March 14, 2015
With lift-served skiing in its death throes in Washington, it's time to start thinking about something to fill that lightweight spring and summer slot in your touring quiver. Light, because there will definitely be some long snowless approaches with skis racked on your pack, and with good edgehold because what's left of the snow will definitely be hard at times, like compacted ice from previous decades or centuries.
Based on a quick demo a month ago in Bend, I figured the Blizzard Zero G 95 would be a great candidate, and our rep Dave was kind enough to bring a 171 by for me to try. I mounted them up with some Dynafit Speed Radicals to fit my super short 288mm BSL Atomic Backland Carbons, trimmed some G3 Alpinists to fit, and adjusted the base edge bevel in the tip to ~ 2 degrees as Dave suggested. I've been skiing the Zero G's on the groomers for the past few weeks, along with other 2016 skis I've been wanting to try.
After a few years of getting their toes wet in the touring market with skis like the Scout and Kabookie - basically stripped down versions of the popular Cochise and Bonafide skis with no Titanal and less fiberglass to save weight - Blizzard's Zero G series is a completely new ultralight line in widths of 108mm, 95mm, and 85mm. With Paulownia wood cores and nearly full length sidewalls, the Zero G skis employ what Blizzard calls "Carbon Drive" technology. Carbon Drive uses a structure of finely woven carbon that's flat and narrow in the center of the ski but incorporates a 3D wrap from edge to edge at the tips and tails starting where the sidewalls end. The idea is to add torsional rigidity at the ends of the ski without adding weight. You can see where the carbon is in the photo below.
As one might expect from Blizzard, one of the few companies in the ski business that steadfastly refuses to "water down" the performance of their skis to broaden their appeal to the less aggressive or skilled, the Zero G 95 is a serious tool for technically solid skiers. The edgehold is incredible, sometimes overpowering the dampness of this 1208 gram ski (this is averaged weight, mine weigh 1207 and 1209 grams respectively). Several testers at the Bend demo sessions commented that the skis felt "chattery" and I felt the same sensation on larger radius turns coming well across the fall line. In a sliding turn, the skis (this applied to the 108 and 85 as well) wanted so badly to carve, but didn't have the mass to stay connected to the snow, that they'd chatter mid turn. Staying in the fall line and railing shorter radius turns stopped the problem, but I'm pretty sure I'll never encounter these same conditions while touring (this was smooth, groomed VERY hard snow which Westcoasters commonly call ice). On the other hand, the Zero G 95 is precisely what I want on my feet on a critical icy volcano. We'll see how these work in wilder conditions as the year progresses, but I'm thinking they'll be perfect for tough spring and summer conditions in this low snow year. Looking for more good news? The retail price on the Zero G 95 is $699, quite a bit cheaper than most other cutting edge light touring skis on the market.
Turn initiation was surprisingly predictable and smooth, which I attribute to minimal camber and the rockered tip and tail, and I predict they'll be fine on higher angle terrain where you can't afford to miss a turn. Straight line stability is outstanding for such a light and short ski; I found them quite confidence-inspiring at 35 mph rolling through Green Valley, not something I'm used to in a ski this light. Again, chances are slim you'll ever use the ski in this manner, but it's nice to know.
Since first skiing the Zero G 95, I've continued to de-tune the base edge bevel at the tip, moving it further back, and changed the side edge bevel on the entire ski from 2 degrees to 1 degree. This seems to calm the ski's edgy personality a bit. A few days after writing this, I tested the Zero G 95 for a few hours at Mt. Rainier. Uphill, as you might expect, they were outstanding. A 1200 gram ski with good torsional stiffness and a "classic" medium range sidecut stomps the uphill. The skiing was great as well, ranging from soft corn over frozen chicken heads in the Nisqually Chute to isothermal glop over a consolidated base. I'm sold on this ski for a mountaineering ski that will handle a wide range of conditions well and is confidence-inspiring on the steep.
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