Whitewater Park Builders Team with Teen Kayak Champ

Written by leehart on April 4th, 2012. Posted in Biz Buzz

Innovators in whitewater course design see synergy with athlete who is writing new chapters in the evolution of whitewater

Triple World Whitewater Kayak Champion Dane Jackson

Dane Jackson photo by Corey Rich Photography

Lyons, CO – RapidBlocs, a division of S2o Design and Engineering, has signed Dane Jackson to an exclusive partnership as both seek to influence the future of whitewater kayaking.

Olympian and World Champion Scott Shipley, founder, president and lead engineer of S2o Design, believes the synergy between his company and Jackson is natural. “We’re a next-generation whitewater park design firm and no one more than Dane represents the next generation of whitewater paddlers,” Shipley said.

Shipley has known the Jackson family since he and Dane’s father, four-time freestyle kayak World Champion Eric Jackson were teammates on the 1992 US Olympic Slalom squad.  Shipley has known him since Dane Jackson was a baby and has watched closely for the past 18 years as Jackson not only followed in but, at times, eclipsed his famous father’s footsteps.

“Dane is young, exciting, fun to watch and able to accomplish things in a boat that could not have been imagined just a few short years ago,” Shipley said, what better way to ensure our parks are pushing the edge of the design envelope than to design to the needs of Dane Jackson.” Dane won three gold medals at last year’s ICF Freestyle World Championships and a few weeks later, swept up three more Golds at the USA Canoe Kayak National Championships.

For his part, Jackson will serve as an ambassador for S2o and the company’s proprietary RapidBlocs system, developed with European partner EPD. RapidBlocs is the world’s first three-dimensional, moveable obstacle system that enables whitewater course managers to easily shift the configuration of the blocks to change the hydrology of the course, thus keeping it versatile and fresh for years after initial construction. RapidBlocs first deployment is at the site of the London 2012 Olympic Slalom Course.

Jackson said he believes S2o has the ability to help move whitewater paddling forward by designing innovative whitewater courses and river parks that will make learning and training more accessible to more aspiring paddlers.

Shipley believes signs are pointing to a future where there is more crossover between slalom and freestyle.  Two relatively new events including the fledgling T’Ville Triple Crown in New England, the two-year-old Invitational Whitewater Grand Prix in Canada, and a couple whitewater festivals in Europe combine slalom times and freestyle points among other events to determine an overall winner.

Shipley added that more and more clients, notably including those seeking to host future World Championships and Olympiads, are asking for freestyle features to be incorporated into whitewater course designs.

Ultimately, both Shipley and Jackson dream of a future when the International Olympic Committee designates freestyle as an Olympic discipline. Currently, only Canoe Sprint and Canoe Slalom are Olympic disciplines.

ABOUT S2o DESIGN. Founded in 2003 by Scott Shipley, S2O Design prides itself on innovative and holistic approaches to whitewater park design that ensures clients get a park that meets all their economic, environmental and recreational objectives.  Committed to reinventing whitewater, S2O is the only design firm that has developed patented solutions that make whitewater parks easier and more profitable to operate as well as more enjoyable for whitewater enthusiasts of all skill levels. For more information, visit the S2o Design website.

ABOUT DANE JACKSON. Hailing from the First Family of Whitewater, Dane Jackson has been heralded by some as the future of the sport. The holder of numerous National Championship titles and World Championship medals, in 2011, Jackson became the first person to ever medal in all four freestyle disciplines in a World Championship with Gold in Junior Men’s K-1, Men’s C-1 and Men’s Squirt; Bronze in OC-1. Weeks later, Jackson repeated the feat at the USA Canoe Kayak National Championships, winning Gold in every event except Squirt, which was not offered. Jackson was named US Olympic Committee Athlete of the Month in June. For further information visit Dane’s page at the Jackson Kayak website.







AK Ingenue: Chix in the Chugach Rock!

Written by leehart on March 26th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Karen Cummings, Salmonberry sidecountry

Karen Cummings, Salmonberry Hill sidecountry on opening day

Tesslina Cummings Valdez AK

Tesslina Cummings has an early start on Valdez style, fresh from her daddy’s homemade sauna Thompson Pass, Chugach, Valdez AKKate and Raeann on Thompson Pass
Keystone Canyon, Chugach, H2o Guides, Valdez AK

Nicole styled Keystone Canyon but said it was her first and last ice climb

H2o Guides, Chugach, Valdez AK

Daniella from Switzerland was all smiles heliskiing

H2o Guides, Chugach Range, Valdez AK

Nina representing She Rides

Alison Creek, Chugach Range, Valdez AK

Allison and Laura, Alison Creek tour

Per capita, pound for pound or however you want to measure it, I’d have to say Valdez AK has some pretty awesome outdoor women.

