Thursday March 22, 2007

helicopter rides in whistler (a.k.a the longest teendrama recap ever)

Hello! And welcome to the first teendrama update in, er, a month?! Great to see you all again!

Anyway, continuting my tradition of crashing other people's ski trips (see: Beaver Creek, Whister 06), I spent a few days out @ Whistler last week with some of PW's pals from SF. This one's actually been in the works forever - I first got word of their trip in November and finally signed on when a bunch of kids committed to doing a day of heli(copter) skiing (which I've been trying to do forever).

So ready for this? Maybe 80 photos and 10 videos - all leading up to the most fun ski trip ever?

Saturdays are for JFK -> VYR flights. I met up with my new BFFs Duncan + Anne @ JFK, logged a bunch of hours playing Mario DS during the flight and eventually rendezvoused with Ali (from SF) + Charlotte + Jake (from Boston) in Vancouver. Flights were delayed all over the place (though nowhere near as bad as the Jet Blue / Beaver Creek / President's Day fiasco) made for plenty of time to pound hot chocolates in the airport bar.

When we gathered everyone from the Early Crew, we hit up the local Wendy's (yes! Super Happy Pet Store!) before speeding away in our sweet Ford Escape, driving top KM speeds through the windy roads of northern Vancouver.

The two hour trek from Vancouver -> Whistler feels more like 8 hours when you've only got one CD to listen to (er, Strokes 1st album).

Hmm... should have taken more pics of the house, but it was this four floor condo with, what, 5 bedrooms? We were a 60 second walk to the trail and a 30 sec ride down to the gondola. The Blackcomb Gondola almost ran right over our roof. So rad.

Anne had a whole bunch of food delivered beforehand (best. plan. ever.) and we picked up some beers on the way. Fresh snowplow residue = great makeshift cooler.

Thankfully the chips we had delivered were salsa certified.

It would also be a sin not to mention the, er, suggestive etchings found on all the shower doors. While the downstairs (kids area?) was all slalom skiing artwork, onced you ventured upstairs it's all Naked Man Holding Erect Umbrella.

Sunday was our first day out... and it was pretty shitty. Remmeber when Grell + KJ and I made the trek to Whistler last year? Late season conditions = heavy snow. It was a lot like that our first day out, coupled with pretty shitty visibility. We stayed on Blackcomb the whole day - hitting the backside glacier first and then messing around on the Solarcoaster trails.

By the way, Whistler is actually two mountains (the resort is called "Blackcomb / Whistler"). When looking at the mountain from the village, Blackcomb is on the right, Whistler on the left. The only place they meet is down at the Village where you choose one of two gondolas to start you day - Blackcomb vs. Whistler.

Monday = better. No new snow, but at least the visibilty cleared up. We stayed on the Blackcomb side of things again and went back for round 2 on the glacier. I've been to Whistler a few times (this was my 3x trip out), but I've never really done anything off-trail... no backcountry, nothing really super steep... which is usually because I'm riding with people that don't know that mountain that well (fyi - bad idea to explore the mtn alone) or with people that aren't super aggressive skiiers. But then there's this crew - Ali + Adam are easily two the the best skiiers I've even rode with and Chad (Denver represent) will charge anything on a snowboard. And I think these kids have been out to Whistler, what, a few times each before, so they knew where to find the good chutes, where to hike, what's safe vs. not safe, etc. Anyway, I ended up skiing much harder, steeper stuff this trip than I think I've ever done on any other ski trip.

For example, the Blackcomb Glacier that Grellan and I worked up to last year was our first run this trip. And by day 2, Ali had us hiking all over the place. This pic is the hike up Spanky's Ladder leading to a super steep chute that dumps you into the tail end of the Blackcomb Glacier. Super steep = if you put your hand out, you can touch the slope behind you. For anyone on the east coast, think Tuckerman's ravine but instead of the steeps lasting a few hundred yards, they go on forever.

Anyway, from the top of the Glacier Express Lift, you need to traverse to this little hiking path and then unstrap and climb up this path (Spanky's Ladder, get it?). The 2nd (3rd?) time we hiked this chute, I lost my footing and slipped backwards down the traverse. Special thanks to Charlotte for grabbing hold before I slid all the way down the glacier. Oops.

Here's Chad at the top.

