April 22, 2021
We've been waiting for this boot for a while now. The replacement for the Lupo Air is kind of a mashup between that boot and the super light Quantum Asolo series, aimed at the 1,300 gram category and specifically at the Zero G Tour Pro. The comparison will be an interesting one, as I (and many of my friends) have been using the Tecnica ZGTP as their main touring shoe for some time now, with excellent results.
There are very limited numbers of the Quantum Free in North America at the moment; I happen to have the West Coast US sample, which came in a 27.5. Most of my boots are a size shorter, but I also use a 27.5 in the Asolo Factory with an identical BSL, so it isn't a huge change. The nominal last for the Free 130 is 100mm (Asolo Factory is 99mm), and it is in fact a bit roomier through the toebox not only in width but volume. Though I still need big punches at the fifth met and fifth distal phalanges as well as in the medial midfoot area, I suspect I might opt for a 26.5 if I were buying the boot for myself.
The boot looks fabulous in person - blue on darker blue with red-orange accents. Quality is typical Dalbello, which is to say excellent. Unlike the Asolo Factory, the Factory Free 130 uses 2 buckles rather than their BOA-like lower closure and walk lever-actuated top closure, which could be a good thing as the lower tends to slip on the Asolo boots and the upper string, while great once you get the length dialed, takes a bit of time to get right. Dalbello specs generic Polyamide as the plastic - while this could mean Grilamid (also a polyamide), companies usually like to use the EMS Grivory trade name when they use it (and pay 4 times the money for it). At any rate, I haven't seen any factory mandates not to punch the shells, and they seem to handle width modification well. As with the other Quantum lower shells, the Free 130 employs Hemispherical construction, meaning the shells are molded in two halves and then welded together - this gives the engineers more latitude with shell design using stiffer plastics, as the "half shells" are much easier to get off the mold.
Weight is right on target, coming in at 1,313 grams per boot (no footbed). This includes a race-style cinch power strap and a relatively cushy liner. Boots are on the SVST punch as we speak, with skiing to commence tomorrow . . .
May 3, 2021
I've had two days of lift-served skiing and one of touring on the Quantum Free Factory 130.
It should be obvious, but anyone who calls their touring boot a "130 Flex" and builds it to weigh 1,300 grams is shooting for an established target - the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro. I own and have quite a few days on the Zero G, which sets a high bar for performance/weight ratio as well as popularity in the ski community, so I'm probably well qualified to compare the two boots.
Several people have been in touch with me to ask, "Is it a real 130?" and "Does it ski as well as the Zero G Tour Pro?" To answer the "real 130" query, you have to be aware that 130 flex boots are all over the map in terms of pure stiffness, with newer versions softer than older boots, and genuine plug race boots much stiffer than "consumer" and hybrid alpine/touring boots. How well they actually ski for most skiers depends more upon how "predictable" they are than pure forward resistance. Is it as stiff as my RS 130 Lange plugs? No, and it's also not as predictable or damp, but I expected that. Is it as stiff as the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro? No, it's not, but it's not that far off, either.
In terms of skiability, the Quantum Free Factory 130 comes up a bit short relative to the Zero G, but as many of us know, that's a high standard. Part of the reason for the discrepancy last week (2 days on the lifts for the closing of Mission Ridge) was the roomy fit - not necessarily length (I measure 27.8 on the Brannock), but the tall toebox. This week I stuck 1/8" of self-adhesive foam over the front of the liner, and buckled the instep buckle one notch tighter (this required chopping out some elastic on the instep of the liner for comfort) and the response was much improved. Still, the lack of a tongue and absence of friction from the cuff/liner interaction leave something to be desired in terms of "feel" - I'm not convinced any tongue-less design is ever going to achieve this.
The bulk of the skiing I've done in the Dalbello to date has been on the 2,000+ gram Season Nexus 183 with alpine bindings (not really a true test of what the boot will typically be asked to drive) and when paired with my Blizzard Zero G 105 180's the boots were much more in their element. To answer the "real 130" query, you have to keep in mind that 130 flex boots are all over the map in terms of pure stiffness, with newer versions softer than older boots, and genuine plug race boots much stiffer than "consumer" and hybrid alpine/touring boots. The Dalbello is definitely on the softer end of the 130 range, but it's not a noodle, either.
Going uphill is where the Quantum Free Factory 130 really shines. The walk mode is exceptional, and even with the power strap fastened and the top buckle buckled, the range of motion and absence of friction is amazing - better than the Zero G TP with the strap loosened and both top buckles flopping. This means that you can pretty much never pull your pant legs up during transitions to deal with loosening/tightening hardware, but simply flip the walk lever up or down - quite a change from most of the crop of hybrid sub-1,800 gram boots which pretty much require this to tour well.
I'm still testing, but so far I'd say the Quantum Free Factory 130 isn't a candidate for a "quiver of one" boot that spends a significant amount of time at the ski area. It almost certainly is a good bet for longer tours and multi-day adventures in varied and spicy conditions where you want more precision and power than you can find in the 1,000 gram class. More to come as the lift-served season dwindles down (one more weekend at Crystal) and we transition to what looks like an excellent spring touring year.
April 11, 2021
When I hand-stitched the first Sunnyside Sliders patch in 1972, I had no idea the concept would have this kind of legs.
49 years later, these same legs still love the feel of snow beneath them and the comraderie of like-minded veteran skiers to enjoy it with; this is the beauty of "Slider Day." Crystal Mountain alumni from ex-freestylers to retired ski industry stalwarts to still-hearty pro patrollers don the jacket and make some turns on this day regardless of where they might be stationed - in 2021, the locations were Washington State, Sun Valley, Idaho, and Gstaad, Switzerland.
It's always great to get together with the crew and talk on the ride up the chair, but the event was more meaningful today because of the COVID-mandated cancellation last year. As the original Sliders are pretty much all "of an age," and all had been double vacinated, we were able to commandeer a corner of the patio and sip beers without masks - the first time many of us had done this in a very long while.
March 17, 2021
Some things are too good to let slip away, even during a pandemic. evo "Snow Day" is one.
Time today for a little wearing of the green and a little sliding with our co-workers. evo shut down the store and everyone from the boss on down headed to Crystal Mountain for a day of snow sliding and BBQ. Perfect groomers, some parking lot BBQ and awesome companionship made for a great day in the mountains!
March 7, 2021
Vertfest is back after a 1 year COVID hiatus.
Congrats to the winners and all who participated - I wasn't there but received the following photo by text from number 2 overall Dave Braun after an emergency punch job on his Scarpa Alien 1.0's the day before the race.
Full results HERE
March 2, 2021
Talk about First World problems.
My ski crampons, some too narrow to ever again see the light of day, were bothering me. I've gone to all Atomic Backland Pure bindings on my skis (same binding as the Salomon MTN Tech), and to get a Dynafit or B & D crampon to stay centered in the slot, you need to attach this plastic thingy with a string on it to the pivot bar, then try not to lose it when you transition. Yeah, I know, I hardly ever use ski crampons, but when you need them, you really need them.
Jérémy Deya at Fixations Plum was kind enough to hook me up with a new quiver of "couteaux" in 90, 100 and 110mm widths, and they just arrived via FedEx. Stoked. The Plum variety fits perfectly (Plum manufactures the toes for Salomon/Atomic/Armada), slides in effortlessly from the top (the others required a slide-from-the-side technique, not always easy on a steep skintrack), and have ribs to self-center the crampon on the ski. As with Dynafit, they are color-coded by width (90mm is red, 100mm is black, and 110mm is dark blue). Formidable.
February 22, 2021
Looking for a ski with bomber edgehold, rock solid stability at speed, and enough width to hold its own in 8 inches of fresh? Who isn't. This category has historically been dominated by two skis, the Völkl Mantra and the Blizzard Bonafide, and not much has changed for 2022.
I managed to get my hands on a pair of each ski in a 177. I own the Bonafide, which won't change at all for 2022, and our Völkl rep Gordy was gracious enough to lend me his personal pair of next season's M6.
The two skis have similar dimensions, with the Bonafide 97 at 136.5-97-118.5 (17m radius) and the M6 at 135-96-119 (multi-radius, 30m-18m-24m tip to tail). Both employ ample Titanal in the construction, with a full sheet under the core. Where Blizzard runs a full sheet on top (stopping just short of the topsheet edge), the M6 employs a "tailored" Titanal frame with further reduction in the metal relative to the previous M5. Neither is light, with the M6 coming in around 2142 grams per ski and the Bonafide 97 at 2260 grams. Though the M6 is about 2 centimeters longer, the Bonafide 97 actually puts a bit more edge on the snow due to a flatter rocker profile.
Blizzard has changed the cores in most of their skis (the swap will be complete for 21-22), transitioning to what they call "TruBlend" cores with carefully blended woods of varying stiffnesses. The cores are more forgiving in the tips and tails to make the skis more accessible, but still very stiff in the midsection for stability and edging power. Völkl has chosen to pursue a similar goal by altering the shape of the Titanal frame around the perimeter of the ski and adjusting the pattern of the carbon reinforcing structure in the tip (visible as the "web" in the photos) to fine tune longitudinal and torsional flex.
I've spent some time on the Bonafide 97's, both early in the season and during the 3 week spell in January when we had essentially no snow. They have a bite to rival my race skis, are rock solid at any speed I've dared to ski them at, and deliver a pure and satisfyingly clean turn at any speed above about 15 mph. They do not "turn themselves" and the relatively short radius (17 meters in the 177) with wide shovel dimension make them a bit hooky on flats and cat tracks - I detuned them from 1 and 2.8 to 1 and 2 and dulled the edges at the tip back about 3 cm past the contact point and love the way they ski now. Performance is remarkably strong for me (175 lbs COVID weight) in the 177 - I normally ski something in the 183-188 range, but tried the 183 Bonafide and felt they were sluggish.
After one day on the new M6 Mantras, I can say that there is more in common between the two skis than not. The M6 has exemplary hold on hard snow (ice was 1-2 inches below the surface today), and perhaps the most precise feel of any ski in the 95-100mm class. They transmit more energy and have a "glassier" feel than the "metal" feel of the Bonafides, but still deal with high speed chatter effortlessly. The pair of M6's I used featured a factory tune - sharp all the way to the tip of the ski - but were less hooky at the tip than a similarly tuned Bonafide 97. Maybe this is a product of the 3D sidecut (30 meters at the tip) and maybe a result of the tailored Titanal top laminate, but this ski works out of the box with only minimal adjustment on the part of the skier. As with the Bonafide 97, hauling ass and making GS turns is a joy.
Overall, I'd be proud to own either ski. The Bonafide 97 has a slight advantage in pure top-end speed, with more metal, more weight, and a damper composure on hard stuff. The M6 Mantra has the edge in terms of "knife-edge" precision and more relaxed manners with the factory tune (though I'd probably still detune the tips some). Both are destined to go down as modern classics in the "All-Mountain" charger category. I'd probably choose the M6 Mantra for perfect corduroy on terrain with no surprises and relish the purity of the edgehold the entire time. I'd probably prefer the Bonafide 97 if there was some chop or frozen debris involved, and suspect that the Blizzard might have a bit better soft snow performance due to more tip rise, but neither ski is really the stick to pick when it snows a foot or more - you've got other skis for that.
February 1, 2021
I've got two days on the Season Eqpt Nexus 183, and I'm stoked about it.
Eric Pollard's new company is cooking with all the gusto his tiny band of enthusiasts can muster, and the results are tangible and skiable.
I've added a 183 Nexus, Season's "Mixed Conditions" 106mm all-rounder, to the quiver and am giving it a workout as the conditions transition slowly from 3-week-old sheet of ice to softer, more typical Northwest fare, although the process is agonizingly slow - we are getting an inch or three a day, which gets scraped off on steep and icy aspects but helps a lot everywhere else.
Though I'm not a fan of Season's naming scheme - all three skis sound like cars to me (I would have gone with Manny, Moe and Jack or maybe Huey, Dewie and Louie) - the skis are proving to be excellent. I've been on 2 out of 3 models and they are getting regular rotation in my quiver. I've been looking for a light-feeling but precise mid-fat for everyday use, but something with more tail rocker than some of the obvious choices like the Ripstick 106 and the QST 106 (for tight quarters and skiing switch in front of the grandson).
