Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #185

Mica Creek, BC Canada, 1974Mica Creek BC Canada, 1974

After this picture was taken, Narcisse had the misfortune of skiing into a crevasse-like chasm created by creep of the entire snowpack. He fell eight feet onto the wet grass at the bottom of the crevasse. He landed on the point of his shoulder, which separated, and had to be reduced on the spot by one of the guides, who, in his turn, had to churn uphill, sidestepping rapidly through the deep snow to reach him.

I, for my part, skied too close to a tree-well, collapsed the shoulder of the well, and tumbled out of sight and head first into the snow-free column of air next to the trunk, one ski below, with a twist in one ankle. With a teeth-clenched lunge I was able to reach one binding and release it, only to find myself hanging upside-down from the ski above me, dangling by an Arlberg strap and the full length of the front-throw cable, which had come free of its side-hitches.

I was able to pull myself upward slowly and carefully, hand over hand, until I could reach the ski itself. Then I hauled the other ski up from below, and began to build a platform using both skis, which might be able to support my full weight. I could hear the sounds of  the second group skiing past, but realized that I would never be able to make myself heard through the thickness of the snowpack, even though I could hear them.

As I thrashed around with my skis, I was suddenly inundated by a cascade from above which threatened to choke off both air and light. At first I thought it must have been some sort of slide set off by passing skiers, but when it finally stopped, I could tell it was caused by one of those enormous, snow-burdened branches above me, unloading its full weight all at once. Coughing and spitting, I first knelt, then stood up on my shaky skis, and began to climb out of the hole.

I knew that the first group, of which I had been a member, was long-gone down the hill, and that the second group, although they had just been here, was also not waiting for anyone. If I could follow just the right set of tracks, at least I could hope to get to where the helicopter had been, even if it in fact was not still there.

It was there, alright, with everybody aboard except for a couple of the guides. I had been in the fast group, and then the slow group, and then the fast group again. Now they took me aside and told me that they had decided that, if I wanted to continue to ski the way that I skied, on the skis that I skied on, that I should get my own helicopter, and my own ski guide.

Not such a bad idea.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

 

In Pursuit of the Gnar

 Five generations of Pagosa Brewing Co.’s Nipple Mountain Nip barleywine style ale are served up at a “vertical tasting” for their 5th anniversary celebration on 11.11.11
Five generations of Pagosa Brewing Co.’s Nipple Mountain Nip barleywine style ale are served up at a “vertical tasting” for their 5th anniversary celebration on 11.11.11

Style. It’s how we define ourselves. It is also a fine method of establishing a common ground on which to meaningfully discuss beer. Tucked under the category of Strong Ales* lie three of the most beguiling and gnarly of all the creations in brewdom — the elusive Strong Ale (discussed in MG #184) and the fraternal twins of British- and American-style barleywine. As the name implies, these concoctions are created using an enormous amount of malted barley, which allows the final product to finish with an alcohol level akin to beverages produced from the fruit of the vine. British-style varieties feature an intense malt body and bready sweetness, with extended aging leaving a characteristic dried fruit signature on the palate. American varieties add piles of high-test domestic hops to the equation, aiming for a full-throttle mix of heat from the booze, sweet from the malt and a citrus hop rip to finish. Born brash and bold, subtlety of flavor comes with age for barleywine. The high level of alcohol and heavy hopping rates allow the potion to weather the ravages of time. Where a lesser brew will lose body and flavor complexity, the slow magick that yeast and malt begat in barleywine evolves over time, changing the flavor in a strange and persistent manner. Sharp hop notes and cloying sweetness may dominate a young brew, but the same bottle a few years later may exhibit sherry or port-like notes, with a moderate sweetness balanced by a subdued dryness from the hops. Barleywine is meant to be savored, and is best served on a cold winter evening where the stars shine hard and bright like diamond nails hammered into the midnight of heaven, and the icy light of the full moon echoes from the stellar blue blanket of snow covering the peaks around you.

A celebration of all things barleywine occurs in Vail on the 5th of January when the 12th Annual Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywine Festival takes place at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa. Featuring the “A” list of commercially produced beer over 7% ABV, paired with dinners, seminars, tastings and a home-brewing competition, this event is the festival to attend to experience all that is happening with high-gravity brewing today.

