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April 18, 2024


There's no skiing to be found for miles, largely because it's set almost dead smack on the equator and the temperatures are in the 90's nearly every day, year round. We've wanted to visit this unique Asian city for a long time, though, and decided 2024 was the year.

Even with a superior Singapore Airlines business class flight, during which I actually managed to sleep for 6 or 7 hours, this is a L-O-N-G time to be in the air. The trip over took 16 plus hours, and a decent bed and fantastic food and service took the bite out of it, but we were still pretty trashed upon arrival.

Singapore's very existence is an amazing tale - from it's beginning as a British shipping and trading center to its occupation by Japanese forces during World War II, then it's inclusion and expulsion as a part of Malaysia to its current dominance as a world financial hub - would take more than a few books to tell. Fortunately every Singaporean seems to well indoctrinated in this history and is glad to share their knowledge, plus we visited some tremendous museums that shed light on the story.

We made the Holiday Inn Express Singapore Clarke Quay our headquarters for this trip. It's a busy business-oriented hotel in the heart of the city, walking distance to both Chinatown and Little India, and with a 50 meter infinity lap pool on the roof. Air conditioning and the cool meditative act of swimming were welcome relief from the toil of walking around in tropical heat and humidity each day.

Right across from our hotel is the Tan Si Chong Su Temple, the original worship site of the Singapore Tan family, and it's still going strong but open to all. We bought some incense sticks and fired them up for good luck before heading for Chinatown.

After a solid night's sleep in 23 C. comfort - the 22 degrees set by the hotel staff was TOO cold - we awoke refreshed and ready for wonton noodles. Heading straight to Chinatown with stops at Confucian and Hindu temples along the way, we went to the second floor of the Chinatown Center and found what we were looking for. Street food isn't normally found exactly on the street in Singapore - the government has positioned muti-story concrete food courts throughout the city which are home to hundreds of vendors selling food, souvenirs, clothing and more. Typically a food vendor specializes in one type of dish with a few options, and most are staffed with only two or three helpers including the cook. The wonton noodle place had one person handling orders, one handling the broth and noodles, and one furiously making shrimp and pork wontons fresh for each order. It's not necessarily the most efficient way to handle a flood of business, but people seem quite willing to wait (this place had a long line) and the shrimp wonton soup noodles were fantastic.

Digging into some Har Wonton Mien Tong

That night we had scheduled a boat tour of the Singapore River, the original port of the city and central to most of the older communities. Our hotel was only a block away from the river, but our guide picked us up in a Mercedes and pointed out some key geographical features while we headed to the unmistakeable profile of the Marina Bay Sands, the improbable three columns of hotels and shops topped by a mini-city complete with observation deck, restaurants and a pool. If the Merlion (a half mermaid, half lion statue we also visited during the tour) is the symbol of the old Singapore, the Marina Bay Sands is certainly the symbol of the new, more opulent one.

The Marina Bay Sands from the grove of "Supertrees" at Gardens by the Bay - huge artifical "trees" rigged with lights and synced with a musical program, shows at 7:45 and 8:45 nightly

The following day we met up with Sam, a friend of friends and local photographer, who had graciously agreed to spend the day with us. He wasted no time in heading to several spots that really showed the fabric of Singaporean life in well maintained and uncrowded surroundings, the Central Fire Station and the Peranakan Museum (the two are only a few hundred meters apart). The Central Fire Station is just that, a working fire station decked out with the lastest equipment and staffed with well-trained crews (the job of fire fighter can qualify for your 2 year mandatory military service if you are male; there is no military requirement for females).

Posing in a classic retired fire engine in the Fire Museum at the Central Fire Station

The Peranakan Museum is a jewel, seldom referenced in tour literature but in our view superior to glitzier venues like the Singpore National Museum (which we also visited). "Peranakan" is a Malay word meaning "uterus" or "womb" but in practice today refers to the people of mixed heritage who inhabit Singapore - primarily Chinese but with genetic and cultural traits from other cultures, mostly Malay and Indonesian. While the Chinese/Malay mix predominates, there are also Peranakan Arabs and Perankan Indians as well as blends of almost every race in Asia.

The Peranakan Museum does an amazing job of curating actual items from this mixed culture. The intricate examples of batik garments and wall hangings are of a quality no longer produced, as are the intricately beaded women's shoes on display (the beads are no longer made, so those who wish to re-create this type of art recycle them from older articles). Other tools and articles of daily life are also impeccably presented, and paint a picture of an incredibly complex and complete way of life that no longer exists.

Unbelievebly complex examples of batik art from an earlier era, part of the exhibit from the Peranakan Museum

Before there were crazy rich Asians there were Stupendously Wealthy Peranakans who wore shoes like this. Peranakan Museum

A Chinese wedding headress, the Peranakan Museum

Wedding bed and carpet, the Peranakan Museum

Another incredibly intricate batik from the Peranakan Museum

We finished up with a meal at Sam's favorite Chicken Rice (the Singaporean national dish) place, Sing Swee Kee. The dish in question features a bed of lightly flavored savory rice topped with (usually) two types of chicken - white boiled breast and roasted, brown skin-on. It's not unfamiliar if you've ever had Bok Jahm Gai at a Chinese restaurant save for the flavored rice and spicier sauces alongside. Basic food, and excellent. Add some steamed Gai Lan and you're good for dinner.

The classic Singaporean Chicken Rice at Sing Swee Kee

We've done several tours through Viator, and booked this one for Singapore:

When our guide showed up at the hotel with a ballcap, salt-and-pepper ponytail and a Cramps t-shirt, we suspected we were in for a ride and Gerald "Gerry" Tan delivered. This guy is something of a national Singaporean treasure; if you take one guided tour in this city make sure it's with him.

Gerry's a born and bred Singaporean, of Chinese descent (but as he says, you never really know) and like all Singapore students took his native language, English, and two others. He moves with an uncommon grace through this city of contrasts, mingling and fist bumping his way from Chinese to Malay to Indo towns like a boss. He tosses and receives "Hi Brotha!" greetings in every stall, on the street, and in the temples, recognizing faces everywhere in the teeming mass of humanity; it's an incredible thing to witness. They all seem to know and love him.

We headed straight back to the Chinatown food court's second floor, but to a different area to try Popiah, Kueh Pie Tee, Chow Fun, Fried Turnip Cake, Stir Fried Oysters, and Prawns with beansprouts washed down with beer, water and fresh pineapple juice. Gerry cracked his first beer of the day at 9:15 AM, which apparently is his way of dealing with the heat and humidity. Outstanding food, and way too much for a "light" morning meal, but Gerry assured us he has a deal with the vendors to send what we don't eat to people struggling to feed themselves in the community and he was assiduous about packing up the leftovers.

Lindsay with Kueh Pie Tee (slightly sweet shredded turnip, carrot, and jicama in a crisp flour shell) and Popiah (same ingredients in spring roll format)

Gerry explains the second breakfast course; I think Tiger beer may be his sponsor

The fried oysters were incredible and "Billy Idol" behind the glass is a master; get them at this stall

The shoe repair guy at the hawker center is a friend of Gerry's

We stopped off at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple to pay our respects and the place was jumping - the monks were mic'ed up and you could hear the chanting from a block away. Even though it's a big tourist attraction, people from all walks of like still stop in to light incense, chant and pray all through the day. Then it was off to another hawker center in Little India. We could have walked but instead took the MRT subway, which was super clean, very quick and actually took Apple Pay. This hawker center seemed to specialize more in ingredients, including increadible looking produce and super fresh fish and seafood, with fewer tables and hot food vendors. Again, Gerry knew everyone - the fish mongers, the Halal butcher guys, the Buah Keluak nut sorter, and so on.

Mini shrine from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple - you can pick your altar or even your Chinese almanac sign to pray to. Gerry says the tooth fragment has been analyzed and it's not really Buddha's but the Temple is jammed nonetheless.

Hot stuff

Bao wow wow

Produce galore

Halal butcher dudes, "If you want good steak, go to America - thick, juicy and tender."

A note on Buah Keluak. This normally poisonous nut is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia and forms the basis for a classic Peranakan dish called Ayam Buah Keluak (chicken with tamarind sauce and Buah Keluak), reportedly a favorite of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. When freshly harvested, the nuts contain high levels of hydrogen cyanide and are poisonous. To render the poison ineffective, the nuts are first soaked in water then burned in pits with banana leaves for a week, then buried in the ash from the fire for at least a month, changing the chemical structure of the cyanide compounds and turning the nuts black. Since there is no real market for them where they grow, the nuts are then sent to Singapore where they are still used in cooking. When we asked the Buah Keluak nut sorter in the market if they are a popular, he replied, "No, not anymore, the dish takes too long to prepare."

The last of the good Buah Keluak sorters in Singapore; you only want the heavy ones

Next it was off to Sakunthala's Restaurant on Dunlop Street, which Gerry had frequented since his school days, and again the staff all seemed to know him. It was busy, with hot curry and steaming roti flying everywhere. Plastic trays covered with banana leaves arrive at our table; you pile your curry and rice and raita on top of the leaf, grab some roti or naan, and eat with the bread and your fingers. There are sinks located in each dining room to wash your hands but everyone seems to wash up after eating, not before. Whatever, I followed the lead of the tables around us and dug in with my hands. The curries and rice were outstanding, and though I'm sure Gerry ordered "tourist" level heat, they still had a kick. The roti, though, was the best I've ever had - Gerry got me an extra order to take back to the hotel with 3 little samples of curries, carefully tied with strings - they don't use twist ties.

Gerry explains the drill of eating with your hands

Open air tattoo artist and happy customer, actual inker is to the right. Everyone who works here is called "Muthu" something or other.

The final "eating" spot was a gelato place owned by a friend (aren't they all?) - though I suspect this really was a friend, as Gerry brought him a bag of Indian take out for the guy's wife and kid in Malaysia (he commutes between countries every day). First class gelato AND a double espresso, with flavors that fuse European and Asian trends admirably.

The five hour 10,000 calory tour was over befor we knew it, leaving us transfixed by Gerry's mastery of his environment and his ability to flow between people and cultures. This guy is a walking example of all the good things Singapore has accomplished in its short existence and if you are in his town and miss his tour you're doing yourself a disfavor.

We needed a breather after Gerry's 5 hour tour and headed back to the hotel to cool down and swim some laps. After the day's gastronomic excesses, all we could manage for dinner was a spinach and edamame salad in the hotel bar, and we turned in early to sleep it off. The next day we headed to one of the symbolic bastions of English colonialism, the Raffles Hotel, for lunch. What a constrast. Everything is spotless and buttoned down; closed toe shoes and collared shirts are required for men and tasteful dresses for women (though they can now wear open toed sandals). You're pretty much required to drink a gin and tonic here, and they have a two page menu for such. Delicious and malaria discouraging. The food was fabulous, though of course five times the price of the day before, and where chicken was specified it was nice thick chicken breast rather than some difficult to identify piece of the bird. We retired for dessert and coffee to the Singapore Coffee Company (part of the Raffles enclave) which was also a treat.

We spent a couple days "taking it easy" and hitting up some other food stalls, as well as stopping twice in Chinatown for fittings for a few custom dresses Lindsay had ordered copied from her favorite travel dress. They turned out great, and the fabrics are unique - no one will ever find one like them at Chicos. We also spent the day before departure at the airport and in its adjacent supermall, Jewel. This place is a trip. It features an enormous two level waterfall that spills out of holes in the floor and a tropical garden, plus every high end Euro clothing and jewelry shop you can think of - and two Starbucks. Shake Shack is on the way, too. Double short latte and a Patek Phillipe watch, please.

I spent 20 minutes trying to find "Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist" but ended up eating at this place, mostly based on the long line of people. Excellent.

Curry chicken noodle soup with deep fried tofu, fish cake and potatoes!

We rode down the elevator with these girls. Open call casting for Crazy Rich Asians 2? No golf clubs were in the bags, only clothes.

Jewel. Jungle ampitheater, luxury mall, street food venue and more, it appends Terminal 1 and 2 at Changi Airport

Last dinner in Singapore was Italian - Lobster with Squid Ink Tagiatelle. A+

April 7, 2024

Those Guys Again?

Yes, it's been 51 years since I started the Sunnyside Sliders, mainly as a grassroots alternative to what my friends and I saw as the glitzy, materialistic trends dominating the ski industry at the time. Even though I'm a prime example of that materialistic trend as a septuagenarian, it seems the "Sliders" concept has legs and the battered warriors of yesteryear are still ripping on snow, donning the jacket wherever they might be.

Despite quite a few "scratches" due mostly to orthopedic surgery on themselves or partners, the Sliders convened again on April 7th of 2024 to rehash old times and celebrate fresh turns - at our age every run that doesn't end in injury is a good one. Here's a sampling of shots from the event.

Front side - the day may be cloaked in fog, but the skiers are "Crystal" clear

Fying the colors

Mini Eng contingent from Sun Valley

Kay Spickard-Matti, Switzerland

Jawboning . . . and planning the next run

Gettin' the band back together . . . Wayne Johnson, Bob Boice, Joe Habenicht and Greg Louie

February 19, 2024

On the Bench: Sidas Heat Race S.E.T. Socks with S-Pack 1400 Bluetooth Battery Packs

I'll admit it. As an "older," more creature comfort-oriented skier, little things like warm feet and hands have become not only desireable but necessary.

For the past 3 seasons, I've been rocking heated socks and for the past 2, gloves. It's pricey, yes, but banning cold extremities from my world has been a life-changer. The problem with the socks hasn't been with the performance - they've been magnificent - but with the thickness. Until this season, the socks I've been using (on a par with a Smartwool or Darn Tough "thin" but quite a bit bulkier than an "ultra thin") - meant a seriously tight fit in my narrowest boots (Atomic Hawx Redster CS Professional), a 96mm-lasted "citizen race" plug boot.

Enter the Sidas Race S.E.T. (Smart Elastic Technology) Socks.

Sidas S.E.T. Race socks and S-Pack 1400 battery set; retail price $389

The Race S.E.T. sets a new standard for low bulk in heated socks, giving even the thinnest Merino-based non-heated products a run for their money (I'm partial to the Darn Tough RFL in this category). Everything else is pared down as well - the heating element is thin and wraps around the perimeter of the foot rather than over the top of it, the battery sits in a two-strap holder at the top of the cuff and doesn't require folding the sock over for retention, and the fabric is very stretchy.