The Nexus is snappy and precise, with surprisingly good edgehold on the firm stuff lurking underneath. The mount point looks super far forward, but when you look at the ski from the side and take into account the amount of tail rocker, it's right where it should be. I took Eric's advice and mounted them on the "infinity" line, which is where he likes them and they feel just right. The 17 meter radius excels at short and quick to medium radius turns, but the ski isn't particularly grabby at higher speeds. Compared to many of the other offerings in this waist width, the Nexus has a fair amount of camber and puts a bunch of edge on the snow - the ski wants to slash quick turns, not drift them. The low-rise tip without much rocker trends back to my old Legend Pro 105 and 115 days (not a bad thing), so we'll wait and see how it fares in deeper snow. More to come as I get more time on these.
January 24, 2021
When companies the size of Atomic and Salomon re-design their bread-and-butter ski lineups, it's a big deal.
Both programs have taken a bit of a hit from COVID-19, which disrupted production in Austria (both skis come off the Atomic line in Altenmarkt), but Atomic is replacing the Vantage line with a new Maverick and Maven series (guess which is the women's) and Salomon is completely changing two of its QST skis, with the remainder of the line to follow suit in 2023.
On-snow demo for this year is a little different than the usual bro-down and party scene at Mission Ridge; individual reps are setting up small demo sessions with key shop personnel and buyers at local areas and spending a lot more time on the road. I got a chance to ski two skis from each manufacturer this week on rock-hard groomers at Alpental and came away satisfied that these two companies know what they're doing. I spent time on the new Maverick 100Ti and Maverick 95Ti, as well as the Salomon QST Blank and QST 98.
The Blank and QST 98 share a new construction with CFX carbon-flax fabric only on the tips and tails rather than running all the way down the ski, and with beefed up "double thickness" ABS sidewalls to improve edgehold and high speed stability. Both skis are very intuitive to ski on, responding to input at a variety of speeds and producing smooth and precise arcs even on very hard snow. Both also pivot quickly underfoot when you feel the urge to scrub speed or a bump comes up a bit fast. I'd rate both a solid +++ (my top rating), but the 112mm wide Blank will certainly be the ticket for soft snow regions like ours. Like the existing QST skis, the new ones are very balanced and require little adjustment on the part of the skier to ski well, but they feel more powerful on edge than previously.
The Atomic Maverick series also goes for more stability at speed, with a bit more Titanal in the builds and a bit more weight overall (the highly sculpted topsheets are gone). I preferred the very precise Maverick 95Ti to the 100Ti for better balance and more predictable turn initiation, but both are fine skis (the Maverick line will include an 86c without metal and an 82 as well). In general, the Maverick and Maven are "more" ski than the outgoing Vantage skis - where the Vantage (even the Ti versions) were incredible on perfect corduroy, they tended to get kicked around when it got choppy or chattery and the new construction handles these "shoulder" conditions better.
January 19, 2021
With this year's trade shows and on-snow demos cancelled due to COVID, getting concrete information and first-hand feedback on next year's product has become more difficult.
I've been able to line up some appointments with our local reps to do a bit of both, starting with MDV (Marker-Dalbello-Völkl) today. Brian and Gordy have a new showroom close to the evo Seattle store, and invited me over to get a preview of changes in their lines for 2022.
On the Marker front, the changes for next year are subtle - they improved the Royal Family bindings immensely last year, with a re-design of the heel units that made stepping in problems a thing of the past. This year, they add the carbon toe baseplate of the Kingpin M-Werks to the rest of the Kingpin line for improved strength and shock absorption. The Duke PT 16 and 12 remain the same, and the supply problems that made their introduction a bit of a whimper this year should be resolved. The bread-and-butter Squire lineup gets a "Pro" workover, with new colors and a protection plate over the toepiece.
Völkl is one of the companies I admire for (almost) never giving in to the urge to build "easy" skis that appeal to lesser skiers without the strength or skills to take advantage of their product. Their M Series line (I include the K108 in this group) have been standout performers for aggressive skiers for the past few years, and though I have no complaints about any of these skis, the M5 is at the end of its product cycle. The new M6 Mantra dials the design that much further, with "tailored" Titanal Frame construction that gives each length of ski a unique outboard metal frame. The carbon-fiberglass web reinforcement in the tips is likewise patterned uniquely for each model and size. Word is the new design is quicker and less hooky than the older model, but we'll see.
The Blaze 106 and 94 continue with only topsheet changes, and they add a new Blaze 86 for next season. Revolt skis charge into 2022 with the same specs and graphics. Völkl has tweaked the pure-touring Rise skis a bit, going from 98mm to 96mm for the Rise Beyond and lightening up the 88mm Rise Above (formerly Rise High).
Dalbello has a few interesting things up their sleeves as well.
In response to athlete requests, they are offering their top-of-the-line Krypton 130 Ti with tech fittings for the first time. No walk mode, but the skiers who get the heli drop and only need to skin a few hundred feet to get to their line have a use for this boot. The tech fittings also come in a 115 flex Chakra women's boot that goes down to a 21.5 mondo. The women's Lupo AX 105 is no more; in it's place is a "unisex" AX 100 with sizes down to 21.5. The big news is the Lupo Air replacement, the new Quantum Free Factory 130. Based on the Quantum Asolo Factory that I've been using as my spring and summer touring boot, the Free 130 is a burlier freeride shoe with 2 actual buckles instead of a cord-and-lever top closure and a BOA-like lower lace system. Gone is the janky walk mode lever that tended to frustrate users every time they tried to go in or out of walk mode - in its place is an external lever much like everyone else's and a pivoting string-lock mechanism that reminds me of the Zero G's (no second connection point, though). Fit is roomier than the Asolo Factory I own; stated last is 100mm while the lighter model is 99mm. The shell is made of "normal" polyamide with no carbon reinforcement, so I'm going to assume they will be punchable. The sample weighed in at 1319 grams in a 27.5 on my scale, so right in line with the lightest of the 130 flex hybrids - we'll see how it skis. The Quantum Free line also has a 110 flex men's model and a 105 flex women's model in an outstanding raspberry colorway. There's also a new Quantum Lite, that drops another 100 grams compared to the Asolo Factory.
January 18, 2021
I've been playing around with a smartphone-based foot scanning app called Verifyt for the past month and a half. The beta version has undergone a few changes, and a few store employees have been using it and offering feedback to the developers. Now they've gone public, and are offering versions of the app on both app stores. If you're interested in giving it a try, search for "Verifyt" under the company name "NetVirta."
The app has a few rough spots, which NetVirta continues to improve. Typical errors include not being able to enter your "state" upon finishing the scan, which the devs say is being addressed and hopefully solved in a future version. The app also crashes sometimes when the 3D model of your feet is being generated; sometimes this can be solved by moving to an area with better WiFi or deleting the app and re-installing it. In general, the Verifyt app promises to be a huge benefit to those of us trying to advise people on which ski boots to buy when it's impossible for the customer to appear in person.
As with the Sidas ShooIQ scanner we've installed in the store (scroll down to read about it), the Verifyt app scans "short" in comparison to an old-school Brannock device. Even with no socks, measuring on the Brannock typically yields a number 7-10 millimeters larger than either of the digital scanners (the Sidas numbers and the Verifyt numbers are usually almost identical - discrepancies can be attributed to the fact that the Sidas method requires wearing a special sock, which adds a bit to the dimensions).
Taking the Verifyt recommendation for boot size normally produces what we in the industry call a "performance" fit (half a size or a full size smaller than your nominal Brannock size). An "average" fit will normally be half to a full size longer than the Verifyt recommendation, and a "comfort" fit 1-1.5 mondopoint sizes larger. As always, determining what type of skier a customer is is the most difficult part of the sizing equation - no one normally admits to being a poor or 2-day-a-year skier who will be happiest in a "comfort" fit and won't appreciate the extra precision of a snugger fit unless they change their habits.
So far the results have been extremely encouraging, and I've had responses from a number of people worldwide. If you'd like to try the app out, I'd appreciate your taking screenshots of the three views (front, full left side showing both instep profiles, and rotated out about 40 degrees to show the arch shape) and sending them to me via the link at the bottom of the page. Sorry for the long scroll! So far I've got a spreadsheet with about 54 sets of feet (and the boots they're currently in) and I'd love to add more.
December 22, 2020
After spending the last month plugging away at fundamentals at the ski area, Kevin called and we decided the coverage deserved a try at the far reaches of Alpental.
Pouring rain yesterday had turned to a snap freeze that dropped 6-9 inches of thick fresh in the mountains, and an inch or so in my backyard in the lowlands. Much, much better than the rain of the past two days, and good enough to cushion the crust. As a bonus, we felt the rain event would likely have obliterated most if not all of the buried facets from a couple weeks of no-snow.
We arrived at the crack of 10:40 and the lot #4 parking area was probably 1/3 full - no surprise there. We passed bunches of people, a couple of classes, and quite a few snowshoers and made good headway to Source Lake, with the usual early season creek crossings proving to be non-events. Skinning was pretty much optimal considering the time of year, and by the time we turned up the hill the crowd had thinned to just a few people. When we hit the saddle that traverses over to "No Fog" we were amazed to see no tracks at all in Pineapple Basin, so we proceeded at a leisurely pace to the ridge.
You forget what a pleasure it is to ski in ten inches of fresh untracked snow, but today's re-set was a great way to jump start the "real" touring season.
December 9, 2020
I've been waiting for these boots to show up for a while. Ordered over a month ago, the boot was out of stock at the Lange USA warehouse due to huge demand (yes, partly COVID-related) and they are just starting to become available again. Mine showed up yesterday.
I decided months ago that the new Lange XT3 would be a great choice for my "all mountain" boot. In my book, this boot needs to be compatible with every ski in my quiver, as well as any binding on any ski I may want to try on the spur of the moment - from a current rental Marker Griffon to a decades-old Look Pivot to a light-and-fast tech binding. It needs to have a reasonably efficient walk mode, but still ski well enough to roll a wide freeride ski over on edge at speed.
To get this level of versatility, I swapped the OEM GripWalk soles for alpine ISO 5355 soles from my previous Lange XT Free 130 LV's and set about making the 97mm shell fit my 107 and 114mm wide feet. About a dozen punches in the lateral forefoot and medial midfoot just under the navicular and a quick heat mold of the liner have taken care of the fit issues, and I'm wearing the boots now as I type.
Even though Lange decided to switch the XT3 to polyurethane this season (previously the XT Free and XT Freetour were made of Grilamid), the boot actually loses weight this year. A 26.5 store sample weighed 1802 grams with the stock footbed in place; my pair comes in at 1831 grams with a 75 gram custom Sidas footbed with cork heel stabilizer in place. Interestingly, the wider 100mm-lasted XT3 is lighter at 1788 grams with stock footbed. The flex does indeed feel a tad smoother (Lange's impetus for changing plastic was primarily based on "ski feel" - and Polyurethane compounds set the standard in this.
Little (and bigger) changes add up. The buckle bales are flatter and thinner, saving a few grams. Pull tabs are thinner, but burlier, if that makes sense - they are no longer "flat" nylon, but woven into a tube of sorts. The walk mode is completely redesigned, and an enormous improvement with both much better range of motion and a smoother pivot. This is a "hybrid" boot that I might even take out touring intentionally. And finally, the gaskets at the toes are sleeker and more effective (we'll see), potentially eliminating a long-standing complaint about Lange water-tightness.
Fit seems the same as my other three pairs of 97mm Lange boots - I was able to punch using the Sharpie marks from my XT Free/RS 130 and the end result was on the money. Curiously, the stock footbed was a bit longer than in previous 26.5 Lange boots, but I used a new pair of custom footbeds I had cut to the old shape and they work perfectly. Stance seems a bit different; I am used to using the Lange World Cup shim (roughly 2 degrees depending on how deeply you insert it in the cuff) with my boots to turn the stock 12 degree forward lean into 14 degrees. The XT3 feels like about 13.5 degrees out of the box, and there's no spoiler in the box or velcro on the back of the liner to stick a spoiler on. We'll see how it skis in a day or so, as soon as the rain event passes and we get a bit of new snow.
Hmmm. Seems like swapping boots isn't going to be quite as easy as before with the XT Free 130's - the boot sole length is not the time-honord 306 mm for a 26.5 mondo, but instead 303 mm. Three clockwise clicks on the Warden 13 heels makes the screw sit flush . . .
I now have two solid days of skiing on the XT3 130 LV, primarily on smooth and hard groomers (because that is what Nature is giving us so far this week). Not a problem for sorting out a new boot, since smooth carved turns at GS speeds are a great way to sort out any boot with performance alpine aspirations.
