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January 30, 2010:

Testing, testing, 1, 2

With ice and rain prevailing in the mountains (at least until this week) the Gotamas and Manaslus haven't been getting much work this season, so I figured I'd throw in some comments about bike stuff as well. Hey, every backcountry skier I know is also a bike fanatic, so it's not really that much of a stretch. The primary additions to my commuting arsenal were both presents from family - a new partial SRAM Rival gruppo (no crankset, but derailleurs, brakes, and levers) and a new light from Magicshine.

Rival shifters, brakes and derailleurs went on the O'Brien to solve the problems I was having switching between the race bike and commuter

I've got a little over 400 miles on the Rival stuff so far, and love it. I was already familiar with the SRAM "action" having used a RED gruppo on my Cervelo all last season, and was experiencing problems (not all that serious, but nagging) when switching back and forth between the DuraAce and RED shifters, missing shifts at critical times (like just starting up a hill) because of the difference in the mechanisms. Jordan found a reasonable group on eBay, and Lindsay and Jordan chipped in to buy it for me for Christmas, so all good! Performance is almost identical to RED for a lot less money, and not much of a weight penalty. You could run this groupset on your race bike with a decent set of wheels and generic carbon frame and sacrifice very little. In fact, the money you save on the gruppo might buy you a set of carbon wheels if you know where to shop.

Shifting is just as precise as RED, maybe even a little snappier for the front derailleur throw from the small to the large ring. Shifting at the rear derailleur feels identical, both up and down. The hood shape of the handles, which provides a much larger "flat" spot than 7800 DuraAce, is almost the same as RED with just slightly less indentation where your thumbs rest. Brakes fall just a bit short of the buttery-smooth standard set by RED; they don't have the ball bearings at the pivot points and are supplied with JagWire cables instead of Gore Ride-On cables with the special debris guards, but who cares? There's a good reason Lance has invested millions of his own money in this company.

A note on chains. When I started using my RED gruppo, I used the SRAM 1090 chain they supplied with the ultra-light 1090 cassette. As many other people have noted, it was extremely noisy, and probably amplified by the one-piece CNC'd upper shell of the 1090 cogset, which acts like a bell. I've since switched to using a DuraAce 7801 chain with this cassette, and it's significantly quieter. For the Rival group, I put a DuraAce chain on from the start and it runs smooth and quiet with the 1070 cassette. I didn't try the 1070 chain, so I can't comment on how good it is or how much of the silence is due to the riveted and heavier cassette. I do know the DuraAce 7801 chains work well with every gruppo we run in our household, and we found some for around $32 each, so we bought a bunch. Spending $65 for a new chain five times a year gets old.

Magicshine 900 lumen "Bicycle Light" - damn light, damn bright, and pretty darned cheap at $85 for the system

I've been using NiteRider's TriNewt basic version for about a year and a half, and have been quite happy with it. Weaknesses have been problems with their Surlok cable system loosening up and losing connectivity when the cable is bent over for prolonged periods (Niterider was good about replacing the cable). Also the light housing weighs a ton, which is especially noticeable when using it with a helmet mount, and the battery is huge. With the basic model you can't turn the light on or off or change brightness settings without accessing the switch on the top of the battery, which is not all that practical when it's in your pack. These may seem like niggling little complaints, but this IS a $399 light. The newer iterations of Niterider's LED lights are even more expensive.

My brother had been raving about his Magicshine. Made in China, lighter, brighter, and (relatively) cheap. For my birthday, he surprised me with one, which I set up and used the next day and have been commuting with since as a helmet-mounted main light. Waterproofing is non-existent, as compared with NiteRider's (excellent), so I have the battery in a heavy-duty ZipLok bag, but the light turns on and can be adjusted for brightness from a button on the back of the lamp (convenient). They call it a 900 lumen device, but I am prone to disbelieve this number (maybe 600?). At any rate, it's a bit brighter than the Tri-Newt on high beam, and the Tri-Newt was originally rated at 500 lumens (they later down-rated it to something like 486). The second of three brightness settings on the Magicshine is slightly brighter than low setting on the TriNewt, which I normally use for bike path riding, and the beam is slightly warmer in tone (less blue) with a more diffuse pattern (better vision at the sides, not quite as good in the center). So far I've been getting about four hours of use on setting #2 with no sign of running out of juice. The directions give a little Li-Ion primer which says you should normally recharge them when they get down to about 40%, rather than drain them completely like NiCads. So far so good, even with the cheesy name which is probably a direct transliteration of the Chinese.

The light housing on the Magicshine is quite light compared to the TriNewt, and uses a rubber-band mount that is easy to adjust on the fly. The battery pack consists of four Li-Ion AA cells and is probably 1/5 the weight of the NiteRider proprietary battery, though as noted previously there is no watersealing. Replacement batteries are $40, and are light enough to carry as a spare (I ordered one). The best news of all is the price for this light - $85 for light, battery, extension cable and helmet mount! If you need a decent light, you can order one directly from

January 17, 2010:

Superlight boots for Everyday Touring?

tlt5perf_300.jpg                            tlt5mt_300.jpg
These might be worth waiting for - new shoes from Dynafit based on their race-ready DyNA. Not that much heavier, but beefed up for the downhill. Performance with yellow trim; Mountain with green.

