May 15-30, 2023
Lindsay and I had been dreaming of returning to Italy since our pre-COVID visit in 2019, and now was the time to do it.
No skiing happened on this trip - I knew without asking that knocking off illegal drive-by Canali (what the Italians call couloirs) in the Dolomites wouldn't receive even passing consideration - so we concentrated on churches and pasta on a level wholly lacking the last time I'd dirtbagged through Italy by thumb power.
We flew into Venezia from Heathrow, which was a trip in itself - essentially a series of islands barely rising above sea level, Venice survives with the help of a multi-billion Euro computerized dike system. It was poised to go into action as we arrived, but the storm system rolled in further to the south and flooded a good part of Emila Romana instead. We had booked a private "Speedboat" to shuttle us from the airport to the hotel, which was expensive but probably worth it just for the entertainment factor. Lets just say the Venetian idea of traffic control is even looser on water than it is elsewhere in Italy on the road. Watching your captain gun it to slither through a tight spot with five of six vessels competing for space on the Grand Canal was exciting to say the least. However, rather than taking the Vaporetto (water taxi) and walking a bunch over uneven cobblestones with our luggage, we were dropped off directly at the hotel's dock and went straight into the lobby (like I said, this was a "luxury" trip).
Venice blows your mind on so many levels. Originally devised as a "Waterworld" for protection from invasion, the foundation of the buildings is at or sometimes slightly lower than sea level. Roads do not exist apart from around the Santa Lucia train terminal, so everything goes in and out via boat or foot. The area is actually quite large, so you end up doing quite a few kilometers on foot each day, punctuated by trips on the aforementioned Vaporetti to go from one neighborhood to the next.
The great thing about the matrix of canals is that even when crowded (and it already was in mid-May), Venice retains a sense of serenity you won't find in Milan, Florence or Rome. Instead of throngs of battling Fiats and Vespas, there is always a vein of water between you and the next row of buildings and if you need a break from the crowd you can always step out of the flow of traffic and relax looking at the canal. Even better with a gelato in hand.
The real reason to visit Venice is to bask in its timelessness, eat the food, and see the art. The ambience is everywhere you turn, as is the food (and espresso), and you'll "need" the fuel to sustain your walking pace. Our rule of thumb was pasta, gelato, and 3-4 espressos (Italian style, meaning no milk after 10:00 AM and short pulls) - often before 2 in the afternoon. It's not a bad idea to fit in your "big" meal of the day - the one with a starter, first course (you can split a pasta), and second course - before they close for lunch (around 2:30 or 3:00), as most of the better places are reservation only for dinner and don't reopen until 7:00 PM or so.
If you like painting, it's hard to fault the selection of Renaissance art within the city of Venice. Almost all of the best pieces are in churches (they had the money to commission the artists) and you have to play by their rules if you want to see them - that means covered shoulders, no shorts, no hats, no cleavage, no loud voices - but its worth it. I'm a fan of Tiziano (Titian in English) and Tintoretto, both Venetian artists, and their work is everywhere you turn. If you want to see particular pieces, it helps to do some research and make the appropriate reservations (we made some, but missed some important ones as well). Big attractions like St. Marks Basilica will have a huge line even with a reservation, so give yourself extra time. We're partial to smaller, less well-known churches with great art and much smaller crowds - the Basilica Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari (just ask for the "Frari") is awesome and is seldom very crowded; likewise the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is a trove of tremendous Tintoretto paintings and wasn't especially busy. On the way to St. Mark's we happened to notice the Chiesa di Santo Stefano entrance, which had only a handful of visitors inside, but for a 3 euro entry you can go upstairs where there are three magnificent Tintoretto paintings (no photos allowed, and it's kind of dark, but it was pretty much deserted).
No one makes religious painting come alive like Tintoretto, with his ripped action figure-laden compositions and aggressive use of light and dark, and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is the place to see a bunch of his work under one roof (actually you shouldn't miss the connected church, the "Scuola" was a clubhouse of sorts which served as Tintoretto's workshop for over 20 years). There are invaluable examples on each floor, both on the walls and on the ceilings (don't forget to look up). Here are a few examples, sorry for the weird perspective but they are often hung very high and the paintings on the ceiling often couldn't be photographed without glare. There are many more astounding paintings in this collection, so it pays to do some research before you go so you know which room your favorites are in. The huge and epic "Crucifixion" from 1565 was being restored but the full-sized copy they are displaying was magnificent.
If the San Rocco isn't enough Tintoretto for you, check out the Gallerie dell'Accademia - it's part of a four part series of galleries that includes the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which we did see but I don't especially recommend. Some of Tintoretto's best work is at the Accademia, including The Miracle of the Slave and Presentation at the Temple, and the gallery is loaded with other fine works by painters like Bellini and Veronese as well.
Our obligatory stop on this trip was at the Borgo Sant'Ambrogio near the hill town of Pienza, where I was slated to walk my friend Elissa down the aisle for her wedding. We'd been at this amazing location in 2019 for our niece's wedding, and had always wanted to return. As with Venice, the Tuscan hill country has a look and feel that's unique on earth, with a way of life that's remained in place for millennia and shouldn't ever be forgotten. We needed a car in the hills, and experience taught us not to rent in Firenze as driving into and out of that town is a nightmare - instead we rented a small Jeep SUV in Chiusi and used it to access towns in the vicinity like Pienza, Montepulciano, and Sina Lungo. We also took a day trip to Assisi, which was a treat - next time we'll book a room and stay a night or two.
The wedding itself went off smoothly, with everyone looking their best and Elissa and I managing to make it down the centuries-old paving stones without breaking anything. The wedding dinner was a bit of a drama, as a thunderstorm rolled in just as we were seating ourselves and we opted to move the feast indoors. Food and drink, as we remembered it, was magnificent, and the rain subsided enough to do the cake cutting outdoors by twilight.
The next day we took a drive to Assisi just over the provincial border in Umbria - about a 2 hour drive, but using a combination of Autostrada and side roads requires constant vigilance on Google Maps - I recommend having a designated co-pilot who gives you a warning whenever a change in direction is coming up. The prime attraction in Assisi is of course the Basilica di San Francesco, dedicated to my favorite saint (I'm not a Catholic, but Francis is the man). The town is a tourist magnet, but there's plenty of parking both at the bottom of the hill or the top. The ancient walkways to the top of the town are really steep, and can be slippery when wet (there was a brief downpour while we were in town), so most people prefer parking at the bottom, going uphill until they're tired, then using gravity to help them back to the car.
We took Trenitalia from Chiusi to Rome, and the trip was seamless. Trains are really the best way to get from city to city in most of Italy, as they end up right in the middle of town and aren't that expensive. From Roma Termini (main train station) we took a cab to the hotel (cabs are cheap and the drivers are amazingly friendly if they think you speak a little Italian) which was nothing like we expected. Basically if you took a thousand-year-old apartment in the center of Rome and renovated it using the latest and coolest Italian furnishings and plumbing, then rented it out, you'd have the Casa Modelli. It's still partially an apartment, with long standing tenants on each floor, but the top floor is open to hotel guests and where they serve an excellent breakfast each morning.
The key move in Rome is to book the attractions you really want to see well in advance. Our two "must sees" were the Vatican and the Borghese Galleries, and we booked each more than 3 months prior - if we'd waited, we would have been shut out on most days (there are no "slow" days in Rome). For the Vatican, we spent the extra money to book a semi-private 6 person tour with an amazing guide named Marco di Simoni (the company is LivTours) which met well before they opened to the public, and skipped certain lines so we were ahead of the flow the entire time - especially important for big attractions like the Sistine Chapel. I'm not a Catholic, but the scale and scope of the architecture and exhibits is mind boggling and pretty much a bucket list stop for any breathing person. The Vatican isn't really well suited to the handicapped, as the crowds and pace of movement make seeing anything and getting from room to room a challenge. See it while you can walk.
