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December 13, 2012

Powder Turns on Red

The DOT and Alpental Pro Patrol were doing target practice on Snoqualmie Mountain this morning, and after a failed attempt to bypass the artillery by skinning up and around the howitzer (we asked, they said no) we made other plans. They had set up the re-conditioned 105mm howitzer in lot #3 and proceeded to take pot shots at the Phantom for some time (we could hear the rounds from down the road) while Crispin, Kevin and I headed up Commonwealth Basin with an eye on Red Mountain. Crispin's new dog Geeb was stoked to be out in the snow and didn't seem perturbed by the shots though he still needs a little ski avoidance training. Skiing was stellar, as evidenced by the photos!

With Alpental scheduled to open this weekend, uphill travel is no longer permitted within the ski area boundaries for the remainder of the lift-served season - this includes Mondays, even though the area is normally closed that day. Alpy patrol takes their job seriously and does tons of control work - let them do what they do without having to worry about people skinning up through avalanche zones when they are setting charges.

Crispin, Geeb and Kevin on the flanks of Red Mountain

Giving the Huascarans a workout    Kevin Curd photo

Crispin gives the crust a piece of his mind. Lap #2, Red Mountain adjacent.

Fresh snow. Brilliant sunlight. Kevin knows what to do.

December 10, 2012

It's That Time of Year . . .

Yes, it's virtual Christmas Card Time again.

Best Holiday Wishes and tons of fun in the snow to all! May your turns be deep and fruitful, and all your trips round trips. Here's a digital version of our family picture for 2012:

Here we are - shirts courtesy of Lindsay, wrinkles courtesy of years of skiing with inadequate sunscreen, photo by our 6'7" cross-dressing friend Derik Kleinhesselink

December 6, 2012

Alpy Preview

I was convinced there was sufficient snow coverage at Alpental to take out the new Huascarans for a few laps. Kevin had been making almost daily trips up the ski area for a while, and even after the 1.5 day rain event of this week, the bottom was filled in enough to slip through without hitting much. After all, skis can only stay new so long, right?

Tom Davies joined us for a lap, and we followed a track set by Crispin, Silas and Victor an hour earlier. Dropping into Upper International for the first time each year always feels good, especially when there's fresh snow underneath and no rocks to dodge at the entrance. Snow conditions ran the gamut from 8" of windblown fresh to scoured icy stuff, but clean tracks are clean tracks in any language. Kevin and I did it again for good measure.

With more snow on the way, Summit West looks ready for an opening tomorrow and Alpental as early as next week . . . stay tuned! Oh yeah, the Huascaran/Mercury combo kills it . . .

Tom and I crest the ridge at the top of Alpental    Kevin Curd photo

Backcountry skiing in variable snow not tough enough for you? Kevin does it on one foot!

November 17, 2012

Mercurys in the House

I received my Dynafit Mercury boots last week, and have been fine tuning them ever since. Frickin' stiff is the operative adjective for these things, and we're not even talking about the top-of-the-line Vulcan with the carbon fiber cuff! After playing around and spending time with both my Lange RS 130's and my Dynafit TLT5P's on the other foot, I've made the following mods with an eye toward finding a forward flex in between my alpine and light touring boots without sacrificing "crush resistance" under full load:

1. Sixth toe punches, both sides. 2. Medial mid-foot punches, both sides. 3. Reduced the height on the removable tongues by ~ 2 inches. 4. Cut a V-shaped slot in the removable tongues matching the shape of the shiny patch on the inside of the tongues.

I'm getting close to a flex I like for this boot, a bit softer than my Lange plug boots and still quite a bit stiffer than the TLT5P's. The Mercury is quite sensitive to buckle tightness as well; tightening the top buckle tight makes it feel quite a bit stiffer. Try backing off a notch if you want a little more give in the flex. If you position the power strap in back of the fixed "V" tongue with the fabric sewn in the middle, you can leave the removable tongue in place while skinning without limiting your rearward cuff mobility to any serious extent, so transitions are simply a matter of opening or closing the top buckle. Pretty sweet, since I already have slots for Dynafit buckles cut in three pairs of my touring pants!