Make sure the heating cable doesn't conflict with "punched" areas on your boot

The upshot is that I can wear the Sidas Race S.E.T. socks in my Redsters without the feeling of my feet being overly compressed, all while feeling toasty. You do need to be mindful of a few things when putting on and using the socks - the heating element can end up impinging on my bony fifth metatarsal zone, and the socks need to be "rotated" a bit so the wire is in a different spot. The same could be true of some people's lateral maleolus - there's a chance you'll need to twist the socks a bit to avoid a conflict. The socks are sized in Euro increments, with my pair being 42-43 (I wear a 26.5 boot but measure 27.8 on a Brannock), and with my higher volume foot they are on the snug side. The batteries are held in place at the upper lateral side of the cuff by two straps; one has two snap contacts for the power and the other is simply an elastic strap to hold the battery down.

The documentation sent with the socks is underwhelming, but all you really need to know is how to charge the batteries before use. The battery packs ship with a USB charger cable, with two "docking" ports on the end. Slip the batteries in so the snap contacts are touching the long metal springs, and the LED on the cable should light up in red. When your batteries are at 95%, the LED should alternate between red and green, and when the batteries are fully charged it should turn to a steady green. Charge time for the 1400 batteries should be ~ 4 hours.

Batteries sit well above the boot and out of the way of incoming chairlifts

While it is possible to run the socks only from the on-off button on the batteries, the preferred mode of operation uses the Therm-ic smartphone app (Therm-ic, Sidas, and Dissent are for practical purposes the same company now, and all use (or will use) the Therm-ic bluetooth system and app). The app has three main screens: a Home screen with options, a general heat level screen, and a heat level screen tha allows you to run one sock hotter than the other if desired. Operation is simple and intuitive - you turn on the power with the battery button (hold for 3 seconds until the LED stops flashing) and your sock should appear on the app (make sure bluetooth is enabled on your phone), you name it and adjust the heat as you like.

Independent left and right heat adjustment

A word of advice regarding battery choice is probably a good idea. All of the Sidas and Therm-ic socks are offered with various battery options, with the S-Pack 700 being the cheapest. Resist the urge to save a few bucks and get the S-Pack 1400 (or 1700), you'll appreciate it when your socks are still warm after 2:30 PM on a cold day. I tend to run the Sidas S.E.T. Race socks on a "4" most of the time, and they're good for a full day of skiing. If you ski much, you'll probably need another pair of socks (though one set of batteries is sufficient), and a backup pair of sock alone retails for $149, not exactly a bargain. In the meantime, washing the socks takes a little extra care - wash them in the lingerie bag provided on warm and delicate, and hang dry for a day or so (no dryers, please).

After years of pooh-poohing heated accessories, I've embraced the technology fully and wonder why I took so long to do it. If the reason you're holding out is lack of an ultra-thin heated sock option, your last excuse (other than price) has just evaporated.

January 29-30, 2024

WWSRA Demo Days, Mission Ridge

The season had been one of ups and downs so far, and this year's demo at Mission Ridge ski area outside of Wenatchee, Washington followed suit.

The forecast called for an "atmospheric river" the two days of the event, but fortunately I showed up a day early and scored some perfect spring skiing with Dave and Paul from Blizzard - no people, sunny skies, and perfect grooming made for ideal testing conditons of the new Blizzard Anomaly line. A number of other manufacturer's reps were also on the mountain, and it was a good chance to catch up and socialize without the pressure of having to test a bunch of skis in a short period of time.

The new Blizzard Anomaly line replaces the iconic Brahma, Bonafide, Cochise and Bodacious skis

The actual first day of the demo was January 30th, which dawned grey and misty. Smooth snow with a touch of corn on top made decent skiing conditions as I worked my way up from the bottom of the lot brand by brand. Typically, I can manage around 12 to 13 skis per day of testing (6 hour days) if I don't really stop for lunch and I'm efficient at taking pictures of the skis and taking notes on performance after a couple of runs. This Tuesday, due to lethargy and poor weather, I only made it to 10 - A little less than half way up the line. By end of day, the mist had turned to steady drizzle, there were standing pools of water at the base of Chair 4, and a rather large natural avalanche had run to looker's right of Chair 2 (fortunately, no one was caught). Not ideal.

In these days of financial restraint, ski manufacturers are letting the product cycles lengthen (just changing graphics) more and more, and concentrating on making serious changes only within one line at a time. The big news for 2025 is the redesign of some classics like the aforementioned Blizzard "Flat Tail & Two Sheets of Titanal" lineup, and the Völkl Mantra. Blizzard is replacing the much revered Brahma, Bonafide 97, Cochise and Bodacious (well, they haven't really been making the Bodacious) with an all-new series called the Anomaly (women's skis retain the Black Pearl name but the skis are new). Anomaly widths are 84, 88, 94 and 102 millimeters under foot (Black Pearl omits the 102) and construction is typically Blizzard with TrueBlend cores of Beech and Poplar (the 102 adds Paulownia) and full sidewalls. The metal part of the ski departs from the two full sheets of Titanal used in the past; while the bottom layer is wall-to-wall, the Titanal above the core resembles the FluxForm shape of the Rustler skis but adds a complementary "fill in" layer in the center as well. The skis are fantastic, with my personal favorites being the 84 and 102, but all of them are worthy successors that are both more versatile and more relaxed in their attitude.

The new Völkl Mantra M7 takes much of what made the M6 a success beginning with a classic MultiLayer Wood Core, but adds a 4 Radius Drive sidecut (4 distinct radii in different parts of the sidecut). They also pull the Carbon Web in the tip back a bit and the pattern is lengthened, and the Tailored Titanal laminate has a modified shape (thinner at the tip and thicker in the body of the ski). Sizing remains the same, but where I felt the 177 was plenty of ski in the M6, the reduced torsional flex in the tip of the M7 meant I could confidently drive the 184 without any lag in turn initiation. When you redesign a ski with as much of a following as the Mantra, the pressure is on, and I have to admit the engineers at Völkl delivered. The M7 is a missile that doesn't give up anything in terms of edgehold or stability but with a smoother transition into the turn than its predecessor, and you'll regret it if you don't wait for the new model.

Mel gives two thumbs up in the Marker-Dalbello-Völkl booth

Working my way up the line, the big news at Salomon was the QST X, a needed wider version of the heralded QST Blank with a few touches (like adding Karuba to the core) from the QST Echo. The "X" skis much like the Blank (no surprise, and that's a good thing) and was in demand on the slushy corn venue for the demo. As for the boot line, Salomon adds a much-requested narrow-lasted Shift Alpha Hybrid boot - and it's purple. This will be a welcome option for those with narrow to medium feet who feel the Shift Pro is too roomy (I'm one).

Eye-catching, to say the least

The main attraction at the Atomic booth, as usual, was next year's Bentchetler graphics (always cool), and a couple of new freeride skis with comp ambitions and Titanal laminates, the Maverick 105 CTI and 115 CTI, both with HRZN 3D tips, CTI laminates (I assume this means Carbon and Titanal, but I haven't seen a graphic or a cutaway yet). The Maverick 105 CTI handled the sloppy corn with smooth calmness, but the snow was getting sticky in the steady rain and I figured I should wait until there's appropriate conditions to try the 115. As for boots, Atomic is bringing BOA lower closures to the mid-volume Prime line, both in an alpine and XTD (hybrid) version, which should definitely be good for business (ours and theirs). The real zinger is the introduction of a Hawx Magna XTD, giving wider feet at least two options in the hybrid category (the other being the Tecnica Cochise HV). All good.

Impressive new Chetler art

BOA-equipped Hawx Prime and Hawx Prime XTD, plus a Hawx Magna XTD for the Sasquatch who skins

That's about as far as I made it before the rain started in ernest and reps starting pulling up stakes early. Later in the afternoon, a joint decision on the part of the ski reps and Mission Ridge led to the cancellation of the second day of demos. I never really tested skis I'd intended to get on from Rossignol, Black Crows, Dynastar and K2/Line, but I'll try to make that happen this spring.

Rossignol: Retro is avant garde!

Dynastar: Word on the street is that the new M-Free 112 is money!

May 15-30, 2023


Lindsay and I had been dreaming of returning to Italy since our pre-COVID visit in 2019, and now was the time to do it.

No skiing happened on this trip - I knew without asking that knocking off illegal drive-by Canali (what the Italians call couloirs) in the Dolomites wouldn't receive even passing consideration - so we concentrated on churches and pasta on a level wholly lacking the last time I'd dirtbagged through Italy by thumb power.

Venice: Tiziano, Tintoretto and Tortellini

We flew into Venezia from Heathrow, which was a trip in itself - essentially a series of islands barely rising above sea level, Venice survives with the help of a multi-billion Euro computerized dike system. It was poised to go into action as we arrived, but the storm system rolled in further to the south and flooded a good part of Emila Romana instead. We had booked a private "Speedboat" to shuttle us from the airport to the hotel, which was expensive but probably worth it just for the entertainment factor. Lets just say the Venetian idea of traffic control is even looser on water than it is elsewhere in Italy on the road. Watching your captain gun it to slither through a tight spot with five of six vessels competing for space on the Grand Canal was exciting to say the least. However, rather than taking the Vaporetto (water taxi) and walking a bunch over uneven cobblestones with our luggage, we were dropped off directly at the hotel's dock and went straight into the lobby (like I said, this was a "luxury" trip).

Venice blows your mind on so many levels. Originally devised as a "Waterworld" for protection from invasion, the foundation of the buildings is at or sometimes slightly lower than sea level. Roads do not exist apart from around the Santa Lucia train terminal, so everything goes in and out via boat or foot. The area is actually quite large, so you end up doing quite a few kilometers on foot each day, punctuated by trips on the aforementioned Vaporetti to go from one neighborhood to the next.

Outside our hotel, someone had ordered a refrigerator. Three burly guys in a boat delivered it. It took some serious muscle to get it over the retaining wall and down the sidewalk.

The great thing about the matrix of canals is that even when crowded (and it already was in mid-May), Venice retains a sense of serenity you won't find in Milan, Florence or Rome. Instead of throngs of battling Fiats and Vespas, there is always a vein of water between you and the next row of buildings and if you need a break from the crowd you can always step out of the flow of traffic and relax looking at the canal. Even better with a gelato in hand.

Walk a few paces away from the crowded squares and you'll find a Venice not that changed from 1,000 years ago - this is a side street in the Jewish Ghetto (Ghetto Ebriaco)

The real reason to visit Venice is to bask in its timelessness, eat the food, and see the art. The ambience is everywhere you turn, as is the food (and espresso), and you'll "need" the fuel to sustain your walking pace. Our rule of thumb was pasta, gelato, and 3-4 espressos (Italian style, meaning no milk after 10:00 AM and short pulls) - often before 2 in the afternoon. It's not a bad idea to fit in your "big" meal of the day - the one with a starter, first course (you can split a pasta), and second course - before they close for lunch (around 2:30 or 3:00), as most of the better places are reservation only for dinner and don't reopen until 7:00 PM or so.

If you like painting, it's hard to fault the selection of Renaissance art within the city of Venice. Almost all of the best pieces are in churches (they had the money to commission the artists) and you have to play by their rules if you want to see them - that means covered shoulders, no shorts, no hats, no cleavage, no loud voices - but its worth it. I'm a fan of Tiziano (Titian in English) and Tintoretto, both Venetian artists, and their work is everywhere you turn. If you want to see particular pieces, it helps to do some research and make the appropriate reservations (we made some, but missed some important ones as well). Big attractions like St. Marks Basilica will have a huge line even with a reservation, so give yourself extra time. We're partial to smaller, less well-known churches with great art and much smaller crowds - the Basilica Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari (just ask for the "Frari") is awesome and is seldom very crowded; likewise the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is a trove of tremendous Tintoretto paintings and wasn't especially busy. On the way to St. Mark's we happened to notice the Chiesa di Santo Stefano entrance, which had only a handful of visitors inside, but for a 3 euro entry you can go upstairs where there are three magnificent Tintoretto paintings (no photos allowed, and it's kind of dark, but it was pretty much deserted).

The altar at the "Frari" with one of the finest Tizianos ever painted - the painter is also buried in this church

Incredible triptych by Bartolomeo Vivarini in a side chapel at the Frari. Left to right: St. John, St. Jerome, St. Mark, St. Nicholas and St. Peter

No one makes religious painting come alive like Tintoretto, with his ripped action figure-laden compositions and aggressive use of light and dark, and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is the place to see a bunch of his work under one roof (actually you shouldn't miss the connected church, the "Scuola" was a clubhouse of sorts which served as Tintoretto's workshop for over 20 years). There are invaluable examples on each floor, both on the walls and on the ceilings (don't forget to look up). Here are a few examples, sorry for the weird perspective but they are often hung very high and the paintings on the ceiling often couldn't be photographed without glare. There are many more astounding paintings in this collection, so it pays to do some research before you go so you know which room your favorites are in. The huge and epic "Crucifixion" from 1565 was being restored but the full-sized copy they are displaying was magnificent.

If the San Rocco isn't enough Tintoretto for you, check out the Gallerie dell'Accademia - it's part of a four part series of galleries that includes the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which we did see but I don't especially recommend. Some of Tintoretto's best work is at the Accademia, including The Miracle of the Slave and Presentation at the Temple, and the gallery is loaded with other fine works by painters like Bellini and Veronese as well.

Tintoretto's Massacre of the Innocents on the ground floor of the San Rocco, painted between 1582 and 1587

The Adoration of the Shepherds, Jacopo Tintoretto, 1578 to 1581

The Temptation of Christ, Jacopo Tintoretto, 1578 to 1581

St. Roch in Glory, Jacopo Tintoretto, 1564

Tintoretto painted this detail of 3 apples as part of a frieze, it stands out for its simplicity and human scale

Tuscany and Umbria

Our obligatory stop on this trip was at the Borgo Sant'Ambrogio near the hill town of Pienza, where I was slated to walk my friend Elissa down the aisle for her wedding. We'd been at this amazing location in 2019 for our niece's wedding, and had always wanted to return. As with Venice, the Tuscan hill country has a look and feel that's unique on earth, with a way of life that's remained in place for millennia and shouldn't ever be forgotten. We needed a car in the hills, and experience taught us not to rent in Firenze as driving into and out of that town is a nightmare - instead we rented a small Jeep SUV in Chiusi and used it to access towns in the vicinity like Pienza, Montepulciano, and Sina Lungo. We also took a day trip to Assisi, which was a treat - next time we'll book a room and stay a night or two.

The wedding itself went off smoothly, with everyone looking their best and Elissa and I managing to make it down the centuries-old paving stones without breaking anything. The wedding dinner was a bit of a drama, as a thunderstorm rolled in just as we were seating ourselves and we opted to move the feast indoors. Food and drink, as we remembered it, was magnificent, and the rain subsided enough to do the cake cutting outdoors by twilight.

