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 has also changed).
The 2020 Zero G 95 retains the same footprint and adds a bit of tip rocker, while dropping weight and losing a bit of torsional stiffness. As with the 105, the full 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. 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.
December 23, 2018
It’s more than an ephemeral wisp at the edge of some chemist’s consciousness. It’s a tangible, viscous base treatment you can touch (though you should be wearing some Nitrile gloves) and apply to your ski and snowboard bases. If you follow ski trends, you’ve no doubt heard of DPS’s novel new process. It consists of two packets of liquid that are applied to UHMW polyethylene base material, allowed to penetrate and heated in a UV-rich environment. The process alters the base material and gives it drastically improved aquaphobic properties, making for improved glide over snow. DPS claims permanent “wax like” performance with no maintenance other than an occasional stone grind to expose “fresh” base material.
I’ll admit to being a sceptic, but when DPS sent some samples this fall I decided to try one on my new pair of Blizzard Rustler 11’s. The sample pack was Phantom 1.0, or the original formula (the pre-retail release available on Kickstarter was called Phantom Glide). The instructions called for applying packet “A” and letting it sit for a while, then curing the liquid in DPS’s ultra violet Cure Station at 106 degrees F. for an hour and repeating the procedure with part “B.”
To be effective, the Phantom solutions need to be applied to a clean and wax free base. Even though the skis were new, I hit them with base cleaner and a few passes from the stone grinder at the shop, and I think most skis should be prepped this way. The application seemed to go pretty much as described, though it took a little over an hour (three 20 minute cycles on the box) to get the “gummy” texture that signals the chemicals have been completely absorbed. That was just part "A," part "B" required about the same amount of time.
The current product, Phantom 2.0, has been re-engineered for faster application – each solution requires only 20 minutes of cure time using DPS’s Cure Station, so the entire process should be much faster. In reality, the shop has found huge disparities in absorption time with different base materials – DPS’s own skis, for example, consistently beat the expected times, while some other brands take much longer. A few Burton snowboards absorbed the liquid just sitting in the shop at room temperature. I’m guessing that type of base and manufacturer as well as cleanliness plays a big part in absorption rate – while DPS states that extruded bases and bases with wax still “work” it pretty much goes without saying that a freshly stone ground sintered base will work better.
There is a fair amount of manual labor involved after the baking process, as well. The residue needs to be completely removed from the base surface by scraping and brushing, which took about ten minutes with a roto brush and would take much longer with conventional brushes. If you’re using a roto brush it’s advised to wear a particle mask. DPS’s marketing claims it is possible to apply Phantom yourself at home, but this is stretching the truth, at least in the Seattle area. You need warm weather (the DPS box doesn’t even work until it reaches 106 degrees F. and the instructions say 90 F. is ideal) and totally clear skies (even a few passing clouds can ruin the application), so it’s probably not worth risking a $100 “experiment” unless your home happens to be in the Southwest and it’s summer. For Phantom 2.0, DPS recommends an hour in direct sunlight to cure each of parts “A” and “B.”
Now for the question everyone is asking, “Does it work?”
I took the Phantom-treated skis up for opening day at Crystal Mountain, fighting for tracks on a foot of man-made snow on Tinkerbelle with hundreds of others. Run 1 gave me a sickening feeling as the skis grabbed and released each time I took off. Run 2 was better. After 4 runs, they were running almost as well as a traditionally waxed ski (I had a pair along for comparison, waxed appropriately with SWIX LF 8 and 7 in a 2-to-1 ratio and fully brushed).
Now with 4 full days of skiing, the skis are lightning fast. One of those days had Philip Cantrick, a manager from evo Denver and me both with Phantom-treated skis and two other shop friends with normally waxed skis and the Phantom duo consistently ran away from the others on cat tracks. This trend has been repeated consistently when run side by side with other ski partners who are conscientious about maintaining their skis, so I don’t think it’s coincidence. My feeling is that for typical Northwest conditions – 25 to 30 degrees F. with higher moisture content snow – Phantom is great. Though I’ve heard it’s less ideal for colder and drier conditions, I can’t verify that yet. As mentioned earlier, DPS suggests an annual (or as needed) stone grind to “freshen up” the base material and expose a new treated surface, but the process apparently affects the base full depth when applied correctly and never needs to be repeated. Those wishing to use climbing skins on Phantom-treated skis are advised to avoid applying skins until ALL the Phantom residue is off – this may mean skiing them a day or two on the lifts before touring on them.
For those wishing even better gliding performance, DPS says you can wax and brush normally over Phantom, and I intend to do that from now on. Still, Phantom has clear advantages for those who seldom wax their skis, as well as for those travelling. Last season on my two week trip to Austria, my skis were perfectly waxed for about 2 days, but the last week and a half left something to be desired – Phantom skis would have performed far better over the second week. I’m also interested to see how Phantom works for ski touring applications, and if it limits pollen buildup this spring.