Every morning Whistler ski patrol fires off explosives to trigger any avalanches that may be waiting. In the morning, you could actually hear the explosions going off from our house. Apparently some of them don't detonate, so please try to avoid accidentially falling on them.

Oh, I picked up this guidebook ($15) at one of the shops in town that shows you arial footage of all the chutes on the mountain (ps: definitely recommended if you're making a trip out). I scanned in some of the pages so you can see the way the chutes unfold.

Hey groupshot! This is at the bottom of the Blackcomb Glacier run (the red line above). Left to right: Louisa + Duncan + Ali + Anne (sitting) + Chad (sitting) + Adam, DPS, Jake, Charlotte.

Post lunchtime. Here's the first big chute of the trip - Coulier Extreme (French for "Extreme Chute" - ha!) which is just to the right of the of the Horstman Hut. Super steep drop and we couldn't really see what was around the corner below. I may have volunteered not to tell anyone if we opted to baby out, though Chad the Pusher convinced us to hit it anyway (steep at top, not too steep below - it's just that initial drop that's pretty hardcore). At the end it opens up into a Land of Tiny Trees (just like Mount Snow!) which had some super nice snow.

And a view from our trusty guidebook.

Tuesday. And one more time up to the top of Blackcomb (which means having to ride this shit ass t-bar like 1/2 mile). If you've ever ridden a t-bar on a snowboard, you'll be able to appreciate how hard it was for me to take this pic without taking a huge digger. (I did try to ram Ali into the pole maybe, um, 30 times)

Canadian dollars = free food! Compare this to the Lunchtime Beatdown you get at Beaver Creek. We ate like curling champions.

Oh, did I mention that Anne and Ali are sisters. Anne left, Ali right. Oh and that this whole trip was an extended 30th birthday party for Ali? (which has been going on for some, um, 30 days, no?).

Goldola upskirts = quite fashionable this time of year.

Not many Tuesday pics here which prob means Tuesday was either (a) so hardcore I didn't have time to take pics between all the sweet airs we were throwing or (b) visibility sucked. Actually, Tuesday we rode 7th Heaven all day, no? That was kind of fun, even though the snow was chhhhhoooopppppyyyy. (Heavy snow = choppy snow. Where's all the fresh snow?!)

Garabaldi Lift Company = apres ski bar = sweet sweet super nachos. (and buttery nipples, or so I've heard)

Charlotte + Jake showing off pics their wee baby Nina... who is throwing gang signs! Reprezent!

Oh, and I nearbly forgot to mention that this whole week at Whistler was WOMEN'S WEEK! Which really means nothing since the girl-to-guy ratio at any ski area is always so out of whack. I had my heart set on attending the Burton / Tab Cola (ha!) party, but we never made it. Maybe next year, Sweet Sweet Tab girls.

Naptime on the Floor(tm) = my favorite time of the day. Now which one of you sick mf'ers was trying to upskirt my nuts?!

Tuesdays are for big family dinners. Remember those groceries Anne ordered for the house? Some of them came in the form of pre-made dinners (awesome!). Lasagna one night... what else did we have? Anyway, this pic is from later in the week but whatever, we ate some dinner, okay?!

And what's this about Rusty wearing women's lingerie?!


Tuesdays nights = karaoke at the Crystal Lodge (wait, Tuesday right?). Whatever. Apparenly Canadian karaoke emcees don't respect the American queueing system (first come, first serve) so this dude was playing favorites with the locals all night. The girls (+ Rusty... come'on man!) got their Summer Loving on (ugh)...

... while I waited patiently to SLAY IT, dropping Def Lepard's Hysteria on the unexpecting masses.

ps: Canadian currency is handy at preventing mishaps like this.

Late night. After taking the whirlwind tours of Whistler Village scene we ended up at some non-descript bar (not the gay bar, that was Wed). At one point I ran downstairs to use the bathroom and spotted this in the kitchen. What?! When I aksed our waitress what the blow-up all in the trash was all about and she denied the existance of any such tomfoolery.

And, of course, by the time we left the doll was nowhere to be found. I don't think anyone even believed me...

... until Jake rescued our little lady friend from some unknown trash receptacle.

We showed her all of the finest spots the Whistler Village has to offer...

... I think we may have ever bought her some cheese fries. We quickly bored of our new friend, however, once when we laid our eyes on...

