December 18, 2007:
This isn't really ski touring, but XC skate skiing is one of those sports (along with rando racing and cyclocross) that's so insanely difficult that it's easy to get to that place where you're seeing little white spots on the horizon, so I figure this is appropriate.
US Ski Team member Kikkan Randall last Sunday became the first US woman ever to win a World Cup cross country race, outkicking Norwegian Astrid Jacobsen and Russian Natalia Korosteleva by the narrowest of margins in a sprint race in Demino, Russia. Randall remembered being tentative in last year's event at the same venue (when she took third) and decided "no guts, no glory" as she hammered up the final hill and was never caught.
Congrats to Kikkan and the entire US XC team - simply outstanding!
Full story here
December 15, 2007:
We've had a hard few weeks in the Northwest.
Too little snow. Too much snow. Too much rain. Too little snow again.
A week after the search for three missing backcountry snowboarders near Crystal Mt. was called off, and two hikers returning from Snow Lake died in a avalanche, the cycle seems set to repeat itself. The huge rain event of December 2-3 left masses of bulletproof rain crust (often punctuated with nasty runnels). A solid week and a half of below normal temperatures and little snow left a nice layer of surface hoar over much of the Cascades. Our on-snow research last Tuesday (see above pic) indicated very poor bonding between the 2 to 6 inches of wind deposited fresh and the ice, with nice clean slabs breaking loose as we ski-cramponed our way up Pan Point.
Now we get what looks like three snow-laden systems moving through the area, with 10-12 inches of new on Friday-Saturday, another dump on Monday, and a third on Wednesday. Who thinks it's going to slide? It's bad form to second-guess avalanche victims, and I don't know any of the people involved in the December 2 incidents or what was going through their minds as they planned their trips, though I'm always suspicious when I hear of people who claim to know storms are coming and go out without skis or snowshoes. What I do try to do is read the reports of the trips and try to figure out if they made mistakes that I might also have made.
Friends who I had contacted about skiing on December 2 were already e-mailing back on Thursday, the 29th of November with reservations about skiing, as least on anything steeper than 20 degrees or above treeline. After checking the reports on NWAC and NOAA and looking at the models on UNISYS, I had to concur, and we planned on sticking with low-angle slogging somewhere near Snoqualmie. I ended up having to dig my high-centered car out three times along the Alpental road before settling on a couple of laps up Summit West - but the shooting cracks in the snow with every skin step, and the clean shears going down at least two and a half feet around the track made a big impression on all of the skiers in the vicinity (PeteA and Randy from TAY both had groups at West as well).
Media reports indicated that a group of hikers who survived an ill-planned trip to Melakwa Lake on the same weekend had anticipated snow but vastly underestimated the quantity. It's a bit hard to believe that they'd make this mistake if they had looked at any forecasts after Wednesday the 28th, but again I don't really know anything about their planning. The lesson to be taken from this, I suppose, is to look often at the forecast while you're in the planning stages for a trip, then get the most current possible weather information by checking right as you leave the house (or better yet, bring your laptop or mobile device and check from the car before you skin up).
Some other thoughts that crossed my mind, in no particular order:
Be familiar with the weather from the past several weeks, as well as the present conditions and forecast. It affects the stability of the snowpack in a big way.
Be able to analyse the stability of the snow on the spot, and be willing to change your plans or adjust your route according to what you see. If you haven't taken an avalanche course yet, find time to do so. Regardless of what the NWAC report or anyone else says, conditions can and do change with time, aspect, temperature and solar exposure. Reports are issued for GENERAL risk levels in very large geographical areas (like Washington Cascades west of the Crest) and can't possibly apply to every situation a lone backcountry skier might face. Once you exit the ski area boundary, you're responsible for yourself, and unless you're paying a guide, you have no one else to blame.
Always bring your skis. And be careful out there.
November 25, 2007:
Yesterday Kevin and I went up to Crystal to get some quick turns in before the Apple Cup, skinning into Campbell Basin and to the top of Silver King. The most direct line off the top looked a little boney, so we headed for the next one to the south, which had better coverage even though the top was sun-crusted and the middle had some obvious avy debris. Three turns into the chute I threw a shoe, skiing out of my right ski with very little effort, and then having to chase it a few feet down the hill. It wasn't until we stopped in the sun at the bottom for lunch that I noticed the press-fit retaining washer that keeps the Dynafit heel from moving in a fore-aft direction was gone, and the heel had moved backward about 4 or 5 millimeters, so that it just BARELY engaged the fitting on the back of my boot! I tapped it back into place with my hand, and gently skied back down to the base area without incident.