The fit is a bit roomier than my other two pairs of 26.5 LV Langes (an RS 130 plug and last year's XT Free 130 LV). I'm guessing this is primarily due to a thinner liner, but it's hard to know since the XT3 is a completely new design. To give some perspective, my feet measure 27.7 cm on the Brannock and are 107 mm and 114 mm wide on the Sidas ShooIQ digital scanner, so usually making an LV Lange work for my foot requires several hours of punching and several passes on the fifth metatarsal-to-fifth phalanges zone. I had this boot dialed and fitting like a glove in about 40 minutes, though I admit I simply looked at the Sharpie dots on my other two boots for punch placement, thus saving some time. I did a quick heat mold of the liner, though it was kind of an afterthought - the boots fit great before the mold. After two days in the boot, I'm at ladder notch #2 over the instep, about 1 notch tighter than I'd normally expect for a new Lange LV 26.5.
Skiing was an almost seamless transition after 6 days straight on my RS 130's, which I consider a good thing. The flex is similar, though slightly stiffer off the top and not quite so rock solid at full compression. I've played around with the forward lean a bit; in most Langes I use the "World Cup" spoiler provided in the box to affect a 14 degree forward lean, but the XT3 doesn't come with a spoiler and the forward lean out of the box seems to be in between 12 and 14 degrees. Initially a thin spoiler from our scrap spoiler bin (probably equals about 1 degree) seemed to help, but toward the end of day 2 I was happy with no spoiler and the top buckle left on notch #1 of the ladder. This is what I've done with the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, which also is 13 degrees with the Flip Chip inverted, so maybe I just need to stand tall and get used to it.
Does it ski like an alpine boot? Well, it depends on what alpine boot you're comparing it to. As you may know, I'm a firm believer that it's not just fore/aft stiffness that makes a boot ski well, it's "predictability" that gives it the extra edge (so to speak) - knowing just what the boot will do with a given amount of input is often more important than how much resistance it provides when you're standing there and flexing it. Does the XT3 have that predictability? Well, it's still not a match for the RS 130, but then not much else it either. As walk-mode boots go, it's fantastic in terms of power and feel, and I have no doubts about its ability to drive my bigger skis in challenging snow. For what it's worth, the walk mode is extremely smooth and now exceeds the capability of many other "hybrid" boots in this weight class, so I'd absolutely consider using it as my travel boot - if I could travel.
November 17, 2020
Another new Indie brand with deep and legit roots is in the house.
Season Eqpt is new for the 2021 "season" but figures to be around a while. This new brand is the brainchild of Eric Pollard and Austin Smith, two longtime industry insiders and pro riders who have always marched to their own beat. Joined by Josh Malczyk (formerly with Line Skis) and Andy Hytjan (formerly with Armada) and a few retail ringers, this small but super directed team has spent the majority of the COVID downtime developing a line of three skis and three snowboards built for creative riding on all types of snow.
Both ski and snowboard lines feature a model ideal for playful but precise frontside fun, an "all mountain-all conditions" model, and a full-fledged powder swallowtail model. The names - Aero, Nexus, and Forma - are also the same for both skis and snowboards. Kinda different, for sure. In addition, the graphics are all the same (pure black, with specs subtly engraved in the topsheet and sidewalls) and won't change with the years - these are tools designed to pass the test of time, and be used for their full life cycle.
I had the opportunity to snag a pair, and went for the 118mm-waisted Forma in a 183. The most obvious comparison is with the similarly swallow-tailed Pescado, but the Forma is a tad narrower and longer with more "meat" (my skis weighed in at 2198 and 2201 grams respectively, so not lightweight by any standards) and a smooth and even flex pattern. I had them mounted up within a few hours, tuned them to 1 and 1, and hit them with some environmentally unfriendly Swix LF 8 and 7 at 2:1 for their maiden voyage . . . more to come later.
Same day, few hours later. I have done some laps on the 183 Season Eqpt Forma, and am impressed. Conditions were 2-4 inches of damp fresh on top of a moderately hard freeze from yesterday's rain, with 5-6 inches in pockets. The Forma felt unexpectedly solid and tip heavy on my feet (mounted at the "all purpose" infinity mark), nothing like its ancestor the Pescado. Once on the piste, the ski preferred speeds above 20-25 mph, coming alive and feeling rock solid if not as silky smooth as the other ski I brought up (Blizzard 188 Rustler 11). If anything, the Forma had more in common with my 186 Bodacious (another 118mm wide go-to) than anything in the Line collection, and fit my style better. This is a ski for committed chargers who know how to point it in pow, and it won't let you down if you happen on some chop or ice along the way. In all, I think it's a great addition to my quiver and I'm looking forward to deeper days on them.
November 16, 2020
Matt Sterbenz was in the shop tonight, presenting his new line of unique eco-friendly skis. If the name rings a bell, it's because Matt was the brains and driving force behind 4FRNT skis for many years until selling the brand to Jason Levinthal in 2018.
WNDR Alpine has been around in some form or other since early in 2019, when Matt found financial support for some revolutionary materials technology he had become involved in via the biotech firm Checkerspot. The technology revolves around algae-generated oils, which are in turn use to create PU foam for the ski cores and solid PU for sidewalls. Being involved in the production of the materials from the ground up lets WNDR bond the PU directly to wood during construction, eliminating a huge amount of waste from trimming and grinding. PU tip and tail protectors are molded from the same "AlgalTech" materials, saving milling time and labor as well as reducing waste.
At the moment there are two models, a 100 waisted ski called the Vital 100 and a 110mm model called the Intention 110, both available in cambered and full-rocker versions, and a 120mm ski in the works for next season. All are on the light side for alpine skis, with an eye to backcountry use - the core samples Matt showed us were a hybrid of the above-mentioned PU foam, ash, and paulownia wood. For reference, the skis with the dark tips in either width are the ones with camber, and sidecuts are all in the low to mid 20 meter range. No, there's no algae-based PE yet, and the black base material is sourced from ISO Sport like most everyone else's (Matt says the yellow tip material is from Crown). Edges are from Waelzholz and seem relatively thick for a touring-oriented ski - they look more like freestyle-spec steel at 2.5 or 2.6mm. The owl in the logo is Matt's ski touring "spirit animal."
Matt's quite the persuasive salesman, and the skis look great in person. Made in Salt Lake City in a small and very personalized production facility (each of 3 builders is responsible for all aspects of production from cutting and trimming raw materials to layup and finishing), all of the models will be available for demo at evo stores in the US, mounted with Marker Kingpin bindings and equipped with Black Diamond climbing skins. If the lifts are shut down by COVID and you're itching to get out and try a totally new ski product, WNDR Alpine may be your ticket to lockdown bliss.
November 11, 2020
I was on the "fence" when I went to bed last night. Muir? Crystal? Steven's apparently was chasing skinners off the slopes, per Vail's lawyer's orders.
When I woke up at 5:45 and saw 25 inches of new, 17 degrees and blue sky creeping into the frame, I got inspired and texted some of the usual suspects. We made the drive in separate cars, as per directions from the significant others, and arrived in the Crystal "A" lot around 9:10. There were probably 80 cars already there, with a conga line stretching up Quicksilver already. You would think it's the first pow day of the year or something . . .
Silas and I hooked up briefly with some of the locals, but when they veered left to continue up Quicksilver we headed out toward Lucky Shot and the subsequent cat track to the top. Strangely, only about 4 people had dropped Green Valley (we weren't especially early), but we took the line under the gondola that usually yields the least rocky early season tracks, and Voila! were rewarded with the first pow turns of the season. There's more snow (quite a bit) in the forecast, and the lifties at the top said they were trying to open this weekend. They certainly were grooming Lucky Shot for all they were worth, and if they had an equally energetic crew over on Queens this could be the start of something great.
October 26, 2020
You know the season is here when you make your first fall turns on fresh snow. Yesterday was it for us, with the 65-and-older crew hitting the cat track under the Skyline lift at Steven's Pass, and coming down the same way for "safety" and reliability. 3 hours of driving door-to-door, skinning from the car, and no rocks on the way down unless you veered off the road. Sounds like the masses that headed to Rainier also found some nice conditions today - sun and corn - but burned a lot more gas getting there and back.
October 9, 2020
We've been back at work since June, and ready-or-not, the snow is coming.
evo has taken over the exercise studio next door for the ski and bike shop, as well as an expanded rental facility (a few years back this was the home of the evo copywriting and customer care teams). If you need skis mounted, bases tuned and waxed, Phantom base treatments done, or most ski-related accessories, this is the place to go rather than the store. For our first clinic of the season with Marker/Dalbello/Völkl, we used the loading dock in front of the building to stage the event in a "socially distant" way, and it went well. Pizza and beer on the steps, Gordy and Brian in great form, and some great new products that many of us hadn't seen in person. Highlights were the new Katana 108 and Blaze 106 from Völkl, the all-new Royal Family line from Marker (now easy to step in to), the Duke PT binding, and of course the new Dalbello Quantum Asolo boots. Unfortunately the weather looks like it's turning, and subsequent clinics (like tonight's with Salomon) will probably have to move inside, but one last fling with summer was a good thing. Now it's time for La Nińa to kick in!
August 19, 2020
I've spent the past few days experimenting with a 3D scanning device tailored to ski boot fitting and sales. The system is called "ShooIQ," pronounced Shoo Eye Kew (though it looks like it says "Schul Queue" on the logo), and was developed by the German firm Corpus.E (corpus-e.com) with Sidas apparently doing the work to make it applicable for ski boots. The primary use thus far has been for athletic footwear, and the tech support person was difficult to reach during our setup because she was busy scanning the feet of the Seattle Seahawks football team (Uhhh, sorry bro, you need a 34.5 mondo boot with a 160 flex, I think you're outta luck). When you enter your profile into the database you agree to let Corpus.E/Sidas have access to your foot data for their own use, so don't be surprised if you're suddenly offered a quiver of Nike athletic shoes in your exact size somewhere down the road (you don't have to give them your contact info to be scanned).
The device utilizes a scanning camera that moves around your stationary feet on an invisible magnetic track, coupled to a Windows 10-based application that generates a 3D image of your feet, lower legs and calves. Due to the amount of data involved, the computer needs a hard-wired Ethernet connection to function properly, and a WiFi connection for the camera-to-computer interface needs to be present as well. The models can be compared to a library of previously scanned boot shell interiors, matched to the best fit options available, and analyzed for fit conflicts. The software sizes the boot based on categories from "beginner" to "racy" - usually about 1 mondopoint size apart - and also recommends stiffness based on ability level and weight. So far, the recommendations the system gives out seem to be a good match for what I would prescribe during a "manual" bootfit, which is a good sign.
I scanned and analyzed a number of members of our team at work, many with feet I was already familiar with. The 3D images were impressive in their detail and accuracy, as were the "matchups" with boot shells I've had experience with personally. Shells that I personally use, like the Lange LV, Atomic Hawx Ultra, and Tecnica Mach 1 LV, showed large bright orange spots in exactly the places I've punched them, which bodes well for using ShooIQ as a tool for fixing fit issues when you can't see the person's foot. The machine uses a slider graphic next to each boot shell you select to show how closely it comes to fitting in stock form, and shells that match a given foot show high "slider" values in addition to very little red or orange (blue represents "loose" spots in the shell with close to 20mm of space between foot and shell).
As an addition to our routine at the shop, I could foresee a host or less experienced bootfitter scanning everyone who comes in with a bootfitting appointment before they even start their session. For less complicated cases, you could have two or three boots already picked out and ready for the bootfitter before they even sit down with the customer. For fit issues with existing boots, the scan would provide a much more accurate template for punching and adjusting than the old-school paper description and diagram system we use now.
There are some rough edges. ShooIQ runs on Edge in Windows 10, but the navigation is not intuitive and newcomers probably won't be able to figure it out through experimentation. There are a few annoying oversights that need correcting, for instance both the ShooIQ and Windows keyboards popping up when you touch a data entry field (only the ShooIQ one actually works, but the Microsoft one obscures the lower half of the ShooIQ one). You need to use very light pressure to drag and drop potential boots into the "try on" column or it won't work. You also need to go to a separate website run by Sidas to add or remove boot models from your library, and at present there is no filter for "crossover" or "touring" boots. Having the socks on correctly, with the toe seam under your toes rather than at the very end of your foot, no wrinkles at the ankle, and with the vertical lines straight up the shin, is critical for scanning success; I did one with wrinkles and the scan failed.