... a shopping cart! (those last two sentences are best said in you best Price is Right "Showcase Showdown" voice)

What better way to roll through the Village in style!

Wednesday. Huh. Hungover. And where did this shopping cart come from again?

Post-karaoke bender, we were this close (one inch!) from taking Wednesday off. The weather was looking a little shitty, we were feeling a little beat up from 3 rough days on snow and we had a day of heli we need to be fresh for. Adam was out at the crack of dawn (fucker) though me + Ali + Chad didn't make it out till 11am or so.

(patented chairlift technology interlude)

... but man, by the time we got out and up to the top of Whistler it cleared up real nice. We randomly met up w/ Adam who had the right idea heading over to the Harmony Bowl. Some new snow fell the night before and a lot of it remained was untouched. Check out those blue skies!

Some of these runs were untracked the whole way down. Super nice. After a few warm-up runs, we started scoping out the Horseshoe Chutes from the lift - I think there's 4 of them - super steep drops, a few leading down through narrow chutes. We started off with Horseshoe #4.

This is literally the lip of the chute. Me + Chad had to lay down and crawl over to scope out the landing. To get in, your options are (a) either traverse some little skiier tracks (nearly impossible on snowboard - esp. riding goofy) or (b) drop the 10 feet off the lip right into the chute. Adam and Ali took the skiiers tracks with no hesitation...

... which is nasty since this this is *so freaking steep*. I dunno if you can tell from this video, but this is the skiiers' traverse I was just talking about. For me + Chad (goofy foot), we'd have to drop in with those rocks to our backs. No way was I doing that. [video]

Ali drops in and Chad and I are kind of guiding her as we have a better view of what's in front of her from the top of the lip - I mean, look at the way her hand is against the wall when she's skiing down. Man. Anyway, we're trying to guide her away from those rocks ("Ali look out!" style)... and then she just drops down in between them. Come'on!

Chad and I are looking at each other thinking "Seriously, how the fuck do we get down from here" before we just cowboy'ed up and dropped the 10 feet into the chute. (We dropped where the guy was standing at the end of the video - you had to get over this rock and then drop onto a little bump and then drop again below that. Ugh.)

Of course, the drop is the worst part - once you're in the chute it's all fresh snow up past your knees. Super nice.

The view from the chairlift ride up. That's #4 all circled up. Ali + Adam dropped on the far left part of the circle, Chad + I dropped middle and then rode down on the right side. I rode up against that rock face on the right and, man, the snow was perfect.

Next run = let's do it again! The first time we dropped it (um, from the video above) it probably took the four of us a good 10 minutes to all make it down - scoping the lines, debating the drop, pooping our pants etc. The second time around, the four of us just jumped in without giving it a second thought. I was the last one to drop in and standing next to these four people who were blown-away by the fact that Adam + Chad + Ali literally just threw themselves into the chute. When Ali dropped, this one woman looked at me and said, "Oh my Lord - that girl is crazy." Ha! The first time took us 10 mins; the second time we were gone in 20 seconds. (read: can we be any more AWESOME!?)

Jesus sent me this postcard. Red arrow = Horseshoe #4.

And back to the top again. This time we traversed over to the Symphony Bowl - one bowl further away from the rest of the crowds - and took a few runs. Given our late start, it's probably around 2:30 by now. Adam is starting to scope these some drops - the Flute Chutes - that are just within the Out of Bounds markers. There's no chairlift access up Flute so we'll have to hike... but the lift below up closes at 3pm... can we make it?

Whatever, well figure that out later. So we hiked. Took about 30-35 mins to get to the top.

Ali and I posed for a prom photo. (Actually, honey, wouldn't you rather use this for our Save the Date wedding invites?)

ps: hike = exhausting.

Again, a lack of good photos here, but the view is amazing. From the top of the hike, there's a good traverse over to the chutes we wanted to drop - the further you traverse, the better the chance of untracked snow. Here's Ali making her way around and scoping things out. Now, it's sketchy up here since all the edges are cornices (wind blown snow = very unsafe to stand on).

While we were traversing over, some guy was standing on top of one of these cornices when the thing just *collapsed*. I didn't see him fall, but I saw the aftermath - him standing about 20 feet below and a little shaken up. According to Chad when the thing gave way he rode the snow down like an elevator and luckily wasn't bucked off or buried by it. See? Sketchy.

