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December 21, 2016

Something Old, Something New

Spent the day yesterday skiing these Blizzard prototypes.

Two sheets of Titanal, 139-116-129, runs like a truck . . . sound familiar? You'll be able to buy it next season.

blizproto_001_500.jpg  blizproto_002_500.jpg

December 5, 2016

Season's Greetings

With the tremendous early season conditions and recent openings of several ski areas in Washington, work has been super busy lately. A new sales record was set in the Seattle store on Black Friday, and an new company-wide record for single day sales marked Cyber Monday, so the atmosphere has been crazy for both bootfitters and techs - Black Friday was literally standing room only in the ski department.

What's a little wait to get the right gear when the conditions are as good as they've been, right? Crystal Mountain and Mt. Baker opened Thanksgiving week with better than expected conditions, then got hit with successive storms that laid down several feet of snow. Stevens followed suit shortly thereafter, and Snoqualmie's Summit West opens tomorrow with an excellent snowpack.

Even Snoqualmie is getting in on the early season, with the lifts spinning as of Tuesday, December 6th

This year's Christmas photo. Have a joyous holiday season, and make some nice turns!

October 24, 2016

Early Season Goodness

Snow has fallen in the hills recently, and friends have been out. Some reports from the Upper Paradise Glacier and Chinook Pass last week mentioned the "P" word repeatedly, as did a text from the North Cascades Highway yesterday. I went out today for a quick hike on the northeast side of Natches Peak and managed to make around 1,000 vertical feet of reasonable turns, but more snow would definitely be welcome. Should be coming in the next week . . .

Hey, it's somebody's birthday today, right? On the way down from Blue Lake Col.   photo courtesty Crispin Prahl

Pretty boney in the bowl, but stick looker's right and you'll find a reasonable line down from the ridge   Mike O'Brien photo

September 27, 2016

New Skier in the House

This guy showed up today.

Max Louie, born to Kerry and Nick Louie September 27, 2016, with Grandpa

Max loves to relax in his onesy after a nice bath.

August 29, 2016

Salomon MTN Tech Binding

Wandering through the Salmon/Atomic store in Whistler, BC yesterday I spotted a mounted sample of the often talked about but seldom seen Salomon MTN tech binding, and snapped a few pictures. It's an interesting binding that departs from the current crop of burlier and increasingly more complicated "freeride" tech bindings other manufacturers seem to be concentrating on. Essentially a beefier race type binding that relies on old school "U" pins for heel retention but with a normal range of fore-aft adjustment in the heel and a usable high lifter for steeper terrain, the MTN (Atomic will market the same binding as the "Backland") is simple, relatively light, and resolves the problems most race binding users complain about, namely lack of a flat skinning mode, lack of a high touring lifter, and no adjustability for varying boot sole lengths.

An interesting design feature is a stationary top plate and riser assembly with the U-shaped heel pin assembly pivoting underneath to allow lateral release. You turn the U-pin assembly 90 degrees to the side to engage the flat climbing option; otherwise you can just leave the pins facing forward. There are three different U pins available with different release values, though Salomon North America refuses to give any of them a numerical release value (the official reason is liability, as they feel the release characteristics are so different from ISO 9462 values as to be potentially misleading). The U pin choice also regulates the lateral release, and the choices are "women," "men," and "expert". Salomon team riders have reportedly been using the "expert" pins with success, while "men" is recommended for rider weights (with gear) between 130 and 180 lbs. and "women" is recommended for those under 130 lbs. with gear.

The heel track is quite long, and the adjustment range of 30mm would accomodate all five of the tech boots I currently use - 288mm, 297mm, 301mm, 305mm and 306mm. That's a welcome change from the non-existant or very limited adjustment usually found in lighter bindings. Weight is 297 grams per binding, not especially light but nearly 100 grams lighter than the current iteration of the Speed Radical with the anti-twist nubbin installed.

As for availability in the North American market, Salomon NA says they will offer a limited number of bindings in Europe this season but are waiting for a suitable brake to introduce the product in the US. Buyers will be able to use or remove the brake according to their preference, and delivery to US dealers is scheduled to commence in August of 2017.

Pretty generic aluminum toepiece with crampon holder molded in - the mount pattern is reportedly 40mm wide, wider than many tech bindings currently in use

Heel is beefier than most race heels; top plate remains static while pin portion rotates under it. Fore-aft adjustment range is 30mm.

Three position climbing, turn the housing 90 degrees for flat mode.

August 11, 2016

12 Years

I celebrated 144 months of year-round skiing today, heading over to the Paradise Glacier with the legendary Silas Wild. A beautiful hike through fields of still vibrant wildflowers lead to skinable snow at the 6,300 foot level, and the glacier itself was silky smooth corn with ice just starting to emerge on a few steeper aspects. With only one other party of 10 climbers sharing the glacier, we had a glorious and peaceful day.

Swami Silas gears up for the hike. Check out the positive rainbow energy emanating from this guy.

August 4, 2016

BS Compatibility 2017

I'm talking about Boot Soles here, but there's a fair amount of the other kind to deal with this year when it comes to determining boot and binding compatibility.

If you've read this far, you've probably seen your share of ski boots in your time, and are familiar with the flat alpine soles that come on "normal" ski boots (officially known as ISO 5355 soles) and the rockered touring soles that come on most AT boots (ISO 9523 soles). The former are normally paired with alpine bindings used primarily at the ski area, while the latter are used with touring skis and bindings. The main differences were in allowable toe and heel height (see diagrams below), as well as the use of lugged traction soles with no smooth AFD (Anti-Friction Device) pad on the forefoot of the 9523 variety. In addition, the toe of the ISO 5355 boot must be "unbroken" around the perimeter, while the ISO 9523 sole allows the addition of "tech" fittings at the corners for use with tech bindings like Dynafit.