Jonathan e-mailed today with the news that he'd gone ahead and bought a pair of DyNA race boots (nice!) but that I might want to wait until next season when they will come out with a couple of derivative models, the TLT5 Performance and the TLT5 Mountain. Both are based on the DyNA mold, with the Performance using a Pebax lower and carbon fiber cuff. The Mountain uses a Grillamid lower with Pebax cuff, and both boots have a "downhill booster" to stiffen up the forward flex if you want. Published weights are 1050 grams for the Performance and 1225 grams for the mountain (27.5 shell). One or the other might be just the ticket for my main touring boot some day . . .

January 16, 2010:

That Pesky El Niño Still Kicking Us in the Ass . . .

Me chasing after Seth and Kevin in an attempt to get above last night's freezing level, not all that sucessfully   Kevin Curd photo

Weeks of cold and dry weather, then a January characterized by marginal freezing levels . . . what's a backcountry skier to do, except to go out and ski with what we've got? Seth and Kevin had a glimmer of hope on Friday, when the telemetries showed snow falling above about 3,500 ft. (and a six inch accumulation at Alpental). Unfortunately that turned to rain during the night, right up to around the top of Kendall Ridge, our destination for Saturday.

With this crew, it didn't really matter. The skies were clear, there was handy parking at Summit West at the late hour of 9:00AM, and no other skiers to get in our way. Plenty of exercise chasing Seth up to the top of the ridge, and a rather challenging ski down with a few inches of fresh over crust at the top, then really thick but skiable rain crust, then really really thick rain crust that we couldn't really ski gracefully, then thawing corn mush over and around the PCT footpath to I-90. Oh wait. I forgot to mention the frozen tree-bomb minefields in the forest. Sweet! Still, we had more fun than we had a right to, and laughed about the conditions once we got back to the cars.

Kevin gets ready to boot to the top, while Seth looks on from above

Seth blasts through the crust near the top; lower on the mountain it got ugly

January 5, 2010:

New, New, New

Nothing spells hope like a wedding. Not mine, but my assistant Jennifer got married with full trappings from TWO cultures - Chinese and Hmong!

With three weeks of abnormally cold and dry weather over the holidays, ski touring has been something of a disappointment. Those who have ventured out have reported excellent weather but a marginal snowpack that ocassionally begs for crampons . . . but life goes on. My friend and right-hand woman at Louie's, Jennifer Fung, got married a few weeks ago in a gala ceremony that combined the cultures of her family (Chinese) and her husband Steven's (Hmong).

A Hmong temple ceremony, a Chinese tea ceremony, and assorted costume changes throughout the day were part of the fun that I didn't get to witness. The wedding itself was quite a scene, with a full-course dinner at Ocean City in Chinatown, more costume changes, and a Hmong pop band going full blast. Approximately 100 extra guests, not familiar with the protocol of RSVP'ing your intent to attend an event, showed up and created a bit of havoc for the restaurant staff, who fortunately handled it coolly by wheeling extra tables in through the throng. We ended up on the dance floor with a bird's-eye view of the action. The Peking Duck and steamed fish were awesome, not to mention the Hmong line dancing - Lindsay and I didn't partake, but all of the Hmong people seemed to know what to do, and people of all ages had big smiles on their faces.

Hunter Skis!

Old friend and Crystal Mountain legend Hunter Eng has had a tough year in 2009, finding cancer in his liver, bile ducts, and several locations in his lungs and enduring an exhausting schedule of surgery and chemotherapy for much of the year. He's stuck it out with willpower and the remarkable strength and love of his wife Crisi and family, and when he's feeling strong enough makes sure he does what makes him feel better. You guessed it, he goes skiing!

Gettin' the band back together and takin' it on-piste: Mike O'Brien, Hunter Eng, Deliane Klein, Greg Louie and Crisi Eng   Laura Eng Photo

Hunter, Crisi and daughters Laura and Elissa joined a group of the old Sunnyside Sliders last Tuesday for high-speed (and non-stop) runs at Crystal Mountain. The snow was hard as rock, with regular patches of east coast-like "transparent" hardpack, but we ripped it up like kids for a while. Send positive vibes Hunter's way if you think of it, he's facing another bout of treatment beginning this week.

Want more? Here's a link to a video Stanley Larsen put together of Hunter and crew skiing early season pow . . . Hunter Skis (Requires Apple Quicktime)


My ski and triathlon friend Magali Prevost, now back in Toulouse, France, brought in the New Year in style with a new baby boy, Paolo. Born December 23, and weighing in at 8.5 lbs., Paolo and parents are doing fine and looking forward to 2010. Might cut into Magali's training a little, though!

Nothing like a baby to start out the New Year!

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"Incoming" covers developments that have personal interest to me (ie. gear I might consider acquiring, or events I feel may impact the sport of skiing) - it is by no means meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of gear or events in the ski world at large. Feel free to contact me via the link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .

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