Winter Hiking Tips

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With temperatures dropping, daylight hours dwindling and the ground covered in snow and ice, many shun the hiking trails in favor of the ski slopes.  Winter hiking is an awesome way to hit the trail, get out the door and find some amazing winer wonderland views.  Here are some great tips to continue enjoying hiking all winter long.

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Start off easy.

Depending upon the conditions, your winter hiking rate may be slower than on a warm summer day.  Plan a shorter hike, test out your winter setup and learn what is enough on a snow covered trail.

Plan for an early sunset.

With shorter daylight hours it’s a good idea to start your hike earlier in the day than you might normally in the summer.  Plan to be back to the trail head before sun down, though just in case, bring a flashlight or headlamp.  Even if you make it out before sundown, many canyons will put you into shadows long before official sundown time.

Check the weather.

Check the weather forecast, avalanche forecast, and road conditions before heading out.  Be prepared for the conditions forecasted, and know that in the mountains conditions can change quickly.

Layer up.  

Layer your clothing appropriately.  A wicking base layer, insulating mid layer and hardshell outer layer are key to successful winter hiking.  Remember that the term “cotton kills” is never more true than in the winter. De-layer as you heat up, and layer back up as you get chilled.

Use hand warmers.

Chemical, electric or catalytic hand warmers are a great stand-by to ensure your fingers and toes stay warm.  Also a great way to ensure your water bottles don’t freeze.

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Pack it up.  

Carry a bigger pack.  You’ll need a bigger pack to ensure you can carry your layers as you de-layer while warming up.  Toss in some freezer bags to store your phone and other things that need to stay dry should the snow get deep  or wet.

Stay Hydrated.

Drink plenty of water, and stay hydrated.  It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated when the weather is cooler.  Keep your water bottles insulated in your pack, stored upside down to avoid freezing, and drink up often.

Wear the right footware.  

Don tall waterproof hiking boots.  A pair of nice mesh trail runners may cut it in the summer, though in the winter you never know what conditions you’ll find on the trail.  Ice, deep snow and puddles are all handled better by tall waterproof hiking boots.  Microspikes, Yakthax, gaiters and snowshoes are all tools that work best when combined with a pair of tall waterproof boots.

How Hiking, Biking and Camping Helped Me Win at Life

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Hiking, biking and camping aren’t just hobbies to waste my time with on the weekends.  These activities aren’t just an excuse to spend more time outdoors.  Hiking, biking, and camping all have taught me valuable lessons that I use in my everyday life.

Pick Your Line

While out on a trail, there is a concept known as “pick your line”.  Each step on a rocky dirt path, each pedal over a muddy trail is a choice.  Do you head toward that sloped embankment, or do you balance over the stacked rocks?  Pick your line, in that split second before your heal strikes the ground.  One wrong move, and you’re over your handle bars.  One wrong step and you’ve twisted your ankle.
Learning to make quick decisions on sketchy trails over and over again, puts you in a mental state to trust yourself.  You begin to feel comfortable making important decisions quickly.  You feel adept and quick on your feet.  You learn to trust.
Pick your line, and everything else falls in to place.
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Where You Focus, Is Where You Will Head

When mountain biking, one of the first lessons learned is to focus where you want to go.  That advanced technical section up ahead that is beyond your ability? Don’t stare at it.  Don’t tense up about it.  Focus on that alternate section to the right.  Focus on where you are heading.  Where you focus is where you will head toward.
Off the trail the same rule applies.  What you focus on, what you spend your time on is where you will go.  Be careful where you focus your energy.

Always Be Prepared

We pack the essentials: a map, a compass, a headlamp, a warm layer, plenty of water.  We are always prepared.
Off the trail the same rule always applies.  Keep your cell phone battery topped off, dress for the weather, carry cash.  The little details of always being prepared often pay off.

Think it Through

When prepping for a camping trip we always think through the details: what will we eat, where will we sleep, what will we do?
Off the trail, thinking through the details sets us up for success.  What will we eat for dinner this week?  What do we need to buy to enjoy this dinner?  Does anything need to be prepped for the week?  The devil is in the details, and the details are realized when you think it through.