For those used to calling an alpine sole a "DIN" sole, that's technically correct as well but ISO is the more universal term - DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung (the German standards institute) while ISO is the International Standards Organization. Both organizations maintain specs and quality standards for thousands of items, ski boots being only one example. The two standards for boot specifications are identical.

The compatibility issue we're talking about here primarily concerns rockered touring type soles in alpine (non-touring) bindings - frame AT bindings are falling out of favor for the most part due to weight, and most tech fittings seem to work quite well with most tech bindings (the exceptions I've seen are a few Garmont/Scott and La Sportiva models). This isn't a touring issue per se, but many if not most of my touring acquaintances wouldn't mind being able to use a touring boot with their alpine setups at least some of the time.

Specifications for alpine ski boot soles, from the ISO 5355 document

Specifications for alpine touring ski boot soles, from the ISO 9523 document
(It's mostly a toe height issue; tallest alpine sole = 20mm, lowest AT sole = 25mm, heels could be 30mm or 31mm for either)

As touring boots got lighter AND more powerful (they were always more comfortable than alpine boots), things got more complicated. Avid skiers, especially working skiers like patrollers and guides, wanted to use their burly touring boots in their alpine skis without having to swap soles. While a few alpine bindings would "fit" - meaning the toe height adjustment went high enough for the taller AT sole - release could be inconsistent (this didn't stop a lot of pro patrollers and race coaches from using Endorphins and Typhoons with, say, Salomon STH bindings). Many alpine bindings simply didn't have sufficient toe height adjustment, so using a touring boot in them was applying a constant upward force to the toepiece, and toes that went high enough like the Salomon STH and STH2 had no sliding AFD. A few years ago, Marker introduced a binding called the Lord SP (Ski Patrol) which had both adequate toe height and a sliding AFD but no touring mode, followed shortly thereafter by the Salomon/Atomic Warden 13, which had similar features. These two products allowed AT boot owners to use their touring boots "safely" in an alpine setup (meaning the binding manufacturers would indemnify the bindings and back up the shop in case of lawsuits). Plenty of professional skiers simply crammed their AT boots into alpine setups and went skiing, as well.

Things got more complicated in 2012 with Salomon's introduction of the Walk-to-Ride (WTR) sole. Basically a rockered, 9523 shape with a harder, smooth area at the AFD contact point, WTR is a proprietary standard with no actual ISO or DIN standard to back it up. As such, there's nothing to compel boot manufacturers to adopt it, though Atomic (a Salomon sister company), Lange and Rossignol have begun to use it in some models. Accordingly, Salomon/Atomic and Look/Rossignol (Lange sister companies) now build WTR-compatible bindings that also accept ISO 5355 boots. The Salomon/Atomic versions are called MNC (Multi-Norm Compatible) while the the Look/Rossignol models are dubbed Dual WTR. It's worth noting that neither MNC nor Dual WTR bindings are officially compatible with a true ISO 9523 sole without a smooth AFD pad.

Walk-to-Ride soles found on Salomon, Atomic, Lange and Rossignol boots

For the 2016/2017 season, Marker has joined the fray with yet another non-ISO standard boot sole called GripWalk. Similar to the WTR sole, it's lower profile in the forefoot and has a smooth AFD pad, and also includes harder plastic longitudinally placed heel pads to facilitate release with tech binding systems that release laterally at the heel (that means all tech systems except Fritschi Vipec and Trab at present). The hard heel pads may also enhance power transmission at the heel. Simultaneously Marker is adding more AFD travel to its Griffon and Jester (but not Squire or Jester Pro) models, so these popular alpine bindings will be officially compatible with ANY ski boot sole including ISO 9523. GripWalk soles will be standard on many "crossover" boots from companies with Marker allegiances, namely K2, Dalbello, and Tecnica for the 2017 model year. To my knowledge, the GripWalk standard only specifies a rocker shape and tread pattern and will not be offered as swappable sole and heel blocks. Manufacturers in general are moving away from swappable soles (this applies to WTR, too) because of the added weight (more mass and metal inserts) and limited life span of the screw/insert interface - the leading crop of light crossover boots this season (Tecnica Zero G/Cochise, Lange XT Freetour, K2 Pinnacle/Pro, Dalbello Lupo Ti Carbon) have molded in tech inserts and no sole swap option, only replaceable rubber.

GripWalk soles found on K2, Dalbello and Tecnica/Nordica boots

To further complicate matters, Look seems to be taking a hard line toward compatibility with any boots that are not "by the book" ISO 5355 or WTR soled. This means tech boots with "flat" soles like the existing K2 Pinnacle 130 and 110 boots are NOT officially approved, and full ISO 9523 soles also get the thumbs down with Dual WTR bindings. For expert level skiers, this mostly applies to the Pivot 14 Dual WTR binding, but there is also a hard to find aftermarket replacement WTR baseplate for Pivot/FKS 18 toes. It remains to be seen what Look will say regarding GripWalk equipped boots, but I'm pretty sure there are some politics involved in the decision and it's a bit like getting a Donald Trump endorsement of Hilary Clinton's choice of email server.

