November 19, 2013
The real lift served season kicked into gear last weekend with two-day openings at both Crystal Mountain and Stevens Pass, and the customers had so much fun they decided to keep it going mid-week. Stevens ran the lifts today, and Crystal was "thinking" about a Wednesday opening. Sure enough, when I got up there and ducked into the restroom to relieve myself I ran into Keith Rollins and a liftie who both confirmed they had decided Wednesday was a "go" (Green Valley only).
I skinned up to the Campbell Basin lodge to check the fit and the new mini footbeds in my TLT6P's and found pretty good coverage above 5,500 ft. Unfortunately the rain from the past couple of days had frozen into a solid 3/4" breakable crust over mush, so the skiing was less than pretty, but those who make the trip to Green Valley tomorrow should find some nice "skier compacted" with a dusting or more of fresh. Note: I skied to the bottom, but I shouldn't have. Take the gondola down.
November 15, 2013
And no, it wasn't exactly a starring role. I spent a good part of last night moonlighting as a Dynafit rep at the Seattle screening of Valhalla, filling in for Brandon, Ryan and Nick who were in Boulder for the annual Dynafit sales meeting. It was a fun and low key event, and I got to spend an hour before the movie answering questions, demoing the Beast binding, and giving away schwag. I made the people answer a Dynafit trivia question to get a hat - though I made many of the questions multiple choice to give people a fighting chance. "Who invented the Dynafit binding? a)Karl Schranz b)Helmut Newton c)Fritz Barthel d)Yvon Choinard"
November 1, 2013
Verbal not digital. Tuesday's hosts didn't allow pictures in the facility, and the rest of the time I simply forgot to bring the camera. Maybe next time.
It was a busy work week, but mostly out-of-office. Tuesday a small group from evo headed to the K2 offices for a dealer clinic on the new K2 boots. I was already pretty familiar with the Pinnacle 130, having skied it for a couple days last spring, but it was a rare chance to chat up the design and engineering team and hit them with some left field questions. Mine included "Where are you sourcing the tech fittings?" (the same Italian company that makes La Sportiva's and Scott's but not Tecnica's), "Are you planning to make a lighter Pebax version next year?" (uhhh, not really, Pebax is pretty expensive and we weren't setting out to build a true touring boot), and "Why do the boxes on the production boots say Made in Hungary when the prototypes said Made in Italy?" (The shells and cuffs are still molded in Italy but the final assembly is in Hungary, EU law requires the aforementioned labeling).
OK, the Pinnacle is heavy, but it skis great, and I'll be rocking a pair at least some of the time this winter. (Did I mention that the schwag for the night was a free pair of your choice?) We did a mini tour of the factory, which was a little lackluster because it was night and nobody was working - the K2 tour is really interesting when the crew is milling out aluminum ski trays, screening next year's graphics and laying up prototypes. K2 was a great host as usual, and even boss man Tim Petrick put in an appearance. The evening ended with a full catered dinner from Marination Station and plenty of Coors Light (the official beer of K2). Bottoms up!
Wednesday and Thursday Alex, Will and I headed to scenic Everett for a two day seminar with Masterfit University. Masterfit U is an industry-supported organization devoted to sharing the secrets of the nation's best bootfitters and they've been quite successful at raising the bar for bootfitting at speciality ski and snowboard shops around the world. Famous boot wizards like Mark Elling, Bob Gleason, Jim Shaffner, Bob Egeland, Greg Hoffman and Jack Rafferty - guys I've read about for years - taught the classes and were available for one-on-one questioning and demonstrations for the entire course. It was awesome to watch these guys in action and hear how they go about their art - super inspiring and invaluable stuff for any of us in the trenches.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, business is ramping up quickly. People are already waiting in line, and lots of us are fitting more than one customer at a time when it gets busy. The old timers - Alex, Rachel D. Billy and myself - have hit the floor running as winter approaches. The hardgoods newcomers at the store are jumping right in and killing it, with Will coming from Texas (relax, he grew up in Bellingham), Charlie and Paul moving upstairs from softgoods and Drew sliding in like the pro he is to lead the team in boot sales. We were barely able to contain our laughter last week when a proud mom came in with her daughter and said the kid was "a really good skier, she's going to start the freeride program at Crystal this winter - Ingrid Backstrom's going to be her coach - and she needs some new skis." When I pointed to Drew and suggested that he knew something about freeride comps, she quipped, "He does? Should I recognize him?" Classic.
