October 26, 2007:
"Everything Must Go" reads the caption.
Maybe you saw the news about the K2 Moving Sale last weekend, complete with pictures of skis, snowshoes, desks and shelves piled up on Vashon Island. Moving? After 40 some-odd years? (45, according to the K2 Sports website) Wow, that signifies the end of an era for sure.
My first exposure to K2 came in 1967, when CMAC racer Cathy Joslin showed up with a pair of prototype red-white-and-blue skis. I thought they were the coolest thing in the world. A couple of years later, when K2 hooked me up with a pair of downhill skis, this 125 lb. 10th grader was a believer. After a stint as a sponsored freestyle skier and many pair of free skis later, K2 and the Vashon culture had become an integral part of NW skier lore, at least in my mind.
I talked to Tim Petrick, everybody's best source of news regarding things K2, today and asked him about the move. He said they were in new offices on 6th Avenue S. near the SODO Costco and that I should drop by and check them out.
Me: "So are you totally out of Vashon now?"
Tim: "Yeah, we're totally out. Now they're just trying to sell the property, or whatever."
Me: "So how many people are there?"
Tim: "230. It's all new, all good. My office is great; some of the engineers and marketing guys are kind of down in the catacombs, but it's good.
Me: "Are you set up to make prototypes yet?"
Tim: "They aren't doing it yet, they had to move all the machines over, and they were all grandfathered in over on the island, so they weren't exactly up to code. Now we've got the inspectors down the street, so we have to be a little more . . . Anyway, if we have to prototype now, we're flying guys over to China, but they should be up and running in about a month or so."
The end of an era, indeed. Though it sounds like the American-made K2 won't totally become a thing of the past, you'll have to pretty well connected to get to ski on anything that isn't being laid-up in Asia. And Vashon? Looks like it becomes the domain of the tofu farmers once again.
October 23, 2007:
You can read specs off websites all you want, but there's nothing like touching the new gear in person, trying the boots on, and hefting and flexing the skis you're interested in.
I stopped in at Marmot Mountain Works in Bellevue today, and after chatting with owner Lock Miller about old times and mutual acquaintances for a while, got down to inspecting some of the hardware. I tried on the new Scarpa F3, a very light boot with the tele-style toe bellows of the F1 race boot but with a normal walk/ski lever rather than the all-in-one cable apparatus the F1 uses. Though I've used the F1 for almost 3 years without having had a malfunction of the lever/cable, it's always made me nervous and I carry a spare cable whenever I use the boots. The lever sometimes ices up and is hard to get into the slot when going into ski mode, and occasionally pops out at an inconvenient time while skiing as well.
The F3 incorporates the toe bellows which makes skinning WAY more comfortable and enables me to not use the climbing post (top level) on any of my Dynafit setups (I cut them off), since the boot itself will adjust to all but the most insane skinning angles. The F3 26/26.5 mondopoint shell is 3mm shorter than my F1's at 297mm, and the Dynafit toe inserts are set in the traditional forward position (not 5mm back like the Spirit 3/4 series), so the overall length should be about 2mm longer than my Spirits. Whew, no re-drilling required. I had a problem getting my high-volume foot into the right boot due to a welded-on rubberized thingy under the tongue restricting the amount you can pull the tongue out, but once I got my feet in they were quite comfortable, without the hot spots at the little toe and arch that I've had with my other Scarpas. For the record, I've got a wide (D), flat and high-volume foot. I'm guessing that the forward flex is 10% stiffer than the F1, and the traditional flipper type ski/walk lever is quite positive as you move it into position.
The liners are a departure from tradition for Scarpa this year, being made by Vancouver BC's Intuition rather than in-house. The production boot has a conventional liner with tongue rather than the wrap-around version shown last spring, and the interior of the liner has a rough, egg-crate sort of texture that looks and feels like something you might use to clean a teflon frying pan with (see second photo below). Time will tell if the texture causes blisters or prevents them by limiting heel movement, but I'd be willing to bet they'll last longer than conventional smooth nylon linings. The liners also have a non-skid rubber bottom for hut slouching or camping, which is a nice touch.
Nitpicks: The tongue curves inward under the bottom buckle, presumably to avoid catching on the buckle as it is tightened. This leaves a space for water to enter where the tongue doesn't completely cover the shell; it remains to be seen whether the rubber stuff will keep moisture out. Also the grooves in the tongue for the middle buckle cables are narrower than the cables as they exit the strap (see photo below) - Scarpa never seems to get this right, they've used this arrangement on a number of boots and the cables never align properly with the grooves. It's almost as if the guys who mold the shells have never talked to the guys who do the buckles.