At this point, the question for me isn’t whether Phantom is a performance breakthrough but how many pairs of skis I can afford to treat. A kit for a single pair of skis or one snowboard retails for $99, and shops are charging in the neighborhood of $50 labor for the application, not including stone grinding. There is a huge potential market for manufacturers offering OEM Phantom treatments as an option (DPS is already offering it on their own skis) which would cut down on the hassle factor for customers and potentially guarantee better absorption when the Phantom is applied prior to any sort of waxing.
December 19, 2018
After a leg-burning day of powder turns at Crystal Mountain today, it seems we've finally turned the corner and the ski season is upon us.
Rocks were still a factor to contend with, but a couple feet of fresh in two days made for some fantastic turns (and hundreds of people calling in sick for the day). With Alpental still waiting for sufficient snow to open, the Lot 4 crew showed up at Crystal in force, and I made several runs with David and Crispin. Pow-day protocol was in effect, and though I saw a number of friends in the gondola line, no one waited at the top and pretty much everyone went full throttle until the area was fully tracked at noon.
Surprisingly, I sustained no new P-Tex damage this week, though there were a few close calls. The DPS Phantom base treatment has been working magnificently, and seems to be getting faster by the day (four days of lift-served on the Phantom-treated skis so far). More on Phantom later.
For those of you not on my Christmas card list, here's this season's photo.
December 5, 2018
Crispin, Kevin and I headed for Paradise today hoping for reasonable snow and a chance to skin from the car. We succeeded on both counts, with fine sunny weather and a brisk wind making it mandatory to keep up a good pace just to stay warm (I never took my down puffy off all day). I wasn't in fabulous shape, as most of my exercise the past month and a half has been scooting around the shop floor fitting ski boots, but Crispin and Kevin paced me all the way up to 10,000 ft.
We were joined by Amar Andalkar at roughly the 8,500 foot level, who told us this was his 350th ascent of the Muir Snowfield. Whatever you might think of Amar's obsession, this was something of a milestone and we decided to celebrate his day by chasing him to Camp Muir. Amar graciously offered to share his "local" knowledge of the mountain by guiding us to some untracked pockets of great snow and helping us navigate the less rocky Golden Gate route back to Paradise.
November 25, 2018
Friday and Saturday were out of the question due to "off the hook" business in the store, but I started my lift served season today at Crystal Mountain. Expecting a rockfest, I took 2 year-old skis for the first few runs on Tinkerbelle (only two easy groomers were in play, but kudos to the new Crystal ownership for making that happpen) before realizing that there were no rocks as long as you stuck to the obvious main run. I brought out the new Rustler 11's, which had been prepped with DPS's new Phantom base treatment - they seemed a bit sticky for a run and a half, but after a bit of man-made snow friction they seemed to run about as well as my SWIX LF 7/8 wax job on the other skis.
I talked a bit to mountain manager Keith Rollins, one of the key old timers who made the transition to new ownership, who mentioned he hadn't found anyone to take over the bootfitting operation in the lodge and the space will be a mini demo center for the 2018-19 season. I suggested a coffee and tequila shot bar with a rack of vintage shotskis, but they were already moving the demo gear in.
If you sprung for the Ikon Pass this year and were expecting to walk right up to the the lift at Crystal and RFID yourself in, you'll be a bit disappointed this season. It seems you'll be able to do that at Mammoth and Squaw and other areas that have been under the Alterra umbrella for a while, but at Crystal you'll need to scan your Ikon pass at the ticket window and receive a regular ticket for the time being. The alternative is to go to the Guest Services office next door and put your name, email, phone and DOB on a sheet and they will send you a season Crystal pass in the mail. I did this but it looks like it will mean 4 passes on my lanyard to ski everywhere I plan on going this season. Yes, a first world problem to be sure.
October 31, 2018
Max figured out Halloween this year.
October 14, 2018
Friends have been telling me about the Ancient Skiers Association for years.
Tonight I finally attended the annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at the Nile Golf and Country Club, and it turned out to be quite an experience. The event had the atmosphere of a class reunion, complete with having to scan the name tags of a bunch of people who looked vaguely familiar but sort of "more mature." Lots of the guests turned out to be old friends, and a number of the Sunnyside Sliders were on hand to represent the "younger" end of the ancient spectrum. On the menu, in addition to a choice of salmon, steak, or mushroom entrées, was the induction of four people into the Northwest Ski Hall of Fame.
Old friend and former Raichle/Fischer rep Leroy Kingland, former UW fullback turned ski nut Joe Jones, mountaineering legend Lou Whittaker, and Laurie Miller were the inductees, with Lou and Laurie unable to attend in person but with longtime friends and business partners on hand to accept the awards in their stead. The acceptance speeches were quite entertaining, and sparked some great memories of the early days in Seattle's ski industry. When my dad's old friend Yosh Nakagawa got up to accept on behalf of Lou, hours of hanging around in the Second Avenue Osborne and Ulland store came flooding back. A few of the old timers asked me if I still skied, too, and I was fortunate enough to be able to show them photos of this week's turns on Rainier.