Both customers and store staff were impressed by the accuracy of the 3D models, and with the software's ability to match a foot shape to an interior shell shape. ShooIQ tends to measure feet "short" - as an example, my foot measures 27.7 on a normal Brannock device, 27.5 standing on a ruler with my heel against the wall, and 26.9 on ShooIQ. One interesting advantage is that when set on the "Sportive" or "Racy" levels, ShooIQ actually puts me in a 26.5 shell (exactly what I wear) in most boots, while every other system I've seen suggests 27.5. The machine doesn't seem to pick up on potential instep issues well - skiers with "problem" insteps often show blue or grey (15-20mm of space) rather than the orange or red I'd expect to see. This may be due to the machine only scanning the shell interior and not accounting for the liner and tongue. Likewise, boots that use the same last but different liners show up as the same "fit" when experience tells us this isn't usually true. This means bootfitters will still have to rely on their experience and visual clues in making the call.
Not exactly. It's certainly a good start for a novice bootfitter, and seems to generate confidence in many customers, especially those resisting dropping down to a smaller shell size. It doesn't really tell you how much movement you can get out of a good heat mold, how easy it will be for a bootfitter to punch a given shell, whether you can grind a bootboard to adjust instep height, or whether a spot that shows up as yellow or orange will actually hurt your foot. In the hands of a good bootfitter who's working from memory to punch a shell it could be an invaluable tool. As a reference, ShooIQ could also be a great reminder of boots that "slip" your mind when it comes to making a recommendation. As a way of starting the conversation of how to achieve a great fit in a ski boot, I think could potentially be a huge win. We'll see if management takes the leap.
August 14, 2020
You've probably already felt it in the air. The weather is changing, and winter is coming, ready or not.
The store has been open for the past two months or so, with a few glitches. After a couple of positive COVID tests among the employees, we've adopted a two-team approach to staffing. Each team does three 11.5 hour shifts and one short 5 hour day, and the two groups are never on-premise at the same time. Eleven hours on your feet is kind of brutal, even for the younger members of the team, but it is what it is. We have our fingers crossed that we don't run into a situation with multiple members of both teams testing positive simultaneously.
September is coming up in a couple short weeks, and we're trying to figure out a plan for bootfitting for the coming season. So far it looks like bootfits will be reservation only, masks required for both employees and customers, probably with plexiglass screens for "up close" procedures like difficult liner molds and custom footbeds. We'll see, but the upshot is we'll definitely be enforcing limited store traffic across the board and there are bound to be some disappointed people, especially those who leave their gear shopping to post-Thanksgiving.
Summer has been fairly busy with "reservation only" bootfits (the reservation only system will likely be in place indefinitely), with lots of experienced women skiers looking for touring gear on most days. Not a bad idea, given the uncertainty of next season, but I wonder where all the dudes are. I've also been working on a few trial Zoom remote bootfits, with uneven but promising results, and video conferencing may prove to be a useful tool to add to the quiver. We'll see how this all shakes out, but it won't be an easy season. If you need boot work done, or are thinking of new boots, I'd start thinking about making a reservation with my favorite bootfitter now rather than later.
July 10, 2020
We had a big crew for some great corn skiing today in the Nisqually Chute.
Eric, Yoshiko, David, Jessica, Xan and Silas (plus me) were onhand to show Max from Brooklyn what summer skiing is all about. He seemed to be stoked, and why not? Perfect weather, awesome friends, and corn softened to just the right consistency made for a great day. A number of my friends had campers or rooms in Ashford, and were there for the two sunny days of the week, as well as a COVID-style Fourth Crossing BBQ, but I had to get back to town for dinner. A huge bonus was discovering the T-Mobile/Sprint merger had some quantifiable benefits for my cell coverage (T-Mobile has never had coverage on the south side of Rainer) as I now have 3 bars at the Visitor Center!
June 26, 2020
After a week and a half of skiing sticky mush at Chinook Pass and Mt. Rainier, we returned to Chinook today to find solid if a little bumpy corn conditions.
The skinning was a little challenging at times, enough so that we ended up simply booting up much of the steeper terrain. This approach proved quite a bit faster than skinning up the drainage, as we hit the ridge of Natches well before the group that had set out 15 minutes ahead of us.
June 17, 2020
A three month absence of skiers and climbers on Mt. Rainier is likely just a blip in the mountain's consciousness, barely noticeable in an awareness spanning eons. To us, it has seemed like an eternity.
The Park Service opened the road to Paradise a while ago, but the weather's been a challenge. Several friends have hung out for hours in the rain waiting for a window to ski, and reluctantly turned around and gone home without even suiting up.
Today was the first day of a likely 3-day high pressure streak, and we headed up full of optimism. As predicted by the NWS, low-lying fog and "chance of showers before 11 AM" was the theme for the drive up, but blue sky could be seen from the Visitor Center as we pulled in to join about 35 cars with assorted skiers and hikers. Rangers were milling about in "relaxed" mode, and eventually opened the Visitor Center to the public. Toilets were open, but no food or beverages. We headed up the climbers' trail toward Camp Muir, but veered over to the Paradise Glacier above Pebble Creek.
We saw no other tracks on the upper Paradise, though the snow (which had been very nice corn near the ascent route) was sticky and unconsolidated, and steeper aspects prone to wet rollers which were easily set off by skiing. We skied the skier's far right version, which normally ends in a waterfall later in the year, and it went well. Getting out with no set track and thick heavy trailbreaking the entire way was quite a bit of work as well; hopefully the snowpack will set up over the next few days and more people will head over so the exit track will get faster. We heard good reports about the skiing on the Muir Snowfield and Nisqually Chute as well.
Go get it. Rainier is one of the treasures of the Northwest, and it's back in business.
June 2, 2020
It's true, Crystal is spinning lifts and people are skiing and snowboarding.
I missed out on Day 1 of the short summer season, as demand was high and the limited spots were snapped up in seconds once the reservations went online on Crystal's website. The reservation system is actually being administered by eventbrite, and their system seems to be a bit overwhelmed by the volume of requests each day at 2:00 PM, so getting through and actually loading your reservations into a cart is a bit of a crap shoot. Be patient, use a solid Ethernet connection (or the fastest connection you can find), and don't dally when picking your time and number of people. I got through on Day 2 for spots for my son and myself, but pretty much everyone else I know has seen some frustration.
Is it worth it?
Of course it is. IKON passes for 2019-2020 were valid, as were any pre-paid tickets and season passes for Crystal only. Day tickets for non-passholders were $59. Day 2 was a pretty fine day of spring skiing, with sun, corn and plenty of stoked patrons on hand. Green Valley proper and Snorting Elk both skied very well, as did Grubstake and Elk Chute #2, though both required a bit of rock dodging to gain entrance. It was great to get in a bunch of vertical with minimal effort after a solid 2.5 months of only skinning for turns, and the mood among the crowd was jubilant. I ended the day by taking a beater in Lake Snorting Elk after attempting a long distance pond skim, but I was starting to overheat by that time anyway!
May 27, 2020
The persistant rumor that Crystal plans to open the Green Valley lift for skiing and snowboarding in June has some substance now, as they just posted the news on their website today.
We decided to preview the goods to see whether it would be worth navigating the reservation process (you need to reserve spots online starting at 2:00 PM for the following day) and fighting the crowds. Arriving at the "A" lot at around 10:00 AM, there were probably 25 other cars in the lot but many of the occupants had already set out. Charlie and I spied Greenwater local Chris W. a few cars over, and ended up spending the day skinning and skiing within a few (more than 6) feet of him.
There was about a 10-15 minute walk to skinable snow, depending on your pace and which route you took - we headed for Chair 4 as it had been "prepped" by some groomers and seemed to be the preferred way to start up the hill, but surprisingly we only saw a few other people once we got on snow. It's amazing what 2-plus months of no skiers or boarders can do for the quality of the skiing - every run was pool table-smooth, with an inch or so of soft corn over the top - awesome conditions, to be honest. I imagine the surface will turn bumpy in short order when the hoardes arrive beginning June 1, but people jonesing for snow won't care. Be careful if you stray from Green Valley, Iceberg still went (but barely) and probably won't be an option come Monday, and Lucky Shot has a similar lack of snow lower down. Powder Bowl and the King look prime, assuming you have touring gear and the desire. See you up there.
May 19, 2020
My nephew-in-law Alejandro is a real-life horse whisperer, and when neither the weather nor the snowpack looked favorable for skiing on the webcams I decided to take him up on his offer to follow his daily routine at the farm where he helps tend to the 12-15 horses that stay there. There's a lot of physical and time-consuming work that goes into taking care of horses, and they crave social contact both with humans and other horses, so we stopped in and said hello to nearly every horse on the property, as well as feeding, brushing and chatting with the ones in the "working" stable.
I got to ride Alejandro's show horse for a bit, which was a little intimidating as he's huge, very powerful and spirited. As it turns out, though, he's also extremely well trained and responds instantly to the reins once you learn that he only needs a very light touch. "Pistolero" is a Friesian, a sturdy breed that originated in the Netherlands, just under 17 hands high, and heavily muscled. The stallions at the farm are also trained to ride in formation and "dance" on command, as they perform locally at festivals and parades in non-COVID years. It was treat to watch Alejandro work with the horses, who obviously loved and trusted him - they were typically quite vocal and often pounded their hooves on the doors of the stalls in their impatience to be "visited."
Pistolero was mellow today, as he'd had a hard workout yesterday as well as some "breeding time" with his girlfriend (he's one of two studs currently at the farm, and spring is the season for them to get it on). As Alejandro explained, if he really wanted to get into the mare's enclosure there probably wouldn't be anything you could do to stop him. All in all, he was a great horse for me to ride after not having been on a horse since I was 7 or so - a whole different sort of riding than skis and boots, where the communication and trust factor only goes one way.
May 15, 2020
Bit by bit, the lockdown is starting to unwind.
Bachelor is now open on a limited basis, "for passholders only," and Timberline opened on a limited basis yesterday "by reservation only." Locally, it's been found that no one really wanted to enforce the closure of snow-covered Forest Service lands at the passes anyway, and a loose sort of truce has enabled limited access to snow. The North Cascades Highway opened without fanfare a few days ago, but reports from the Methow indicate the snowpack is in dire need of a freeze-thaw cycle to corn up the surface. While the ski area parking lots are officially closed, determined skiers and snowboarders are finding their way onto the slopes, hopefully while maintaining a good distance between themselves during the day. Plenty of "regulars" were in attendance, including lots of locals and bootfitters from at least three shops (not including myself). Here's some random shots of people getting some exercise in the mountains this week - if you recognize any of the faces, keep it to yourself.
May 4, 2020
May is normally the month when I start to seriously ramp up the mileage on the bike, with daily commutes logged on the "Bike Everywhere" Challenge website, warmer weather (if you're lucky), and plenty of people on the road. This year is a bit of an exception, with no work to ride to, but I built up a sweet gravel bike last week anyway.
Check out this Santa Cruz Stigmata with Ultegra DI2, Vision Metron 40 carbon wheels, and FSA fittings. "Old School" with 2 x 11 drivetrain and Challenge Chicane tubular 'cross tires, just "because" (well, because I've got sewups hanging in the closet - I'll probably end up using Vittoria CX 27mm or Vittoria Corsa 30mm "Strade Bianche" tires eventually). Thanks to Russell and Mike O. for parts, expertise, and assembly, and Mike W. and Santa Cruz for the frameset hookup.
May 1, 2020
In the face of criticism from people who think I should be staying home, I've refrained from posting photos of actual skiing for the past few weeks, but I'm convinced I'm much more likely to get COVID-19 standing in line at Costco or the Post Office than from a day of skinning and sliding. We have continued to park in friends' driveways and seek the comfort of the snow during the lockdown, staying well apart on the skin track. Hopefully with the State of Washington relaxing some state park guidelines next week, more terrain will open up in May.
April 7, 2020
The snow conditions went from full winter pow last week to emerging corn today, which actually skied amazingly well after the surface warmed up and softened. We took the easy route and chose to do fitness laps in near-Curdistan, where the Security Patrol were making frequent checks on the parking lot, but no one told us to leave. Scott and Kevin showed up from down the street, and we got in a few laps in perfect spring sunshine. Another fine option that's not sweating over the elliptical trainer in my bedroom.
April 1, 2020
Washington is playing hardball in the fight against COVID-19, with a state-wide Stay At Home mandate in place, "Stay Home, Save Lives" signage up on the freeways and most "non-essential" business shut down by order of the governor. Now the US Forest Service has closed access to all public parking lots, trailheads and facilities on Forest Service land until September 30th unless the situation changes for the better. That means the Alpental lot and various trailheads we traditionally use are out of play. Trying our best to apply the rules of social distancing but needing to get out in the snow meant meeting in Kevin's driveway and giving each other plenty of room on the skintrack, but minor inconveniences were well worth the trouble today.