The wedding party, complete with dramatic Italian makeup

Flower girls dance their hearts out

The next day we took a drive to Assisi just over the provincial border in Umbria - about a 2 hour drive, but using a combination of Autostrada and side roads requires constant vigilance on Google Maps - I recommend having a designated co-pilot who gives you a warning whenever a change in direction is coming up. The prime attraction in Assisi is of course the Basilica di San Francesco, dedicated to my favorite saint (I'm not a Catholic, but Francis is the man). The town is a tourist magnet, but there's plenty of parking both at the bottom of the hill or the top. The ancient walkways to the top of the town are really steep, and can be slippery when wet (there was a brief downpour while we were in town), so most people prefer parking at the bottom, going uphill until they're tired, then using gravity to help them back to the car.

Main drag in Assisi, watch out for cars coming up from behind!

The altar at San Franceso

The countryside from inside the walled city of Assisi. Farm-to-table was always a thing here.


We took Trenitalia from Chiusi to Rome, and the trip was seamless. Trains are really the best way to get from city to city in most of Italy, as they end up right in the middle of town and aren't that expensive. From Roma Termini (main train station) we took a cab to the hotel (cabs are cheap and the drivers are amazingly friendly if they think you speak a little Italian) which was nothing like we expected. Basically if you took a thousand-year-old apartment in the center of Rome and renovated it using the latest and coolest Italian furnishings and plumbing, then rented it out, you'd have the Casa Modelli. It's still partially an apartment, with long standing tenants on each floor, but the top floor is open to hotel guests and where they serve an excellent breakfast each morning.

Our hotel was about 1,000 meters from the Trevi Fountain

The key move in Rome is to book the attractions you really want to see well in advance. Our two "must sees" were the Vatican and the Borghese Galleries, and we booked each more than 3 months prior - if we'd waited, we would have been shut out on most days (there are no "slow" days in Rome). For the Vatican, we spent the extra money to book a semi-private 6 person tour with an amazing guide named Marco di Simoni (the company is LivTours) which met well before they opened to the public, and skipped certain lines so we were ahead of the flow the entire time - especially important for big attractions like the Sistine Chapel. I'm not a Catholic, but the scale and scope of the architecture and exhibits is mind boggling and pretty much a bucket list stop for any breathing person. The Vatican isn't really well suited to the handicapped, as the crowds and pace of movement make seeing anything and getting from room to room a challenge. See it while you can walk.

According to legend, the pine cone signifies the testicular sacrifice men must make to join the priesthood

The "Animals" room at the Vatican

Ceiling detail, the Vatican

The "Torso" is the most famous piece of sculpture at the Vatican - unearthed in a field in Rome,
probably of Greek origin but studied extensively by Michelangelo, Bernini, and countless others

Detail from "The School of Athens" by Rafael - Plato and Aristotle are centered under the arch

Transfiguration by Rafael, painted between 1516 and 1520

Main altar at St. Peters - the scale boggles the mind

The Borghese Gardens take up an enormous chunk in the heart of Rome, and include a number of galleries as well as the ancient Borghese family palace. If statues are your thing, and particularly if you are a fan of Gianlorenzo Bernini (and you should be), this is the place. The incomparable Bernini worked all over Rome, but the greatest concentration of his masterpieces is probably here - the big four, in no particular order, are Bernini's David (better than Michelangelo's in many people's eyes), Aeneas Fleeing Troy, Pluto and Persephone and Apollo and Daphne. Check out the imprint of Pluto's fingers in Persephone's thigh and the fragility of the leaves sprouting from Daphne's hands and feet for a look into perhaps the most accomplished sculptor of marble ever.

Bernini's incomparable Apollo and Daphne - note the leaves sprouting from Daphne's hands and feet as she becomes a tree

Detail from Apollo and Daphne - carved from a single block of marble without breaking a leaf . . .

Napoleon's sister Pauline caused quite a stir when she posed nude for this Canova masterpiece

Bernini's Pluto and Persephone is in a class of its own

Bernini's version of David, full of action and pent up energy

Rome was getting hotter (mid-80's in degrees F.) and remained humid the entire time we were there - we were showering and napping several times a day to make it through, and tried to down as much mineral water with each espresso as we could. We saw the Trevi (hard to miss, as it was just meters from our hotel), the Pantheon (cool but only took 20 minutes to get through after quite a long wait), the recently opened-to-the-public spot where Brutus (and others) stabbed Caesar to death, and several other magnificent churches (always a good spot for a rest, as the vast amount of stone keeps them cool during the heat of the day). On our final day, we wandered down to the Piazza Bonaparte (a small house for a small man, according to our cab driver) to watch the last stage of the Giro d'Italia, the second biggest bike race in the world, but the crowds were huge and we never got close enough to get a good look at the riders. All in all, a great way to finish off two plus weeks in Italy, and we're thankful we didn't wait until the "busy" season later in the summer!

Our last day in Rome - joining the crowds for the finale of the Giro d'Italia (stage winner Cavendish in white at center)

March 29, 2023

On the Bench: Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130 Boa

You've heard about the coming Boa revolution in alpine and hybrid ski boots, no doubt.

It's here for real, and definitely creating quite a stir among the people in the industry who've managed to lay feet in one. This is a brand new Boa, developed from the ground up with the participation of four boot companies, larger in both height and diameter than what you've seen in AT boots, snowboard boots, and bike shoes to date. The four brands involved in the pre-production design and testing are Atomic, Salomon, K2 and Fischer and it goes without saying that they'll have the new Boa closure systems a year before other brands get them.

I'd seen and worn the new Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD Boa during my trip to Austria in February, but not had the opportunity to ski it. The single unspoken for pair of 26.5's in the conference room at Atomic were snapped up by Jonathan Ellsworth, whose Blister Reviews is arguably more influential than, and it took a few weeks for production to catch up, so mine just showed up today.

Atomic's research revealed that most Hawx XTD owners spent the vast majority of their time in them skiing downhill, mostly accessing their preferred terrain using lifts, so the reasoning behind switching from polyamide plastic to polyurethane was to improve the progressive "feel" of the boot going downhill. The boot designers realized they would have to make shells thicker to get to the same level of stiffness, so there would be a weight penalty, but felt it was worth it. For the people who truly spend more time going up, they then developed a totally new line of boots dubbed "Backland XTD" which weigh in the vicinity of 1300 grams.

The new Boa dial is taller and wider than any you've seen yet; Atomic builds a protective ramp into the shell ahead of it.

Boa system uses a thick steel cable and all the routing is external.

We'll see about the smoothness of the flex and how it affects the skiability soon, but in the meantime there is another benefit to the Memory Fit Polyurethane - namely, it heat molds better than polyamides. With a good 10 minute stint in the oven, these shells would have been skiable with my 117mm-wide foot, but I elected to throw a light 5th met punch on both boots and a first met bunion punch on the right. Working on the lateral aspect of these boots will require some sort of bridge tool to avoid damaging the Boa, but the punching itself was relatively easy. My medial midfoot and navicular area usually also needs significant punching, but the Memory Fit did a perfect job of adjusting that, so no extra effort was needed.

Weights were 1809 and 1811 grams per boot with stock footbed

Walk mode lever has been subtly beefed up, and forward lean can be changed by unscrewing the lever (no more flip chips to get to 13 degrees).
Liner is very plush for this category, with a color-contrasting flex zone.

Half an hour of work and my normally difficult to please feet are super happy - I'm wearing the boots as I type this. I'm fitting boots at the shop the next two days, but after that we'll see how they ski.

Update: 3 Days In

OK, I've got a couple lift-served days and one short touring day on the Hawx Ultra XTD Boas, and I'm stoked on them. As a lift-served boot, they ski with more finesse and dampness than the older Polyamide version(s), with what seems like a very progressive flex - the boot seems fairly soft in the initial part of the the flex pattern (say, 5 to 10 degrees) then stiffens up nicely in a predictable manner, just what I like. You can get a bit more stiffness in the initial stage of the flex by being very thorough about tightening the cinch strap (move your leg back and forth while tightening it). I assume people with skinnier calves will not need to do this (typically those who can buckle the cuff tighter get a stiffer flex due to more plastic-on-plastic friction).

Another goal of switching to PU was hopefully to make the Ultra XTD easier to put on and take off, and that's been improved. Though still not as easy to access as a boot with a larger circumference cuff and instep opening, the new Ultra XTD doesn't rake the front of your shin like a knife while going in, a welcome improvement. Getting out is similarly improved, though I haven't skied them in really cold weather yet.

Skiing so far has been on groomed, firm surfaces with a bit of either fluff (Mission Ridge) or glop (Alpental) on top, not enought to really disturb the shape of your turns but not dead smooth groomers, either. The Hawx Ultra XTD Boa was a pleasure to ski at speed, with a great feel for the snow (one of those arcane assets people talk about when describing PU boots, but a real thing) and plenty of shell strength when you really pushed it (very little deformation of the lower shell took place). I'm not that big, though, so people bigger, taller and with more aggressive styles may still find it soft. It's definitely not going to take the place of my regular alpine boot - a Redster CS Professional - for driving bigger skis with two sheets of metal in them on a regular basis, but it's very competitive with comparable PU Hybrids like the XT3 Free 130 and the Cochise 130.

I did a lap at Hyak on my 180 Zero G 105's to check the touring characteristics and found the forward range of motion to be fantastic and the rearward range competitive with the above-mentioned boots - 1800 grams is a bit heavy for long days on the skin track, but for shorter tours or yo-yo pow laps it should be fine. As I mentioned earlier, most of the people who bought the PA XTD boots spent the majority of their time skiing downhill in the past, so a couple hundred extra grams should not be a deal breaker. Something I did not expect was the Boa having a positive effect on skinning - much as with skiing, you can dial the tension way down and still feel secure in the forefoot. This, along with ample foam around the ankle and Achilles, provides very positive heel retention while skinning. Also, the boot is very quiet while going through the full range of motion - no creaks, clanks or clicks - which is something seldom mentioned in touring boot reviews, but adds to your enjoyment of the uphill. Sure, 1800 grams is on the heavy side, but as long as you don't try to push the pace, the Hawx Ultra XTD Boa is a treat to skin with.

Bootfitters who need to widen the fifth met and styloid areas will need some sort of bridge tool to avoid the Boa knob.

The new Skywalk rubber tread protects more of the arch area and contains ground up, re-purposed rubber particles

February 2, 2023

WWSRA Demo Days, Mission Ridge, WA

Still not recovered from jet lag, I headed over to Wenatchee, WA and Mission Ridge Ski Area for the annual Western Winter Sports Representatives Association demo days event.

With Washington in the middle of a dry spell, Mission, with it's exemplary grooming, is probably one of the best venues for testing new skis. The runs are uniformly smooth, free from obstacles, and if you catch the first hour or so of each day, soft enough corduroy to test non-carver skis in a realistic setting. I showed up a day early to get some turns in on my own 183 Bonafides and scout out the best snow (which luckily was on Chair 4), and shoot the breeze with the crews from Marker/Dalbello/Völkl and Atomic. Temps were in the low to mid teens, but thankfully I had my new heated gloves and socks from Lenz on and the skiing was very good.

My ratio of testing to socializing is starting to tip in favor of socializing - the longer I stay in this business, the more people I seem to know and need to catch up with, and this demo is one of the few times almost everyone I know or have ever worked with is present. I did manage to get out on 18 skis (in the old days it was 28-30) and document the test with photos and written notes, so my employers should be getting some decent content out of the trip.

All-new Shadow series from Lange replaces the venerable RX - two cuff rivets per side and no bolts on the rear of the cuff
I didn't ski them due to my 119mm foot needing too much work to be practical . . .

I concentrated on the new class of mid-fat freeride skis, where a lot of new options will be available for the '23-'24 season. Tops on my list to try out included the new Rustler 11 from Blizzard, Rossignol's new Sender Free 110, the Line Blade Optic 114, the Völkl Revolt 114 and the Nordica Unleashed 114.

The Sender Free 110 is a winner from Rossignol.

As hoped, the all-new Rustler 11 ripped from turn one - precise, damp and still loose enough to throw sideways in a pinch. Did I say "all-new?" Maybe not, holding them side by side with the old Rustler 11 showed they were slightly shorter at 186cm, with a tad more tip rocker and quite a bit more tail rocker . . . I dug into my memory and sure enough, the new R11 is a very close, if not a dead ringer, for the old Gunsmoke but with a new TrueBlend core and Titanal around the perimeter of the ski. I no longer have a Gunsmoke at home to compare it to, but I distinctly remember wanting a Gunsmoke with metal 7 or 8 years ago, and it seems my dream has come true.

Scott Sumner, two months out from knee surgery, is surrounded by his support team.

The new Völkl Revolt 114 slots in between the Revolt 121 and Revolt 104, and promises to be a big mountain standout. The demo pair I rode was so fresh they had to peel the stickers off the base, and the tune was a little aggressive especially at the tip, but the ski is damp and powerful and promises to be more versatile for big mountain rippers like Marcus Eder than the 121.

Every ski in the re-designed Rustler line rips.

The new Nordica Unleashed 114 also fills a needed gap for them, and it was another ski that clicked for me straight away. Smoother and more buttery than its sister ski the Rustler 11, the Unleashed 114 was simple and intuitive to coax into every turn, with a characteristic Nordica smoothness that ironed out the chatter even at top speed.

Chris Benchetler is now art director for all of Atomic; the topsheets are top notch as usual.

Rossignol's Sender Free 110 was also a superior performer, with a surfier feel than either the Rustler 11 or the Unleashed 114, but an awesome balanced feel underfoot that spanned the entire available speed range. For skiers with a penchant for drifting turns, tip butters and the like, this may be the best soft snow option on the market for 2024.

The Line Blade Optic was a ski I missed out on trying last season, but ex-K2 ski designer Peter B. reportedly designed it as a going away present for himself as a ski he'd like to be on daily in the Pacific Northwest. The ski indeed rips, with an edgey power that makes charging at speed supremely confident.

Boots, including some with the new Boa closure, from Atomic

Alpine and hybrid boots with Boa lower closures are coming to market from Atomic, Fischer, Salomon and K2 next season, and they'll be getting lots of exposure whether you like it or not. Most brands are offering some of their most popular models in either buckle of Boa, and you should really try them on side by side before making disparaging comments. The Boa is a brand new unit, much beefier than what you've seen on snowboard boots and ultralight touring boots, with a thick cable that's easily replaceable, and - at least on my super wide forefoot - seems to result in a snug fit with better comfort over the instep than a buckle system.