October 11, 2018
What a difference a couple of storms (and the end of the climbing season) make. You still can't ski past Pebble Creek, but the Muir Snowfield is now a flat, white and very smooth playground if you happen to feel the need to get in some quality turns. Highpoint, obviously, was the skiing. Lowpoint? Two to three inches of nice fresh snow baking in the sun long enough to create the worst skin glopping conditions I've ever experienced - all the way from Pebble Creek to Muir. Funniest event? Elissa dropped her pack at Muir, which didn't seem like such a big deal considering the mild slope angle, but it kept rolling for several minutes and eventually covered 420 vertical feet according to my phone.
September 24, 2018
The signs are all here. Vegetation turning from green to red and yellow. The first ski movie of the year, "Stray Dogs" from Dakine, showed last week at the store. A waiting list for bootfitting on the weekend. And fine sunny turns on an inch or two of patchy fresh. The 2018-2019 ski season is officially here.
August 23, 2018
Yesterday brought a drizzle, lower temperatures and a clearing of the putrid, smoke-filled air that's plagued the region for the past several weeks.
It was a low key opportunity to explore the usual August spots for subsistence skiing, and celebrate 14 years of "Turns-All-Year" with my friend Elissa.
We hiked the regular climber's trail to Pebble Creek, and headed over the ridge to the Paradise Glacier to beat the crowds. Unfortunately, the upper Paradise was more broken up than we've ever seen it, with deep new crevasses lining the normal late season skiing zone, and with no harnesses or rope we took the safe option and headed back over the talus to the Muir Snowfield. Skiing was typical for the late date, with medium suncups and plenty of volcanic sand over the snow - but still probably some of the best skiing in the lower 48!
July 21, 2018
We have a saying in the Pacific Northwest.
"If you ski tour in the Cascades, you either already know Silas Wild or you're about to meet him."
When you combine the 100+ days on snow a year crowd with the Turns-All-Year crowd, the chances of finding someone who doesn't consider Silas an integral part of their life is slim. That was the impetus for a spontaneous celebration at Silas's favorite spot in Mount Rainier National Park where a group of backcountry skiers from places as diverse as Bellingham, Mazama, Leavenworth and Wyoming magically converged to help commemorate Silas' 70th birthday. The guest list read like a "Who's Who" of Northwest backcountry celebrities, and chances are if you've seen their photos or videos and read their trip reports, they were there. This crowd has fitness to spare, and the long trek in was no obstacle to real BBQ, fresh guacamole and tap beer for the event.
Everyone skied, too. There were excellent turns to be had below 8,400 feet, and people took their pick of glaciers and snowfields, with many going back for seconds. Refreshment highlights included sausages, lamb chops, smoked chicken, Asian salad, a pony keg of Dru Bru's best, and Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label for the toasting, partaken with the beat of soft reggae and techno in the background. Beanies off to all who participated, carried and donated, I don't think I've ever witnessed a cooler backcountry party.
It was a day to revel in perfect surroundings and the company of true friends and put the insanity of modern life on the back burner for a spell; being part of the "Silas70" celebration left us with a sense of satisfaction and well-being that comes our way all too rarely.
June 27, 2018
Chinook has probably been skiing great for the last month or so, but with the road closed from the Cayuse Pass side we hadn't made it up yet. We rounded up the "flexible work schedule" group and headed out on a Wednesday, parking at Tipsoo Lake and heading straight for the west-facing bowl. Firm snow in the AM made racking the skis and booting the most expedient option, after which we hiked the ridge and dropped into the NNE facing main bowl. Good to excellent corn skiing got better as the top inch softened up, with a narrow choke in the lines on both sides of the mountain requiring a little caution - in a few days you'll have to take your skis off and walk over a few rocks. Get it while you can in 2018.
June 6, 2018
Took a mental health day yesterday and hit up the Cowlitz Glacier with Elissa, Billy, Eric and Silas. Perfect warm day on the mountain with shimmering protocorn conditions which turned sticky at around 7,000 feet. The glacier was more broken up than we'd ever seen it at this time of year, with several new crevasses around 7,900 ft. and even a few on the final pitch, take care if you go.
May 8, 2018
Lots of change has been in the air the past few weeks, with lift skiing shutting down for the season last Sunday, trips to the lawyer and calls to brokers and bankers to deal with my dad's estate, and the start of a new "Bike to Work" month for the year 2018.
A "Skate Like A Girl" event at the evo Seattle store was a recent highlight, with perfect weather and some impressive female talent on hand. We opened up the loading dock, put on shorts, and watched some skaters with damn big ovaries take flight.
April 23, 2018
The man who taught me to ski died two days ago.
Kenneth S. Louie - the "S" didn't really stand for anything, but hospital personnel convinced my grandparents that having a middle initial was "the norm" in America - was a great dad. He taught me to walk, ski, fish, hunt and play tennis (well enough to not be an embarassment at the various clubs he belonged to), but most of all he was a happy guy who loved fishing and hunting and had a way of generating trust in the people he met. He made his living as a dentist, and was considered an artisan of the amalgam filling long before 3D scanning made it possible to duplicate the delicate contours of a tooth by computer.
