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December 22, 2020

Meanwhile, Back on the Skintrack

After spending the last month plugging away at fundamentals at the ski area, Kevin called and we decided the coverage deserved a try at the far reaches of Alpental.

Pouring rain yesterday had turned to a snap freeze that dropped 6-9 inches of thick fresh in the mountains, and an inch or so in my backyard in the lowlands. Much, much better than the rain of the past two days, and good enough to cushion the crust. As a bonus, we felt the rain event would likely have obliterated most if not all of the buried facets from a couple weeks of no-snow.

We arrived at the crack of 10:40 and the lot #4 parking area was probably 1/3 full - no surprise there. We passed bunches of people, a couple of classes, and quite a few snowshoers and made good headway to Source Lake, with the usual early season creek crossings proving to be non-events. Skinning was pretty much optimal considering the time of year, and by the time we turned up the hill the crowd had thinned to just a few people. When we hit the saddle that traverses over to "No Fog" we were amazed to see no tracks at all in Pineapple Basin, so we proceeded at a leisurely pace to the ridge.

You forget what a pleasure it is to ski in ten inches of fresh untracked snow, but today's re-set was a great way to jump start the "real" touring season.

Kevin skins into the basin; the rocks are impressive early in the season


Kevin apologizes for the "soft" focus, his pocket was full of snow . . .



December 9, 2020

On the Bench: Lange XT3 130 LV

I've been waiting for these boots to show up for a while. Ordered over a month ago, the boot was out of stock at the Lange USA warehouse due to huge demand (yes, partly COVID-related) and they are just starting to become available again. Mine showed up yesterday.

I decided months ago that the new Lange XT3 would be a great choice for my "all mountain" boot. In my book, this boot needs to be compatible with every ski in my quiver, as well as any binding on any ski I may want to try on the spur of the moment - from a current rental Marker Griffon to a decades-old Look Pivot to a light-and-fast tech binding. It needs to have a reasonably efficient walk mode, but still ski well enough to roll a wide freeride ski over on edge at speed.

To get this level of versatility, I swapped the OEM GripWalk soles for alpine ISO 5355 soles from my previous Lange XT Free 130 LV's and set about making the 97mm shell fit my 107 and 114mm wide feet. About a dozen punches in the lateral forefoot and medial midfoot just under the navicular and a quick heat mold of the liner have taken care of the fit issues, and I'm wearing the boots now as I type.

Even though Lange decided to switch the XT3 to polyurethane this season (previously the XT Free and XT Freetour were made of Grilamid), the boot actually loses weight this year. A 26.5 store sample weighed 1802 grams with the stock footbed in place; my pair comes in at 1831 grams with a 75 gram custom Sidas footbed with cork heel stabilizer in place. Interestingly, the wider 100mm-lasted XT3 is lighter at 1788 grams with stock footbed. The flex does indeed feel a tad smoother (Lange's impetus for changing plastic was primarily based on "ski feel" - and Polyurethane compounds set the standard in this.

Little (and bigger) changes add up. The buckle bales are flatter and thinner, saving a few grams. Pull tabs are thinner, but burlier, if that makes sense - they are no longer "flat" nylon, but woven into a tube of sorts. The walk mode is completely redesigned, and an enormous improvement with both much better range of motion and a smoother pivot. This is a "hybrid" boot that I might even take out touring intentionally. And finally, the gaskets at the toes are sleeker and more effective (we'll see), potentially eliminating a long-standing complaint about Lange water-tightness.

Fit seems the same as my other three pairs of 97mm Lange boots - I was able to punch using the Sharpie marks from my XT Free/RS 130 and the end result was on the money. Curiously, the stock footbed was a bit longer than in previous 26.5 Lange boots, but I used a new pair of custom footbeds I had cut to the old shape and they work perfectly. Stance seems a bit different; I am used to using the Lange World Cup shim (roughly 2 degrees depending on how deeply you insert it in the cuff) with my boots to turn the stock 12 degree forward lean into 14 degrees. The XT3 feels like about 13.5 degrees out of the box, and there's no spoiler in the box or velcro on the back of the liner to stick a spoiler on. We'll see how it skis in a day or so, as soon as the rain event passes and we get a bit of new snow.

Hmmm. Seems like swapping boots isn't going to be quite as easy as before with the XT Free 130's - the boot sole length is not the time-honord 306 mm for a 26.5 mondo, but instead 303 mm. Three clockwise clicks on the Warden 13 heels makes the screw sit flush . . .

Ongoing Test Update:

I now have two solid days of skiing on the XT3 130 LV, primarily on smooth and hard groomers (because that is what Nature is giving us so far this week). Not a problem for sorting out a new boot, since smooth carved turns at GS speeds are a great way to sort out any boot with performance alpine aspirations.

The fit is a bit roomier than my other two pairs of 26.5 LV Langes (an RS 130 plug and last year's XT Free 130 LV). I'm guessing this is primarily due to a thinner liner, but it's hard to know since the XT3 is a completely new design. To give some perspective, my feet measure 27.7 cm on the Brannock and are 107 mm and 114 mm wide on the Sidas ShooIQ digital scanner, so usually making an LV Lange work for my foot requires several hours of punching and several passes on the fifth metatarsal-to-fifth phalanges zone. I had this boot dialed and fitting like a glove in about 40 minutes, though I admit I simply looked at the Sharpie dots on my other two boots for punch placement, thus saving some time. I did a quick heat mold of the liner, though it was kind of an afterthought - the boots fit great before the mold. After two days in the boot, I'm at ladder notch #2 over the instep, about 1 notch tighter than I'd normally expect for a new Lange LV 26.5.

Skiing was an almost seamless transition after 6 days straight on my RS 130's, which I consider a good thing. The flex is similar, though slightly stiffer off the top and not quite so rock solid at full compression. I've played around with the forward lean a bit; in most Langes I use the "World Cup" spoiler provided in the box to affect a 14 degree forward lean, but the XT3 doesn't come with a spoiler and the forward lean out of the box seems to be in between 12 and 14 degrees. Initially a thin spoiler from our scrap spoiler bin (probably equals about 1 degree) seemed to help, but toward the end of day 2 I was happy with no spoiler and the top buckle left on notch #1 of the ladder. This is what I've done with the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, which also is 13 degrees with the Flip Chip inverted, so maybe I just need to stand tall and get used to it.

Does it ski like an alpine boot? Well, it depends on what alpine boot you're comparing it to. As you may know, I'm a firm believer that it's not just fore/aft stiffness that makes a boot ski well, it's "predictability" that gives it the extra edge (so to speak) - knowing just what the boot will do with a given amount of input is often more important than how much resistance it provides when you're standing there and flexing it. Does the XT3 have that predictability? Well, it's still not a match for the RS 130, but then not much else it either. As walk-mode boots go, it's fantastic in terms of power and feel, and I have no doubts about its ability to drive my bigger skis in challenging snow. For what it's worth, the walk mode is extremely smooth and now exceeds the capability of many other "hybrid" boots in this weight class, so I'd absolutely consider using it as my travel boot - if I could travel.

Design is clean and lean; plastic is now PU rather than Grilamid

Walk mode is a huge improvement over the XT Free version

1831 grams in 26.5 with a 75 gram custom footbed in place

Forward lean is a touch more than "classic" Lange 12 degrees

November 17, 2020

The Season for Pow

Another new Indie brand with deep and legit roots is in the house.