The Borghese Gardens take up an enormous chunk in the heart of Rome, and include a number of galleries as well as the ancient Borghese family palace. If statues are your thing, and particularly if you are a fan of Gianlorenzo Bernini (and you should be), this is the place. The incomparable Bernini worked all over Rome, but the greatest concentration of his masterpieces is probably here - the big four, in no particular order, are Bernini's David (better than Michelangelo's in many people's eyes), Aeneas Fleeing Troy, Pluto and Persephone and Apollo and Daphne. Check out the imprint of Pluto's fingers in Persephone's thigh and the fragility of the leaves sprouting from Daphne's hands and feet for a look into perhaps the most accomplished sculptor of marble ever.
Rome was getting hotter (mid-80's in degrees F.) and remained humid the entire time we were there - we were showering and napping several times a day to make it through, and tried to down as much mineral water with each espresso as we could. We saw the Trevi (hard to miss, as it was just meters from our hotel), the Pantheon (cool but only took 20 minutes to get through after quite a long wait), the recently opened-to-the-public spot where Brutus (and others) stabbed Caesar to death, and several other magnificent churches (always a good spot for a rest, as the vast amount of stone keeps them cool during the heat of the day). On our final day, we wandered down to the Piazza Bonaparte (a small house for a small man, according to our cab driver) to watch the last stage of the Giro d'Italia, the second biggest bike race in the world, but the crowds were huge and we never got close enough to get a good look at the riders. All in all, a great way to finish off two plus weeks in Italy, and we're thankful we didn't wait until the "busy" season later in the summer!
March 29, 2023
You've heard about the coming Boa revolution in alpine and hybrid ski boots, no doubt.
It's here for real, and definitely creating quite a stir among the people in the industry who've managed to lay feet in one. This is a brand new Boa, developed from the ground up with the participation of four boot companies, larger in both height and diameter than what you've seen in AT boots, snowboard boots, and bike shoes to date. The four brands involved in the pre-production design and testing are Atomic, Salomon, K2 and Fischer and it goes without saying that they'll have the new Boa closure systems a year before other brands get them.
I'd seen and worn the new Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD Boa during my trip to Austria in February, but not had the opportunity to ski it. The single unspoken for pair of 26.5's in the conference room at Atomic were snapped up by Jonathan Ellsworth, whose Blister Reviews is arguably more influential than randosaigai.com, and it took a few weeks for production to catch up, so mine just showed up today.
Atomic's research revealed that most Hawx XTD owners spent the vast majority of their time in them skiing downhill, mostly accessing their preferred terrain using lifts, so the reasoning behind switching from polyamide plastic to polyurethane was to improve the progressive "feel" of the boot going downhill. The boot designers realized they would have to make shells thicker to get to the same level of stiffness, so there would be a weight penalty, but felt it was worth it. For the people who truly spend more time going up, they then developed a totally new line of boots dubbed "Backland XTD" which weigh in the vicinity of 1300 grams.
We'll see about the smoothness of the flex and how it affects the skiability soon, but in the meantime there is another benefit to the Memory Fit Polyurethane - namely, it heat molds better than polyamides. With a good 10 minute stint in the oven, these shells would have been skiable with my 117mm-wide foot, but I elected to throw a light 5th met punch on both boots and a first met bunion punch on the right. Working on the lateral aspect of these boots will require some sort of bridge tool to avoid damaging the Boa, but the punching itself was relatively easy. My medial midfoot and navicular area usually also needs significant punching, but the Memory Fit did a perfect job of adjusting that, so no extra effort was needed.
Half an hour of work and my normally difficult to please feet are super happy - I'm wearing the boots as I type this. I'm fitting boots at the shop the next two days, but after that we'll see how they ski.
OK, I've got a couple lift-served days and one short touring day on the Hawx Ultra XTD Boas, and I'm stoked on them. As a lift-served boot, they ski with more finesse and dampness than the older Polyamide version(s), with what seems like a very progressive flex - the boot seems fairly soft in the initial part of the the flex pattern (say, 5 to 10 degrees) then stiffens up nicely in a predictable manner, just what I like. You can get a bit more stiffness in the initial stage of the flex by being very thorough about tightening the cinch strap (move your leg back and forth while tightening it). I assume people with skinnier calves will not need to do this (typically those who can buckle the cuff tighter get a stiffer flex due to more plastic-on-plastic friction).
Another goal of switching to PU was hopefully to make the Ultra XTD easier to put on and take off, and that's been improved. Though still not as easy to access as a boot with a larger circumference cuff and instep opening, the new Ultra XTD doesn't rake the front of your shin like a knife while going in, a welcome improvement. Getting out is similarly improved, though I haven't skied them in really cold weather yet.
Skiing so far has been on groomed, firm surfaces with a bit of either fluff (Mission Ridge) or glop (Alpental) on top, not enought to really disturb the shape of your turns but not dead smooth groomers, either. The Hawx Ultra XTD Boa was a pleasure to ski at speed, with a great feel for the snow (one of those arcane assets people talk about when describing PU boots, but a real thing) and plenty of shell strength when you really pushed it (very little deformation of the lower shell took place). I'm not that big, though, so people bigger, taller and with more aggressive styles may still find it soft. It's definitely not going to take the place of my regular alpine boot - a Redster CS Professional - for driving bigger skis with two sheets of metal in them on a regular basis, but it's very competitive with comparable PU Hybrids like the XT3 Free 130 and the Cochise 130.
I did a lap at Hyak on my 180 Zero G 105's to check the touring characteristics and found the forward range of motion to be fantastic and the rearward range competitive with the above-mentioned boots - 1800 grams is a bit heavy for long days on the skin track, but for shorter tours or yo-yo pow laps it should be fine. As I mentioned earlier, most of the people who bought the PA XTD boots spent the majority of their time skiing downhill in the past, so a couple hundred extra grams should not be a deal breaker. Something I did not expect was the Boa having a positive effect on skinning - much as with skiing, you can dial the tension way down and still feel secure in the forefoot. This, along with ample foam around the ankle and Achilles, provides very positive heel retention while skinning. Also, the boot is very quiet while going through the full range of motion - no creaks, clanks or clicks - which is something seldom mentioned in touring boot reviews, but adds to your enjoyment of the uphill. Sure, 1800 grams is on the heavy side, but as long as you don't try to push the pace, the Hawx Ultra XTD Boa is a treat to skin with.
February 2, 2023
Still not recovered from jet lag, I headed over to Wenatchee, WA and Mission Ridge Ski Area for the annual Western Winter Sports Representatives Association demo days event.
With Washington in the middle of a dry spell, Mission, with it's exemplary grooming, is probably one of the best venues for testing new skis. The runs are uniformly smooth, free from obstacles, and if you catch the first hour or so of each day, soft enough corduroy to test non-carver skis in a realistic setting. I showed up a day early to get some turns in on my own 183 Bonafides and scout out the best snow (which luckily was on Chair 4), and shoot the breeze with the crews from Marker/Dalbello/Völkl and Atomic. Temps were in the low to mid teens, but thankfully I had my new heated gloves and socks from Lenz on and the skiing was very good.
My ratio of testing to socializing is starting to tip in favor of socializing - the longer I stay in this business, the more people I seem to know and need to catch up with, and this demo is one of the few times almost everyone I know or have ever worked with is present. I did manage to get out on 18 skis (in the old days it was 28-30) and document the test with photos and written notes, so my employers should be getting some decent content out of the trip.
I concentrated on the new class of mid-fat freeride skis, where a lot of new options will be available for the '23-'24 season. Tops on my list to try out included the new Rustler 11 from Blizzard, Rossignol's new Sender Free 110, the Line Blade Optic 114, the Völkl Revolt 114 and the Nordica Unleashed 114.
