Earthship living at 9,400 feet in winter
Posted by sibylle in Colorado, earthship (Friday January 29, 2010 at 9:55 am)

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South-facing windows covered in snow

When it snows at my house – an Earthship that I built in 1995  as little as one inch of snow will, given windy conditions, cover my front windows with snow.


Earthships were designed by Michael Reynolds, who initially wrote three books about how to build these passive-solar heated adobe homes: Earthship: How to Build Your Own, Vol. 1 ,


Earthship: Systems and Components vol. 2,


Earthship: Evolution Beyond Economics, Vol. 3


While I’ve seen many books and websites about how to build a passive solar Earthship, or similar, type home, I’ve seen few books or articles that discuss living in one. Since many people, once they hear that I own an Earthship, ask me about living in one, I’ll share my experiences.



Living in the Earthship has both advantages and disadvantages. I’m at between 9,400 and 9,500 feet in the Colorado mountains, with the expected cold and snowy winters. When it snows, it often blows, and the windows (my heat source) become coated with anywhere from a few inches to a foot or two of snow.


Thus, first thing in the morning, I need to sweep or shovel the windows to clear the snow. After a big storm, we’ve had several feet of heavy wind-packed snow (think 50 – 60 mph winds with 80 mph gusts) that my son has struggled to excavate and remove. I asked Solar Survival Architecture  (Michael Reynolds company in 1994, when I bought my plans) for vertical glazing, but at the time they refused to sell a design with vertical windows. Had I known how difficult it would be to shovel my windows after every snowfall, even a small one, I would have waited until vertical-glazing designs became available. I believe that they now offer vertical glazing.


In future posts, I’ll discuss heating with a wood stove ( and chopping the wood). In past posts, I’ve talked about repair of the stucco walls, both interior adobe  and exterior stucco.


After a storm

Backcountry skiing - Mayflower Gulch
Posted by sibylle in skiing (Thursday January 21, 2010 at 11:32 am)


Lunch at Mayflower Gulch  cabins

A while ago, a friend and I skied up Mayflower Gulch. Despite the busy holiday weekend, we saw few people on this moderate trail to a spectacular view of the Mayflower Gulch amphitheater.

I used my almost antique  (1980) backcountry skis  - waxable Kastle light edge with a Rottefella three-pin binding and leather Alfa boots, while my friend used a modern Telemark set-up with skins.

From the east side of the parking lot, follow a road that parallels Mayflower Creek and climbs steadily east / southeast. After about two miles, we entered the stunning Mayflower Amphitheater with its views of Fletcher Mountain (at 13,841 feet). My waxed skis worked well for most of the climb, with only a few sections where I resorted to herringboning. My friend who used skins found the climb slower, since there are short flat or downhill sections that I could glide faster.

After a short snack break at the Mayflower Gulch ‘cabins’, I skied up and left on relatively flat terrain toward the old Boston Mine. My friend climbed steeply up to the summit of Gold Hill, where he snagged an excellent powder run down. Without skins, the trail up was too steep for me. My ski set-up, while fine for touring, isn’t suited for downhill skiing.

If you want to go only as far as the cabins, a touring set-up works fine. To ski the steeper powder runs above, I recommend AT or Telemark gear. The slopes on Gold Hill face mostly north so the snow stays good, but beware of avalanche danger and carry appropriate safety equipment.

Descend the same trail, which can be very fast if it hasn’t snowed in several days.
For more information, see Richard DuMais 50 Colorado Ski Tours (1983) , Tom and Sanse Sudduth’s Northern Colorado Ski Tours (1976), or Claire Walter’s Snowshoeing Colorado (2004).

Getting there:

Drive I 70 toward Copper Mountain (Exit 195; Highway 91) and head toward Leadville for 5.5 miles. Turn left into a large parking area on the east side of Highway 91, where it crosses Mayflower Creek.

Starting elevation: 10,940 feet
Mayflower gulch cabins: 11,560 feet
Distance: 2 1/2 miles, one way
Skiing time: 2- 3 hours climbing
Map: U.S.G.S Copper Mountain, Colorado

Dogs: allowed, but be careful of other skiers

Ski Vail’s back bowls
Posted by sibylle in skiing (Thursday January 14, 2010 at 11:12 am)

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Tristan Hechtel skiing Teacup bowl, January

My son Tristan and I had several days off work (teaching skiing) after Christmas vacation, which allowed us to enjoy skiing in Vail’s back bowls. In early January the mountain is generally quite uncrowded, since the many visitors who come here over Christmas vacation have left.