Season Eqpt is new for the 2021 "season" but figures to be around a while. This new brand is the brainchild of Eric Pollard and Austin Smith, two longtime industry insiders and pro riders who have always marched to their own beat. Joined by Josh Malczyk (formerly with Line Skis) and Andy Hytjan (formerly with Armada) and a few retail ringers, this small but super directed team has spent the majority of the COVID downtime developing a line of three skis and three snowboards built for creative riding on all types of snow.

Both ski and snowboard lines feature a model ideal for playful but precise frontside fun, an "all mountain-all conditions" model, and a full-fledged powder swallowtail model. The names - Aero, Nexus, and Forma - are also the same for both skis and snowboards. Kinda different, for sure. In addition, the graphics are all the same (pure black, with specs subtly engraved in the topsheet and sidewalls) and won't change with the years - these are tools designed to pass the test of time, and be used for their full life cycle.

I had the opportunity to snag a pair, and went for the 118mm-waisted Forma in a 183. The most obvious comparison is with the similarly swallow-tailed Pescado, but the Forma is a tad narrower and longer with more "meat" (my skis weighed in at 2198 and 2201 grams respectively, so not lightweight by any standards) and a smooth and even flex pattern. I had them mounted up within a few hours, tuned them to 1 and 1, and hit them with some environmentally unfriendly Swix LF 8 and 7 at 2:1 for their maiden voyage . . . more to come later.

More to Come . . .

Same day, few hours later. I have done some laps on the 183 Season Eqpt Forma, and am impressed. Conditions were 2-4 inches of damp fresh on top of a moderately hard freeze from yesterday's rain, with 5-6 inches in pockets. The Forma felt unexpectedly solid and tip heavy on my feet (mounted at the "all purpose" infinity mark), nothing like its ancestor the Pescado. Once on the piste, the ski preferred speeds above 20-25 mph, coming alive and feeling rock solid if not as silky smooth as the other ski I brought up (Blizzard 188 Rustler 11). If anything, the Forma had more in common with my 186 Bodacious (another 118mm wide go-to) than anything in the Line collection, and fit my style better. This is a ski for committed chargers who know how to point it in pow, and it won't let you down if you happen on some chop or ice along the way. In all, I think it's a great addition to my quiver and I'm looking forward to deeper days on them.

Forma tip - no lack of surface area here

Forma tail with burly stainless steel protector

November 16, 2020

Wonders Never Cease

Matt Sterbenz was in the shop tonight, presenting his new line of unique eco-friendly skis. If the name rings a bell, it's because Matt was the brains and driving force behind 4FRNT skis for many years until selling the brand to Jason Levinthal in 2018.

WNDR Alpine has been around in some form or other since early in 2019, when Matt found financial support for some revolutionary materials technology he had become involved in via the biotech firm Checkerspot. The technology revolves around algae-generated oils, which are in turn use to create PU foam for the ski cores and solid PU for sidewalls. Being involved in the production of the materials from the ground up lets WNDR bond the PU directly to wood during construction, eliminating a huge amount of waste from trimming and grinding. PU tip and tail protectors are molded from the same "AlgalTech" materials, saving milling time and labor as well as reducing waste.

At the moment there are two models, a 100 waisted ski called the Vital 100 and a 110mm model called the Intention 110, both available in cambered and full-rocker versions, and a 120mm ski in the works for next season. All are on the light side for alpine skis, with an eye to backcountry use - the core samples Matt showed us were a hybrid of the above-mentioned PU foam, ash, and paulownia wood. For reference, the skis with the dark tips in either width are the ones with camber, and sidecuts are all in the low to mid 20 meter range. No, there's no algae-based PE yet, and the black base material is sourced from ISO Sport like most everyone else's (Matt says the yellow tip material is from Crown). Edges are from Waelzholz and seem relatively thick for a touring-oriented ski - they look more like freestyle-spec steel at 2.5 or 2.6mm. The owl in the logo is Matt's ski touring "spirit animal."

Matt's quite the persuasive salesman, and the skis look great in person. Made in Salt Lake City in a small and very personalized production facility (each of 3 builders is responsible for all aspects of production from cutting and trimming raw materials to layup and finishing), all of the models will be available for demo at evo stores in the US, mounted with Marker Kingpin bindings and equipped with Black Diamond climbing skins. If the lifts are shut down by COVID and you're itching to get out and try a totally new ski product, WNDR Alpine may be your ticket to lockdown bliss.

Matt explains the tech behind the new materials, displayed on the benches in the foreground

November 11, 2020

Stoke Meter Pegged Today!

I was on the "fence" when I went to bed last night. Muir? Crystal? Steven's apparently was chasing skinners off the slopes, per Vail's lawyer's orders.

When I woke up at 5:45 and saw 25 inches of new, 17 degrees and blue sky creeping into the frame, I got inspired and texted some of the usual suspects. We made the drive in separate cars, as per directions from the significant others, and arrived in the Crystal "A" lot around 9:10. There were probably 80 cars already there, with a conga line stretching up Quicksilver already. You would think it's the first pow day of the year or something . . .

Silas and I hooked up briefly with some of the locals, but when they veered left to continue up Quicksilver we headed out toward Lucky Shot and the subsequent cat track to the top. Strangely, only about 4 people had dropped Green Valley (we weren't especially early), but we took the line under the gondola that usually yields the least rocky early season tracks, and Voila! were rewarded with the first pow turns of the season. There's more snow (quite a bit) in the forecast, and the lifties at the top said they were trying to open this weekend. They certainly were grooming Lucky Shot for all they were worth, and if they had an equally energetic crew over on Queens this could be the start of something great.

Sick pow turns in November   Silas Wild photo

Another screen grab from Silas' video . . .

October 26, 2020

Back on Fresh Snow

You know the season is here when you make your first fall turns on fresh snow. Yesterday was it for us, with the 65-and-older crew hitting the cat track under the Skyline lift at Steven's Pass, and coming down the same way for "safety" and reliability. 3 hours of driving door-to-door, skinning from the car, and no rocks on the way down unless you veered off the road. Sounds like the masses that headed to Rainier also found some nice conditions today - sun and corn - but burned a lot more gas getting there and back.

Senior citizens hit the skin track

Groomers were narrow but fun

October 9, 2020

COVID or No, Ski Season Is Coming

We've been back at work since June, and ready-or-not, the snow is coming.

evo has taken over the exercise studio next door for the ski and bike shop, as well as an expanded rental facility (a few years back this was the home of the evo copywriting and customer care teams). If you need skis mounted, bases tuned and waxed, Phantom base treatments done, or most ski-related accessories, this is the place to go rather than the store. For our first clinic of the season with Marker/Dalbello/Völkl, we used the loading dock in front of the building to stage the event in a "socially distant" way, and it went well. Pizza and beer on the steps, Gordy and Brian in great form, and some great new products that many of us hadn't seen in person. Highlights were the new Katana 108 and Blaze 106 from Völkl, the all-new Royal Family line from Marker (now easy to step in to), the Duke PT binding, and of course the new Dalbello Quantum Asolo boots. Unfortunately the weather looks like it's turning, and subsequent clinics (like tonight's with Salomon) will probably have to move inside, but one last fling with summer was a good thing. Now it's time for La Niña to kick in!

COVID clinic time: Outside on the steps of the new evo rental shop

August 19, 2020

The High Tech Future of Bootfitting?

I've spent the past few days experimenting with a 3D scanning device tailored to ski boot fitting and sales. The system is called "ShooIQ," pronounced Shoo Eye Kew (though it looks like it says "Schul Queue" on the logo), and was developed by the German firm Corpus.E ( with Sidas apparently doing the work to make it applicable for ski boots. The primary use thus far has been for athletic footwear, and the tech support person was difficult to reach during our setup because she was busy scanning the feet of the Seattle Seahawks football team (Uhhh, sorry bro, you need a 34.5 mondo boot with a 160 flex, I think you're outta luck). When you enter your profile into the database you agree to let Corpus.E/Sidas have access to your foot data for their own use, so don't be surprised if you're suddenly offered a quiver of Nike athletic shoes in your exact size somewhere down the road (you don't have to give them your contact info to be scanned).

