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December 15, 2014

Salomon '16-'17 Preview

The Salomon guys were in town today from Annecy and stopped by evo for a "focus" event. This was strictly "no photos" but I didn't sign a NDA so I'm assuming it's OK to give a verbal recap.

Plans are to roll the current Rocker 2 and Q series into one freeride line, called the MTN (mountain) Series - they may or not continue to use the Quest name as well. The skis will come in mulitiple widths and share similar constructions, with wrap-around honeycomb tips and tails and poplar cores. Full sidewall constructions go on the wider skis, with split sidewall/monocoque construction for the narrower ones. They'll also share a wide woven strip of carbon and flax that serves to stiffen and dampen the ski while dropping weight.

Salomon is shooting for skis that will appeal to a wide range of abilities, and that will function as a true "quiver of one" for most skiers - pretty typical of their design philosphy in the past. Their head of global marketing, Scott, mentioned several iconic Salomon skis from years previous (the Pocket Rocket was one) that serve as models for what's to come. The prototype samples they brought along were quite striking in terms of graphics, and showed the interior structure of the skis off well, but didn't incorporate the new shapes or rocker profiles. Word is the tail rocker will be somewhat less than the current Rocker 2 skis, somewhat more than the current Q series skis, and that Salomon are trying to build in better hard snow performance AND reduced weight across the line.

There was mention of two new touring skis that will debut next month (samples are being laid up now), with Karuba wood cores, super light constructions, and target weights of <1600 grams and <1200 grams (not sure what length they are talking about). They'll have a couple of tech boots available for the 2015-2016 season as well, aimed at the Maestrale RS and TLT6 markets respectively - I'll hopefully be able to comment on them next month after I get a chance to see them. I asked if there was a sub-700 gram race ski for Kilian Jornet on the way, and they confirmed that the rando superstar will in fact be skiing on both Salomon skis and boots in the coming season, but that a consumer version of these products was a long way from reality.

December 11, 2014

Stocking Stuffer?

Here's an idea for the backcountry gear nut who has pretty much everything. I wish I'd known about these Salomon Snowcross CS shoes a few weeks ago, when Kevin and I were crossing the normally mellow Pan Point face on Rainier. The icy, off-camber steps made me wish I'd chosen something more grippy than my regular Salomon trail runners (sure enough, some unlucky hiker fell here last week and bounced over the rocks - end result a double compound fracture of the tib/fib). These would have been perfect.

Basically a CrossMax race shoe with a built in gaiter, more lateral stiffness in the sole, and automobile-style studs embedded in the tread, these were designed for guys like Kilian Jornet to light up snow and ice covered trails enroute to endurance run records, but should be perfect for that transitional time when there's not quite enough of a snowpack to skin. Be careful where you wear them, though, the studs reduce grip on hard surfaces and would do heinous damage to hardwood floors!

Salomon's Snowcross CS running shoe, check out those studded treads!

December 1, 2014

'Tis the Season

The holiday season is upon us; if I needed any more reminders the twelve hour day at the store on Black Friday really drove it home. I made space for a tree by moving the harp into the bedroom and I would have put up the Christmas lights if the rain gutters hadn't been frozen solid. Really.

Here's this year's virtual Christmas card:

Yes, it's us with our new daughter-in-law Kerry, Lindsay's mom Dolores, and my dad Ken. Happy Holidays!

November 27, 2014


Take a minute or two today to give thanks.

Thanks for your new touring skis, your new featherweight boots, or the Barthels' inspired creation of Dynafit bindings. Thanks for friends you trust with your life when you ski off the beaten track. Thanks for mountains and snow and the health and fitness to scale them and slide down. And thanks for the snow that hopefully will start falling tomorrow . . .

Late October, 2014. A wild turkey takes to the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts and lives to stroll another day.

November 19, 2014

Tired of Being Patient

The normal pattern of November storms combined with freezing weather in the Pacific Northwest just hasn't materialized so far this year. Either it's been wet and warm, or bitterly cold and dry.

Kevin and I grew tired of waiting and headed to Mt. Rainier's Nisqually Chutes for a quick fix today. Despite sheets of ice on the paved trail and a rather sketchy traverse of the Pan Face in trail runners (Yaktrax or real crampons would have been welcome), we tromped over the sparse snowpack on a rare nearly deserted day at Paradise. The chute yielded some 2,000 ft. of firm but carvable smooth snow, and we beat it down the mountain before the weather started to roll in. Hopefully the freezing levels will stay low enough to lay down some white stuff this weekend . . .





November 16, 2014

evo Portland Grand Opening Bash

What a difference a few months makes.

When I stopped by the new evo Portland store in mid-August, the building was a gutted shell and workers were just finishing pouring the concrete in the drive. Thanks to a Herculean effort by management, contractors and freshly-hired staff, the new store on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Southeast Portland opened its doors for business about two weeks ago, and interest has run high among customers, competitors and ski industry types. I've got a vested interest in the success of the store, and have been itching to come down and check it out "in the flesh."