Plan For the Worst, Expect the Best

Our day hiking setup includes plans for the worst.  We don’t head out without enough supplies for worst case: to survive a night out in the cold. Though, we expect to have a gloriously photogenic hike in the sierras and be home in time to do laundry before work the next day.
Off the trail planning for the worst is a good m.o. to have.  Emergency fund in the bank account, shelf stable food in the pantry and backup generator in the garage.  I don’t plan to use these items, though should I need to, I’ll be a happy camper.
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Keep Your Feet Happy

Dry non-blistered feet make for a happy day on the trail.  A day with blisters or cold wet feet make for a needless adventure.
Off the trail feet are still an important factor.  Making your way to an important interview with uncomfortable shoes on your feet is a recipe for disaster.  Always wear shoes that make your feet happy, and be ready for anything.

Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

I’ve learned that the days I push myself, a little farther than I was comfortable on a day hike or complete a sketchier climb than I thought I could handle, those are the days I feel accomplished.  I sleep well at night, and my confidence in my capabilities grows.
Off the trail pushing myself only helps me create the life I crave.  Moving across the country, riding my bike to work, seeking a new career.  These are the things that have set my life forward, toward the life I want.  These are also the things that made me uncomfortable, that forced me outside my comfort zone.

The Best Things in Life are Free

I can spend hundreds on the latest lightweight pack or hiking boots.  Yet, the best part of any day outside is the view, the smell of the pine trees or the new ability I found in myself.
Off the trail: it’s all too easy to spend money as a hobby.  To buy the latest jeans, or the better car.  Remembering that the best things are free: a walk in the park, a great homemade dinner, makes life all the better.

Know Your Tools

You don’t take anything hiking that you don’t know how to use.  A compass and a map are useless on the trail if you don’t know how to use them.  A camping stove won’t help you make dinner if you don’t know how it works.
Off the trail learning the keyboard shortcuts to the software program you spend eight hours a day in only makes you more efficient.  Learning how to maintain the vehicle you drive each day, only makes you a better driver.

Buy the Best You Can Afford

A poorly constructed tent will make for a very sad camping trip.  A leaking tent floor, and snapped tent poles are common failures for budget tents.  When you plan to use something frequently, it makes sense to buy the best you can afford.
Off the trail the same rule applies.  Buying the best skillet you can afford makes sense when you cook at home seven nights a week.  Buying the best comforter you can afford, that will last years, is better than buying a new cheap comforter every year.
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Efficiency

“In every area of nature, efficiency is the law of the land. Efficiency just makes sense.The only thing I know of that doesn’t abide by efficiency is the human ego.” – Jay Schaffer
Efficiency is the law of nature.  Water flows downstream, plants grow toward the sun.  
Off the trail efficiency makes for a simple life.  Instead of piles of junk mail, unsubscribe and only deal with the necessary.  Instead of thousands of square feet of living space to clean, pair down to a smaller space for more efficient living.  

Live in the Moment

The biggest lesson of trail life is to learn to live in the moment.  Living solidly in the moment will allow you to appreciate the beauty around you, respond appropriately to potential disasters, and most importantly will bring joy to every movement.
Off the trial, living in the moment is more of a challenge though one worth rising to.  Finding the joy in a warm summer day, or the beauty in a new snowfall mean remembering to live in the moment.

El Niño: The Hype and The Reality

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El Nino is the topic de jour for those living in or obsessed with mountain life.  You can hardly scroll through instagram or listen to a weather report without hearing talk of El Niño.  Though, much of the El Niño hype ignores that facts behind what El Niño really is.

CA El Nino

Social media and morning weather personalities would have us believe that El Niño is a winter of epic storms along the west coast.

El Nino Sierra Nevada Drought

Yet, NOAA defines El Niño as a a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.

If El Niño is warmer ocean water, why does everyone keep talking about El Niño?

El Niño can correlate with those epic winter storms we keep hearing about along the west coast.  However, that isn’t always the case.  NOAA has a great article that discusses past El Niño weather patterns, and shows that some years El Niño brings the epic winters and some years not so much.

Over the last few years, California has seen a growing drought develop.  The snowpack that the state depends upon for water throughout each year has been dwindling down to almost nothing.

El Nino California Drought

While drinking water resources are important, most are more interested in snow levels for riding and skiing which is why the imminent El Niño is a big deal in the Tahoe region.

Everyone is hoping that El Niño’s warm pacific temperatures will equate to piles and piles of snow throughout the west coast this year.  