October 15, 2013
It's the season, once again. Ski movie premiers, clinics at the store, and a teaser one day opening at Crystal Mountain for the powder deprived marked the first two weeks of October and the stoke level is high. Kevin and I got busy at Chinook Pass in the absence of any operational national parks, and found surprisingly good surface hoar turning to corn over a hard frozen foot or so of recent snow. Perfect weather and no company save a lone hiker were bonuses. Not long now!
September 26, 2013
Just like that, the chill in the air becomes the real deal and gear acquisition season is in full swing. The Dynafit boys did me a favor and steered me toward a pair of the new TLT6P's, the successor to the legendary and ubiquitous TLT5 that pretty much everyone I know uses.
What's new? Dynafit's dumped the Actiflex joint under the ball of the foot, which some skiers complained affected their downhill prowess (but which I personally liked a lot for going uphill or covering long approaches in the boots - didn't seem to bother me skiing). The last is a bit wider and taller in the toe box, with just a tad more room over the instep and around the midfoot. If your have a low volume foot and the TLT5's been your saviour, the TLT6 isn't really as voluminous as the 102mm forefoot spec would have you believe. I still had to punch the boot for both the first and fifth metatarsal heads and a bit in the medial midfoot, just like most ski boots I have owned.
The other specs are pretty much the same - the 27.5 TLT6P weighs in at 1240 grams without tongue. The added weight is due to the burlier, warmer "CR" liner (there is also a light "CL" version, but only the CR or "Custom Ready" is offered in North America) which is 290 grams by itself. You get two tongues, a black one that feels like the old TLT5P one, and a lime green one that's a fair amount softer and 7 grams heavier (63 vs 70). The buckles have been improved, with the lower one sweeping back and somewhat protected by a ridge in the shell and a new cable bale that doesn't catch on the tongue when you buckle up. The upper buckle has a click stop to hold it open when you're skinning like the Mercury/Vulcan/One series boots. There's a a two-position forward lean option that lets you select either a 13 degree or 18 degree lean by flipping the metal lean lock tab over - this is held in place with Torx 20 fasteners like the buckle ladders.
Dynafit says the CR liner has a thick thermal foam under the foot which obviates the need for a footbed. I'm not totally sold on the idea, even with my super flat foot, but there isn't really enough extra instep room for me to put my footbeds in, so I guess I'll go without for now. Beyond that, the TLT6P epitomizes what I love about this brand - light, fast and super efficient. The "6" should ski a little better for most people and give up only a tiny amount of uphill comfort; it figures to be a worthy wearer of the light and fast touring boot crown for years to come.
August 26, 2013
Our friends Jeff and Tong Tong are in the process of moving to Seattle from Beijing, China. We figured they should get a taste of small town Washington and took them on a car-and-ferry trip to Port Townsend where we drank strong espresso drinks, ate pastry, walked the beach, and saw Fort Worden. Along the way we convinced John Deer and family to pose for some pictures in a local backyard while they took a break from devouring the garden. Wait until they see the tame marmots and foxes at Mt. Rainier . . .
August 9, 2013
Hiking and skinning to just under Anvil Rock on Mt. Rainier's south side yesterday marked another mild milestone in my ski career - nine years of skiing every month in the calendar year. I'm thankful to be healthy, fit and crazy enough to be able to pursue a hobby like sliding on snow through every season, and fortunate to live where I do in the Pacific Northwest. Hopefully it's a portent of more turns to come.
July 30, 2013
It's not often that you get to meet someone you can honestly say has improved your life, but it happened today.