Lindsay and I got our chance this weekend when, after a busy day at work on Saturday, we bombed down I-5 (more like "lurched" until Tacoma, actually), arriving fashionably late around 8:40 to join several hundred other party-goers waiting to get in the door. After about 45 minutes standing in near-freezing temperatures (puffy coats were the order of the evening) under the watchful eyes of Portland Fire Department officers, I managed to get inside the store (Lindsay got too cold and went to check in at our hotel), where I found the vast majority of the full-time evo staff from Seattle as well as most of the ski industry reps we deal with. Stoke was high, even in the 15 minute line for beer and even longer line for the bathroom.

The highlight of the evening was perhaps the musical talent - several of us had jokingly suggested booking this act for the grand opening earlier in the year - and damn, Bryce and Co. delivered once again.

200 SE Martin Luther King Boulevard, Portland OR - open for business

The crowd warms up in the gallery after a cold wait outside - Sean Vill in the house

Wall-to-wall on level one, 9:15 PM

R is for "redeye"

Coming soon: GZA and the son of ODB, "for the parents" too.

Need Some Bike Clothes?

Yeah, I know the timing's a little off, but if you ride your bike much I know you're going to need some bike clothing at some point. Here's your chance to kit up in a genuine O'Brien Cycles/ jersey and shorts combo that will set you apart from the crowd and make those miles that much more comfortable. O'Brien Cycles is my longtime friend Mike O'Brien's custom framebuilding business, and Randosaigai is essentially me. I incorporated elements of this website like the "home" Chinese caligraphy in the design of the kits, and did a subtle re-design of the O'Brien logo for the clothes and Mike's new decals.

The clothes are made to order by real Americans at Voler in California, and ship approximately a week after you pull the trigger on an order. Here's the link to the Voler website:

I've been riding these kits all season and they're fantastic. These are "race cut" clothes and have a snug fit - hit me up with questions about fit or performance using the link at the bottom of this page (sorry, it's a long way down). I think you'll like them. Now for the good news - as a reader of, you're eligible for "Pro Form" pricing on these clothes. Use the code "OBR" (no quotes) in step #2 of the checkout and you'll receive a roughly 33% - 35% discount on the prices. That's right, the $75 jersey goes down to $50 and the $89 bibs are $55!

jersey3D.jpg     bibs3D.jpg
Time to start working on that cardio for the upcoming ski touring season. Wear something like this.

October 9, 2014

Dancing With the Stars

One of the nice things about my workplace is that it's a meeting ground for some of the best and brightest stars in the freeski world. Not only do I work with a recent Freeride World Tour overall champ, but the best freeriders in the business make a point of dropping by the store when they're in town, usually encouraged and accompanied by one of our dealer reps. Normally these appearances go hand-in-hand with a film showing and involve a casual autograph session downstairs, but typically the headliners arrive a bit beforehand and hang out, which gives us a rare chance to chat with our heroes.

A few weeks ago Jeremy Jones was in the store (he actually slept in his RV in our customer care parking lot after the Seattle screening of "Higher"). Last week it was Sage, who signed autographs in the outerwear department for over an hour before the premier of "Almost Ablaze" at the Neptune Theater. Unfortunately I wasn't prepared for his visit and forgot my one-of-a-kind clear topsheet Atomic Rituals for him to sign.

Yesterday Eric Hjorliefson stopped by enroute to the Level One screening. I'd been chatting with Matt Sterbenz about the new line of ROXA boots and as usual had no clue that Hoji would be in the store, but there he was, bigger than life. Actually, smaller. Eric skis like a giant, but like many of the best skiers is of average height and really slim. The conversation went something like this:

ME: Hey, you're my idol.

HOJI: (no response)

ME: So what have you been up to this summer? Still doing some developmental work for Dynafit?

HOJI: Yeah, yeah. I just got back from Europe, most of the time I was working on the new Dynafit freeride boot.

ME: You were in Munich?

HOJI: Yeah, some of the time in Munich. Actually I went to Montebelluna, too, that's where the boot development is going on.

ME: Cool. What's up with the new boot?

HOJI: Ahhh, it's really a stiff, high performance boot kind of like . . . what's that Garmont boot they used to make, really stiff, almost like a plug boot?

ME: Kind of metallic brown? The Shaman?

HOJI: Right, that's it. Like the Shaman, really a performance boot, not really a touring boot.

ME: How's it going?

HOJI: Pretty well, I think it skis really well. It's hard to tell, I give a lot of feedback to the Dynafit guys, and I don't know how they take it. They've had almost a complete turnover in the boot department, and I'm not so well connected anymore.

ME: Do you ever see Federico Sbrissa since he moved to Salomon?

HOJI: It's funny, I hadn't seen him in a long time, but I just saw him at Arc'teryx. He was the one who brought me into the Dynafit boot department, really a cool guy, I learned a lot from him.

ME: Yeah, he's a cool guy. The last time he was in Seattle a couple summers ago, he came down from Vancouver for a day with Jerome, the Salomon alpine boot guy, and they wanted Starbucks and cheeseburgers. That was kind of funny, because we don't think Starbucks is that great, so for an Italian guy to say he loves it seems weird. How about the new Dynafit freeride skis? Do you have anything to do with that, or is that pretty much just Cody?

HOJI: Well, I've been giving them some input on the skis, but it's really Cody.

ME: Got any big plans for the winter?

HOJI: Not yet, my winter's still pretty open. I don't really have any firm plans for filming or anything. I haven't really done anything with MSP for a couple seasons now, and I don't really know what the Sherpa guys are up to. I guess I should give those guys a call.