Several people have asked me about the possibility of swapping out WTR or ISO 9523 soles for flat ISO 5355 soles. This is a possibility in some existing models from Atomic, Dynafit, Scarpa, Salomon and Tecnica where the swappable portion of the sole slides on and contains the molded in tech fittings, but means you'll have to swap at least the toe part each time you want to use your tech touring setup. Not exactly ideal, since it's more of a PITA than it sounds like and the screw inserts have a finite life. The trend in this year's crossover tech boots from Tecnica, Lange, K2 and Dalbello is to save weight by having the tech inserts permanently molded in. K2 and Dalbello have flat front sole options available, so this could work for some people wanting to use, say, a Pivot 18 and a Marker Kingpin with the same boot, but don't count on Look to chip in if you get hurt using this combination.

Confusing? It is to me, and I write about skis and boots for a living. Consumers are bound to be perplexed, and there's a low level of recognition of the compatibility issue even in the ski industry. What most expert freeride skiers want is to be able to use the same powerful (i.e. 120-130 flex), reasonably light, walk mode-equipped boot with both regular alpine bindings on their "resort" skis and with tech bindings on a touring setup. The boot offerings for 2017 are pretty impressive, as are the new crop of burly tech bindings, but compatible alpine binding choices are still meager and top out at 13 DIN.

What I'd like to see happen, and what would make sense from the perspective of the customer, is for the binding manufacturers to make all of their bindings (or at least a subset of their performance offerings) work with any of the four sole configurations. Marker is already on this track with their "Sole ID" Griffon and Jester toes with enhanced height adjustment, but it would be nice if they'd extend the Sole ID program to the Squire. Salomon could join the club with the STH2 series by simply installing a sliding AFD and recalibrating the spring rates - probably not too tough to implement, as they previously offered sliding AFD's in the 9xx toes. Look might require a bit more re-tooling to install a moving AFD in the Pivot toes, but it wouldn't go unappreciated. With the trend in alpine boots moving toward lighter, medium-stiff walk mode boots with full-time tech fittings, I think this change needs to happen sooner rather than later.

While they're at it, they should give some thought to revising the ISO 5355 standard to include boots with tech fittings. Look's argument that the toe fittings could create friction during lateral release is suspect. The K2 Pinnacle 130 tests consistently with most alpine bindings, and though ridged tech fittings like the Dynafit Quick Step and MasterFit variants could possible conflict with some toe designs, these are only supplied with Dynafit and Scarpa boots at present. Thorough testing is in order, and allowing ISO 5355 soles to include tech compatibility would give the green light to the Pinnacle and Dalbello Lupo with optional flat sole.

While it would certainly behoove binding manufacturers to make each of their bindings work with every type of boot sole, realistically this is a few years off. In the meantime, if you want to use your alpine skis with your touring boots, or take advantage of one of the excellent lighter crossover boots coming out this season, the boot you choose could well dictate your choice of alpine binding.

Here's a comparison of ISO 5355, WTR and ISO 9523 soles:

Note that WTR, GripWalk and ISO 9523 can (but don't necessarily) come with tech inserts while they are not permitted on ISO 5355 soles

July 24, 2016

Midsummer's Night Dream

I had a ski dream last week, something about not being able to get my boot to stay in some sort of new binding. This is more than an idle threat this coming year, as there will be more compatibility issues than ever. I'll try to put together some information and write something next month, but for now I'll just say that there is yet another rockered boot sole type for 2017 and no consensus yet among the boot and binding manufacturers as to how to make all boots work with all bindings.

Dreams about skiing usually mean it's time to make a few turns to regain the "feeling." Time constraints and a need to make it on a weekend meant easy access was a priority - in July that means the south side of Mt. Rainer. As usual, Rainier's Paradise Glacier delivered the goods. 4,000 feet of smooth corn turns (well, some it that was just skating out the exit valley) is nothing to scoff at in the middle of summer and I count myself lucky to live in the Northwest.

Low hanging turns-all-year fruit on the Paradise Glacier (not all that low, this is ~ 8,000 ft)

It hasn't been hot at all, but business is cooking at evo. I'm constantly amazed by the imagination and vision of those charting the company's growth, as well as by how they manage to implement the ambitious plans. For those that don't follow the retail end of the business closely, evo has purchased an existing ski and bike shop at 860 Broadway in Denver in a vaguely art deco-ish one story building in a good, centrally located spot. The interior had been remodeled several times with a generic sheetrock-and-dropped-ceiling esthetic so it looked like a tax preparer's office in anytown USA.

Much as they've done with the new Seattle and Portland locations, the design team went into jackhammer and sandblaster demolition mode and found some good "bones" several layers down. Beautiful original brick and wood has been exposed, along with some window and door framework that will be incorporated into the working design of the new store, with the buildout commencing immediately. As for operations, two management ringers from the Portland and Seattle stores have made the move to Colorado and I'm confident the transition will be smooth (I've worked with both of these people extensively). Look for the Denver store to open to the public sometime in October.

The rear of the store is two stories and will house bikes and hardgoods

A sliding garage door figures to be one of the entrances to the store

June 7, 2016

Time for Some Cross-Training

Too much time behind the computer at headquarters, plus a month committed to Cascade Bicycle Club's "Bike Everywhere Challenge" meant not much time spent in the mountains in the month of May.

