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February 22, 2014

Vertfest Bachelor 2014

The second leg of the 2014 Vertfest series took place yesterday in Bend, Oregon - this is a town full of world-class endurance athletes and a great ski/bike/fly fishing destination. I know several people who've gone there on vacation and never left. All this means it's a natural venue for something like a rando race.

Brandon had this to say about the race:"My race day started at 3 am when I left for Bachelor from the pass for a one day trip. With all the recent snow, and the bluebird conditions Mt Bachelor was very busy, which I discovered on the drive from Bend. I barely made it to the race, pulling into the parking lot at 9:40 for a 10 am race wearing street clothes was cutting it close. The next 20 minutes consisted of me frantically gathering my gear, running to check in/get my bib, partially changing in the bathroom, then fully dressing in the middle of the lodge (i.e. squeezing into skin suit) putting skins on skis, wax on skins, helmet, goggles, gloves, poles, forgot the hat and sunglasses in the car (crap!), choking down a GU, drinking a couple swigs of H2o, running to the start line, confirming the course hadn't changed since last year, and lining up with 5 minutes to spare! Needless to say this is not a preferred method of starting a race for me.
   At the start line there were 4 or 5 guys in speed suits, and a few others in light gear. Right next to me was Aaron Talbott, who reintroduced himself, we'd met last year at the race and he raced at Alpy this year. Aaron placed 3rd last year at Bachelor, and recently bought a really light racing setup. Aaron has been training quite a bit this year and had a disappointing showing at Alpental Vertfest due to a skin blowout. Missing from this years race was Jason Moyer (last years winner) and Max King (fourth at Alpy Vertfest, Bend local, and Ultra Running Legend).
   The start was fast as they always are, and I pushed the pace to see if anyone was going to hang, to my dismay and discomfort three or four guys hung on a lot longer than I expected. After the second transition the race was pretty much between me and Aaron, with him just behind me on the ups and then him charging past on the descents. On the last climb I knew since Aaron was skiing so much faster I needed to try and distance myself a bit, but to Aaron's credit and my lungs lack of cooperation I couldn't get much more than a 20' gap on him. The last descent Aaron took the lead and I couldn't catch him, so 2nd place for the 2nd year at Bachelor for me. The surprising thing about the race is how much time I took off from last year, almost 20 minutes! The course was exactly the same, and I wasn't feeling 100%, baffling.
   After the race I bought a discounted ticket and rode lifts for a few hours on the upper mtn and found really nice packed powder conditions. Then I grabbed a beer and a brat and hung out for the awards, which were by the way very generous. Then back in the car to hit the road and back home by 9. All in all, it was a great day! I hope to maybe get a bigger contingent from Washington to go down there next year, as their turnout for the race was only 50 people. They put on a good race, and it's a cool mtn, not to mention the close proximity to a very cool hangout town in Bend!"

Here's the top ten in the elite race: 1. Aaron Talbott - 1:13.39, 2. Brandon Kern - 1:14.26, 3. Patrick Fink - 1:17.09, 4. Tosch Roy - 1:18.28, 5. Terry O'Conner - 1:19.55, 6. Barry Wicks - 1:26.06, 7. Sather Ekblad - 1:32.13, 8. Jonas Tralen - 1:33.12, 9. Zach Violett - 1:33.40, 10. Henry Abel - 1:34.17

On the women's side Molly Grove came home 11th overall and 1st in Women's Elite in 1:36.13 with Hailey Garside second in 1:49.51 and Laurel Manville third in 2:01.55. Cool to see local hero Brandon Kern on the podium and mountain bike/cyclocross legend Barry Wicks in 6th . . .

Full results here

February 18 & 19, 2014

WWSRA Demo Days, Mission Ridge

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week on the clock at Mission Ridge, skiing as many of the new crop of 2015 skis as I could in the two day span.

I forgot my camera, so words will have to suffice, but we were at a full gallop from bell to bell each day. Between being fitted for skis, taking notes on each one, and typing up our impressions, there was barely time to fit in three or four beers and a few brats. The evenings were also filled with your typical ski industry alcohol-fueled festivities, though experience taught me to go easy at these and save it for the ski hill. In general, working where I do, I made an effort to ski as many of the really new models (not just topsheet changes) and fattest skis I could find.