The women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in Valdez are all pretty accomplished, if understated, athletes. They are confident, competent and self-reliant. They are skiers, snowboarders, sailors, climbers, kite boarders, hikers, learners, educators, teachers and friends. Like a lot of other folks here they the love the mountains and the ocean and the way both come together here in Valdez.

Some say I’ve just gotten lucky to fall in with the right crowd. I do feel lucky about that but give all credit to Allison who has introduced me to her friends all of whom make up one pretty cool circle of friends that just keeps rippling outward. I’m finding too that the women attracted here to heliski – sadly the vast minority of heliski clients – could easily fit in with the locals.



AK Ingenue: Springtime in the Chugach

Written by leehart on March 20th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures


Worthington Glacier, Mineral Creek, Thompson Pass, Valdez, AKWorthington Glacier, Thompson Pass, Valdez AKWorthington Glacier, Thompson Pass, Valdez AlaskaMineral Creek Nordic trails Valdez Alaska

Mineral Creek Nordic trails Valdez Alaska

Classic skiing Mineral Creek trail Valdez Alaska

Classic skiing Mineral Creek trail Valdez Alaska

Spring has sprung in Valdez and this past weekend was a glorious time to get out and enjoy bluebird days.

Saturday I took my loaner Classic skis for a loop around the Mineral Creek trail. Prince William Sound Community College lets you check out Nordic loaner gear for free. They have really nice Classic and Skate skis as well as snowshoes.  I quickly discovered I made a good decision when I went snowshoeing the other day. Glad I didn’t try to cross the river during my snowshoe outing the other night. You can’t. It’s simply not possible.

Sunday I loaded up the skis onto my pack and walked out to the highway to have a hand at the local “thing”hitching up to the pass. Some nice folks – Jim and Magdalena – picked me up and I invited myself to ski with them at the Worthington Glacier.

Here’s a few pix from the weekend.


AK Ingenue: Chix in the Chugach

Written by leehart on March 17th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Thompson Pass Chugach Valdez AK

Kate, left, and RaeAnn

It was Friday and sunny in Valdez which means time to cut the workday short and go play.

I was introduced to RaeAnn last night at the soft launch of the new Mountain Sky restaurant where she waits tables. Joining us was Kate, who deals with student loans at Prince William Sound Community College here in town aI should say I joined Kate and RaeAnn. RaeAnn’s dogs Sadie and River bounded along.

The skinning flowed as easily as the conversation. We talked about relationships, health, the lack of women represented in snow sports mags and movies and the next lines we want to ski. Though not fresh, the snow was surprisingly good. Still trying to dial in the darn AT boots – not  lovin’ them – but it was just great to be outside on a pretty day with a couple cool new girlfriends.

Special high fives to Kate on her first day back from being sidelined by an injury.


AK Ingenue: Exploring the Backyard Triggers Icy Memory

Written by leehart on March 15th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Lowe River Valdez AK

Lowe and be hold

The other day in the city administrative offices, I saw some aerial views of Valdez. Amid all the frozen white goodness I did not know a river was just around the block from where I live.

So i borrowed some snowshoes from Karen and ventured out thru the hood to the Mineral Trail. Start to end points, the Mineral Creek Trail travels  5.5 miles. The mountain backdrop rises to over 5,000 feet. The trail is interrupted by the high school grounds because, inexplicably, the high school is at the terminus of a persistent avalanche path. The Lowe River is temporarily hushed under a thick blanket of ice and snow. The tracks of snow machines (aka sleds or snowmobiles), dog walkers and now at least one snowshoer criss-cross the lake. But none seem to go all the way across.

Does the ice get too shallow? Could I fall through? Probably not. But when I was a young girl I fell through ice into Rocky River on Christmas Day. We were sledding at the golf course in the Metropolitan Park System that rings Cleveland, OH. The icy water came midway up my thighs. i had to wallow a bit toward shore before I could get up on the ice and out of the water. It was in the olden times before cell phones. My girlfriends and I weren’t going to be picked up for an hour or so, so there was nothing to do but shiver and wait. When I got home, my grandmother was already at our house for Christmas dinner. Someone distracted her while I snuck to my bedroom and changed out of my stiff wet clothes into dry clothes for dinner. We always tried to hide mishaps like that from my grandma so she wouldn’t worry more than she did every day.

So it was that, despite the powerful natural curiosity  to see what was on the opposite bank of the Lowe, I didn’t cross and just continued shoeing downriver.

AK Ingenue: Ladies Day in the Chugach

Written by leehart on March 13th, 2012. Posted in Uncategorized

H2o Guides, heliskiing Chugach Valdez Alaska

Daniella was loving every run on a perfect windless bluebird day in the Chugach

H2o Guides heliskiing Chugach Range Valdez Alaska

Nina demonstrates the She Rides signature heart before dropping into Page 2

H2o Guides Heliskiing Chugach Range Valdez AK

New ski buddies: Daniella, me and Nina

Today was by far the prettiest day since I arrived in Valdez and as luck it was also my maiden voyage heliskiing.