ME: So you're mostly just hanging in Whistler?

HOJI: Yeah, I live there. I've never skied much in Washington, except for Baker, but I'd like to try some of the other areas around here. I know Bob (Boice, 4FRNT engineer) is from here and knows his way around pretty well.

ME: (watching people heading upstairs with ski boots) Hey, excuse me, I've got to go fit some boots - great to meet you!

HOJI: Yeah, good to meet you, too. (and yes, I got my autographed poster - too bad I didn't have my TLT6P's around for him to sign!)

October 8, 2014

The King is in the Building (or will be)

OK, I admit I wrote this piece without ever seeing or laying a hand on a Marker Kingpin binding. In my defense, I didn't get invited to the unveiling event in Chile, and none of my friends in the Marker loop had one yet, either. If you haven't heard about it, the Kingpin is a just-released tech binding that just may be burly and elastic enough to use as both your everyday lift-served binding and your touring binding - in other words, a product the masses have been clamouring for for years.

The Marker Kingpin uses a set of three springs at the tech toe rather than the traditional two, and foregoes the tech heel pins. Instead, Marker uses what appears to be a revised version of the piston heel from the Tour F10/12, but which wraps further around the heel and employs rollers at the corners. The promise of real alpine-like elasticity has charging ski tourists salivating, but the downer was that sales were to be on a very limited basis starting in December of 2014, and limited to German-speaking parts of Europe.

But wait. My sources at Marker have now confirmed that a "few" sets of Kingpins will be available to North American customers THIS year via certain Marker dealers - I am assuming they're distributing the limited number of bindings to their biggest accounts and a few "core" shops that specialize in ski touring. The problem is both a lack of bindings and a shortage of the unique jig for the Kingpin, which needs to be mounted very precisely. And yes, evo Seattle is on the list. The way to get a pair is to contact one of these shops and get your name on their list of interested buyers. Call now if that sounds like you.

September 25, 2014

Don't Twist and Shout

My new stuff is starting to flow in, and among the packages were two sets of Dynafit Speed Radical bindings.

The Speed Radical is the mainstay of fast-and-light ski tourists who choose not to use ski brakes, weighs 357 grams per foot, and retains all of the retention and designed-in safety features of the heavier Radical ST binding, including the toe piece "Power Towers" that take the shock load off the toe springs when chattering around on icy steeps. This year's version ships with a new anti-rotation device to prevent inadvertant twisting of the heel back into ski mode while skinning. This unwanted counterclockwise spin seems common in certain fresh, wet snow conditions found in the Pacific Northwest and is usually accompanied by some bad language when it occurs halfway up a steep skintrack.

The device, visible at bottom center in the photo below, mounts under the pivot post and is held in place by pressure from the base plate and mounting screws (if you are retro fitting the anti-rotation device with earlier Speed Radicals, you may have to add some thin washers under the base to add a bit of clearance - these are provided in the kit supplied by Dynafit). With the device in place, the heel is virtually impossible to turn counterclockwise from skinning position - my guess is that it will work fine. While it is possible to turn the heel clockwise PAST the device, it takes some strength - it's much easier to rotate the heel counterclockwise (the top plate still has the arrow indicating you should twist clockwise, but there's nothing preventing you from going the other way with this version of the binding). If you have an early version of the Speed Radical and you haven't removed the spring-loaded brass pins inside the plastic housing, now's the time to get rid of them and install the new device. If you've got the second generation version with the small ribs on the left side of the baseplate and under the heel housing and still get unwanted heel rotation on occasion, I think this mod will fix the problem.

This add-on should stop that unwanted rotation back into ski mode

The heel in "skinning" position - the fit matches the shape of the heel body exactly
Yes, those are Dynafit Denalis under the bindings

September 7, 2014

On This Season's Snow

It was only a taste of what's to come.

When Elissa and I stopped for lunch at around 8,700 ft. on the Paradise Glacier, we found small pockets of fresh snow left over from last week's storm.

Not really enough to ski on, it was still white and pristine. We used it to make some slushy orange Gatorade which proved the perfect drink under the late summer sun. Delicious.

Elissa can't contain her enthusiasm

August 10, 2014

Ten Years After

I could have chosen any hobby.

There was golf, an extremely popular choice in my family. There was gardening. Maybe gourmet cooking.

Instead, I started hanging around with people I met on Turns-All-Year, a Seattle-based backcountry ski forum and began pushing my ski season further and further into the summer and fall. Some people thought I was nuts; that everyone needed a break once in a while to heal and recharge, but as someone who always felt a letdown when the lifts closed it was perfect.

If you aren't familiar with the Turns-All-Year concept, there's no real rules or guidebook, but the generally accepted protocol is to ski at least once in each calendar month year-round. Most people shoot for a minimum number of vertical feet, but there is pretty much universal agreement that if the patch of snow you've walked 4 miles to get to is only 200 feet long, a couple of laps will do fine. I finished my first full year of TAY skiing in July of 2004 and proceded to "rest" on my laurels, thinking I'd done a cool thing. I missed the month of August by a few days on either end, skiing July 29th and September 2nd, and soon found out that all my TAY friends had all checked off August turns without me. Since then, I've managed to hit every month - though I came close when I broke my fibula at the beginning of December of 2006 and barely made it out to ski on the next-to-last day of January with a short and somewhat painful one lap trip to Hyak.