On the way home, I decided to stop off at Marmot Mountain Works in Bellevue to see if they might have some spare parts. Since the assembly is pressed together at the factory, it required replacing the whole baseplate with the pivot post and adjusting screw. Eric at Marmot was concerned enough to cannibalize a new set of TLT heels and we swapped my modified body/top plate on, so I was free to use the skis Tuesday or Wednesday on my days off. Thanks, Eric, that was beyond the call of duty!
November 18, 2007:
What do you get when a couple hundred hard-core backcountry skiers put their cleanest pair of Carhartts on and drive into the city on a November weekend when they normally would be skiing?
In this case you got the first annual Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit, a day-long seminar put on by ASAP to benefit the Friends of the Avalanche Center. The program, which featured such diverse speakers as the NWAC's Mark Moore, well-known local avalanche educator Gary Brill, and ski mountaineer Sky Sjue, was supposed to be limited to the first 250 people to register, but people came out of the woodwork for this one and every nook and cranny in the Tahoma room was filled. Backcountry historian Lowell Skoog and forecaster Garth Ferber spent the entire time in the side entryway, though they at least had chairs.
Topics ran the gamut, from Craig Wilbour's presentation on the WSDOT's constant battle to keep I-90 safe and clear to Patty Morrison's study on winds around Steven's Pass. One of the more interesting discussions was AMGA/UIAGM guide Margaret Wheeler's talk on "Hormones and Decision-Making in Avalanche Terrain," in which she showed statistics indicating that mixed-gender groups consistently exposed themselves to higher levels of risk than all-male or all-female ones. The inference was that male members of said groups put the parties into greater danger in order to impress the females.
Ski mountaineer Sky Sjue's talk was a highpoint of levity in the afternoon. Sky's theme of "I've never taken an avalanche course in my life, but this is what's worked for me on these burly trips" brought down the house on several occasions. Of course, it helps to be innately intelligent and observant, and have the strength to hike an extra ten hours to get home when something doesn't work out.
Chris Brixey, who was scheduled to speak on the new Ortovox S1 transceiver, was an unfortunate no-show, and I missed the panel discussion at day's end, which was probably interesting as well. In all, the program was worthwhile and interesting across-the-board, but the format tested the patience of some of the audience, mostly people who are used to skinning for six to eight hours a day rather than sitting in a chair. They might consider alternating the lectures with smaller discussion group sessions or hands-on demos next year.
Wow. The Trommsdorffs read last month's blog and decided I needed reinforcements for my chocolate stash, so last week they sent a Swiss colleague to my wife's office with a nice assortment of treats from Michael and Corinne . . . more of the exquisite Crème Brûlée of course, a bit of the classic Lindor (milk chocolate filled with mousse) and another winner, the Cresta. Think Heath Bar with really good chocolate and some hazelnuts and the toffee broken up into small bits. Thanks, guys.
October 26, 2007:
"Everything Must Go" reads the caption.
Maybe you saw the news about the K2 Moving Sale last weekend, complete with pictures of skis, snowshoes, desks and shelves piled up on Vashon Island. Moving? After 40 some-odd years? (45, according to the K2 Sports website) Wow, that signifies the end of an era for sure.
My first exposure to K2 came in 1967, when CMAC racer Cathy Joslin showed up with a pair of prototype red-white-and-blue skis. I thought they were the coolest thing in the world. A couple of years later, when K2 hooked me up with a pair of downhill skis, this 125 lb. 10th grader was a believer. After a stint as a sponsored freestyle skier and many pair of free skis later, K2 and the Vashon culture had become an integral part of NW skier lore, at least in my mind.
I talked to Tim Petrick, everybody's best source of news regarding things K2, today and asked him about the move. He said they were in new offices on 6th Avenue S. near the SODO Costco and that I should drop by and check them out.
Me: "So are you totally out of Vashon now?"
Tim: "Yeah, we're totally out. Now they're just trying to sell the property, or whatever."
Me: "So how many people are there?"
Tim: "230. It's all new, all good. My office is great; some of the engineers and marketing guys are kind of down in the catacombs, but it's good.
Me: "Are you set up to make prototypes yet?"
Tim: "They aren't doing it yet, they had to move all the machines over, and they were all grandfathered in over on the island, so they weren't exactly up to code. Now we've got the inspectors down the street, so we have to be a little more . . . Anyway, if we have to prototype now, we're flying guys over to China, but they should be up and running in about a month or so."
The end of an era, indeed. Though it sounds like the American-made K2 won't totally become a thing of the past, you'll have to pretty well connected to get to ski on anything that isn't being laid-up in Asia. And Vashon? Looks like it becomes the domain of the tofu farmers once again.
October 23, 2007:
You can read specs off websites all you want, but there's nothing like touching the new gear in person, trying the boots on, and hefting and flexing the skis you're interested in.