Silas texted with the news that Federico Sbrissa was in town for the day and was hungry for burgers, so we arranged to meet him at the Ballard Red Mill location (formerly Totem Fish & Chips) for lunch. For those who aren't familiar with the name, Federico (Fede) Sbrissa is sort of the Jonas Salk of alpine touring boots, having co-developed the TLT5P and Vulcan during a long and productive stint at Dynafit. These are the boots that most everyone I know uses for touring, and which broke performance barriers for AT boots that had long been taken for granted. This vaccine against the bondage of heavy touring gear has met with religious acceptance among thousands of ski tourists, so to meet their maker is no small deal. Fede, who now works for Salomon and Arc'teryx developing climbing boots, rolled in with his buddy Jerôme who's the Salomon alpine boot product manager. Silas had already seen them earlier in the day, having taken them to Starbucks Store #1 at the Pike Place Market (Federico is a big fan of Starbucks) for morning coffee.
We talked skiing over bacon cheese burgers and Cokes, with the Euro guys really interested in the state of ski touring in the US. They seemed amused by stories of guys putting Dynafits on Pontoons and such, but agreed with us that things would evolve with more time and more vertical. When I asked about Salomon's new tech binding and boots they both sort of shrugged it off but didn't deny it, so I didn't garner any real news on that one. As for the food and the "Native Americana decor," they liked pretty much everything with the exception of the secret sauce (Fede abhors sauces). Afterwards I took them for a tour of the evo store, which was a breath of fresh air after visits to other mainstream retailers in the US, and they checked out the indie ski section carefully, taking special interest in DPS, Moment, ON3P, and Icelantic. They had tons of questions about what sold well in Seattle and how we handled online sales of footwear, so we had plenty to talk about.
They finished up by extending an invitation to visit Annecy and do a Salomon factory tour before hitting the freeway and heading back to Vancouver. Oh, and I forgot to tell Fede how much his work had impacted my life, so I guess I'll have to take them up on the offer and bring along a bag of Starbucks Ultra Roast to espress my gratitude.
July 7, 2013
After a mellow 4th of July, during which we BBQ'd a turkey breast and took time to remember that there's no country we'd rather be a citizen of than the good ol' USA, and then an equally mellow day at the store where I actually sold a pair of skis, it seemed time to get in some July turns. Elissa and I headed up to the Paradise Glacier, where we promptly ran into Silas Wild in the 4th Crossing parking lot. Silas is the consumate dirtbag's dirtbag, and was taking the day off after nine days of sleeping in his car and touring every day. He made staying in his Subaru sound like the Hyat Regency, with all the amenities that the park offers. "Hey, they even have free coffee at Climber Registration. FREE COFFEE!" Skinning still starts just a few feet from the car, though it won't for long. We met up with Art Freeman at around the 8,200 ft. level and finished up a great tour with him.
July 3, 2013
There's first time for everything, and yesterday with the temperature in the high eighties it seemed like a good idea to take up Scott the Hyperlite rep's offer to do some wake surfing on Lake Sammamish. Chris Shalbot's friend Ben graciously allowed us to use his basement bathroom and BBQ, and a bunch of evo employees took turns getting wet. After watching a few experienced riders work the wake, I jumped in and took a few long rides - turns out getting up and getting towed with the rope isn't too difficult, but finding the sweet spot on the wake and actually riding it is a bit of a trick . . .
June 7, 2013
Pacific Northwest rando skiers with experience skiing on the south side of Mt. Rainier usually use the trip to Camp Muir from Paradise as a measure of fitness, and there are plenty of fit skiers who feel happy with any ascent to Muir that takes less than 4 hours. Some of them needed to sit down and collect their thoughts this week when word went out on the ski forums that the record for climbing and skiing Rainier had been unceremoniously dropped to 3 hours, 57 minutes and 55 seconds. That's all the way from the Paradise parking lot to the summit via the Disapointment Cleaver route and then down again. Yikes.
Rainier has been on the map for a while recently, with a super fit group headed by Stano Faban of skintrack.com fame and including his friends Eric Carter and Nick Elson, smashed the old record with an incredible time of 4:19.12. Stano was stoked, but the record wasn't fated to last for long. Here's a link to a report on Coldthistle.com.
Jason and Andy Dorais, brothers from Salt Lake City with competitive running backgrounds, had seen a sub-5 hour effort on Rainier fall by the wayside last year due to a routefinding mistake. For the record, Jason was the winner of the 2013 Vertfest Race Division and the brothers hold the round trip record on the Grand Teton, so they've been working at this for a while. They arrived at Paradise shortly after a fresh snowfall and had to wait a few days for the DC route to be reestablished by climbing rangers. With the route in and wanded, they set out on Thursday, June 6th, in full rando race attire with race packs and a minimalist crevasse kit, and a fairly simple plan to gas it as hard as they could.