As hoped, the all-new Rustler 11 ripped from turn one - precise, damp and still loose enough to throw sideways in a pinch. Did I say "all-new?" Maybe not, holding them side by side with the old Rustler 11 showed they were slightly shorter at 186cm, with a tad more tip rocker and quite a bit more tail rocker . . . I dug into my memory and sure enough, the new R11 is a very close, if not a dead ringer, for the old Gunsmoke but with a new TrueBlend core and Titanal around the perimeter of the ski. I no longer have a Gunsmoke at home to compare it to, but I distinctly remember wanting a Gunsmoke with metal 7 or 8 years ago, and it seems my dream has come true.
The new Völkl Revolt 114 slots in between the Revolt 121 and Revolt 104, and promises to be a big mountain standout. The demo pair I rode was so fresh they had to peel the stickers off the base, and the tune was a little aggressive especially at the tip, but the ski is damp and powerful and promises to be more versatile for big mountain rippers like Marcus Eder than the 121.
The new Nordica Unleashed 114 also fills a needed gap for them, and it was another ski that clicked for me straight away. Smoother and more buttery than its sister ski the Rustler 11, the Unleashed 114 was simple and intuitive to coax into every turn, with a characteristic Nordica smoothness that ironed out the chatter even at top speed.
Rossignol's Sender Free 110 was also a superior performer, with a surfier feel than either the Rustler 11 or the Unleashed 114, but an awesome balanced feel underfoot that spanned the entire available speed range. For skiers with a penchant for drifting turns, tip butters and the like, this may be the best soft snow option on the market for 2024.
The Line Blade Optic was a ski I missed out on trying last season, but ex-K2 ski designer Peter B. reportedly designed it as a going away present for himself as a ski he'd like to be on daily in the Pacific Northwest. The ski indeed rips, with an edgey power that makes charging at speed supremely confident.
Alpine and hybrid boots with Boa lower closures are coming to market from Atomic, Fischer, Salomon and K2 next season, and they'll be getting lots of exposure whether you like it or not. Most brands are offering some of their most popular models in either buckle of Boa, and you should really try them on side by side before making disparaging comments. The Boa is a brand new unit, much beefier than what you've seen on snowboard boots and ultralight touring boots, with a thick cable that's easily replaceable, and - at least on my super wide forefoot - seems to result in a snug fit with better comfort over the instep than a buckle system.
January 28, 2023
Just back from a whirlwind tour of Austria as a guest of Atomic, I'm still trying to catch my breath and catch up on sleep.
I've been involved with a focus group working on future boot design for the past few months, with prototype boots (26.5 only) being produced in December, and expected to receive some boots to try in the mail any time. Instead, Jason Roe called from Austria and asked if I'd like to travel to company headquarters in Altenmarkt and try the boots on snow there. Needless to say, it didn't take long for me to cancel anything else I had scheduled for that week and accept Jason's offer.
Atomic had something insanely cool planned for practically every waking minute of our stay, from classic Austrian meals to the best skiing of the year in Central Europe so far to next-level ski racing and even a little touring. In between we participated in preview sessions for boots and skis slated for introduction in the '24-'25 model year, with ample opportunity to give our feedback on everything that wasn't locked down design-wise (which was a lot).
Day one was entirely at the Atomic headquarters in Altenmarkt, where we went through the design process for ski boots with each of the teams responsible for the component parts. New boots are designed from the ground up, using a known interior shell shape (in this case the Hawx Prime last) and then sculpting the exterior contours and textures around that. A huge amount of time is spent on considerations like colorway, buckle shape, liner and tongue construction and fit considerations, and the teams all work in the same large space so they are free to interact freely as the design takes shape. The big thing at Atomic this year is the ongoing use of Boa as a closure system, and the new designs all take this into account, with most of the high end models having a Boa option from 2023 onward. My biggest thrill of the day was when Benni Raich, one of my World Cup heros from a few years ago, walked through the office to grab a new pair of skis and stood next to me to take a peek at what was going on - I was able to introduce myself and shake his hand, not something that happens everyday.
The afternoon was devoted to trying on the new prototypes, both buckle and Boa, alongside several competitors' mid-volume 130 flex best-sellers (prototype alpine boots are invariably a Men's 130 flex and 26.5 mondopoint to start). We assessed everything from ease of getting in the boot to first fit impressions, flex, ankle and heel fit, and width and length, followed by a serious de-brief recording our impressions.
We received a quick tour of the prototype and testing facility for boots, where they dial in things like forward flex, impact resistance, and sole conformability . . .
Dinner was a memorable trip up a sketchy mountain road in a snowstorm to dine at the Winterbauer, a classic Tyrolian hotel and restaurant serving impeccably prepared fare for people who work and play hard in the outdoors. I sampled the Winterbauer Soup, which consisted of a rich meat broth with two styles of meat balls and a big dumpling, then their version of fried chicken with potato salad, followed by a big helping of Kaiserscharm (a thick pancake-like dessert) and called it a victory.
Day two started out strong, with 6-8 inches of cold fresh snow over groomed goodness, and our Austrian hosts were stoked. Europe had been having an exceptionally bad snow year, with most of the slopes still showing grass and dirt until about a week before our arrival, so this was the first decent skiing may of them had tasted this season. The Atomic boot crew are all rippers, and when these people put the hammer down you just follow them and hang on. Although not the ideal conditions for side-by-side comparison testing of similar boots, we made it work and each member of our team tried at least five different boots designed for the same skier segment (in addition to our personal boots which we did the warmup run on). In between, the Atomic team took detailed survey notes of our impressions. I can't show photos of the prototype boots yet, but I'll say they more than held their own compared to the competition, and the Boa version was much more comfortable than the buckle version around the forefoot for my super-wide foot.
There was no need to head to another restaurant for dinner this night, as we had "Golden VIP" tickets to the famous Schladming Night Slalom, second only to the Hahnenkahm in prestige and party-potential on the World Cup calendar. The Schladming race is something that has to be experienced to be believed - imagine a crazy mashup between a concert and the Super Bowl, with an amped-up DJ spinning disco hits from the 80's and 90's at ear-numbing volume while announcing the cast of racers in as many as five languages and a crowd estimated in excess of 30,000 people, many in a state of elevated inebriation and loving it. Locals told us it used to be crazier pre-COVID, but it was plenty crazy this year. Before, after and in-between runs we headed to the Event Halle, a huge venue jammed with maybe 600 people and all-you-can-imbibe and eat catered goodness. I think I finished off at least 3 plates, and I took it easy (plus I finished the night on fruit juice and sparkling water). We went back to the hall and ate and drank for another hour waiting for the traffic to subside, and left for home weary and full.
After the excitement of the race, the morning wakeup call came a little early, but we had a tour of the ski factory and ski boot race room scheduled, so we headed back to Atomic headquarters. The executive offices and factory are linked with a cateteria in between, and there's an espresso bar and small kitchen in the lobby, so it's easy to keep fueled and caffeinated while working. The ski production facility isn't as big as one might expect given the quantity of skis made there, but it is highly automated, with machines doing a lot of the labor usually done by people at other factories. There are number of other brands being produced at Atomic, and they asked that we not take photos in some of the areas, but we saw some cool new product coming off the line and in storage bins. We watched a competition X9 GS ski being laid up, and followed the finishing process on through trimming and tuning, after which we toured the boot race room.
The ski boot race room sits connected to their Pro Center, which services athletes from Europa Cup level and up. In an adjacent lab, boot wizard Hannes hand-builds the boots for the biggest names in skiing, from Mikaela Shiffrin and her boyfriend Aleks Kilde to Sofia Goggia and Lucas Braathen. Shelves of red STI and TI shells and cuffs fresh from the factory in Romania await the hands of the master, who custom builds each boot to the athlete's specifications. Across the way are other racks of similar shells and cuffs in blue, ready to be assembled for Salomon athletes like Marco Odermatt.