When Alex and I hit the "Cowadise" area on Rainier yesterday for two excellent corn runs on a perfect day, it marked my tenth year of year-round skiing madness, and it felt good. There are people I ski with who have much longer streaks, but it seems like 120 months is a sort of milestone separating the committed from the masses. Along the way I've made some great friends, skied some great lines, and expanded my grasp of the sport of skiing many-fold. Now for September turns!

Alex busts a move on the lower Paradise

Bumpy but fast corn on the steeper side of Cowlitz Rocks    Alex Meilleur photo

Alex killing it on the Paradise

July 31, 2014

Scampi the Cat, R.I.P.

For those not from Seattle or who don't ride a bike, the Burke Gilman Trail is the lifeblood of North Seattle cycling, winding along the shore of Lake Washington from Bothell to Ballard (it continues to Marymoor Park but technically is called the Sammamish River Trail on the East Side). The Burke is full of characters - the Asian Ninja Chick who always wears an insulated dark brown coat even in the hottest weather, J.C. the Rastafarian, Conan (his actual name) the Barbarian with his collection of bikes and swords, and on and on. Then there was Scampi.

I put in thousands of miles on the Burke Gilman each year, and for as long as I can remember a large orange cat has been a fixture on the trail between 97th and 98th streets. It didn't seem to matter if it was hot or cold; if it wasn't raining too hard the cat would be perched on a handrail watching cyclist after cyclist pass by. About ten years ago, I saw a another cyclist petting the cat and stopped to ask if she was the owner - she replied that, no, she wasn't, but the cat's name was Scampi (I assume because of his orange coat) and that "everyone knew him" on the trail.

Since then, I've often stopped to pet Scampi or scratch him under his neck, and he never failed to be there if the weather was decent. Over the past year I could tell he was getting on in age; he could no longer jump up on the handrail and lost his place of primacy in the neighborhood to a younger gray cat named Pebbles. Once in a while I would see him lying in the dirt by the side of the trail near 98th Street, where he would rise arthritically and come over to nuzzle my hand. For the past three months I hadn't seen him at all, and today when I saw a woman I perceived to be his owner climbing the stairs, I asked about him.

She replied that Scampi had died about a month ago, but that she keeps getting asked about him by strangers on the Burke Gilman. "He's more famous than I'll ever be," was her closing comment, and I believed her.

Hope you find a nice spot on the Burke Gilman in the sky, furry buddy.    Gary Louie photo

July 20, 2014

You Guys Shoulda Been Here Yesterday

. . . or any day the past two weeks, for that matter. Almost three weeks of sun and 80 to 90 degree heat in Seattle has done a number on the snowpack, and we were lucky to spend only a half mile or so walking in ski boots today. Actually, the snow wasn't bad and was the least of our worries. Visibility was down to around 100 feet when we got above 6,000 ft. and though a break was forecast in the afternoon, it never materialized. Alex and I did a couple of runs on the lower Paradise and a couple in the vicinity of the Cowlitz Rocks, then called it a day when we were forced to rely on the GPS to get back to the car. After-ski festivities with the famous Ron Jarvis and friends involving "Mountain Margaritas" helped brighten our spirits, and by the time we hit Copper Creek for pie and ice cream the day was a success.

Ron applies some quick fix kicker skins, which didn't work out that well

Foggy? You tell me. This was the best ski picture I got.

June 9, 2014

Summer's Here

Elissa and I tagged Natches Peak yesterday and got June turns early in the month - it was a beautiful day and lots of people had the same idea, including Lowell and Stephanie. There was plenty of snow, and some big cornices to avoid, so everyone was pretty much skiing the same lines. Good thing, as it was super sticky and more people will probably help the skiability.

In other news, they've decided to sell bikes and bike accessories at the store, so another facet of my thirst for gear trivia should come in handy. Lots of product descriptions, buying guides and the like need to be written, so I've got my work cut out for me. The target date is July 1, not all that far away.

We like skinning right from the road . . .

May 30, 2014

Silver Fever

Looking to get some exercise in the sun, we chose the low-hanging fruit today and headed to Silver Peak. Tom, Elissa and I met at Kevin's house right on the way, and drove to within a quarter of a mile of the Pacific Crest Trail crossing where the road heads into the Silver Peak Basin.

Weather and ski conditions were near perfect, and we saw several skiers among the crowd that we knew (or their cars). Snow at the lower elevations is melting out fast and I have doubts about Silver being in shape for the annual Solstice Day BBQ festivities, but who knows. Turns were great, the boot out from just above Lake Annette was quick if sweaty, and Tom's secret Budweiser cache from last year was still there, if missing a few cans. Get it soon if you're inclined, but watch those potholes.

Kevin and Tom on the leisurely skin in

Elissa cranks it, Tom in the background

Kevin cranks it

Tom and Kevin cool down in front of Rainier after a hot walk up

May 15, 2014

Lift Served Season Goes Out with a Whimper

I missed out on the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration at Alpental due to work - they had the audacity to schedule the grand Mexican holiday on a Monday this year.