October 29, 2012

Retail evoLUTION

Last night my place of business picked up and moved from its old location in Fremont to a new one a few blocks east at Stone Way and 35th. In typical evo fashion, a team of employees massed at both locations and worked through the night to transfer fixtures, art and inventory from 122 NW 36th to 3500 Stoneway N. - no downtime allowed! We opened the doors promptly at 11:00 AM and were busy almost immediately with a mix of regular customers, neighbors from the hood, family and friends.

The ski department was crankin' - lots of boot fits and sales of all manner of hardgoods. We would have done even better if we'd been able to bring up more inventory, but the crew was at the limit already. No worries, everything worked and comments were universally favorable regarding the new space. It doesn't really look or feel like a sporting goods store, but we've got the gear to prove we are.

New Storefront brings it to the lower boundary of Stone Way North

Entrance and street level apparel section just before opening the doors

Mezzanine and snowboard section

Andrew and Ryan from Line Skis check out the boot display

October 25, 2012

It's On

The new season is up and running as of now, with powder, sunshine, and yes plenty of rocks today on Mt. Rainier's south side. Regular partners Kevin, Frank and Elissa joined me for a spin on the Muir Snowfield in what began as a slightly dreary day in light snow. Eric Rouss hooked up with us for a while on the skin up, and we talked shop while we climbed. Above Pebble Creek, the clouds began to thin and we found ourselves under blue skies the rest of the way to Camp Muir.

We were lucky to be behind a group of 4 who set a nice skintrack in the 8 inches of soft new snow, and got a few shots of them as they descended as a group. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and we got more and more stoked as we approached the climber's shelter. After a brief break for lunch, we hit the Muir Snowfield ourselves with ear to ear grins. Almost too deep for the mild slope angle, we nevertheless were thrilled to cruise the perfectly smooth fresh - first new snow of the year for each of us.

Don't take your new skis. Below Pebble Creek is a minefield of barely submerged rocks that are unavoidable if you choose to ski it (and of course you will).

Frank, Elissa and Kevin during lunch break at Camp Muir

Kevin finds the snow to his liking

Elissa over the cloud deck

September 28, 2012

Insider Mission at GORE-TEX® Headquarters

The W. L. Gore Corporation was kind enough to extend an invitation this week to my colleague Jordan and me to visit GORE-TEX® headquarters and several production facilities in and near Newark, Delaware the past three days, flying us to the east coast and putting us up with a group of other North American retailers to get an inside look at what makes both the company and the product tick.

The entire trip was quite impressive and pointed out what a diverse and global company W. L. Gore really is. In addition to the waterproof/breathable garments we've come to know and love as skiers, they are a huge presence in the medical, industrial, and electronics industries with a host of products based on expanded polytetrafluoroethylene. Heart stents, computer cable, industrial filters, dental floss and the normal assortment of garments for sport, military and rescue purposes were all on display. We were able to tour (but not take pictures in) the membrane lamination plant for the US, and tested the "rain room" and seam taping machine in person.

We toured rooms with countless washing machines running 24/7 testing the durability of fabrics, mechanical feet doing the stationary equivalent of thousands of miles of hiking, and machines for testing the waterproofing and breathability of jackets, pants, gloves and shoes. Our hosts Dan, C.J. Adele and Louise didn't scrimp when it came to wining and dining us either - night one was steak and sushi at a Benihana-style Japanese restaurant, while day two found us at the Chesapeake Inn for oysters and fish, with Maryland crab cakes and Philly Cheese Steaks catered in during the day. Pretty over-the-top, but they obviously have this tour thing dialed.

Overall, the tour made quite an impression - no one does it like Gore when it comes to research, development, and insistence on stringent quality controls at each step of the process. I'm sure some of their customers see them as an 800 pound gorilla breathing down their necks at times, but the product really does speak for itself.

W. L. Gore has a strict "no cameras" policy inside the facilities, with the exception of the rain room. A sample of
every GORE-TEX® jacket and pant has to pass muster here before a manufacturer can go into production with it.