More Boa boots, this time from Salomon

January 28, 2023

Austria: 4 Days with the Atomic Family

Just back from a whirlwind tour of Austria as a guest of Atomic, I'm still trying to catch my breath and catch up on sleep.

I've been involved with a focus group working on future boot design for the past few months, with prototype boots (26.5 only) being produced in December, and expected to receive some boots to try in the mail any time. Instead, Jason Roe called from Austria and asked if I'd like to travel to company headquarters in Altenmarkt and try the boots on snow there. Needless to say, it didn't take long for me to cancel anything else I had scheduled for that week and accept Jason's offer.

Atomic had something insanely cool planned for practically every waking minute of our stay, from classic Austrian meals to the best skiing of the year in Central Europe so far to next-level ski racing and even a little touring. In between we participated in preview sessions for boots and skis slated for introduction in the '24-'25 model year, with ample opportunity to give our feedback on everything that wasn't locked down design-wise (which was a lot).

Day one was entirely at the Atomic headquarters in Altenmarkt, where we went through the design process for ski boots with each of the teams responsible for the component parts. New boots are designed from the ground up, using a known interior shell shape (in this case the Hawx Prime last) and then sculpting the exterior contours and textures around that. A huge amount of time is spent on considerations like colorway, buckle shape, liner and tongue construction and fit considerations, and the teams all work in the same large space so they are free to interact freely as the design takes shape. The big thing at Atomic this year is the ongoing use of Boa as a closure system, and the new designs all take this into account, with most of the high end models having a Boa option from 2023 onward. My biggest thrill of the day was when Benni Raich, one of my World Cup heros from a few years ago, walked through the office to grab a new pair of skis and stood next to me to take a peek at what was going on - I was able to introduce myself and shake his hand, not something that happens everyday.

Our group checking out CAD renderings with boot honchos Jason Roe and Matt Manser (far left, facing away)

Next year's Hawx Ultra XTD 130 was parked right in front of me. New PU construction and available with either Boa or buckles. I like the fresh new colorway!

The afternoon was devoted to trying on the new prototypes, both buckle and Boa, alongside several competitors' mid-volume 130 flex best-sellers (prototype alpine boots are invariably a Men's 130 flex and 26.5 mondopoint to start). We assessed everything from ease of getting in the boot to first fit impressions, flex, ankle and heel fit, and width and length, followed by a serious de-brief recording our impressions.

Fritz demonstrates how he shock tests a boot for cuff stability

Testing a Redster for flex. The output doesn't yield the number "130" but rather displays curves for resistance and rebound at 10 degree intervals.

We received a quick tour of the prototype and testing facility for boots, where they dial in things like forward flex, impact resistance, and sole conformability . . .

Strength testing a buckle. This one actually didn't break at the limit; the next one did.

The GripWalk conformity jig - the silver bar indicates 19mm from AFD center to top of boot lug, the clear plastic Fritz is pointing at is 19.75mm at the top

Dinner was a memorable trip up a sketchy mountain road in a snowstorm to dine at the Winterbauer, a classic Tyrolian hotel and restaurant serving impeccably prepared fare for people who work and play hard in the outdoors. I sampled the Winterbauer Soup, which consisted of a rich meat broth with two styles of meat balls and a big dumpling, then their version of fried chicken with potato salad, followed by a big helping of Kaiserscharm (a thick pancake-like dessert) and called it a victory.

Interior of the Winterbauer restaurant - modern design combines seamlessly with old-school carved wood panels

Day two started out strong, with 6-8 inches of cold fresh snow over groomed goodness, and our Austrian hosts were stoked. Europe had been having an exceptionally bad snow year, with most of the slopes still showing grass and dirt until about a week before our arrival, so this was the first decent skiing may of them had tasted this season. The Atomic boot crew are all rippers, and when these people put the hammer down you just follow them and hang on. Although not the ideal conditions for side-by-side comparison testing of similar boots, we made it work and each member of our team tried at least five different boots designed for the same skier segment (in addition to our personal boots which we did the warmup run on). In between, the Atomic team took detailed survey notes of our impressions. I can't show photos of the prototype boots yet, but I'll say they more than held their own compared to the competition, and the Boa version was much more comfortable than the buckle version around the forefoot for my super-wide foot.

There was no need to head to another restaurant for dinner this night, as we had "Golden VIP" tickets to the famous Schladming Night Slalom, second only to the Hahnenkahm in prestige and party-potential on the World Cup calendar. The Schladming race is something that has to be experienced to be believed - imagine a crazy mashup between a concert and the Super Bowl, with an amped-up DJ spinning disco hits from the 80's and 90's at ear-numbing volume while announcing the cast of racers in as many as five languages and a crowd estimated in excess of 30,000 people, many in a state of elevated inebriation and loving it. Locals told us it used to be crazier pre-COVID, but it was plenty crazy this year. Before, after and in-between runs we headed to the Event Halle, a huge venue jammed with maybe 600 people and all-you-can-imbibe and eat catered goodness. I think I finished off at least 3 plates, and I took it easy (plus I finished the night on fruit juice and sparkling water). We went back to the hall and ate and drank for another hour waiting for the traffic to subside, and left for home weary and full.

The big ticket race option lets you eat and drink to your heart's content all evening long.

Crazy Austrian fans behind us, these are "stand up" risers, not seats . . .

The race course was lit up like a stadium, with a pumping sound system to match.

After the excitement of the race, the morning wakeup call came a little early, but we had a tour of the ski factory and ski boot race room scheduled, so we headed back to Atomic headquarters. The executive offices and factory are linked with a cateteria in between, and there's an espresso bar and small kitchen in the lobby, so it's easy to keep fueled and caffeinated while working. The ski production facility isn't as big as one might expect given the quantity of skis made there, but it is highly automated, with machines doing a lot of the labor usually done by people at other factories. There are number of other brands being produced at Atomic, and they asked that we not take photos in some of the areas, but we saw some cool new product coming off the line and in storage bins. We watched a competition X9 GS ski being laid up, and followed the finishing process on through trimming and tuning, after which we toured the boot race room.

The ski boot race room sits connected to their Pro Center, which services athletes from Europa Cup level and up. In an adjacent lab, boot wizard Hannes hand-builds the boots for the biggest names in skiing, from Mikaela Shiffrin and her boyfriend Aleks Kilde to Sofia Goggia and Lucas Braathen. Shelves of red STI and TI shells and cuffs fresh from the factory in Romania await the hands of the master, who custom builds each boot to the athlete's specifications. Across the way are other racks of similar shells and cuffs in blue, ready to be assembled for Salomon athletes like Marco Odermatt.

Hannes gives up the thumbs up.

Sister-company Salomon's World Cup boots are also assembled by hand here.

Some skiers rate higher than others in the shop, a whole rack of boots was reserved for Mikaela . . .

Riley relaxes like a World Cup Boss.

Immediately after the boot room, we rushed over to the demo area and geared up for touring - seems dinner that night was at a mountain hut only accessible by snowmobile or skis, and we were going touring. The objective was the Südweiner Hütte outside of Obertauern, a moderate 1.5 hour tour (for me) that started in late afternoon and ended in the dark punctuated by headlamps. The owners, Robert and Tanja, greeted each skier as they arrived with Glühwein and a hearty cheer in front of a fire pit. My new Backland XTD 120's were fresh out of the box with no heat mold or punching, so donning hut slippers seemed prudent (actually they weren't that bad, as I sized up to 27.5 for the night). Dinner was delicious, consisting of baked Spätzl with cheese and Speck (bacon) and a Radler. One plate almost did me in, but it's bad form to refuse a hut dessert and I managed to put away a great Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce. The humor highlight of the night was when Tanja came out and asked if anyone was a vegetarian and only Matt had the temerity to raise his hand. She screwed up her face and pronounced, "Not tonight!" (Actually his portion came out with gravy but no bacon, so she did cut him some slack). No meal is complete in Austria without a cleansing toast, and Zirbenschnapps (Schnapps flavored with local pine cones) is the beverage of choice in the mountains. A round magically appeared and we couldn't say no.

The ski back down the switchbacked track lit only by headlamps seemed a bit sketchy to me, but the Atomic guys straightlined it on their 85mm light touring sticks. I got there a few minutes later after throwing in a few panic snowplows when I saw corners coming, but all good save for one media specialist from Jackson Hole who took a wrong turn near the bottom. Someone found her and we all made it safely back to the cars.

Adi (left) is the resident Atomic ski mountaineering guru and did two laps of the trail to our one on the way up.
He also polished off two plates of Spätzl at dinner, pretty amazing for a skinny guy.

Emily, Micum, Riley and Logan - retailers from disparate parts of the US, know how to party.

Tanja says, "Not tonight" to Matt's request for a veggie plate . . . Jonathan, who's
also a vegetarian, didn't have the guts to raise his hand and ate the bacon in silence.

The ski tour pretty much put the final punctuation on our Atomic adventure, as Micum, Emily and myself had a 10:30 AM flight out of Salzburg the next morning. We all felt like we'd squeezed a month's worth of the "real" Austrian experience into a few short days, but to a person we were ready to come back for more. With a deep appreciation for Atomic's generosity, we headed to Frankfurt and our separate corners of the US, hoping to be back in Austria sooner rather than later.

November 22, 2022

Holidays are Coming!

Yikes, Thanksgiving is just days away and my turkey is frozen hard as a rock - time to take it out and start the thawing process. In the meantime, we've been busy with home improvement projects, cleaning up the yard and fixing the fence from the big blowdown event in Seattle, and planning a spring trip to Italy. We managed to find a dry but chilly day to take our holiday pictures in the Arboretum, and here's the result:

Happy Holidays from the Pyfer-Louie clan!

November 10, 2022

Back to the Shop

I'm back in the shop at evo, but cutting back to 20 hours per week this season. We just finished a marathon clinic season, with 3-4 manufacturer's reps per week presenting their latest gear - this year the clinics began on October 1st and ran through the second week of November, just in time for the winter bootfitting rush to commence. I don't have time to detail all the presentations, but suffice to say the usual suspects put on a great show and there was something new from pretty much every company. Now if the goods actually show up in time for us to sell them . . .

One highlight was Matt Sterbenz's clinic on his new project, WNDR Alpine. You may remember Matt as the mastermind behind the 4FRNT brand, which he sold a few years ago, and he's back with a new line of touring-oriented skis called WNDR (wonder) Alpine. The skis are beautifully made in Salt Lake City, just a couple blocks from the new evo Campus SLC, and feature three widths - 100mm, 108mm, and 120mm (along with solid and split snowboard designs). WNDR walks the walk when it comes to sustainability, using a proprietary polyurethane made from algae for core laminates, sidewalls, and tip and tail protectors. They also grind up old skis to make binding retention plates, and plan on selling the polyurethane bits to other ski companies in the future (DPS, which is also only blocks away, is already using algal foam and solid algal PU in some of their skis). Each ski in the lineup is available with either a full rocker or rocker-camber-rocker profile, which is unique in the industry. Check them out if you get a chance, I think they're on to something.

Matt explains the virtues of full rocker with even more than his usual level of animation . . .

July 26, 2022

On the Bench: Atomic Backland Carbon 2023

I've been out of the loop for a while after catching COVID last month; although the symptoms were relatively mild (not worse than your typical cold) and only lasted about 4 days, the residual effects - mainly a lack of energy - lasted for around a month. It's only been the last two weeks that I've felt like riding a bike or skiing, even though the conditions have been great for both. Summer touring this season has benefitted from a deep snowpack which, though it never really went through a thorough freeze-thaw cycle and thus has been a bit mushy, it plentiful enough to still allow skinning pretty much right from the car if you know where to park.

Clean minimalist good looks, all black with red accents, carbon cuff and carbon-loaded shell

I've been fortunate to grab a pair of next year's revised Atomic Backland Carbons, a boot I've used and loved in years past but that has been reworked a few times since. For 2023, the Backland series offers an almost embarrassingly wide range of options which will probably be confusing to both buyers and sellers of touring gear. Essentially, the core Backland series, which is already damn light with proven functionality, is joined by new ranges dubbed Backland SL and Backland UL (not to mention Backland Freeride, which applies to the skis over 100mm in waist width and is designed for the Hawx XTD boots).

Making this range of boots sounds complicated, but Atomic is able to do it by mixing and matching most of the components - power strap or no power strap, full carbon or "carbon-loaded" cuffs, Boa or their new "Cross Lace 2.0" buckle closure, and carbon-loaded or traditional polyamide shells. The end result is that you can choose among weights in the top-end touring boots of 1160 grams, 1000 grams, or 788 grams in a 26.5. I went with the regular Backland Carbon at 1158 grams on my scale, and a realistically rated 110 flex, with the Cross Lace 2.0 buckles rather than Boa.

Just under 1160 grams with stock footbed

The Backland Carbon still sports the pebble-grained texture on the shell, which heat molds quite well and should fit many feet straight out of the box - I was able to get the boot to fit with 10 minutes in the oven followed by a few punches at my usual trouble spots on the fifth met head and navicular. Changes include a new Stretch Guard material for the gaiter which makes getting in the boot easier, improved Dry Fit Foam in the liners, and a Free/Lock 4.0 walk mode lever (hard to tell the difference between this and the old one, but the newer boots are getting the 4.0).

Cross Lace 2.0 closure instead of Boa promises extra reliability

Hope to get out on these as soon as this week's heat wave passes and while there's still good coverage at Rainier; for the time being I'm "desk-testing" writing copy in the boots for about 5-6 hours per day.

Works well on a private glacier like this . . .

April 10, 2022

Slider Day 2022

The annual Sunnyside Sliders Reunion is usually a time to bask in the sun, wear your jean jacket, and enjoy some slushy spring turns with old friends.

This year, not so much. The first two weeks of April turned into full winter weather, with some of the best snow of the season and flurries throughout the day almost every day. April 10th was such a day, with questionable visibility even for the group photo but excellent skiing, and we made the best of it.

A few were playing golf in the desert, a few attended Sam Wick's memorial service in Greenwater, but these hardy souls made it to the top at 11:00

March 28, 2022

On the Bench: Tecnica Zero G Peak Carbon

Anticipation has been killing us while we waited for this boot to arrive. With its debut postponed for over a year due to COVID, the first 26.5 prototypes are finally here.

Tecnica's entry into the world of 1,000 gram touring boots is pretty spectacular, and though you won't be able to buy one until fall, here's what to expect.