I stopped in at Marmot Mountain Works in Bellevue today, and after chatting with owner Lock Miller about old times and mutual acquaintances for a while, got down to inspecting some of the hardware. I tried on the new Scarpa F3, a very light boot with the tele-style toe bellows of the F1 race boot but with a normal walk/ski lever rather than the all-in-one cable apparatus the F1 uses. Though I've used the F1 for almost 3 years without having had a malfunction of the lever/cable, it's always made me nervous and I carry a spare cable whenever I use the boots. The lever sometimes ices up and is hard to get into the slot when going into ski mode, and occasionally pops out at an inconvenient time while skiing as well.
The F3 incorporates the toe bellows which makes skinning WAY more comfortable and enables me to not use the climbing post (top level) on any of my Dynafit setups (I cut them off), since the boot itself will adjust to all but the most insane skinning angles. The F3 26/26.5 mondopoint shell is 3mm shorter than my F1's at 297mm, and the Dynafit toe inserts are set in the traditional forward position (not 5mm back like the Spirit 3/4 series), so the overall length should be about 2mm longer than my Spirits. Whew, no re-drilling required. I had a problem getting my high-volume foot into the right boot due to a welded-on rubberized thingy under the tongue restricting the amount you can pull the tongue out, but once I got my feet in they were quite comfortable, without the hot spots at the little toe and arch that I've had with my other Scarpas. For the record, I've got a wide (D), flat and high-volume foot. I'm guessing that the forward flex is 10% stiffer than the F1, and the traditional flipper type ski/walk lever is quite positive as you move it into position.
The liners are a departure from tradition for Scarpa this year, being made by Vancouver BC's Intuition rather than in-house. The production boot has a conventional liner with tongue rather than the wrap-around version shown last spring, and the interior of the liner has a rough, egg-crate sort of texture that looks and feels like something you might use to clean a teflon frying pan with (see second photo below). Time will tell if the texture causes blisters or prevents them by limiting heel movement, but I'd be willing to bet they'll last longer than conventional smooth nylon linings. The liners also have a non-skid rubber bottom for hut slouching or camping, which is a nice touch.
Nitpicks: The tongue curves inward under the bottom buckle, presumably to avoid catching on the buckle as it is tightened. This leaves a space for water to enter where the tongue doesn't completely cover the shell; it remains to be seen whether the rubber stuff will keep moisture out. Also the grooves in the tongue for the middle buckle cables are narrower than the cables as they exit the strap (see photo below) - Scarpa never seems to get this right, they've used this arrangement on a number of boots and the cables never align properly with the grooves. It's almost as if the guys who mold the shells have never talked to the guys who do the buckles.
I also tried on the Dynafit Zzero 4 PX, the all-plastic version of the new Zzero 4. Instead of the carbon fiber stringers on the sides of the boot, this model uses Pebax ones and so is slightly less laterally stiff and a bit heavier, but avoids the scary $795 price point (for a touring boot, scary indeed). Dynafit also has sized down the sole slightly, with the 26/26.5 shell measuring 296mm. This might be a concern if already have several pair of Dynafits mounted, as I do, or if you are trying to decide between a medium and a short Fritschi - for the record, these will fit easily into a short Freeride binding, whereas my Spirit 3's and G-Rides in the same nominal size just BARELY made it at 300mm.
The Zzero 4 also felt quite good on my foot considering the liners had not been cooked, and quite light and "slimming" in look and feel. Dynafit's boot design team (the people responsible for Garmont's G-Ride/MegaRide) has gone out of its way to make everything on the boot "minimalist," even to the point of making the top buckle straps ALMOST too short for me to close. Forward flex in this boot was way softer than I had expected, leading me to wonder if the carbon version is also so easy to push and if some tongue reinforcement might be in order for heavier skiers or hard chargers buying this shoe. The ski/walk lever is quite small and reminds you of a switch on your breaker board at home; it may prove to be a challenge with heavy winter gloves on.
Everything else about the Dynafit boot seems to make sense (as long as you don't mind the lime green) except for a little tab on the end of the power straps that makes it really hard to get the straps free of the loops (under the third rivet next to the kitty head in the picture below). Maybe Austrians don't ever take their power straps completely off to put on their boots and never velcro the two straps together to carry them? Who knows. At any rate, it would be no problem at all to cut the things off with an Exacto knife.
There was also the Garmont Shaman. A single boot weighs about the same as my pair of F1's (only a slight exageration). There's no walking hinge. The sole is imprinted with an impressive "Flex Index 130" warning. Holy Crap, who are they going to sell these to, guys who want to "tour" but also ski World Cup GS on the weekend? Granted, the flex index number has no particular meaning, since each manufacturer has their own standard, but 130 is the number Nordica gives the Doberman Race boot! They do include two sets of soles, which can be interchanged like the Adrenalin and Endorphin soles, but the alternate sole is not a lugged mountaineering sole, only a smooth, slightly softer one with a tiny bit of rocker. These things may work for some people, but if you're looking for this type of boot you really should be in the "alpine" section; they don't really have any place on the AT boot wall.