September 23, 2012

Monster Avalanche Incident on Manaslu

A large serac fall and subsequent massive avalanche completely wiped out a full-to-capacity Camp III on Manaslu earlier today, resulting in 9 confirmed dead, many more injuries, and 3 people still missing. Freeski legend Glen Plake was among the fortunate survivors, and was able to make a satphone call to his friend Trey Cook in Chamonix, reporting that his tent partner Greg Costa and climbing partner Rémy LéCluse were among the missing. Another group of skiers containing endurance athletes Greg Hill and Benedikt Böhm was camped nearby and was able to join in the search for survivors as well as help Plake down the mountain.

Here's the text of Plake's phone call, as reported by Trey Cook:

"Greg (Costa) and I were in a tent together, Rémy was in another. It was 4:45a and I was in my sleeping bag with my headlamp on reading my devotional when we heard a roar. Greg looked at me and said, "That was a big gust of wind," then a second later, "No, that was an avalanche." Then it hit us. I was swept 300 meters over a serac and down the mountain and came to a stop still in my sleeping bag, still inside the tent. We all went to sleep with avalanche transceivers on so I punched my way out of the tent and started searching. Searched for 10 minutes when I realized I was barefoot. Greg was using my down suit for a pillow and I found my suit, I found everything that was in my tent - camera, sleeping bag, ski boots, it was like someone had thrown my gear in the back of a pickup - but there was no sign of Greg. Rémy and his tent are nowhere to be found."

Here's some video of the scene from the Dynafit team - in German, but you'll get the idea

August 19, 2012

Another Year in the Books

I celebrated eight years of Turns-All-Year today with my friend Elissa and a marmot family on the Paradise Glacier. The turns were mediocre but the company was great!

Two baby marmots (out of a litter of three, the third is masquerading as a rock about 5 feet to the left - mom was foraging nearby) fight for supremacy . . .

Elissa never lets me forget that I skied pro freestyle in the day with her dad

A little moss oasis in the middle of the Paradise Glacier's rubble

July 29, 2012

Say "Moo" If You Like Summer Skiing

After mounting up a pair of Movement Randoms with Dynafit Speed Superlights for Silas last week, we agreed on a Saturday ski in the general vicinity of the Paradise Glacier. Elissa and I showed up around 9:30 and joined Silas and Emily, along with tele holdouts Greg and Dave, at the Fourth Crossing Trailhead. Drizzle in Seattle had turned to glorious sun on Rainier and the skin up was like a good beach volleyball workout (i.e. pretty sweaty). We did a couple runs in the Paradise drainage and one superb one in the Cowlitz basin. Hard to argue with a few thousand feet of smooth corn in the last week of July.

I don't know about tomorrow, but right now it goes . . .   Dave Menz Photo

Emily and Elissa get their carve on; perfect corn was the order of the day

Black moon over Paradise? Silas goes big skinning out of the Cowlitz

July 27, 2012

K2 Factory Tour

Today we set aside the afternoon for a tour of K2's World Headquarters in SODO. While not technically the "factory" - they make your skis in a facility on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China - the building on 6th Avenue South in Seattle is home to K2, Line, Ride, 5150, Atlas, Tubbs, Karhu and whatever other companies happen to be in the K2 family of outdoor brands. Völkl and Marker, though part of the group, appear to have their R&D and marketing staff housed elsewhere.

Chez K2 is a bit of a sensory overload. The sales, marketing, development and graphic design groups are clustered loosely in a hub, decorated with K2 memorabilia from 50 years of making skis and the assorted ad campaigns designed for selling them. Need a 30 ft. high replica of the Space Needle? Some 600 cm glass skis? A K2 themed Harley from Orange Country Choppers with custom machined K2 gascap? They're all here. And by the way, they've got a building and some prime real estate for sale on Vashon Island if you're interested . . .

The business end of K2 takes up a huge amount of space, but surrounding the offices is a full-scale ski factory. I was surprised to see so much tooling, pressing and testing equipment still taking up residence in the Seattle office, but our guide and North American VP John O'Conner explained that they continue to make every ski in-house, including the molds and topsheets, before sending the numbers along with production specialists to China to duplicate the process. Master ski maker Aaron fired up a press and built a pair of special 189 ObSETHed's with custom topsheets while we watched - the speed and precision with which he slathered on epoxy resin and laid the components into the mold was staggering. After roughly 15 minutes of assembly and 12 minutes in the press at 200 degrees, a pair of new skis emerged. Pretty cool.