Tuesday began on perfect soft corduroy interspersed with some tracked up 3-4" of fluff in the trees, but by noon it was a full on blizzard with 35 mph winds and the tracks filled in fast. The winds made it really cold and once I was almost blown off the chair by a gust, but the skiing was fantastic. We put together a test course that combined the best of groomer and soft snow skiing, and as the snow got deeper located a stash with 6-8" of real Eastern slope powder - perfect for giving the wider skis a comprehensive workout. Day Two was even better, with about 7" of high quality snow falling overnight. These days the standard for a great ski is pretty high, and there is no shortage of skis that hit the mark or exceed it. A great ski in 2015 has to be able to both float and carve, initiate a turn smoothly and predictably, and let the user choose to smear or arc cleanly at his or her whim. Manufacturers are typically hitting the ideal with lots of gradual tip rocker, a little camber underfoot, and a subtle tail rocker, but there were fully rockered designs that could lock into a hard carve and nail it cleanly, too.

Here are some of my highlights: K2 Annex 118 - Total redesign of a ski I didn't care for last year, the 2015 version turns smoothly and with relative ease, still charges over uneven snow, has tons of power but will let you break the tails loose when you need to shorten up the turn radius. K2 Coomback - 2mm wider at 104mm and lighter as well, K2 took a damn fine ski and made it better in every way, with more predictable turn initiation and superb stability for its weight. Line Sick Day 125 - A ski I didn't expect to like, with its ultra-stiff tail and strange taper at the rear, but this ski killed it when you rode it fast. Völkl V-Werks Katana - I'm not really a fan of the regular Katana, but the carbon version is incredible - lighter, more versatile and livelier all at once. Blizzard Bodacious - All new, softer and with a re-worked tail rocker, the new Bodacious was probably my favorite ski in the 115-120mm category. Salomon Lab BC - A new, light 115mm design from Salomon that's a potential quiver-of-one ski for pow-oriented folks who tour and lift ski. Floaty, pivoty and damn solid considering its weight. Dynafit Denali - A new ski with a 98mm waist in the 176 length, this ski uses the same basic five-point shape and all-Paulownia core that the current Cho Oyus do, and performs way above its weight class (1290 grams) in terms of stability and float.

There are others. I didn't ski any real dogs, and there are a bunch of skis that I think would be great to fill a quiver niche but aren't super versatile - the Völkl Two, Sick Day 125 and K2 Powabunga 136 come to mind. Pretty much all the reps present agreed that this was the best demo they'd ever seen, even the veterans who've been at it for 40 or so years. It may take Wenatchee a month or so to re-stock on beer and grill meats, but I'm sure they'll be ready again next season.

Skis were my main focus, but there were a couple other noteworthy products I demoed. Oakley has a new lens out called the Prizm, available in Rose (lightest), Jade (medium) and Black (darkest) tints. The lens was developed with defense applications in mind, but the degree of increased definition it provides will add to any snowsport experience and probably lessen civilian casualties too. Looking through the Prizm Black made the scenery pop like enhancing the contrast and hitting "sharpen edges" in Photoshop, no BS. The lens was especially brilliant going from flashes of afternoon sun into shaded trees and back. I didn't demo any new tech bindings (G3 had some Ions there, but I ran short of time), but Salomon/Atomic had the new Warden 13 on many of their skis, and it should be a hit. Essentially the Guardian toe and heel without the alloy frame, the Warden also sports a sliding AFD to enhance lateral release with rubber-soled AT boots and should be super popular with people who want to make their AT boots work with all their skis.

February 17, 2014

Vertfest Alpental 2014 - The Monika Johnson Challenge

The first race of the three-race Vertfest Series (the others are Bend, Oregon and Brighton, Utah) went off Saturday in a full snowstorm, with up and downhill skiers from all walks of life bringing the customary level of high stoke to the event.

Grip, if not visibility, was good and the 2014 race was wide open with several of the traditional favorites not on the start line. 2012 winner Seth Davis had injured his knee in a City League crash the week before, and the perennial podium-finishing Traslin brothers from Vancouver seemed not to be in attendance. Brandon Gough had mentioned last week that Dynafit was bringing in two of their sponsored athletes, Marshall Thomson and Eric Carter, and they proved to be ringers, taking the top two spots in Men's Elite. Ex-national teamer and current Vancouver resident Stano Faban edged out Hyak local Brandon Kern for fifth spot, while local powerhouse Dave Brown took the eighth spot. For the women, young moms and training partners Holly Davis and Heather Kern showed off their hemoglobin levels, coming home strong in first and second places in Women's Elite. I spent the day at the office, but Kevin represented well, coming home in 1:58.29 for 19th in the Elite group.