Conditions weren't ideal, and there were a few sketchy moments while climbing and a couple of falls during the ski, but the Dorais brothers had the mindset and fitness aspects nailed. Rangers, guides and other climbers and skiers moved out of their way and yelled encouragement as they flew up and down the mountain, and they ended up stopping the clock at 3:57.55. It's a number that's hard for me to wrap my mind around, but if anyone could do it, it's these guys. And they think the mountain will go faster. It would be easy to write these guys off as aerobic jock dead enders who do nothing but train, but the reality is they're both medical school grads finishing up their residencies in emergency medicine at a Salt Lake hospital. My hat is off to them. Here's some links to their own accounts of the event: Andy's and Jason's.
May 28, 2013
As you can probably tell, I'm a fan and user of Plum bindings and have been for 2 seasons. A few days ago Ian from Apex Mountain Products in Boulder contacted me regarding a suggested swap of the Plum Guide (and by extension I assume the Yak and J'Envoie du Gros as well) heel plate screws. It seems that a bad batch of screws has caused several instances of breakage, and Plum is recommending replacing the screws with a Torx 9 head sold in North America between November 1, 2012 and January 10, 2013. While not all of the T-9 headed ones are bad, it's almost impossible to tell the good ones from the weak ones, so he suggests changing them to be safe. The new screws have the same coarse thread with a Phillips "0" head, so they can easily be identified. Our shop has some of the new screws in stock, with more on the way, so if you've purchased them from evo Seattle or evo.com come on in and have them swapped.
Here's the press release from Apex Mountain Products: "Please remember these screws are only necessary for bindings sold during November 1 to January 10 2013. For customers in North America these bindings where only sold through Apex Mountain Products certified dealers listed on our web site, www.apexmountainproducts.com. We will send those dealers replacement screws for customers that purchased equipment from them. If a consumer purchased a set of PLUM bindings noted above we recommend contacting the dealer where they purchased the product from for free replacement screws. Any other questions in North America regarding PLUM bindings, please use the contact link at Apex Mountain Products."
April 21, 2013
I've been hearing good things about Kästle skis in general, and about their light touring models in particular, for some time. When a pair of the TX97 Tour Montagne's showed up last week in the "demo" pile, complete with Plum Guide rental bindings, I was stoked to take them out for a try. I'm pretty convinced that ~100mm waists in a light construction are ideal for winter touring in snowy climates, and I'm always looking for my next ski in this category. As a brand, Kästle has until recently been a little under the radar (they were huge when I was a kid). Whether because of perceived price points (they are not cheap, but neither are they out of line with other top brands), a small marketing budget, or simply a desire to concentrate on the European market, we on the west coast of the US haven't seen many pairs of these either in shops or on the feet of skiers in recent years.
The Kästle TX Series skis are built with design input from Kästle's Guide Team, a loose assemblage of well-known mountain guides from both Europe and North America. Norbert Joos, Jimmy Chin, Zahan Billimoria, and Mike Bromberg are some of the names I'm familiar with, and I'm sure the others are badass mofoes as well. The basic concept involves pairing a super soft tip with a wide, slightly tapered shape and slight rocker with normal camber underfoot and a stiff tail. The aim is fairly obvious - a ski that will float well enough to handle any type of 3D snow one might encounter on a tour without sacrificing bomber edgehold for steeps and hard surfaces.
How did they do? Pretty damn well, in my opinion. I skied on the TX97 TM on two separate days, both in very difficult, sticky spring snow. Touring on the TX97 TM with Dynafit TLT5P's was a treat, with the light weight and fairly rear-set mount making uphill progress and kickturns smooth and fast. In 8" of unconsolidated transitional corn with an inch of fresh on top and rain falling, the skis were pretty much a match for my much wider Huascarans, that is to say, I was able to link long awkward turns reasonably well without falling. I definitely give them credit for creating a crud-worth platform that handles mank, and I predict the ski will rock in lighter fresh snow as well.
