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Your Off-Piste CV - the idiot years to the present

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Based on a couple of the recent Off Piste threads I've been thinking about my years of being in the mountains, and what I was like many years ago, which was sort of prompted by
Woosh in the "Avalanche in Italy - skiers feared dead thread", and where I am now.

Woosh wrote:
........Third, I think most people who are experienced free riders can look back on their own history and say that at one point we all were a bit clueless. I have had some close calls and can also look back at days where everything went okei, but looking back, that was just pure luck.


So my CV
Age: 60

Years of skiing/snowboarding: 40 or so on a regular basis

Age 20 - 30 skiing plus various Ali Ross advanced ski courses, 90% piste absolutely no idea re Off-Piste security which was never mentioned, even on courses, and or in those days with Chalet Co guides, Sliver Ski and others mainly 3V and Wengen with Downhill Only Club
Do recall skiing off piste with OH on Rossignol 4s Equipe 207's again no idea.

Age 30: turned to snowboarding, learnt in ski boots, hard boot bindings.
Snowboarded with OH and on lads holidays, always on the search for powder, ducking under ropes, ending up off piste over avy blasting tubes.
33-35 Couple of big trips off piste trips with Club Med instructors, over the back of Les Arcs and Avoriaz absolutely no awareness or instruction and no gear carried.
La Plagne couple of further trips with guides and no gear carried at all.
More trips snowboarding and doing loads of stupid stuff presumably - and no awareness of gear.

All the above was Pre Internet etc

Age 38: 1997 first La Grave trip snowboarding and for the next 7 or 8 years, we gradually became aware of avalanche risk and were taught basic search protocol.

But all the trips we were with a guide so had total faith in them and really had no need to worry.

Guide introduced us to touring and so that journey began, one week in La Grave doing off-piste and a day or two subject to conditions and then another week somewhere else touring (Lyngen five trips).

In any one season, we'd do a La Grave week and then further afield.

It was really only when touring did I become more aware of the elements at play, as our guide started to point far more things out and we were actively made aware of route selection and spacing etc

It was probably only ten years ago when I started to spend more time in the mountains and then subsequent seasons from 2013 and not be with guides all the times did I start to really educate myself and make conscious decisions.

I think when you ski with your loved ones that adds another element as well plus the OH is always the voice of reason.

But I do look back at all those early years pre guides and I was lucky.

Ironically it was two or three years ago when I did get caught in a slide and at the time I'd switched my brain off as I thought I was in safe terrain, a classic trap.

When I ski tour now, I do avoid steep slopes and go mellow and I'm quite happy with that, and I do also avoid the steeps especially after fresh snowfalls, and then I wake up the next day and see that the churtes in front of me were skied rolling eyes
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
It’s April 1982, we listened to the latest on the Falklands War on the last bit BBC Long Wave as we drove through the night across Picardy, I remember thinking, not again.

Me and a pal were heading to Cham to do our first ski tour, the High Level Route.
I'd gotten the idea exactly ten years previously when chatting to the guardian at the Cabane des Vignettes on my first Alpine climbing trip, who told me of a ski route that came through the mountains from Chamonix to Zermatt. I made up my mind on the spot to do it, despite not knowing how to ski.

We had no guide and little idea what we were about to undertake. We did have a little guide book, some maps, C&As finest ski apparel, way too much heavyweight climbing gear, plus a weeks worth of dried food. I did have a friend who had done it before who gave me what turned out to be the the best bit of mountain navigation advice I’ve ever had, “stay in the trench”.
We survived (just) and even chucked in an extra day to finish in Saas Fee.
How does that fit into my Mountaineering CV! Well it’s all been downhill from then.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I think it's a good point. I was certainly a risky driver of cars at 18.
On skis, I was restricted to dry slopes at that age, so my opportunities for avalanche were limited.

Once I made it to the Alps in the 1980s I already had a fair amount of cave & fell rescue experience, plus a summer & winter mountaineering background. I think I always sneered at skiers for being a bit clueless in the mountains.
In that decade I don't remember seeing anyone with a transceiver or any other gear. I never saw anyone do a "Rutschblock Test" although I think I knew about them then. I suspect most off-piste was ridden by locals. Tourists like me were riding SL skis, and it was common to hear English people complaining about powder until it was properly bashed into shape. I rode various marked "itineraries" in a group but without any gear or support, but my guidebook was clear about the dangers, and we didn't ride when there was any real risk of slides. We knew enough to be over-cautious.

