January 31, 2012
Frank just sent in some pictures of our crew at Alpental last Friday, just what I needed to remind myself what a gift day that was. Only 4" was reported on the Alpy telemetry, but something in the neighborhood of a foot of fresh had accumulated up high. Somehow the crowds missed the fact that the weather was bluebird, and few people showed up. A few minutes after we topped out on Chair 2, they bombed the cornice over Knoll 2, then opened the high traverse with me #11 in line. What a day.
PS: As many of you know, I'm employed once again, working the upstairs ski and boot department at evo in scenic Freelard (the area between Fremont and Ballard along Leary Way). Stop by and say hello if you're in the hood!
January 16, 2012
Snow in the streets of Seattle, dumping in the passes, guess what we're doing? Start the clock!
January 14, 2012
Here's a couple of interesting "spy" shots from lift lines around the world. One shows a prototype Plum Guide with an XL (or XW) baseplate and what looks like a support under the heel to either facilitate flat skinning or limit downward travel of the boot in cliff-stomping mode (maybe both). In addition, this example looks like it has heel housings made of solid CNC'ed aluminum rather than the normal Plum black polymer. Got to hand it to Plum for paying attention to the fall-you-die guys and the new-school wide ski set as well as the fast and light crowd - these appear to be mounted on Dynastar Legend Pro 105's, which means those baseplates are pretty damn substantial. In other Plum-related news, it seems that Look is now branding Plum bindings (seen in Chamonix shops already) with their name on the heelpiece top plate rather than Plum's . . . can a distribution agreement be far off?
The other pic shows a prototype Tyrolia randonnée binding that's obviously meant to cut into the Duke/Baron market - burly, with a substantial rail system and 16 DIN, and with a pole-accessible release mechanism to the rear of the heelpiece. With Salomon/Atomic and Hagan joining the fray, the segment seems to be getting pretty competitive. I'm still waiting for someone to come up with a spring-actuated vertical release heel that works with existing tech fittings and gives a more "alpine" set of elasticity values to the upward release - what happened to the Trab TR1 binding?
January 12, 2012
Been in the market for a burly freeride boot that you can also tour in? I have been, but holding off on making a purchase because of rumors of a new Dynafit/Eric Hjorliefson collaboration in the works . . . and now, after pages and pages of speculative forum jabber and spy photos of Hoji shuffling through the Blackcomb lift line in the test mules, here it is.
Just days in advance of the slate of major retailer shows in München (ISPO), Salt Lake City (OR) and Denver (SIA), Lou Dawson broke news of Dynafits '12-'13 boot line from his privileged post in the Barthel's home in Austria (the Barthels invented the tech binding), with pictures of several of the new boots. In addition to the top-of-the-line Vulcan, which features a carbon/grilamid cuff similar to the TLT 5 Performance, there is an all-grilamid version called the Mercury and a Pebax version called the "One." The "One" also will be available in a lower price-point polyurethane model. All boots share the stroke-of-genius top buckle which doubles as the lean lock device, and feature 3 buckles, plus adjustable lean angles of either 15 or 18 degrees. Soles are compatible with "rail" bindings like the Marker Duke/Baron and Fritschi Freeride Plus in addition to tech bindings. All of these new models, plus the continuing TLT 5, Zzero, and Titan series, makes for a lot of different boots! Seems sick, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out the MSRP for the Vulcan was "only" $999. Start saving those $1,000 bills.
January 8, 2012
When long-time Pacific Northwest backcountry stalwart Kam Leang and his wife Allyson Spacek shuffled off to Virginia and then Nevada in search of "real" jobs, we suspected it wouldn't be the end of their skiing obsession. Sure enough, they were able to maintain their year-round ski streaks, sometimes by flying cross-country on the penultimate day of the month to access a distant volcano or two over the weekend. Kam's passion for building his own skis never wavered either, and over time morphed into what is now a rather sophisticated mom-and-pop custom operation in Reno.
