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Powder Blurs the Business/Pleasure Line for Professor Roger Bales

November 12, 2004

Skiing is where business and pleasure meet for Roger Bales, a professor in the School of Engineering at UC Merced. As an grad student at UC Berkeley, he started downhill skiing. Soon he was exploring the backcountry on telemark skis.

After he became an assistant professor, his ski focus shifted to work. Bales studies snowpack and climate change in the Sierra Nevada as well as in other snow-covered areas such as the Greenland ice sheet.

Half of my first sabbatical was spent at Mammoth Mountain, skiing in to install field equipment, Bales recalls.

A good part of Bales academic career has been spent away from the Sierra, so coming in to ski required an extended trip. But now, as a UC Merced family living in Catheys Valley, Bales, his wife Martha Conklin, and their children Charles and Eleanor, are enticingly near some of their favorite spots.

We've taken several trips to Badger Pass in the last year, he says. The children both have season passes.

Among Bales' favorite pieces of equipment are skating skis, the fast-moving skis used by Olympic ski racers that have replaced cross-country skis for many purposes. He says that with the same effort you'd expend to shuffle along in traditional cross-country skis, you can go a lot faster.

I think among the four of us in my family we probably have eighteen pairs of skis, he admits. Asked why, he explains that for carrying a pack of field equipment or gear for overnight ski trips, skating skis are too lightweight. You use telemark skis for that. And of course, sometimes you still need downhill skis made for groomed slopes at established ski areas.

Those overnighters are coming up for Bales family. While it's been a while since he embarked on a multi-day expedition like those he used to do at Mineral King or in the eastern Sierra Nevada, he says his children, now eight and ten years old, are becoming mature enough to start.

You can ski into huts in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, and that way you don't have to carry a tent, he says. I think we'll be ready to do