If you are lucky enough to ride at Wolf Creek this winter, do not miss the chance to stop at Pagosa Brewing Co. in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Doing this prior to or après soaking in the hot springs is your choice, but either way, a glass of the gold-medal-winning Nipple Mountain Nip barleywine ale is required. Brewed each year, the 2011 release is in the American-style and comes in at 10.5% ABV. To celebrate its 5th anniversary, brewer and owner Tony Simmons tapped kegs of the “Nip” from each of the five years he has produced it as a commercial brewer, and offered this side-by-side in a vertical tasting event that was a privilege to attend. Some of these prior-year releases may survive through ski season and should be asked for at the bar. Tawny, dry flavors of raisins and fig came through in some, with toffee and sweetness lingering in others. The 2008 was particularly well rounded, with each year exhibiting remarkable vitality in body and flavor complexity despite their age.

On a larger craft-brewed scale, the wizards at Full Sail Brewing Co. in Hood River, OR, have released the 2011 batch of Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale. Prominently featuring a bold palate of Pacific Northwest hops, the Old Boardhead is a heady hop treat to pour in the glass now, and should develop nicely if stashed in the cellar. In particular, the bright, faintly metallic notes from centennial hops accent the caramel flavor of the malts, and while tasting it, the thought of examining the changes that occur in the bottle to be opened next year is intriguing.

Head brewer Alan Simmons (no relation to Tony) at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco also brews an American-style barleywine, which he named after the “beater” van that has proudly served as the Backcountry Brewery distribution workhorse since its inception. The Olde Beerwagon Barleywine is modeled after a West-Coast-style brew and features big-hop notes to balance the 10% ABV. Alan also has 50 gallons of the ’wine aging in an oak bourbon barrel and set for release during the ski season this winter. Aging in bourbon barrels imparts a lot of character to a beer, rendering vanilla and smoke components from the toasted oak itself, along with a solid dose of bourbon esters from the liquor remaining in the wood.

*All style references in this column are based on the Beer Judges Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines found here:  http://www.bjcp.org/stylecenter.php

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO. He is an avid home brewer, a hobby for which he was recently awarded  “Area Man” status by the local newspaper. Further musings about all things beer in and around the San Juan’s can be found at beerat6512.blogspot.com 

Far Out! Pass the Wassail and Crank Up John Denver

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together“I’m not religious, but church music is the shit,” a friend whispered in a confessional tone over his beer. “The chord changes are intricately complex and it’s timeless. That’s why there have been Christmas carols since Henry the VIII. He even wrote some of them, or his court musicians did. That’s where ‘Greensleeves’ came from. The biggest problem I have is that it starts too early … like the week before Thanksgiving and then it’s like January 14th and you’re still fucking hearing it in grocery stores. That sucks. But when you hear the bell choir and you hear the ‘falalalala,’ it’s good cheer. I love it. Dylan came out with a Christmas album (‘Christmas in the Heart’). It’s terrible.” He made a face like he had just eaten blood pudding thinking it was chocolate. Yes, ’tis the season for that irksome, repetitive, mind-deadening holiday music, endless Christmas canticles blared across the loudspeakers at ski resorts and pouring out of restaurants and shops, permeating the streets and oozing up from the powdery whiteness of an otherwise perfect day.

It may be somewhat of a Scrooge attitude, but as hard as some of us try to ignore it, Christmas music won’t go away. If you ever actually liked Christmas music, by the time the celebrated Eve rolls around, you loathe hearing another verse of what has become insipid muzak droning out seasonal cheeriness. Call it the Christmas creep — whereas the assault used to start in early December but has now slipped into the day after Halloween. It is why many of us pay homage to Saint Steve for bringing us the iPod and the choice of a night silent of the inanity of granny getting run over by reindeer, or the looping of high-pitched androgynous voices, of sleigh bells ringing or little drummer boys who have nothing to do with rock-and-roll or Christmas for that matter. Even though Billy Idol oddly snarled out an album of traditional Christmas carols, The Boss electrified Santa Claus coming to town and plenty of indie and alternative bands startled new life into old hymns, there are actually a few holiday scores that especially warm the cockles … the ones you find yourself inexplicably whistling in July on a deep wilderness hike. The Grinch. Charlie Brown. But most notably, John Denver and the Muppets.

With just one song, John Denver did more to uplift the Yuletide spirit of more folk all over the country than a bowl full of wassail; he opened his nationally broadcast show in 1988, “Christmas in Aspen,” with one of his favorite Christmas songs, “Rocky Mountain High,” the tune capable of invoking euphoric mountain pride and responsible for relocating generations of happiness seekers to the beauty of the Rockies. The seasonal show was the highest-rated show for the ABC network at that time, watched by more than 60 million people.