Ken had a long and lucky life. He was born in 1920, and when he had an unfortunate bout with Simvastatin at age 89 he told the amazed doctor it was the first time he'd ever been in the hospital. He met my mom, Jade, at the University of Washington and had the good fortune to marry her. He and his buddies Gene and Sig fly fished like maniacs until their late eighties, usually showing up at some remote lake with their boat on a trailer and "waiting for some young guys" to come along to help them get it in the water. Ken was all about diligent research into the diet of local trout, hand tying the proper flies in his home fly-tying lab, and using the lightest possible tackle to "give the fish a chance." In his later years, he stopped eating the fish and went 100% catch and release.
He took a similar deeply analytical approach to skiing, and along with his close friend (and my first employer) Bill Takano made sure I was able to spend at least two days on snow weekly through the winter, and more when racing came into play. Ken skied long enough to watch my children make their first turns, and continued to follow the sport into his nineties with a keen appreciation for the skills of athletes like Mikaela Shiffrin. Even in his twilight years, my dad had a remarkable ability to enjoy the things he still could and ignore the rest - simple Chinese meals, sushi and The Tennis Channel or Animal Planet kept him going for years after he lost the ability to walk.
My dad went to the end with dignity and grace. A day before he lost consciousness for good he was still able to mumble "Thank You" to an old friend of mine who had come to say goodbye. A week before his passing, when he would involuntarily yell out "Hey" for no apparent reason and we'd ask him what he needed, he'd chuckle and say "I don't know." He sets a high standard for both living and dying that we'd all do well to emulate. There will be a "Lifetime Achievement Luncheon" ("Don't give me one of those damn memorial things") for Ken on June 24th at noon at Cafe Lago restaurant in Seattle.
April 8, 2018
Mother Nature was trying hard to make up for the wet and icy nastiness in December and January by bringing on the snow this week.
First came "Buyout Day" at Alpental on Monday.
This is the annual K2 Group's "company picnic" when they rent the ski area on a normally closed day and invite family, friends and customers. I was lucky enough to qualify in one or both of the last two categories, and snagged an invite to the event. Since they book the date well in advance, it's a bit of a crap shoot in terms of the weather and snow conditions, but it's always a good time. This year took the cake, however, with over a foot of fresh snow and relatively few riders to sample it. With a few notable exceptions, the usual crew of locals was not in attendance, and with some wise planning we were able to find deep and untouched snow on almost every run. The BBQ brisket and sides were top notch as well. Thanks to K2 for another great year.
Sunday was our Sunnyside Slider Reunion, again held with a bunch of fresh snow (mostly) covering a frozen, rain-soaked base. The crew ralleyed hard and put down some serious vertical on Crystal's next-to-last weekend of operations for 2018. As always, it was a happy time surrounded by old and new friends and we welcomed several grandkids to the group.
March 24, 2018
The already hot sweepstakes for the "One Boot to Rule Them All" crown is getting even hotter for 2019.
With boots like the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD, Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro, and Lange XT Freetour ruling the roost among the sidecountry/backcountry/power touring set, any boot manufacturer worth their salt has been pulling out the stops to develop a light, powerful walk mode boot with tech capability. The formula is becoming fairly straightforward: Gilamid (or other Polyamide 12) cuff and shell, weight roughly 400-600 grams less than a similar PU or PE boot, good to very good walk mode, genuine Dynafit toe and heel fittings, and a thinner and lighter closed cell EVA foam liner. For 2019, more companies are joining the fray.
The latest contender to cross my path is the Fischer Ranger Free 130.
The Fischer looks like a winner, with a weight well under 1600 grams (1562 on the store scale, 1566 on my home scale with no footbeds), a beautifully clean and well executed shell design, genuine Dynafit toe and heel fittings, and GripWalk soles courtesy of Vibram. The 99mm last feels legit; if you fit in a Full Tilt original or a Tecnica Cochise with no boot work, you'll likely be comfortably right away in the Ranger Free as well. Instep height is average, and the shell punched easily to accommodate my wider than average forefoot and medial midfoot. The liner feels luxurious by touring boot standards, with a well padded tongue and heel pocket, with an average volume ankle and slightly roomier than average heel.
I've just spent 45 minutes getting the boot to fit, and will report back after I've skied it, but in the meantime flexing the boot in my basement shop has it stacking up well against the stiffest boots in the "crossover" segment (I'd rate it a solid 125) with a very smooth and progressive feel. To be honest, the boot feels great after minimal boot work and before any "2nd day" tweaks. Stay tuned.