I also tried on the Dynafit Zzero 4 PX, the all-plastic version of the new Zzero 4. Instead of the carbon fiber stringers on the sides of the boot, this model uses Pebax ones and so is slightly less laterally stiff and a bit heavier, but avoids the scary $795 price point (for a touring boot, scary indeed). Dynafit also has sized down the sole slightly, with the 26/26.5 shell measuring 296mm. This might be a concern if already have several pair of Dynafits mounted, as I do, or if you are trying to decide between a medium and a short Fritschi - for the record, these will fit easily into a short Freeride binding, whereas my Spirit 3's and G-Rides in the same nominal size just BARELY made it at 300mm.
The Zzero 4 also felt quite good on my foot considering the liners had not been cooked, and quite light and "slimming" in look and feel. Dynafit's boot design team (the people responsible for Garmont's G-Ride/MegaRide) has gone out of its way to make everything on the boot "minimalist," even to the point of making the top buckle straps ALMOST too short for me to close. Forward flex in this boot was way softer than I had expected, leading me to wonder if the carbon version is also so easy to push and if some tongue reinforcement might be in order for heavier skiers or hard chargers buying this shoe. The ski/walk lever is quite small and reminds you of a switch on your breaker board at home; it may prove to be a challenge with heavy winter gloves on.
Everything else about the Dynafit boot seems to make sense (as long as you don't mind the lime green) except for a little tab on the end of the power straps that makes it really hard to get the straps free of the loops (under the third rivet next to the kitty head in the picture below). Maybe Austrians don't ever take their power straps completely off to put on their boots and never velcro the two straps together to carry them? Who knows. At any rate, it would be no problem at all to cut the things off with an Exacto knife.
There was also the Garmont Shaman. A single boot weighs about the same as my pair of F1's (only a slight exageration). There's no walking hinge. The sole is imprinted with an impressive "Flex Index 130" warning. Holy Crap, who are they going to sell these to, guys who want to "tour" but also ski World Cup GS on the weekend? Granted, the flex index number has no particular meaning, since each manufacturer has their own standard, but 130 is the number Nordica gives the Doberman Race boot! They do include two sets of soles, which can be interchanged like the Adrenalin and Endorphin soles, but the alternate sole is not a lugged mountaineering sole, only a smooth, slightly softer one with a tiny bit of rocker. These things may work for some people, but if you're looking for this type of boot you really should be in the "alpine" section; they don't really have any place on the AT boot wall.
I went through the rack of new skis, too. Here's my off-the-cuff thoughts: The new Black Diamond line seems a bit big and ponderous. The skis, especially the Kilowatt, seem too stiff in the front, and heavy compared to last year's foam core models (comparing the Verdict and Havoc, for instance). The Atomic Kailas seems overly soft in the tip unless you're planning on using it exclusively for powder days, which most people can't afford to, plus there's the size issue - they jump from 174 to 185 without stopping in between, which is where I'd want to be in a ski that width. Of course, none of this means jack if the skis rip, which may be the case. I'll have to hit the Marmot demo night this year and see for myself.
Want to know what ski really FELT right in the shop? The 181 K2 Mt. Baker Superlight was damn light, pretty damn wide, and flexed just like I THINK I like skis to flex for all-mountain, day-in, day-out skiing. They look pretty cool too, with a flashy yellow version of the Baker's NW native graphics.
Then there's the real backcountry essentials. Transceiver, shovel, probe . . . CHOCOLATE. Michael Trommsdorff was in town for a couple of days recently, and he brought back some awesome new treats. Apparently the Microsoft Zürich building is very close to the Lindt factory outlet, and it's one of Michael and Corrine's favorite places to shop. The Lindt Crème Brûlée is quite possibly the best candy bar I've ever eaten - a combination of Lindt's classic not-too-light milk chocolate and a nutmeg-enhanced custard with crunchy glazed suger bits inside.
For dark chocolate lovers (it's reputed to help keep your blood pressure down, so there!) there's the 65% cacao content Lindt Excellence "Cuba" blend, with just the right balance between sweetness and dusty chocolate bite. Sorry, no picture of this one, I ate the candy and threw away the box before I thought to scan it. Michael brought some of the Excellence "Madagascar" as well, but it wasn't quite as intense or complex as the "Cuba." I've seen and purchased the "Cuba" in Canada, too, but it seems not to be available in the States, probably due to our well-thought-out trade embargo. Oh well, if you're up in Whistler, buy a bunch and just tell the border guy it's candy bars, eh?
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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 . . .
© 2007 Gregory C. Louie