Apparently we got the deluxe "industry" tour rather than the "casual" tour, and were accompanied by several K2 employees who had never seen all aspects of the process in action or every corner of the plant. John warned us beforehand not to take pictures during the tour, and it soon became obvious why - we came across some 2014 graphics already coming off the company screens, near-ready 2014 K2 boots, and a number of intentionally broken items that were being analyzed in hopes of improving them. They even had pizza and beer ready for our crew, definitely a beyond-the-call-of-duty effort. Highly recommended if you ever get the chance!

June 21, 2012

Gotten Any Lately?

Matt decided to throw a party in honor of the incoming summer season, and dubbed it the "Alpental Summer Solstice" Event, which soon became known by its obvious acronym on the local ski forums. I invited my young friend Elissa to join, who invited her friend Alyssa. After building up a head of steam on the TGR site, Matt was thinking that perhaps 40 people might make it to the top of Alpental Wednesday evening to join in the fun. Locals Greg and Chris helped with the prep, hauling provisions to the top beforehand, and word spread among the Alpental faithful and others with an urge to get out and ski in June.

The outcome had perhaps 50 to 60 people and assorted pets jammed onto the top loading station of Alpental's famed Chair 2, with others constantly in the process of skiing either up or down as well. All told, it seemed likely that around 80 people were involved at one time or another, probably one of the all-time great impromptu ski parties of our era in the PNW - at least for one that required a good hour or so of hard aerobic work to get "in the door." I arrived late and left somewhat early, but saw a lot of good friends and ushered in the new season in true skier style - thanks to Matt, Greg and Chris for the instigating!

The skiing? Actually it was great - the debris on International from 10 days ago had completely flattened out, and aside from a quick portage of about 50 feet on the entrance, everything was smooth and sweet. An inch or two of softened corn gave us plenty to dig our edges into, and it felt good to make some turns.

The long and winding road up Edelweiss . . . people skinned, booted and crawled up with kegs, it seems.   Elissa Eng photo

A mixed bag of locals, TGR posters, and people who just love a party showed up   Elissa Eng photo

This was early in the evening; the crowd at the lift station probably tripled by the end of the night.   Elissa Eng photo

June 18, 2012

RIP Stéphane Brosse

Le roi est mort.

French ski mountaineer Stéphane Brosse, who ruled randonnée racing for much of the opening decade of the millennium with a host of wins in the World Championships, the Patrouille des Glaciers, and the Pierra Menta, died yesterday in a fall on the Aguille d'Argentière near Chamonix when a cornice he was crossing collapsed and he fell between 600 and 700 meters. He was skiing with a group which included Kilian Jornet (the current dominant force in randonnée racing) and videographers Seb Montaz and Bastien Fleury.

If you haven't watched this video of Stéphane ripping skins at the Powderkeg, and even if you've seen it many times, you should view it again and marvel at his economy of motion. Yes, that was 18 seconds. I'll leave you with another vid of Stéphane and friend Nico Poncet doing a little powder touring on their heavy rigs, this time with a pole cam:

May 6, 2012

Birthday Turns for Elissa

It was Elissa's birthday today, but before the BBQ and party she wanted to make some turns. A quick mission to Paradise was in order.

We arrived at the visitor center a bit before 9:00 AM, none too early it turns out, as the lot was nearly full and hoards of people already in full lemming mode on the climber's trail to Muir. Yikes. Perfect weather, though, and everyone was in a good mood. We chatted with Matt Schoenwald a bit just before Alta Vista, then headed out in overdrive, watching the masses of people on the Pan Point face ahead of us for signs of instability. All seemed in order, and we stayed in the line of climbers and skiers until 8,760 ft. for "stealth" reasons - still no one had made a move to ski the Nisqually Chutes, but we took no chances and quickly ripped skins to descend the ~400 vertical to the entrance.