I skinned up a few days later and found some passable conditions, if a bit sticky on the lower mountain. Meanwhile, between trips to Las Vegas for some hot (as in over 105 degrees) R & R with Lindsay and Eastern Washington to hang with the in-laws-to-be, I've missed out on the Highway 20 festivities and first round of Silver Peak fun, but the season is still young, at least at higher elevations.

Work is cranking; with the new Portland store in full construction mode, quite a bit of staff turmoil has hit us - some of it people moving on to other jobs, some of it simply co-workers switching seats. I'm staying where I am, pounding the keyboard in the copy department for the summer and putting in a day or two a week in the store. There are still a surprising number of people trying on ski boots and looking for deals on skis, but I'm spending more and more time talking board shorts, flip flops and skateboards. Yeah, me. Hit me up if you're in the neighborhood.

Alpental's famous padded seats wait quietly for the next season

April 13, 2014

Sunnyside Sliders Reunion

The decades have gone by faster than I could have imagined, but the friendships and stoke for skiing are as compelling as ever.

We did it again this weekend, rounding up the old Sunnyside Sliders crew along with new friends and family for a two day event at Crystal Mountain. Saturday featured mellow spring skiing under bluebird skies and ended up with an epic Raclette party (that's a cheese-oriented picnic if you're not French or Swiss) at the Eng cabin near Greenwater. The guest list for these events gets bigger each year, and the food and setting were perfect. The dinner culminated in a mass ski lantern launch in honor of the late Hunter Eng, which sent a train of shimmering candle-heated balloons into the night sky over Greenwater.

Sunday was the headliner ski day, again under cloudless skies, and our band of skiers took to the slopes of Crystal in droves. A full day of top-to-bottom corn runs with beer and German Chocolate cake breaks on the patio put some serious smiles on Slider faces. The highlight of the day was the presence of "oldest living Slider" Ben Muzzey, who at 93 years of age is no longer skiing (he only quit last year, after a bike accident). We got Ben to the summit in the gondola for a photo opportunity before lunch, and the Crystal Pro Patrol was kind enough to take him down the mountain in a sled so he could see the crowns of some of this season's huge avalanches. Still sliding in his ninth decade - that's dedication!

Joe and Wylie send a sky lantern aloft in honor of Mistah Natchul/Hunter Eng

Oldest Slider Ben Muzzey and Bob Boice prepare to board the gondola

Lifelong friends and ski enthusiasts frame one of the original Sunnyside Slider jackets

Crystal patrollers help Ben into a toboggan for the ride down the mountain

A swarm of Sliders in their natural habitat

March 24, 2014

Buyout Day 2014

Smooth corn, no crowds, and free brats and beer!

Ever wish you could have your own private ski area, even for a day?

K2 does it most every year, renting Alpental for a day for their annual Family Day celebration - a day to bring friends and family to the mountain, enjoy some BBQ and beverages, do a little snow sliding, and hang with old and new pals. I'm fortunate to be counted one of the friends, and made the trip up to my home ski area with some people from the store to take part in the fun today. Alpy did the best job of grooming I'd ever seen there - they ran the groomer all the way up to the steep part of Edelweiss Bowl, and up to the ridge of Gunmount, plus rolled Armstrong to within an inch of its life. With almost no one on the hill, it was perfect spring conditions. They even opened the high traverse for a brief time, and Crispin, Stanley and I got in a lap through the shady Wall Street side of the Cleaver where we even found some fresh tracks from last Thursday's storm. Top that off with free beer and barbeque - how good does life get?

March 4, 2014

Lift-Served Skiing

Our mode of conveyance today was this A-Star AS350

I spent the last two days in the company of some powder-crazed ski industry types in Washington's Methow Valley, courtesy of K2 Skis. Representatives of several Washington shops, along with a few of the K2 power players made the trip over to Twisp on Sunday night hoping for a chance to try out the newest crop of K2 powder skis in their proper medium. I got to ride in the K2/BMW co-lab SUV, a monster 5 liter X5 with every conceivable gadget on board, and with Kevin Lewis at the wheel we made short work of the journey.

Trees sometimes got in the way of the sleds - this collision is going to net the owner's wife a new pair of skis

Riding sleds in deep snow is hard work - this happened a lot

Between bouts with huge amounts of beer and Mexican food, we managed to squeeze in a 6-hour "half day" of snowmobiling on Monday. Tuesday we had North Cascade Heli booked for the group, and we arrived with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the weather didn't feel like cooperating - after sitting and waiting for a weather window for a couple of hours, we finally took to the air and were rewarded with a single long run in an awesome 3 feet of fresh before the clouds closed in again and we had to return to the barn. We were stoked, but hungry for more. Maybe next year?

February 22, 2014

Vertfest Bachelor 2014

The second leg of the 2014 Vertfest series took place yesterday in Bend, Oregon - this is a town full of world-class endurance athletes and a great ski/bike/fly fishing destination. I know several people who've gone there on vacation and never left. All this means it's a natural venue for something like a rando race.