What's unique about the construction? A light core that emphasizes use of Karuba wood, with fleece under the base and rubber to cushion the edges, helps tune out vibration, as does the Hollowtech (how many other companies are using this term?) tip, which removes mass from the tip of the ski by using a paper-thin translucent layer in place of the full traditional build. Less material to vibrate = less vibration transmitted to the skier, eh? The rest of the construction seems pretty convention - a fiberglass cap covers the core, and a "stealth" rocker (barely visible with the skis unweighted, but distinct once the bases are pressed together) match up with the mild tapered tip and rounded but unrockered tail.
A few days later I spent a quick day in the rain skiing the TX 97 TM on the lifts, again with 4-5" of glop on top of corn bumps and a super sticky layer of fresh trying to trip you up at every turn. For a very light setup (TLT5P's again) they performed admirably in the glop and held quite well on the icy backsides of the bumps. The soft and wide 5-point tip wasn't as precise as some other skis I'm used to, but had an advantage when running up over semi-frozen avalanche debris. It's not a ski for old-school tip pressure-type skiers, but for those who stay centered most of the time and occasionally let their weight get back and hope the ski will hang on, they're perfect. If it gets colder again and there's some better quality snow to try, I may take them out again. I never got a chance to ski anything truly hard and icy, so I can't really say anything about the claimed dampness of the ski, but maybe down the road . . .
April 15, 2013
My friend Hunter Eng can't ski anymore, so we do it for him.
On the second anniversary of his death by cancer, we rallied the crew - old Sunnyside Sliders, friends, and offspring for an on-snow memorial at his favorite ski area, Crystal Mountain. While there were quite a few regrets (the email thread following the invite was an epic trip down memory lane in itself), we managed a group of around 20 and took to the slopes to "make a few turns for Hunter." A foot-plus of medium density powder didn't hurt things, and the mix of oldsters and young pups rode it hard all day. Multiple leg burners down Sunnyside, railing GS turns in Iceberg Gulch, face shots in Brain Damage . . . it was a very worthy day, punctuated by a sitdown lunch at the Bullwheel and finishing up with beer and pizza at the Snorting Elk. Hunter woulda fuckin' loved it.
April 14, 2013
Steve and Dan at K2 recently slipped me a pair of K2's much talked-about new crossover alpine/touring boot, the Pinnacle 130, for my evaluation. As the crossover boot wars heat up, many people are mentioning this boot as a top contender for 2014, and I was eager to give it a shot.
Among those who'd seen and worn the boot, I was struck by the number of people who mentioned the K2 boots' similarities with the Lange RX series. After spending a few days with the Pinnacle, I have to admit the rumors are true, which is not necessarily a bad thing. (Disclaimer: I'm a known user of Lange RS 130's as my normal alpine boot).
What's the same? To begin with, the 26.5 sample I have has a 306mm boot sole length - exactly the same as my RS 130. The fit is VERY similar, though not exactly the same as, the Lange RX last - the 100mm forefoot (K2 will also offer this boot in a 97mm last) fits me pretty well straight out of the box, and the instep is very slightly lower, but otherwise it's a dead ringer for the "average" width Lange fit. The tongue has the classic Lange vertical ridge that keeps it centered as the boot flexes, and the forward lean looks slightly more forward than the RS130, but feels about the same (spoilers in with both boots). In general, my slightly wider than average foot would be fine long-term in this boot with only a mild punch for the fifth metatarsal head.
Stiffness-wise, the burly flex mavens who feel they need race boot stiffness in their touring boot aren't going to be satisfied. This is no equal for a true 130 flex plug boot (I consider an unmodified RS 130 to be a good benchmark for this), but it's no tennis shoe either. I'd rate the flex at around 110 or so, with the plastic firming up slightly in cold temperatures. K2 has done their homework, and the walk mode mechanism is solidly encased in a "carbon-look" reinforcing structure that's quite solid - this in itself gives the Pinnacle a leg up on the Lange XT130 in terms of rearward solidity.
So what else is different, and what's an improvement?