The device utilizes a scanning camera that moves around your stationary feet on an invisible magnetic track, coupled to a Windows 10-based application that generates a 3D image of your feet, lower legs and calves. Due to the amount of data involved, the computer needs a hard-wired Ethernet connection to function properly, and a WiFi connection for the camera-to-computer interface needs to be present as well. The models can be compared to a library of previously scanned boot shell interiors, matched to the best fit options available, and analyzed for fit conflicts. The software sizes the boot based on categories from "beginner" to "racy" - usually about 1 mondopoint size apart - and also recommends stiffness based on ability level and weight. So far, the recommendations the system gives out seem to be a good match for what I would prescribe during a "manual" bootfit, which is a good sign.

You stand with your feet centered in the red rectangles while your bootfitter operates the machine from the touchscreen

I scanned and analyzed a number of members of our team at work, many with feet I was already familiar with. The 3D images were impressive in their detail and accuracy, as were the "matchups" with boot shells I've had experience with personally. Shells that I personally use, like the Lange LV, Atomic Hawx Ultra, and Tecnica Mach 1 LV, showed large bright orange spots in exactly the places I've punched them, which bodes well for using ShooIQ as a tool for fixing fit issues when you can't see the person's foot. The machine uses a slider graphic next to each boot shell you select to show how closely it comes to fitting in stock form, and shells that match a given foot show high "slider" values in addition to very little red or orange (blue represents "loose" spots in the shell with close to 20mm of space between foot and shell).

As an addition to our routine at the shop, I could foresee a host or less experienced bootfitter scanning everyone who comes in with a bootfitting appointment before they even start their session. For less complicated cases, you could have two or three boots already picked out and ready for the bootfitter before they even sit down with the customer. For fit issues with existing boots, the scan would provide a much more accurate template for punching and adjusting than the old-school paper description and diagram system we use now.

The camera 2/3 of the way through the 360 degree scan. You wear one green and one yellow sock.
The Seahawks were having trouble getting the socks over their calves, no such problem for Charlie.

There are some rough edges. ShooIQ runs on Edge in Windows 10, but the navigation is not intuitive and newcomers probably won't be able to figure it out through experimentation. There are a few annoying oversights that need correcting, for instance both the ShooIQ and Windows keyboards popping up when you touch a data entry field (only the ShooIQ one actually works, but the Microsoft one obscures the lower half of the ShooIQ one). You need to use very light pressure to drag and drop potential boots into the "try on" column or it won't work. You also need to go to a separate website run by Sidas to add or remove boot models from your library, and at present there is no filter for "crossover" or "touring" boots. Having the socks on correctly, with the toe seam under your toes rather than at the very end of your foot, no wrinkles at the ankle, and with the vertical lines straight up the shin, is critical for scanning success; I did one with wrinkles and the scan failed.

Computer-generated models of my feet. Yes, the width on the right one says 11.4cm.

Footbed model recommends a height for trim-to-fit footbeds (this foot needs "low") and shows areas that need support (grey-blue)

Both customers and store staff were impressed by the accuracy of the 3D models, and with the software's ability to match a foot shape to an interior shell shape. ShooIQ tends to measure feet "short" - as an example, my foot measures 27.7 on a normal Brannock device, 27.5 standing on a ruler with my heel against the wall, and 26.9 on ShooIQ. One interesting advantage is that when set on the "Sportive" or "Racy" levels, ShooIQ actually puts me in a 26.5 shell (exactly what I wear) in most boots, while every other system I've seen suggests 27.5. The machine doesn't seem to pick up on potential instep issues well - skiers with "problem" insteps often show blue or grey (15-20mm of space) rather than the orange or red I'd expect to see. This may be due to the machine only scanning the shell interior and not accounting for the liner and tongue. Likewise, boots that use the same last but different liners show up as the same "fit" when experience tells us this isn't usually true. This means bootfitters will still have to rely on their experience and visual clues in making the call.

Modelling simulation of my foot with a Hawx Ultra 130 26.5 shell - blue is loose, orange/red is tight.
I own this boot, and the orange/red areas are precisely where I punched the shell to make it wearable.

Will this machine put me out of a job?

Not exactly. It's certainly a good start for a novice bootfitter, and seems to generate confidence in many customers, especially those resisting dropping down to a smaller shell size. It doesn't really tell you how much movement you can get out of a good heat mold, how easy it will be for a bootfitter to punch a given shell, whether you can grind a bootboard to adjust instep height, or whether a spot that shows up as yellow or orange will actually hurt your foot. In the hands of a good bootfitter who's working from memory to punch a shell it could be an invaluable tool. As a reference, ShooIQ could also be a great reminder of boots that "slip" your mind when it comes to making a recommendation. As a way of starting the conversation of how to achieve a great fit in a ski boot, I think could potentially be a huge win. We'll see if management takes the leap.

August 14, 2020

Turning an Eye to the Upcoming Season

You've probably already felt it in the air. The weather is changing, and winter is coming, ready or not.

The store has been open for the past two months or so, with a few glitches. After a couple of positive COVID tests among the employees, we've adopted a two-team approach to staffing. Each team does three 11.5 hour shifts and one short 5 hour day, and the two groups are never on-premise at the same time. Eleven hours on your feet is kind of brutal, even for the younger members of the team, but it is what it is. We have our fingers crossed that we don't run into a situation with multiple members of both teams testing positive simultaneously.

September is coming up in a couple short weeks, and we're trying to figure out a plan for bootfitting for the coming season. So far it looks like bootfits will be reservation only, masks required for both employees and customers, probably with plexiglass screens for "up close" procedures like difficult liner molds and custom footbeds. We'll see, but the upshot is we'll definitely be enforcing limited store traffic across the board and there are bound to be some disappointed people, especially those who leave their gear shopping to post-Thanksgiving.

Summer has been fairly busy with "reservation only" bootfits (the reservation only system will likely be in place indefinitely), with lots of experienced women skiers looking for touring gear on most days. Not a bad idea, given the uncertainty of next season, but I wonder where all the dudes are. I've also been working on a few trial Zoom remote bootfits, with uneven but promising results, and video conferencing may prove to be a useful tool to add to the quiver. We'll see how this all shakes out, but it won't be an easy season. If you need boot work done, or are thinking of new boots, I'd start thinking about making a reservation with my favorite bootfitter now rather than later.

August in Paradise. It took 5 carries and some scrambling to get here, about 3.4 miles from the car. Skiing was mediocre.  Charlie Rubin photo

July 10, 2020

Epic Summer Session at Rainier

We had a big crew for some great corn skiing today in the Nisqually Chute.

Eric, Yoshiko, David, Jessica, Xan and Silas (plus me) were onhand to show Max from Brooklyn what summer skiing is all about. He seemed to be stoked, and why not? Perfect weather, awesome friends, and corn softened to just the right consistency made for a great day. A number of my friends had campers or rooms in Ashford, and were there for the two sunny days of the week, as well as a COVID-style Fourth Crossing BBQ, but I had to get back to town for dinner. A huge bonus was discovering the T-Mobile/Sprint merger had some quantifiable benefits for my cell coverage (T-Mobile has never had coverage on the south side of Rainer) as I now have 3 bars at the Visitor Center!