I went through the rack of new skis, too. Here's my off-the-cuff thoughts: The new Black Diamond line seems a bit big and ponderous. The skis, especially the Kilowatt, seem too stiff in the front, and heavy compared to last year's foam core models (comparing the Verdict and Havoc, for instance). The Atomic Kailas seems overly soft in the tip unless you're planning on using it exclusively for powder days, which most people can't afford to, plus there's the size issue - they jump from 174 to 185 without stopping in between, which is where I'd want to be in a ski that width. Of course, none of this means jack if the skis rip, which may be the case. I'll have to hit the Marmot demo night this year and see for myself.
Want to know what ski really FELT right in the shop? The 181 K2 Mt. Baker Superlight was damn light, pretty damn wide, and flexed just like I THINK I like skis to flex for all-mountain, day-in, day-out skiing. They look pretty cool too, with a flashy yellow version of the Baker's NW native graphics.
Then there's the real backcountry essentials. Transceiver, shovel, probe . . . CHOCOLATE. Michael Trommsdorff was in town for a couple of days recently, and he brought back some awesome new treats. Apparently the Microsoft Zürich building is very close to the Lindt factory outlet, and it's one of Michael and Corrine's favorite places to shop. The Lindt Crème Brûlée is quite possibly the best candy bar I've ever eaten - a combination of Lindt's classic not-too-light milk chocolate and a nutmeg-enhanced custard with crunchy glazed suger bits inside.
For dark chocolate lovers (it's reputed to help keep your blood pressure down, so there!) there's the 65% cacao content Lindt Excellence "Cuba" blend, with just the right balance between sweetness and dusty chocolate bite. Sorry, no picture of this one, I ate the candy and threw away the box before I thought to scan it. Michael brought some of the Excellence "Madagascar" as well, but it wasn't quite as intense or complex as the "Cuba." I've seen and purchased the "Cuba" in Canada, too, but it seems not to be available in the States, probably due to our well-thought-out trade embargo. Oh well, if you're up in Whistler, buy a bunch and just tell the border guy it's candy bars, eh?
August 6, 2007:
That was the word to describe the Turns-All-Year forum members who participated in the annual Pinnacle Peak Slush Cup last week, at least for a few minutes.
Somehow National Public Radio reporter Tom Banse got wind of the low-profile celebration (as did the MRNP rangers) and decided to hike up to the pond skimming site to check out the scene and do a few interviews. TAY regular Jeanette Morrison lead off the interviews with a bubbly explanation of the Turns-All-Year sickness, followed by site founder Charles Eldridge and long-time year-round skier Danny Miller.
The cheers of onlookers and the shrieks of people underestimating how much speed was necessary to cross the pond made for some colorful background sound bites - here's the interview.
I'm up in Whistler, BC at the moment, piggybacking on the Meadowbrook Rec Center's WIFI connection and watching some wild raquetball action. I just checked out the new Arc'teryx offerings at Escape Route in the village, and was shocked to see not only the high prices ($100 or so above the prices in the US doesn't quite cut it with the nearly equal exchage rate) but that some of the new hardshells (in this case, the Alpha SL) are now sporting a discreet "Made in China" tag. Yikes.
I'd always known that the gold standard Arc'teryx jackets were made by Chinese, but they were Chinese living the good life in Vancouver, BC. Now that bastion of quality North American handiwork seems headed toward extinction, no doubt the victim of some accountant's analysis. FWIW, neither the quality nor the price of the garments in question seems to have been diminished by said out-sourcing.
August 22, 2007:
She knows how to stay in shape for skiing, that's for sure.
My friend Magali Prevost was in a quandry last month. Her visa was about to expire, and her friends at her job at the EPA couldn't pull strings fast enough to get her an extension. She needed to either return to France or suffer the consequences of being put on Homeland Security's "unwelcome" list along with a bunch of guys with beards who had taken flying lessons.
In the end she took a temp position at her old job in Toulouse filling in for a friend on maternity leave, and booked a flight the day before her visa was up. Unfortunately, that didn't allow for a Baker or Rainier summit and ski this season, but as consolation she was able to sign up for the Embrun-Man Triathlon, aguably the most difficult Ironman distance triathlon in the world, which she had watched as a child and had always wanted to participate in.
For those of you who haven't heard of Embrun-Man, it's an event which the Ironman sponsors have declined to let use the "Ironman" moniker, not because it doesn't meet the difficulty requirements, but because it's TOO HARD. The 2.3 miles of swimming in a glacial lake, combined with the 15,000 vertical feet of climbing on the bike (the route is like a bad day in the Tour de France, and culminates in a climb over the Col de Izouard) and 1,500 ft. of climbing on the run take the difficulty of the event off the hook.
