January 25, 2009:
Been feeling sorry for yourself because of the atypical icy January conditions? Get over it. Here's Daniel Albrecht of Switzerland making an impact on the Kitzbühl Streif downhill course, which had been bootpacked earlier by the Austrian army. The poor guy had to be put into a medically induced coma after this fall while swelling in his brain subsided. Send him some +++vibes when you get a chance.
On a positive note for the Swiss, Didier Defago won the downhill event, putting an exclamation on his 2009 season after winning the Lauberhorn downhill last week, and the other Didier (Cuche) tied for fourth with Bode Miller. Michael Walchhofer was second and Klaus Kroell third to put two Austrians on the podium.
January 15, 2009:
I spent Tuesday of this week skittering around on rock-hard groomers at Summit Central, which wouldn't normally have been all that enjoyable except for the fact that it was a beautiful sunny day and a bunch of my friends from the pass were there. We did relaxed laps on Bonanza and the new Silver Fir quad with Kevin and Francine, Earl and Daisy, Mike O'Brien, and (for a while at least) Don Hecker. Frank showed up around mid-day to add some Euro flavor to the group, and we headed to the 'Acres lodge for burgers, pizza and fries. You know something is up when all the Alpental regulars are at Central on the groomed, I guess, but we got adventurous with a few absolutely heinous runs in the bumps trying to jar our dental work loose.
Riding up the chair, I managed to get some details out of Earl and Francine regarding the big slide event at Hyak the week previous. Seems Francine was out walking on her street, and heard a horrendous sound coming from the direction of the ski hill. They ran to the end of the street and watched as the vast majority of the slope relocated itself to the bottom of the hill, taking out a couple of the chair towers and damaging two homes.
Fortunately no one was on the slope at the time of the incident (we've all been known to skin Hyak for fun and fitness simply because of its proximity), but their neighbor Norm Cravens lucked out big time. Norm was in the top floor of his house (the one "akimbo" in the bottom photo) settling down in his recliner chair with a cup of coffee, and had just turned so that his back was facing the hill when the mud and snow slide let go. The house was knocked about 70 feet off its foundation, the bottom story inundated with snow and mud, and piles of mud, glass and snow flew by him on the upper floor. Though the house is history, Norm was protected from injury by the thick back of the chair, and walked away.
January 7, 2009:
Big news this week in the world of randonnée skiing is G3's press/web release of its new AT binding. As many of you know, several of Dynafit's patents relating to their boot/binding interface have expired in the last year, leaving the door open to other manufacturers to make and market their own versions of bindings that will accept a boot with Dynafit toe and heel fittings. To date, most of those products catered to the elite rando racer market (see ATK for an example) but none were aimed at recreational alpine touring enthusiasts.
Will they change your life? Maybe. Few people except the engineers, it seems, have used the working prototypes, and no bindings are actually scheduled to appear in shops until next fall (with MAYBE a limited release this March in "core" markets), but G3's offering takes the parameters of the Dynafit boot (called "Tech" by companies other than Dynafit) and runs with them.
What you can glean from the videos on G3's website is that they've used a very similar toepiece mechanism, and added a bulkier plastic baseplate and lever. Material added around the base of the jaws seems intended to keep snow from building up under the arms, which is a major scourge of Dynafit users worldwide and a common cause of unintended toepiece ejection. Of course, if snow does get in there, it looks like it will be really difficult to remove.
The G3 heelpiece uses a Dynafit-like twin pin setup to engage the heel, but places the spring for lateral release in the baseplate rather than in the heel housing. To go from ski mode to tour mode, you press a tab at the rear of the binding and the heel moves backward. Instead of the traditional Dynafit twist-to-lift riser system, the G3 relies on two separate lifts that hinge up from the baseplate and housing.
The new binding is significantly heavier than Dynafit, and unfortunately doesn't offer any increase in release tension, still maxing out at DIN 10. In a marketing move that will make my European friends chuckle, G3 refers to locking the toe lever as a "DIN booster," which isn't exactly a new invention as Dynafit users have always done this in gnarly terrain. There has been talk of increased elasticity as a goal at G3, though this is lateral and not vertical, and most people I know have only had problems with the latter.
Projected MSRP is $399.00, and I have to give props to G3 for being first out of the gate with a Dynafit re-design. Hopefully they'll be able to refine and lighten the binding in the future.
January 5, 2009:
Iíd been gone, but not forgotten.