Elissa and I took a quick trip to Natches Peak for June turns last Thursday, followed by a solo blast down to Hood River to join my friends Kevin, Francine, Tom and Lori. The trip started out well, but I got stuck in traffic in Portland (at 2:30 PM? WTF, PDX is getting worse than Seattle). Then a train managed to derail with a bunch of cars full of Bakken crude oil, which then caught fire (Bakken crude boils at around 95-100 degrees F. and this was a 96 degree day). Since the tracks were right by the freeway and the fire wasn't really controllable all I-84 traffic was routed over the creaky bridge connecting Hood River with White Salmon, WA and it took me another hour to go the last mile to the first Hood River exit. Oh well.

Summer with the Curds means mountain biking is going to be on the agenda, but Kevin had unfortunately taken himself out of commission by breaking his fibula the week before and was confined to the flatlands and a walking boot (though he couldn't put any weight on it and so had a contraption that connected to his knee and functioned as a sort of peg leg. He did shuttle us out to several rides where we either left a car or ended up close enough to town to ride home. We hammered the trails on the Oregon side of the Columbia in 100 degree weather for all we were worth. Two days in Post Canyon (Bad Motor Scooter to Grand Prix was memorable) and two days closer to Mt. Hood on the FS Road 44 trails (Dirt Surfer and Surveyors Ridge) were epic. Francine filled in as our guide, and her local knowledge and tutelage were key to having a good time. Highly recommended if you're in the area!

Awesome forest single track in Post Canyon   Francine Curd photo

Tom, Francine, a Hood River local, and James (one of our Devinci reps) who happened to be sitting by the trail

Kevin gives the unbroken leg a workout in front of the house

My host and guide, thanks Francine!

April 17, 2016

Sunnyside Sliders Reunion - Crystal Closing Day

Perfect weather and sweet spring turns with good friends made for an epic end to the regular lift-served season at Crystal Mountain today. Since the Slider Reunion also commemorates the life of my old friend Hunter Eng, we tipped a few and slid a few for Hunter throughout the day. Multiple slushy bump runs down most of Crystal's front side, mixed in with a few in Powder Bowl worked our aging and replaced joints pretty well but the soft cushion and sticky surface helped keep the speed in check. This was one of the best Crystal closing days in memory.

We roamed the mountain like we had in the old days, at least in our minds. Highlights included a crowd of twenty-somethings erupting in spontaneous admiration as Lowell Skoog threw a perfect 360 off the Lucky Shot cat track and a mass descent of "Brain Damage" from the summit of Silver King to finish the day. Somehow I missed the Martin Rand/Silas Wild tiki bar celebration at the top of Exterminator, but we made up for it afterward on the patio. A day for the memory bank, and one I'm glad I witnessed firsthand.

Boss Lady Kim Kircher sets up the group shot    Katherine Habenicht photo

Perhaps not yet fully in the grip of Alzheimer's, but already "Brain Damaged" . . .

April 3, 2016

The Very Bearable Lightness of Skiing: Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro

Ever wish you could find a lighter alpine setup that didn’t compromise performance? Ever wish you could find a more powerful touring setup that didn’t weigh a ton?

Almost everyone I ski with expresses both desires on a regular basis. If you fall into this group, the upcoming 2016-2017 season promises to deliver.

In February I wrote about the new Lange XT 130 Free Tour boot, a lighter Grilamid version of the venerable polyether-shelled XT that saves 343 grams. I’ve since put in a number of days on the Free Tour and am sold on its downhill performance for all-conditions skiing with even my widest skis (my quiver goes up to 125mm in the waist, but mostly I’ve been riding 186 Blizzard Gunsmokes with a 114mm waist or 185 Cochise with a 108mm waist). At 1796 grams in a 26.5 mondo, they aren’t the boot I’d choose for a 5,000 vertical foot tour or a week-long hut trip, but for a trip to Japan or Europe that might include some adventure touring they’d be perfect. I’d have no problem using them as my everyday ski area boot for the entire winter.

Last week another contender in the light-but-powerful boot class arrived at evo headquarters: the Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro. I’d tried on a pre-production version of the Guide Pro a while ago which weighed in at 1508 grams (26.5); the example I’m using weighs slightly more at 1524 grams (this is probably the production model) with a 305mm boot sole length and what seems like a slightly thicker liner.

Some fit impressions straight out of the box:

The nominal 99mm forefoot seems accurate, slightly tighter at the forefoot than the 100mm Cochise last and much like a Full Tilt Classic last (insert grimace from overlap boot snobs here). I’ve read some online reports about the heel and ankle being much closer to the foot than the previous Cochise fit, which is generally true (the Cochise was quite roomy) but the more noticeable difference is in the midfoot just under and to the rear of the pre-punched navicular zone – the Zero G fits much tighter in this area than any other average width Tecnica, maybe even tighter than my Mach 1 LV which required quite a bit of punching for my foot. Two of my co-workers who normally wear narrow lasted 97mm boots with ease also commented on the tightness in the medial midfoot, so it’s not just me.

Compared with last year's Cochise (2017 Cochise will use the same last as the Zero G), space around and in front of the ankle is substantially reduced, which should provide better stability in the boot as the liner packs out. Instep height, as one would expect from Tecnica, is quite relaxed, as is toe box height all the way to the front. Additionally, the shape of the toebox is less pointy than typical for Tecnica, allowing a bit more room for the third and fourth toes or “boxy” feet. If you go to a shop to try the Zero G on, make sure you bring along your footbed of choice, as my pair shipped with no footbed at all – this gave the illusion of a very tall and high volume fit over the top of the foot; with my normal thin “break-in” footbeds (Dynafit paper-thin blanks molded and posted with very thin 1/8” cork) the forefoot volume feels typically Tecnica, e.g. on the generous side for the given width.

Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro sports a spring-like yellow and green theme

Tecnica manages to build this remarkably light four buckle boot without resorting to exotic plastics like Grilamid or Pebax – instead the majority of the boot is Triax plastic (they’ve been using various versions of Triax in the Cochise boots for years). The lower shell is bi-injected, with the sole using polyurethane (if my memory is correct). Buckles are new, light, and very elegant, with full alpine functionality and micro adjustment. As with other CAS (Custom Adaptive Shape) Tecnica shells, the Zero G includes pre-marked “punch areas” at the first and fifth met heads and navicular which proved to be very accurate for my feet. Joining the trend in light but powerful tourable boots for next season, the Zero G includes genuine Dynafit tech fittings (though not with Quick Step or Master Step contours). Pared-down walk mode hardware functions very well and blends smoothly with the contours of the boot spine - in response to criticism of play in the older Cochise mechanism, the new design is spring loaded to adjust for wear and keep movement in ski mode to a minimum. There is no cuff angle adjustment on either side of the boot, but care has been taken to reduce friction in the pivots to a bare minimum – in tour mode, the Zero G is as smooth as any boot I’ve had on recently with the exception of the Arc’teryx Procline series. Tecnica has chosen to go with full ISO 9523 soles (no WTR) with the Zero G series boots, so officially they are only compatible with tech bindings or alpine/AT bindings with full height adjustment and sliding AFD’s. The 2017 Cochise line will use the same shell mold and ship with flat ISO 5355 sole blocks, so presumably you could swap the front rubber and use the Guide Pro with your existing alpine bindings (tech fittings notwithstanding). To date I’ve been skiing these with either Dynafit Speed Radicals (no issues) or Atomic STH2 16’s (not a problem with toe height, but not officially sanctioned because of a static AFD).

Replaceable ISO 9523 sole blocks will be interchangeable with the new Cochise ISO 5355 blocks

Walk mode hardware is elegant, low profile and designed to withstand extended use without getting sloppy

The Zero G Guide Pro skis like a real 4 buckle overlap boot because it is, and Tecnica deserves a round of applause for making a boot this light ski this well. Not as stiff as my “reference” Lange RS 130 or Tecnica Mach 1 LV 130, the Guide Pro is still well within acceptable burliness limits for almost any hard charging skier of normal weight. Side by side with the Lange XT Free Tour, the Guide Pro flexes very similarly, offering slightly more initial resistance than the Lange and about the same level of resistance when fully flexed. The boot board feels a few millimeters higher off the ski with slightly more internal ramp than the XT. Power and comfort are both exceptional – the wholly redesigned 218 gram Palau liner uses far fewer stitched seams than most liners, and is very comfortable even before cooking.

Smoothly simple in its construction, the Palau liner is cushy by touring standards

In terms of skinning, the Zero G Guide Pro is extremely capable as well. With a range of motion that fits in between the Lange XT Free Tour and the Salomon MTN Lab (quite a bit better than the Free Tour, quite close to the MTN Lab but lacking just a bit of range to the rear). The lack of friction in the pivots is remarkable, and touring is smoother and quieter than you’ve probably experienced in an overlap boot design. One area of potential concern is the softer Quick Instep material in the throat of the shell – this is a common feature in Tecnica boots that allows for easier entry and exit, but in one short day of skinning the material was already showing signs of wear from the lower front buckle strap. To be fair, I was skinning with the lower buckle strap fastened and the bottom edge of the strap has a sharpish edge – I’ll try undoing both top straps and see if the problem persists. Comparisons with the MTN Lab may be premature as well, as I’ve got a number of tours on the Salomon boots and the Zero G’s could easily loosen up with use.

Softer plastic in the "Quick Instep" area is an easy target for the lower cuff strap while skinning

Is the Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro the future of all mountain skiing, at least from a boot perspective? I think it makes a pretty strong argument for itself based on my first few days with it. Who does a boot with true alpine power and feel, very good touring capability, and a weight just over 1500 grams appeal to? Pretty much everyone I meet on the hill or in the backcountry, I think. The lightweight crossover boot battle is just starting to heat up, and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out, but with the Zero G Guide Pro Tecnica has fired a pretty powerful warning shot over the bows of the competition.

Bootfitter notes: The Zero G Guide Pro uses a bi-injected shell which fuses two different types of plastics. As any bootfitter who’s tried manually punching Custom Shell (Salomon) or Memory Fit (Atomic) shells significantly knows, you run the risk of splitting the plastics at the juncture if you use much force. The Guide Pro is not immune to this – I need big punches in the fifth metatarsal area and first metatarsal area, and while the bunion punch at the first went cleanly the shell opened up at both the “sixth toe” areas. Fortunately the overlap between the two plastics is a good ˝ inch wide, and there was no rupture of the seal on the inside of the boot. My advice would be to just go for it, but watch the split carefully and back off fast if it widens to more than about 2 millimeters. The Triax plastic seems to take heat well and doesn’t get too “tacky” like the first generation Cochise plastics which would preserve a perfect impression of the bootfitter’s fingerprints.

As previously noted, the medial midfoot region of the Zero G Guide Pro is quite narrow for a medium width last, feeling much like my low volume Mach 1 shells before I got to work on them. Three or four mild punches with a flat disk will resolve this issue, but be careful around the base of the shell as the plastic is very thin and doesn’t taper where it joins the sole.

In addition to the pre-marked CAS "punch zones" at the first and fifth met heads and navicular, the Zero G's buckles are all thoughtfully installed using Phillips head screws, so they can be easily removed and replaced. Nice touch.

