Forced to slow down by the universe

By Eric Steele

Telemark skiing is everything to me. So much so, that I’m kind of a jerk about it. I’d take special joy in dropping in on lines that others had hiked an hour to get to, or taking some unsuspecting tourist out into the the to of north chutes a little faster than I should.
And the trees… Forget about it. Skiing the trees confirms my heaven on earth approach to living life. It is like going to church on Sunday, except service is held every day of the week on a patch of heaven just above the Eisenhower Tunnel.
I was never scared to be in the woods. I felt safe, even protected while skiing in the trees. As a result, it wasn’t uncommon for me to ski them alone. Regardless to how many times I’ve told others that skiing in the trees alone was a bad Idea. I didn’t take my own advice.
On 2/25/2011 I learned just how mortal I really am. The trees are not just a wooded winter wonderland. A place where the magic happens. Most trees might just as well be concrete posts surrounded by white, fluffy quicksand. A deceptively soft experience that immediately punishes bad decisions.
I was on a run that I had skied a hundred times before. A little line through the trees between Chair 1 and 6 at Loveland. This run empties into a beautiful meadow. It’s a great way to start or end the day.
I should point out that my mother-in-law was in a hospice back in Ohio. She wasn’t always easy on my, but I loved her and it was really stressful to see her in so much pain. I had decided to make a few runs to let off some steam. I called my wife, who was at her side, and told her my plans. She replied that her mom wasn’t doing well and that I should be very careful. I told her not to worry.
There was a foot of fresh and my turns were a little slower that I had expected. Ten turns into my first run, I was thrown off balance and did a forward roll into a tree. I hit the tree with my mid-back and compressed my T6-T10 vertebrae.  I then went head first into the tree well. Things went black for a split second, then I started to get my senses back.
I felt like I’d been crammed into that hole by a professional wrestler. I was inverted and facing away from the tree. My skis were above me and they felt like bricks. While I couldn’t move my feet out of the snow, I knew I wasn’t paralyzed. I thought about trying to get my phone out, but…
Then the most amazing thing happened; a voice filled my head. It told me to get the out of there. I just heard “don’t get comfortable!”, then “Go to help!”. And this voice was very persistent. It kept repeating the same thing. I wasn’t alone in that hole. It was like I had a drill instructor in my head, yelling at me, “Get up, get out and get to help!” I wanted to lay down and call the ski patrol on my cell and let them find me. That voice wouldn’t let me. I simply was not an option.
The trouble was I was facing away from the tree. I had to shimmy up the tree upside down until I was able to pull myself up using tree branches. It took about ten minutes to get up. And that’s when all the bells and whistles went off. The pain in my back made me see stars. I could tell my back was screwed up. I could feel my feet, but I was really scared. I don’t recall ever being that afraid.
Again, that voice filled my head. “Get Help, Ski Out!” So I did. I didn’t think about the further damage I could do to my spine. I just knew that I needed to get to Ski Patrol ASAP.
I got to the ski patrol around 45 minutes after I struck the tree. I was able to get my skis off and walk in on my own, screaming in pain. They jumped into action and put me on a backboard. immobilizing my head and neck.
One of the patrollers called my wife. “Kim, this is Terry with the Loveland Ski Patrol. We have your husband here, he’s not dead.” to which my wife responded, “My mom just died”. Connie passed when I hit the tree. She has been in my head ever since. I don’t mind the company.

Unifi’s Repreve Nylon Races Through Efficient Supply Chain

Originally published in the OR show Dailies, August 10, 2008

By Eric Steele

Salt Lake City, UT – The North Face’s Denali Jacket has been an outdoor retailer’s standby for years – and now it’s gone green without any change in performance or price thanks to Unifi’s Repreve recycled polyester.
As a continuous filament, Repreve performs as well as “first source” polyester without a  huge increase in price. As a result, Repreve polyester can be placed in existing top-tier garments without any additional product development or adjustments to the bottom line.
Global partners like Polartec jumped at the chance to produce recycled flavors of its proven products. Products like Classic 300 fleece from Polartec are making an appearance in popular designs that are decades old.
But Unifi’s innovation isn’t stopping there. Here at the show, it’s introducing Repreve nylon. Since it’s a “first source” recycled nylon, it can replace traditionally-sourced nylon in proven garments, much like its cousin, Repreve polyester. And global partners are lining up. According to Nelson Bebo, Burlington Worldwide’s vice president of sales and marketing,
“We wanted to partner with Unifi because they are the global leader in synthetic yarn development. As we transfer the product to a global scale, we are able to keep Unifi as a partner.”
That kind of integration makes for rapid product development and happy customers. “Nylon is an important product in the market. To this point there hasn’t been a sustainable version of the product. This introduction is a major breakthrough,” said Walter Tkach, United Knitting’s director of sales. “The performance of nylon is key in the application of a lot of the technical apparel that our customers use. In order to offer a complete story of recycled products, we are glad to be able to introduce the nylon aspect into the equation.”
Unifi rolled out Repreve nylon after just one year in development – one of the benefits of relying on domestic production.
“We use a lot of our development resources and facilities here in the U.S.,” said Roger Berrier, executive vice president for Unifi. “We start by doing development, producing samples and testing out of our main production bases in North Carolina.”
But the development of a fabric is a worldwide collaborative effort, too. The supply chain only begins in North Carolina. Unifi created Repreve nylon hand-in-hand with global customers like Burlington Worldwide so that the supplier could build a smarter, more efficient process.
“As we engage in new product development with our global customers, we do that with the understanding that we will ask our global customers where they would like Unifi to manufacture that product for them,” Berrier said. “By developing products domestically and producing them globally, Unifi and its global partners significantly reduce the time it takes to bring new products on stream.”
Furthermore, Unifi’s flexibility when it comes to global sourcing has helped meet those rapid production goals.
“In just about all of the cases, we can manufacture the product at all of our production sites around the world,” Berrier said. “We develop the product and design it such that it can be manufactured anywhere in the world in our facilities.” And this is just the beginning.
“We have other products under our sustainability umbrella, Repreve, that are in development,” Berrier said.

