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March 30, 2012

2013 K2 Ski Demos

There was another 14 to 15 inches of fresh snow today, much of it falling at surface temperatures of 34 to 35 degrees F. - we didn't need to be told this would be some HEAVY stuff.

Old acquaintance Steve and former EVO employee Dan made the trip to Stevens today with a truckload of next year's K2 skis, but it soon became apparent that only a handful of the fat-fat-fat models would show at their best. I started out the morning on the 2013 Pontoon, which was drastically revised last season to reduce the amount of rocker and stiffen the ski in the mid-body and tail. Many satisfied customers have been amazed at how well this ski does in conditions other than super deep snow, and I can see their point. I skied the 179 length, and they were a blast in soft bumps with chopped custard on top as well as the deep and thick untracked stuff. They handled well enough in the scraped-down icy sections in the trees that I felt completely relaxed and confident, something I couldn't have said about the previous version of the Pontoon.

I spent the second half of the morning on the 179 Pettitor. This ski came alive as soon as I started to move on it; it seemed to sense changes in terrain and snow quality as soon as you encountered them, and was able to react just as quickly with whatever type of turn you wanted - hop, carve, slarve, pivot - all seemed effortless. At 120mm in the waist, this ski didn't float the deeper snow as well as I expected, but the blunt tips could be stuffed into anything with confidence and stay on target. My favorite ski of the day.

The 181 Side Seth, Mr. Morrison's "all-mountain-touring-oriented" departure from the popular Obsethed, has a flat tail with skin slot, reduced weight, and a 118mm waist. It didn't really light it up in the deep stuff, the tips trying to stay submerged much of the time and pretty sensitive to weight distribution. It was smooth and predictable in the semi-groomed, but this isn't where the ski was intended to be used. It remains to be seen how the Side Seth will compare with other big "touring" offerings from other companies, like the Atomic Atlas, Dynafit Huascaran, and La Sportiva Hang Five. Stay tuned.

Former EVO employee Dan (in white) sets up skis for the gang. Great to see and chat with him and Steve.

March 29, 2012

2013 Atomic Ski Demos

I was back at Stevens Pass today, ready to test some of Atomic's 2013 powder lineup, and this time the weather cooperated. Eight to ten inches of dense fresh snow had fallen overnight, and a blizzard was going on. Perfect!

I was able to jump on five different skis during the course of the day, including the 186 Automatic, the 182 Atlas, the 185 Blog, and both the 183 and 192 Bent Chetlers. The brand-new Automatic, the Sage-Dana collaboration, was first up and felt very precise even in a foot of thick fresh snow. It worked best with a centered stance and wanted to hug the ground - even with its 117mm waist, the tapered tip on this ski didn't really plane up in the pow, but felt super secure anyway. It turned quickly and predictably on sideslipped frozen corn bumps and in the trees - this ski would be a great tool in sketchy technical terrain.

Both of the Bent Chetler's were smooth and floaty in today's snow, but different animals due to size disparity. I skied the 192 first, and it was a bit of a handful for me. Combined with a fast wax job (thanks, Barry), the heft of this ski made it a gas when bombing huge GS turns in the open, but a workout when trying to turn them in tight quarters. I switched to the 183 Bent Chetler a few runs later, and it clicked right away. The '83 still had plenty of float for my weight, but proved much more playful and easy to swivel quickly, and super fun in bumps covered with a bunch of fluff as well as in tight technical spots.

The 185 Blog was quick edge-to-edge and whipped through bumps with ease. It seemed small for a 110mm wide ski, and skied shorter than the indicated 185cm length - if you get this ski, don't be afraid to size up. Powder performance was adequate, but not in the league with the wider Atomics, and the tips tended to stay submerged in today's snow (it got deeper as the day went on, but the resistance was inconsistent due to ski tracks). This ski will be a great choice for soft groomer skiers who stray into the slackcountry some of the time, but not a great choice for full-time powder junkies.