Immediately after the boot room, we rushed over to the demo area and geared up for touring - seems dinner that night was at a mountain hut only accessible by snowmobile or skis, and we were going touring. The objective was the Südweiner Hütte outside of Obertauern, a moderate 1.5 hour tour (for me) that started in late afternoon and ended in the dark punctuated by headlamps. The owners, Robert and Tanja, greeted each skier as they arrived with Glühwein and a hearty cheer in front of a fire pit. My new Backland XTD 120's were fresh out of the box with no heat mold or punching, so donning hut slippers seemed prudent (actually they weren't that bad, as I sized up to 27.5 for the night). Dinner was delicious, consisting of baked Spätzl with cheese and Speck (bacon) and a Radler. One plate almost did me in, but it's bad form to refuse a hut dessert and I managed to put away a great Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce. The humor highlight of the night was when Tanja came out and asked if anyone was a vegetarian and only Matt had the temerity to raise his hand. She screwed up her face and pronounced, "Not tonight!" (Actually his portion came out with gravy but no bacon, so she did cut him some slack). No meal is complete in Austria without a cleansing toast, and Zirbenschnapps (Schnapps flavored with local pine cones) is the beverage of choice in the mountains. A round magically appeared and we couldn't say no.
The ski back down the switchbacked track lit only by headlamps seemed a bit sketchy to me, but the Atomic guys straightlined it on their 85mm light touring sticks. I got there a few minutes later after throwing in a few panic snowplows when I saw corners coming, but all good save for one media specialist from Jackson Hole who took a wrong turn near the bottom. Someone found her and we all made it safely back to the cars.
The ski tour pretty much put the final punctuation on our Atomic adventure, as Micum, Emily and myself had a 10:30 AM flight out of Salzburg the next morning. We all felt like we'd squeezed a month's worth of the "real" Austrian experience into a few short days, but to a person we were ready to come back for more. With a deep appreciation for Atomic's generosity, we headed to Frankfurt and our separate corners of the US, hoping to be back in Austria sooner rather than later.
November 22, 2022
Yikes, Thanksgiving is just days away and my turkey is frozen hard as a rock - time to take it out and start the thawing process. In the meantime, we've been busy with home improvement projects, cleaning up the yard and fixing the fence from the big blowdown event in Seattle, and planning a spring trip to Italy. We managed to find a dry but chilly day to take our holiday pictures in the Arboretum, and here's the result:
November 10, 2022
I'm back in the shop at evo, but cutting back to 20 hours per week this season. We just finished a marathon clinic season, with 3-4 manufacturer's reps per week presenting their latest gear - this year the clinics began on October 1st and ran through the second week of November, just in time for the winter bootfitting rush to commence. I don't have time to detail all the presentations, but suffice to say the usual suspects put on a great show and there was something new from pretty much every company. Now if the goods actually show up in time for us to sell them . . .
One highlight was Matt Sterbenz's clinic on his new project, WNDR Alpine. You may remember Matt as the mastermind behind the 4FRNT brand, which he sold a few years ago, and he's back with a new line of touring-oriented skis called WNDR (wonder) Alpine. The skis are beautifully made in Salt Lake City, just a couple blocks from the new evo Campus SLC, and feature three widths - 100mm, 108mm, and 120mm (along with solid and split snowboard designs). WNDR walks the walk when it comes to sustainability, using a proprietary polyurethane made from algae for core laminates, sidewalls, and tip and tail protectors. They also grind up old skis to make binding retention plates, and plan on selling the polyurethane bits to other ski companies in the future (DPS, which is also only blocks away, is already using algal foam and solid algal PU in some of their skis). Each ski in the lineup is available with either a full rocker or rocker-camber-rocker profile, which is unique in the industry. Check them out if you get a chance, I think they're on to something.
July 26, 2022
I've been out of the loop for a while after catching COVID last month; although the symptoms were relatively mild (not worse than your typical cold) and only lasted about 4 days, the residual effects - mainly a lack of energy - lasted for around a month. It's only been the last two weeks that I've felt like riding a bike or skiing, even though the conditions have been great for both. Summer touring this season has benefitted from a deep snowpack which, though it never really went through a thorough freeze-thaw cycle and thus has been a bit mushy, it plentiful enough to still allow skinning pretty much right from the car if you know where to park.
I've been fortunate to grab a pair of next year's revised Atomic Backland Carbons, a boot I've used and loved in years past but that has been reworked a few times since. For 2023, the Backland series offers an almost embarrassingly wide range of options which will probably be confusing to both buyers and sellers of touring gear. Essentially, the core Backland series, which is already damn light with proven functionality, is joined by new ranges dubbed Backland SL and Backland UL (not to mention Backland Freeride, which applies to the skis over 100mm in waist width and is designed for the Hawx XTD boots).
Making this range of boots sounds complicated, but Atomic is able to do it by mixing and matching most of the components - power strap or no power strap, full carbon or "carbon-loaded" cuffs, Boa or their new "Cross Lace 2.0" buckle closure, and carbon-loaded or traditional polyamide shells. The end result is that you can choose among weights in the top-end touring boots of 1160 grams, 1000 grams, or 788 grams in a 26.5. I went with the regular Backland Carbon at 1158 grams on my scale, and a realistically rated 110 flex, with the Cross Lace 2.0 buckles rather than Boa.
The Backland Carbon still sports the pebble-grained texture on the shell, which heat molds quite well and should fit many feet straight out of the box - I was able to get the boot to fit with 10 minutes in the oven followed by a few punches at my usual trouble spots on the fifth met head and navicular. Changes include a new Stretch Guard material for the gaiter which makes getting in the boot easier, improved Dry Fit Foam in the liners, and a Free/Lock 4.0 walk mode lever (hard to tell the difference between this and the old one, but the newer boots are getting the 4.0).
Hope to get out on these as soon as this week's heat wave passes and while there's still good coverage at Rainier; for the time being I'm "desk-testing" writing copy in the boots for about 5-6 hours per day.
April 10, 2022
The annual Sunnyside Sliders Reunion is usually a time to bask in the sun, wear your jean jacket, and enjoy some slushy spring turns with old friends.
This year, not so much. The first two weeks of April turned into full winter weather, with some of the best snow of the season and flurries throughout the day almost every day. April 10th was such a day, with questionable visibility even for the group photo but excellent skiing, and we made the best of it.
March 28, 2022
Anticipation has been killing us while we waited for this boot to arrive. With its debut postponed for over a year due to COVID, the first 26.5 prototypes are finally here.
Tecnica's entry into the world of 1,000 gram touring boots is pretty spectacular, and though you won't be able to buy one until fall, here's what to expect.
The Tecnica Zero G Peak series builds on many successful light and fast ancestors, notably the Dynafit TLT6, Atomic Backland Carbon, and more recently the Scarpa F1 LT. Interestingly, all three boots feature (or have featured at one point in their existence), a black and orange color scheme. A good 1 kilo boot doesn't come out of nowhere, and with more and more people competing in this category it makes sense to keep what works even as you try to innovate.
As with other boots in this class, the Zero G Peak Carbon uses carbon fiber reinforced Grilamid for the lower shell and a carbon fiber cuff cast with polyester resin on top. I've had both the Scarpa Alien RS and the Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory in my quiver in the past, and both were excellent performers for their weight but each had some issues. The Peak Carbon aims to improve on the breed with some signifcant evolutionary changes, but the material choices are similar.
Where the Scarpa Alien RS (and its successor the F1 LT) and the Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory boots feature an open-throated scaffo with a dial tightening system, the Zero G Peak opts for a semi-overlapping lower shell ("interlocking" might be a better term) with a buckle actuated cable drawstring closure. Both of the previous boots suffered from periodic loosening of their string systems - but the Tecnica uses lightweight buckles for both top and bottom closures and doesn't try to integrate the touring mode lock with the top buckle closing.