Bi-injected lower shell is prone to splitting at the junctions between the two plastics, but can be punched safely

March 17, 2016

Pump That Contrast: Oakley PRIZM Snow Collection

About a year ago, Oakley introduced a new series of lenses which promised to increase your perception of specific terrain by increasing visible contrast.

I'm typically slow to jump on the bandwagon for these kinds of claimed advances without a thorough test, but was able to try two of the new tints at the WWSRA demo days in Bend, Oregon. At the time, there were three PRIZM lenses available for snow goggles (they've since added more) - the tints were called Rose, Jade, and Black. All were based on the Rose, which had the highest VLT (Visible Light Transmission) rate, with additional lens coatings making the Jade significantly darker and the Black very dark indeed. I skied several runs each with the PRIZM Rose and Jade in fine spring Bachelor conditions, moving from open sun to shade multiple times per run.

I found the increase in depth perception and ability to read the contours of the snow quite remarkable, and was able to add both lenses to my quiver of tints for the Oakley Airbrake goggles I was already using. Though the PRIZM Rose seemed pretty much ideal for the spring season in the Pacific Northwest, I seldom used the Jade and could tell I'd prefer a tint with a higher rate of visible light transmission on a foggy storm day in our neck of the woods. I mentioned this to our Oakley rep Eric Schnibbe over the summer, and he said they were "working on it."

Flash forward a year, and Oakley has PRIZM lenses for a myriad of sports - road cycling, mountain biking, shallow water fishing, deep water fishing, baseball, golf - you name it, they probably have it already or have a version in the works. Oakley's optical engineers carefully add tints to the lenses to minimize distracting colors in the terrain and maximize critical ones, effectively upping the contrast. Visually it's a lot like moving the "contrast" slider in Photoshop over to the right of your screen - things just seem to pop out better, and the overall effect is one of greater acuity. Eric let me demo a set of a new for 2017 snow lens called PRIZM Hot Pink, which is significantly lighter than the Rose, and I've been quite satisfied with it in low light storm conditions. Whether the Hot Pink is better than the old standby for storm days (Smith's Blue Sensor Mirror) is open to debate, but the PRIZM Hot Pink is damn good. Like the Blue Sensor Mirror, the Hot Pink doesn't sear your retinas if it happens to clear up for a few minutes, which tends to be a problem with Oakley's previous top choice for low light, the Hi Fi Yellow. Overall I'd recommend the entire series of PRIZM snow lenses for skiers or snowboarders who spend a lot of time on the mountain, leaning toward the lighter models for coastal zones and the darker ones (Jade, Sapphire, and Black Iridium) for intermountain/Continental areas.

The frames in the photos are not the Airbrake but the new Flightdeck XM, following the lead of World Cup Slalom champ Mikaela Shiffrin. The Flightdeck XM is a mid-sized goggle that lacks the quick and simple lens change system of the Airbrake, costs less and protrudes less at the sides but still works fine with most helmets.

PRIZM Torch gets the nod for in-and-out of shadow conditions, especially deep shade - it pumps up and warms the view   Kevin Curd Photo

New PRIZM Hot Pink lens is the lightest in the PRIZM Snow collection, available soon, and perfect for foggy storm days   Kevin Curd Photo

February 22, 2016

First Impressions: 2017 Lange XT 130 Free Tour

More times than I'd care to count, people ask me to recommend a boot that will ski like a powerful alpine boot and still dish up adequate touring performance.

While anyone who's put in their time in either style of boot realizes there are always compromises when you're trying to accomplish two things with one boot, and each individual has their own concept of what is "adequate" on both the uphill and downhill, this "crossover" category continues on a hot streak, with most of the major alpine players vying for a step on the podium for next season. In addition to superior skiing, the new generation of "power touring" boots needs a decent walk mode, a weight conducive to serious day touring, and the option of using one of the new burly tech bindings (preferably without swapping the soles).

Tecnica has sold thousands of Cochise boots ever the past few years, but to use a tech setup you had to buy (unless you chose the "Light" model) a separate aftermarket tech sole and attach it yourself. K2 entered the category with the Pinnacle 130 a few years ago, a boot that skied like a legitimate stiff alpine boot, had a fair walk mode, and molded-in tech fittings. Unfortunately the boot weighed over 2300 grams in a 26.5, which made touring for any length of time in it less than optimal. Now, molded-in tech fittings are hot, and next year Tecnica, Dalbello, and Lange are set to join the party.

I was lucky enough to snag a pair of 2017 Lange XT 130 Free Tours for some long term testing a couple weeks ago, and I've put a few days on them since. To give you some background, I've used many pairs of Lange boots over the years, and until very recently kept a pair of RS 130's around as my "reference" boot - that is, it was a boot I considered a true 130 flex (both the RX 130 and XT 130 are softer) and defined how I wanted my performance lift-served boot to ski. The RS 130 was a 97mm low volume shell, and it took some hours of work to get it to fit my 103-104 (plus bunions) foot.