Favorite ski of the day? For me, coming from a race background and skiing Dynastar Legend Pro 115's as my main lift-served ski, the 182 Atlas was the hands-down fave. It's toned down a bit from last year's model, still beefy underfoot but with a more pronounced tip rocker and slightly softer tail. Atomic is positioning this ski as its big mountain "touring" ski, and the new graphics match up perfectly with the black and yellow Tracker AT binding (same as the Salomon Guardian 16). They are also offering pre-cut skins for this and other BC skis in their lineup, with their own tip and tail hardware and featuring Colltex skin fabric. With the touring angle in mind, they've tried to lighten the ski up a bit, but it's still no featherweight - Atomic gives its weight at 2050 grams in the 182 length, and with the Tracker binding I demoed it's a load. Still, if you're fit enough . . . How does it ski? The ski rips, with the flat tail providing tons of power and plenty of support should you get thrown into the backseat. I found the combination of tip rocker and tapered flat tip perfect for directional stability in today's snow. This ski in a 182 skis "bigger" than the other slightly longer Atomics I tried out, and letting it run feels amazingly stable at any speed. Turning this ski in tight spots requires a bit of effort, but is manageable and predictable; this is a real contender for my 2013 quiver.

Thanks to Barry from Atomic, and of course the hard-working EVO crew for a great day of testing!

Chris and Barry make smiles in front of next year's Atomic line

March 27, 2012

2013 Ski Demo Week - 4FRNT Skis

I've set aside three days this week to ski test 2013 product from 4FRNT, Atomic and K2 at Stevens Pass. These sessions (which are open to the public, but at a cost) are jointly promoted by EVO and the manufacturers, and give shop employees who missed the first round of demo days to develop an informed opinion about the skis they're going to be selling next season. Today's weather wasn't perfect for the occasion - snowing lightly with about an inch of fresh over frozen corn - but alternating between the groomed runs and some hike-to slackcountry gave us a chance to compare these skis in a variety of conditions. For comparison's sake, take into consideration that I'm 5'8" tall and somewhere between 165 and 170 lbs. (168 this morning) - I tried to pick skis in the length I thought most appropriate for someone my own size.

Local 4FRNT rep Brian and his crew brought up a couple of pairs each of next year's skis, along with a sampling of 2012 boards, and we took turns trying the ones that looked interesting. I spent the morning on the new Hoji, Eric Hjorliefson's new all-mountain weapon and highly touted by many of the people who've tried it, in a 187. The ski is almost completely rockered - if there is a flat spot underfoot it's pretty much impossible to see it - which led me to expect a lack of hard snow carving capability. Not true, though. As long as you stay centered on this ski (it likes your weight right under the balls of your feet), it will rail like crazy on softer groomed snow, and actually had very respectable hold on the really hard stuff. It also turns on a dime, either by pivoting or driving the ski to shorten the turn radius. Pretty cool. What's the downside? Is the Hoji unstable at speed? Not really - it straightlined the crunchy frozen corn without complaint, perhaps not with the authority of a burly stick with two layers of metal, but admirably considering its relatively light weight. People were talking about using the Hoji for a touring ski, and except for the upturned tail I think it would work very well.

I tried the 2012 YLE in a 187 next. This ski is slightly wider than the Hoji (2mm) in the waist, but with a lot less rocker on both ends and a blunt tip instead of a "five-point" design. It felt bigger and a bit slower in transition edge-to-edge, but super damp and stable. Turns were buttery smooth without a sharp edge hookup no matter what technique you used, and the sweet spot stance-wise was anywhere from dead center to way in the back seat - there is a lot of tail on these. The YLE had a strong preference for equally weighted skis - if you favored one, the tips tended to drift and were a tad hooky in the damp fresh snow.

Last up was the new Renegade, which the 4FRNT crew accurately described as a burlier version of the Hoji. It had a rock solid feel to it and wanted to run straight or make huge GS-type turns, but would turn quickly and even pivot with a bit of effort. I skied the 187 version and even with the 122mm waist it didn't feel huge to me - I would probably size up to the 193 if I were to add this one to my quiver. If you're looking for an "all-conditions" ski for the NW, this might be the one - the Renegade blew through piles of re-frozen corn with impunity, but you had to have enough confidence to ski it fast.