Fit is theoretically similar to the Zero G Tour series boots, with a nominal 99mm last, but that isn't the end of the story. The Peak boots run quite short, perhaps half a size smaller in real life than a Zero G Tour boot in the same mondopoint size (boot sole lengths are also very short, 288mm in a 26.5). The perception of shortness is amplified by an upward curve at the front and sides of the toebox - it feels a bit like your foot is sitting in a bathtub with the corners pushing your toes upward. Probably this is partly due to Tecnica's decision to put a "real" ISO 9523 sole on the Peak, which meant wedging a deep indent between the sole lug and your toes. I punched the first phalanges for an additional 3-4 mm and removed the front of the very thin (3.25mm) bootboard entirely. To reduce the feeling of an upward curvature under the front of the toes I ground the nubs that secure it with the Foredom (hopefully not reducing the strength of the plastic holding the tech toe fittings).
Putting the boot on was quite a chore at first, but the extra 3mm in instep height from removing the front of the bootboard made it manageable. Warning to those with tall insteps (mine is just slightly higher than average) - you may not be able to get into this boot without sizing up! In fact, due to the shortness of the interior, I'd say most people would do best to simply get the size they measure on a Brannock device in the Zero G Peak.
Punching the Peak Carbon for lateral forefoot width at the fifth met heads and fading the punch up to the fifth distal phalanges was simple; the plastic doesn't punch as well as any of the standard Grilamid formulas but I was able to get enough there, at the first met bunions, and in the medial midfoot/arch area for comfort (I've been wearing them for about 6 hours while writing copy today). As with other carbon fiber-reinforced Grilamids I've worked on, the Peak plastic turns flat black and "angry" looking, but it also takes on a slightly "furry" look, as if the carbon filaments are being stood on end. As with all ultra thin shells, pay close attention to the surface plastic and use your finger inside the shell to gauge readiness.
Weight out of the box with the OEM footbeds in place was 1029 grams and 1032 grams respectively; with my "try on" footbeds in the boots (molded Dynafit insoles posted with cork @ 21 grams per side) and the interior grinds I came up with 1007 and 1010 grams. Some random notes: The liner is decently plush and feels high quality, unusual in ultra light touring boots, and lower buckle, which is a bit exposed, sits nice and flat - we'll see if it catches on things. The little zipper pulls on each of the cables seemed gimicky at first, but after using them a few times to place and remove the cables from the buckle ladders I think they're a great idea. The external walk mode lever (Tecnica calls it "T-Hike" - is a pared down version of the one in the Zero G Tour boots, and doesn't work quite as smoothly - your chances of having it slide back into place to ski with some rocking back and forth are about 40%. Most of the time you need to "encourage" the lever a bit, but I'm assured this is one of the production changes they are working on.
Flex in the house - both in stiffness and progressiveness, seems better than any other 1,000 gram boot I've tried, but we'll see how that goes on snow. Walk mode is likewise impressive, and there's a good chance I'll be fine touring without loosening the power strap (or at least not totally unfastening it). Again, we'll see. The 288mm BSL barely makes it into some of my bindings, but they all work. More later, after some time on snow.
Yes, it skis incredibly well for a 1 kilo boot, better than any others I've tried. The margin isn't small, either. Support isn't lacking in any direction, and the fit is a big part of this. Most other boots in this class have some sort of dial tightening system over the forefoot and instep, and they have varying degrees of effectiveness. The abbreviated overlap in the Peak Carbon lower shell is amazingly effective at stiffening the boot where it counts (scaffo) when it's tightened, and unlike other systems it snugs up the fit like a boa constrictor squeezing the breath out of a victim - that is to say, tightening in a circular fashion rather than just flattening the instep and crushing the wearer's foot.
Now for the "gaper" question, "Is it a true 130?"
It gets tiresome answering these queries, because there is no standard for flex index numbers and no standard for how stiff a boot is in what part of the flex pattern. In addition, it's not sheer forward stiffness that makes a 130 Polyurethane-Ether plug boot more capable at speed and in tough conditions, but how predictably it progresses from point "A" to point "B" as you load it. That said, the Zero G Peak Carbon, when all buckled up and strapped down, is darn close to most nominal 130 flex alpine boots on the market in pure forward resistance - I'd give it a solid "125" and point out that, again, it's better than anything else in this class. Progressive? Not exactly, but I didn't expect that out of a carbon-infused Grilamid shell (and you shouldn't either). It's the price you pay to bring it down to 1,000 grams.
The liner, even in prototype form, is "best-in-category" in terms of comfort and density. It's common for makers of light touring boots to start with a very thin liner when prototyping to "make weight" and later, typically after complaints from users about comfort, gradually increase foam density and thickness. The Peak Carbon liner is pretty awesome already for both comfort and heel retention.
Here are some more tips if you're thinking of getting this boot:
· Buy the size you measure on a Brannock, or at least don’t downsize more than .5 Mondo – they run very short. To phrase it another way, if your shellfit in your alpine boot is under 15mm, particularly if you have a big toe-dominant foot shape (longer than the rest of your toes), I'd hesitate to buy the same size in the Peak Carbon. No one in North America has laid hands on a 27.5 yet, but I'd guess the weight penalty will be 50-80 grams when you move up a size.
· Any time something needs to go into the boot (foot or even liner), put it in walk mode and push the cuff all the way to the rear, this clears the gaiter and lets it stretch more freely. When you put the liner back in the shell, make sure the gaiter is fully extended and not pushed down into the shell; you’ll feel it on your ankles. Getting out of the boot in ski mode isn't much harder than most ski boots.
· When putting the boot on, grab all three available pull tabs (cuff, tongue, and gaiter) and pull simultaneously – it’s still not easy to put on, but this helps.
· Don’t just chop off the little zipper pulls on the buckle cables, as I was tempted to do. They actually help position the cables and aid in getting them off the ladders.
· When you buckle the lower system tightly, the instep “finger” actually overlaps the opposing part of the shell, improving downhill performance. I have a moderate setting for both top and lower buckles I use for skinning, and go one tighter on each for the downhill.
· The walk mode lever loosens with time and becomes easier to engage – it will be fine even if it is a little sticky at first. At most it needs a slight push to encourage the mechanism to lock, not a firm whack.
· You don’t (or at least I don’t) need to fully release the power strap or top buckle for good skinning ROM – as long as you are friction free in your normal stride, there’s a point beyond which skinning in less than ideal conditions (undulating, sketchy and technical, very steep, etc.) calls for more control than a fully loosened cuff can provide. I’ve settled on the top buckle wire in the “tour” slot (furthest notch out) and the power strap loosened but still “hooked” as a good compromise. You can certainly loosen the cuff more, but I don’t think you’ll move any faster.
· After another day in low-angle "hippie pow" (5 inches of heavy fresh over stiff unconsolidated corn) I decided to punch the big toes some more - I added another 3mm or so, and the toe now overhangs the sole by about 2mm. This is approaching the limit of what you'll want to do in terms of lengthening the boot - I overdid it a bit on the left and in addition to turning very "furry" looking, the plastic developed some ripples adjacent to the toe punch. I think this is a function of the carbon fiber strands giving up their anchor in the Grilamid randomly (the shell is still smooth on the interior), and it's fine for me but I don't think I'd want it for a customer's boot.
March 12, 2022
It was a relief to finally get into Canada after nearly 3 years.