By the end of that decade I was riding in North America, where the issue doesn't really occur because there's plenty of patrolled and controlled off piste, and plenty of powder.
I saw my first Pieps, and was trained in it and the other gear in 1989 whilst helicopter snowboarding.
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My first bash in Wengen.

Coming from N. America, I had no idea of avalanche, nor the difference between European vs NA ski domain. (I’ve skied in Europe before, including itineraries). I didn’t understand why no one ski between the piste where the fresh snow was. I just did it without a care. Full on idiot mode! Toofy Grin

It wasn’t until several day into the bash I realized I was skiing non-avi controlled terrain! Embarassed

That was also what got me interested in skiing outside the resort boundary back in North America, started the journey of education on BC safety etc.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Was a natural from day 1 wink

Chamonix avalanche, trapped up to waist in concrete, hours to dig free, is a highlight.
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Skied from early to mid 80s on various skinny planks. As I got to about 16 or so, I got good enough to explore powder - usually just stuff I could see off lifts but usually on my own and sometimes well off the lift. Clueless, but I wasn’t alone back then. Gradually started to hear of folk getting transceivers, but the old pieps analogue ones with a separate single earphone on a cable. Seemed very expensive and very few people using them.

Did 10 years boarding in the 90s, again chasing powder where I could. Still no transceiver or probe, but sometimes carried a plastic ortovox shovel - mainly for building kickers!

Gradually got more aware over the years and went back to skiing and started touring. Awareness went up very quickly and now carry all the kit and practice with it regularly.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Good idea for a thread. I started going off piste around 2005 - 2010, just between pistes but slowly venturing further. I never gave much thought to safety and we didn't carry gear, and it wasn't until I read things on here that I realised the risks involved. Several UCPA trips have helped too, they're v easy going but do do basic avalanche training.

So now I know I don't know much!
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
In 1992, after about 7 or 8 weeks on piste experience, my mate and I woke up to a nice dump all over the 3Vs. We rushed down to the Ecole de Ski and booked a "powder lesson" for the morning. Met the instructor. He had no gear and neither did we, and had no idea that some might have been useful. After a few tips we ventured forth into waist deep powder on our skinny skis with predictable results. A short while latter the instructor stopped and commanded us to try side stepping back up hill in said waist deep powder as the way ahead was blocked. After a gknackering hour we had made about 10m uphill and traversed sideways to see that we had been on the brink of a 10m vertical cliff. The instructor then announced he had to get back for his next lesson and left us somewhere between Meribel and St Martin with no piste or lift in sight! Fortunately we were naive about avalanche risk so what we didn't know we couldn't worry about. We found our way out and got back to the ski school office. After a lot of shouting we did get half our money back.

Fortunately things have got a lot better since!
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Be strong everybody, the temptation never dies. Here in the Washington Cascades we're in a storm cycle....7 feet in 7 days. I couldn't find anybody to go with and it wasn't safe to go solo. I got up early a couple days but just felt it wasn't right. I was bummed. Then a bud and I went two days ago. I fell in deep pow near what could have been a tree well, but it was filled in. Right then I said out loud "sure glad I didn't go solo last week!".
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
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Started skiing in 1997. First real experience of skiing away from the groomed stuff was in the Lake Tahoe area in California in 2000 - 10 day trip, I was lucky enough to get in with a bunch of more experienced skiiers and happy followed them through trees and all over various resorts. Over the next few years we skiied Whistler, Fernie, Panorama, Kicking Horse, Lake Louise / Sunshine / Norquay, as well as several european resorts (see the link in my sig). If we skiied north america, we'd happily hit the trees, but in europe we'd stick to the pistes as we were already developing awareness of avalanches. Saw an avalanche in front of us as we rode the lift in La Plagne - kids race club skiing the "safe" off piste area hence no gear at all, but it broke and went and carried a few away. Since then I've only gone off piste with people who I trust - either paid guides / instructors, or people who I know have more experience and knowledge than I do. I've done a week off piste with UCPA (flaine), and some guided days on snowheads bashes (Belleville & Orelle valleys, Monterosa), and a few off piste routes in the Espace Killy, 3 valleys and elsewhere with friends. I do own avalanche gear and often (but not always) carry it even when skiing pistes - better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. If i have it on me, then the beep is worn correctly and switched on - not stuffed in a rucksack
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Started skiing in 91. I was fortunate that the guy I went with had already been two or three times and already identified that off piste was where it was at. Our instructor wasn't adverse to going off the side either. This was Tignes/Val D territory so no messing. Hence, from day 1 I was heading outside the markers and under the ropes. I think it was only another year or two before we got ava gear. Definitely took a few liberties (out of naivity) in those early years. Skied some real crud and crust aswell.