John’s voice had the perfect cadence for traditional carols and his broad smile was the epitome of kid on Christmas morning. Although he made his “Rocky Mountain Christmas” album in 1975, which included the non-traditional “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” “Aspenglow” and “Christmas for Cowboys,” the collaboration with Jim Henson’s Muppets in the 1979 “A Christmas Together” is truly the playful stuff that transcends the holiday season drollery. Nothing is more exhilarating than Animal screaming, “Run run, reindeer!” in “Little Saint Nick,” written and originally recorded by the Beach Boys (Wilson/Love) in 1963 and played by the Muppets’ band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. There’s a couple of John’s originals as well, such as “A Baby Just Like You,” in which his son Zachary is woven into the lyrics but the song was written for Frank Sinatra, and “Alfie The Christmas Tree,” which he said was inspired largely by the Muppets.

The cast of Muppets harmonizes well with John, who naturally fits right in with a diva pig, frogs, long-snouted creatures and feather-headed sax players. The album was re-released in 1996, but was sorely missing three integral songs — “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “When the River Meets the Sea” and “Little Saint Nick” — much to the disappointment of fans. Luckily, the faux pas was corrected in 2006 when the CD was again released in its platinum-certified original version with all 13 songs. Even though the CD and digital download have been available through Windstar Records, the vinyl had been out of print for a long time when John Denver’s estate decided to release a Kermit green edition in vinyl this year. Yes, this album is enhanced in frog green (and available exclusively from Urban Outfitters). The original LP inspired the exceedingly popular TV production of the same name in 1979, which, for some reason, has never been available in VHS or DVD to the public (but can be viewed in segments on youtube.com). In 1990, John also recorded the album “Christmas Like a Lullaby,” with more religious tunes. And just in case you were thinking you’ve heard all of John’s recordings before his fatal plane crash of 1997, this past October, John’s estate announced a series of previously unreleased live recordings. The first is digitally mastered from a 1990 concert in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and available as digital downloads from johndenver.com.

John’s penchant for introducing people to his adopted Aspen paradise extended to Muppets and, in 1983, he brought his close friend Jim Henson and his eclectic clan of creatures westward to film a campout under the gaze of the Maroon Bells (John: “The mosquitoes aren’t bad.” Kermit: “Aren’t bad? They’re delicious!”). The bedazzled gang donned classic plaid flannel shirts and puffy down vests for the 50-minute TV musical special, “Rocky Mountain Holiday” (still available on DVD).

John once said, “There’s one piece of advice my dad gave me when he dropped me off at college. He said, ‘You’ve got the talent. You can sing and play guitar. That doesn’t make you any better than anyone else.’” What made John more admirable than many though was how he used his well earned fame, calling attention to environmental issues, sustainable living, fighting homelessness and world hunger, especially where it concerned children, a supporter of space exploration and NASA and, of course, he testified in front of Congress in 1985 to protest the Washington Wives’ attempt at censorship in music. Earlier, he had been forced to defend “Rocky Mountain High” as a song about the natural bliss of being in the wilderness with friends around a campfire as opposed to a drug-induced high. The song was granted legislative status as Colorado’s second state song in 2007, after the 1915 “Where Columbines Grow.”

If you dread the Christmas musical inundation, but want to pump up the holiday spirit, John Denver and the Muppets “Christmas Together” is the one album to have for dancing around Yule fire … far out!

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and vocalist whose huge Italian family sang the entire score of “Guys and Dolls” and “Westside Story” on Christmas Eve. After hearing “Rocky Mountain High,” she moved to a garage on a back alley in Crested Butte. dbelloise@gmail.com 

Greensky Bluegrass Becomes Bearish on the Green Room

Greensky Bluegrass
Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass brings all the grit and attitude of a whiskey-soaked card game to its bluegrass-spiked-with-rock-‘n’-roll sound. The Michigan crew has been carting its dobro, banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin around the country for 11 years and counting, but the guys didn’t get bearish on green rooms until a gig in Crested Butte.

Aside from the usual terror anyone would face driving over Red Mountain Pass in a van towing a trailer amidst a storm that dumped three feet of snow — the worst part being they survived but couldn’t ski it due to their demanding tour schedule — Greensky Bluegrass got an unexpected dose of Colorado’s wild nature once they reached their venue.

After a killer first set at The Eldo, the boys headed down to the ground-level green room “to do everything you think bands do at set break,” said dobro player Anders Beck.