First. Heliskiing is everything I imagined it would be. Amazing views, amazing snow, amazing terrain, amazing experience. If it’s on your “bucket list,” empty the bucket now. Get up here to Valdez, my client, H2o Guides is still taking reservations. There’s still seats available. The season ends at the end of April but trust me, it will be so worth it to be here in the year the snowfall is on record-breaking track. We spent most of the day at the Taznuna Glacier before finishing the day on Page 2 in the classic Books regions of the Chugach.

Second. It was ladies day in the Chugach. Nina Quiros, owner of Blu Boutique in Durango, CO came solo. Daniella from Switzerland came with her husband Michael. For all of us, it was our first heliski adventure though this was Day 2 for Nina, Daniella and Michael. Women are in the vast minority when it comes to the gender breakdown of heliski clients. As today proved, there’s no reason women shouldn’t be better represented on the daily heli manifest. At H20 Guides, you’ll have a lot of fun but you’ll also go home a stronger, more confident skier or rider. I’m on a one-woman campaign to help get the word out to my sisterhood in the outdoor, ski and adventure travel industries. Heliski trips should be the hot new theme in bachelorette parties or any other girlfriend getaway.

Third. Our guide Aaron Karitis was phenomenal. For many H20 clients, Aaron is their first point of contact since he heads up sales/reservations in the summer and before donning his ops manager hat in season. Aaron’s the kind of guide who makes you feel comfortable following him just about anywhere including, in our case today, off steep peak-tops onto glaciated terrain. He exudes confidence, both his own and draws yours out. I hope to be able to ski with the other guides before this season’s out but even if I don’t, I have every confidence they’re as awesome as Aaron.

Fourth. A brief word about the unsung guides of heliskiing – the helicopter pilots. They don’t say much, mostly because they’re so focused. The precision with which they land their aircraft on postage stamp landing zones high atop craggy peaks impresses even tough special ops military types. Thanks for today Vince, you rock!

And thanks to my new girlfriends, Daniella and Nina. To steal the perfect rallying cry for today from Nina, Girls Rule, Guys Drool!

Special thanks too to Dean, the man who started it all and just loves sharing days like today with all his guests.





AK Ingenue: Sticker shock

Written by leehart on March 10th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

I’ve started a list of the things that take my breath away here in Valdez: the stunning scenery – like the Alps on steroids, the cold when the wind blows out of the north, nearly eating it walking on the ice-caoted streets, the steepness and length of the descent and the price of groceries.

This, coming from someone who has lived in Telluride where I remember audibly gasping at the price of butter the first time I went to the Village Markup, as the Market is called by locals, to buy groceries. My roommates in Revelstoke thoughtCooper’s the lone grocery option in town was price gouging, and prices were steep. But Telluride, Revelstoke, Hawaii and New Zealand are bargains compated to Valdez.

Not only are the prices high but the breadth of selection and depth of quality are just depressing. Tuesdays are tragic. The delivery truck comes in Tuesday night. You could diet and save money at the same time if you committed to shopping only on Tuesdays. Wednesday’s a different story. Fresh and different produce arrives and is priced on the shelves priced .

Thankfully,there is a health food store. Rogues’ Garden on Fairbanks St., that has a pretty decent selection of groceries but again the prices are just silly high. I stood  a long time deciding how badly I wanted to make homemade Hummus as my mind reeled at the $11.95 price tag for a 16 ounce jar. It went against my savvy shopping instinct. I put the jar in my basket then put it back on the shelf twice before deciding that this was simply a new grocery reality I’d have to buck up and pay. Still, by far, THE most expensive jar of tahini I’ve ever purchased.

Welcome to Valdez.




AK Ingenue: Riding the School Bus

Written by leehart on March 9th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez, AKJosh McDonald, Alison Sayer, Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez AKAlison Sayer, Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez AKThe view from Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez AK

Pictured from left to right: The Ingenue, Josh and Alison, Alison, the view

It was a spectacular day in Valdez on my grandma’s birthday this week. As far as the eye could see it was blue. In Valdez, when the going goes blue, the skiers get going.

Blue days like this are so incredibly beautiful they should be a local holiday. But today, the kids were in school and I was on my way to the School Bus on Thompson Pass. Thompson Psss has a reputation for lots of snow. Wikipedia claims is “the snowiest place in Alaska.” With good reason. In the winter of 1952–1953, 974.5 inches of snow fell—the most ever recorded in one season at one location in Alaska.[2] The pass also holds the Alaska record for the most snow in a single day: 62 inches fell on December 29, 1955. This year is on track to break the records.