Like a tribe of warriors advancing on Thunderdome, our group approaches Pebble Creek in force

Eric in full flight

Not sure how Xan keeps his skills sharp after 18 years of living in Thailand, but he certainly can rip

David liked it so much he went back for another lap

Jess looks back on our handiwork

June 26, 2020

Corn Season is Upon Us

After a week and a half of skiing sticky mush at Chinook Pass and Mt. Rainier, we returned to Chinook today to find solid if a little bumpy corn conditions.

The skinning was a little challenging at times, enough so that we ended up simply booting up much of the steeper terrain. This approach proved quite a bit faster than skinning up the drainage, as we hit the ridge of Natches well before the group that had set out 15 minutes ahead of us.

Wild rock avoidance technique

Charlie finds open ground

Long-term BD tailstrap testing fail

June 17, 2020

Rainier Never Left; We Are Back!

A three month absence of skiers and climbers on Mt. Rainier is likely just a blip in the mountain's consciousness, barely noticeable in an awareness spanning eons. To us, it has seemed like an eternity.

The Park Service opened the road to Paradise a while ago, but the weather's been a challenge. Several friends have hung out for hours in the rain waiting for a window to ski, and reluctantly turned around and gone home without even suiting up.

Today was the first day of a likely 3-day high pressure streak, and we headed up full of optimism. As predicted by the NWS, low-lying fog and "chance of showers before 11 AM" was the theme for the drive up, but blue sky could be seen from the Visitor Center as we pulled in to join about 35 cars with assorted skiers and hikers. Rangers were milling about in "relaxed" mode, and eventually opened the Visitor Center to the public. Toilets were open, but no food or beverages. We headed up the climbers' trail toward Camp Muir, but veered over to the Paradise Glacier above Pebble Creek.

We saw no other tracks on the upper Paradise, though the snow (which had been very nice corn near the ascent route) was sticky and unconsolidated, and steeper aspects prone to wet rollers which were easily set off by skiing. We skied the skier's far right version, which normally ends in a waterfall later in the year, and it went well. Getting out with no set track and thick heavy trailbreaking the entire way was quite a bit of work as well; hopefully the snowpack will set up over the next few days and more people will head over so the exit track will get faster. We heard good reports about the skiing on the Muir Snowfield and Nisqually Chute as well.

Go get it. Rainier is one of the treasures of the Northwest, and it's back in business.

Gorgeous day, temperature in the 60's, zero wind!

Foggy and cool lower down

Old guys tandem skiing

June 2, 2020

Lift Skiing Re-appears in Washington State

It's true, Crystal is spinning lifts and people are skiing and snowboarding.

I missed out on Day 1 of the short summer season, as demand was high and the limited spots were snapped up in seconds once the reservations went online on Crystal's website. The reservation system is actually being administered by eventbrite, and their system seems to be a bit overwhelmed by the volume of requests each day at 2:00 PM, so getting through and actually loading your reservations into a cart is a bit of a crap shoot. Be patient, use a solid Ethernet connection (or the fastest connection you can find), and don't dally when picking your time and number of people. I got through on Day 2 for spots for my son and myself, but pretty much everyone else I know has seen some frustration.

Is it worth it?

Of course it is. IKON passes for 2019-2020 were valid, as were any pre-paid tickets and season passes for Crystal only. Day tickets for non-passholders were $59. Day 2 was a pretty fine day of spring skiing, with sun, corn and plenty of stoked patrons on hand. Green Valley proper and Snorting Elk both skied very well, as did Grubstake and Elk Chute #2, though both required a bit of rock dodging to gain entrance. It was great to get in a bunch of vertical with minimal effort after a solid 2.5 months of only skinning for turns, and the mood among the crowd was jubilant. I ended the day by taking a beater in Lake Snorting Elk after attempting a long distance pond skim, but I was starting to overheat by that time anyway!

No messing around as people lined up for their assigned slot on the gondola, you have a 1 hour window to board

May 27, 2020

Crystal to Open Green Valley on June 1

The persistant rumor that Crystal plans to open the Green Valley lift for skiing and snowboarding in June has some substance now, as they just posted the news on their website today.

We decided to preview the goods to see whether it would be worth navigating the reservation process (you need to reserve spots online starting at 2:00 PM for the following day) and fighting the crowds. Arriving at the "A" lot at around 10:00 AM, there were probably 25 other cars in the lot but many of the occupants had already set out. Charlie and I spied Greenwater local Chris W. a few cars over, and ended up spending the day skinning and skiing within a few (more than 6) feet of him.

There was about a 10-15 minute walk to skinable snow, depending on your pace and which route you took - we headed for Chair 4 as it had been "prepped" by some groomers and seemed to be the preferred way to start up the hill, but surprisingly we only saw a few other people once we got on snow. It's amazing what 2-plus months of no skiers or boarders can do for the quality of the skiing - every run was pool table-smooth, with an inch or so of soft corn over the top - awesome conditions, to be honest. I imagine the surface will turn bumpy in short order when the hoardes arrive beginning June 1, but people jonesing for snow won't care. Be careful if you stray from Green Valley, Iceberg still went (but barely) and probably won't be an option come Monday, and Lucky Shot has a similar lack of snow lower down. Powder Bowl and the King look prime, assuming you have touring gear and the desire. See you up there.

It's not as far as it looks to skinnable snow

Everyone had a well-distanced table to themselves . . .

Lower down required a little mud tromping

May 19, 2020

Some Lockdown Horseplay

My nephew-in-law Alejandro is a real-life horse whisperer, and when neither the weather nor the snowpack looked favorable for skiing on the webcams I decided to take him up on his offer to follow his daily routine at the farm where he helps tend to the 12-15 horses that stay there. There's a lot of physical and time-consuming work that goes into taking care of horses, and they crave social contact both with humans and other horses, so we stopped in and said hello to nearly every horse on the property, as well as feeding, brushing and chatting with the ones in the "working" stable.

I got to ride Alejandro's show horse for a bit, which was a little intimidating as he's huge, very powerful and spirited. As it turns out, though, he's also extremely well trained and responds instantly to the reins once you learn that he only needs a very light touch. "Pistolero" is a Friesian, a sturdy breed that originated in the Netherlands, just under 17 hands high, and heavily muscled. The stallions at the farm are also trained to ride in formation and "dance" on command, as they perform locally at festivals and parades in non-COVID years. It was treat to watch Alejandro work with the horses, who obviously loved and trusted him - they were typically quite vocal and often pounded their hooves on the doors of the stalls in their impatience to be "visited."

Pistolero was mellow today, as he'd had a hard workout yesterday as well as some "breeding time" with his girlfriend (he's one of two studs currently at the farm, and spring is the season for them to get it on). As Alejandro explained, if he really wanted to get into the mare's enclosure there probably wouldn't be anything you could do to stop him. All in all, he was a great horse for me to ride after not having been on a horse since I was 7 or so - a whole different sort of riding than skis and boots, where the communication and trust factor only goes one way.

I made friends with Pistolero and he carried me around the arena exibiting perfect manners

May 15, 2020

Opening Up the (Back)Country

Bit by bit, the lockdown is starting to unwind.

Bachelor is now open on a limited basis, "for passholders only," and Timberline opened on a limited basis yesterday "by reservation only." Locally, it's been found that no one really wanted to enforce the closure of snow-covered Forest Service lands at the passes anyway, and a loose sort of truce has enabled limited access to snow. The North Cascades Highway opened without fanfare a few days ago, but reports from the Methow indicate the snowpack is in dire need of a freeze-thaw cycle to corn up the surface. While the ski area parking lots are officially closed, determined skiers and snowboarders are finding their way onto the slopes, hopefully while maintaining a good distance between themselves during the day. Plenty of "regulars" were in attendance, including lots of locals and bootfitters from at least three shops (not including myself). Here's some random shots of people getting some exercise in the mountains this week - if you recognize any of the faces, keep it to yourself.