Maybe that is why I feel it's overkill advice to tell people they shouldn't in essence what I did.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Layne wrote:
... Maybe that is why I feel it's overkill advice to tell people they shouldn't in essence what I did.

I remember only too well my tear-away dad trying to explain to me why it was ok for him to do all that fun stuff but not for me...

Thanks for creating a thread which I can use to help me not to turn into something I said I'd never become.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
I’d played around at the side of the pistes a bit but I think the first “proper” off piste I did would have been the Vallee Blanche in 1997ish with a few hungover former ski bums. I was vaguely aware of things like avalanche risk and crevasses but went for it anyway. It was pretty safe given the conditions and with the benefit of hindsight but I hate to think what would have happened if someone had gone into a crevasse or if the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

I lived to tell the tale and was bitten by the bug of “backcountry” skiing (not that anyone called it that back then.). I was actually reasonably responsible after that and did things with guides, got into touring after doing a training week with the Eagles (2001 I think) and finally a season in 03/04 where I learned to stay upright on skis most of the time in most conditions. You might even call it “skiing”.

Anyway, now, there are plenty of things I would be perfectly happy to do without a guide and even solo. In practice, most of my skiing is done with a guide or suitably qualified instructor- I’m time limited and can afford the cost and this gives greater quality skiing than if I was relying on myself to find the goods
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@Thorney, I found your story absolutely chilling... Shocked

(I was going to say unbelievable, which would imply I don’t believe it, when I do).
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
I started skiing at an early age and me and my friends were skiing off piste more or less from the age of ten. That included mostly tree skiing, but also open fields. No clue about avalanche awereness then and during most of my teen years. First serious encounter with an avalanche was into my twenties in Val Thorens in 1998. A small slab went off in an area between Val Thorens and Meribel and I was taken maybe 10 meters. From that incident I started to take avalanches a little more serious, but did not get all the gear before 2006 and an ABS before 2012. Lots of incidents I can look back at in the period up until 2007 were I was on the lucky side without really realizing it.

Anyhow, I have used the last 10 - 12 years trying to educate myself in avalanches, realizing it is a life long process and that even the best in the field do get it wrong sometimes (not referring to myself as an expert).

I will share 3 stories I had that have had some effect on me:

Zermatt March 2006: Heavy powder day. I was skiing alone as the rest of the group were piste skiers. Skiing in the Stockhorn area in bad vis, I saw some skiing what looked like a good line. I followed them, but were soon lost in zero vis in an area I did not know good enough, but enough to know that I was in a bad position. After skiing pretty steep stuff in bad vis, I manage to get myself down the Valley above Gant feeling really, really scared. No more skiing that day and a true wake up call.

Chamonix February 2012. Really hot weather in the valley. Skied the Envers in the Valle Blanche with a guide. After lunch, we headed to Brevent area and had some fun skiing. Our guide wanted to finish the day with the Le Couloir Allais. My friend and me were really sceptical given the warm weather, some cracks,southfaced line and the time of day (3.30 pm). Anyway, after some discussions we went along in the rotten snow and everything went fine. However, it was the first time I questioned a guide’s decision and I still believe it was a really bad decision.