Our timing was perfect. A couple of point releases were just starting to roll as we skied up under the hot sun, but nothing propagated. We did a couple test turns on a narrow steep section, then let it roll for the next 4,000-some-odd vertical feet. I hitched a ride back to Paradise with Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad and the 2 daughters in a crammed minivan, picked up Elissa at the bridge, and went directly to Copper Creek for pies for the party.

8:45 AM and only a few spots left in the lot . . .

. . . but no one beat us to the goods. Elissa ponders her line.

April 29, 2012

Long Board Day at Alpental

2012 Long Board Day at Alpental went down pretty much as planned today, with some good times, good companionship and good beer.

Lot 4 regulars Matt, Chris and Greg led off the festivities for this "210 cm and over" event by erecting the Marker binding tent in Matt's traditional parking place, where Alpy locals and guests were quick to convene and set up shop. Period-appropriate costumes were optional, but plenty of people added to the atmosphere by wearing 80's and 90's era garb. Multiple laps were were interspersed with regular breaks for refreshment and BBQ. The rain that had marked the drive up in the North Bend area happily held off for most of the day, and the soft spring corn was just the ticket for getting re-acquainted with the big skis. A very cool end-of-year event.




April 15, 2012

Slide for Hunter Day

My friend Hunter Eng has been gone for a year now.

The Sunnyside Sliders gang got together to honor the anniversary of Hunter's passing this weekend and take a few runs together. This event happened to coincide with the closing weekend of the regular season at Crystal Mountain, and the weather was perfect - meaning there were plenty of people there to share in the fun. I skied, shook hands and crossed poles with dozens of people I see too rarely.

Mike O'Brien, Fred Reininger, Joe Habenicht and I hooked up with Hunter's wife Crisi and daughter Elissa, and spent the day cruising our old haunts on spring snow that skied perfectly after the sun warmed it for an hour or so. Other friends, many flying the Sunnyside Sliders colors, joined throughout the day. We finished off with a hike to the top of Silver King, where about 50 others were hanging out celebrating the end of the regular season with food and drink, then bounced down Pinball on the way to the patio for beers. Thanks to Deliane and Bart Klein for letting us use some of their Founder's Club credit!

Elissa, Greg, Mike and Crisi re-enact a "famous" Sunnyside Slider photo

Fred Reininger opens it up after navigating the tricky upper section of Pinball

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

February 18, 2012

Vertfest Goes Down With Face Shots

I missed being there due to work, but a record number of competitors (158) did show up to enjoy some true Pacific Northwest trail-breaking and pristine powder descending. Here's a summary of results I've gotten so far via e-mail and the Web - congrats to the winners in all categories, and stoked to find friends and ski partners winning in nearly every division!

Looking over the Men's Race results, I notice a distinct trend - Seth Davis is a former Cat. 1 road biker (Broadmark Elite), the Traslin brothers are both elite MTB and road racers, #4 finisher Andrew Pinfold is currently a pro road racer with United Healthcare, Dave Brown also a former MTB racer, Brian Harder a core road racer and owner of the training blog Getstrongergolonger, Ryan Larson is a Husky Cycling "A" team roadie, etc. Add to that Tyler Farrar's avowed enthusiasm for randonnée skiing and Zach McDonald coming into the shop last week to have some Black Diamond liners cooked . . . these days the speed and endorphin junkies need at least 2 sports to get them through the year!

(Brandon Kern (#7) and Kevin Curd (#15), on the other hand, are both Seattle firefighters and drag heavy hoses around for a workout)

Here's Seth's take on how the race unfolded:

"Once again Holly and I lined up for Alpental’s Rando Rally ski race. As Lowell pointed out earlier to me, this was the 10th anniversary race for Holly and I. We originally met at the 2003 Steven’s Pass Rando Rally. The course this year was similar to the last two years - from the base lodge, racers climbed up to the top of Alpental via looker's left of Chair 1, then underneath Chair 2. From the top, racers descended down Upper International, Snake Dance, and Sessel to the finish shack. For those participating in the Rec Division, their race was done. For those in the Race Division, racers then climbed looker's right of Snake Dance to Knoll 1 then down again through Snake Dance to the finish. A record 158 people entered the race this year. Given our hectic schedule these days with both of us working and Eli in Daycare, I tried to keep my expectations down. I said to myself as long as I gave it my all I would be satisfied."