Damn close to 1,000 grams. Straight out of the box with the stock footbed in place, weights were 1029 and 1032 grams

The Tecnica Zero G Peak series builds on many successful light and fast ancestors, notably the Dynafit TLT6, Atomic Backland Carbon, and more recently the Scarpa F1 LT. Interestingly, all three boots feature (or have featured at one point in their existence), a black and orange color scheme. A good 1 kilo boot doesn't come out of nowhere, and with more and more people competing in this category it makes sense to keep what works even as you try to innovate.

As with other boots in this class, the Zero G Peak Carbon uses carbon fiber reinforced Grilamid for the lower shell and a carbon fiber cuff cast with polyester resin on top. I've had both the Scarpa Alien RS and the Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory in my quiver in the past, and both were excellent performers for their weight but each had some issues. The Peak Carbon aims to improve on the breed with some signifcant evolutionary changes, but the material choices are similar.

Where the Scarpa Alien RS (and its successor the F1 LT) and the Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory boots feature an open-throated scaffo with a dial tightening system, the Zero G Peak opts for a semi-overlapping lower shell ("interlocking" might be a better term) with a buckle actuated cable drawstring closure. Both of the previous boots suffered from periodic loosening of their string systems - but the Tecnica uses lightweight buckles for both top and bottom closures and doesn't try to integrate the touring mode lock with the top buckle closing.

A very stiff overlapping "finger" of Grilamid gives the lower shell extra beef and, yes, makes it harder to put on.

Fit is theoretically similar to the Zero G Tour series boots, with a nominal 99mm last, but that isn't the end of the story. The Peak boots run quite short, perhaps half a size smaller in real life than a Zero G Tour boot in the same mondopoint size (boot sole lengths are also very short, 288mm in a 26.5). The perception of shortness is amplified by an upward curve at the front and sides of the toebox - it feels a bit like your foot is sitting in a bathtub with the corners pushing your toes upward. Probably this is partly due to Tecnica's decision to put a "real" ISO 9523 sole on the Peak, which meant wedging a deep indent between the sole lug and your toes. I punched the first phalanges for an additional 3-4 mm and removed the front of the very thin (3.25mm) bootboard entirely. To reduce the feeling of an upward curvature under the front of the toes I ground the nubs that secure it with the Foredom (hopefully not reducing the strength of the plastic holding the tech toe fittings).

Putting the boot on was quite a chore at first, but the extra 3mm in instep height from removing the front of the bootboard made it manageable. Warning to those with tall insteps (mine is just slightly higher than average) - you may not be able to get into this boot without sizing up! In fact, due to the shortness of the interior, I'd say most people would do best to simply get the size they measure on a Brannock device in the Zero G Peak.

Punching the Peak Carbon for lateral forefoot width at the fifth met heads and fading the punch up to the fifth distal phalanges was simple; the plastic doesn't punch as well as any of the standard Grilamid formulas but I was able to get enough there, at the first met bunions, and in the medial midfoot/arch area for comfort (I've been wearing them for about 6 hours while writing copy today). As with other carbon fiber-reinforced Grilamids I've worked on, the Peak plastic turns flat black and "angry" looking, but it also takes on a slightly "furry" look, as if the carbon filaments are being stood on end. As with all ultra thin shells, pay close attention to the surface plastic and use your finger inside the shell to gauge readiness.

Weight out of the box with the OEM footbeds in place was 1029 grams and 1032 grams respectively; with my "try on" footbeds in the boots (molded Dynafit insoles posted with cork @ 21 grams per side) and the interior grinds I came up with 1007 and 1010 grams. Some random notes: The liner is decently plush and feels high quality, unusual in ultra light touring boots, and lower buckle, which is a bit exposed, sits nice and flat - we'll see if it catches on things. The little zipper pulls on each of the cables seemed gimicky at first, but after using them a few times to place and remove the cables from the buckle ladders I think they're a great idea. The external walk mode lever (Tecnica calls it "T-Hike" - is a pared down version of the one in the Zero G Tour boots, and doesn't work quite as smoothly - your chances of having it slide back into place to ski with some rocking back and forth are about 40%. Most of the time you need to "encourage" the lever a bit, but I'm assured this is one of the production changes they are working on.

Not one but two "spines" add stoutness, the outer metal one has two engagement points ala the Zero G Tour series

Flex in the house - both in stiffness and progressiveness, seems better than any other 1,000 gram boot I've tried, but we'll see how that goes on snow. Walk mode is likewise impressive, and there's a good chance I'll be fine touring without loosening the power strap (or at least not totally unfastening it). Again, we'll see. The 288mm BSL barely makes it into some of my bindings, but they all work. More later, after some time on snow.

Clean, stormtrooperish good looks from the rear. Ready-to-ski weights are 1007 and 1010 grams.

Here's some notes after 2 days in the Peak Carbon:

Yes, it skis incredibly well for a 1 kilo boot, better than any others I've tried. The margin isn't small, either. Support isn't lacking in any direction, and the fit is a big part of this. Most other boots in this class have some sort of dial tightening system over the forefoot and instep, and they have varying degrees of effectiveness. The abbreviated overlap in the Peak Carbon lower shell is amazingly effective at stiffening the boot where it counts (scaffo) when it's tightened, and unlike other systems it snugs up the fit like a boa constrictor squeezing the breath out of a victim - that is to say, tightening in a circular fashion rather than just flattening the instep and crushing the wearer's foot.

Now for the "gaper" question, "Is it a true 130?"

It gets tiresome answering these queries, because there is no standard for flex index numbers and no standard for how stiff a boot is in what part of the flex pattern. In addition, it's not sheer forward stiffness that makes a 130 Polyurethane-Ether plug boot more capable at speed and in tough conditions, but how predictably it progresses from point "A" to point "B" as you load it. That said, the Zero G Peak Carbon, when all buckled up and strapped down, is darn close to most nominal 130 flex alpine boots on the market in pure forward resistance - I'd give it a solid "125" and point out that, again, it's better than anything else in this class. Progressive? Not exactly, but I didn't expect that out of a carbon-infused Grilamid shell (and you shouldn't either). It's the price you pay to bring it down to 1,000 grams.

The liner, even in prototype form, is "best-in-category" in terms of comfort and density. It's common for makers of light touring boots to start with a very thin liner when prototyping to "make weight" and later, typically after complaints from users about comfort, gradually increase foam density and thickness. The Peak Carbon liner is pretty awesome already for both comfort and heel retention.

Here are some more tips if you're thinking of getting this boot:

· Buy the size you measure on a Brannock, or at least don’t downsize more than .5 Mondo – they run very short. To phrase it another way, if your shellfit in your alpine boot is under 15mm, particularly if you have a big toe-dominant foot shape (longer than the rest of your toes), I'd hesitate to buy the same size in the Peak Carbon. No one in North America has laid hands on a 27.5 yet, but I'd guess the weight penalty will be 50-80 grams when you move up a size.

· Any time something needs to go into the boot (foot or even liner), put it in walk mode and push the cuff all the way to the rear, this clears the gaiter and lets it stretch more freely. When you put the liner back in the shell, make sure the gaiter is fully extended and not pushed down into the shell; you’ll feel it on your ankles. Getting out of the boot in ski mode isn't much harder than most ski boots.

· When putting the boot on, grab all three available pull tabs (cuff, tongue, and gaiter) and pull simultaneously – it’s still not easy to put on, but this helps.

· Don’t just chop off the little zipper pulls on the buckle cables, as I was tempted to do. They actually help position the cables and aid in getting them off the ladders.

· When you buckle the lower system tightly, the instep “finger” actually overlaps the opposing part of the shell, improving downhill performance. I have a moderate setting for both top and lower buckles I use for skinning, and go one tighter on each for the downhill.

· The walk mode lever loosens with time and becomes easier to engage – it will be fine even if it is a little sticky at first. At most it needs a slight push to encourage the mechanism to lock, not a firm whack.

· You don’t (or at least I don’t) need to fully release the power strap or top buckle for good skinning ROM – as long as you are friction free in your normal stride, there’s a point beyond which skinning in less than ideal conditions (undulating, sketchy and technical, very steep, etc.) calls for more control than a fully loosened cuff can provide. I’ve settled on the top buckle wire in the “tour” slot (furthest notch out) and the power strap loosened but still “hooked” as a good compromise. You can certainly loosen the cuff more, but I don’t think you’ll move any faster.

· After another day in low-angle "hippie pow" (5 inches of heavy fresh over stiff unconsolidated corn) I decided to punch the big toes some more - I added another 3mm or so, and the toe now overhangs the sole by about 2mm. This is approaching the limit of what you'll want to do in terms of lengthening the boot - I overdid it a bit on the left and in addition to turning very "furry" looking, the plastic developed some ripples adjacent to the toe punch. I think this is a function of the carbon fiber strands giving up their anchor in the Grilamid randomly (the shell is still smooth on the interior), and it's fine for me but I don't think I'd want it for a customer's boot.

Weird ripples appeared with a second round of toe punches . . . but I feel I could now spend 10 hours in them!

March 12, 2022

Bootfitting Legends: Barry Allison

It was a relief to finally get into Canada after nearly 3 years.

Whistler is still Whistler, and though some businesses didn't survive the battle with COVID, many of our favorites remained. Two stops at Peaked Pies, two at Splitz Burgers, one extravagant steak dinner at Hy's, and Purebread every day for Rustic Italian bread, scones, and caramel apple tarts. I skied every day, and took the opportunity to hang out in a few of the local shops, notably evo Village Sports and evo Backcountry. Not sure if they thought I was a corporate spy, but saying I worked at evo Seattle certainly was a good way to introduce myself and open a few doors. Founder of the Village Sports chain, Dave Milley, had retired since I was last at Whistler (they said he'd be by for inventory), but a few other people I'd met were still around.

evo Village Sports is known, among other things, as home base for bootfitter Barry Allison.

When Whistler locals vote each season for the resort's best bootfitter, Barry's name is consistently at or near the top of the list (the other main contender is George McConkey, who also works out of the same shop). Not only does Barry have a keen understanding of foot and leg anatomy, his understanding of the mechanics involved in skiing is unequalled - decades of teaching experience as a CSIA Level 4 instructor and Level 4 Trainer provide a deep understanding of what it takes to turn a ski and how to make that experience better for everyone.

Barry (between the Blizzard and Nordica skis) heads out from his boot lab

These days Barry alternates between summers in Ontario and winters in Whistler, and sets up his bootfitting shop each fall at evo Village Sports (at the top of the Village Walk across from Lululemon). He brings his own set of tools wherever he goes, fitting race boots for Eastern Canadian athletes in the summer and taking on all comers at Whistler during the winter. When I visited, he was fitting a new pair of 2023 K2 boots for a well-known Australian mogul skier who had just picked up her "next year's" gear.

Barry gets to work on a toe length enhancement - note the custom adjustable jig to protect the toe lug.

Barry's relationship with evo Village Sports is somewhat unique, as he isn't officially an evo employee but instead acts as in independent contractor inside the shop. He'll offer a consultation session during which he measures and inspects your foot, then suggest a boot that matches your needs which may or may not be available at evo. When you return with the boot in hand, he goes to work, adding a custom footbed (he's a Sidas guy) and doing whatever shell modifications necessary to get a perfect fit.

The classic Blademaster head and extension kit, carefully packed in foam

Unlike some other old-school bootfitters, Barry doesn't automatically replace stock liners with Intuitions or Zipfits ("I don't do liners with the exception of the new Atomic Mimic Professional liners"), rather working with the stock liners when possible. He uses the original Sidas Custom Ski footbeds rather than the new evo-branded Sidas Custom Pros ("too slippery" and "hard to finish"). His backshop bench features a workhorse Keyser press along with an older SVST press, and the usual Foredom handset and grinders.

Toe punch closeup

I love travelling to other ski areas and watching masters of the bootfitting craft in action; you never fail to learn something. Barry's collection of tools includes custom fabricated press rings and a beautiful toe-length punch attachment that I feel compelled to add to my set of personal punch accessories, and watching him work with honed precision and economy is a pleasure. During my visit, he was doing a 5-6mm toe length punch on the above-mentioned K2 Mindbender Team boot, as well as a significant fifth met width punch, simultaneously stretching the liner toes and making room for a problematic maleolus while getting ready for the customer's return. He told her to go grab a coffee, and by the time she got back the boots were ready for a liner mold.

Heat gun skills are key

Thinning out the liner in the maleolus region after heating

(If you're planning a trip to Whistler this winter, and want some of Barry's magic to rub off on your boots, shoot him an email at or call (613) 294-1874 to schedule an appointment)

February 21, 2022

"This is the Place"

Just spent the weekend in Salt Lake City, skiing some fine groomers with a bunch of other tourists (and some locals) and checking out the latest evo retail venture, evo Salt Lake City.

Three years and change in the making, the newest evo store makes its stand in the historic Granary District of the Utah capitol, with a massive refurbished brick structure occupying the anchor position and housing, at present, the evo store, the first evo hotel, an indoor skate park, and established SLC retailer Level 9. A climbing gym and food service options are slated to fill planned spaces on the property as well. The store and hotel are still very much a "work in progress," but it's clear the space is already much talked-about and something Salt Lake has never seen before.

As a 20th anniversary spiff for evo employees, we were allowed to book rooms for a limited time at $20 per night, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out the newest jewel in the evo crown, so my son Jordan and I flew down for a quick weekend. Everything in SLC is spacious by big city standards, simply because there was an abundance of space from the outset. Intersections in the heart of downtown are twice as wide as they are on the coast, and the spacious interior of the evo store reflects the same mindset. As with the Seattle store, the massive timbers framing the ceiling were retained and give the building a unique character, while the brick exterior and OEM sliding passageway doors remind the visitor of the space's origins as a grain repository.

The hotel is difficult to separate from the retail space, and vice versa - they simply blend into one another. Want to shop 'til you drop? No problem when your bedroom is just a few steps away! There's a community bath and shower area with a roomy sauna that's almost ready for public use, and a wing of low-cost single rooms without baths near completion for those on a ski bum-budget. On premise food and drink is still a ways off, but the top floor deck has an almost-finished bar adjoining it and seems destined to become a hangout once complete.

Rooms are spare but well laid out - our double queen "Rafter" accommodations had two great beds, simple furnishings (probably the only hotel in Salt Lake with bare industrial concrete floors), a no-door shower, and racks to hold your skis on the wall. Euro-style room lighting requires your card key to be in a receptacle at the door to function. No desk or chairs (or even glasses) - evo Hotel guests are probably expected to spend the entire day on the snow or their mountain bike, and use the well-designed community spaces for relaxing and "working from home."

Cash wrap and snowboard section in the entry to the evo SLC store

Matt working the floor with a smile . . .