There is plenty of terrain in Kevin's backyard, and we took a new route up the hill today, carefully skirting the steepest sections while cutting off a bit of distance on the ascent. The weather had been all over the map since 11 inches of snow fell yesterday, and had compacted into not-so-desireable crusty pudding when the temperature went from 40 degrees to 29 in 12 hours, but the shaded goods higher on the mountain were still good. No tracks or signs of other humans were visible, other than one other solo skinner who somehow veered off about mid-climb and ended up skiing somewhere totally different.
The COVID-19 response has put quite a crimp into virtually every aspect of American society, but as long as we're not working it's a fine time to use a little ingenuity to get into the mountains and track up a bit of powder.
March 30, 2020
Yes, it's true that life has pretty much come to a standstill worldwide, not to mention here at ground zero of the US pandemic.
The store is shut down for at least the next two months, and what comes after that is a serious question. I worry about our company's capacity to absorb the impact of a several month shutdown, and it's one of the healthiest outdoor sports retailers in the nation. I fear that many, if not most, of the smaller independents won't survive the year.
In the meantime, even though every resort in the country has shut down operations, the snow continues to fall and conditions are close to epic. Kevin and I chose to interpret the state "stay at home" mandate liberally, and met at Alpental in separate cars, being careful to maintain six feet of distance the entire day. Two laps included some of the best turns of the year, particularly on the upper half of the mountain. Be safe, stay healthy, and work at staying sane - the next few months will be tough ones.
March 18, 2020
Pretty much every ski area has shut down in our neck of the woods; if they haven't the end is probably only days away. No one wants to be the place where a liftie comes down with COVID-19 and a dozen guests test positive. I'd do the same, and thank God I'm no longer running a Chinese restaurant . . .
Even so, there's plenty of snow and spring is here, so we celebrated what for many has been a mediocre season by slapping on the skins and heading up Hyak. Plenty of people had the same idea, and the sheet-of-ice conditions from the weekend had softened under 55 degree sun to make skiing excellent. We kept 6 feet apart and only had 4 in our group, so all good!
March 15, 2020
Two years ago, when Full Tilt came out with the Ascendant touring boot, people started complaining almost immmediately. "Why didn't they make a touring version of the narrower 99mm last, and throw a 12 tongue on it" pretty much summed up the comments.
The Ascendant has had a decent run, but there's no denying the fact that it's a really high volume fit. So is the sister offering from Dalbello, the Lupo AX 120, even though it has a stated 100mm last. What's a 3-piece boot lover with an average or lower volume foot to do when they want (or need, as will be the case tomorrow in COVID-19 ravaged Washington state) to tour?
There may be hope. Roxa recently sent me a couple of boot samples in my size, including their flagship freeride model the R3 130 T.I. This is the boot that skiers like Glen Plake, Aurelien Ducroz, and Michael "Bird" Shaffer go about their daily business in, and as you might expect it's burly. Built with a tough Grilamid shell and cuff, and weighing in at 1582 grams per boot (26.5) without footbeds in place, the R3 130 T.I. flexes like a legit 130 boot but feels decidedly light underfoot.
Roxa is a smaller manufacturer in Asolo, Italy, who has in the past done contract work for Full Tilt, among others. Their designs have much in common with both Full Tilt and Dalbello, but add a third producer to the short list of manufacturers who specialize in high performance three-piece boots (they also make a full line of ultra-light touring boots and 2-piece overlap boots). The Grilamid formula they've chosen (there are many) for the R3 130 T.I. is a tough, harder durometer version much like the plastic used in the Atomic Hawx XTD boots, and I expect durability to be good.
The R3 130 T.I. has a stated last of 99mm, and I'd say it's a generous 99mm. I could wear the boot indoors for 10 minutes or so, but I needed more width for my wide forefoot, medial midfoot, and large first met bunions. Roxa recommends cooking the shell for most customers, and says width increases of between 2mm and 4mm (depending on which literature you're reading) are possible. I try a lot of boots and typically punch them right off the bat to save time, and this boot was fairly routine. Roxa's chosen Grilamid took more heat than most sub-1600 gram Grilmid shells require to move the plastic - I'd say use the finger inside the shell method of gauging temperature, but you shouldn't have to worry much about melting the surface of the shell. The yellow plastic turns slightly orange when hot (as do other yellow Grilamid shells), but the hue fades when the shell cools. Roxa uses what they call "BioFit" zones at the first and fifth met heads to allow the shells to move with a simple oven bake (9 minutes in a K-Tech oven @ 117 C.), and this thinned out area with a ring around it shows through at the first met zones when punched from within, which looks a little weird but shouldn't be a concern. The placement of the BioFit zones was pretty much on the money for my feet, but may not work for everyone.
The liner is an Intuition-made tongue model, with fairly low volume padding throughout. Some users, especially those with smaller diameter ankles and lower legs, may do well to upgrade to a higher volume aftermarket Intuition, as the fit is fairly roomy through the ankle area, but my moderately thick ankles did well in the stock version. I followed the molding instructions and went 5 minutes (recommended is 3-5) in a pre-heated oven, which worked perfectly.
I took the R3 130 T.I. out for some exercise today, quite possibly the last lift-served day of the season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and it felt seriously burly, especially for a light boot. The stance feels more upright than I'm used to, but I adapted to it fairly quickly and the boot felt rock solid on today's VERY firm conditions. Part of the issue might be not having skied in a stiff 3-piece shell recently - when I loosened the cuff strap just slightly the boot skied very well. There is a flex adjustment screw at the rear of the cuff, but I never felt a need to try the "stiff" setting, even after weeks of skiing my Lange RS 130 plug boots most of the time.
Very few skiers will find this boot lacking in forward stiffness. I've been fitting boots for some time, and have yet to see the mythical "A" Dalbello tongue or a "12" Full Tilt tongue, but the tongue supplied with this boot is stamped "A" and it seems in line with what I imagine a Dalbello "A" tongue would flex like. I actually did better in the afternoon by loosening the top strap a bit for an easier initial flex, and may try some rear cuff shims to provide a bit more forward lean if any lifts start spinning again this spring.
Entry and exit are areas where 3-piece designs typically shine, and the R3 130 T.I. is no exception. Where skiers of ten complain about other light Grilamid overlaps designs (thin, stiff lower shells that fit close to the ankle are notoriously hard to put on and take off, particularly when cold), the R3 design goes on about as easily as my Croc gardening clogs with the tongue pulled up. Actually I can even get in and out of the R3 without even undoing the top Velcro strap or lower cable fastening as long as the instep buckle is fully undone. Pretty impressive, really.
I have yet to go uphill in this boot, but I've walked a bit in tour mode and the stated 45 degree range of motion is underwhelming. The emphasis is definitely on power and freeride performance for the R3 130 T.I., and though I'd be happy to skin a few thousand vertical feet in it, it's much less of a touring boot than the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro or Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD. More to come as I get a chance to spend more time in the R3 . . .
March 12, 2020
After years of talking about it, the powers that be at the store finally did it - closed the shop for a day of sliding while paying everyone for a full eight hours!
We rallied the vast majority of store employees who weren't otherwise obligated or hurt, and made the trip to scenic Crystal Mountain, where a day of ripping ensued. There's nothing better than riding with the people you've spent the entire winter working shoulder to shoulder with, not to mention the crew at evo is by and large pretty damn skilled. Conditions ranged from perfect groomed on Lucky Shot and Iceberg to chalky bumps on Chair 6, but this group knew how to have fun on any run.
February 27, 2020
One of the factors that has revitalized the ski touring industry has been the entry of big alpine players like Tecnica, Salomon, and Atomic into the market. Not only has the variety of fit and weight options fueled growth in backcountry skiing (and skiing in general), but the level of performance has surged with the infusion of R & D money from these companies.
Dalbello has been biding their time with their bread and butter Lupo Series boots, and introduced the Irfran-based Lupo AX boots three seasons ago to the aclaim of many higher volume feet. Now they're entering the "fast-n-light" segment with a bang by bringing the new Asolo line of tongue-less light touring boots to market for the '20-'21 season.
Our Marker-Dalbello-Völkl rep Gordy Bolstad had been knocked flat by pneumonia for the past few months, but shook it off long enough to deliver a pair of the carbon-reinforced Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory boots for testing. This sub-1 kilo boot had been making the rounds of the industry shows and on-snow tests, but no one I know had skied it. Sure, it looked super cool and was obviously very light, but there were a few questions in my mind.
For starters, when Derrick from MDV headquarters had initially shown me the boot, he'd been adamant that the shell couldn't be punched. If true, this would seriously limit the appeal of the boot not only to me, but a whole bunch of other people who don't happen to have a perfect 99mm wide foot. (The stated last is 99mm and it feels dead-on - only problem is my foot is about 104mm wide not counting a huge bunion on the first metatarsal head). Secondly, how would it ski? There aren't many contenders in the sub-1,000 gram class, but people are divided on whether boots like the Quantum Asolo or Scarpa Alien RS are really suitable for general touring or are really just for wannabe rando race types.
The boot Gordy delivered was actually a 27.5, rather than the normal sample 26.5. It turned out to be a good thing, as they run small - this is a case where most skiers are going to want to size up one mondopoint size. This isn't uncommon in lighter, minimalist boots - I took a 27.5 in the Dynafit TLT5, first generation TLT6, Arc'teryx Procline and some others when I normally wear a 26.5 in my alpine boots. For the record, I measure 27.8 on my larger foot. The Dalbello people made of point of mentioning that the sole shapes are "normal" ISO 9523, and not especially short - the 27.5 BSL is 305mm.
Sure enough, when I built a new custom footbed for the Asolos, assuming I would need something longer than I had lying around, the trimmed final product ended up being only a millimeter or so longer than the footbeds from my 26.5 collection. Not a problem, I can always use a fresh footbed, but probably a sign I needed to be in a 27.5!
Now came crunch time. It only took about 5 minutes in the boots before I came to the conclusion there'd be no touring in these things without some extra width at the fifth met area and bunion, as well as the medial midfoot. My approach with the heat gun was very slow and deliberate, but with careful intermittent heating I was able to punch each of these areas to my satisfaction. The carbon-reinforced Polyamide turns a dull, flat shade once it gets up to heat, and the Dalbello decals start to deteriorate, but if you pay close attention you (or a skilled bootfitter used to dealing with thin touring boot shells) should be fine. As a side note, the Asolo Factory is quite a bit more sensitive to heat than the Alien RS (which Scarpa also says not to punch), mostly due to the shell walls of the Scarpa being double-thick around the perimeter. Use the finger-touch inside the shell method of gauging readiness and watch the surface of the plstic like a hawk for best results. The design of the new Dalbello features "hemispherical construction," meaning the shell is molded in two halves and held together by both mechanical means and glue, but I'm not convinced this means anything in terms of modifying the shell - at any rate, it didn't split in half when I punched it.
Where the Alien RS uses relatively thin sheets of Grilamid that close on one side as a cuff front, the Quantum Asolo boots employ a beefy molded front plate that resembles my DonJoy knee brace in terms of structural integrity. The plate hinges forward for entry/exit and touring mode. Closure is by a thick braided cord with a friction adjustment at the front, and the design is very solid. A comparison of the Quantum Asolo Factory and next year's F1 LT will be an interesting one, as the weights are nearly identical and the new Scarpa boot combines the scaffo of the Alien RS with a ribbed F1 cuff and dual power straps. Anyone have one?
Putting the boot on and heat molding the liners was a bit tough, too. People who tried the Quantum Asolo Factory on at the industry on-snow events had complained about it being hard to put on and take off (I was one of them). All of them, however, tried on only the RIGHT boot (the left still had the paper in the liner). As it turns out, the Dyneema cord in the right boot is about 2 inches shorter than the cord in the left boot, which goes on without drama. For the time being, I'll struggle with the right, which actually feels fine once the boot is on my foot. The fastening system is called Dalbello's QLS (Quick Lacing System) and is a take off on the Boa system, but without the "all-out" instant release when you pull the dial out - you dial it clockwise to tighten, dial it counterclockwise to loosen.
Now for some skiing. I took the Dalbellos up to Hyak for a couple thousand vert, plus one chairlift ride.