Brandon had this to say about the race:"My race day started at 3 am when I left for Bachelor from the pass for a one day trip. With all the recent snow, and the bluebird conditions Mt Bachelor was very busy, which I discovered on the drive from Bend. I barely made it to the race, pulling into the parking lot at 9:40 for a 10 am race wearing street clothes was cutting it close. The next 20 minutes consisted of me frantically gathering my gear, running to check in/get my bib, partially changing in the bathroom, then fully dressing in the middle of the lodge (i.e. squeezing into skin suit) putting skins on skis, wax on skins, helmet, goggles, gloves, poles, forgot the hat and sunglasses in the car (crap!), choking down a GU, drinking a couple swigs of H2o, running to the start line, confirming the course hadn't changed since last year, and lining up with 5 minutes to spare! Needless to say this is not a preferred method of starting a race for me.
   At the start line there were 4 or 5 guys in speed suits, and a few others in light gear. Right next to me was Aaron Talbott, who reintroduced himself, we'd met last year at the race and he raced at Alpy this year. Aaron placed 3rd last year at Bachelor, and recently bought a really light racing setup. Aaron has been training quite a bit this year and had a disappointing showing at Alpental Vertfest due to a skin blowout. Missing from this years race was Jason Moyer (last years winner) and Max King (fourth at Alpy Vertfest, Bend local, and Ultra Running Legend).
   The start was fast as they always are, and I pushed the pace to see if anyone was going to hang, to my dismay and discomfort three or four guys hung on a lot longer than I expected. After the second transition the race was pretty much between me and Aaron, with him just behind me on the ups and then him charging past on the descents. On the last climb I knew since Aaron was skiing so much faster I needed to try and distance myself a bit, but to Aaron's credit and my lungs lack of cooperation I couldn't get much more than a 20' gap on him. The last descent Aaron took the lead and I couldn't catch him, so 2nd place for the 2nd year at Bachelor for me. The surprising thing about the race is how much time I took off from last year, almost 20 minutes! The course was exactly the same, and I wasn't feeling 100%, baffling.
   After the race I bought a discounted ticket and rode lifts for a few hours on the upper mtn and found really nice packed powder conditions. Then I grabbed a beer and a brat and hung out for the awards, which were by the way very generous. Then back in the car to hit the road and back home by 9. All in all, it was a great day! I hope to maybe get a bigger contingent from Washington to go down there next year, as their turnout for the race was only 50 people. They put on a good race, and it's a cool mtn, not to mention the close proximity to a very cool hangout town in Bend!"

Here's the top ten in the elite race: 1. Aaron Talbott - 1:13.39, 2. Brandon Kern - 1:14.26, 3. Patrick Fink - 1:17.09, 4. Tosch Roy - 1:18.28, 5. Terry O'Conner - 1:19.55, 6. Barry Wicks - 1:26.06, 7. Sather Ekblad - 1:32.13, 8. Jonas Tralen - 1:33.12, 9. Zach Violett - 1:33.40, 10. Henry Abel - 1:34.17

On the women's side Molly Grove came home 11th overall and 1st in Women's Elite in 1:36.13 with Hailey Garside second in 1:49.51 and Laurel Manville third in 2:01.55. Cool to see local hero Brandon Kern on the podium and mountain bike/cyclocross legend Barry Wicks in 6th . . .

Full results here

February 18 & 19, 2014

WWSRA Demo Days, Mission Ridge

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week on the clock at Mission Ridge, skiing as many of the new crop of 2015 skis as I could in the two day span.

I forgot my camera, so words will have to suffice, but we were at a full gallop from bell to bell each day. Between being fitted for skis, taking notes on each one, and typing up our impressions, there was barely time to fit in three or four beers and a few brats. The evenings were also filled with your typical ski industry alcohol-fueled festivities, though experience taught me to go easy at these and save it for the ski hill. In general, working where I do, I made an effort to ski as many of the really new models (not just topsheet changes) and fattest skis I could find.

Tuesday began on perfect soft corduroy interspersed with some tracked up 3-4" of fluff in the trees, but by noon it was a full on blizzard with 35 mph winds and the tracks filled in fast. The winds made it really cold and once I was almost blown off the chair by a gust, but the skiing was fantastic. We put together a test course that combined the best of groomer and soft snow skiing, and as the snow got deeper located a stash with 6-8" of real Eastern slope powder - perfect for giving the wider skis a comprehensive workout. Day Two was even better, with about 7" of high quality snow falling overnight. These days the standard for a great ski is pretty high, and there is no shortage of skis that hit the mark or exceed it. A great ski in 2015 has to be able to both float and carve, initiate a turn smoothly and predictably, and let the user choose to smear or arc cleanly at his or her whim. Manufacturers are typically hitting the ideal with lots of gradual tip rocker, a little camber underfoot, and a subtle tail rocker, but there were fully rockered designs that could lock into a hard carve and nail it cleanly, too.

Here are some of my highlights: K2 Annex 118 - Total redesign of a ski I didn't care for last year, the 2015 version turns smoothly and with relative ease, still charges over uneven snow, has tons of power but will let you break the tails loose when you need to shorten up the turn radius. K2 Coomback - 2mm wider at 104mm and lighter as well, K2 took a damn fine ski and made it better in every way, with more predictable turn initiation and superb stability for its weight. Line Sick Day 125 - A ski I didn't expect to like, with its ultra-stiff tail and strange taper at the rear, but this ski killed it when you rode it fast. Völkl V-Werks Katana - I'm not really a fan of the regular Katana, but the carbon version is incredible - lighter, more versatile and livelier all at once. Blizzard Bodacious - All new, softer and with a re-worked tail rocker, the new Bodacious was probably my favorite ski in the 115-120mm category. Salomon Lab BC - A new, light 115mm design from Salomon that's a potential quiver-of-one ski for pow-oriented folks who tour and lift ski. Floaty, pivoty and damn solid considering its weight. Dynafit Denali - A new ski with a 98mm waist in the 176 length, this ski uses the same basic five-point shape and all-Paulownia core that the current Cho Oyus do, and performs way above its weight class (1290 grams) in terms of stability and float.