Magali has always been super fit - when you look over at her halfway up a mountain, she is always smiling and exclaiming about how "GREET" the scenery is (she means it's awesome) and never breathing hard. Still, it seemed like a lot to bite off to me. Never having done an Ironman before, I dispensed advice easily - start out really slow, have a good time, and see how far you get.
Mag did more than that - she cruised the entire event feeling "greet" until the last 13 mile lap of the run, when she caught a guy from her triathlon club in Toulouse. They were both starting to feel tired, so they agreed to finish the run together. She ended up finishing in 15 hours 4 minutes and change, 10th place on the podium among many of the top triathletes in Europe! How cool is that?
Here's the video on French television TF1. They interview Magali just after the swim, as she's getting ready for the bike leg.
June 12, 2007:
Sometimes we get carried away in our own little volcano-skiing corner of the Pacific Northwest and forget that there are mountains with snow all over the world.
Meanwhile, people like Christian Trommsdorff (our guide last winter in Chamonix) and his climbing friends Yannick and Caroline are getting the goods in places like the Karakoram Range of Pakistan. Skinning up unnamed 6,500 meter peaks and laying down some sweet tracks . . . check out their report (in French, mostly) here. A little climbing, a little skiing . . . your typical mountain guide's holiday, right? Just thinking about adding 10,000 vertical feet or more to our normal ski touring elevation makes me dizzy.
It seems I've picked the hottest days of July and August to wander up to Muir and do a little skiing.
It was actually a pretty good strategy. Get up fairly early, wind my way through the I-5 morass (more morass this week with the construction in the northbound lanes between the stadiums and MLK), and take a leisurely drive through Puyallup and Eatonville. The hike is great if you start before it really heats up - you can leave the trail runners on to well above Pebble Creek (actually, it probably would be fastest to just leave them on all the way to Muir). Since I'm a skier first, I put skins on at about 8,500 ft. and struggled through the grit-covered suncups.
When it's ninety-plus degrees in town, it's perfect at 10,000 ft. for lounging in shirtsleeves and having a little lunch. Then you get to ski down. The huge and not-so-soft suncups make for marginal skiing on the Muir Snowfield proper, but smoother snow is just around the corner on the upper Paradise snowfield, at least below 8,200 ft. A quick 200 ft. shale hop brings you to another snowfield running right down to Pebble Creek.
On the hike down, an exotic-looking black woman who looked like she might be on vacation from a Vegas chorus line asked me if I was one of "those Turns-All-Year" guys. She introduced herself as Bayonne, and said she was married to tele-pioneer Kurt Hummel! Descending into the heat, and stopping repeatedly to chat with people from Atlanta, Spain, and California (everyone wants to talk to guys with skis on their back) was a good reminder that the mountain was a good place to be in August . . .
May 22, 2007:
The big news for Northwest backcountry skiers this month was the re-opening of the road to Paradise at Mt. Rainier on the weekend of May 5th and 6th, after months of intensive earth rearrangement and road repair. For those used to the old scenery along the way to Paradise, the shock of not seeing the familiar Sunshine Point Campground as you enter the park is quite jarring. The Nisqually riverbed has tripled or quadrupled in size and comes alarmingly close to the road in a few places, and there is evidence of huge amounts of earth having been moved in places like Kautz Creek. We didn't take a look up the defunct West Side Road.
The good news is that access to the most popular south side of the mountain is restored. The bad is that work on the Steven's Canyon road will in all likelihood take until late summer or early fall to complete (right now they are saying September) and the gravel road to Mowich Lake (one of the prettiest ways to access Rainier, IMO, but low priority) has barely been considered. Access to Sunrise, where the road went pretty much unscathed, doesn't seem to be a problem, and the ranger told us they planned to open it June 15th.
As before the flooding, parking seems to be the major impediment to enjoying yourself at Paradise for the present. If you don't get there early on a weekend and nab a spot in the old Visitor's Center lot or up by the new construction, be prepared to park well down the return road and hike back up. Wonder why they can't open up some of the blacktopped area at the top, 3/4 of which is currently fenced off for construction worker's vehicles, and shuttle them up from Longmire or Ashcroft. As it is, it seems like much of the space is being wasted on single guys parking their 4x4 trucks there, and it sure would be nice to give the paying customers a more direct line to the toilets.
April 30, 2007:
It was a sure sign of the growing popularity of backcountry skiing, when perhaps 80 or more people appeared out of the mists to converge upon the Crystal Mountain parking lot yesterday for Turns-All-Year's annual rite of spring. Lawn chairs, large metal cannisters of malt beverages, snow-worthy dogs and children and a varied assortment of backcountry-lovin' humanity formed a long line moving steadily up the hill toward Campbell Basin.