Whistler is still Whistler, and though some businesses didn't survive the battle with COVID, many of our favorites remained. Two stops at Peaked Pies, two at Splitz Burgers, one extravagant steak dinner at Hy's, and Purebread every day for Rustic Italian bread, scones, and caramel apple tarts. I skied every day, and took the opportunity to hang out in a few of the local shops, notably evo Village Sports and evo Backcountry. Not sure if they thought I was a corporate spy, but saying I worked at evo Seattle certainly was a good way to introduce myself and open a few doors. Founder of the Village Sports chain, Dave Milley, had retired since I was last at Whistler (they said he'd be by for inventory), but a few other people I'd met were still around.
evo Village Sports is known, among other things, as home base for bootfitter Barry Allison.
When Whistler locals vote each season for the resort's best bootfitter, Barry's name is consistently at or near the top of the list (the other main contender is George McConkey, who also works out of the same shop). Not only does Barry have a keen understanding of foot and leg anatomy, his understanding of the mechanics involved in skiing is unequalled - decades of teaching experience as a CSIA Level 4 instructor and Level 4 Trainer provide a deep understanding of what it takes to turn a ski and how to make that experience better for everyone.
These days Barry alternates between summers in Ontario and winters in Whistler, and sets up his bootfitting shop each fall at evo Village Sports (at the top of the Village Walk across from Lululemon). He brings his own set of tools wherever he goes, fitting race boots for Eastern Canadian athletes in the summer and taking on all comers at Whistler during the winter. When I visited, he was fitting a new pair of 2023 K2 boots for a well-known Australian mogul skier who had just picked up her "next year's" gear.
Barry's relationship with evo Village Sports is somewhat unique, as he isn't officially an evo employee but instead acts as in independent contractor inside the shop. He'll offer a consultation session during which he measures and inspects your foot, then suggest a boot that matches your needs which may or may not be available at evo. When you return with the boot in hand, he goes to work, adding a custom footbed (he's a Sidas guy) and doing whatever shell modifications necessary to get a perfect fit.
Unlike some other old-school bootfitters, Barry doesn't automatically replace stock liners with Intuitions or Zipfits ("I don't do liners with the exception of the new Atomic Mimic Professional liners"), rather working with the stock liners when possible. He uses the original Sidas Custom Ski footbeds rather than the new evo-branded Sidas Custom Pros ("too slippery" and "hard to finish"). His backshop bench features a workhorse Keyser press along with an older SVST press, and the usual Foredom handset and grinders.
I love travelling to other ski areas and watching masters of the bootfitting craft in action; you never fail to learn something. Barry's collection of tools includes custom fabricated press rings and a beautiful toe-length punch attachment that I feel compelled to add to my set of personal punch accessories, and watching him work with honed precision and economy is a pleasure. During my visit, he was doing a 5-6mm toe length punch on the above-mentioned K2 Mindbender Team boot, as well as a significant fifth met width punch, simultaneously stretching the liner toes and making room for a problematic maleolus while getting ready for the customer's return. He told her to go grab a coffee, and by the time she got back the boots were ready for a liner mold.
(If you're planning a trip to Whistler this winter, and want some of Barry's magic to rub off on your boots, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (613) 294-1874 to schedule an appointment)
February 21, 2022
Just spent the weekend in Salt Lake City, skiing some fine groomers with a bunch of other tourists (and some locals) and checking out the latest evo retail venture, evo Salt Lake City.
Three years and change in the making, the newest evo store makes its stand in the historic Granary District of the Utah capitol, with a massive refurbished brick structure occupying the anchor position and housing, at present, the evo store, the first evo hotel, an indoor skate park, and established SLC retailer Level 9. A climbing gym and food service options are slated to fill planned spaces on the property as well. The store and hotel are still very much a "work in progress," but it's clear the space is already much talked-about and something Salt Lake has never seen before.
As a 20th anniversary spiff for evo employees, we were allowed to book rooms for a limited time at $20 per night, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out the newest jewel in the evo crown, so my son Jordan and I flew down for a quick weekend. Everything in SLC is spacious by big city standards, simply because there was an abundance of space from the outset. Intersections in the heart of downtown are twice as wide as they are on the coast, and the spacious interior of the evo store reflects the same mindset. As with the Seattle store, the massive timbers framing the ceiling were retained and give the building a unique character, while the brick exterior and OEM sliding passageway doors remind the visitor of the space's origins as a grain repository.
The hotel is difficult to separate from the retail space, and vice versa - they simply blend into one another. Want to shop 'til you drop? No problem when your bedroom is just a few steps away! There's a community bath and shower area with a roomy sauna that's almost ready for public use, and a wing of low-cost single rooms without baths near completion for those on a ski bum-budget. On premise food and drink is still a ways off, but the top floor deck has an almost-finished bar adjoining it and seems destined to become a hangout once complete.
Rooms are spare but well laid out - our double queen "Rafter" accommodations had two great beds, simple furnishings (probably the only hotel in Salt Lake with bare industrial concrete floors), a no-door shower, and racks to hold your skis on the wall. Euro-style room lighting requires your card key to be in a receptacle at the door to function. No desk or chairs (or even glasses) - evo Hotel guests are probably expected to spend the entire day on the snow or their mountain bike, and use the well-designed community spaces for relaxing and "working from home."
February 14, 2022
After quite a bit of anticipation, a fair amount of premature fanfare, and multiple stops and starts to deal with both COVID and the weather, evo has opened its first mountaintop venue at Snoqualmie Pass.
evo Snoqualmie got off to a "soft" rolling start last week, with a combination of old hands from the Seattle store and new local hires getting down to business and actually tuning and renting gear, plus doing a smattering of rentals. The place looks great, which stands as something of a miracle considering the state of the building last time I stepped foot in it a month ago. There's even a grocery and deli and tons of space upstairs for events and shared workspace.
December 22, 2021
After years of excelling in the production of fast-and-light and rando race boots, La Sportiva has come to the conclusion that the vast majority of "touring" boots sold worldwide probably see plenty, if not most or their use at ski areas. This is especially true of continents like our own where the concept of self-powered uphill skiing is relatively new.
Hence, the Vanguard.
This boot is designed to drive the biggest skis and huck the sickest drops while maintaining an efficient weight and walk mechanism. In their product description, La Sportiva claims this is the perfect boot for "today’s powder-focused adventure skiing enthusiast" who wants the option to access the goods via their own power but spends an equal amount of time dropping through ski area backcountry gates.
The Vanguard is still lighter than much of the the performance hybrid boot competition, coming in at 1526 grams in a 27.5 (their sample size, and a decent fit for my foot which measures out at 27.8 on a Brannock). It's stoutly built of Pebax Rnew 1100, which is experiencing a bit of a comeback in popularity, and actually punches quite well in comparison to the old-school Pebax formulas. Even though the quoted forefoot width is 102.5mm, I needed a decent sized punch at the fifth met head/distal phalanges zone and a lot of extra room in the medial midfoot area, but the Rnew moved easily and seems to be holding the shape well with just a slight bit of glazing on the surface of the plastic.
The advertised "all day fit" will probably be just that for most average feet straight out of the box. The liner is very plush, uses Ultralon foam extensively, and is built with multiple foam densities and thicknesses for mobility and fit. The Vanguard uses a modified Cabrio design with plenty of flaps and cables in evidence, and it's important to get the layers in the right spot before buckling (having owned a Maestrale won't really help you), but once on and buckled the overall effect and flex is smooth and powerful. The lower cable buckle system employs a dual-action design, presumeably with a loose setting for skinning and a snugger one for skiing, though at the moment I can't comfortably use the tighter one. We'll see what happens after the boot packs out.
With a few punches the Vanguard is probably the most comfortable boot in my substantial quiver, and may have too much volume for those with narrow feet and ankles, but heel retention is actually on par with many other 100mm lasts so far. I'll give the boot a test ski this weekend and report back.
January 12, 2022 Update: After two days of skiing in the Vanguard and a few thousand feet of skinning, here are some additional impressions.