Here's the top 10 in Elite: 1. J Marshall Thomson - 1:19.57, 2. Eric Carter - 1:21.29, 3. Nick Elson - 1:22.29, 4. Max King - 1:32.31, 5. Stano Faban - 1:32.48, 6. Brandon Kern - 1:33.37, 7. Bruno Bagneres - 1:37.11, 8. David Brown - 1:39.51, 9. Allen Taylor - 1:41.36, 10. Cameron Charles - 1:44.20

Full results here

Kevin, just getting going - wet enough to wear the softshell!    Charlie Hagedorn photo

Holly and Heather lead the women (and most of the guys) up the bootpack . . .     Charlie Hagedorn photo

Brandon puts some daylight between him and the next guy    Charlie Hagedorn photo

Dave Brown rocks the kitty for Monika    Charlie Hagedorn photo

February 11, 2014

Dynafiddling at Hyak

We had a shop demo day at Hyak today, courtesy of Dynafit reps Brandon, Ryan, and Nick.

Several lucky evo employees from both the store and headquarters got a chance to try out state-of-the-art fast and light touring skis, bindings and boots, and the forecasted damp weather gave us a break on Tuesday morning as we took a quick lap up Hyak, down the back side, and out. Unfortunately the 8" of mank topped with a thick breakable crust made it tough going on the downhill, but it was a tremendous opportunity to see what ski touring on the original tech system is all about. Thanks to the Tokul Creek crew for making it happen!

Brandon's got a truckful of goodies for us to sample

evo conga line nears the top of Mt. Hyak

February 5, 2014

Civic Pride

Seattle held a parade today, and it was a big one.

Hundreds of thousands of people made their way downtown this morning, most of them in front of my car on I-5 at around 9:35 in the morning, to watch the victorious Seahawks parade down 4th Avenue to CenturyLink Stadium. I'm pretty sure this is the biggest impromptu gathering the city has ever seen. Alex and I briefly contemplated hooking up with the evo HQ crew on the bus downtown to join the festivities, but common sense prevailed and we decided on another once-in-a-lifetime chance to shred untracked pow on a bluebird day in near zero temperatures . . .

We took a new route to the top and had to boot around some rocks to get there; Alex checks out the view

It seemed no one else had been to the top since the last storm; it was ripe for the picking

February 3, 2014

Hawks Roll, and So Do We

They held a championship football game yesterday, and unfortunately only one team showed up.

I say this figuratively, of course. Peyton Manning and his teammates were on the field, but never mounted anything remotely resembling a challenge to the Seahawks. To use a communication metaphor, Manning spent the day stumbling through a large text version of a remedial textbook before an audience of third graders while the Seahawks as a team tweeted a homegrown message of strength, speed and execution to millions. If you're somehow one of the people who did not watch the game, it was a disaster for the Broncos from the opening snap (Manning not ready, Seattle safety). Seattle dominated in every department - "O", "D" and Special Teams enroute to a 22-0 halftime score.

Fox broadcasters scrambled to come up with an interesting slant on the game, saying Denver was fully capable of making the necessary adjustments at the half and charging back into contention. Right. That remained a slight probability until Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff of the second half and slashed through the Denver defenders like Ted Ligety through a GS course, returning the ball 87 yards to the house. Maybe the Denver wheels were still on the car, but talk about letting the air out of the tires . . . The Broncs were able to get on the board with a touchdown and two point conversion in the third, but that only made Seattle more determined to run up the score, which ended up an embarassing 43-8. This is the Superbowl, remember?

It was the ultimate feelgood moment for championship-deprived Seattle sports fans, who went wild as game's end. They stormed out of bars and spilled into the streets, only to stop enmasse for red lights at the intersections. They rocked Subarus in joyous celebration until the alarms went off, and ordered Hazelnut lattes with EXTRA SHOTS. Students in Seattle's University District dragged beer-stained sofas their parents had given them onto Greek Row and set them afire, but not before checking the NOAA website to make sure there was no burn ban in effect. In the morning, recent pledges were dispatched by the frats to sweep up the debris.

Fortunately, we're not just about football in the Northwest. Crispin, Dwayne, Kevin and I convened in Alpental Lot 4 around 8:15 AM on Superbowl Sunday to get in a few turns. Around 20 other ski tourists were also there, each with a goal in mind, and we probably knew half of them. With a limited time frame, we headed out toward Source Lake and up to Pineapple Pass and dropped down the back side toward Denny Creek, then climbed back out and traversed over to Bryant Col where we descended to Melakwa Lake. Best-of-the-year turns in smooth dense powder were the reward before rushing back to town just in time to watch the first snap from center fly past a dumbfounded Manning's face. Sweet day indeed!

Geeb (in white), Kevin and the Teeth, with a hint of blue in the background

Crispin leads Geeb to pow, and can he ever drink it up - that dog loves skiing!

Kevin airs out his Seahawks colors!

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