May 4, 2020

New Ride Time

May is normally the month when I start to seriously ramp up the mileage on the bike, with daily commutes logged on the "Bike Everywhere" Challenge website, warmer weather (if you're lucky), and plenty of people on the road. This year is a bit of an exception, with no work to ride to, but I built up a sweet gravel bike last week anyway.

Check out this Santa Cruz Stigmata with Ultegra DI2, Vision Metron 40 carbon wheels, and FSA fittings. "Old School" with 2 x 11 drivetrain and Challenge Chicane tubular 'cross tires, just "because" (well, because I've got sewups hanging in the closet - I'll probably end up using Vittoria CX 27mm or Vittoria Corsa 30mm "Strade Bianche" tires eventually). Thanks to Russell and Mike O. for parts, expertise, and assembly, and Mike W. and Santa Cruz for the frameset hookup.




May 1, 2020

Low Tide at the Pass

In the face of criticism from people who think I should be staying home, I've refrained from posting photos of actual skiing for the past few weeks, but I'm convinced I'm much more likely to get COVID-19 standing in line at Costco or the Post Office than from a day of skinning and sliding. We have continued to park in friends' driveways and seek the comfort of the snow during the lockdown, staying well apart on the skin track. Hopefully with the State of Washington relaxing some state park guidelines next week, more terrain will open up in May.

Down to the skinniest of skis for the skinniest of snowpacks

This old-timer won't take "no snow" for an answer

Socially distant lunching in North Bend

April 7, 2020

Close to Home

The snow conditions went from full winter pow last week to emerging corn today, which actually skied amazingly well after the surface warmed up and softened. We took the easy route and chose to do fitness laps in near-Curdistan, where the Security Patrol were making frequent checks on the parking lot, but no one told us to leave. Scott and Kevin showed up from down the street, and we got in a few laps in perfect spring sunshine. Another fine option that's not sweating over the elliptical trainer in my bedroom.

Lap 2 brought back some memories - as a kid, I spent many a lunchtime in the building to the right.

The new Dalbello Quantum Asolos were plenty of boot driving Zero G 95's   Kevin Curd photo

April 1, 2020

Playing by the Rules

Washington is playing hardball in the fight against COVID-19, with a state-wide Stay At Home mandate in place, "Stay Home, Save Lives" signage up on the freeways and most "non-essential" business shut down by order of the governor. Now the US Forest Service has closed access to all public parking lots, trailheads and facilities on Forest Service land until September 30th unless the situation changes for the better. That means the Alpental lot and various trailheads we traditionally use are out of play. Trying our best to apply the rules of social distancing but needing to get out in the snow meant meeting in Kevin's driveway and giving each other plenty of room on the skintrack, but minor inconveniences were well worth the trouble today.

There is plenty of terrain in Kevin's backyard, and we took a new route up the hill today, carefully skirting the steepest sections while cutting off a bit of distance on the ascent. The weather had been all over the map since 11 inches of snow fell yesterday, and had compacted into not-so-desireable crusty pudding when the temperature went from 40 degrees to 29 in 12 hours, but the shaded goods higher on the mountain were still good. No tracks or signs of other humans were visible, other than one other solo skinner who somehow veered off about mid-climb and ended up skiing somewhere totally different.

The COVID-19 response has put quite a crimp into virtually every aspect of American society, but as long as we're not working it's a fine time to use a little ingenuity to get into the mountains and track up a bit of powder.

No competition for some of the best snow of the season   Kevin Curd photo

Easy skinning for the injured guy; Kevin broke trail all day!   Kevin Curd photo

As deep as I've been all year   Kevin Curd photo

Kevin threads a tree line

Kevin off the top

Eat, drink, drop

March 30, 2020

Social Distancing in a Foot of Fresh

Yes, it's true that life has pretty much come to a standstill worldwide, not to mention here at ground zero of the US pandemic.

The store is shut down for at least the next two months, and what comes after that is a serious question. I worry about our company's capacity to absorb the impact of a several month shutdown, and it's one of the healthiest outdoor sports retailers in the nation. I fear that many, if not most, of the smaller independents won't survive the year.

In the meantime, even though every resort in the country has shut down operations, the snow continues to fall and conditions are close to epic. Kevin and I chose to interpret the state "stay at home" mandate liberally, and met at Alpental in separate cars, being careful to maintain six feet of distance the entire day. Two laps included some of the best turns of the year, particularly on the upper half of the mountain. Be safe, stay healthy, and work at staying sane - the next few months will be tough ones.

With a little work, Kevin found some of the best turns of the season today.

Kevin, alone on Lower International

Nash drop, spectacular.

Working the little alley next to the ice climbing cliff . . .

Working some more.

March 18, 2020

End of the Lift-Served Season

Pretty much every ski area has shut down in our neck of the woods; if they haven't the end is probably only days away. No one wants to be the place where a liftie comes down with COVID-19 and a dozen guests test positive. I'd do the same, and thank God I'm no longer running a Chinese restaurant . . .

Even so, there's plenty of snow and spring is here, so we celebrated what for many has been a mediocre season by slapping on the skins and heading up Hyak. Plenty of people had the same idea, and the sheet-of-ice conditions from the weekend had softened under 55 degree sun to make skiing excellent. We kept 6 feet apart and only had 4 in our group, so all good!

Kevin, Fran and Kris skin in formation, with Ziggy doing his own thing

March 15, 2020

On the Bench: Roxa R3 130 T.I.

Two years ago, when Full Tilt came out with the Ascendant touring boot, people started complaining almost immmediately. "Why didn't they make a touring version of the narrower 99mm last, and throw a 12 tongue on it" pretty much summed up the comments.

The Ascendant has had a decent run, but there's no denying the fact that it's a really high volume fit. So is the sister offering from Dalbello, the Lupo AX 120, even though it has a stated 100mm last. What's a 3-piece boot lover with an average or lower volume foot to do when they want (or need, as will be the case tomorrow in COVID-19 ravaged Washington state) to tour?

There may be hope. Roxa recently sent me a couple of boot samples in my size, including their flagship freeride model the R3 130 T.I. This is the boot that skiers like Glen Plake, Aurelien Ducroz, and Michael "Bird" Shaffer go about their daily business in, and as you might expect it's burly. Built with a tough Grilamid shell and cuff, and weighing in at 1582 grams per boot (26.5) without footbeds in place, the R3 130 T.I. flexes like a legit 130 boot but feels decidedly light underfoot.

Roxa is a smaller manufacturer in Asolo, Italy, who has in the past done contract work for Full Tilt, among others. Their designs have much in common with both Full Tilt and Dalbello, but add a third producer to the short list of manufacturers who specialize in high performance three-piece boots (they also make a full line of ultra-light touring boots and 2-piece overlap boots). The Grilamid formula they've chosen (there are many) for the R3 130 T.I. is a tough, harder durometer version much like the plastic used in the Atomic Hawx XTD boots, and I expect durability to be good.

