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Destination Antarctica: Questions from a Sixth Grader

Destination Antarctica: Questions from a Sixth Grader

[ November 11, 2009 - 2:24pm ]
Close up in Ushuaia
Skiing Magazine senior editor Sam Bass has been reporting from a ship at sea off the coast of Antarctica, where he's been hiking and skiing 50-degree peaks with a crew of other skiers. A sixth grader from Virginia wanted to know if Sam has built a snowman, gotten swine flu, or skied a six-black-diamond run. Sam answers her questions here.

Tyler Smith is a sixth grader from Portsmouth, Virginia. Her class has been following Sam's journey to Antarctica aboard the Clipper Adventurer, a ship carrying 70 skiers. Tyler e-mailed Sam to ask a few questions, which Sam answers here.

Tyler: I hope you aren’t afraid of heights. How steep do you expect the mountains to get? Compared to a ski resort, would they be like 6 black diamonds in a row (really hard and really steep)?

Sam: Yesterday we anchored in a cove on Wiencke Island in the Neumeier Channel and put ashore among about 4,000 gentoo penguins. We climbed and skied two long, beautiful runs. And steep! They were the steepest I've ever skied. One of them was a big, wide-open ramp with a 50-degree section at the top—steeper than anything I've ever seen or skied at a resort. Actually, I am a bit afraid of heights. It's something I struggle with, especially since I lost some of my balance during a sickness I had last year that affected my vestibular nerves. I try to use it as a gauge to let me know what I should and shouldn't do. It keeps me safe. The steepest section I've skied so far had a slope angle of about 50 degrees, which might register as a 6-black-diamond run, but it's hard to make that comparison because one resort's black diamond trail is another's blue square.

Tyler: Is it really rocky on the boat? How big are the waves?
Sam: Since the boat is about 300 feet, it remains fairly stable—more so than, say, the 70-foot sailboat my friend Chris Davenport will be sailing to Antarctica on another ski expedition on November 20. Still, the boat is rocking and rolling enough that it's easy to get thrown into a wall if you're not paying attention or holding on to the many handrails. Most waves are around 15 to 20 feet. Big waves would be 30-50 feet. I hope I don't see any of those since I'm barely able to keep my food down as it is.

Tyler: How high are the mountains that you are planning to hike and ski?
Sam: We'll likely be climbing and skiing 1,500-3,500 footers close to the coast, and potentially one 5,000-footer. The highest peak in Antarctica is Mt.Vinson at 16,077. The highest peak along the peninsula is 9,600-foot Mt. Francais on Anvers Island and there's also a 5,000-footer called Mt. Britannia on another island nearby.

Tyler: Do you think that the swine flu will manage to get a hold of your ship? I hope not. It is nasty. I don’t know which would be worse, holding onto the handrails and catching something or not holding on and getting thrown into the wall.
Sam: People seem to be staying pretty healthy and nobody has any swine-flu symptoms, which is nice. There has been a cough/cold going around. I started to get it as we left Ushuaia, but now I feel much better. Good thing we have hand-washing stations all over the ship!

Tyler: Have you seen any interesting animals?
Sam: I sure have. I've seen an orca, a pod of spouting fin whales, a ton of gentoo penguins, about 10 minke whales, a few Weddell seals, and lots of albatross and petrel. Hoping to see some walrus and leopard seal, too.

Tyler: Silly question, have you built a snowman?
Sam: Haha. No I haven't. Because it's so cold and dry, the snow isn't very sticky so I'd probably have a hard time rolling big enough snowballs. We're also trying to leave as little trace as possible of our visits so as not to disturb the animals too much.

Tyler: What is the time difference?
Sam: I'm in the same time zone as I was in Ushuaia, Argentina and Santiago, Chile. It's 11:46 AM here right now, two hours ahead of your east-coast time zone and four hours ahead of my home in Boulder, Colorado.

Skiing Magazine Senior Editor Sam Bass is heading to Antaractica for an 18-day ski-mountaineering trip. You can follow his journey—and watch a video interview of him before he took off at

Close up in Ushuaia

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