or I pictured the day I’d skied Banana Bowl – not only low-angle, but also wind-affected, nasty slab snow. So while I was interested in learning about avalanche danger, I suspected it would confirm my own expectations – that I wouldn’t be going into the backcountry much, and that if I did so, it would be purely for the social or fitness aspects, not for the fun skiing. After all, fun skiing was dangerous, and safe skiing was boring. That’s what I thought.

That was all before day three.

On day three, our group discussed our objectives, which ranged from getting some sweet turns, to getting some experience with skinning, to studying the snowpack more, to getting more beacon practice. Our guide suggested a route that would allow us to do a little bit of all of that. So there we were. We skinned up a well-traveled trail for a while; then we departed from the beaten path, our guide breaking trail in gradual switchbacks. It thus came to my attention that there can be more to snow country travel than following signs and established routes.

Of course, following someone who already knows the area intimately is a great way to head straight to the goods.  The day might not have gone so smoothly (understatement!) if we’d been puzzling out the route on our own. We were soon at the top of a lovely pitch of untracked snow and majestic trees. In fact. Hm. It looked kind of steep and tight, especially after being warned that rocks lurked just beneath the surface, and being told to ski extremely conservatively – “On a scale of one to ten, with one being pizza – ski at a two or a three.”  “How steep did you say this slope is?” “Twenty-eight degrees.” Huh. It seemed plenty steep to me. And I always struggle with the switch from skins and loose heels to slick skis and locked heels. What on earth had made me think I needed to be on a 38 degree slope to make a backcountry excursion worthwhile?

So, we skied the short pitch. And in two or three turns, I fell in love. I made maybe one decent turn; the other two were frankly pretty ugly, and rocks left their marks on my bases. But the snow. The beauty. The thought that we were probably the first people to ski this particular run this season. The realization that backcountry skiing could be both magical and safe, and that I had the tools now to choose these sorts of slopes myself. Intoxicating.

Fearless Leader
Mike Soucy

My only complaint about the class is a feature, not a bug – they don’t go into how snow pits and other observations get translated into specific advisories. The curriculum sticks to generalities, not particulars.  Students are not given the tools to make their own snow predictions; that’s not the point. My husband and I, out of sheer enthusiasm and our innate need to know how everything works, kept asking questions that were far more detailed than the class structure allowed.  So I’m pretty sure that in a year or two, I’m going to take Avy 2. Not so much because I want to be making those predictions myself, but because I want to understand what goes into those predictions. My quest for knowledge continues.

Our guides:

Mike Soucy (course leader)

Ian Fowler

Brent Butler

Mike Lewis