"Soon after the start of the race, four guys quickly went to the front. Brad from Breckenridge wearing a USA lycra skin suit, Brian from Jackson Hole, Hyak local Brandon, and Canadian Andrew Pinfold (aka United Healthcare Pro Cyclist). I was in a group with the two Traslin brothers from Canada and local Dave Brown 50 feet or so behind the lead group. Lowell was right on our tail. Oh yeah one thing I forgot to mention, it was DUMPING snow and quickly became apparent the new snow was slowing the uber endurance guys down. Halfway up Chair 2 we were more or less a group of eight with Brian, Brad, Brandon, and Andrew taking the brunt of the trail breaking. We reached the top of Chair 2 within seconds of each other. It was the first time in my history of doing the race that I was relatively comfortable after the first climb. In past years I would have been in the red and seeing stars by this point."

"At the top I had an OK transition taking my skins off, buckling my boots, and locking my heels to my bindings. I started skiing down in sixth position. Everyone in the lead group had skis shorter than 165cm and narrower than 70mm, and with over a foot of new snow, skiing down with such minimal skis was more survival then elegance. By the time I got into Snake Dance it was apparent my downhill skills were working pretty well. I had passed many of the guys and was in sight of the leader. The race organizers had closed Snake Dance to the public so when we entered the run it was a smooth wide open powder field. When I saw this, I leaned back and straight lined it. Not only was it super fun but it also allowed me to move into the lead and gave me a decent time gap of twenty seconds at the bottom of the first run."

"I took my time transitioning to start climbing again knowing there was a lot of trail breaking before our next turnaround gate. Not long after I started climbing again Brad, Brian, Andrew and Andy Traslin caught up to me. Lucky, because I had started climbing in the wrong direction! When we redirected I went from the front of the group to the back of the group. That was the last bit of trail breaking I did for the day. The rest of the climb to the final turnaround gate was similar to the first lap - pretty slow trail breaking. Brad, Brian, and Brandon did most of the work. Two-thirds of the way up the climb we were a group of eight again. We stayed like that until we got to Knoll 1."

"This transition was much faster for me. I was second to start skiing downhill. Unfortunately soon after I started skiing I hit a deep ridge of snow and stopped abruptly. By the time I was able to free myself and start downhill again I had dropped to fourth position, but just before we entered Snake Dance again I managed to pass two racers. Entering Snake Dance I was right behind Mike Traslin. I stayed behind him until we got to the first of two steeper sections. Mike took the wider way round and got stuck in a deep section of snow, and when I noticed him slow down I redirected down the steeper section and quickly passed him. As soon as I jumped into first position the butterflies and adrenalin started flowing. I cleaned the next steep section and kept the ugly GS turns going to the top of Sessel. Rolling over the top of Sessel the finish line came into sight. Could I actually win this thing? Halfway down Sessel . . . Holy shit I might win this thing! Two-thirds of the way down Sessel, I pointed my skis straight to the finish. I had just won Vertfest."

"Immediately after I finished, Holly smothered me with a big hug and kiss. Wow. It was a great day for the Davis family. Holly won the Womens Rec Division. I’ll let her give the details, but in summary she kept her competitors in reach on the uphill then smoked them on the downhill. I believe she beat the second place woman by about two minutes! That meant Eli got two podiums for the day!"