The event was a great chance to meet new friends and catch up with old ones, check out other people's gear, and generally enjoy the company of like-minded ski people in a low-key environment. TAY founder Charles Eldridge actually put in an appearance, along with stalwarts Ron J. and Jeannette M. Big league ski mountaineers like Lowell Skoog, Amar Andalkar and Phil Fortier mingled with youngsters like 12 year-old Brett, up for his second Crystalfest with his dad, amber ale flowed freely, and Telemack kept the drowsy on their toes with his campstove espresso bar.
Skiing was a little marginal, and the hoped-for thawing of the frozen corn and avy debris top layer never came to pass, but the crowd took turns climbing to the ridge of the Throne and descending to the delight of onlookers. A great day with cool people, and one can imagine what sort of turnout this might have engendered had it been SUNNY!
Here's Jerry White's video of the event!
April 24, 2007:
This is good. Andrew McLean was on a trip with friends Grant Guise and Ben Ditto up in the Wrangle/St. Elias range of Alaska. Ben skied out on a ridge to get some shots of Grant and Andrew skiing down, then proceeded down the ridge in the process of joining them when . . . WHAM . . . he falls through into a huge crevasse, his heels release, and he's left hanging upside down from one Dynafit toepiece.
By this time Andrew and Grant are some 750 vertical feet down the mountain, so when Ben calls on his Talkabout and calmly tells them that he's hanging upside down by one leg in a crevasse and he's gonna die it takes them about 15 minutes to put their skins back on and beat it back up to the ridge.
Andrew explained that he would have paused to take a picture, but once he realized the "gravity" of the situation, he put all his effort into hauling Ben out of the hole and only afterward shot some celebratory video - here's a link to the footage. As luck would have it, Ben's one of those guys who doesn't use brakes or a leash on his skis and so is in the habit of always locking the toe when the skis are on his feet . . .
March 31, 2007:
Just when you thought your transitions were getting pretty efficient, someone (in this case, Jonathan Shefftz of Amhearst, MA) sends you this link to some of the fastest rando racers in the world at the recent European championships in Morzine, France. Check out these videos to see how it's really done. Laetitia Roux has rocketed out of the espoirs ranks this year to become the dominant woman racer on the continent. Dennis Brunod (sounds French, but he skis for Italy) has been a podium finisher all year as well. Laetitia drops her second skin, and still has time to have a panini and espresso in the time most of us take to get our skins on and be ready to ski!
This clip of racers slinging their skis into diagonal carry position without removing their packs while walking is pretty good, too. The footage is from the 2007 edition of the Dachstein Xtreme Race - if you look carefully you can see a pair of the 2007-2008 Trab Race Aero World Cup skis go by.
The links are all from www.skimountaineering.org, a great site for keeping tabs on the world of Euro randonnée racing. The posts are mostly in English or French, with a smattering of German and Italian to keep you on your toes.
March 25, 2007:
The OR/Life-Link Randonnée Rally at Alpental went off under a light drizzle on Sunday, March 18, and did not disappoint. Alpental is the "granddaddy" of rando races in the Pacific Northwest, having been held five times over the past six years (the 2005 edition was cancelled due to lack of snow). This year the traditional course up International was changed for better visibility and the safety of non-racers by charging straight up looker's left of the Armstrong Express lift, across the creek over a made-to-order snowbridge, and following the most direct line possible up Chair 2.
A steep mandatory boot-up up the left side of the Fan and a boot up with an aluminum ladder and fixed rope through the Rollen cliff bands made the uphill portion particularly spicy this year, prompting myriad humorous comments from the competitors. I didn't do the race this year, citing the same tired excuses (broken leg, lack of fitness) I've been using for the last couple of months, but friends Frank Neumann, Monika Johnson, and Rick Knowles each gave me detailed reports of the race, and Andrew Gorohoff generously sent me some photos of the event to post.
A core group of really fast guys - Peter Svätojánsky, the Traslin brothers from Vancouver, BC, and Scott Coldiron from Spokane - shot off the front immediately. Kevin and Molly Grove fought hard for position, and Monika J., (in her first competitive rando effort), made her fitness level obvious from the start. Frank commented that he probably had twenty years on the next oldest person in the race (well, ten years anyway - we all know backcountry skiers tend to look younger than their years) but had entered with the goals of having fun and not finishing last.
Everyone I spoke with had good things to say about Martin Völken's "creative" course, and the "obstacles" made a big impression on the spectators as well. As with Crystal Mountain's Vertfest events, holding the race in the middle of the ski area during operating hours is a great way to show lift skiers what the sport is all about, and I hope the trend continues.