It was only my second time on the pass so I was grateful that veterans Alison and Josh were kind enough to let me tag along. Multi-talented Alison does a lot of things, like being a  nanny, a researcher, a substitute teacher and heading up the kitchen at the Wrangell Mountains Center in MCarthy in the summer. Josh lives on his 27-foot sailboat in Valdez Harbor and guides multi-day sea kayak tours in the summer through his company Unbeaten Path Sea Kayaking.

There’s a lot of choices of places to go around skiing around Valdez so the hardest part of our morning was settling on a place to go. Brand new to the area, I was just happy to be along and listened and tried to learn as Alison and Josh debated various routes as we toddled up the Richardson Highway in Alison’s little red Subaru. The passenger side window was frozen half open and the suspension is missing in action but the brave little car got us to where we were going and back. Given time constraints and a desire to soak in the sun, the route settled on was to skin up Moonlight Basin, take a look around and then decide the best route to ski down. The skinning wasn’t all that strenuous; we got to the col around Noon. Each of the three of took turns breaking trail although Josh did the lion’s share of setting the track as Alison’s dog Thule bounded along. Aalison kept marveling at our good luck a) there wasn’t anyone else around us on this normally pretty popular route b) there were no snowmobiles c) it wasn’t windy. It was just a perfect day.

Looking at our options from the top of col we agreed to go “up and over” and ski the north facing slope known as School Bus. Made sense to me. The southerly slope we just skinned up was getting getting hit by the sun and the School Bus was in the shade. Looking down at School Bus, it looked wind affected, but looks can be deceiving. The School Bus delivered 3,000 feet of surprisingly soft, easy skiing snow. Sweet and deep!

Under normal circumstances we should have had to hitchhike back to Alison’s car. A pickup truck with a camper shell on the back was parked right where we hit the road and the truck’s kind owner Karen offered to shuttle all three of us and Thule back to Alison’s car. Sweet!




AK Ingenue: Hanging out at the Glacier

Written by leehart on March 4th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Valdez glacier, crevasse rescue practice

I tagged along today as the H2o Guides staff  ventured out to practice crevasse rescue. The magnificent Valdez Glacier is on the outskirts of town, just past the airport. In true AK style, we got on our skis and were towed up behind snowmobiles to the practice site. We traveled over a frozen lake to a big iceberg that had a nice vertical wall. Glaciers are alive so the feature we played on today may not be here next season or it may just relocate to another part of the lake. Once the main route miners took inland during the great Gold Rush of the late 1800s, these days this area is a snowmobilers playground. In the summer, local outfitters guide people to this same spot  . . . by boat.

While the guides worked to dig in anchors, prep their lips and set up their mechanical advantages, I took photos. It was a bluebird day at the glacier and bonus: uncharacteristically wind-free. Setting up for a crevasse rescue is tedious business. I got bored and happily volunteered to be the “victim” and get hoisted up the iceberg face. I walked to the base of the ice face with Chris who made sure I got my crampons on, rigged up and a gave me a few pointers about being rescued, namely, help if you can.

I had fun front-pointing on the ice as Mike single-handedly hoisted me up the ice face using a 6:1 mechanical advantage. Cool! Thinking that was fun I volunteered to be a victim again. This time, I was asked to act unconscious. The iceberg wall here was slightly overhanging so I couldn’t front point and walk up the face anyway so “acting” unconscious was easy. I was going to just dangle. After being hoisted a couple dozen feet off the ground my progress stalled. I took pictures of the surrounding scenery. I took pictures of myself. I could eavesdrop on the conversation a couple hundred yards away where Dean was leading the beacon search practice. I was getting dripped on by melting ice from the overhanging wall. I thought about Chinese water torture. It made me remember why ice climbing never held that much appeal. I tucked my camera away to keep it safe from the drips. Clouds started rolling in. I dangled on.

Suspended animation continued. I was tried spinning around for a different view.  I saw Dean look my way then get on his snow machine to come see what was up. After checking out the scene, he yelled down to me what was already pretty obvious, the rope was fouled. So basically, what started as a practice session had turned pretty real. I dangled a while longer. Once the rope situation was finally straightened out, the guys made short work of hoisting me the rest of the way up the ice face.

They thanked me for being a good victim. I’m thinking someone owes me a beer.

Valdez glacier, crevasse rescue practice, sunnier times

Jeremy (on the rope) and Max (on the ground)

Dean Cummings, Valdez Glacier, crevasse rescue practice

Dean Cummings inspects Max's anchor

Valdez glacier, practice crevasse rescue

Aaron hoists solo

Valdez glacier, crevasse rescue practice

Self portrait, hanging out at Valdez Glacier