We traversed another few hundred yards past the guy who did the elevator-thing and found this nice steep chute to drop in on. These was a cornice above us, but we weren't standing on it so I figured we were okay. Adam dropped first, Ali second and then I went. Some other guy that we met on the hike was behind me (he was going go drop last).

I dropped in and made some turns and you get the usual snow slide - snow sliding past you as you're making turns, which still kind of sketches me out because you just don't see that on the east coast. But then some snow started coming over my helmet (which I've never experienced before) so I figured I'd cut hard right to get out of any snow that may be trailing me down. I made it down okay (by the way, best run I've ever taken - perfect perfect perfect snow) but when I got to the bottom Ali was telling me that the random dude dropped in right after me, knocked the cornice down (which was the cause of all the over-the-head snow). To all the kids at home, don't cause mini-avalanches for the people skiing in front of you.

Soooo, post-hike. We get to the bottom and have to traverse out. Of course, it's like 3:30 by now and the lift is closed (lifts on this side of the mountain close early). Ali + Adam + Chad took a different traverse than me and I ended getting stuck at the lift that was closed (ugh) meaning I had to hike myself out of the bowl I just hiked myself into. Sweet. It took me about 30 mins to hike back to a trail (uphill!) just so I could ski down. Best part: hiking out with an army of disgruntled Japanese ski tourists as we watch snowmobiles zipping by rope-towing ski patrol VIPs out of the same predicament..

4:30pm = the best burger I've ever done tasted.

Wednesday night = hot tub, Naptime on the Floor(tm)... and dinner @ Sushi Village for, what else than, Ali's 30th birthday (take #24)! Not sure how we got the private booth in the back, but I'm sure they'll never make that mistake again. All the booths have little sliding doors you can open to accommodate big parties spy on the people next to you (and steal their edamame).

May I introduce you to the sake bomb? Beers + shots of sake + balanced on chopsticks...

... one-way ticket to TakeOffMyShirtville. [video]

You're damn right we blogged the shit out of it!

Sake bombs naturally evolve into Sake Jenga. [video] (not to be confused w/ Drunk Guy Jenga)

Um, late night. Ali after the sake. And the sake bombs. And the gross little green drink she spit up. And the pitcher (or two?) or strawberry sake margarita.

As seen during our blurry exit. Fucking Matt LeBlanc!

Next up, the one gay bar in Whistler Village. What? No pics of us in make-shift half shirts taking turns wearing Louisa'a hat. Oh well. (whew)

Annnnnd Thursday! Thursday morning was a disaster (weather, not hangover) - most of the lifts were closed and me + Adam + Adam + Chad found ourselves trying to make our way down the steeps off the Whistler Peak Chair with literally 5 feet visibility (while surrounded by bright orange "Caution: cliff!" all over the place. Sweet.

This shot is from the Village. Lifts are either open, closed or on stand-by. As Duncan said, stand-by is just code for "If you tell you it's closed, you won't buy a lift ticket".

With so few lifts open, very little terrain was accessible... which leads to very crowded lift lines just to take the same crappy run over and over again (I'm now so spolied from all the bowls + hiking... blue squares are for babies!). I made a few runs through the park, but after 4 days on snow (and that Symphony two-way hike) my legs were shot.

Around noon word spread that they opened the Harmony lift so there was a mad dash to make some runs in the fresh snow. A few days earlier, we saw some kids launching this drop right under the Harmony lift so we set to seek it out.

Yup, right under the lift. I launched it (Charlotte took the video), did a really sloppy spin, stuck it (yeah! I could hear the cheers from the lift!) and then just lost it in the snow, started riding switch and then fliped over and over and over again (cue people heckling me from the lift - man!). I must have cartwheeled 2-3x - you can see the first of them at the very end of the video. [video]

Chad rode down and was like "Man, did you land that?!" I was like "Kind of!" and then some dude on the lift yelled down "You didn't fucking land that, you fucking pussy!" Ha! Fair enough, but it was close.

ps: that drop was much bigger than I expected.

Thursday night = rest up cause tomorrow = heli day! I made some special DPS bugers. (hey, everyone welcome special guest Dunstan!)