After half a day in the Ranger Free 130, I'm convinced the boot is for real, and probably the best skiing crossover boot in the sub-1600 gram category. Conditions were not ideal today, with about 4-5 inches of very sticky fresh over frozen bumps from the weekend. The fresh layer quickly got pushed into piles that wanted to grab your tips and send them in random directions, while the icy base was less than confidence-inspiring. The Fischer boots ripped hard from run #1, allowing pinpoint directional control of the ski tips and offering a relatively damp ride - qualities that boots this light have compromised on in the past. Stiffness was more than adequate for me at 5'8" and 170-ish pounds. Stance was pretty much right on from the get-go, with what seems to be a 4 degree ramp and roughly a 13 degree forward lean feeling perfect with the thin Fischer shim in back of the liner cuff. A couple of question marks include the durability of the power strap, which is ultra thin (comparable to a velcro ski strap with no webbing backer) and the reliability of the cable-actuated walk mode (what if it breaks, how hard is it to fix, etc).
March 19, 2018
I spent the last 16 days in the heartland of alpine ski culture.
Austria is a place where immersion in the sport of skiing is taken for granted. Alpine racers like Marcel Hirscher, who happens to be Austrian and is sponsored by the Austrian company Atomic, and Mikaela Shiffrin, who happens to be American and is also sponsored by Atomic, are revered. Towns with names like Kitzbühl, Schladming, and Flachau ring with World Cup history. And mastery of any facet of the sport brings with it instant credibility in the eyes of the locals.
The powers that decide at evo pegged me to accompany two groups of customers to Austria this year, zeroing in on the Dachstein-Krippenstein area for its freeride-oriented terrain and relative lack of grooming and crowds. With the Alps receiving a healthy amount of snow this season and the European holidays mostly done for the year, this turned out to be a fine decision. We spent the first week headquarted in the scenic town of Hallstatt, a favorite of travel maven Rick Steves and a few hundred thousand of his Chinese friends. The town is ancient, owing to the presence of salt in the hills above which has been mined for thousands of years before the first skiers found out about the place, and the mine is still actively visited by tourists. The second week we stayed at the top of the Krippenstein gondola at a place called "Lodge am Krippenstein" - an awesome retreat that guarantees you first tracks and provides the rustic ambiance of a mountain hut, but with nice beds, hot showers, and minus the eight or ten smelly ski tourists you'd normally share a room with.
Both the Heritage Hotel Hallstatt and the Lodge am Krippenstein provided "half board" lodging, meaning breakfast and dinner were included, and there was no reason to stray to find delicious food. Austrian portions tend to be large, and the fully-buttered and sauced meals were hard to resist. Schnitzel, dumplings and Goulash were everywhere, and any break in the skiing was a chance to enjoy a delicious Weiss Bier or Radler (half beer, half grapefruit soda). I was able to continue the Apfel Strudel streak I had started in Taos the week before in pretty much any restaurant in Austria.
The terrain at Krippenstein, where we spent the most time, is incredibly varied and challenging. It combines an alpine summit much like the top of Whistler-Blackcomb with a steep and tecnical lower mountain that compared favorably with our local favorite, Alpental, with access to the top provided by two gondolas and a combined vertical drop of 4,921 feet. Impressive. The terrain is whimsical, with dozens of huge holes called "Doline" stuck right in the middle of runs - a few are actually caves that pass through the mountain, and most are large enough to cause serious damage if you're unfamiliar with the terrain. To top it off, the visibility changes dramatically throughout the day, with dense fog common. Snow conditions can be challenging as well, as the top of the mountain was usually cold but often wind-affected and the bottom often slush or corn with wet fresh snow on top. In short, perfect for someone trained in the Pacific Northwest who relishes riding in all conditions.
The amazing thing about Krippenstein is that most of the skiers stayed on the single groomed 11 km run that circled the mountain and ignored the pristine goodness elsewhere. It was common to still find untracked turns on the final run of the day, and it was a mystery to even our guides why more people didn't ski it. The same terrain at Whistler would be tracked out in two hours. Having the pow to ourselves wasn't a problem. For what it's worth, most Austrians are still focused on carving and racing culture, and experienced skiers were often seen in plug boots and "citizen" race skis, with waist widths over 100mm a rarity (with the exception of myself and the guides) so groomers make sense to some degree. Still . . .
Our guides Rob and Sebastian were incredible. Whippet-thin and tireless, they are the kind of skiers who can break trail all day and not even break a sweat. They also know every nook and cranny of Krippenstein's complicated terrain, and would give up detailed route descriptions as we skied. "To the right of my track there is a big hole, and when I stop there is another hole just behind me." Their knowledge was of critical importance, especially when navigating the upper slopes of Krippenstein in a dense fog, which happened often. They also had a talent for swooping in at just the moment when a client couldn't finish their lunch, saying "so, you're not going to finish that?" and devouring the rest of the plate. So goes the life of a guide.
Two days were spent on the Dachstein Glacier, which is something like Mt. Rainier's Paradise Glacier but with a lift nearly to the top and a convenient spot for lunch called the Simonihütte. Most of the skiers (not that many on either day) concentrated on the central valley, but there was SO MUCH MORE it was ridiculous. If you had touring gear and enough fitness, it wouldn't be hard to imagine doing two or more laps on the upper part of the glacier and spending the night at the hut.