The hype may just be optimistic outlook, manifestation, or wishful thinking, but heres hoping for a big winter!

How to Find Great Trails to Explore

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Our summer and fall have been focused on day hiking trails around the Tahoe area.  We’ve settled in to a routine of picking a trail, packing up our packs and choosing our layers the night before we take off on our exploration.

We’ve come up with a few tried and true tactics to choose great trails to explore.

How to Find Great Trails

  • Keep a trail “wish list”.  We use Evernote for this, though a simple word document would suffice.  As we come across tips from friends, or read an article about a promising local hike, onto the list it goes.  This list becomes a great reference point when picking out trails for the weekend.
  • Keep your eyes open.  Many times while hiking we find ourselves spotting other trails that we’d like to explore.  For example, from the top of KT-22’s peak you are looking down upon the Five Lakes Trail.  Once we get home we pull out our maps and find the trail, adding it to our list.
  • Use guidebooks.  We own one area trail guidebook, and use it as a quick reference for finding area trails.  Pick a book that suits your style (easy day hikes, backpacking, challenging hikes, etc.) and you can’t go wrong.  Its a great quick reference, complete with trail notes, maps and pictures.
  • Use your map.  As you become more experienced with your local trails and terrain use your map to scope out trails and destinations.  We will often pick a peak, pond or lake off of our map, and then research the best trail head or OHV road to access it.  This has lead to some great adventures, usually off the beaten path, so to speak.
  • Set your expectations and limitations appropriately.  Do you have to be back home before dinner?  Pick a trail nearby that isn’t too long.  Are you hiking with a friend new to outdoor adventures?  Pick a rewarding trail with plenty of views that won’t push her too far from her comfort zone.  Have you been pent up in the house for a week, and are itching to stretch your legs on a long challenging trail?  Pick a trail with some challenging elevation gains and great length.  Are scenery and views your big priority?  Use your guidebook to find the best views this time of year.  Decide what matters, then use your resources to find the right trail.  This past weekend we had plenty to get done around the house, but still wanted to get outside.  We picked a trail within a 15 minute drive of our home and took off.  We were back home by early afternoon, having clocked in 11 miles for the day.How to Find Great Trails to Explore

Our Love Affair with REI

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When we first began dipping our toe into the outdoor lifestyle, REI was our mothership.

We read Backpacker Magazine’s annual Gear Review edition and dutifully marched off to REI to purchase the basics: hiking boots, sleeping bag, tent, cooking set, etc.  All the latest and greatest.  We love to buy the best, and make it last.  REI was full of potential adventures around every corner.  REI

We loved their return policy, and it encouraged us to be impulsive with our purchases.  Interesting new shoes that you aren’t sure if you’ll like or use?  Go ahead and buy them, if at any point they don’t meet your satisfaction you can bring them back to REI, busted up, used, unused, with or without receipt, completely in need of washing, you name the condition they will take it back without an attitude.  It was amazing.  The first time that I took something back I was scared.  I thought they’d fight me on it, give me an attitude, but no; they cheerfully took my product back and gave me cash.  

Even better are the infamous REI Garage Sales, offering returned items at a steep discount, though at ‘final sale’ terms.  Reading the tags of Garage Sale items always make for great entertainment.  A tent returned because it wasn’t “cute enough” or a pair of well-worn boots on their last legs returned due to “reduced traction”.  Garage Sales provide the opportunity for deals, and great laughs.

As dutiful co-op members we were excited to receive our first REI dividend check, which was quite an eye opener.  While excited for our generous “free money” to spend, it was quite shocking to realize exactly how large a percentage of our take-home pay was going to REI.  We resolved to dial back the REI spending, and aim for sale items and Garage Sale purchases in lieu of whatever peaked our interest at the moment.

As our interest in outdoor activities grew, we began finding that the more niche products we were seeking were not carried at REI.  As an example, when we searched for a tent with an exoskeleton design, at the time, not one tent at REI fit the bill.  We began to realize that REI was no longer the defacto choice, and we began seeking other retailers.  Though, that famous no-restriction return policy always kept us coming back.  We were often willing to pay full retail at REI, knowing no matter what, if an item doesn’t work out we could bring it back.

tahoe tent camping

Then, REI made the decision that changed the game plan: they amended their return policy.  Restricting returns to items purchased within the past year only.  While this sounds reasonable, more than anything it spoke to the fact the REI was growing and now being marketed to the ‘everyman’ in lieu of the ‘outdoorman’.  When you aim to please the masses, the niche market often gets left behind.