You know, we actually planned on doing our heli day on Wednesday, but because of the shitty weather all week (windy + foggy) it kept getting pushed back - cancelled Wed, cancelled Thurs and there was a big danger things would be cancelled on Friday too (which would have sucked since that was my last day). Thurs night there were a bunch of phone calls back and forth between us + heli company - PW did a lot of the schmoozing (dropping references to Ali's 30th bday, The NF and the fact that we "flew in from all over the country!" wherever possible).

Anyway, 6:30am and Ali wakes us up - heli is a go! Wooooo!

We ended up going with a company called Coast Range Heli. Their Extreme Van picked us up around 7:45am.

I mean, how X-treme is this logo?

Maybe not as EXTREME!!! as the crackers in the backseat. Pow! (Anne = all helmet, all the time. It's 7am!)

So, the CRH guys drive us some 30 mins outside Whistler (Permberton, BC). They've got all sorts of little breakfast snacks waiting for us as we get started on all the heli-admin stuff like...

... weighing yourself. (Helicopter can only carry so many Fat Dennys)

.. signing your life away. (What? No disclaimer about giant snow robots?) [view bigger]

... and learning how to locate your buddies in case you get trapped in an avalanche. For starters, everyone gets one of these little avalance transcievers...

... which get strapped around your chest. The idea is that if someone gets stuck in an avalanche, you can use this beacon to locate and dig them out. See that yellow knob on the front? When you're trying to find someone who's buried, you can flip that switch and the transciever will beep beep beep more and more aggressively depending on how close you are to the person (think: "cold, colder, colder, wait! warm, hot, hot, burning up!" style).

And as you get closer, you can dial the range down (by turning the knob some more) so the readings get more and more accurate. We did about an hour's worth of training with these things - hide and seek style in the dog poo covered snow.

We also became BFF with the pack we got to take turns wearning. Ingredients: (1) shovel, (1) fold out stick for finding your buried buddies, (1) emergency radio. Good times!

Feeling kind of X-TREME, I txt'ed lattistar to tell her I was taking her Michi board on a helicopter field trip. She txt'ed back exactly what I wanted to hear. Ha!

And one last round of helicopter orientation - how to get in, how to get out, don't touch the blades, don't hold onto the skids, don't touch the metal thing in the front that's super hot, don't touch the pilot, blah blah blah.

Cue Chad raising his hand: "Er, where do the missiles go?"

And so here's our crew - 7 in total. When you sign up, you choose either 4 runs or 6 runs (fyi - it costs about $150 per run). The heli can only take 7 people (5 guests, 1 guide, 1 pilot), so we had to split into two groups. Me + Ali + Adam were in the 6 run camp so we got paired with two other random dudes to fill the helicopter.

Pat the Pilot. (What no pics of Graham the Guide? BTW, can the alliteration be any more per-fect-o?)

There was a crew of foreigners too. We didn't get to ride with them, which was a shame cause they had such awesome names.

Okay, ready? So mind you, after doing all this "digging out your friends" training we were all a little sketched...

... and the first time they fire up the helicopter and the cockpit is shaking because of the blades, I think all three of us has that "maybe we're over our heads here" feeling. (btw, helicopter is actually a pretty smooth ride, much smoother than say a JetBlue landing)

Here's a view from the backseat.

And from the top. I'm not sure of the name of the mountain we were riding, but there's no chairlifts, no trails - it's just one huge glade. Because of the crappy visibility, we weren't able to get all the way to the summit, but we were still taking runs that were a good 2000 (?) vertical feet each (think: Killington, top to bottom).

Here's how the landings go down - the helicopter touches down and you basically crawl out the door and lay in the snow until the thingtakes off (stand up = head chopped off?). I guess I wasn't paying attention during part of the training because I never expected the helicopter to just take off while we were laying next to it. This looks hot in the video, but man seeing this thing take off and blow snow all over the place is just rad. [video]

And then at the bottom of the run (which is usually the middle of the mountain - you never ski all the way to the bottom) the guide calls the pilot, tells them at which landing zone we're at and then the helicopter just swoops down and picks us up. Our guide on the right side, us on the left... and the pilot lands right in the middle of us. In the video you can see Adam kind of positioning himself so he doesn't get landed on. [video]

I like this picture lots. Everytime we got dropped off, it was at a different point on the mountain so every run is a little different.