Clean and simple 3 buckle design, GripWalk soles standard

The R3 130 T.I. has a stated last of 99mm, and I'd say it's a generous 99mm. I could wear the boot indoors for 10 minutes or so, but I needed more width for my wide forefoot, medial midfoot, and large first met bunions. Roxa recommends cooking the shell for most customers, and says width increases of between 2mm and 4mm (depending on which literature you're reading) are possible. I try a lot of boots and typically punch them right off the bat to save time, and this boot was fairly routine. Roxa's chosen Grilamid took more heat than most sub-1600 gram Grilmid shells require to move the plastic - I'd say use the finger inside the shell method of gauging temperature, but you shouldn't have to worry much about melting the surface of the shell. The yellow plastic turns slightly orange when hot (as do other yellow Grilamid shells), but the hue fades when the shell cools. Roxa uses what they call "BioFit" zones at the first and fifth met heads to allow the shells to move with a simple oven bake (9 minutes in a K-Tech oven @ 117 C.), and this thinned out area with a ring around it shows through at the first met zones when punched from within, which looks a little weird but shouldn't be a concern. The placement of the BioFit zones was pretty much on the money for my feet, but may not work for everyone.

The liner is an Intuition-made tongue model, with fairly low volume padding throughout. Some users, especially those with smaller diameter ankles and lower legs, may do well to upgrade to a higher volume aftermarket Intuition, as the fit is fairly roomy through the ankle area, but my moderately thick ankles did well in the stock version. I followed the molding instructions and went 5 minutes (recommended is 3-5) in a pre-heated oven, which worked perfectly.

Stance feels more upright than the stated 15 degrees, but I got used to it in a run or two.

I took the R3 130 T.I. out for some exercise today, quite possibly the last lift-served day of the season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and it felt seriously burly, especially for a light boot. The stance feels more upright than I'm used to, but I adapted to it fairly quickly and the boot felt rock solid on today's VERY firm conditions. Part of the issue might be not having skied in a stiff 3-piece shell recently - when I loosened the cuff strap just slightly the boot skied very well. There is a flex adjustment screw at the rear of the cuff, but I never felt a need to try the "stiff" setting, even after weeks of skiing my Lange RS 130 plug boots most of the time.

Ever seen an "A" Dalbello tongue? Neither have I, but here's the stamp on the Roxa R3 130 one.

Very few skiers will find this boot lacking in forward stiffness. I've been fitting boots for some time, and have yet to see the mythical "A" Dalbello tongue or a "12" Full Tilt tongue, but the tongue supplied with this boot is stamped "A" and it seems in line with what I imagine a Dalbello "A" tongue would flex like. I actually did better in the afternoon by loosening the top strap a bit for an easier initial flex, and may try some rear cuff shims to provide a bit more forward lean if any lifts start spinning again this spring.

Entry and exit are areas where 3-piece designs typically shine, and the R3 130 T.I. is no exception. Where skiers of ten complain about other light Grilamid overlaps designs (thin, stiff lower shells that fit close to the ankle are notoriously hard to put on and take off, particularly when cold), the R3 design goes on about as easily as my Croc gardening clogs with the tongue pulled up. Actually I can even get in and out of the R3 without even undoing the top Velcro strap or lower cable fastening as long as the instep buckle is fully undone. Pretty impressive, really.

I have yet to go uphill in this boot, but I've walked a bit in tour mode and the stated 45 degree range of motion is underwhelming. The emphasis is definitely on power and freeride performance for the R3 130 T.I., and though I'd be happy to skin a few thousand vertical feet in it, it's much less of a touring boot than the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro or Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD. More to come as I get a chance to spend more time in the R3 . . .

1582 grams per boot with no footbed in place . . .

March 12, 2020

Closed, Gone Skiing!

After years of talking about it, the powers that be at the store finally did it - closed the shop for a day of sliding while paying everyone for a full eight hours!

We rallied the vast majority of store employees who weren't otherwise obligated or hurt, and made the trip to scenic Crystal Mountain, where a day of ripping ensued. There's nothing better than riding with the people you've spent the entire winter working shoulder to shoulder with, not to mention the crew at evo is by and large pretty damn skilled. Conditions ranged from perfect groomed on Lucky Shot and Iceberg to chalky bumps on Chair 6, but this group knew how to have fun on any run.

One group of happy campers . . .

Uhhh, Phil knows where he's going, right?

February 27, 2020

On the Bench: Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory Touring Boot

One of the factors that has revitalized the ski touring industry has been the entry of big alpine players like Tecnica, Salomon, and Atomic into the market. Not only has the variety of fit and weight options fueled growth in backcountry skiing (and skiing in general), but the level of performance has surged with the infusion of R & D money from these companies.

Dalbello has been biding their time with their bread and butter Lupo Series boots, and introduced the Irfran-based Lupo AX boots three seasons ago to the aclaim of many higher volume feet. Now they're entering the "fast-n-light" segment with a bang by bringing the new Asolo line of tongue-less light touring boots to market for the '20-'21 season.

Our Marker-Dalbello-Völkl rep Gordy Bolstad had been knocked flat by pneumonia for the past few months, but shook it off long enough to deliver a pair of the carbon-reinforced Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory boots for testing. This sub-1 kilo boot had been making the rounds of the industry shows and on-snow tests, but no one I know had skied it. Sure, it looked super cool and was obviously very light, but there were a few questions in my mind.

For starters, when Derrick from MDV headquarters had initially shown me the boot, he'd been adamant that the shell couldn't be punched. If true, this would seriously limit the appeal of the boot not only to me, but a whole bunch of other people who don't happen to have a perfect 99mm wide foot. (The stated last is 99mm and it feels dead-on - only problem is my foot is about 104mm wide not counting a huge bunion on the first metatarsal head). Secondly, how would it ski? There aren't many contenders in the sub-1,000 gram class, but people are divided on whether boots like the Quantum Asolo or Scarpa Alien RS are really suitable for general touring or are really just for wannabe rando race types.

The boot Gordy delivered was actually a 27.5, rather than the normal sample 26.5. It turned out to be a good thing, as they run small - this is a case where most skiers are going to want to size up one mondopoint size. This isn't uncommon in lighter, minimalist boots - I took a 27.5 in the Dynafit TLT5, first generation TLT6, Arc'teryx Procline and some others when I normally wear a 26.5 in my alpine boots. For the record, I measure 27.8 on my larger foot. The Dalbello people made of point of mentioning that the sole shapes are "normal" ISO 9523, and not especially short - the 27.5 BSL is 305mm.

Miles holds the new Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory

Sure enough, when I built a new custom footbed for the Asolos, assuming I would need something longer than I had lying around, the trimmed final product ended up being only a millimeter or so longer than the footbeds from my 26.5 collection. Not a problem, I can always use a fresh footbed, but probably a sign I needed to be in a 27.5!

Now came crunch time. It only took about 5 minutes in the boots before I came to the conclusion there'd be no touring in these things without some extra width at the fifth met area and bunion, as well as the medial midfoot. My approach with the heat gun was very slow and deliberate, but with careful intermittent heating I was able to punch each of these areas to my satisfaction. The carbon-reinforced Polyamide turns a dull, flat shade once it gets up to heat, and the Dalbello decals start to deteriorate, but if you pay close attention you (or a skilled bootfitter used to dealing with thin touring boot shells) should be fine. As a side note, the Asolo Factory is quite a bit more sensitive to heat than the Alien RS (which Scarpa also says not to punch), mostly due to the shell walls of the Scarpa being double-thick around the perimeter. Use the finger-touch inside the shell method of gauging readiness and watch the surface of the plstic like a hawk for best results. The design of the new Dalbello features "hemispherical construction," meaning the shell is molded in two halves and held together by both mechanical means and glue, but I'm not convinced this means anything in terms of modifying the shell - at any rate, it didn't split in half when I punched it.