Curry takeout in one of the hotel's community areas

Gearing up for soft goods style

Bootfitting area - as spacious as a 104mm-lasted boot

Softgoods area from the mezzanine

The ubiquitous Dan Gold, veteran of evo stores all over the west

Calling in Thai takeout from the hotel roof

February 14, 2022

evo at the Hill

After quite a bit of anticipation, a fair amount of premature fanfare, and multiple stops and starts to deal with both COVID and the weather, evo has opened its first mountaintop venue at Snoqualmie Pass.

evo Snoqualmie got off to a "soft" rolling start last week, with a combination of old hands from the Seattle store and new local hires getting down to business and actually tuning and renting gear, plus doing a smattering of rentals. The place looks great, which stands as something of a miracle considering the state of the building last time I stepped foot in it a month ago. There's even a grocery and deli and tons of space upstairs for events and shared workspace.

The old firehouse across the street from Summit West has never looked better.

Actual groceries beyond the normal Twinkie and pepperoni offerings . . .

Everyday evo hip. Something old, something new.

Need to hold a quick meeting while "working from home?" These and larger spaces are for rent.

December 22, 2021

On the Bench: La Sportiva Gets the Burl

After years of excelling in the production of fast-and-light and rando race boots, La Sportiva has come to the conclusion that the vast majority of "touring" boots sold worldwide probably see plenty, if not most or their use at ski areas. This is especially true of continents like our own where the concept of self-powered uphill skiing is relatively new.

Hence, the Vanguard.

This boot is designed to drive the biggest skis and huck the sickest drops while maintaining an efficient weight and walk mechanism. In their product description, La Sportiva claims this is the perfect boot for "today’s powder-focused adventure skiing enthusiast" who wants the option to access the goods via their own power but spends an equal amount of time dropping through ski area backcountry gates.

The Vanguard is still lighter than much of the the performance hybrid boot competition, coming in at 1526 grams in a 27.5 (their sample size, and a decent fit for my foot which measures out at 27.8 on a Brannock). It's stoutly built of Pebax Rnew 1100, which is experiencing a bit of a comeback in popularity, and actually punches quite well in comparison to the old-school Pebax formulas. Even though the quoted forefoot width is 102.5mm, I needed a decent sized punch at the fifth met head/distal phalanges zone and a lot of extra room in the medial midfoot area, but the Rnew moved easily and seems to be holding the shape well with just a slight bit of glazing on the surface of the plastic.

The advertised "all day fit" will probably be just that for most average feet straight out of the box. The liner is very plush, uses Ultralon foam extensively, and is built with multiple foam densities and thicknesses for mobility and fit. The Vanguard uses a modified Cabrio design with plenty of flaps and cables in evidence, and it's important to get the layers in the right spot before buckling (having owned a Maestrale won't really help you), but once on and buckled the overall effect and flex is smooth and powerful. The lower cable buckle system employs a dual-action design, presumeably with a loose setting for skinning and a snugger one for skiing, though at the moment I can't comfortably use the tighter one. We'll see what happens after the boot packs out.

With a few punches the Vanguard is probably the most comfortable boot in my substantial quiver, and may have too much volume for those with narrow feet and ankles, but heel retention is actually on par with many other 100mm lasts so far. I'll give the boot a test ski this weekend and report back.

January 12, 2022 Update: After two days of skiing in the Vanguard and a few thousand feet of skinning, here are some additional impressions.

The boot skis very, very well. It would be hard for most skiers to distinguish the difference between the Vanguard and many, if not most, 100-102mm-lasted alpine boots in the 120-130 flex range. As noted previously, the plush liner and well-placed Ultralon foam combine to create one of the comfiest boots I've been in for a while. Again, while the forefoot width and volume are generous, I had to go back to my trusty SVST press and make some more room in the medial midfoot/navicular region, to the boots aren't all that wide there. In the basement and roaming around the house with shorts on, the range of motion had seemed excellent, but when you pull your ski pant legs down over the substantial cuff it tightens the circumference to the point where the range of motion is somewhat restricted - I don't think touring with your pants pulled up over the boot is a viable solution in anything but spring conditions, so this might be something to keep in mind. All in all, the Vanguard may be a great solution for "ocassional" touring and those who need a burly boot for work (i.e. patrollers) with touring capability.

Solid and plush at 1526 grams per 27.5 boot with stock footbeds in place . . .

The design is unique, with lots going on and cables coming out of nowhere.

External walk mode lever is simple and low-profile

102.5mm last is roomy in the forefoot but quite snug in the midfoot; I needed punches at the fifth met and medial midfoot

December 14, 2021

New Snoqualmie Uphill Pass

How many of you hop over to Hyak or Silver Fir every once in a while to skin a few laps, either for exercise or to dial in a new setup?

I'm guessing if you live in the Seattle area and read this website, the answer is around 100%. This season, that might mean you'll need an "uphill pass" to skin at Hyak (Summit East to newcomers), Summit Central (the former Ski Acres), or Summit West any time lifts are in operation. Alpental is a "no go" any time after the season begins, as has been the case in the recent past.

You get the pass on the Summit at Snoqualmie website, but finding the right spot isn't easy - you need to navigate to "Policies" and then "Uphill Policy" and scroll to the bottom of the page to find the link. For convenience, copy and paste this:

The pass is "free" but the Summit adds a $5 processing fee.

No word yet on who will be charged with enforcing this . . .


December 5, 2021

Family Business

Spent the weekend east of the mountains to meet the newest member of the family, Connor Gregory Louie.

As cute as they get, doing great at eating, peeing, and hanging out with his people. Measures out to a 6.5 mondopoint.

November 28, 2021

On the Bench

I've been super happy with my quiver of ski boots, carefully curated over the seasons and fully dialed to my liking, but I couldn't pass up an offer from Matt Manser at Atomic in Austria to send me a pair of Atomic Redster CS Professionals - partly to get a feel for a different company's take on a burly "citizen" plug boot (the "CS" stands for "Club Sport" and differentiates this 96mm boot from the 93mm and 95mm Redster STI and TI models). I certainly don't need anything stiffer than a legit 130 race flex, and getting a 96mm shell to accommodate my 117mm foot is already enough of a challenge, so the CS seemed a logical choice. It happens to be the boot that Matt skis in as well.

There have been production and shipping challenges at Atomic, just as with products of all kinds all over the globe, but the boots finally arrived via UPS air this week. Atomic puts the RED in the Redsters, and it's a handsome boot in the same shade that Mikaela Shiffrin uses so I'm hopeful some of her skillset will rub off. These boots come with the new Professional Series Liner and power strap, both of which look awesome. The power strap is a multi-level affair with built-in elastic on the lower portion (Booster's patent on elasticized straps expired last year). The theory is that the elastic will provide a smoother and more progressive flex in the mid portion of the pattern, and just standing and flexing in the boots in my basement seems to confirm this.

The liner is also all-new, using Atomic's Mimic technology with heat moldable outer material in the construction and adding a unique foam injection system for the heel and midfoot. The boots are shipped with the foam injection tubes already attached and two foam cartridges in the box; you find a shop well-versed in the Mimic molding process and have them inject the foam after the heated liner is placed in the boot. Flex back a forth a few times, buckle the cuff and let the foam set - bingo, a custom foam job without all the hassle of mixing, exit tubes, sloppy shop floors and the like. The injection port features a "whirly" insert that mixes the two foam components, and the exit of trapped air in the liner is handled by a breathable patch built into the liner. The system is already in use among Atomic's World Cup athletes and the results speak for themselves.

When you move beyond recreational boots at Atomic, you get both less and more. The 3 degree shell rotation featured in the Hawx models is gone, replaced by a zero degree design - not sure if they think less training equals a more valgus alignment or what, but all of the race boots are "straight." Light weight never even crossed the minds of the boot designers, with the Redster CS coming in at 2307 grams with the foaming tubes in place and nothing but thick polyurethane ether plastic to be seen. These things are made to go downhill quickly and with authority, no one weighs the boots after the race and they assume the customers for these boots have had plenty of experience walking in icy parking lots to and from the hill - hence no attempt to adopt a GripWalk sole or even a dual-density alpine sole. It is what it is.

As with other boots in Atomic's alpine lineup, the Redster CS comes with only a single bolt holding the cuff to the scaffo, but it is plenty stiff for my purposes as is. For those desiring something on the order of a 140 flex, you can drill another hole and install the extra bolts in the box to firm up the spine of the boot.

Matt suggested getting the shell fit dialed before doing any liner molding or foaming, so I'm sorting that out now. It's not trivial, as making it comfortable for my mega-wide foot requires adding about an inch of width through the forefoot from fifth phalanges back nearly to the styloids, and blowing out the very narrow medial midfoot and navicular area by about half an inch. Actual forefoot volume and instep height are quite reasonable, so if you're handy with a heat gun and a lever punch you should be able to make this boot work for most feet.

They are serious about their red boots in Altenmarkt . . .

Narrower than the Hawx Ultra in the medial midfoot/navicular area, and with a more defined heel cup, these needed some serious enhancement.

Not a lightweight by any means. 2307 grams is with the injection tube attached, but I suspect it will be about the same with the foam in place.
(Note: Post-foaming weight came in at 2306 grams)

You need it an inch wider in the forefoot? No problem.
GripWalk? What's that?

Injecting the foam into the liner didn't quite go as smoothly as in Matt's video . . .

I do tons of Mimic liners at work, so I figured I could handle doing the foaming myself in my home bootlab. I set up in my fitting studio on the nice new Ikea carpet, 2x4 at the ready, oven pre-heated, boot horn at arm's reach.

Liner out of oven, check. Footbeds in place, liner in boot, check. Drop foam cartridge in gun, connect to boot, OK. Start pumping the foam at one squeeze per second, and I discover I didn't have the connection fully engaged and polyurethane is leaking down the tube . . . quickly I relocated to a spot off the carpet, fixed the connection, and finished off the left boot. The second boot went without a hitch. You can feel the fit tighten around your ankles as you approach the correct volume indicator on the tube (for me, just a bit short of the 27 mondopoint mark), after which you buckle up the boots fully and walk around for 5 minutes.

The fit around the ankle is impeccable now. Hats off to Atomic for devising a foaming method that's fairly simple and does away with the exit tubes and mixing (the amounts of resin and catalyst are not equal; the tubes in the foam cartridges are different diameters). All in all, a race-worthy foam solution that's simple enough for most reasonably experienced bootfitters to get right on the first try.

A few things to keep in mind:

The entry tubes into the liners get bent over and constricted in the box - don't worry about it, as they soften and round out in the oven. Wearing snug-fitting Nitrile gloves wouldn't hurt while performing the foaming procedure - if you get the foam on your hands, clothing or carpet during the injection it's very difficult to remove after it cures. Make sure you understand how the cartridge fits into the gun (make sure you align the big plunger with the big tube) and how the connection with the boot works (you have to align the two ports and find the right spot to push the connection together, it is possible to lock the tubes together WITHOUT the ports connected and PU will leak and not go into the liner unless they are). Don't do this on a floor surface you care about; even if you do everything right there are bound to be some drips but if they are on hard flooring you can easily take care of them with a scraper after they set up.

There you have it. Now if some snow falls . . .

On Snow Notes

Three days in, the Redster CS Pros are very impressive. This is the narrowest and probably stiffist boot I've managed to make fit my foot in recent history, and the performance is exceptional. I had predicted an issue with the published 18 degree forward lean (I'm used to about 14-15 degrees in my RS 130's) but without a spoiler and with the thin shim in, the Redster CS is right on for stance. Atomic claims a 4.5 degree bootboard angle on the Redsters, but I don't notice the difference between that and the 4 degrees in every other boot I own. The flex is a very stout 130 with only the bottom screw in place (as with other Atomic boots, you can drill a second hole and use the provided bolt to stiffen the spine), but I won't need any more stiffness - if anything, for powder-oriented freeride skiing I've been barely buckling the top buckle and using the elastic Professional power strap to provide a more progressive flex with more give in the initial few degrees of the flex pattern, and it's nice. If you want to really rail turns at speed, you can tighten the top buckle and really crank down on the strap.

The heel retention with the foam-injected Professional liner is outstanding, and probably as good as anything I've experienced in the past. I should have done a more thorough "dry" run with the foam connectors beforehand; as it is it took about 5 days to get all the cured PU foam off my hands. Is the Professional liner worth waiting for? I'd say yes, if you have a similar narrow-lasted plug boot and are considering one of the various foam liners or a Zipfit solution - the foam process is really very simple and eliminates the messy exit tubes that other systems use, and the results are great. As with lots of product coming out of Europe this year, there seem to be supply chain issues with the Pro liners (we ordered some but none have shown up yet), so it may be next season before they are available.

November 7, 2021

Clinic Season Again

Busy, busy, busy. I'm back to the store fitting boots, and booked solid pretty much every day I'm in the shop. On top of that, we have been in clinic mode for the past 5 weeks, which adds an hour-plus presentation by one of our suppliers to a ten or eleven hour day.

All of the usual suspects have made appearances, as well as a select group of "indie" ski makers (not everyone who wanted a slot was able to get one). Highlights included the new Tecnica Cochise boots, the Atomic Hawx and Hawx XTD boot lines, the Salomon QST Blank and QST 98, Völkl's M6 Mantra and Secret 96, three new skis from Black Crows, a new 120 width from WNDR Alpine, and the Kin, a new park ski from Season. There's some good news for touring fans with Nordica's Unlimited and Elan's Tour series both ready to launch. We're near the end of the line for clinis with just DPS, Elan and Head to go next week.

Trends for 2022? Less change, more hype continues this season with many companies carrying over entire lines of skis and boots - often without even a colorway change. I have to give them the benefit of doubt on this, as most production facilities in both Europe and Asia are coping with reduced capacity. Supply chain problems are the rule rather than the exception this fall, with almost every company short on stock and late to ship - if you find a product you covet that you can actually put in your cart, don't wait for it to go on sale this year.

At least three major ski manufacturers continue to spout the "Titanium Fallacy" re: the metal in their skis (the metal in ski laminate construction is Titanal), and many people in both the marketing and production departments of ski companies don't seem to realize they are different, or that there is no Titanium content in Titanal. Come on, people, take the time to read the AMAG website and educate yourselves.

Then there are ball caps, the mainstay of clinic season swag. At least 3 companies handed out camo hats this year - Blizzard, Atomic and Elan all buying in at last count, and that's just on the ski side. Not sure what to make of this recycled trend, but I hope it goes away soon.