We finished off each week with a trip to the "Mothership," Capita's state-of-the-art production facility in Feistritz. Capita co-sponsored the trips, and went out of their way to make us feel at home, starting with espresso and donuts (actually an Austrian version called Krapfen) and moving on to a full factory tour that culminated in a presentation of one of a kind "evoTrip" Capita snowboards with each person's name printed on the topsheet. The factory is especially impressive, built from the ground up to create the least possible environmental impact that starts with a zero-emissions compressed ammonia heating system and extends to the wood pellets made from core scrap that employees can use to heat their homes. Capita is a brand with deep Seattle roots, and Greg and Blue were both on hand to talk old times and mutual acquaintances. And yes, I now am the proud owner of two Capita snowboards bearing my name!
We spent a final night in München at the beautiful Platzl Hotel just off the Marienplatz, and had a few hours to kill sightseeing. My advice is to skip the over-hyped Hofbrauhaus and head straight for Pork Knuckle Heaven at Haxnbauer. If you love crispy skinned pork (think Chinese Siew Yook, with an even thicker crispier skin and some meat behind it), the sliced Pork Knuckle platter with gravy, mashed potatoes and fresh sauerkraut will make your day. If you think you can handle more, full knuckles are available by the kilo with all the appropriate side dishes ala carte. We had a smallish portion in the early afternoon and didn't even think about needing dinner. Wash it down with a cool Russn (wheat beer with grapefruit soda) and know the meaning of satisfaction.
March 2, 2018
Apprehension was the key word as we headed to Taos, New Mexico for our annual family ski vacation.
A "worst ever" snow year for Colorado and New Mexico made us wince at the non-refundable hotel and travel arrangements, but it did snow some 23" the week prior to our arrival, and we were determined to take advantage of a fresh atmosphere and get at least a few turns in. Looking at the webcams at Taos Ski Valley, I decided not to take our own skis - boots only - just in case it turned out horribly.
Luck was with us on this trip. The previous week's snow, combined with some superb grooming, made for great conditions on the main runs and temps down to 5 degrees kept it light all day. If you were looking for steeps, the options were limited to hiking Skyline Ridge, though only a few lines were open and those featured huge bumps. Chair #4 and the new Kachina lift (which services some incredible terrain) had unfortunately been closed all year. Still, we got some great skiing in and were able to demo our regular skis (Rustler 11 and Black Pearl 98) and the bonus was no crowds at all, even on the weekend.
After and before ski activities focused on food, of course. It's hard to find a bad breakfast burrito in Taos, and we made the rounds, with Taos Cow (ostensibly an ice cream place located in Arroyo Seco on the way to the mountain) coming out on top. Relleno-based steak, pork, chicken and egg dishes were all hits. Maybe the find of the week was the Bavarian, an authentic German restaurant located on the mountain at the base of Chair 4. From the Goulash to the mixed Wurst plate with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes to the mandatory Apfel Strudel, everything at this place was top-notch. We spent a day touring the UNESCO World Heritage site at Taos Pueblo, which was an impressive way to pass a rest day. We'll be back, hopefully in a better snow year, for more of the same.
February 8, 2018
Each year the bar gets pushed higher in the light-but-powerful AT boot category.
Last spring, the buzz was all about the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD, a 1400 gram touring shoe that skied as well as many pure alpine boots and walked well enough for many dedicated tourists to adopt as their do-everything boot.
This year the industry is aflutter with talk of the new, totally re-designed Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, and for good reason. The new Tour Pro weighs in at a reported 1315 grams in a 26.5, and has a drastically improved tour mode with a unique two-point attachment in ski mode that stiffens the flex considerably. The demo boots at the two North American retailer shows had faux plastic levers mounted, and the few skiable boots reportedly had expensively CNC'd allow levers, but at least one production boot has made it into the hands of our rep and he had it hiding in his trailer.
I was able to handle the boot in person and try it on, though skiing in it would have been painful without some artful punching. So far what I know is that even though it looks narrower, the fit is about the same as the 99mm Zero G Guide Pro I currently own, and actually feels a bit wider through the medial midfoot. It feels damn light, though I didn't have a scale with me at the time, but I have no reason to question Tecnica's claimed 1315 gram figure. The new walk mode seems extraordinary, and the boot actually feels stiffer than the original Zero G Guide Pro when flexed side by side. More to come on this boot later, when I'm able to get my hands on a pair and put some uphill and downhill miles on it.
January 29, 2018
Amid all the hoopla about "crossover" bindings like the Fritschi Tecton and Salomon/Atomic Shift, the quiet introduction of the Atomic Backland Tour (also known as the Salomon MTN) tech binding hasn't drawn much attention. Released on a limited basis last season in Europe, and available for the 2017/2018 season in the US, this binding bridges the gap between pure race bindings and more durable, brakeless models like the Dynafit Speed Radical and G3 Ion LT. I've mounted up two pairs of touring skis - my go-to Zero G 95's and 108's - with the Backland Tours and have about 5 days of mild touring on them.