In terms of skinning, the Quantum Asolo Factory is pretty much second to none. Range of motion is greater than my ankle, and the pivot action is silky smooth. My pair weighed in at 997 grams in 27.5 out of the box (sample size of 26.5 is listed at 950 grams) and the light weight is a joy to go uphill with. Paired with my standby Zero G 95's and Atomic Backland Tour bindings, this is about the lightest I'd want to go for an all-purpose touring setup. Skiing is more than adequate, with excellent lateral rigidity and tons of rearward support. I'd estimate forward flex at around 90, assuming you get the cuff tight enough. Putting the boots in ski mode, then pulling the braided Dyneema cord as tight as possible before locking it provided a good compromise between stiffness and ease of switching into ski mode. You can pull it tighter in walk mode and get a snugger fit as well as a stiffer flex in the initial few degrees of bending the boot, but pushing the lever in ski mode is tough.
Transitioning from my Lange RS 130 plug boots with FIS GS skis or 188 Rustler 11's to a light setup took a few minutes to adjust to, but after a run or two I was able to trust the boots and ski naturally and confidently. Is the Quantum Asolo Factory a viable solution for spring and summer touring or multi-day trips? From the limited time I've spent in them so far, I'd guess the answer is yes. For an additional 50 grams over the primary competition, the Scarpa Alien RS, the Dalbello gives you a cushier liner and thicker tongue, which add to the feeling of increased substance. We'll see how the boot fares this spring and summer.
Just back from 3 laps at the Hyak Health Club, a little over 3,000 vertical feet.
As mentioned above, skinning in the Quantum Asolo Factory is fanastic. The range of motion is such that I never felt a need to use the higher lifters on my Atomic Backland Tour bindings (same as Salomon MTN); the extra few degrees of forward range makes them seem totally unnecessary on anything under 25 degrees. Likewise, the increase in rear range makes it possible to push your ski out ahead of you for an extra few inches of stride without straining - my flexibility is the limiting factor here rather than the boot.
The fit is pretty much perfect, and I'm surprised I was able to nail it with less than 45 minutes of punching. With no pressure on my forefoot, I noticed the heel dimensions were quite roomy but so far vertical movement has been minimal and I haven't come close to blistering. With the QLS system just "snug" the boot has tons of instep room, which bodes well for those with taller insteps as long as they can get in to the boot. (There are no parts at MDV USA yet, so for now I have to live with the short lace on the right boot, but anyone with a slightly beefier foot probably won't be able to get this pair on). No cuff also means typical problem areas for me, like my left medial maleolus, are absent - usually I always need to punch this.
Skiing was a bit challenging today - two inches of sticky "glue" on top of rain-soaked corn made for some "stop and go" descending. The Quantum Asolo Factory is stiff enough to prevent you from going over the bars, but the less than progressive flex made for some interesting turns. I didn't have my Backland Carbons or an Alien RS along for a direct comparison, and the boot was great on the groomed corn XC trail, so more testing is in order.
I now have 5 days on the Quantum Asolo Factory boots, and I'm liking them more and more.
They remain superior going uphill, with no perceptible resistance within the normal striding range of motion, and skiing is getting more predictable (or I'm getting used to them). On fast corn or harder snow with minimal resistance, they work great. In sticky, isothermal glop with unpredictable stop-and-go characteristics, it's more of a challenge, especially with my still-recovering ACL repair, and I'm taking it easy for the time being. Most of the skiing has been on my trusty older Blizzard Zero G 95's (one day on the newer, more "manageable" current 95), and I'm convinced that the boot is ideal for driving skis in the 1000-1200 gram range. Testing has been limited by the state of Washington's COVID-19 restrictions, with all national parks and Forest Service trailheads closed, and so has been mostly stealth skinning at empty ski areas.
I've also had a pair of Scarpa Alien RS around the house for comparison (no skiing, as they'd need serious work and they're not mine), and the two boots are remarkably similar in many respects. The Alien RS's are 26.5 and weigh in at 961 grams, while the stated weight on the Quantum Asolo Factory in 26.5 is 950. In terms of flex, the Scarpa is stiffer off the top (in the first few degrees of the flex range), probably because of the existence of the power strap (the Dalbello has none), but once into the flex pattern the two boots are quite similar. Where I'd take a 26.5 in the Alien RS, I still believe I'd stick with the 27.5 in the Quantum Asolo shells. It is a little difficult to get the liners in both boots due to the elastic gaiter, but once in both are relatively simple to put on. The Dalbello design is a bit less finicky in terms of function, since all you do once you get the cord adjusted is open or close the walk mode lever. The Scarpa requires that you slip the cord over the two grommets on the cuff each time you want to get in or out of the boot, as well as adjust or unfasten the power strap for transitions and entry/exit. It will be interesting to see how the new F1 LT stacks up in terms of weight and performance once they arrive.
February 9, 2020
It's that time of year again.
The last week of January is when the ski trade rolls out next year's product for retailers to fondle and try. This year's demo events were held in Winter Park, CO and Mission Ridge, WA, and most of the major brands were in attendance with a brace of new product lines. Trends that have been in the making for the past few years continued - lighter weight "charger" skis with some, but "less" Titanal and more relaxed rocker profiles were everywhere, and the "quiver of one with touring option" market is about to be expanded with the introduction of the Marker Duke PT (Pin Tech, not Part Time).
Last week's rain event and subsequent freeze left little snow on the exposed slopes surrounding the main runs at Mission Ridge, so testing was limited to smooth and hard (sometimes very hard) groomers. Day one was cool and overcast in the AM, with the sun coming out mid-day but temps remaining cold. Day two warmed up quite a bit with light snow falling, but under a trace of new the snow was still bulletproof. Skis with excellent edge hold tended to show well, as you might expect - my standard test route off the top of Chair 4 began with a smooth icy pitch that exposed deficiencies in grip within two turns.
I'll recap some of the hightlights:
Due to the conditions, I stuck to mid-wide alpine skis for the duration of the two days (didn't test any powder skis or touring skis), but Dalbello had a pair of the new Quantum Asolo touring boots on display. I tried on the 27.5, which pinched a little on my fifth met head and felt a little long in the toes (I normally ski a 26.5). The boot looks and weighs a lot like the Scarpa Alien RS, but is molded in two halves of long fiber carbon-reinforced Grilamid, then joined with a tongue-in-groove and adhesive tecnique. A thick Dyneema cord adjusts to calf diameter and is attached to the walk mode lever, which when secured for skiing tightens the cuff in one movement. One potential drawback is the stated "non punchability" of the shell, which might not work for my foot (last is 99mm) - but they make two other slightly heavier models with PU shells that I assume can be modified.
Marker is hitting the freeride tour segment with a sledgehammer next season by debuting the much-talked about Duke PT. This 16 DIN monster for the CAST crowd provides FWT-level retention and elasticity while enabling you to skin to your destination using a tech boot. I didn't tour on it, but I did ski a few runs on it, and they're not joking when they say it skis just like a Jester (and why not, the heel is basically the same with a locking brake and a lifter). The toe is completely novel - it looks like a regular binding with an oversized cowling while skiing, but push down on the locking lever and the cowling pops forward to expose a pin tech attachment. You can skin with the cowling pivoted forward and snapped down on the ski or remove it completely and stash it in the pack - don't drop it and lose it on the summit or you'll be skiing down in the tech toe (not recommended by Marker). They've also redesigned the Jester/Griffon/Squire group with a more modern shape and smaller profile bump where your heel contacts the binding while stepping in, with the result that the bindings are now only slightly harder to step in to than the competition - this used to be a major point of contention with the Royal Series bindings, especially on a pow day. Heavy? Sure, but if you weigh over 200 lbs. or can't get your Shift AFD to stay put, this might be the answer.
Völkl has been on a tear lately, expanding their M5 construction to 88mm and 102mm widths with resounding success. Next year they'll offer the Katana 108 (should have called it the Gotama, but that's another story) with the same Titanal Frame build. The new Katana was the star of the demo for most everyone who tried it, with razor-like precision, amazing edgehold, predictable and intuitive turn initiation at all speeds, and superior high speed stability for a ski that still feels nimble on your feet. I loved the new Blaze 94 as well, and was surprised at how well the Revolt 104 held up to high speed directional charging.
The Elan Ripstick 106, already one of the best-balanced light performance skis on the market, gets a shot in the arm with a carbon fiber laminate under the medial side of the ski, making it slightly poppier and livelier than before. It's still a joy to navigate at any speed, and not as much a commitment as the Black Edition ski, which has a full layer of carbon under the topsheet.
At Dynastar, the excellent Menace 98 remains unchanged, but they've come out with two new lines of freeride skis, the M Pro and M Free. The M Pro 99 was one of the highlights of the demo, with a Titanal "spear" that resembles the Rustler's but more tip rocker and a slightly surfier feel. Excellent and predicatable at all speeds, capable of changing turn radius on the fly with no penalty, and lighter feeling than you'd think a metal-infused ski should be.
Blizzard's been my favorite manufacturer for years now, building what I consider to be the best lineup of skis top to bottom that covers both the freeride and touring segments. My go-to favorites, the Rustler and Zero G lines, remain unchanged (except for minor graphics tweaks on the Rustlers), but the "trad" freeride skis have all undergone complete redesigns. The Cochise, Bonafide and Brahma (as well as the women's equivalent Black Pearls) now use what Blizzard refers to as a "Trueblend" core that uses a different blend of woods for the tip, midsection, and tail. The new cores result in a slightly mellower flex at the extremities, but are actually stouter underfoot. If you're in the market for a frontside charger, pay attention to the length and don't be afraid to try a shorter ski than you're used to - I skied the new Cochise in a 185 and the Brahma in a 183 and found them perfect, but had a hard time getting the 183 Bonafide to initiate at anything under about 30 mph. On the advice of our rep Dave Glotzer and my friend Steve Backstrom, I skied the 177 the next day and loved them - surprising since my daily driver is a 188 Rustler 11. I even got out on the 177 Black Pearl 88, a revised version of the world's best-selling women's ski, and was pleasantly surprised. There aren't many sub-90mm women's skis I'd be happy spending a day on, but this one is strong enough and versatile enough to do just that.
The Soul era ends at Rossignol for 2021 on an upbeat note - the new Black Ops Sender Ti adds high speed stability and improved tenacity on harder snow but won't alienate the old 7 Series customer that's not in the mood for a super demanding ski.
Salomon has jumped into the Titanal-enhanced charger market with both feet as well, debuting their new Stance lineup during the show season. The widths are 90mm, 96mm, and 102mm and the character of each is distinct. The 90 is smooth and "accessible," the 96 stouter and more confident at speed, and the 102 is a total ripper - probably my favorite ski of day 2.
January 22, 2020
I'm back skiing.
It is 8.5 months post-surgery for the new ACL, and things are feeling pretty good. Smooth and soft is my friend; I can carve large radius turns on corduroy with the best of 'em. Lucky Shot and Forest Queen at Crystal are my jam, and the long and perfectly groomed runs at Ski Bluewood this week were great. Clean and uncut powder is also good, and I enjoyed some of the best snow ever at Alpental last week. Cut-up variable snow, chattery ice, and quick directional changes are still a challenge - dropping into International at Alpental with the three icy rollers and 50 ft. visibility was a bit painful, as is the effect of sharp torque applied to the knee by chunks of frozen debris. Still, the comfort level and confidence are improving day by day, and I'm thinking the 9 to 12 month prediction of "full recovery" (surgeon's term) is pretty much spot on.
I might have been further along if I'd stayed in Seattle and continued my physical therapy regime along with adequate rest and elevating the leg, but instead we went to Europe and walked on uneven streets for hours each day. When we returned, the knee was not a happy camper and my therapy team advised me to take ten days off and just let it rest.
We took Max to Ski Bluewood Monday for his second day of skiing, and he logged a lot of time on snow. Most of this was between our skis, but he is skiing on his own on gentle slopes like the Magic Carpet zone and the parking lot. He still hasn't gotten the snowplow thing entirely - I would push him up the hill, turn him around and arrange his skis in a "V" so he wouldn't slide (that's a snowplow, right?), then go back down the hill and tell him to straighten out his skis so he could slide down to me. Baby steps.
December 31, 2019
Marginal snow and all, we headed to Summit West for my first day on snow since blowing out my ACL in April and Max's first day ever. Max thought the Magic Carpet was good enough for several runs, and Little Thunder was epic simply because it was a "chair lift." Hot chocolate was a bit of a letdown since it never got cool enough for him to drink, but the cookies (we brought our own) were top rate.
As for the repaired knee, it felt pretty good. Not "like new" good, but not bad either considering it's still only 7.7 months out from surgery and full recovery is usually quoted at 9 to 12 months. Stoked to be back and joining other ACL-replacement patients like Olympic surfing team member John John Florence in getting back to it.