Where the Alien RS uses relatively thin sheets of Grilamid that close on one side as a cuff front, the Quantum Asolo boots employ a beefy molded front plate that resembles my DonJoy knee brace in terms of structural integrity. The plate hinges forward for entry/exit and touring mode. Closure is by a thick braided cord with a friction adjustment at the front, and the design is very solid. A comparison of the Quantum Asolo Factory and next year's F1 LT will be an interesting one, as the weights are nearly identical and the new Scarpa boot combines the scaffo of the Alien RS with a ribbed F1 cuff and dual power straps. Anyone have one?

Page from the 2021 Dalbello catalog shows unique construction

Putting the boot on and heat molding the liners was a bit tough, too. People who tried the Quantum Asolo Factory on at the industry on-snow events had complained about it being hard to put on and take off (I was one of them). All of them, however, tried on only the RIGHT boot (the left still had the paper in the liner). As it turns out, the Dyneema cord in the right boot is about 2 inches shorter than the cord in the left boot, which goes on without drama. For the time being, I'll struggle with the right, which actually feels fine once the boot is on my foot. The fastening system is called Dalbello's QLS (Quick Lacing System) and is a take off on the Boa system, but without the "all-out" instant release when you pull the dial out - you dial it clockwise to tighten, dial it counterclockwise to loosen.

Love the stealth grey colorway and the "Lizard Tex" scaffo. Silver dots are punch points.

Now for some skiing. I took the Dalbellos up to Hyak for a couple thousand vert, plus one chairlift ride.

In terms of skinning, the Quantum Asolo Factory is pretty much second to none. Range of motion is greater than my ankle, and the pivot action is silky smooth. My pair weighed in at 997 grams in 27.5 out of the box (sample size of 26.5 is listed at 950 grams) and the light weight is a joy to go uphill with. Paired with my standby Zero G 95's and Atomic Backland Tour bindings, this is about the lightest I'd want to go for an all-purpose touring setup. Skiing is more than adequate, with excellent lateral rigidity and tons of rearward support. I'd estimate forward flex at around 90, assuming you get the cuff tight enough. Putting the boots in ski mode, then pulling the braided Dyneema cord as tight as possible before locking it provided a good compromise between stiffness and ease of switching into ski mode. You can pull it tighter in walk mode and get a snugger fit as well as a stiffer flex in the initial few degrees of bending the boot, but pushing the lever in ski mode is tough.

Transitioning from my Lange RS 130 plug boots with FIS GS skis or 188 Rustler 11's to a light setup took a few minutes to adjust to, but after a run or two I was able to trust the boots and ski naturally and confidently. Is the Quantum Asolo Factory a viable solution for spring and summer touring or multi-day trips? From the limited time I've spent in them so far, I'd guess the answer is yes. For an additional 50 grams over the primary competition, the Scarpa Alien RS, the Dalbello gives you a cushier liner and thicker tongue, which add to the feeling of increased substance. We'll see how the boot fares this spring and summer.

No tongue, burly carbon-reinforced cuff, braided Dyneema cord is probably strong enough to save you from a 15 foot whipper.
Check out the fifth met punch on the right boot if you're worried about getting the Quantum Asolo Factory to fit a wider foot

Day 2 Update

Just back from 3 laps at the Hyak Health Club, a little over 3,000 vertical feet.

As mentioned above, skinning in the Quantum Asolo Factory is fanastic. The range of motion is such that I never felt a need to use the higher lifters on my Atomic Backland Tour bindings (same as Salomon MTN); the extra few degrees of forward range makes them seem totally unnecessary on anything under 25 degrees. Likewise, the increase in rear range makes it possible to push your ski out ahead of you for an extra few inches of stride without straining - my flexibility is the limiting factor here rather than the boot.

The fit is pretty much perfect, and I'm surprised I was able to nail it with less than 45 minutes of punching. With no pressure on my forefoot, I noticed the heel dimensions were quite roomy but so far vertical movement has been minimal and I haven't come close to blistering. With the QLS system just "snug" the boot has tons of instep room, which bodes well for those with taller insteps as long as they can get in to the boot. (There are no parts at MDV USA yet, so for now I have to live with the short lace on the right boot, but anyone with a slightly beefier foot probably won't be able to get this pair on). No cuff also means typical problem areas for me, like my left medial maleolus, are absent - usually I always need to punch this.

Skiing was a bit challenging today - two inches of sticky "glue" on top of rain-soaked corn made for some "stop and go" descending. The Quantum Asolo Factory is stiff enough to prevent you from going over the bars, but the less than progressive flex made for some interesting turns. I didn't have my Backland Carbons or an Alien RS along for a direct comparison, and the boot was great on the groomed corn XC trail, so more testing is in order.

Day 5 Update

I now have 5 days on the Quantum Asolo Factory boots, and I'm liking them more and more.

They remain superior going uphill, with no perceptible resistance within the normal striding range of motion, and skiing is getting more predictable (or I'm getting used to them). On fast corn or harder snow with minimal resistance, they work great. In sticky, isothermal glop with unpredictable stop-and-go characteristics, it's more of a challenge, especially with my still-recovering ACL repair, and I'm taking it easy for the time being. Most of the skiing has been on my trusty older Blizzard Zero G 95's (one day on the newer, more "manageable" current 95), and I'm convinced that the boot is ideal for driving skis in the 1000-1200 gram range. Testing has been limited by the state of Washington's COVID-19 restrictions, with all national parks and Forest Service trailheads closed, and so has been mostly stealth skinning at empty ski areas.

I've also had a pair of Scarpa Alien RS around the house for comparison (no skiing, as they'd need serious work and they're not mine), and the two boots are remarkably similar in many respects. The Alien RS's are 26.5 and weigh in at 961 grams, while the stated weight on the Quantum Asolo Factory in 26.5 is 950. In terms of flex, the Scarpa is stiffer off the top (in the first few degrees of the flex range), probably because of the existence of the power strap (the Dalbello has none), but once into the flex pattern the two boots are quite similar. Where I'd take a 26.5 in the Alien RS, I still believe I'd stick with the 27.5 in the Quantum Asolo shells. It is a little difficult to get the liners in both boots due to the elastic gaiter, but once in both are relatively simple to put on. The Dalbello design is a bit less finicky in terms of function, since all you do once you get the cord adjusted is open or close the walk mode lever. The Scarpa requires that you slip the cord over the two grommets on the cuff each time you want to get in or out of the boot, as well as adjust or unfasten the power strap for transitions and entry/exit. It will be interesting to see how the new F1 LT stacks up in terms of weight and performance once they arrive.

February 9, 2020

WWSRA Demo Days, Mission Ridge, February 5-6, 2020

It's that time of year again.

The last week of January is when the ski trade rolls out next year's product for retailers to fondle and try. This year's demo events were held in Winter Park, CO and Mission Ridge, WA, and most of the major brands were in attendance with a brace of new product lines. Trends that have been in the making for the past few years continued - lighter weight "charger" skis with some, but "less" Titanal and more relaxed rocker profiles were everywhere, and the "quiver of one with touring option" market is about to be expanded with the introduction of the Marker Duke PT (Pin Tech, not Part Time).

Last week's rain event and subsequent freeze left little snow on the exposed slopes surrounding the main runs at Mission Ridge, so testing was limited to smooth and hard (sometimes very hard) groomers. Day one was cool and overcast in the AM, with the sun coming out mid-day but temps remaining cold. Day two warmed up quite a bit with light snow falling, but under a trace of new the snow was still bulletproof. Skis with excellent edge hold tended to show well, as you might expect - my standard test route off the top of Chair 4 began with a smooth icy pitch that exposed deficiencies in grip within two turns.