The easiest way to reach the back bowls starts from Golden Peak. Take the Riva Bahn Express lift (chair #6) past the mid station to the end. While riding this lift, you can often watch racers on the course directly below.   From the top of the Riva Bahn, ski across to the Northwoods Express lift (chair 11) and take this to the top, where Buffalo’s restaurant and the patrol headquarters at Henry’s Hut are located.

From here, several options allow access to China Bowl.  If we have fresh powder, I ski Milt’s Face. Sometimes the Slot has been groomed and gives a quick way down to the Sun Up Lift (chair 17). The quickest route to the back bowls is to ski the Sleepytime catwalk, which then allows you to traverse around to Genghis Khan and other runs in the Teacup Bowl. The runs in the Teacup Bowl - Jade Glade and Genghis Khan, often have the best snow. From here, it’s fastest to ski to the Orient Express (chair 21), but if we want to ski the Teacup Bowl again, we continue on to the Tea Cup Express (chair 36).

The Skyline Express (chair 37), the main lift accessing Blue Sky Basin, starts across from the Tea Cup Express lift.  Watch out here for long lift lines at the end of the day, when everyone is heading back down off the mountain. We usually start skiing early, head over to China Bowl of Blue Sky Basin, and leave early (before 3 p.m.) to avoid crowds.

At the end of the day, when our legs feel like jello, I often download the Riva Bahn. The bottom slopes have either green catwalks, or black bump runs, neither of which is my first choice for how to end my ski day.

Ski like a racer
Posted by sibylle in skiing (Thursday January 7, 2010 at 8:02 pm)

Today I went with my son Tristan to ski the NASTAR racecourse. Tristan skied with a race team, initially Team Copper and later with Team Summit, since he was five years old. Unlike Tristan, I grew up skiing in our back yard in Germany and following my parents down various slopes in the Alps. My later training in skiing has been as an instructor, not on a racecourse. I’ll show photos  that show how the two styles of skiing and training differ.

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Skiing at Keystone

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 Tristan skiing at Keystone

Tristan skies more aggressively, not only in that he skis much faster, but he also keeps  his arms  higher and hands more in front, a result of many hours spent blocking gates. He’s training me to ski the racecourse, and to keep my hands more forward.

His advice worked in one sense -  on my initial run through the NASTAR course, I qualified for a gold medal. On our lift ride up, he gave me various pointers to increase my speed.  These included pushing off more firmly with my poles at the top to gain more speed initially (I did this); skating at the top to increase initial speed (I didn’t do this); skiing a straighter and tighter line (I tried); and tucking low and wide at the bottom.

My attempt at the low tuck at the end of the course ended in a huge crash, with skiis flying everywhere. I lay on the ground, flat on my back, barely able to breather, gasping for air. I felt like I’d broken a rib, and at the least gotten all the wind knocked out of me. Tristan, who skied the course next to me (and whom I was trying to keep up with), ran up to ask if I was all right. At first I could only gasp and pant for air.  Once I could talk, I told him that I was mostly all right. After catching my breath, I stood up and to my delight, learned that I’d managed to cross the line before crashing, gaining my self a platinum medal.

Despite the biggest crash  in many years, I was happy. I’d achieve my goal: a NASTAR platinum medal. I’ll have to practice going into a tuck at high speed.


Ski advice - from Ski magazine
Posted by sibylle in skiing (Monday January 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm)

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Photo from November 2009 issue of Ski



The November 2009 issue of Ski features an article, “The Last Plateau”,

in which the authors describe techniques that I advocate in my ski lessons.

  For skiers who’ve skied with me, I often talk about ‘edge angle’ and ‘angulation’. In the section, “power through edging”, the authors, Chris Fellows and Kellee Katagi, describe the use of counterbalance in order to achieve and hold a high edge angle. I recommend their article, which includes excellent photos, as something to read on the airplane on the way to Colorado, so that you have a good visual image of what we’re trying to achieve when we rip it up on the slopes.

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See the high edge angle?


I’ve also talked about the G-forces one experiences in a carved turn. The authors similarly discuss using a high edge angle to generate momentum in the turn. I took photos of several pictures in the article, since I couldn’t find them online. One more thing I really like about this article is that each section on skiing is followed by a

section with exercises. My son and I will be doing select sets of these exercises

and I’ll post photos of that in the coming weeks.


We’ve done this exercise in class!


Some of their exercises resemble exercises I’ve described in the past. For

abdominal (core) strength, they recommend alternating ball plank pulls. I show

a basic plank – not as snazzy, but simpler.

The article shows lateral flexion / extension hops, which resemble our

windmill hops; and improve balance and leg coordination.

Both they and I recommend squats

And I regularly do the prone bicycles to strengthen abs.

Last year I could do 30; now I’m up to over 40 of them; so there’s hope for all of us!



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