As a ski tourist, I'm constantly looking for ways to lighten and simplify my kit, but without compromising durability. It seems like the Amer Sports Group, parent company of both Salomon and Atomic, has done just that in developing this "evolutionary" binding, and I'm stoked to be able to put some miles on it.
The Backland Tour embraces old school technology, using a single "U" spring for retention in the heelpiece (the original Dynafit TLT pioneered this design, still used in virtually all race bindings) but adds several modern twists. For starters, instead of a heel top plate held in place with exposed screws, the heel on the MTN/Backland is held together with a single oversized bolt tightened from below. Instead of the entire unit turning, the body of the heel rotates under the top plate, which is super solid. Those who've had top plates come loose or break in the field or screws break will appreciate this design. The toe piece uses a wider 40mm screw hole pattern (Speed Radical, by comparison, is 30mm) with functional step in guides, and the heel has a usable 30mm fore/aft adjustment for those of us who use more than one pair of tech boots during the course of a season (FWIW, the heel gap is 4mm, as with the original TLT).
Weight for the Backland Tour without brake is 298 grams per binding, including screws. Not mind-blowing, but 97 grams less than the Speed Radical and 185 grams less than an Ion LT is noteworthy. Although the release values are fixed and the vertical and horizontal axes can't be adjusted separately, three "U" springs are included in the box. Amer won't provide a number, instead labelling the springs "Women," "Men," and "Expert" - but other sources have put approximate values of 6, 8 and 12 on them respectively. If you're wondering, you turn the heel 90 degrees, loosen a single allen bolt and tap lightly to remove the spring. I've been using the "Expert" springs and they seem much stiffer than my Speed Radicals set at "10" both in terms of stepping in and turning the heel housing. Your mileage may vary. This isn't the sort of binding you'll be seeking out if you're looking for indemnified product or safety "guarantees" anyway.
Ramp is another issue that's bothered many users of lightweight tech bindings over the years. Usually defined as the differential in height between the center of the heel and toe pins, I've gradually been working my way down from 18mm (Plum Guides) to 16mm (Dynafit Speed Radical) and 15.5mm (Dynafit Speed Turn) and 11mm (G3 Ion LT). Ramp affects some skiers more than others, but almost everyone agrees that the ideal is to be closer to the ramp on one's alpine setup. The Backland Tour's ramp of approximately 8.5mm is very close to that of my normal alpine setup with Atomic Warden 13 bindings - measuring the height of the heel above the ski (not the pin height, obviously) puts the Backland Tour just about 1.5mm taller than the Warden setup. Using the same boot (in this case the Atomic Hawx Ultra 130 XTD) the stance feels remarkable similar.
Using the Backland Tour has been simple and trouble-free. This is the one new tech binding that has seen literally zero breakage or recall issues since its inception, which is something of a record. You can twist the heelpiece to access a flat mode, but typically I've just left it facing forward and used one of the two climbing lifters right from the trailhead. The climbing aids are pretty narrow and take a bit more concentration to flip up and down with your pole than some of the competition, but are still easy. Partially due to the reduced ramp of the design, even the "high" level feels a bit low compared to other bindings I've used, so you may find yourself setting a slightly less steep skintrack (or working on your hamstring stretches at night).
The Backland Tour is available with or without brake - if you order it, the brake comes in a separate box and uses a different base plate requiring one more screw hole. For the record, the brake is very well conceived and will stay up without rotating the heel. If you wish to swap back and forth between brake and brakeless modes, I'd suggest mounting the heel with inserts.
The combination of lighter, simpler and more durable is usually pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but in this case I'd give the Salomon/Atomic guys a standing ovation for bringing this outstanding fusion of race binding technology and robust functionality to market. I'll report back on these once I've gotten a full season on them, but for now it's all thumbs up.
January 25, 2018
Yes, we've worked hard this season and you can only take so much of touching sweaty feet and listening to people's boot horror stories before you simply have to get out and ski. We saw Eric R. and Joe H. in the flesh, and Billy and I were there as well, so it left us wondering who was minding the shop at some of Seattle's best boot emporiums. No matter, winter is back and the powder season is on in earnest. Get some yourself while you can!
January 19, 2018
Though a little late to the cross-over party, the new Head KORE 1 G boot aims to please with an average weight of 1540 grams (boots were 1532 and 1548 grams, respectively) in a 26.5, a stated 130 flex, and a super solid “GrilFlex” shell (most likely Grilamid with a marketing tweak, eh?) . . . The super stealthy matte anthracite colorway is designed to enhance the popular KORE ski line, and the stated 100mm last is quite roomy by industry standards, especially over the toe box. My 104mm wide feet needed only mild punches at the fifth met heads to achieve “all day comfort” status, which is pretty rare. Overall I think the fit is going to be a winner for those with wider and higher volume feet, they ones who have been wishing Atomic made a Grilamid XTD version of their Hawx Magna boot, or those who find the Lange XT 130 Freetour a little too constricting in the 100mm last. The KORE boots are heat-moldable, with Head suggesting 8 minutes in a standard shop oven, though I didn't feel a need for more room and so haven't yet cooked one.