I'll recap some of the hightlights:

Due to the conditions, I stuck to mid-wide alpine skis for the duration of the two days (didn't test any powder skis or touring skis), but Dalbello had a pair of the new Quantum Asolo touring boots on display. I tried on the 27.5, which pinched a little on my fifth met head and felt a little long in the toes (I normally ski a 26.5). The boot looks and weighs a lot like the Scarpa Alien RS, but is molded in two halves of long fiber carbon-reinforced Grilamid, then joined with a tongue-in-groove and adhesive tecnique. A thick Dyneema cord adjusts to calf diameter and is attached to the walk mode lever, which when secured for skiing tightens the cuff in one movement. One potential drawback is the stated "non punchability" of the shell, which might not work for my foot (last is 99mm) - but they make two other slightly heavier models with PU shells that I assume can be modified.

New Quantum Asolo touring boot from Dalbello weighs in at 925 grams in a 27.5, features "hemispherical" two-part molding

Marker is hitting the freeride tour segment with a sledgehammer next season by debuting the much-talked about Duke PT. This 16 DIN monster for the CAST crowd provides FWT-level retention and elasticity while enabling you to skin to your destination using a tech boot. I didn't tour on it, but I did ski a few runs on it, and they're not joking when they say it skis just like a Jester (and why not, the heel is basically the same with a locking brake and a lifter). The toe is completely novel - it looks like a regular binding with an oversized cowling while skiing, but push down on the locking lever and the cowling pops forward to expose a pin tech attachment. You can skin with the cowling pivoted forward and snapped down on the ski or remove it completely and stash it in the pack - don't drop it and lose it on the summit or you'll be skiing down in the tech toe (not recommended by Marker). They've also redesigned the Jester/Griffon/Squire group with a more modern shape and smaller profile bump where your heel contacts the binding while stepping in, with the result that the bindings are now only slightly harder to step in to than the competition - this used to be a major point of contention with the Royal Series bindings, especially on a pow day. Heavy? Sure, but if you weigh over 200 lbs. or can't get your Shift AFD to stay put, this might be the answer.

duketoecoveron.jpg  duketoeopen.jpg
Duke PT toe in touring mode with cowling on (left) and removed (right)

dukeheeltour.jpg  duketoeski.jpg
Duke PT heel in touring mode (left) and toe ready to ski (right)

Völkl has been on a tear lately, expanding their M5 construction to 88mm and 102mm widths with resounding success. Next year they'll offer the Katana 108 (should have called it the Gotama, but that's another story) with the same Titanal Frame build. The new Katana was the star of the demo for most everyone who tried it, with razor-like precision, amazing edgehold, predictable and intuitive turn initiation at all speeds, and superior high speed stability for a ski that still feels nimble on your feet. I loved the new Blaze 94 as well, and was surprised at how well the Revolt 104 held up to high speed directional charging.

Fresh Revolt lineup from Völkl isn't just for the park . . .

Völkl's all-new Katana features the M5 construction @ 108mm, and was the star of the week.

The Elan Ripstick 106, already one of the best-balanced light performance skis on the market, gets a shot in the arm with a carbon fiber laminate under the medial side of the ski, making it slightly poppier and livelier than before. It's still a joy to navigate at any speed, and not as much a commitment as the Black Edition ski, which has a full layer of carbon under the topsheet.

At Dynastar, the excellent Menace 98 remains unchanged, but they've come out with two new lines of freeride skis, the M Pro and M Free. The M Pro 99 was one of the highlights of the demo, with a Titanal "spear" that resembles the Rustler's but more tip rocker and a slightly surfier feel. Excellent and predicatable at all speeds, capable of changing turn radius on the fly with no penalty, and lighter feeling than you'd think a metal-infused ski should be.

Dynastar's M Pro 99 was a winner.

New Lange XT3 goes PU instead of Grilamid but actually loses weight; new walk mode is "money" . . .

Blizzard's been my favorite manufacturer for years now, building what I consider to be the best lineup of skis top to bottom that covers both the freeride and touring segments. My go-to favorites, the Rustler and Zero G lines, remain unchanged (except for minor graphics tweaks on the Rustlers), but the "trad" freeride skis have all undergone complete redesigns. The Cochise, Bonafide and Brahma (as well as the women's equivalent Black Pearls) now use what Blizzard refers to as a "Trueblend" core that uses a different blend of woods for the tip, midsection, and tail. The new cores result in a slightly mellower flex at the extremities, but are actually stouter underfoot. If you're in the market for a frontside charger, pay attention to the length and don't be afraid to try a shorter ski than you're used to - I skied the new Cochise in a 185 and the Brahma in a 183 and found them perfect, but had a hard time getting the 183 Bonafide to initiate at anything under about 30 mph. On the advice of our rep Dave Glotzer and my friend Steve Backstrom, I skied the 177 the next day and loved them - surprising since my daily driver is a 188 Rustler 11. I even got out on the 177 Black Pearl 88, a revised version of the world's best-selling women's ski, and was pleasantly surprised. There aren't many sub-90mm women's skis I'd be happy spending a day on, but this one is strong enough and versatile enough to do just that.

2020 Blizzard Spur loses the asym shape and gains width, love the retro graphic

Redesign of the Bonafide and Cochise makes both more versatile

Nordica's Enforcer 104 Free was one of my top skis of the test

The Soul era ends at Rossignol for 2021 on an upbeat note - the new Black Ops Sender Ti adds high speed stability and improved tenacity on harder snow but won't alienate the old 7 Series customer that's not in the mood for a super demanding ski.

Shift concept isn't just bindings anymore at Salomon

Salomon has jumped into the Titanal-enhanced charger market with both feet as well, debuting their new Stance lineup during the show season. The widths are 90mm, 96mm, and 102mm and the character of each is distinct. The 90 is smooth and "accessible," the 96 stouter and more confident at speed, and the 102 is a total ripper - probably my favorite ski of day 2.

Salomon is a player in the charger ski market - the new Stance 102 is awesome

Brother Wayne holds court in the Stöckli tent

January 22, 2020

Rehab Update

I'm back skiing.

It is 8.5 months post-surgery for the new ACL, and things are feeling pretty good. Smooth and soft is my friend; I can carve large radius turns on corduroy with the best of 'em. Lucky Shot and Forest Queen at Crystal are my jam, and the long and perfectly groomed runs at Ski Bluewood this week were great. Clean and uncut powder is also good, and I enjoyed some of the best snow ever at Alpental last week. Cut-up variable snow, chattery ice, and quick directional changes are still a challenge - dropping into International at Alpental with the three icy rollers and 50 ft. visibility was a bit painful, as is the effect of sharp torque applied to the knee by chunks of frozen debris. Still, the comfort level and confidence are improving day by day, and I'm thinking the 9 to 12 month prediction of "full recovery" (surgeon's term) is pretty much spot on.

I might have been further along if I'd stayed in Seattle and continued my physical therapy regime along with adequate rest and elevating the leg, but instead we went to Europe and walked on uneven streets for hours each day. When we returned, the knee was not a happy camper and my therapy team advised me to take ten days off and just let it rest.

We took Max to Ski Bluewood Monday for his second day of skiing, and he logged a lot of time on snow. Most of this was between our skis, but he is skiing on his own on gentle slopes like the Magic Carpet zone and the parking lot. He still hasn't gotten the snowplow thing entirely - I would push him up the hill, turn him around and arrange his skis in a "V" so he wouldn't slide (that's a snowplow, right?), then go back down the hill and tell him to straighten out his skis so he could slide down to me. Baby steps.

The Magic Carpet at Ski Bluewood is a beauty.

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