After reaching the top, the descent went down Upper International and Snakedance to the bottom, where the Rec Division race ended. The Race Division went on for another lap up to Piss Pass, with a higher return traverse than last year (skins were left on) before descending to the finish.
The finish order for the Men's Race Division was the same as the Vertfest Rando Race - Peter Svätojánsky, Andy Traslin (last year's winner at Alpental), and Scott Coldiron. Monika Johnson went on to win the Women's Race Division, followed by Molly Grove and Erin Spiess. Stano Faban of Slovakia won Men's Rec, and Gina Völken took first in Women's Rec. As in years past, the amount and quality of the schwag given away by Outdoor Research, Life-Link, Dynafit and others was phenomenal. Monika was especially tickled with her new set of Race Ti Dynafit bindings! Here's a link to the full results.
Thanks to Andrew Gorohoff of InitialPhotography.com for the above photos - for those interested in purchasing prints of the race, here's a link to his website with the complete collection of pictures from the race, as well as a price schedule.
March 11, 2007:
Randonnée racing is starting to look like a real sport in the Pacific Northwest, with a series of well-received "citizen" races going on this month - the first two, Vertfest at Crystal Mountain on March 3rd and Telefest at Hyak on March 10th, have already come and gone, but perhaps the most challenging of the trio is next Sunday, March 18th at Alpental. All three have received primary sponsorship from Seattle-based Outdoor Research, which has moved on from the gaiter-and-glove days and is rapidly becoming a major player in the quality outerwear market with a line of excellent hardshell, softshell and insulating garments.
Vertfest took advantage of a break in the weather to host two human-powered competitions last Saturday. The first was a "traditional" randonnée race of approximately 4,900 vertical feet, with the ascent path tracing the ridge of Silver Queen and the descents veering slightly into both Silver Basin and Powder Bowl. Jeff Huber was kind enough to supply me with both photos and commentary from the races.
Peter Svätojánsky, a veteran World Cup competitor and Slovakian National Team member who is living in Vancouver, BC for the winter, joined the cast of usual Northwest suspects (Canadian National Team members Andy and Mike Traslin, and Washington stalwart Scott Coldiron) to raise the level of the competition in both the rando race and the Freeride Blitz, stomping the field to win both events. The 2-3-4 order (Andy, Scott, Mike) for the randonnée race changed slightly for the freeride event (Andy, Mike, Scott). Word had it that the organizers, who had designed the "freeride" event for crossover skiers with big skis and boots, were a little surprised when the "light-is-right" group charged the uphill and ripped the downhill off Silver King on their feather-light-and-skinny 160's.
The OR Telefest at Hyak was a low-key affair notable for a persistant drizzle, clouds of hemp-tinged smoke, and the scent of patchouli oil (just kidding). I showed up half an hour late, hoping to catch some shots of the transitions and the finish, and saw the lead racers about halfway up chair # 1. After snapping off a few shots of the pack, I thought about taking the chair up the the top for more photos, but after a bit of indecision I decided to slap my skins on and chase the racers up the hill.
After the first lap Joe from OR came over and took my name, "officially" entering me in the race, so I figured I may as well make a second lap. I ended up passing a few people and finishing around 6th - so much for my plans to not race this year due to broken leg/lack of fitness!
February 20, 2007:
My leg is starting to look and feel pretty good; range-of-motion is good but noisy (lots of clicking), muscle mass in the calf is almost back to normal, and I have little pain riding the bike or in normal walking. Just in time, because the powder is back.
I've finally had a chance to ski my new "heavy" touring setup, which has been sitting around in my gear room since December - the retro ash-and-carbon fiber Trab Stelvio Freerides, a fresh set of Dynafit TLT's, and a new pair of Scarpa Spirit 3's.
Here's my take on the gear:
I bought the Trabs because they had almost exactly the same profile as the Atomic R:EX's I've skied and loved but had a slightly softer tip with more upturn. That plus they just look cool. I admit I was taking a bit of a chance on the fact that Trab would see fit to build a torsionally stiff ski that would hold on hardpack and perform at speed, but my previous experience with my Freerandos has been very positive, so I bit. The skis are exactly what I had been looking for - five or six runs on frozen bumps with a little heavy fresh on it, then a self-powered jaunt in the corn at Hyak, told the story. They ARE INDEED like the Atomic R:EX/TM:X of old, but with all the improvements I'd been yearning for. Softer tip to ride up over crud, more upturn in the tip to prevent diving while touring, a little lighter but still with a tenacious grip in the icy troughs. Perfect!