Almost anyone who spends time outdoors can come up with an example of an item that failed after a year of use, that could justifiably be returned under REI’s former policy.

The new policy also came along with a whole new attitude from the return counter at REI.  While I haven’t experienced this myself, I’ve been witness to other customers being talked down to, belittled  and denied a return.  Of course, I made a mental note, and now know that should I need to return a purchase at REI I will need to come ready for a battle.

The REI return policy is still amazing for an outdoor retail store.  While claiming to be a co-op, in function they operate much more like a typical corporate box store and the shopping experience reflects that for good and bad.  I can walk into any REI and try on a dozen different hiking pants from various manufacturers, stocked in various colors and sizes.  Internet or local retailers aren’t able to provide that experience.  

To this day I still check REI when looking for new gear, though now weigh the price and return options against local and internet retailers.  My recent winter hiking boots came from REI, and I was willing to pay full price, knowing I could try them on in-store and return next year should they not meet my satisfaction this winter.  

As REI has grown to become a much larger company, and we’ve grown in our outdoor abilities, REI is no longer our retail mothership though does have a soft spot in our hearts as the store that started us on our adventures.

Trailside Treat: Fig Bars

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I’ve learned a few things over the years about myself.  I don’t like to eat a lot while hiking.  I like to eat ‘just enough’.  Just enough to keep me going, keep the miles under my boots, and the views before my eyes.

One of my recent favorite trail snacks: fig bars.

Mountainize Fig Bars Nature's Bakery

Let’s talk specifics about the fig bars.  I do not enjoy the standard Fig Newton variety.  I have learned that I love the Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars.  They are superior to the old standards in infinite ways. 

These fig bars come in what they call “Twin Packs”, with two small bars in each pack.  They are fresh tasting, but not too soft.  Filled with a variety of flavored fillings, including mango, pumpkin spice, peach apricot, blueberry, strawberry, and more.  (Even available in gluten free varieties.) These beauties are vegan and gmo-free with no scary ingredients.

I’ve learned that a twin pack on a trailside break is perfect, doesn’t sit heavy in my stomach, tastes great and I don’t have to choke them down, like most food while I’m on the trail.

Mountainize Nature's Bakery Fig Bar

These bars are just sturdy enough to hold their own in my pack.  Even if I bring one too many bars, and have a pack left after my hike, they are always in good enough condition to eat for breakfast the next day.   

Find a local supplier of these amazing treats here.  Or, often more convenient, find them on Amazon here.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

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We all have priorities in our life, and more often than not, our careers and the daily grind get in the way of following our dreams.

Following your dreams, picking up and moving to the mountains really can happen.  Sure, there are logistics and details to figure out.  But, making the decision is 90% of the battle.

Here are ten reasons of inspiration to quit your job and move to the mountains:

1. Your life becomes a vacation

There is a phrase often seen on t-shirts and hoodies around town, “I live where you vacation.”  Locals proudly sport this phrase, because it feels like a dream.  Heading to the grocery store or out for a morning hike, knowing most of those around you took time off of work and saved money just to have the experiences you have on a daily basis, is unreal.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

2. Because spending your spare moments dreaming of mountain lifestyles on Instagram and Pinterest won’t make your dreams come true.

It’s easy to accidentally waste too much time scrolling through campsite views on Instagram and beautiful mountain cabins on Pinterest.  Wouldn’t you rather see these things with your own eyes, as part of your own life?  Stop living your life looking at a screen, start living a life that is screen worthy.

3. Because following your dreams feels good.  

When you stop allowing “good enough” to be good enough for your life, it feels good.  Knowing that you have the ability to take control of your life, instead of allowing life to merely happen to you is true empowerment.  The sun shines brighter, foods taste better and life takes on a new meaning.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

 

4. Experiences > Things

Living in a big city or suburb can provide a health economy and plenty of career opportunities.  When you’ve had enough of the carrot and stick scenario, pack it up and move to the mountains.  In the mountains you know after work that you can head to an epic trail on the way home, or spend every weekend paddling on a lake 15 minutes from home.

5.You’ll rid your life of the “someday” habit.