Disentis: March 2013 We had been a skiing in Andermatt for a couple of days with a guide. Fantastic days. Last day, we headed to Disentis. The weather was ice cold with heavy winds. Before lunch, we skied inbound and sluff were released all the time. After lunch, we decided to skin up from the highest drag so we could ski Val Stem. Half way up, we had to take off the skin so that we could climb the last part up to the peak. At that moment, a small slab was released and we fell a couple of meters down. Luckily, it was small. A discussion with the guide followed. He wanted to continue to the top as we were so close. I refused and we all skied down to the train (I got some frost injuries as well). Little talk on the train back to Andermatt. 2 days later, the only deadly avalanche the last 20 years in that area took place. I don't know if that would have happened if we had continued, but it is an episode I still think about 6 years afterwards... It has also made me more skeptical to completely trust every decision the mountain guide takes.

I still like to ski in avalanche terrain and I still often hire mountain guides (last had an excellent guide in St Anton in fantastic conditions in January), but I think it is important to discuss with your mountain guide what is acceptable risk for you. I try to always read the terrain and the snow also when in company with a guide. Lastly, I have become much more conservative the last couple of years when to go big and when to chill in safer terrain.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Started skiing in Winter of 72/73

First tried Off Piste in La Plagne in mid 80s.....and simply couldn't turn.

Got Martin Epp's "Ski Powder" book through SCGB, around '87. This promoted the bouncing down motion to start turn, rather than the standing up method. I took this new found knowledge to Alta....and it worked.

Spent a few years messing around between the Pistes

With practice, I improved and started going Off Piste with the SCGB

Highlight came when I managed to pass the Silver Off Piste standard of the SCGB around 1990 (I think).

Went with the SCGB until they were stopped guiding in France and haven't done a lot since (not that I did a lot then).

My lack of practice over the last 18 years, is greatly made up for by how much easier my Scott The Ski is, than the 201 Force 9 3s that I used to meet the Silver standard. Even the Atomic 11:20s were much easier than those 2m Salomons.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I started skiing when I was 3 and stayed on piste until my early 30's. Around that time Horizon (with whom I have skied every year at least two weeks for the last 12 years or so that have passed since) introduced me to off-piste, something he started a year or two before. Like everyone else, we were blissfully unaware of most dangers although we did equip ourselves soon with some avalanche kit. Lots of guided and unguided trips later (lots of which have also included Arno in addition to Horizon) I am now spending most of my time skiing off-piste, with a 50-50% balance between lift served and touring. Wiser now and much more aware of how much more I need to learn about the mountains.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Good thread. Just makes me wish I'd started both piste skiing and off-piste (which I've now given up trying) a lot earlier.
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Hurtle wrote:
...and off-piste (which I've now given up trying) a lot earlier.

What was the widest ski you used, before giving up?
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Like most, started blissfully unaware without kit following the local boys during the 97/98 season in VT. Still blissfully unaware but have all the kit!
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@Old Fartbag, 85. But it's not the skiing that's the problem, it's the getting up after falling over.
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Hurtle wrote:
@Old Fartbag, 85. But it's not the skiing that's the problem, it's the getting up after falling over.

Thank you for the reply.

- 85 is too narrow for making Off Piste as easy as possible

- Getting up again, I totally understand and don't have a solution for......except that I believe falling would happen much less often with a wider ski (which doesn't help when you do fall)
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@Old Fartbag, I was managing fine on all mountain skis - when I was upright. Whatever the width of the skis, it's idle to suppose one can eliminate falls, unfortunately.
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My experience (?) is much the same as Weathercam's, without the dalliance on snowboarding.......
Started early 80's, then moved to Zermatt where we were all as guilty as each other skiing off-piste including glaciers without much (read "any") thought as to the consequences Shocked
And as mentioned above, all done on 203cm skinny sticks, around 60mm underfoot, ie half the width of my powder skis Very Happy
Fast forward to 2000 and I did my SCGB leaders course in Tignes, the focus was on customer safety and over the space of 2 1/2 weeks became very aware of my shortcomings up till then!
Now I'm almost the polar opposite of my formative years and carry all the equipment and practise its use as much as possible.
Still come unstuck every now and then though, but I guess it's the nature of the beast.............
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Hurtle wrote:
Whatever the width of the skis, it's idle to suppose one can eliminate falls, unfortunately.

That it is.

I was interested in seeing why you'd given up...and if there was a solution.