December 2, 2019
September 24, 2019
Just back from a 3 week tour of Europe, we are trying to digest what we experienced and recover from jet lag.
Old cities. Ancient cities, really. From the Czech Republic to Italy, we stayed almost exclusively in the "old" parts of town, walked the cobbled streets, and sought out art and food that were representative of the region.
We began the trip in Prague, staying in a former convent just a block and a half from the original (and once only) span over the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge. Prague is an amazing city, with much of the infrastructure intact and essentially unchanged for centuries in the Old Town. Every block has a magnificent church, each more grand than the last, culminating in the magnificent Cathedral of St. Vitus within the Prague Castle walls. Unfortunately it's also the most visited city in Europe, and the throngs of tourists manage to dampen much of the joy of roaming the more scenic parts of the city. It's almost impossible to enjoy any of the famous sites without jostling for position with groups of selfie-stick wielding tourists, even if you start early. The exception for us was the Convent of St. Agnes, which was apparently out of favor with the tour groups and maintained a serene and elegant presence dispite housing some of the best religious art in the city. The tour of the old Jewish Quarter was also reasonably calm, quite moving, and well worth the effort to experience.
My mastery of the Czech language left much to be desired, but I was able to ask for beer, wine, coffee and say "hello," which seemed to amuse the locals. The greatest triumph came as, leaving the city of Brno from the rather dilapidated Dolní nádraží Station, I was able to say to the grizzled conductress "train 75 is here, yes?" She looked at me like I was a total moron and said, "Yes." "On track 1?" "Yes." I was elated.
In addition to the Chinese tour group phenomenon, there is a trend among wealthy Chinese to fly to famous locations around the world to take their wedding photos. Prague seems to be a favorite.
Brno. We travelled to the Czech Republic's second largest city as an homage to Lindsay's great grandfather, who had emmigrated from here. It's on a smaller but more human scale than Prague, though still full of soul and antiquities. Our hotel was a gem, a brewpub called the Pivovar Pegas which also featured rooms above the restaurant. The rooms exuded warmth and charm, the food was fantastic, and the house-brewed beers some of the best we had in Europe. Lindsay judged their spicy Moravian version of goulash the best she had tried after a week of daily goulash samplings. Brno had it's churches and castles, too, but it's more of a hipster and student town that knows it's place and is proud of it.
Vienna. Sprawling, opulent, and expensive. If you want to dress up and go to the opera, this is the place to do so. Not really our style, but I did have a magnificent pepper steak with horseradish-infused mashed potatoes here. The high point was the bathtub at the Hotel de France, which was long enough for a 2 meter tall German to stretch out in.
Salzburg. A vibrant, smaller city within striking distance of some of the most famous names in Austrian ski resorts. The fortress overlooking the town, Hohesalzburg, can be accessed by a funicular rail car, which is a worthwhile trip in itself even if you have the energy to walk up. The museum is painstakingly restored and staffed with locals in period dress, and the coffee at the outdoor cafe was excellent. The train went through Altenmarkt (home of Atomic) and Schladming (home of the biggest night slalom in the world) on the way to Graz.
Graz. Lindsay's grandmother came from here (actually a small town just outside the city called Gratkorn), so we had to visit. Her grandmother's best friend's daughter and her husband, Puppe and Heinz, took most of two days showing us around, with notable stops in the apple orchard region (the preferred apple to use in strudel is the Boscoop, a tangy variety I'd never heard of). To be honest, the warm plum torte we had with iced coffee (in Austria that's a parfait glass generously laced with soft ice cream and filled with coffee) on the way to the Basilika Mariatrost outside of Graz was the best pastry I had the entire trip despite multiple apfel strudel tastings. The church wasn't too shabby, either.
Borgo Sant'Ambrogio. We came to the Borgo Sant'Ambrogio to attend our niece's wedding, and our two sons and their families joined us. The Borgo is a lovingly restored former convent in the Tuscan hills near the famous town of Montepulciano, but set on its own secluded hilltop. The rooms, food and service were incredible and I'd heartily recommend it to anyone needing a break from the stress of everyday life. We spent four wonderful days here, punctuated by several trips to the small town of Chiusi to pick up our kids at the train station, visited the farm and cheese factory across the road, and enjoyed a much needed rest. Special props to our simpatico concierge Fabrizio, who went out of his way to make us comfortable and told us repeatedly, "It's Italy, relax!"
Firenze. I'll never rent a car (or drop it off) in Florence ever again. The tiny streets, masses of tourists, and maze of one-way lanes are a nightmare for driving unless you're very skilled, know the city intimately, and have a tiny Euro-style car. I had a Mercedes GLC 220d, huge by Italian standards, and Google Maps tricked me into a few wrong turns - one of them ending in a cramped underground parking garage that severely tested the limits of my driving ability and patience. However, the city is magnificent and somehow the crowds seemed less obnoxious than in Prague or Vienna. For one thing, many are serious hobbyists of some sort - serious foodies taking cooking classes, serious art-lovers taking in the classics in person, serious chasers of architecture getting their fill of some of Europe's best - and the locals, while relying on the tourist trade for their living, are quite good-humored about it. Famous attractions like Il Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery are legit, and the restaurant my co-worker Bates steered me toward, "Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe" served up an incredible meal of tagliatelle con cinghiale, insalata mista, and filetto con aceto balsamico washed down with a 2012 Brunello di Montalcino. Life is good in Tuscany and the Tuscans know it.
August 24, 2019
It's been a slow summer.
With no ski touring or mountain biking on the docket, I've spent most of my time concentrating on healing my repaired right knee. The process - and it is a process - has taken longer than expected, with incremental gains week by week but no amazing leaps in strength or flexibility. Every ten days or so I look back and acknowledge that I can do a few things I couldn't do before, and the prospect of skiing again this winter becomes more and more of a reality.
I began carefully walking on the leg without the brace after the first week, though my physical therapist Geoff Gabler warned my to only do it on flat, predictable surfaces at home. After three weeks I was able to go "braceless" full time, and did a few shifts on my feet in the store. It wasn't terrible as long as I took regular breaks to elevate the leg and massage it, but at the end of eight hours the swelling and attendant pain became a challenge.
Two weeks post-surgery I started gingerly using the stationary bike with the seat height dropped down 2 inches. Initially it was tough just getting the crank arm over the top of the stroke a few times, but within a week I was spinning slowly with little to no resistance for five to ten minutes. It took several weeks for the stiffness to lessen - the first few minutes of each session were a bit rough, but after a few minutes it was bearable. I worked up to around twenty minutes twice a day and it made a huge difference simply to be doing something physical and starting to regain range of motion.
I started riding my bike on the Burke-Gilman trail approximately 2 months after the surgery, choosing mid-day and non-weekend hours to put in a few miles. The knee felt suprisingly good for eight to ten miles at a stretch, but my lower back and arms were sore after so many months off the bike. After a couple weeks of "training" I was able to start my normal routine of commuting by bike again, working up to around 100 to 120 miles per week.
Now I'm 3.5 months into my recovery, and it's more of the same. I've started to regain some actual fitness, so I'm no longer the slowest guy on the bike trail. Walking is more or less normal, even up and downhill, and I've started some light impact exercises at PT. Light jogging commences at 4 months, so I've ordered some new Salomon Predict RA shoes to be fully cushioned when the time comes.
Big event of the summer has been my son Jordan's wedding to his longtime girlfriend Erin, which took place at the new Nordic Museum in Ballard. Everything from the venue to the food was awesome, and it was a great opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones from the bride's side. We caught a break with the weather - the wedding was outside, and the day before had been pouring rain. It was too hot in the sun while I was bringing in the wine, but by the time the guests started to arrive the seats were in the shade and a breeze had come up, making the temperature perfect.
We've done a few trips to Kennewick to see my older son and his family, though I was a bit hobbled when it came time to pick fruit. Next it's off to Europe for most of the month of September, so I'm cramming with the Pimsleur Czech language course from Audible, which is a great program (I've used the Mandarin Chinese version before) but Czech is a difficult language to get a handle on. We'll see how it goes.
May 15, 2019
A week ago, I went "under the knife" at the Seattle Surgery Center with Dr. Chris Wahl and his wife (and PA) Suzanne at the wheel.
After a few informational sessions and some emails, plus plenty of online research, I decided to take Dr. Wahl's advice and go with the "bone-patellar tendon-bone autograft" option. In his opinion this approach offered the highest strength at the connection points at the femur and tibia, had a similar "feel" to the original ACL, and was potentially the quickest to recover from assuming the patient is willing to pursue active physical therapy - "this is the option I'd recommend if you were a running back for the Seahawks". He had a tentative repair of the MCL scheduled as well, which would require harvesting a hamstring from the same leg, but that turned out to be unnecessary - once he opened the knee it was apparent the MCL was well on the way to repairing itself.
The first order of business was harvesting the center third of my patellar tendon, including bone "plugs" from the kneecap and fibula, with a series of micro-tools including tiny saws. Suzanne set to work shaping the bone ends to fit holes they would drill in the femoral plateau and tibial plateau along the same axis as the original ACL. Then they trimmed off the floating stump of my old ACL with a rotary laser cutter, and trimmed the edge of my meniscus using a tiny clipper tool called the "toilet seat." The videos they took of this process were pretty awesome once I got past the idea that it was MY knee.
Then the newly created ACL was threaded into the two holes, tensioned with polyester cord, and locked off with screws. The entire process (from application to removal of the inflatable tourniquet) was 73 minutes.
One week after the surgery, I'm feeling, well, pretty good. Day one and two were a little rough, and spent in an oxycodone haze. Day four was actually the roughest, as I stopped taking the opioids and went cold-Tylenol, but the real ordeal was getting the bowels to move again. I followed the post-op instructions carefully and started bending the leg after the first two days, and gradually started letting the leg bear as much weight as I could stand, but everything was (and still is) pretty tender.
My first physical therapy session with Geoff Gabler today went well, with he and his staff encouraging me to walk without the brace ("don't do this in public, only here") while he spotted me a few inches away. Range of motion is right on schedule, with flexion coming in at 90 degrees and the leg going almost flat with no real effort. I'm pretty stoked about the latter development, as I could never really straighten it before the surgery (the "stump" of the ACL was blocking it, apparently). Now it's more of the same, working up the strength and stability of the leg and range of motion in the knee. Now about that third down back vacancy with the 'Hawks . . .
May 2, 2019
Yesterday, my habit of skiing at least once a month throughout the year came to an end.
After 14 years and 7 months of making turns in each calendar month, I severed my ACL and tore my MCL badly while skiing with my son at Snowbird. At the time, I didn't really expect the injury to be especially serious, never having blown a knee before. It had been 16 years since my last serious injury, a severed achilles tendon, had required surgery, and my previous doctor had recently retired. When I finally got in to see Dr. Chris Wahl and found out the extent of my injury it started to sink in.
The MCL could normally be expected to heal on its own, and for a lot of guys my age having no ACL wasn't necessarily such a big deal. One could watch TV and play a round of golf each week without one. In my case, a guy who still feels he has some good turns left, an ACL replacement was definitely in order. Dr. Wahl went through the three primary options - patellar tendon graft, hamstring graft, and cadaver donor graft - and recommended the first as the "highest performance" choice. That's what is on the schedule for next week, so I've got fingers crossed.
Somehow I thought there would be more drama. Maybe an alarm would go off in the sky as I got within 6 hours of my streak ending. Maybe I'd feel a huge sense of foreboding or unease, as if the world was about to change profoundly. That wasn't the case, the clock passed midnight on the first of May with no theatrics at all, at least none that I found worthy of waking up for. No one really cared that much but me and a few of my crazy "Turns-All-Year" friends.
Now I'm settling in for a longish recovery with a lot of stationary bike time and rehab. My physical therapist Geoff has given me a good sense of what to expect over the past two weeks, and I've resigned myself to starting the process all over again after the surgery. Here's to streaks and their inevitable end, and to the lucky 14 plus years I went injury free while skiing a bunch of great lines with a bunch of great friends. See you on the snow next season!
April 18, 2019
In 1974, Bob Grubb told me he was buying a lot in Greenwater and starting up a little restaurant.
That spot never became a full service restaurant, but Bob and Debbie put up a building and started a hat shop called Wapiti Woolies, which became famous for hand-made hats of the finest quality. Somewhere along the line, they also started serving snacks, espresso drinks and ice cream, and pretty much became a required stopping point for Crystal Mountain skiers going both up and down the mountain.