The unique, often imitated by never equaled style of Michael "Bird" Shaffer puts the "caw" in the Black Crows clinic

Speaking of putting on a clinic, I had the good fortune to attend yesterday's concert by the Eagles at the new Climate Pledge Arena. I'm always in awe when I watch someone who's a master of their craft in action, and watching a group of guys in their 60's and 70's who are still at their pinnacle was amazing. We were in the first balcony section, courtesy of our son's in-laws who have the same seats for the Kraken season, and the the fretwork of Henley, Smith, Walsh, and Leadon displayed on the overhead monitors was beautiful to watch. The band was SHARP last night, saving it up for their last concert of the year and Glenn Frey's birthday, and it wasn't just the principals. When it came time for some classical backup, BOOM the lights came on in back and a 30-piece string section came to life. For backup vocals, they brought along a 15 person choir who were just as good.

Each song in the Eagles' 3 hour set is implanted so firmly in the American psyche that everyone in the audience knew the words, but it was still incredible to watch them perform in person - precision built on decades of dedication to their craft combined with the passion of people a third their age is a rare combination. If you find the time and money to attend one concert by a big name band from the past, the Eagles are the one to catch.

It takes two to fill Glenn Frey's shoes, but Vince Gill and Glenn's son Deacon do him proud. It was Glenn's 73rd birthday.

September 25, 2021

Acrylic on Canvas

With the Northwest glaciers in the worst shape ever, and my decision to end my turns-all-year streak in August, friends have been asking what I've been doing with my time (other than writing copy for the evo website from the privacy of my bedroom). Among other things, I've resumed painting after a long hiatus, putting together a little studio in one corner of the garage and giving the rats who had taken up residence in the loft above my car the boot. Here are some samples of September's production.

"Asian Fit," acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48", currently on display at the evo Seattle store

"Bamiyan," acrylic and bamboo on canvas, 72" x 48", a memorial to the giant Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban

"Damenunterwäsche," acrylic and polyurethane on canvas, 72" x 48"

July 23, 2021

New GripWalk ISO Standard

As of last week, the International Standards Organization has finally published a new set of standards for "Improved Walking Soles" for alpine ski boots, ISO 23223:2021. Though they carefully avoid mentioning GripWalk by name, ISO 23223 precisely defines the shape, dimensions and testing protocols for this sole type and further sets the stage for widespread adoption of GripWalk as a OEM spec for not only touring and hybrid boots, but rental, all-mountain and kids' boots as well.

GripWalk soles aren't exactly new, and the move toward making them standard equipment on just about all types of ski boots other than pure touring boots and plug race boots has been underway for the past few seasons. A published ISO standard, though, makes it much more straightforward for boot and binding manufacturers to both standardize and ensure compatibility between their product offerings. Going forward, all alpine and touring ski boots will have soles that conform to at least one of the published ISO standards - ISO 5355 Alpine, ISO 9523 Touring, or ISO 23223 Improved Walking (e.g. GripWalk). WTR (Walk To Ride) will fade to a memory, though there will still be bindings available to fit them, primarily MNC offerings from Amer Sports (Salomon, Atomic and Armada).

I'm disinclined to pay the €113 fee to download the entire ISO document, but I'm assuming the testing protocols will be almost entirely the same as for ISO 5355 Alpine soles, so the best way to convey the message of this new standard is to show the diagrams. In general a GripWalk sole mimics the dimensions of an ISO 5355 sole (or is slightly more stringent), with a defined set of dimensions for AFD depth and placement and allowance for up to 6.5mm of extra rubber under the ball of the foot. Whereas Alpine sole toe height is spec'd at 19mm plus or minus 1mm, a GripWalk sole must be 19mm plus or minus .75mm (see what they did there?) so in theory you should be able to switch from an alpine boot to a GripWalk boot without adjusting the toe or AFD height.

If you want or need to dig deeper, an abstract containing the first five pages of the new standard can be found here, courtesy of the Swedish Institute for Standards.

Pictures tell the story better than words; here are the three diagrams included in the ISO document.

Sole block dimensions are spelled out in detail

Location and shape of the AFD pad are also called out in detail

June 19, 2021

Tools of the Trade

The end of lift-served a couple weeks ago means the demand for bootfitting has dried to a trickle. We get a few appointments each day, mostly for touring boots and gear, but I've gone back to my traditional summer schedule of writing copy for our website 3 days a week and only 1 or 2 days in the shop. That means there's time to rebuild and invent tools to make the bootfitting process better and more efficient.

The past few weeks I've had time to carve several toe punch blocks to replace ones that have been heavily used during the winter - these are used for length punches at the toe to keep the "ring" off the sole of the boot. I carve them with a combination of a Foredom grinder and a very sharp chisel to match the curvature of the boot toe, which takes around an hour per block, using sections of 2x4 carefully chosen for a smooth concentric ring structure in the grain. I also modified our Sidas Variable Arch Tools (used to keep the ring of the press off the boot shell when doing width punches from the styloid to the fifth met head and beyond). The stock version of this tool is a bit "underengineered" and the rotation head invariably breaks in a week or so; I modify them by drilling out the two sides and threading them with a 12AB tap so they can be held together with a long #3 Pozidrive binding screw, while also replacing the cheesy foam pads with leather ones (sacrificed a nice Barney's New York belt to get the leather). We plan to run 4 punches in our boot lab next year, with each fully equipped to perform any punch, so extra parts were in order.

New for this season is a device to straighten up the forward lean in a boot, a common goal for skiers with very large calves who lose circulation and/or are pushed into an extreme forward stance with an unmodified boot cuff and stock forward lean. Using parts sourced from Amazon (easier to get a manager to order stuff this way), I used a rental Rossignol binding from our scrap bin plus some 4" flex exhaust tube and a burly "Come Along" locking winch with a 1/8" steel cable to put this together - it seems to be working great, with two boots "straightened" so far.

Hand-carved wood blocks for toe punches and re-built arch tools for lateral forefoot width enhancement

Big calves pushing you forward more than desired? Straighten that boot up!

April 22 - May 3, 2021

On the Bench: Dalbello Quantum Free Factory 130

We've been waiting for this boot for a while now. The replacement for the Lupo Air is kind of a mashup between that boot and the super light Quantum Asolo series, aimed at the 1,300 gram category and specifically at the Zero G Tour Pro. The comparison will be an interesting one, as I (and many of my friends) have been using the Tecnica ZGTP as their main touring shoe for some time now, with excellent results.

There are very limited numbers of the Quantum Free in North America at the moment; I happen to have the West Coast US sample, which came in a 27.5. Most of my boots are a size shorter, but I also use a 27.5 in the Asolo Factory with an identical BSL, so it isn't a huge change. The nominal last for the Free 130 is 100mm (Asolo Factory is 99mm), and it is in fact a bit roomier through the toebox not only in width but volume. Though I still need big punches at the fifth met and fifth distal phalanges as well as in the medial midfoot area, I suspect I might opt for a 26.5 if I were buying the boot for myself.

The boot looks fabulous in person - blue on darker blue with red-orange accents. Quality is typical Dalbello, which is to say excellent. Unlike the Asolo Factory, the Factory Free 130 uses 2 buckles rather than their BOA-like lower closure and walk lever-actuated top closure, which could be a good thing as the lower tends to slip on the Asolo boots and the upper string, while great once you get the length dialed, takes a bit of time to get right. Dalbello specs generic Polyamide as the plastic - while this could mean Grilamid (also a polyamide), companies usually like to use the EMS Grivory trade name when they use it (and pay 4 times the money for it). At any rate, I haven't seen any factory mandates not to punch the shells, and they seem to handle width modification well. As with the other Quantum lower shells, the Free 130 employs Hemispherical construction, meaning the shells are molded in two halves and then welded together - this gives the engineers more latitude with shell design using stiffer plastics, as the "half shells" are much easier to get off the mold.

Weight is right on target, coming in at 1,313 grams per boot (no footbed). This includes a race-style cinch power strap and a relatively cushy liner. Boots are on the SVST punch as we speak, with skiing to commence tomorrow . . .

Update: Day 3

Testing the "waters" in the new boots - yes, it was raining . . .   Charlie Rubin photo

I've had two days of lift-served skiing and one of touring on the Quantum Free Factory 130.

It should be obvious, but anyone who calls their touring boot a "130 Flex" and builds it to weigh 1,300 grams is shooting for an established target - the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro. I own and have quite a few days on the Zero G, which sets a high bar for performance/weight ratio as well as popularity in the ski community, so I'm probably well qualified to compare the two boots.

Several people have been in touch with me to ask, "Is it a real 130?" and "Does it ski as well as the Zero G Tour Pro?" To answer the "real 130" query, you have to be aware that 130 flex boots are all over the map in terms of pure stiffness, with newer versions softer than older boots, and genuine plug race boots much stiffer than "consumer" and hybrid alpine/touring boots. How well they actually ski for most skiers depends more upon how "predictable" they are than pure forward resistance. Is it as stiff as my RS 130 Lange plugs? No, and it's also not as predictable or damp, but I expected that. Is it as stiff as the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro? No, it's not, but it's not that far off, either.

In terms of skiability, the Quantum Free Factory 130 comes up a bit short relative to the Zero G, but as many of us know, that's a high standard. Part of the reason for the discrepancy last week (2 days on the lifts for the closing of Mission Ridge) was the roomy fit - not necessarily length (I measure 27.8 on the Brannock), but the tall toebox. This week I stuck 1/8" of self-adhesive foam over the front of the liner, and buckled the instep buckle one notch tighter (this required chopping out some elastic on the instep of the liner for comfort) and the response was much improved. Still, the lack of a tongue and absence of friction from the cuff/liner interaction leave something to be desired in terms of "feel" - I'm not convinced any tongue-less design is ever going to achieve this.

The bulk of the skiing I've done in the Dalbello to date has been on the 2,000+ gram Season Nexus 183 with alpine bindings (not really a true test of what the boot will typically be asked to drive) and when paired with my Blizzard Zero G 105 180's the boots were much more in their element. To answer the "real 130" query, you have to keep in mind that 130 flex boots are all over the map in terms of pure stiffness, with newer versions softer than older boots, and genuine plug race boots much stiffer than "consumer" and hybrid alpine/touring boots. The Dalbello is definitely on the softer end of the 130 range, but it's not a noodle, either.

Going uphill is where the Quantum Free Factory 130 really shines. The walk mode is exceptional, and even with the power strap fastened and the top buckle buckled, the range of motion and absence of friction is amazing - better than the Zero G TP with the strap loosened and both top buckles flopping. This means that you can pretty much never pull your pant legs up during transitions to deal with loosening/tightening hardware, but simply flip the walk lever up or down - quite a change from most of the crop of hybrid sub-1,800 gram boots which pretty much require this to tour well.

I'm still testing, but so far I'd say the Quantum Free Factory 130 isn't a candidate for a "quiver of one" boot that spends a significant amount of time at the ski area. It almost certainly is a good bet for longer tours and multi-day adventures in varied and spicy conditions where you want more precision and power than you can find in the 1,000 gram class. More to come as the lift-served season dwindles down (one more weekend at Crystal) and we transition to what looks like an excellent spring touring year.

1,313 grams per boot in 27.5

Sleek good looks, great colorway. Buckles replace the QLS (Quick Lace System) dial.

New walk mode lever is a huge improvement over Lupo Air

360 degree gaiter inside the shell, beefy powerstrap, genuine Vibram ISO 9523 soles

April 11, 2021

International Sliders Day '21

When I hand-stitched the first Sunnyside Sliders patch in 1972, I had no idea the concept would have this kind of legs.

49 years later, these same legs still love the feel of snow beneath them and the comraderie of like-minded veteran skiers to enjoy it with; this is the beauty of "Slider Day." Crystal Mountain alumni from ex-freestylers to retired ski industry stalwarts to still-hearty pro patrollers don the jacket and make some turns on this day regardless of where they might be stationed - in 2021, the locations were Washington State, Sun Valley, Idaho, and Gstaad, Switzerland.

It's always great to get together with the crew and talk on the ride up the chair, but the event was more meaningful today because of the COVID-mandated cancellation last year. As the original Sliders are pretty much all "of an age," and all had been double vacinated, we were able to commandeer a corner of the patio and sip beers without masks - the first time many of us had done this in a very long while.

Washington frontside   Libby Wotipka photo

Washington backside   Libby Wotipka photo

Rex liftline   Nita Burks photo

Gen 2 and 3 Sliders

Sun Valley frontside

Sun Valley backside. Looks like someone forgot his coat in Greenwater . . .

Killer backdrop in Switzerland

March 17, 2021

"Closed, Gone Skiing 2021"

Some things are too good to let slip away, even during a pandemic. evo "Snow Day" is one.

Time today for a little wearing of the green and a little sliding with our co-workers. evo shut down the store and everyone from the boss on down headed to Crystal Mountain for a day of snow sliding and BBQ. Perfect groomers, some parking lot BBQ and awesome companionship made for a great day in the mountains!

Skiing in a pack this big was a trip

March 7, 2021

Vertfest 2021

Vertfest is back after a 1 year COVID hiatus.

Congrats to the winners and all who participated - I wasn't there but received the following photo by text from number 2 overall Dave Braun after an emergency punch job on his Scarpa Alien 1.0's the day before the race.

Full results HERE

First and second place overall in 2021 go to Aaron Ostrovsky and Dave Braun,
I feel a sense of ownership in their results after working on both pairs of boots.

March 2, 2021

Couteaux Nouveaux

Talk about First World problems.

My ski crampons, some too narrow to ever again see the light of day, were bothering me. I've gone to all Atomic Backland Pure bindings on my skis (same binding as the Salomon MTN Tech), and to get a Dynafit or B & D crampon to stay centered in the slot, you need to attach this plastic thingy with a string on it to the pivot bar, then try not to lose it when you transition. Yeah, I know, I hardly ever use ski crampons, but when you need them, you really need them.

Jérémy Deya at Fixations Plum was kind enough to hook me up with a new quiver of "couteaux" in 90, 100 and 110mm widths, and they just arrived via FedEx. Stoked. The Plum variety fits perfectly (Plum manufactures the toes for Salomon/Atomic/Armada), slides in effortlessly from the top (the others required a slide-from-the-side technique, not always easy on a steep skintrack), and have ribs to self-center the crampon on the ski. As with Dynafit, they are color-coded by width (90mm is red, 100mm is black, and 110mm is dark blue). Formidable.

New Plum ski crampons are awesome

February 22, 2021

All Mountain Ripper Shootout: Völkl M6 Mantra vs Blizzard Bonafide 97

Looking for a ski with bomber edgehold, rock solid stability at speed, and enough width to hold its own in 8 inches of fresh? Who isn't. This category has historically been dominated by two skis, the Völkl Mantra and the Blizzard Bonafide, and not much has changed for 2022.