Brief Results

Men's Race: 1. Seth Davis 1:47.36 2. Andy Traslin 1:47.45 3. Mike Traslin 1:48.03 4. Andrew Pinfold 1:48.16 5. David Brown 1:48.45
Women's Race: 1. Olivia Cussen 2:01.50 2. Juya Ghanaie 2:12.55 3. Ainsley Close 2:30.02 4. Yvonne Kraus 2:31.53
Men's Rec: 1. Greg Ireton 54.12 2. Charlie Acheson 57.01 3. Dan Nordstrom 1:05.02 4. Karl Watt 1:08.09 5. Tom Murdin 1:08.13
Women's Rec: 1. Holly Davis 1:09.38 2. Melissa Park 1:11.24 3. Katie Poinier 1:12.56 4. Anne Marie Kessler 1:22.22 5. Holly Walker 1:22.40
Men's Over 50: 1. Lowell Skoog 55.12 2. David Britton 1:07.33 3. Scott McKinley 1:07.50 4. Tom Davies 1:13.49 5. Dan Cauthorn 1:15.27
Women's Over 50: 1. Tobae McDuff 1:46.53 2. Barbara Moeller 1:47.16 3. Jennifer Osborne 1:49.13 4. Kathy McMahon 1:54.23 5. Maura Meeha 2:01.35
Oldest Competitor: Frank Neumann 1:32.17
Youngest Competitor: Per Kordel 1:36.17
Splitboard: 1. Seth Holton 56.50 2. Ruaraidh Stenson 58.46 3. Fitz Cahall 59.43 4. Chris Tretwold 1:05.28 5. Kyle Miller 1:05.46
Women's Splitboard: 1. Laura Reed 2:22.06

(Full Results are here)

Racers boot up the side of the Fan, directly in view of the Chair 2 spectators   Francine Curd photo

Holly chases Melissa at the top of Chair 1   Francine Curd photo

February 9, 2012

Vertfest 2012

It's that time of year again.

So you think you're pretty strong in the skinning department, and not bad as a skier either. Ever wonder how you stack up against other strong ski tourists around the region? Saturday, February 18th, is your chance to find out, in the Monika Johnson Memorial Rally at Alpental. Racers start in front of the Alpental lodge, follow a loosely set course up the mountain in full view of chairs #1 and #2, pass through the Rollen cliff bands, and proceed to the top lift station. From there, they de-skin and ski as quickly as possible down Upper International, out the Snakedance gate, and down Snakedance proper to the bottom. For the recreational division, that's the finish. For those looking for more of a test, the race division does another lap (usually out to the Piss Pass area) and returns to finish at the bottom.

Sound like your idea of a good time? Sign up before the event via Brown Paper Tickets and save some money (early registration is $40 if you have a Summit-at-Snoqualmie pass, $80 if you don't - you will need a ticket to participate, for liability reasons). By the way, all proceeds from the "Monika" and other Vertfest activities benefit the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, a worthy recipient and essential part of our backcountry community. For those of you not interested in the "sufferfest" (maybe next year), there are numerous clinics the following day that probably won't raise your heartrate so much, including backcountry skinning workshops, companion rescue workshops, steep skiing clinics, and photography workshops with Grant Gunderson and Jason Hummel. Show up and mingle, if nothing else - you're bound to meet some interesting people and maybe some potential ski partners. Once again, we bow down to Seattle-based Outdoor Research for stepping up in a challenging economic environment and sponsoring Vertfest, none of this would happen without their involvement.

Here's a link to Tim Tietjen's great video of last year's event to get you in the mood . . .

Don't forget to strap a stuffed kitty on your pack in honor of Monika if you show up for the race!



Gift Day at Alpental

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!

Locals day at the ski area: Bill, Kevin, Francine, me, Frank, Rob and Justin

January 16, 2012

It's Baaack . . .

Snow in the streets of Seattle, dumping in the passes, guess what we're doing? Start the clock!

Kevin Curd getting his fill

Elissa Eng: Skinny skis and strong skills = lots of fun

January 14, 2012

Binding Spy Shots

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?

wideplum.jpg  13tyrolia.jpg
New Plum Guide "XL" on the left, Tyrolia 16 DIN rail binding at right

January 12, 2012

Hoji Boot Unveiled

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.

The Vulcan weighs in at a reported 1,590 grams in a 27.5   photo courtesy

January 8, 2012

Custom Light Touring Skis

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!

Wildside 170 prototype touring skis with La Sportiva RT bindings, 3.02 lbs./1,370 grams per ski and binding . . .

January 4, 2012

Marmot Demo Night at Alpental

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!

The Black Diamond tent at Marmot's annual ski demo night - Dynafit, K2, Völkl, Rossignol, La Sportiva, Scarpa, Garmont and others were represented

January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

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!

Kevin Curd and Scott Otterson survey some freshly covered boulders somewhere in the Commonwealth Basin

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