Twenty minutes later, the band sauntered toward the door with beers and instruments in hand — none of which could immediately help them with what they encountered next.

Seems a black bear wanted in on the green-room action.

Banjo player Mike Bont was the first to open the door and realize he was “literally face to face with a very large black bear — who wanted to come in for tequila shots, I assume,” Beck said. “Though the bear looked about as freaked out as us at the moment, you’ve probably never seen Greensky Bluegrass move so quickly in one direction. Drinks spilled, instruments clanked together in strange dissonant harmonies and the door slammed shut — quickly.”

But the bear wasn’t shushed away easily; the boys had to conjure up a heap of noise, and to this day they’re pretty sure it was the banjo that ultimately made the curious bear scuttle down the river path so the musicians could head upstairs and continue the show.

“I don’t remember what we played that night, but I certainly remember that set break,” Beck said. “(It was) the biggest bear we had ever seen, and it was pretty damn scary.”

Kimberly Nicoletti hasn’t encountered a bear in her yard since 2004, but her otherwise intelligent American Eskimo ran up to the moose that frequented her yard this May. Needless to say, human intervention was required when the moose lowered its antlers in response to the barking dog, and she could’ve really used a banjo. While not busy protecting her two little dogs from moose and coyotes, Kimberly acts as the A&E editor at the Summit Daily News.

Mountain Vision #184

Mountain Vision by Bob Chamberlain: San Francisco Ski Show, 1966

Death of GLM San Francisco ski Show, 1966

These are last year’s rental skis, dumped on the ski show market to clear current stock, a precursor event to the modern disposable ski. Santa, please don’t send me any 150s or 165s, even if they’re shaped, fat, mid-fat, wide, double-ended, reverse-cambered, with duck-foot tips, and split-tails. The Graduated Length Method died because no one ever graduated. Why bother to go to First Grade when Kindergarten is so much fun?

I once demo’d a pair of 205 Miller Softs, and my first turn was a 360. Gymnastics and stunts do not skiing make. I finally got a pair of 207 VR-7s, but just for teaching. The Luddites did have a point, you know. Long skis, wooden boats and B&W film, that’s my bumpersticker. A Jeep is my vehicle, and a stick-shift is my drive.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Oh Christmas Brew, Oh Christmas Brew!

Old Saint Nick enjoys a pint of the proper.
Old Saint Nick enjoys a pint of the proper.

Understanding beer style is important to understanding the craft brewing industry. Amongst other things, defining the style of beer that a bottle contains helps consumers to choose products that meet their fancy, and allows breweries track sales and trends. In mid-2008, a report published by the Brewers Association found that, for the first time in the craft brewing industry, sales of pale ale were eclipsed by sales of seasonal releases. This was seen as evidence that, as consumers have become more beer-savvy and adventurous in their tastes, they increasingly look for a wider variety of beer to enjoy.

Recognizing this, brewers have jumped at the opportunity to broaden their style portfolio and to bolster their sales with small-batch brews of limited release ales and lagers designed to fit the season. While many smaller breweries will release a uniquely named seasonal, increasingly, the larger production brew houses have gone to a more generic format named for the season. Many varieties of “summer ale” abound, with increasing examples of “spring” and “fall” suds slowly making their appearance on the shelf each year. But by far the most ubiquitous and varied seasonal in the brewing calendar is the enigmatic Christmas Brew.

With roots stretching back to the time of legend and days of yore, these brews routinely defy classification, blending styles, bending rules and pushing boundaries (going higher?). The most laced-down of the group describe themselves as porters or brown ales, with most calling the murky realms of olde ale and strong ale home, or simply defying traditional classification altogether by claiming the bastard title of winter warmer. In general, Christmas brews start life with a high gravity (sugar content) and are then fermented with an ale yeast, finishing out heavier in body, darker in color, sweeter on the tongue and containing more alcohol than the average beer. They are the kind of thing you might want to savor on a cold evening after a day on the slopes, and tend to display their full flavor profile when consumed slightly warm. Some contain spices, herbs or fruit, with spruce-tips, juniper berries, holiday spices, chocolate and raspberry being fairly common additions. With all this variety, the only means of better understanding this phenomenon is to try them out. For reference, a few personal favorites that should be widely available across the West are listed here.