More information about Repreve can be found at

Festivarian Economics 101

Originally Published in Elevation Outdoors
By Eric Steele

The economy stinks.. You need to make the most of your festival budget. Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Rockygrass are Colorado’s flagship bluegrass festivals. Indeed, they are must-see events for the uninitiated. But, you don’t have to go every year to keep your Festivarian merit badge.  There are many ways to get your freak on, low-budget and with style. Here are a few suggestions:

Less is More
Smaller festivals are cheaper to attend. And much easier to plan around. That equals many more events. There are usually a few headliners and ton of local talent. There are usually a couple bluegrass festivals every weekend in the front range. Most of these festivals have camping for a very low fee.

Pay Your Dues
Volunteer to work the door for a local bluegrass festival. The time commitment is usually two or three short shifts during the festival in exchange for a wrist band. Your free pass is just one of the benefits of volunteering. You also get to meet many musicians and other festivarians.

House Party
Hold your own event. It’s easier than it sounds, if you have the right venue (house) and be a bit of an entrepreneur. Its a good idea to keep the parties small to avoid annoying the neighbors and run it like a business. You will need to pay the band regardless of turnout and declare income.

Safety in Numbers
Join an existing group of festivarians and share their camp. Get out of your shell and join forces with others. It can be as simple as selecting a good campsite and sharing food with your neighbor. Find somebody in camp that you click with and join them. Camping as a group has many benefits

Be the Ball
Buy a guitar, or mandolin and take some lessons. Join the jam after the show. Again it’s easier than it sounds. Learn a few chords (A,C, D, E and G) and attend one of Pete Wernick’s Jam Camps. Mr. Werenick, aka Dr. Banjo can teach you what you need to survive in an open jam. Once you start making music, the festival never stops. Sign up for a Jam Camp at

Behind the Plow

Posted in Elevation Outdoors, June 2010
By Eric Steele
What happens when the guy who is supposed to keep the road safe goes off it?

Working with heavy equipment was never my thing. So I probably should never have taken a job as a snow plow driver for CDOT. But I’m not one to turn away from a good challenge. Which it was. Trying to keep 13 tons of equipment under control while descending an icy patch of asphalt to Evergreen Lake is enough to make anybody reach out to a higher power.

Still, I was out helping people in one way, or another—from assisting a stalled motorist to scraping an elk carcass off the road with a front end loader, I felt as if I was providing a service and making the road safer for all travelers. I felt good, proud.

That was until that one night when I let the road go.

You’re not asked to do much when you are working the night shift before a storm: just follow the “Two Snowflake Rule.” Crews are called out before the second snowflake hit the ground. Pretty simple. If it’s not snowing there’s no need to wake up the boss. Everybody’s happy and rested.

We knew the front was coming through, but not when. For a plow driver, the front moving through is almost an emotional experience. You know the weather is changing. You can see it. You can feel it.

That night, the humidity was high, the air temp 36 degrees and there was a cold front coming in. I just didn’t know when. Around 3:45 a.m. I punched through a thick wall of fog by Buchanan Park only to find a bull elk standing in the middle of the highway. I repeated a series of braking maneuvers in the cab as I worked furiously to grab lower and lower gears, all the while raising and dropping the plow to add drag and increase friction.

I was able to stop in time, barely. The bull just casually walked into the median after I had come to a complete stop. It was a sign. I see that now that I know what came next.

I made a lap up top, dropped a little sand and headed back down. I went past the shop and into the canyon. I turned around at Red Rocks and took a 10-minute break. After sharing pleasantries with the night manager at the Conoco, I headed back up canyon. In that time the road had changed. It had a subtle glow, like millions of rainbows and then it passed. The road was normal again, just colder. like 10, maybe 15 degrees colder.

Then I noticed the ice.

The road was glazed like a donut. I dumped my remaining sand on the way up the hill by Evergreen Lake. Not looking good. I made it to Lewis Rd. and called my boss and coworker. It was now maybe 6:15 and I saw what I feared the most, the start of morning traffic. The morning commuter in evergreen is a special breed of animal. Aggressive and quick. Not this morning.

I headed back to the shop to get more sand. No sand, no weight. No weight, no brakes. No brakes, no stop. Very bad.

I did come to a stop—sideways. I saw vehicles spinning like the hippos in Fantasia. People looked at me for help as they slide by. It haunts me to this day.

I took me about 45 minutes to return with sand and my crew another 30 to join me. By 10 am, the road was dry. The morning commute was a disaster, but no major accidents.

Later that morning I was in my doctors office to look into my recent onset of high blood pressure. The doctor was late and flustered. I asked her what was going on.

“The roads in Evergreen were a nightmare” she said.

—Eric Steele

Steele Media goes live with WordPress has been little more than an online business card for the last few years. I’ve been a journalist for over a decade, the last five years I’ve directed Project OR. It has been a wild ride and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down.