There are others. I didn't ski any real dogs, and there are a bunch of skis that I think would be great to fill a quiver niche but aren't super versatile - the Völkl Two, Sick Day 125 and K2 Powabunga 136 come to mind. Pretty much all the reps present agreed that this was the best demo they'd ever seen, even the veterans who've been at it for 40 or so years. It may take Wenatchee a month or so to re-stock on beer and grill meats, but I'm sure they'll be ready again next season.

Skis were my main focus, but there were a couple other noteworthy products I demoed. Oakley has a new lens out called the Prizm, available in Rose (lightest), Jade (medium) and Black (darkest) tints. The lens was developed with defense applications in mind, but the degree of increased definition it provides will add to any snowsport experience and probably lessen civilian casualties too. Looking through the Prizm Black made the scenery pop like enhancing the contrast and hitting "sharpen edges" in Photoshop, no BS. The lens was especially brilliant going from flashes of afternoon sun into shaded trees and back. I didn't demo any new tech bindings (G3 had some Ions there, but I ran short of time), but Salomon/Atomic had the new Warden 13 on many of their skis, and it should be a hit. Essentially the Guardian toe and heel without the alloy frame, the Warden also sports a sliding AFD to enhance lateral release with rubber-soled AT boots and should be super popular with people who want to make their AT boots work with all their skis.

February 17, 2014

Vertfest Alpental 2014 - The Monika Johnson Challenge

The first race of the three-race Vertfest Series (the others are Bend, Oregon and Brighton, Utah) went off Saturday in a full snowstorm, with up and downhill skiers from all walks of life bringing the customary level of high stoke to the event.

Grip, if not visibility, was good and the 2014 race was wide open with several of the traditional favorites not on the start line. 2012 winner Seth Davis had injured his knee in a City League crash the week before, and the perennial podium-finishing Traslin brothers from Vancouver seemed not to be in attendance. Brandon Gough had mentioned last week that Dynafit was bringing in two of their sponsored athletes, Marshall Thomson and Eric Carter, and they proved to be ringers, taking the top two spots in Men's Elite. Ex-national teamer and current Vancouver resident Stano Faban edged out Hyak local Brandon Kern for fifth spot, while local powerhouse Dave Brown took the eighth spot. For the women, young moms and training partners Holly Davis and Heather Kern showed off their hemoglobin levels, coming home strong in first and second places in Women's Elite. I spent the day at the office, but Kevin represented well, coming home in 1:58.29 for 19th in the Elite group.

Here's the top 10 in Elite: 1. J Marshall Thomson - 1:19.57, 2. Eric Carter - 1:21.29, 3. Nick Elson - 1:22.29, 4. Max King - 1:32.31, 5. Stano Faban - 1:32.48, 6. Brandon Kern - 1:33.37, 7. Bruno Bagneres - 1:37.11, 8. David Brown - 1:39.51, 9. Allen Taylor - 1:41.36, 10. Cameron Charles - 1:44.20

Full results here

Kevin, just getting going - wet enough to wear the softshell!    Charlie Hagedorn photo

Holly and Heather lead the women (and most of the guys) up the bootpack . . .     Charlie Hagedorn photo

Brandon puts some daylight between him and the next guy    Charlie Hagedorn photo

Dave Brown rocks the kitty for Monika    Charlie Hagedorn photo

February 11, 2014

Dynafiddling at Hyak

We had a shop demo day at Hyak today, courtesy of Dynafit reps Brandon, Ryan, and Nick.

Several lucky evo employees from both the store and headquarters got a chance to try out state-of-the-art fast and light touring skis, bindings and boots, and the forecasted damp weather gave us a break on Tuesday morning as we took a quick lap up Hyak, down the back side, and out. Unfortunately the 8" of mank topped with a thick breakable crust made it tough going on the downhill, but it was a tremendous opportunity to see what ski touring on the original tech system is all about. Thanks to the Tokul Creek crew for making it happen!

Brandon's got a truckful of goodies for us to sample

evo conga line nears the top of Mt. Hyak

February 5, 2014

Civic Pride

Seattle held a parade today, and it was a big one.

Hundreds of thousands of people made their way downtown this morning, most of them in front of my car on I-5 at around 9:35 in the morning, to watch the victorious Seahawks parade down 4th Avenue to CenturyLink Stadium. I'm pretty sure this is the biggest impromptu gathering the city has ever seen. Alex and I briefly contemplated hooking up with the evo HQ crew on the bus downtown to join the festivities, but common sense prevailed and we decided on another once-in-a-lifetime chance to shred untracked pow on a bluebird day in near zero temperatures . . .

We took a new route to the top and had to boot around some rocks to get there; Alex checks out the view

It seemed no one else had been to the top since the last storm; it was ripe for the picking

February 3, 2014

Hawks Roll, and So Do We

They held a championship football game yesterday, and unfortunately only one team showed up.