I asked for the XT 130 Free Tour in a 100mm last, thinking I would save myself some bootfitting time and discomfort, but I didn't suspect how easy it would be to make this boot fit. I spent about 20 minutes punching the first and fifth met heads on both boots, then simply heated the navicular area on the left boot while my foot was in it flexing, and bingo, they fit like a glove. The lower shell is made of Grilamid, one of my favorite plastics to work on, as it requires minimal heat to move and holds a punch admirably. The new Ultralon liner is exceptionally comfortable right out of the box (I still haven't bothered to cook it) and I assume it's also lower volume than the standard XT liner since I didn't even consider chopping out the vinyl and elastic over the instep. The "Langectomy" is something I've done for years with both 100mm and 97mm Langes to get some extra volume in this area, and the new XT Free Tour was perfect on my slightly higher than normal instep right away (at least on the first buckle notch, after 3 days I'm on notch #2). I was able to throw in my normal cork posted SIDAS custom footbeds before I even skied in the boot, which is a good sign for tall instep people - I normally use a super thin "break-in" footbed for 5-6 days before I use my "real" ones.

Next year's Lange XT 130 Freetour - skis and fits like a real alpine boot, tours pretty good. Available in Kermit the Frog pro model colorway only.

Hard charger types and those who simply don't realize that forward flex isn't the whole story will ask, "How stiff is it? Is it a real 130?"

The answer is no, it's not as stiff as my RS 130 plug boots, but most other expert level 130 boots aren't either. Wearing them side by side with a pair of 2016 Lange RX 120's (one on each foot), the flex felt nearly the same, and it's pretty hard to say whether the Grilamid shell on the XT Free Tour will flex stiffer than the polyether shell on the RX 120 in the cold. I'd call it a wash.

How about the walk mode?

The Lange XT walk mode has traditionally not been one of their strong points, but it's undergone several changes for the better since its inception. It's smoother than the original, has decent rearward range of motion (still not as good as the class leading Cochise), and good forward range if you remember to undo both top buckles.

My sample boots weighed in at 1796 grams per boot (26.5) with the OEM insoles. For comparison, my Salomon MTN Labs weigh 1550 grams and my Tecnica Mach 1 130 LV's are 2286 grams. I've done some lift skiing on the MTN Labs this season and found that 1550 grams was pushing the lightness limit in some variable conditions - the boot/ski combination starts getting deflecting with crust or frozen debris underfoot. The Mach 1's are bomber in most any snow, but I'd never consider touring in a boot that heavy. My first full day in the XT 130 Free Tours was a pow day at Crystal Mountain - to be more accurate, there was 8" to 14" of dense fresh snow over semi-frozen chicken heads and bowling balls. I didn't bring another boot, and my crew wasn't about to slow down as long as they kept opening fresh lifts on a staggered basis, so it was a bit of an experiment in how light a boot would work for all purpose variable skiing. I'd have to call the experiment a huge success for the 1800 gram boot group (at least this boot), as I generally felt I had all the power and control I would ever need.

As for touring in the XT Free Tour, I've only put in a single lap to date at Hyak on the boot (~1000 vertical feet). Yes, I notice the additional weight over my normal boots (Atomic Backland Carbon @ 1122 grams, Salomon MTN Lab @ 1550 grams). That's not really the point, at least for me. If I truly spent more than half of my days on hill touring, this would not be my only boot. Could you realistically buy this boot and spend 20% of your time touring but still rip lift served sidecountry like you mean it in the XT 130 Free Tour? Very possibly yes. Would this be a great choice for a boot to take to Japan or Europe when you planned on skiing lift-served pow and glaciers but might also throw in a few day tours? Absolutely. If you do plan to skin in the XT 130 Free Tour, be sure to undo the top two buckles completely (I tend to get lazy after years of skiing in TLT5's and TLT6's) or you'll drastically limit your forward range of motion. Also, you'll notice that your heel stays remarkably stationary as you skin - many boots in this category seem to have rather loose heel pockets (compounded by thin foam in the achilles region to save weight) and the Lange bucks the trend, though the liner is relatively heavy at 324 grams.

Some notes on soles and compatibility: The XT 130 Free Tour comes with molded-in tech fittings (real Dynafit ones, though without the Quick-Step or Master-Step ridges) and a WTR (Walk-to-Ride) sole. Walk-to-Ride is a sole spec devised by Salomon and adopted recently by several other companies including Lange and Rossignol. Essentially an ISO 9523 shaped sole with a rockered forefoot, the WTR version includes a smooth surface where the boot contacts the binding's anti-friction device to help keep lateral release consistent (the ISO/DIN 9523 standards do not require this smooth patch). Lange's official stance is that the boot must be used with a WTR compatible binding or a tech binding, and my STH2 16's are conveniently "multi-norm compatible" (including WTR). The STH2 toe easily adjusts high enough to accommodate the extra sole height, with about 2 millimeters to spare. Other alpine bindings that will work, as of this writing, are the Marker Lord SP, the Look/Rossignol Pivot 14 WTR Dual, and the Salomon/Atomic Warden. 2017 Marker Griffon and Jester bindings will also be compatible.

More to come on the Lange XT 130 Free Tour and other boots in this class as I find out more . . .

New XT Freetour liner is not especially light, but extremely comfortable. The label advertises Ultralon foam.

February 11, 2016

WWSRA Demo Days, Mission Ridge, WA

Sorry for the lack of updates the past two months, but it's been a busy season.

With the snow came the business, and with the business came some long days in the store with little time left over for either skiing or writing about it. The shop has been slammed, the bootfitting crew has been pulling 11 hour days, and the pressure is just starting to ease up. Evenings between 6 and 8 are still very busy with people in a rush to get their boots fit or skis mounted. Crazy, but it's also a relief to be busy after last season, so no one's complaining except maybe a few customers who can't get their gear ready in time and refuse to admit it's their own fault for not planning ahead. So be it.