Unfortunately Brian fell and injured his leg on the last run of the day. I provided him with something from my backcountry medicine chest for the journey home (non-narcotic of course) and told him how much we appreciated his making the trip out from Spokane . . .

Our man from 4FRNT holds next year's Hoji

Part of the crew at the top of the infamous Powerline Boot-Up. Does anyone hear a buzzing sound?

March 19, 2012

K2 Family & Friends Day, Alpental

I've heard about this legendary event for years. K2 "buys out" the Alpental ski area on a Monday (when it's normally closed) for employees of their extended family of brands, including Ride, Line and K2, plus a representation of local shop employees. I was lucky enough to snap up an invite as part of the EVO crew this year, and it turned out to be a brilliant day.

In addition to 6 inches of fresh powder and bluebird skies, the party featured BBQ, beer, and all the acoutrements. I carried my share of groceries up to the patio before making the most of the open Elevator Gate and showing my crew some of my favorite lines in the Alpy BC. It was great to meet some of the K2 and Line staff in person, and I found I shared mutual friends with many of the attendees. Thanks to K2, Ride and Line for a great day in the mountains!

March 8, 2012

RIP Randosteve

I heard the news that Steve Romeo had died just after returning from a tour with Kevin today - his body, along with that of friend and long-time JHMR employee Chris Onufer, were recovered from avalanche debris near Ranger Peak in Grand Teton National Park today by search crews. Strangely, we had talked about "Randosteve" today, impressed and intrigued by his choice of 111mm wide Black Diamond Justices (the same ski that Kevin tours on) for most of his burly steep descents.

While I never had the opportunity to meet or ski with either Steve or Chris, I did correspond with Steve several times about arcane gear issues. He was never too busy to respond to any inquiry no matter how trivial, and was obviously stoked on anything that had to do with skiing. His blog, Teton AT, was a constant source of inspiration for aspiring and practicing ski mountaineers the world over, and one of the few ski sites that I checked out on a daily basis. I'll miss him.

Steve Romeo (the big one) just a few days ago.

March 5, 2012

The Real Season Begins

March is when the real ski season begins. Ski lessons are over, snow continues to fall in ernest, and breaks in the weather are more and more frequent. For ski touring, in particular, spring is it - days are longer, the snowpack tends to settle a bit, and obscure lines are filled in. I took my son Jordan on his first tour last week, doing a shakedown trip on his new Verdict/Duke/Titan rig (don't worry, he's a bike racer) up and over Hyak and part way up Catherine. It was all good except for the part where he fell in the creek on a log crossing and was hanging by his skis upside down . . . man, stuff happens when you leave the ski area! Fortunately nothing really got wet except for the tip and skin of one ski, so it didn't turn into a problem. He was upbeat about the experience and stoked to find that his all gear worked - and ready for his Avy Level I class next weekend.

It's been busy at work lately, with sales going the last two weekends and another coming up at the end of the month. Lots of interest in touring or side country rigs that will enable the user to dabble in touring if they feel the need, which is promising for the years ahead. In the wake of the recent avalanche deaths (with one survivor wearing and deploying an airbag pack) at Stevens Pass and Alpental, there's been lots of interest in airbag packs as well. I had the opportunity to play around with a BCA Float 30 for a bit, and it seemed like a generally well-designed piece of gear. It was extremely difficult to put the bag back in the pack after it had been deployed, however - the compartment just seemed slightly too small, and the velcro closure just didn't want to stay closed as I stuffed it in. Also the "plumbing" takes up a fair amount of room, so if you're used to a 30 liter pack for most day trips (like me) you will probably want to move up a size to the 38 liter.

Jordan crosses the meadow at the base of Catherine shortly before falling in the creek

Kevin enjoys the fruits of March skiing - Snoqualmie Mountain, 2012

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