In addition to his research and professorial duties, Kam has set up Ski Lab, a unique resource for anything from "personalized" skis with custom topsheets and detailing based on stock designs to full-custom designs based on a customer's input. In addition, Ski Lab offers the opportunity to actually participate in the design and construction process "hands-on" for those willing and able to spend time in Reno, shaping and laying up your own skis with their supervision and help.
Kam and Allyson's long-time familiarity with the many different aspects of winter travel gives them an edge over other independents when it comes to conceptualizing touring skis, and it comes as no surprise that some of their first projects have involved skis for some veteran skiers (and old friends) in the Seattle area. The Rondonnier is a 110mm-waisted powder touring ski designed for Paradise legend Ron Jarvis. The new prototype Wildside is an 88mm light-and-fast design for the irrepressible Silas Wild - in keeping with the minimalist theme, I mounted these up this afternoon with a set of La Sportiva RT tech bindings, the lightest adjustable touring binding I've seen yet. Toes matched the Dynafit "heritage" pattern (minus the front screw) exactly, and I used the heelpieces themselves to mark the holes since I had to push them up to the boot anyway with a 4mm spacer in between. Sweet and light setup, and since Silas and I share the same BSL in our TLT 5 boots, I can demo them as well!
January 4, 2012
Marmot Mountain Works sponsored their annual randonnée and telemark demo event on the evening of January 3, this year moving the venue to Alpental after several years at Summit West. The change of location had been long requested by customers, and worked out very well - skiers were able to sample a wide variety of skis and boots on an equally diverse range of slope angles and snow, and come closer to testing the gear in a "real world" set of simulated backcountry conditions. The snow ran the gamut from rolling hard packed bumps to tracked rain-soaked fresh over partially frozen corn to near spring-like conditions, and it was fun to test each ski in multiple snow types in a single run.
I'm typically able to get a ski dialed and have fun on it in a short period of time, so one run was usually enough. That meant I was able to ski on a bunch of different skis during the demo, everything from the 84mm waisted Dynafit Baltoro 176 (super solid and very precise light ski) to the 115mm waisted Black Diamond Amperage (suprisingly nimble and smooth in transition for a pretty huge "touring" ski). In between I also sampled the Völkl Nanuq, the '11-'12 Manaslu 178, the La Sportiva Hi-5, and Black Diamonds in an ascending assortment of widths (Verdict, Zealot, Amperage). They even managed to keep the rain turned off until the very end of the demo, something that has often accompanied this event in years past.
Favorites included the Baltoro and Nanuq, both rock steady and "alpine-like" in their precision - quite a pleasant surprise considering their light weight. This year's Manaslu, with its added bamboo stringers and more forward mounting point, didn't seem to be a step forward in my opinion; it was hard to tell if edgehold was significantly better, and moving the mounting inserts 1cm forward seems to make the tips a bit twitchier (I never felt the old Manaslu was unresponsive to turn input in the first place). A bit more rocker adds maneuverability to the 180 Verdict, a ski which sometimes can be a handful to turn. The Hi-Five was silky smooth and predictable, but felt a bit "tip-heavy" and hesitant to respond in crud, while the larger Black Diamond skis were a bit tank-like and not especially damp. To be fair all of these over-100mm waisted skis need to be tested in deep snow rather than on the groomed - it's what they're made for and I would expect them to shine in a foot of mank. Hats off to Lock, Dave and the Marmot crew, as well as the reps who froze their fingers off all night adjusting bindings (about half of the skis I tried had Dynafits with the rental plate, FWIW), for providing a chance to test all of these skis back-to-back in short order!
January 3, 2011
Happy New Year to all, and may your 2012 bring deep and frequent snow! We're fortunate in the Pacific Northwest to finally be getting some precipitation; now all we need is consistent sub-freezing temperatures to go with it. Yesterday's tour in a foot of rain-saturated fresh was a great workout for the trailbreakers and a chance to be out with only the company we brought, but the skiing was a challenge. Still, we have lots to thankful for - hope our friends in Utah, Colorado, Tahoe and the East start catching up soon!
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China: Wandering in the Middle Kingdom
"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 . . .
© 2013 Gregory C. Louie