I say this figuratively, of course. Peyton Manning and his teammates were on the field, but never mounted anything remotely resembling a challenge to the Seahawks. To use a communication metaphor, Manning spent the day stumbling through a large text version of a remedial textbook before an audience of third graders while the Seahawks as a team tweeted a homegrown message of strength, speed and execution to millions. If you're somehow one of the people who did not watch the game, it was a disaster for the Broncos from the opening snap (Manning not ready, Seattle safety). Seattle dominated in every department - "O", "D" and Special Teams enroute to a 22-0 halftime score.

Fox broadcasters scrambled to come up with an interesting slant on the game, saying Denver was fully capable of making the necessary adjustments at the half and charging back into contention. Right. That remained a slight probability until Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff of the second half and slashed through the Denver defenders like Ted Ligety through a GS course, returning the ball 87 yards to the house. Maybe the Denver wheels were still on the car, but talk about letting the air out of the tires . . . The Broncs were able to get on the board with a touchdown and two point conversion in the third, but that only made Seattle more determined to run up the score, which ended up an embarassing 43-8. This is the Superbowl, remember?

It was the ultimate feelgood moment for championship-deprived Seattle sports fans, who went wild as game's end. They stormed out of bars and spilled into the streets, only to stop enmasse for red lights at the intersections. They rocked Subarus in joyous celebration until the alarms went off, and ordered Hazelnut lattes with EXTRA SHOTS. Students in Seattle's University District dragged beer-stained sofas their parents had given them onto Greek Row and set them afire, but not before checking the NOAA website to make sure there was no burn ban in effect. In the morning, recent pledges were dispatched by the frats to sweep up the debris.

Fortunately, we're not just about football in the Northwest. Crispin, Dwayne, Kevin and I convened in Alpental Lot 4 around 8:15 AM on Superbowl Sunday to get in a few turns. Around 20 other ski tourists were also there, each with a goal in mind, and we probably knew half of them. With a limited time frame, we headed out toward Source Lake and up to Pineapple Pass and dropped down the back side toward Denny Creek, then climbed back out and traversed over to Bryant Col where we descended to Melakwa Lake. Best-of-the-year turns in smooth dense powder were the reward before rushing back to town just in time to watch the first snap from center fly past a dumbfounded Manning's face. Sweet day indeed!

Geeb (in white), Kevin and the Teeth, with a hint of blue in the background

Crispin leads Geeb to pow, and can he ever drink it up - that dog loves skiing!

Kevin airs out his Seahawks colors!

January 5, 2014

Fritschi Vipec in the Flesh

Pro Ski North Bend received a few of the new Fritschi Vipec tech bindings a couple days ago, and I stopped by to check them out. "In the Flesh" is a bit misleading, as the bulk of the binding appears to be plastic, but let's face it, most tech bindings incorporate a bit of plastic in their construction and there is "good" and "bad" plastic. This appears to be quality, high density plastic. In the real world of ski touring, 200 lb. guys on wide powder skis tend to stress boot-ski connections more rigorously than 135 lb. super smooth and experienced European beta testers, so time will tell if they made the right material choices.

The concept bears some similarity to the Dynafit Beast, but instead of rotating at the toe to increase elasticity, the toe arms and undercarriage slide side-to-side in the housing. Toe retention can also be adjusted via a screw at the rear of the plastic toe housing. Inserts are available in several colors (stock is black) to match your clothes, boots or mood. In use, the toe works much like a conventional tech binding, with the wire bale activating the toe mechanism and the front lever locking the toe for skinning when pulled up (only one click, though). There is a curved insert that can replace the black/colored ones to allow your boot toe to push the lever forward and release it when in "skin" mode, though I'm not sure why that is such a good idea - I've always gone to lengths to assure this won't happen when I experience a knee fall as it's usually in a steep and slick spot where I least want to lose the ski.

The heel is something of a departure, though it shares the rearward travel feature of the Beast and is meant to be set up with almost no gap. Push down on the black lever with your pole or hand, and the heel slides backward while locking the brake in the up position (I assume this is what's supposed to happen, though I couldn't get the brake to stay up while playing around with it in the store). You can thus go in and out of tour mode easily on the fly without removing your skis or performing some sort of sketchy "Van Halen" move with your pole handle. Climbing lifters are two flip up plastic hoops much like the G3 Onyx ones, and weight is a claimed 599 grams per ski with brakes (470 grams without) though they were mounted on a demo board and I couldn't weigh them. It would seem that leaving the brake base on the heel would be a good idea if you chose to not use the brakes, as it would add heel support ala the Plum Guide/Yak/J'Envoie du Gros.

Looking forward to getting a chance to try these out in the field, and kudos to Fritschi both for broadening the range of tech binding offerings and developing some new technology in the search for better performance. Thanks to Dave at Pro Ski for the guided tour!

Vipec toepiece - the colored plastic pieces attached by the chain are to color-coordinate the toe with your outfit

Vipec heel unit - the heel pins are spring loaded and adjustable for release value

Heel piece rear view - the black piece of plastic in the center of the photo is the "tour-ski" lever

Toe piece rear view clearly shows release value adjustment screw and 5 to 12 range

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