In the olde ale style, Avery Old Jubilation, produced by Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder has been a seasonal favorite of mine for over ten years. It presents a bold toffee flavor, blended with a note of currant from the hops. Mahogany in the glass, this one comes in at 8.3% abv. Though brewed since 1995, Hibernation Ale, from Great Divide Brewing Co. in Denver only crossed my radar last year. Perhaps a better example of the Olde Ale style than Avery’s offering, one gulp of this elixir presents a complex series of flavors in the mouth, with a good degree of warmth from the alcohol (8.7% abv) and a solid hop finish. Adding a completely different twist, Alaskan Brewing Co. tapped into tradition dating back to the 1700s and brews their Winter Ale with the addition of Sitka Spruce tips. The result is an invigorating boost to the piney flavors from the hops, balanced by the dark and sweet character of the underlying beer.

In the marketing material for their Christmas Ale, Breckenridge Brewing Co. states that “The chill of a Colorado high-country winter calls for a beer with extra flavor and strength.” (Fuckin-A to that!) This perennially impressive release in the strong ale category heeds this call, weighing in at a hefty 7.4% abv with a luscious malt backbone to support all that delicious alcohol. Wassail Ale, brewed by Full Sail Brewing Co. in Hood River, OR, is a pleasantly hoppy experience, and would be a good choice if you prefer Pale Ales or IPA-style beer. They have also released a new offering this season, Session Fest, which will be packaged in the same 11-oz. stubby bottles the other Session styles come in. Also new for 2011 is Snow Day, from New Belgium Brewing Co. I initially assumed that this was a rebranding of the 2 Below seasonal from years past, and was happy to learn that it is, in fact, a new recipe based on a malt known as “Midnight Wheat.” 2 Below nearly saved my life while stranded at Denver International over the holidaze a few years ago, (the New Belgium bar sits at the end of the concourse that handles regional flights to the mountains of Colorado), and hopefully Snow Day is a worthy replacement.

Erich Hennig lives and works in Durango, CO, where he generally rocks it. Got a Christmas Brew that we should know about? Drop a note to beer@mountaingazette.com 

Film & Tech: “23 Feet,” ParkFinder mobile app

23 Feet

23 Feet Outdoor DocumentaryTwenty-five-year-old filmmaker Allie Bombach and two friends set out with their 23-foot 1970 Airstream trailer to find a community they knew was out there: People living simply in the American West, giving up the comforts of what we think is “home” in order to be closer to their passions in the outdoors. “23 Feet” profiles four characters living simple lives in California, Utah and Oregon, and tells the story of the filmmakers’ journey to find those lives. Out of the four characters profiled, Yosemite legend Ron Kauk is a definite highlight — years of living in and around Yosemite have helped him shape his philosophy of living, and listening to him speak from his campsite in Tuolumne Meadows, you can’t help but wish you could sell all your stuff and move in next door to him. Maybe even more fun than the film itself was the four-month tour to premiere the film: Five women packed into the 23-foot Airstream to drive all over the West and screen the film, outdoors, in towns in Utah, Arizona, California and Oregon. In the outdoor film genre, we’ve got plenty of glamorous movies that treat our outdoor passions as an end in themselves —  “23 Feet” is the first work of a refreshing new voice that looks deeper than the face value of our pastimes, and looks for a soul. Bad news is the tour is over — good news is the DVD is now for sale.
$15, redreelvideo.com

Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder Mobile App

Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder mobile appOn the last day of the summer Outdoor Retailer show, someone next to me handed me a business card with details on how to download the Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder mobile app. It was the best free thing I got the entire trade show. That night, I drove north from Salt Lake City, the start of a month of living out of my car, camping and climbing. The free app gives the user a guide to parks all over the United States, searchable by activity. Most of the time, I used it to find places to camp for the night after driving all day, and having a map of all the available campsites within a few minutes of my current location was invaluable. Less adventurous? Maybe. But how cool is the idea of taking off on a road trip with nothing but a smart phone in your pocket? The app finds parks based on things to do — camping, cycling, climbing, hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, et cetera, and uses your phone’s maps application to show all parks in the area with those activities. The price — free — can’t be beat. Now, if they could just make an app that showed secluded places to sleep in my car, and best places to find $5 showers.
ohranger.com 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #183

At the Mad Dog. Aspen, 1966At the Mad Dog. Aspen, 1966

Here’s Pierre, taking stock of his life: He’s got the job on the Mountain, with plenty of time to ski, a place to live, and his “Honey” to take out dancing when he wants, and enough change in his pocket to have a beer or two in the bar. This is it.

So here he is, contemplating the seasons still to come, and wondering how long he can continue to do this, how long before too many people make it impossible. And what about Taos, when will it be time to move on? To keep this happening, this life. Because this is “The Life.”

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.