And in case you were ever wondering what the inside / dashboard looks like. Look, he's got a little British Jess nav system all his own!

After one of our runs, the helicopter was waiting for us at the bottom, rotors off. Depending on the condition of the snow and the position of the helicopter, sometimes they want everyone to get in before they turn the blades on and sometimes they want the thing ready to take off before you atatempt to crawl on in. Apparently all the extra weight (er, us) makes the helicopter behave differently - and sometimes you need that weight to take off, while sometimes it causes problems. Huh. I hope you're learning a lot here.

The first run we took was pretty easy - nice wide open bowl, super nice snow (waist high in some spots?). With every run, the guide would take us down harder and harder terrain. Right before lunch we did a run through the trees which was pretty sick (this video). At one point, so much snow flew up from a turn I made that I had to blow the snow out of the lens of my digicam (hence why all the photos from this point on are a little blurry / foggy). video.

Ali took some EXTREME digi-footage of me SHREDDING. Thanks!

And lunchtime. The helicopter swings by, drops off everyone's lunch and takes off again. Good ol' guide Graham went anddug out a little picnic table for us in the snow. This sandwich = delicious.

We were the first group to make it down for lunch, though we all eventually all rendezvoused at the picnic table. I can't tell you how stoked I was to see Ole, Lars, Axel and Prado again.

A little panoramic action. video

We took four runs before lunch, leaving us with two in the afternoon. For #5, Graham took through some crazy trees (this. is. so. steep)...


... which ended up in a chute that was covered in avalance debris. We actually ended up coming down the right side of this pic and then traversing through all the death cookies. This was on the the sketchiest runs I've made in a while.

After this run (#5) we ended up having to call it a day. The pilot said something about ice starting to form on the blades. After our last run through that sketchy avalanche chute, we weren't really complaining. (bonus: heli company refunded us for the run we didn't get to take - sweet!)

And so that's it. It's about a 5 minute helicopter ride back to the base. On our way out, I spied that that our random ski buddy was rocking these lucky "Endorphin" boots. Hot.

Back at the house, we napped it up pretty good. Knowing I was taking off in the morning and that JJ + McD + Matt + Christian were arriving at Whistler the next day (great timing, no?), I marked up a trail map with all my newfound Whistler knowledge and left it for them at the Hilton.

"Don't duck any ropes!" was my big piece of advice to J and his crew. Still, I got a txt from J some 3 days later telling me he and Christian ducked a rope right near *the same place I got stuck* (Symphony chair, post Flute runs) and ended up hiking about 2.5 miles through the woods to get back to the Village. Suckers! [bigger]

Friday night (can you tell this recap is wearing me down? 88 photos!). We grabbed the Longest Dinner Ever(tm) at Barefoot Bistro. The Chapas sisters sabred up a few bottles of champaign (just like last year - video!) and we tried to scam our way into $1000 VIP tables (for real?) at Max Fish (though we weren't as successful as last year's hot tub + helmet cam = MTV reality show VIPs magic)

PW and Ali gave out The Whistler 07 Awards at dinner... Charlotte took home, um, a paper plate in the Best Baby category (rigged!) and the Best Onesie category (which she slayed!).

Duncan, what you got? Best Grillmaster and Best Wipe Out. (cue applause!)

ps: the wipeout, upon further X-ray, turned out to be a BROKEN WRIST. Ugh, sorry dude.

Oh, me? I took home two (and this fine Whistler slizno)

#1. Best Trickster!!! (come'on, I almost landed that three off the harmony chair!)

#2. Rookie of the Year?! What an honor!

Now, this is Part 1 or a two-trip adventure... my 7am flight out of Vancouver flies not to NYC but to Austin so I can hit up the SXSW festival (that recap coming soon). Anyway, to catch my 7am flight, I had to catch a 3am shuttle from Whistler -&#gt; Vancouver. Sleep is for babies! Instead, I'll take a Gatorade bottle filled with White Russian, please! (btw, worst idea ever - especially when my flight out of Vancouver was delayed, oh, 3 hours)

6:45a. Downtown Vancouver. (And long after I finished the Gatorade cocktail - ugh.)

(anyone for a SXSW recap? sooooooooonnn....)

ps: Um, also see.... yup, last year (w/ Grell & KJ).

Thu 3/22 @ 5:01 PM | # link| Comments (8)
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