Soles are GripWalk (don’t know yet if there is a bolt-on alpine version) and the BSL, though not marked on my pair of prototypes, is 306mm in a 26/26.5. There are a bunch of logos on the shell including ones for Graphene, Duo Flex, Form Fit, Perfect Fit 3D, and Liquid Fit. My gut feeling is that the marketing department got a little carried away thinking up names, and it seems like there’s a bit of redundancy in the terminology, but essentially Form Fit and Perfect Fit 3D refer to Head’s heat moldable shell and liner technology respectively (you put the boots in a convection oven much like other companies do, though the catalog shows the liners in the shells), while Liquid Fit is an additional system designed for better ankle and heel retention and allows a dense two-part parafin material to be pumped into the ankle area through tubes in the rear of the liner cuff. Supposedly the Graphene is used as a matrix material in the shell plastic to enhance stiffness, much like the strands of carbon fiber or fiberglass used by other companies.
Claimed range of motion for the Ski/Hike mechanism is 45 degrees, and genuine Dynafit tech inserts are standard. Using the nice, full-length retention clips (the buckle bale can go either under or over it) and loosening both top buckle straps as well as the Velcro power strap yields a smooth walk mode on a par with the Lange XT Freetour, but lacking a bit of range when compared to a Tecnica Zero G or Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD. The 130 flex feels solid – much closer to the feel of a standard 130 alpine boot than some competitors, but it's still not the equal of my RS 130 or Mach 1 130 LV. Interior ramp according to the catalog is 4 degrees and forward lean 14 degrees but feels flatter standing on my kitchen floor – this seems to be due to the thickness of the GripWalk sole under the ball of the foot – on the snow it feels quite familiar and the forward lean seems about right to me with the cuff shim removed. For reference, I normally ski 12 degree Lange boots with the 2 degree World Cup shim in place, the Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro with the 1 degree shim in place, and 15 degree Atomics with no shim at all.
On the snow, the flex feels like a firm performance boot somewhere in the 120 range, and is quite progressive through the range. The boot has a slightly "spongey" feel, especially when flexing forward, due to the plushness of the liner and tongue - this could be adjusted by substituting a stiffer liner like a Pro Tongue, but the OEM liner gives the boot a more relaxed feel than some other boots in this class. Instep height is average and heel hold is good for my medium volume ankle and medium width heel, but not snug by any means.
I put in a solid day on the KORE 1 G’s, driving my big mountain ripper setup (186 Blizzard Bodacious, 2018 version) and found plenty of power to lay the heavy 118mm-waisted skis over on edge and enough stability to blast over the hard frozen debris left over from the rains from two days previous. The KORE 1 G is also damp and powerful on fast, smooth groomers, not something you normally expect from a sub-1600 gram boot. Though the shell is very stout and appears to be made from the same "hard" Grilamid used in boots like the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD, the KORE 1 G is a snap to put on and take off. For lighter weight and less aggressive skiers, Head will also offer a 120 flex version called the KORE 2 G.
I have yet to hit the skintrack in the KORE 1 G, but roaming around home in walk mode indicates the boot has a smooth and functional range of motion that should be more than adequate for the freeride day-tourer segment – if not multi-day hut tours. For people with a higher volume, wider foot looking to lighten up their sidecountry setups and provide the option to use a tech touring rig when desired, the KORE 1 G provides a great alternative. After all, when Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn give up racing and start hunting for pow turns, they’re gonna need some ski boots, right?
January 12, 2018
My friends Steve and Betsy raised a family of rippers. They and their brood have been fixtures of the Crystal Mountain extended family for decades, and Arne, Ingrid and Ralph are all household names among the snowsports community.
When their daughter Ingrid and her husband Jim Delzer found out they were going to be parents, a flood of uncertainties went through Ingrid's mind - "How much skiing am I going to be doing?" "Will I even want to ski?" "Will my sponsors abandon me?" Being a new mom and a globe-trotting professional skier at the same time wasn't exactly a well-trodden career path, but she knew she wanted to do both with a passion.
"Lineage" is a film that documents the Backstroms, including new grandparents Steve and Betsy, as three generations explore the meaning of "family" within the context of a season-long road trip to 25 of North America's most celebrated ski resorts, laying down tracks in places we've all dreamed about while caring for a new baby and a dog. The film premiered at the evo Portland store on January 10th, and was shown again at the evo Seattle store in Fremont on January 12th, with all of the participants and the film makers in attendance. The "all ages" crowd loved the change of pace from the usual "huck yer meat" video offerings that permeate the industry, and there was a palpable sense of family and community among the audience, many of whom had small children of their own in tow. "Lineage" comes as highly recommended viewing, with a message that transcends the ski movie norm and shows us how one family has managed to combine a love for snowsports with the responsibility of raising a family. It's a revelation when someone manages successfully to meld the things and people they love into a coherent lifestyle, and even more special when those people are friends. Check out the trailer at https://www.powder.com/lineage/
© 2019 Gregory C. Louie