We got a break this week, heading over to Mission Ridge to attend WWSRA Demo Days - the West Coast ski industry get together that allows retailers to see, ski and fondle next year's product. Some people treat it as a paid holiday, but I consider ski testing "work" and am on the run for most of the two days trying to get a feel for as many skis as possible as well as try on boots with new lasts and touch base with people I've known for years but don't necessarily have contact with regularly.

I managed to ski 26 skis, as well as check out some new Leki poles and try on several new touring boots. The vast majority of the skis were more than competent, with no real dogs among the samples I skied. I broke the two days of testing down into alpine on Tuesday and alpine touring on Wednesday, and to keep things fair I skied my Tecnica Mach 1 130 LV's the entire first day and my Salomon MTN Labs the second. I'm well accustomed to both boots and both have long since had the necessary modifications done for all day comfort.

Some of the highlights in the alpine ski group were the Salomon QST 106, the new Blizzard Brahma, and the Armada ARV 106. The QST line takes a cue from Salomon's MTN skis and adds a woven ribbon of carbon fiber and flax (CFX Superfiber) that effectively dampens vibration with minimal weight gain (compared to adding a layer or two of Titanal). The QST 106 is the gem of the group, with a super solid feel underfoot and a willingness to make precise turns at any speed. For a relatively light freeride ski, it feels remarkable stable on hard snow. The Brahma brings Blizzard's Carbon Flipcore construction to the 88mm class. This ski is a rocket, railing as well as any ski in the test on skittery glazed corduroy (groomed the day before, but it melted and froze hard overnight). It also responded predictably to turn input at any speed and was as rock solid as any 180cm ski had a right to be. The Armada ARV 106 is another "series" ski (they've brought back the ARV name, but the skis are quite different). It loses the Titanal of the 2016 ARV Ti (a ski I like a lot) but still is remarkably damp at speed, responds instantly to turn input, and lets you choose between carvy and surfy as the situation demands.

That's the new Brahma in grey with a carbon tip; I'd own it if I skied groomers much. I'll own the new white Gunsmoke, though.

Cochise lineup (top three boots) lose the swap soles and weight; Zero G Guide Pro is a legit 1508 gram 4 buckle performance overlap boot

Day two of testing was fortunately a little warmer and less chattery - more "light and fast" ski-friendly. I concentrated on the 95-105mm waist category, since that's the best selling range of touring skis in the store. Standouts included the 97mm Black Crows Camox Freebird, a lightened version of their five-point, blunt-nosed best selling alpine ski. The Camox FB was extremely predictable, with good edgehold and the ability to consistently power through short and medium radius turns. The G3 FINDr 102 was awesome as well, skiing much like a lighter version of the Camox Freebird (and with a very similar sidecut), but with a seriously CNC'd sidewall profile that keeps mass to a minimum. Line's Sick Day Tourist, their balsa/flax cored 102mm AT offering, was predictably "sick" and dished up extremely smooth and versatile performance. Black Diamond's new Helio line improves on previous BD offerings with full sidewall, made-in-Austria construction (they chose Blizzard to build the skis) and the performance is better balanced and more responsive than before.

New graphics for Blizzard's Zero G skis - the guts remain the same.

Made-in-Mittersill Black Diamond product is an upgrade

New Dynafit Meteorite and Sphinx are lighter, more nimble versions of the Chugach and Hokkaido

On to boots. I tried on the re-issue of Scarpa's F1 (the previous version was recalled on account of a non-functioning auto ski/walk mode feature) and it felt great - once I was able to get it on my foot. It's a typical Scarpa forefoot, but less boxy around the ankle and heel than a Maestrale and has a nicely progressive forward flex. Even after some modifications to the shell rivet system and liner, the boot is still difficult to get in to (and I don't have a particularly high instep). I'll reserve judgement on this one until production samples start to show up this fall. The Dynafit TLT7 Performance is a radical departure in terms of both fit and design. With no tongue welt at all and a unique cable system lower "buckle" that interfaces with the normal Ultralock upper buckle, the TLT7P looks like footwear from space but is much less fiddly than I had expected. The fit is remarkable for its relaxed dimensions, especially the instep and midfoot (traditional Dynafit tight spots) and borrows more from the Radical CR (their 104mm "comfort" boot) than the TLT6 series or the now re-named and re-linered Khion. The boot is extremely light, has exceptional range of motion in tour mode, and feels quite stiff in ski mode. The Arc'teryx Procline Carbon, a super light boot aimed at winter alpinists and ice climbers but sure to be of interest to light-and-fast ski tourers as well, had mind-blowing range of motion with virtually zero friction or noise, a generous 98mm fit (much like the Salomon MTN Lab), and a trendy orange and black colorway.

Fischer TransAlp and Travers boots look promising

Return of the Scarpa F1

Dynafit's new "Masterstep" toe fittings (that makes 3 "official" versions sold by Dynafit)

. . . and their new heel fitting - beefed up and compatible with Beast heels, no add-on horseshoe required

Arc'teryx swings for the fences with the Procline Carbon

A new category, "lighter" alpine boots with tech fittings molded in (no swap soles) is catching fire as well. Aimed at the "one boot quiver" group of skiers, this group has attracted the attention of most of the major alpine players including Tecnica (Zero G Guide Pro), Lange (XT Free Tour), Salomon (QST Pro), and Tecnica (Lupo Carbon Ti). More on this later, after I get a chance to test some of these on snow.

Dalbello Lupo Carbon Ti - less is more?

Lange XT Free Tour boots (front three) - tech fittings, WTR sole blocks, less weight

That's all for tonight. Get some rest and don't forget your stretching - more powder's coming.

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