35 years ago, I ran with a ragged group of skiers called the Sunnyside Sliders, who considered themselves freeriders decades before the term was coined. Based at Crystal Mountain, we participated in the pro freestyle circuit in its formative years, but thought of ourselves as freeskiers first, preferring blasting through knee-deep Cascade slop to refined moguls and cultivating a motorcycle-chic sartorial edge that generally took the form of shoulder-lenth hair and jean jackets with raw-looking embroidered emblems affixed to the back. Gore-tex had yet to be invented; constant motion and a layer of ice over denim kept us warm.
Since the mid 70ís, Iíve lived in many places around the country and though we eventually settled back in Seattle in the 90ís, Iíve seldom made the trip to Crystal Mountain. Last Saturday, under the pretext of picking up a pair of boots from a guy who pro patrols there, I made the tedious drive up from Maple Valley, forgetting about the Green River Gorge closure, and took my place in a long line of cars snaking up the slippery 410 at 40 mph.
I arrived at the ski area a little after 8:15, as savvy drivers were already peeling off into the lower lot, and filled the time until first chair by wandering about the area and introducing myself to Dan the patroller. I got in line behind maybe 60 other people and watched as high clouds gave way to blue sky.
I took a few runs by myself, testing out a new pair of fat skis. A little chopped powder, a little fresh corduroy Ė they seemed fine in the fluff and even carved fairly well on the groomers. As I stood in the REX line thinking about the right boot for this setup, I heard a voice.
I turned and saw Joe Habenicht, my partner for many a road trip in the distant past, and his wife Kathy smiling at me.
ďI thought that looked like you!Ē
After 30 some years, the long hair now no hair, the jean jacket replaced by Arcíteryx XCR, they had recognized me in seconds. Iíve often wondered at how a personís ski style never really changes, and how friends can recognize each other from a quarter mile away by the arc of their turns, their pole plant, or the carriage of their upper body. Maybe this ingrained recognition of a good ski buddyís body language carries over to the way they stand in the lift line, I thought. Amazing.
The convergence was only beginning. Within an hour, we had hooked up with Fred and Rick Reininger and Fredís wife Liz, Mark Rohrbach and his wife, Hunter Eng and Stanley Larsen, all friends and erstwhile ski companions from years past.
We were a sight to behold. Years of ski and bike accidents had taken their toll. Between us (the men, at least) there was probably a million dollar representation of the orthopedic surgeonís art Ė new hips (4) new knees (2) repaired ACLís and tendons (multiple) and many broken bones held together with steel and titanium. Ouch. And these patched-together 50 and 60 year-olds were still out ripping it up like youngsters.
We lapped many of the old favorites, including Sunnyside, Bull Run, and Iceberg until just short of crippling ourselves, then adjourned to Fred and Lizís condo for lunch. His unit at the Silver Skis was one I was familiar with from years of staying with Alex Crooks just down the hall, and the unit next door was now owned by Joe and Kathy, by way of her father Dr. Walt Krengel. The change at the Silver Skis has been a suble one, with most of the names staying the same, but the faces of the owners shifting from the parents of my old friends to the friends themselves. It was like stepping out of a time machine and discovering that three decades had suddenly passed by, as my arthritic friends talked about their grown childrenís new lives and mates. We shared a chuckle as Joe talked about his son Blair, now a pro snowboarder based in Glacier, Washington. Living the life, indeed.
After lunch, Fred and I headed back out for a few more runs, hoping that patrol would finally succeed in opening Southback after a full day of throwing bombs. He related the story of how, after moving with his family from Michigan at age 13, and thinking himself a good skier already, he had been almost in tears as our CMAC group skied Upper Bull Run in chopped up heavy fresh and a whole new dimension of skiing was revealed to him.
Now Fredís the acknowledged master, smooth as silk in any conditions, blowing by youngsters on twintips on the traverse over to the King, and knowing the mountain as well as anyone at Crystal. His 12-week-old hip hardly seemed to bother him as he led me around the mountain, and he even showed me his secret offloading technique that gets him a chair or two jump on potential first track competition.
We finished off the day with a run through three feet of face-shot powder in Silver Bowl. The first fifteen turns were as good as anything anywhere, until we got to the part that had already slid and were forced to deal with our aching 50 year-old backs on the track out. What a day.
Happy New Year, and may old friends remain true friends.
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"Incoming" covers developments that have personal interest to me (ie. gear I might consider acquiring, or events I feel may impact the sport of skiing) - it is by no means meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of gear or events in the ski world at large. Feel free to contact me via the randosaigai.com link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .
© 2009 Gregory C. Louie