The Scarpa Spirit 3's are slightly stiffer and also slightly heavier than the Garmont G-Rides they replace. While they don't tour like F1's, they seem pretty comfortable considering the new contours on my left ankle (plate and screws are palpable just under the skin, and are still a little tender). The 3-buckle arrangement is a blessing, as they miss the plate/screws completely, and I was able to create a little pocket over that area of my leg. Small gripes include the shape of the middle buckle not allowing you to get your fingers under it to undo it (the top one is OK), the bulky nature of the black plastic holding the bottom buckle on (already chopped up in two days of careful skiing), and the relatively large size of the boot at the cuff (can't fit my Arc'teryx Beta LT pants over them). They ski great and if I can tolerate them for several hours with my still-not-totally-healed leg, then they must be comfortable.
January 31, 2007:
A little swollen, a little tender, but my leg's out of the series of casts and walking boots that I've lived with for the past month and a half. On January 22nd, Dr. Seidner took another series of x-rays and gave me the OK to start putting weight on the leg and working on my ankle flexibility.
I'd been doing light workouts with the walking boot on the trainer, and started using a regular bike shoe and upping the resistance until I felt solid twisting my foot to get out of the pedals. On Sunday the 28th of January I suited up for the cold and took a ten mile ride on the Burke-Gilman. A little creaky, but it felt good to be doing something outside.
Needing a day of skiing sometime in the month of January to continue my Turns-All-Year streak and having only two more days in the month, I headed up to Hyak with old friends Mike O'Brien and Deliane Klein on Tuesday the 30th. Francine Curd met us on the hill, and we skinned up to the summit at a leisurely pace on a glorious day.
Skiing down was a little more painful than going up, as the screws and plate in my ankle didn't quite fit the contour of my boot liners, but hopefully a little work with boot fitter Jim Mates this Saturday will cure that. The ankle itself gave me a few twinges of pain under load, but I'm pretty sure it's just a question of building up strength and ROM over the next couple of weeks . . . thanks to everyone who sent well-wishing e-mails over the past weeks, and I hope to see you on the hill soon!
January 9, 2007:
This bit of news showed up on Telemarktips.com this morning. Scarpa has just announced a new dual AT/Tele boot called the Terminator X, which will be compatible with both Dynafit and NTN (New Tele Norm) bindings. The boot appears to be essentially a re-soled version of their popular T2X Tele boot, done up in orange. The samples shown in the press release photos appear to have no Dynafit heel plate attached, and no way of securely fastening one due to the traditional telemark cable slot around the heel, but those are minor details - we all know Scarpa has the means of inserting the right hardware.
While I'm ambivalent about the choice of the T2 as a starting point (something stiffer like the T1 would be nice), it's by far their biggest seller in the tele market, so no surprise. I'm a firm believer in the virtues of a toe bellows for touring, having used the F1 for several years as my main light touring boot - it adds a lot in terms of comfort (less heel movement = less blisters) and allows you to use only the first two climbing levels on your Dynafits without torturing your hamstrings on the steeps. A stiffer F1, without the funky latch system? Put me on the waiting list!
My big question is how the über-massive NTN binding is going to fare in comparison with the Dynafit system in the dual-use public's opinion . . . how many tele skiers are going to throw the things away after a day or two of skinning in Dynafits?
Before you call Scarpa with credit card in hand to buy some Terminator X's, take a look at this picture, posted by Steve (randosteve) Romeo on 1/10/07 on his site, http://www.tetonat.com - it's another new boot from Scarpa called the F3, a "stiffer F1" without the all-in-one top latch (no NTN hanger on the sole, either) - Someone's been reading my mind, or maybe those e-mails to Scarpa USA . . .
January 7, 2007:
Marmot Mt. Works put on a randonnée and tele ski demo last Wednesday night at Summit West; it was co-hosted by reps from many top manufacturers (Atomic, G3, Black Diamond, K2, Trab, Garmont, Dynafit, etc.). Though the attendance was a bit sparse, probably due to forcasts of inclement weather, my friend Kevin was there and was able to try a number of different skis, as well as demo the Garmont Endorphin boot.
Interestingly, his top two picks for skis were the Atomic Kailas and the Trab Stelvio Freeride, which I had pegged as my top candidates of the year based solely on studying the specs and flexing the skis in the shop. Since I've already purchased the Stelvios, I'm hoping he gets the slightly wider Kailas so he can break trail for me next month once I'm out of the cast.
I don't have much more to report on this event, as I'm only going on verbal reports from friends, but it seems like a great service to the BC ski community and pretty much your only chance to try some of these skis in a head-to-head format. Hats off to Marmot for putting this on!
If you happen to live in or near Grenoble, France (I guess I was there at this time last year!) there is a similar demo event held annually at Espace Montagne, which David of http://pistehors.com covered in detail here. Much of the video is ski rep hype for the various products, mostly Trab and Dynafit, but it's in French, so it's kind of cool.
© 2007 Gregory C. Louie