The boot skis very, very well. It would be hard for most skiers to distinguish the difference between the Vanguard and many, if not most, 100-102mm-lasted alpine boots in the 120-130 flex range. As noted previously, the plush liner and well-placed Ultralon foam combine to create one of the comfiest boots I've been in for a while. Again, while the forefoot width and volume are generous, I had to go back to my trusty SVST press and make some more room in the medial midfoot/navicular region, to the boots aren't all that wide there. In the basement and roaming around the house with shorts on, the range of motion had seemed excellent, but when you pull your ski pant legs down over the substantial cuff it tightens the circumference to the point where the range of motion is somewhat restricted - I don't think touring with your pants pulled up over the boot is a viable solution in anything but spring conditions, so this might be something to keep in mind. All in all, the Vanguard may be a great solution for "ocassional" touring and those who need a burly boot for work (i.e. patrollers) with touring capability.
December 14, 2021
How many of you hop over to Hyak or Silver Fir every once in a while to skin a few laps, either for exercise or to dial in a new setup?
I'm guessing if you live in the Seattle area and read this website, the answer is around 100%. This season, that might mean you'll need an "uphill pass" to skin at Hyak (Summit East to newcomers), Summit Central (the former Ski Acres), or Summit West any time lifts are in operation. Alpental is a "no go" any time after the season begins, as has been the case in the recent past.
You get the pass on the Summit at Snoqualmie website, but finding the right spot isn't easy - you need to navigate to "Policies" and then "Uphill Policy" and scroll to the bottom of the page to find the link. For convenience, copy and paste this: https://summitatsnoqualmie.com/uphill-travel-policy?keyword=UpHillPass
The pass is "free" but the Summit adds a $5 processing fee.
No word yet on who will be charged with enforcing this . . .
December 5, 2021
Spent the weekend east of the mountains to meet the newest member of the family, Connor Gregory Louie.
November 28, 2021
I've been super happy with my quiver of ski boots, carefully curated over the seasons and fully dialed to my liking, but I couldn't pass up an offer from Matt Manser at Atomic in Austria to send me a pair of Atomic Redster CS Professionals - partly to get a feel for a different company's take on a burly "citizen" plug boot (the "CS" stands for "Club Sport" and differentiates this 96mm boot from the 93mm and 95mm Redster STI and TI models). I certainly don't need anything stiffer than a legit 130 race flex, and getting a 96mm shell to accommodate my 117mm foot is already enough of a challenge, so the CS seemed a logical choice. It happens to be the boot that Matt skis in as well.
There have been production and shipping challenges at Atomic, just as with products of all kinds all over the globe, but the boots finally arrived via UPS air this week. Atomic puts the RED in the Redsters, and it's a handsome boot in the same shade that Mikaela Shiffrin uses so I'm hopeful some of her skillset will rub off. These boots come with the new Professional Series Liner and power strap, both of which look awesome. The power strap is a multi-level affair with built-in elastic on the lower portion (Booster's patent on elasticized straps expired last year). The theory is that the elastic will provide a smoother and more progressive flex in the mid portion of the pattern, and just standing and flexing in the boots in my basement seems to confirm this.
The liner is also all-new, using Atomic's Mimic technology with heat moldable outer material in the construction and adding a unique foam injection system for the heel and midfoot. The boots are shipped with the foam injection tubes already attached and two foam cartridges in the box; you find a shop well-versed in the Mimic molding process and have them inject the foam after the heated liner is placed in the boot. Flex back a forth a few times, buckle the cuff and let the foam set - bingo, a custom foam job without all the hassle of mixing, exit tubes, sloppy shop floors and the like. The injection port features a "whirly" insert that mixes the two foam components, and the exit of trapped air in the liner is handled by a breathable patch built into the liner. The system is already in use among Atomic's World Cup athletes and the results speak for themselves.
When you move beyond recreational boots at Atomic, you get both less and more. The 3 degree shell rotation featured in the Hawx models is gone, replaced by a zero degree design - not sure if they think less training equals a more valgus alignment or what, but all of the race boots are "straight." Light weight never even crossed the minds of the boot designers, with the Redster CS coming in at 2307 grams with the foaming tubes in place and nothing but thick polyurethane ether plastic to be seen. These things are made to go downhill quickly and with authority, no one weighs the boots after the race and they assume the customers for these boots have had plenty of experience walking in icy parking lots to and from the hill - hence no attempt to adopt a GripWalk sole or even a dual-density alpine sole. It is what it is.
As with other boots in Atomic's alpine lineup, the Redster CS comes with only a single bolt holding the cuff to the scaffo, but it is plenty stiff for my purposes as is. For those desiring something on the order of a 140 flex, you can drill another hole and install the extra bolts in the box to firm up the spine of the boot.
Matt suggested getting the shell fit dialed before doing any liner molding or foaming, so I'm sorting that out now. It's not trivial, as making it comfortable for my mega-wide foot requires adding about an inch of width through the forefoot from fifth phalanges back nearly to the styloids, and blowing out the very narrow medial midfoot and navicular area by about half an inch. Actual forefoot volume and instep height are quite reasonable, so if you're handy with a heat gun and a lever punch you should be able to make this boot work for most feet.
Injecting the foam into the liner didn't quite go as smoothly as in Matt's video . . .
I do tons of Mimic liners at work, so I figured I could handle doing the foaming myself in my home bootlab. I set up in my fitting studio on the nice new Ikea carpet, 2x4 at the ready, oven pre-heated, boot horn at arm's reach.
Liner out of oven, check. Footbeds in place, liner in boot, check. Drop foam cartridge in gun, connect to boot, OK. Start pumping the foam at one squeeze per second, and I discover I didn't have the connection fully engaged and polyurethane is leaking down the tube . . . quickly I relocated to a spot off the carpet, fixed the connection, and finished off the left boot. The second boot went without a hitch. You can feel the fit tighten around your ankles as you approach the correct volume indicator on the tube (for me, just a bit short of the 27 mondopoint mark), after which you buckle up the boots fully and walk around for 5 minutes.
The fit around the ankle is impeccable now. Hats off to Atomic for devising a foaming method that's fairly simple and does away with the exit tubes and mixing (the amounts of resin and catalyst are not equal; the tubes in the foam cartridges are different diameters). All in all, a race-worthy foam solution that's simple enough for most reasonably experienced bootfitters to get right on the first try.
A few things to keep in mind:
The entry tubes into the liners get bent over and constricted in the box - don't worry about it, as they soften and round out in the oven. Wearing snug-fitting Nitrile gloves wouldn't hurt while performing the foaming procedure - if you get the foam on your hands, clothing or carpet during the injection it's very difficult to remove after it cures. Make sure you understand how the cartridge fits into the gun (make sure you align the big plunger with the big tube) and how the connection with the boot works (you have to align the two ports and find the right spot to push the connection together, it is possible to lock the tubes together WITHOUT the ports connected and PU will leak and not go into the liner unless they are). Don't do this on a floor surface you care about; even if you do everything right there are bound to be some drips but if they are on hard flooring you can easily take care of them with a scraper after they set up.
There you have it. Now if some snow falls . . .
Three days in, the Redster CS Pros are very impressive. This is the narrowest and probably stiffist boot I've managed to make fit my foot in recent history, and the performance is exceptional. I had predicted an issue with the published 18 degree forward lean (I'm used to about 14-15 degrees in my RS 130's) but without a spoiler and with the thin shim in, the Redster CS is right on for stance. Atomic claims a 4.5 degree bootboard angle on the Redsters, but I don't notice the difference between that and the 4 degrees in every other boot I own. The flex is a very stout 130 with only the bottom screw in place (as with other Atomic boots, you can drill a second hole and use the provided bolt to stiffen the spine), but I won't need any more stiffness - if anything, for powder-oriented freeride skiing I've been barely buckling the top buckle and using the elastic Professional power strap to provide a more progressive flex with more give in the initial few degrees of the flex pattern, and it's nice. If you want to really rail turns at speed, you can tighten the top buckle and really crank down on the strap.