I managed to get my hands on a pair of each ski in a 177. I own the Bonafide, which won't change at all for 2022, and our Völkl rep Gordy was gracious enough to lend me his personal pair of next season's M6.

The two skis have similar dimensions, with the Bonafide 97 at 136.5-97-118.5 (17m radius) and the M6 at 135-96-119 (multi-radius, 30m-18m-24m tip to tail). Both employ ample Titanal in the construction, with a full sheet under the core. Where Blizzard runs a full sheet on top (stopping just short of the topsheet edge), the M6 employs a "tailored" Titanal frame with further reduction in the metal relative to the previous M5. Neither is light, with the M6 coming in around 2142 grams per ski and the Bonafide 97 at 2260 grams. Though the M6 is about 2 centimeters longer, the Bonafide 97 actually puts a bit more edge on the snow due to a flatter rocker profile.

Blizzard has changed the cores in most of their skis (the swap will be complete for 21-22), transitioning to what they call "TruBlend" cores with carefully blended woods of varying stiffnesses. The cores are more forgiving in the tips and tails to make the skis more accessible, but still very stiff in the midsection for stability and edging power. Völkl has chosen to pursue a similar goal by altering the shape of the Titanal frame around the perimeter of the ski and adjusting the pattern of the carbon reinforcing structure in the tip (visible as the "web" in the photos) to fine tune longitudinal and torsional flex.

I've spent some time on the Bonafide 97's, both early in the season and during the 3 week spell in January when we had essentially no snow. They have a bite to rival my race skis, are rock solid at any speed I've dared to ski them at, and deliver a pure and satisfyingly clean turn at any speed above about 15 mph. They do not "turn themselves" and the relatively short radius (17 meters in the 177) with wide shovel dimension make them a bit hooky on flats and cat tracks - I detuned them from 1 and 2.8 to 1 and 2 and dulled the edges at the tip back about 3 cm past the contact point and love the way they ski now. Performance is remarkably strong for me (175 lbs COVID weight) in the 177 - I normally ski something in the 183-188 range, but tried the 183 Bonafide and felt they were sluggish.

After one day on the new M6 Mantras, I can say that there is more in common between the two skis than not. The M6 has exemplary hold on hard snow (ice was 1-2 inches below the surface today), and perhaps the most precise feel of any ski in the 95-100mm class. They transmit more energy and have a "glassier" feel than the "metal" feel of the Bonafides, but still deal with high speed chatter effortlessly. The pair of M6's I used featured a factory tune - sharp all the way to the tip of the ski - but were less hooky at the tip than a similarly tuned Bonafide 97. Maybe this is a product of the 3D sidecut (30 meters at the tip) and maybe a result of the tailored Titanal top laminate, but this ski works out of the box with only minimal adjustment on the part of the skier. As with the Bonafide 97, hauling ass and making GS turns is a joy.

Overall, I'd be proud to own either ski. The Bonafide 97 has a slight advantage in pure top-end speed, with more metal, more weight, and a damper composure on hard stuff. The M6 Mantra has the edge in terms of "knife-edge" precision and more relaxed manners with the factory tune (though I'd probably still detune the tips some). Both are destined to go down as modern classics in the "All-Mountain" charger category. I'd probably choose the M6 Mantra for perfect corduroy on terrain with no surprises and relish the purity of the edgehold the entire time. I'd probably prefer the Bonafide 97 if there was some chop or frozen debris involved, and suspect that the Blizzard might have a bit better soft snow performance due to more tip rise, but neither ski is really the stick to pick when it snows a foot or more - you've got other skis for that.

Specs for the two skis are remarkably similar; straight pull length for the M6 is about 2 cm longer than the Bonafide 97

Titanal top laminate is nearly wall-to-wall for the Bonafide, "tailored" as shown for the M6

Slightly more tip rise on the Bonafide, slightly more tip rocker on the M6

More tail rocker on the M6, end result is less edge contact than the Bonafide

February 1, 2021

Season: Nexus in Line

I've got two days on the Season Eqpt Nexus 183, and I'm stoked about it.

Eric Pollard's new company is cooking with all the gusto his tiny band of enthusiasts can muster, and the results are tangible and skiable.

I've added a 183 Nexus, Season's "Mixed Conditions" 106mm all-rounder, to the quiver and am giving it a workout as the conditions transition slowly from 3-week-old sheet of ice to softer, more typical Northwest fare, although the process is agonizingly slow - we are getting an inch or three a day, which gets scraped off on steep and icy aspects but helps a lot everywhere else.

Though I'm not a fan of Season's naming scheme - all three skis sound like cars to me (I would have gone with Manny, Moe and Jack or maybe Huey, Dewie and Louie) - the skis are proving to be excellent. I've been on 2 out of 3 models and they are getting regular rotation in my quiver. I've been looking for a light-feeling but precise mid-fat for everyday use, but something with more tail rocker than some of the obvious choices like the Ripstick 106 and the QST 106 (for tight quarters and skiing switch in front of the grandson).

The Nexus is snappy and precise, with surprisingly good edgehold on the firm stuff lurking underneath. The mount point looks super far forward, but when you look at the ski from the side and take into account the amount of tail rocker, it's right where it should be. I took Eric's advice and mounted them on the "infinity" line, which is where he likes them and they feel just right. The 17 meter radius excels at short and quick to medium radius turns, but the ski isn't particularly grabby at higher speeds. Compared to many of the other offerings in this waist width, the Nexus has a fair amount of camber and puts a bunch of edge on the snow - the ski wants to slash quick turns, not drift them. The low-rise tip without much rocker trends back to my old Legend Pro 105 and 115 days (not a bad thing), so we'll wait and see how it fares in deeper snow. More to come as I get more time on these.

Understated graphics and stout aluminum tail protectors are Season standbys

Plenty of camber and restrained tip rocker put lots of edge on the snow

January 24, 2021

Atomic and Salomon Ski Revamp

When companies the size of Atomic and Salomon re-design their bread-and-butter ski lineups, it's a big deal.

Both programs have taken a bit of a hit from COVID-19, which disrupted production in Austria (both skis come off the Atomic line in Altenmarkt), but Atomic is replacing the Vantage line with a new Maverick and Maven series (guess which is the women's) and Salomon is completely changing two of its QST skis, with the remainder of the line to follow suit in 2023.

On-snow demo for this year is a little different than the usual bro-down and party scene at Mission Ridge; individual reps are setting up small demo sessions with key shop personnel and buyers at local areas and spending a lot more time on the road. I got a chance to ski two skis from each manufacturer this week on rock-hard groomers at Alpental and came away satisfied that these two companies know what they're doing. I spent time on the new Maverick 100Ti and Maverick 95Ti, as well as the Salomon QST Blank and QST 98.

The Blank and QST 98 share a new construction with CFX carbon-flax fabric only on the tips and tails rather than running all the way down the ski, and with beefed up "double thickness" ABS sidewalls to improve edgehold and high speed stability. Both skis are very intuitive to ski on, responding to input at a variety of speeds and producing smooth and precise arcs even on very hard snow. Both also pivot quickly underfoot when you feel the urge to scrub speed or a bump comes up a bit fast. I'd rate both a solid +++ (my top rating), but the 112mm wide Blank will certainly be the ticket for soft snow regions like ours. Like the existing QST skis, the new ones are very balanced and require little adjustment on the part of the skier to ski well, but they feel more powerful on edge than previously.

The Atomic Maverick series also goes for more stability at speed, with a bit more Titanal in the builds and a bit more weight overall (the highly sculpted topsheets are gone). I preferred the very precise Maverick 95Ti to the 100Ti for better balance and more predictable turn initiation, but both are fine skis (the Maverick line will include an 86c without metal and an 82 as well). In general, the Maverick and Maven are "more" ski than the outgoing Vantage skis - where the Vantage (even the Ti versions) were incredible on perfect corduroy, they tended to get kicked around when it got choppy or chattery and the new construction handles these "shoulder" conditions better.

Maverick 95Ti is a winner for frontside slashing; precise and grippy with a high speed limit

Maverick 95Ti specs

Super intuitive Salomon QST Blank is a 112mm-waisted "do everything" ride

QST 98 shares the same construction as the Blank

The new Blank is an athlete-inspired freeride shape

January 19, 2021

Marker-Dalbello-Völkl 2022

With this year's trade shows and on-snow demos cancelled due to COVID, getting concrete information and first-hand feedback on next year's product has become more difficult.

I've been able to line up some appointments with our local reps to do a bit of both, starting with MDV (Marker-Dalbello-Völkl) today. Brian and Gordy have a new showroom close to the evo Seattle store, and invited me over to get a preview of changes in their lines for 2022.

On the Marker front, the changes for next year are subtle - they improved the Royal Family bindings immensely last year, with a re-design of the heel units that made stepping in problems a thing of the past. This year, they add the carbon toe baseplate of the Kingpin M-Werks to the rest of the Kingpin line for improved strength and shock absorption. The Duke PT 16 and 12 remain the same, and the supply problems that made their introduction a bit of a whimper this year should be resolved. The bread-and-butter Squire lineup gets a "Pro" workover, with new colors and a protection plate over the toepiece.

The two Squire colorways (on the right) show beefed up toe design

Völkl is one of the companies I admire for (almost) never giving in to the urge to build "easy" skis that appeal to lesser skiers without the strength or skills to take advantage of their product. Their M Series line (I include the K108 in this group) have been standout performers for aggressive skiers for the past few years, and though I have no complaints about any of these skis, the M5 is at the end of its product cycle. The new M6 Mantra dials the design that much further, with "tailored" Titanal Frame construction that gives each length of ski a unique outboard metal frame. The carbon-fiberglass web reinforcement in the tips is likewise patterned uniquely for each model and size. Word is the new design is quicker and less hooky than the older model, but we'll see.

The Blaze 106 and 94 continue with only topsheet changes, and they add a new Blaze 86 for next season. Revolt skis charge into 2022 with the same specs and graphics. Völkl has tweaked the pure-touring Rise skis a bit, going from 98mm to 96mm for the Rise Beyond and lightening up the 88mm Rise Above (formerly Rise High).

The "M" and "K" line stays the same except for the M6

Tailored Titanal Frame on the new M6 Mantra

"Rise" touring skis get a makeover

New colorways for the Blaze lineup

Dalbello has a few interesting things up their sleeves as well.

In response to athlete requests, they are offering their top-of-the-line Krypton 130 Ti with tech fittings for the first time. No walk mode, but the skiers who get the heli drop and only need to skin a few hundred feet to get to their line have a use for this boot. The tech fittings also come in a 115 flex Chakra women's boot that goes down to a 21.5 mondo. The women's Lupo AX 105 is no more; in it's place is a "unisex" AX 100 with sizes down to 21.5. The big news is the Lupo Air replacement, the new Quantum Free Factory 130. Based on the Quantum Asolo Factory that I've been using as my spring and summer touring boot, the Free 130 is a burlier freeride shoe with 2 actual buckles instead of a cord-and-lever top closure and a BOA-like lower lace system. Gone is the janky walk mode lever that tended to frustrate users every time they tried to go in or out of walk mode - in its place is an external lever much like everyone else's and a pivoting string-lock mechanism that reminds me of the Zero G's (no second connection point, though). Fit is roomier than the Asolo Factory I own; stated last is 100mm while the lighter model is 99mm. The shell is made of "normal" polyamide with no carbon reinforcement, so I'm going to assume they will be punchable. The sample weighed in at 1319 grams in a 27.5 on my scale, so right in line with the lightest of the 130 flex hybrids - we'll see how it skis. The Quantum Free line also has a 110 flex men's model and a 105 flex women's model in an outstanding raspberry colorway. There's also a new Quantum Lite, that drops another 100 grams compared to the Asolo Factory.

A Krypton 130 with (gasp) tech fittings - in the toe only . . .

Quantum Free Factory 130, with improved walk mode, Quantum architecture, and real buckles

Excellent walk mode lever is a "quantum" leap forward

Women's Quantum Free 105 W in a color any sorbet would be proud of

January 18, 2021

Verifyt Foot Scanning App is Live!

I've been playing around with a smartphone-based foot scanning app called Verifyt for the past month and a half. The beta version has undergone a few changes, and a few store employees have been using it and offering feedback to the developers. Now they've gone public, and are offering versions of the app on both app stores. If you're interested in giving it a try, search for "Verifyt" under the company name "NetVirta."

The app has a few rough spots, which NetVirta continues to improve. Typical errors include not being able to enter your "state" upon finishing the scan, which the devs say is being addressed and hopefully solved in a future version. The app also crashes sometimes when the 3D model of your feet is being generated; sometimes this can be solved by moving to an area with better WiFi or deleting the app and re-installing it. In general, the Verifyt app promises to be a huge benefit to those of us trying to advise people on which ski boots to buy when it's impossible for the customer to appear in person.

As with the Sidas ShooIQ scanner we've installed in the store (scroll down to read about it), the Verifyt app scans "short" in comparison to an old-school Brannock device. Even with no socks, measuring on the Brannock typically yields a number 7-10 millimeters larger than either of the digital scanners (the Sidas numbers and the Verifyt numbers are usually almost identical - discrepancies can be attributed to the fact that the Sidas method requires wearing a special sock, which adds a bit to the dimensions).

Taking the Verifyt recommendation for boot size normally produces what we in the industry call a "performance" fit (half a size or a full size smaller than your nominal Brannock size). An "average" fit will normally be half to a full size longer than the Verifyt recommendation, and a "comfort" fit 1-1.5 mondopoint sizes larger. As always, determining what type of skier a customer is is the most difficult part of the sizing equation - no one normally admits to being a poor or 2-day-a-year skier who will be happiest in a "comfort" fit and won't appreciate the extra precision of a snugger fit unless they change their habits.

So far the results have been extremely encouraging, and I've had responses from a number of people worldwide. If you'd like to try the app out, I'd appreciate your taking screenshots of the three views (front, full left side showing both instep profiles, and rotated out about 40 degrees to show the arch shape) and sending them to me via the link at the bottom of the page. Sorry for the long scroll! So far I've got a spreadsheet with about 54 sets of feet (and the boots they're currently in) and I'd love to add more.

verifyt_2032.jpg  verifyt_2034.jpg /><br />
The Verifyt app generates dimensions and images for your feet like these, which you can rotate on your phone to get side views

<p class= verifyt_top.jpg
You can't actually rotate top-to-bottom like this on your phone, but I can with the Verifyt Business Intelligence software I am using.
Now you know why I had to become a bootfitter . . .

Side view allows me (along with the instep numbers) to better identify potential instep problems and prescribe a boot accordingly

This view helps predict what sort of footbed might be appropriate for the foot in question

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