Off Piste doesn't make up a high percentage of my skiing....but it's generally the most enjoyable (and least crowded).
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snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
Hurtle wrote:
@Old Fartbag, I was managing fine on all mountain skis - when I was upright. Whatever the width of the skis, it's idle to suppose one can eliminate falls, unfortunately.

The trick, if you can't avoid falling over, is only to fall over on the steep stuff. Much easier to get up and get out then.
And of course never sit down, although that's advice for snowboarders.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Good thread, and it got me thinking. In another 30 years time will we look back to 2019 with its (now ancient) technology and think 'wow, we were so naive and stupid back then'?
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
telford_mike wrote:
Good thread, and it got me thinking. In another 30 years time will we look back to 2019 with its (now ancient) technology and think 'wow, we were so naive and stupid back then'?

I reckon that in 30 years time, we'll look back to those Halcyon Years, where there was decent snow to ski on.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@telford_mike, @Old Fartbag, Laughing
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
All the gear & no idea - me, nowhere near as gnarly or as experienced as the rest of you it seems, but good thread all the same.
I'm 53 with knackered knees.
Had two weeks in the mid 90's then stopped.
Started skiing again in 2009 mostly with a boarder who had already done heli- and cat-boarding so he was wanting to play off the sides all the time, I just tried to follow.
First off piste course in 2013 with TDC-Tignes was a turning point, bought the avi gear that year (no airbag though). Ah, the search for the elusive soft and fluffy stuff really started then, have been having more lessons and venturing off and away more and more ever since. I will say though, even if it's not fresh deep snow, off is where it's at!
Always lift served as despite taking up mountain biking I'm just not fit enough for much at altitude!
Still couldn't ski for toffee when it's steep and deep though, it's hard to find the right conditions when one has only 2 or 3 weeks a year to play.

I've now got 2 weeks on the board behind me so am kind of starting again!

Edit: I would like to add to this that during one lesson in 2016 I mentioned that I'd never done Piste Perdue (Tignes), but would like to so the instructor took us there to have a look at it. We were above the entrance on skiers right discussing it when a large-ish slide happened on the slope opposite us. I turned to the instructor and he was white as a sheet and could hardly speak. It turns out he's never been that close to a slide before.
We could have been under that, in a terrain trap too.
That's the closest I ever want to come to an avalanche thanks.


Last edited by Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name: on Fri 22-02-19 11:28; edited 1 time in total
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
January 2006 - went to Verbier and rented a pair of Volkl Gotamas that I could barely turn. Hired a guide and skied Eteygeon, Vallon d'Arbi and the backside of the Mont Fort. Absolutely hooked.

January 2007 - did off piste course in Chamonix. Bought Scott Missions. Bought avalanche gear. Skied first big runs in good powder conditions.

2008 - Variety of holiday skiing in the 07/08 season. Threw up job in the autumn, rented out my London flat and moved to LDA with Swirly and ScottishSkier who used to post here and no longer do. Managed season in LDA and la Grave without dying. Posted fairly poor Derby de la Meije time but survived experience. First brush with avalanche danger as a couloir purges above me in the Vallons de la Meije and I get carried a few feet in the resulting soft slab. Remain only person I know to have been avalanched in a mogul field.

2009/10 - Returned to London and earned sufficient money in 3 weeks to rent flat in Nendaz for the season. Decide to wait out financial crisis in Alps. Head for Nendaz with Swirly and spend season skiing with RPF, BobinCH and others. Take second avalanche course with Mountain Tracks and buy ABS. Do more ski touring and ski increasingly challenging routes. Get through season without incident.

2011 - present return to London and decide to be an adult. Career begins to take off. Steady girlfriend leads to marriage and kids. Gain 10 kilos. Spend more money on gear while bored in the office. Skiing reduces from 100 days a year to more like 5. Spend vast amount of money on guides as skills fade and risk tolerance changes dramatically post kids. Get repeatedly injured and develop early onset arthritis in feet.

Looking at this, there isn't a thing I would do differently other than getting my alignment fixed by CEM and Andi earlier than I did. That's not to say that I did everything perfectly. Just that the mistakes I made were non fatal learning experiences.
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