The heel retention with the foam-injected Professional liner is outstanding, and probably as good as anything I've experienced in the past. I should have done a more thorough "dry" run with the foam connectors beforehand; as it is it took about 5 days to get all the cured PU foam off my hands. Is the Professional liner worth waiting for? I'd say yes, if you have a similar narrow-lasted plug boot and are considering one of the various foam liners or a Zipfit solution - the foam process is really very simple and eliminates the messy exit tubes that other systems use, and the results are great. As with lots of product coming out of Europe this year, there seem to be supply chain issues with the Pro liners (we ordered some but none have shown up yet), so it may be next season before they are available.
November 7, 2021
Busy, busy, busy. I'm back to the store fitting boots, and booked solid pretty much every day I'm in the shop. On top of that, we have been in clinic mode for the past 5 weeks, which adds an hour-plus presentation by one of our suppliers to a ten or eleven hour day.
All of the usual suspects have made appearances, as well as a select group of "indie" ski makers (not everyone who wanted a slot was able to get one). Highlights included the new Tecnica Cochise boots, the Atomic Hawx and Hawx XTD boot lines, the Salomon QST Blank and QST 98, Völkl's M6 Mantra and Secret 96, three new skis from Black Crows, a new 120 width from WNDR Alpine, and the Kin, a new park ski from Season. There's some good news for touring fans with Nordica's Unlimited and Elan's Tour series both ready to launch. We're near the end of the line for clinis with just DPS, Elan and Head to go next week.
Trends for 2022? Less change, more hype continues this season with many companies carrying over entire lines of skis and boots - often without even a colorway change. I have to give them the benefit of doubt on this, as most production facilities in both Europe and Asia are coping with reduced capacity. Supply chain problems are the rule rather than the exception this fall, with almost every company short on stock and late to ship - if you find a product you covet that you can actually put in your cart, don't wait for it to go on sale this year.
At least three major ski manufacturers continue to spout the "Titanium Fallacy" re: the metal in their skis (the metal in ski laminate construction is Titanal), and many people in both the marketing and production departments of ski companies don't seem to realize they are different, or that there is no Titanium content in Titanal. Come on, people, take the time to read the AMAG website and educate yourselves.
Then there are ball caps, the mainstay of clinic season swag. At least 3 companies handed out camo hats this year - Blizzard, Atomic and Elan all buying in at last count, and that's just on the ski side. Not sure what to make of this recycled trend, but I hope it goes away soon.
Speaking of putting on a clinic, I had the good fortune to attend yesterday's concert by the Eagles at the new Climate Pledge Arena. I'm always in awe when I watch someone who's a master of their craft in action, and watching a group of guys in their 60's and 70's who are still at their pinnacle was amazing. We were in the first balcony section, courtesy of our son's in-laws who have the same seats for the Kraken season, and the the fretwork of Henley, Smith, Walsh, and Leadon displayed on the overhead monitors was beautiful to watch. The band was SHARP last night, saving it up for their last concert of the year and Glenn Frey's birthday, and it wasn't just the principals. When it came time for some classical backup, BOOM the lights came on in back and a 30-piece string section came to life. For backup vocals, they brought along a 15 person choir who were just as good.
Each song in the Eagles' 3 hour set is implanted so firmly in the American psyche that everyone in the audience knew the words, but it was still incredible to watch them perform in person - precision built on decades of dedication to their craft combined with the passion of people a third their age is a rare combination. If you find the time and money to attend one concert by a big name band from the past, the Eagles are the one to catch.
September 25, 2021
With the Northwest glaciers in the worst shape ever, and my decision to end my turns-all-year streak in August, friends have been asking what I've been doing with my time (other than writing copy for the evo website from the privacy of my bedroom). Among other things, I've resumed painting after a long hiatus, putting together a little studio in one corner of the garage and giving the rats who had taken up residence in the loft above my car the boot. Here are some samples of September's production.
July 23, 2021
As of last week, the International Standards Organization has finally published a new set of standards for "Improved Walking Soles" for alpine ski boots, ISO 23223:2021. Though they carefully avoid mentioning GripWalk by name, ISO 23223 precisely defines the shape, dimensions and testing protocols for this sole type and further sets the stage for widespread adoption of GripWalk as a OEM spec for not only touring and hybrid boots, but rental, all-mountain and kids' boots as well.
GripWalk soles aren't exactly new, and the move toward making them standard equipment on just about all types of ski boots other than pure touring boots and plug race boots has been underway for the past few seasons. A published ISO standard, though, makes it much more straightforward for boot and binding manufacturers to both standardize and ensure compatibility between their product offerings. Going forward, all alpine and touring ski boots will have soles that conform to at least one of the published ISO standards - ISO 5355 Alpine, ISO 9523 Touring, or ISO 23223 Improved Walking (e.g. GripWalk). WTR (Walk To Ride) will fade to a memory, though there will still be bindings available to fit them, primarily MNC offerings from Amer Sports (Salomon, Atomic and Armada).
I'm disinclined to pay the €113 fee to download the entire ISO document, but I'm assuming the testing protocols will be almost entirely the same as for ISO 5355 Alpine soles, so the best way to convey the message of this new standard is to show the diagrams. In general a GripWalk sole mimics the dimensions of an ISO 5355 sole (or is slightly more stringent), with a defined set of dimensions for AFD depth and placement and allowance for up to 6.5mm of extra rubber under the ball of the foot. Whereas Alpine sole toe height is spec'd at 19mm plus or minus 1mm, a GripWalk sole must be 19mm plus or minus .75mm (see what they did there?) so in theory you should be able to switch from an alpine boot to a GripWalk boot without adjusting the toe or AFD height.
If you want or need to dig deeper, an abstract containing the first five pages of the new standard can be found here, courtesy of the Swedish Institute for Standards.
June 19, 2021
The end of lift-served a couple weeks ago means the demand for bootfitting has dried to a trickle. We get a few appointments each day, mostly for touring boots and gear, but I've gone back to my traditional summer schedule of writing copy for our website 3 days a week and only 1 or 2 days in the shop. That means there's time to rebuild and invent tools to make the bootfitting process better and more efficient.
The past few weeks I've had time to carve several toe punch blocks to replace ones that have been heavily used during the winter - these are used for length punches at the toe to keep the "ring" off the sole of the boot. I carve them with a combination of a Foredom grinder and a very sharp chisel to match the curvature of the boot toe, which takes around an hour per block, using sections of 2x4 carefully chosen for a smooth concentric ring structure in the grain. I also modified our Sidas Variable Arch Tools (used to keep the ring of the press off the boot shell when doing width punches from the styloid to the fifth met head and beyond). The stock version of this tool is a bit "underengineered" and the rotation head invariably breaks in a week or so; I modify them by drilling out the two sides and threading them with a 12AB tap so they can be held together with a long #3 Pozidrive binding screw, while also replacing the cheesy foam pads with leather ones (sacrificed a nice Barney's New York belt to get the leather). We plan to run 4 punches in our boot lab next year, with each fully equipped to perform any punch, so extra parts were in order.
New for this season is a device to straighten up the forward lean in a boot, a common goal for skiers with very large calves who lose circulation and/or are pushed into an extreme forward stance with an unmodified boot cuff and stock forward lean. Using parts sourced from Amazon (easier to get a manager to order stuff this way), I used a rental Rossignol binding from our scrap bin plus some 4" flex exhaust tube and a burly "Come Along" locking winch with a 1/8" steel cable to put this together - it seems to be working great, with two boots "straightened" so far.
April 22 - May 3, 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 . . .
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.
© 2023 Gregory C. Louie