Telling yourself that you’ll take care of your dreams “someday” is a bad habit to have.  It builds distrust for yourself, and doesn’t help anyone.  Once you’ve accomplished something as big as moving to the mountains, the domino effect will build and you’ll be ready to tackle anything.

6.Because having beauty around you at all times, can turn around a bad day and make a good day epic.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

7. For your health.

With opportunities for endless recreation you’ll find yourself hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, and paddling more often than you’ve ever imagined.  Living in a mountain town you don’t meet friends at the movies, you meet up on a mountain bike ride, or at the ski lift.  Gym memberships and feeling guilty for not getting enough exercise will be a thing of the past.

8. Because you want to be excited about your life.

When you live in an inspiring location, every day is something to look forward to.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

9. You will grow your character in ways you’ve never imagined.

Such an epic goal will push you to the limits you thought you had, and then some.  But all of this will grow you and make you a better person.

10. Because living in the mountains is where you want to be.

Don’t ignore that little voice in your head, don’t let the jealousy of others on social media fill your head.  Make it happen, and love you life.

 

I Would Move There: Profile of a Mountain Town Park City, Utah

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Park City, Utah is a booming mountain town in the Wasatch Mountains just 32 miles above Salt Lake City.

Park City

Park City is a year round mountain playground, home to two ski resorts, miles of hiking and biking trails, shopping and dining not found in most mountain towns (including a Whole Foods, and a Walmart), and world-renown events such as the annual Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.  

Park City Sundance

Park City has won many  “Best Of” awards including Outside’s Best Town 2013, Conde Naste Traveler’s Friendliest City, IMBA’s Mountain Biking Gold Status, and Sunset Magazine’s Best Ski Destination.

Downtown Park City’s Main Street reflects it’s historic roots as a mining town, as well as the modern developments that have transformed the town.

Downtown Park City

Park City Mountain Resort, now America’s largest ski resort since Vail’s acquisition and combination with the former Canyons resort, includes a base right on Main Street in downtown Park City and summer activites such as mountain biking, zip lining and alpine coaster adventures.

Deer Valley resort, a ski only resort which restricts snowboarding, is just five minutes from downtown and offers terrain featured in Warren Miller’s film Chasing Shadows.

Park City

Though the official population is quite small at 7,873, the real picture is painted by realizing Park City houses more tourists than residents and that the tourists number 3,006,071 a year.

Park City

Throughout Park City a free bus service offers transportation with a generous schedule running early morning to late night during peak season.

Housing, like many resort towns, doesn’t always keep pace with wages and begins at $900 – $1300 for studios and one bedrooms.

Even the former Mayor of Park City, Dana Williams, worked as a barista and officiated weddings during his tenure to make ends meet.

The local economy, largely based upon tourism, does include a few corporations such as Backcountry.com as well as Skull Candy headquarters.

Park City

 Park City is a resort mountain town just a short drive away from a major city, offering easy in-town mountain access and wonderful amenities and infrastructure not often found in mountain towns.

Welcome Back!

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After a three year hiatus Mountainize is back!

In the past three years we’ve realized our dream of living in a mountain town by moving to Truckee, a little town in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.  

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We’ve explored the beauty in our backyard, got married on a mountain top, and leaned in to our passion for the outdoors.

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Our constant inspiration has motivated us to continue what we started with Mountainize, and share our passion with other like-minded adventurers.  

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What you can expect from Mountainize:

Trip reports, gear reviews, mountain town profiles, adventure travel, skills, DIYs, Gear Organization and more.

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Let us know what you’ve been up to in the past few years, and what you’d like to see from Mountainize.  Drop us a line at hello@mountainize.com

Follow us on Instagram to stay up to date on our daily adventures!

 

Mountain Life on TV

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We’ve been watching a whole lot of mountain lifestyle on our TV lately.  Though we don’t subscribe to cable, we do watch Netflix, Hulu and DVDs from friends, the Library and redbox.

Mountain Life on TV

We find a series, a documentary or a movie and watch it through to completion.  Though, many don’t convey the exact lifestyle we’re after, many have components of such.

We’ve seen the sad story of how an energy company’s quest for easy bounty has led to the demise of the Appalachian mountains.  We’ve watched Les Stroud put himself in some difficult but beautiful situations.  We followed the story of three cowboy families as they struggle to keep their ranches afloat.

When we can’t get outside, it can be easier than you’d think to find inspiration.

 

 

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