Last week the Grubbs told me that, after 45 years in the business, they decided to move on and have sold Wapiti Woolies to a young couple who are "really excited to move up and become part of the community." The official change in ownership is slated for July 1, with the Grubbs hanging around a bit as consultants, but it appears a couple of trips to Nepal and Chamonix last year made a big impression on them and they're ready to see the world beyond Greenwater. It's a well deserved retirement, and I wish them good things on their journeys.
April 13, 2019
The Sunnyside Sliders Annual Reunion was a subdued affair today for a variety of reasons.
A number of injuries hit members this season, with some opting out of the event and a few hobbling up to the top - Nita in a wheelchair and myself in a knee brace - and others finding more productive ways to spend the day than skiing by braille in the fog over a few inches of fresh on death cookies. It was still a treat to see and catch up with some of my oldest friends, and not being able to ski meant I did "lunch" at both the Snorting Elk and the Bullwheel in order to see as many people as possible.
The deaths of the youngest and oldest Sliders over the past year gave us cause to reflect after the group shot on the gondola platform. Vivian Laurel Macartney passed away from birth-related causes just 36 hours after being born, while Ben Muzzey breathed his last in February at the age of 98. Both memorable lives, and we salute them, RIP.
March 28, 2019
My son Jordan and I flew to Salt Lake City last weekend for a quick blitz of the IKON resorts there - on the menu were Snowbird, Brighton and Deer Valley. Unfortunately I blew out my MCL on the afternoon of the first day and spent the next two days sampling the amenities in the respective lodges. Highlights were the leather armchairs by the fire and luxury bathrooms at Deer Valley.
I called up my old ski and travel buddy Kam Leang, who is now a professor of engineering at the University of Utah specializing in robotics. Kam's longtime hobby - he is the co-founder of Skibuilders.com - is building skis, and he indulges himself by continuing to sell ski building "kits" and making a limited number of custom skis for the public. His lab at the U of U and grad students participate in a number of ski-related projects, complete with industry funding from the likes of skimaker DPS.
Kam and his wife Allyson, along with their beautiful family, had us over for a delicious dinner of chicken and dumplings, wild greens salad, and biscuits before giving us a grand tour of their production facility. Park City is a pretty liberal and progressive town by Utah standards which tends to attract world class athletes who come to train and never leave (the neighbors are Olympian Picabo Street and former Ski Racing editor Tom Kelly). Not to mention awesome skiing no more than 15 minutes away.
Ski factories are pretty much all very similar, and Kam's has pretty much everything a larger factory does apart from an art and screening department. His pride and joy is a new CNC milling machine that the previous owner "couldn't get to work" and offered to Kam for free as long as he could move it. Kam is a robotics guy by trade and had the thing up and running in no time with a new Windows 10 control system. Sweet.
We couldn't participate in the Sunday touring session that looked to yield some sensational powder turns due to the knee issue, but we'll be back next year . . .
March 21, 2019
Game on. Blizzard shook up the ski touring world four years ago with the introduction of their light but burly Zero G ski lineup, and it has pretty much ruled the touring world since. The one complaint has been from those who feel the skis are a little "unyielding" and require too much effort to ski. The solution among most of the people I tour with has been to detune the skis a little and live with the fact that they don't "turn themselves" in return for absolute security in dicey and steep conditions.
For the upcoming 2020 season, Blizzard has mellowed their approach somewhat. The all-new Zero G 105 uses a brand new mold and sculpting (the original used the Cochise mold with lighter construction). With a bit more tip rocker, bevelled top edges at tip and tail, less of the tip and tail wrapped with Blizzard's Carbon Drive construction and shorter sidewalls, the 105 obviously loses a bit of width but also trims down from the 108's 1658 grams in a 178 to 1503 grams in a 180 (yes, the lengths have also changed).
The 2020 Zero G 95 retains the same footprint as before and adds a bit of tip rocker, while dropping weight and losing a bit of torsional stiffness. As with the 105, the length of the sidewall is shorter and the Carbon Drive doesn't extend as far toward the center of the ski at either end. The 171's weigh in at 1182 and 1186 grams, compared to the original's 1207 grams. Both skis have a recessed spot at the tip, presumably for a proprietary skin system, though I haven't seen one. While both new skis share the beveled top edge construction, the 105 gets regular width edges while the 95 comes with narrower and lighter edges. So far, I've only taken a few runs on each of the 2020 skis, with that being at the WWSRA demo days session at Mission Ridge, but I now have my own pairs mounted up and testing is about to commence.
More later . . .
March 17, 2019
Yes, I got "Austria Duty" again in 2019.
Chosen as trip leader for evoTrip Austria, and coming off the worst cold I've had in decades, I joined a group of 6 snowboarders from all over the US as well as a skier from Korea and headed for the Dachstein/Salzkammersgut region as I had last year. This year's riders were perfectly matched in ability, fitness and enthusiasm level, which always makes things easier for both me and the guides. Once again, we settled in at the incredible Heritage Hotel Hallstatt and shuttled daily to either the tram station at Krippenstein or the Dachstein Glacier.
Our guides Rob Hakenburg and Klaus Kain totally nailed the weather prediction for the week, stating in no uncertain terms that the day for the glacier trip should be Tuesday rather than later in the week as has been customary. It paid off big time, when we found ourselves faced with 9 inches of pow over 4 inches of heavier snow from the day before and the visibility turned from zero to blue bird right at the forecasted 10:30 AM mark. Amazing, and no one else had figured it out, leaving the entire glacier to us. Even the guides admitted it might be the best ski day ever. To top it off, there was enough snow to ride all the way back to Hallstatt and call Gary the cabbie to take us the 4 km back to the hotel.
The remaining days were full of classic Krippenstein adventure riding, always with some fresh snow mixed with icy bumps, trees and the famous Krippenstein "holes" (limestone holes called Doline by the locals). Day one was a little sketchy on the exit traverse, with icy "fall you get seriously beat up" bumps, but Rob set up a fixed line for people to grab and everyone survived. Food was typically excellent, with a choice of meat, fish or veggy at the hotel dinner and hearty Austrian fare at the Lodge for lunch. Hint: Get the Topfenstrudel for dessert.
February 24, 2019
Yes, right in Kevin's backyard, we parked in his driveway and hit the Hyak Healthclub.
February 12-13, 2019
Our annual west coast demo came up smack in the middle of Seattle's Snowpocalypse this week, and sure enough the trip over to Wenatchee Monday night was like a scene out of "Ice Road Truckers." Drifting snow, eight-inch-deep ruts, and semis sideways across Highway 2 made things a bit sporty but with a little added time we made it to the Coast Hotel and tucked in for the night. I was nursing this season's mega-cold, and so spent nearly every spare minute in bed at the hotel, but got out on the snow to test some excellent skis.
The much anticipated blower pow we were expecting didn't quite materialize, as the layer came in interspersed with freezing rain and high winds. Still, a foot plus of thick fresh is a great chance to check out every fat ski in the house in "real world" conditions, yes?
Pretty much every ski I tried over 115mm ripped, but there were standouts.
Number one for me was the new K2 Mindbender 116. When I came over a ridge directly under the chair and saw some huge bumps, I was able to rip off five precise turns and straightline the rest in total confidence. Pretty impressive for my first run on a totally new ski, and it held its own on the "groomed" as well. Völkl's new Revolt 121 was amazing as well - think of a Black Crows Nocta with a little camber and a little more "bite." I loved the new DPS Koala, too - Dash Longe's new pro model is damp and powerful without feeling dead underfoot. K2 and DPS in my top three at a demo is something that hasn't happened before, but kudos to those companies for stepping it up in 2020. The Kästle FX 116 was excellent if a little "edgey," and would be a great choice for the hard charger with a high credit limit.
In the "all mountain" category (meaning not really a dedicated "pow" shape and not really a dedicated "groomer" shape), K2 again took top honors with the Mindbender 108 Ti. Balanced, damp and strong at speed, the 108 Ti rips hard but doesn't really punish the rider. You do need to carry some speed and have a basic understanding of ski technique, but it's not demanding in the sense of a Cochise or similar Titanal-infused mid fat. The Line Vision 108 was a revelation - super light, but with enough guts to hold a clean line and carry speed. It's nimble and "turn friendly" enough to get some love from less aggressive skiers, but still strong enough to appeal to experts - kind of like a surfier version of the Salomon QST 106. Dynastar's Menace 98 also stood out as a great "all rounder" with a great turnability-to-stability ratio and should be a hit with those who stick mainly to the groomed if you can dig the graphics. Blizzard's re-issue of the Bushwhacker (really the Brahma CA in new livery) should really be called the "Groomwhacker," with precise handling that comes through regardless of the lighter construction.
I didn't test too many touring skis, but I made a point of checking out the new Blizzard Zero G 105 an Zero G 95. The Zero G 105 sports an all-new mold and lighter construction, while both skis have been "toned down" a bit in terms of torsional rigidity. I shouldn't have worried about Blizzard going too "wimpy" - the skis still charge hard and have exceptional edge hold for their weight, but are less demanding and won't require as much detuning straight out of the wrapper as the originals.
February 6, 2019
Max was a little dubious, and there wasn't any snow yet at the park, but he put on the gear and did a little carpet skiing this weekend. Thanks to the Ireton ski museum for the loaners, this pair has some illustrious former users including Emma Thompson and Elizabeth Ireton!
January 21, 2019
Due to a glitch in supply continuity, my pair of Tecnica Zero G Tour Pros was late to arrive, but I've had them on snow now and they're about to see a lot more time on the skintrack.
The most talked about "power" touring boot of the 2019 season, the Tour Pro takes the place of the Zero G Guide Pro which was essentially a Cochise done in lighter Grilamid plastic. A complete redesign intended to make it a lighter, more tour-specific tool brings the weight down below 1,300 grams per boot while actually increasing forward stiffness and giving the tour mode extended range.
Making the Tour Pro fit my wide, 104mm foot (not counting bunions) took a while, but was simpler than most boot projects I undertake including my Lange XT Free 130 LV's and the boot I did much of my winter touring in last season, the Atomic Hawx Ultra 130 XTD. A few punches in the usual spots - first and fifth metatarsals, navicular/medial midfoot, and left maleolus - took about an hour, and a quick heat mold of the liner were enough to make the Zero G Tour Pro quite comfortable, and I was able to add a thin cork posted footbed right away. Though the last is reportedly 99mm just like the old Zero G Guide Pro, the new boot fits a little tighter over the instep and feels just slightly snugger in the forefoot. The heel and midfoot feel about the same as the previous boot, and I was able to make the navicular area wider by simply heating the shell with the boot on my foot.
The 2019 Tour Pro features a unique tour mode lever that allows the cuff to engage the shell in two locations, serving to stiffen up the flex beyond what one normally expects in a 1,300 gram boot. I felt confident in removing the power strap (an ultralight version of the strap on the Mach 1 130) entirely, and filling the holes with plugs left over from an Atomic Hawx 120. The buckles are well done and super light, using a cable loop rather than a wire bale. It takes a bit of practice to locate them in the right spot on the ladders, but they seem to be getting easier to fasten as I use the boots and are extremely low profile. The bottom buckle is reversed, avoiding the problem of overhang while booting or removing skins.
So far the Zero G Tour Pro seems to ski and skin extremely well - I paired it with the Blizzard Zero G 108 and it was more than enough to drive the ski. With the power strap, I am pretty sure it would be stout enough to match up with pretty much any big freeride touring setup. Touring mode was also exemplary, especially for an overlap four buckle design, with plenty of rearward range of motion and a very smooth action. More to come as I get more time in the boot.
Update: Even though touring conditions have been less than stellar, I've put in 3 days on the modded boot and have to say I'm impressed. Usable range of motion is excellent for a 2-piece overlap design, and the boot is super strong on the downhill even with no powerstrap. I'm still playing with the forward lean options - wish they'd made the flip chip 12 and 14 degrees instead of 12/13 - and trying to decide if I want to add the extra weight of a velcro strip and Lange 2 degree shim. So far I've just been skiing with the top buckle very loose and I can get the stance I like. The buckles, which I thought "fiddly" at first, have been a non-issue - the cables stay in the top two slots fine during transitions and you can simply open them and close them when you flip the walk mode lever. The Zero G Tour Pro is officially a contender for those who have loved their Vulcans/Mercuries for years and can't find a replacement, or pretty much anyone looking for a powerful touring boot under 1400 grams.
January 2, 2019
A new year is here, and with it an opportunity to do more of what brings you joy.
© 2021 Gregory C. Louie