The important one for bootfitters is the bootboard (zeppa to boot geeks). It's made of an energy absorbing, dense foam which will probably help those airs-to-icy-flat, but it's also a centimeter or more thick under your instep, depending on your foot. The shell is also relatively deep at the corners. Why is this a big deal? It's great for people with high, bony or sensitive insteps because it gives your bootfitter material to remove and lower your foot relative to the shell.
The OEM Intuition liner is also nice. It's a take-off on Intuition's own ProTour liner, with thinner foam but the same cutout in the Achilles area. It's got a minimalist lace system with loops beginning at the ankle bend with a rear loop around the Achilles, enough to secure the liner and perhaps reduce the chance of blisters.
Little things: There's a pre-formed punch for your navicular, more like a small trench than a point. That's great if your navicular happens to be in that spot (mine would be). The design of the Pinnacle takes from the Tecnica Cochise, with three conventional buckles and a wide power strap at the top that fastens with a buckle. K2's buckle, though, stays attached to the Velcro power strap rather than the boot cuff. Just walking around my yard, the buckle won't stay attached to the cuff when unbuckled (I'm assuming this is the intent), but we'll see if it stays in place with pants over the cuff.
Visuals: The green-on-green motif would complement the Hulk's skin tone, but it stands out and is actually pretty attractive with the charcoal and black accents.
Weight: At 2318 grams in the 26.5 mondo size, K2 is obviously going for the alpine crossover crowd, and not the core touring set.
Deal maker: K2 is first to market with a flat "touring" sole that will work in any AT or alpine binding. You heard right, this will work with a tech binding, frame AT binding, or your existing alpine bindings. The front of the sole is flat like an alpine sole, with a hard contact plate in the area of the binding's AFD. A grippy but mildly lugged rubber sole is fitted to the rear of the boot. K2 is the first boot maker to incorporate tech fittings in a sole of this shape, and I think it'll be a huge selling point come next year.
On snow testing: I spent a day lift skiing the Pinnacle 130 vigorously in a foot or so of medium density fresh snow over a firm base. I used the stock insole provided by K2 rather than my posted custom ones due to limited instep clearance, and the stock ramp felt slightly less positive (flatter) than my Langes. Forward lean appeared to be about 1 degree steeper than my Lange RS boots, but felt pretty much identical on my feet. The flex, as previously noted, was a bit underwhelming but the fore/aft balance of the boot with spoilers in was impeccable and let me ski full speed from the first turn of the day. Flex progression ramped up very smoothly and didn't bottom out under my 165 lb. frame. If you currently ski in a 110 to 120 flex Lange RX or even the XT 130, I'm guessing you'll transition seamlessly to this boot. It will almost certainly give the market leading Tecnica Cochise and Lange XT a run for their money.
Touring: OK, at 2318 grams this boot is HEAVY. There's no escaping the fact that I'm used to touring in far lighter boots designed specifically for touring and that colors my assessment - someone who has only skied alpine boots or heavy AT boots may not think the weight of the Pinnacle is that big a deal. The skier who values alpine-like performance above all or isn't used to fast and light AT gear, and tours only occasionally each season, might find it just right. The Intuition liner was super comfortable and held my heel in place very well, and the top buckle (which was falling out of its catch in carpet testing) stayed in place perfectly with my pant leg covering it. Range of motion in tour mode was decent for this type of boot - I'd say just a bit better than the Cochise in the forward direction and slightly worse in the rearward direction. The boot drove my 177 Huascaran/Plum Guide setup with authority, though snow conditions were horrible (6" of unconsolidated corn mush that had crusted up a bit and been rained on). Having skied heavier alpine skis in the boot a few days before makes me confident in the power of the Pinnacle and pretty sure it will be more than enough boot to drive any ski I'd even remotely consider touring on (I currently draw the line at about 112mm underfoot and ~1,800 grams). If you've got the desire and stamina to tour on significantly bigger skis you'll have to draw your own conclusions, but I'm guessing it should be fine for all but the biggest and baddest skiers.
Conclusion: The K2 Pinnacle 130 is a well thought-out and executed boot that draws on the strengths and weaknesses of several other "crossover" type boots. K2 is a little late to the game, but they've learned their lessions well. It should appeal to those seeking a single boot to do all their skiing in, so long as they don't do a huge amount of actual touring in it. People looking for a boot that duplicates the power of a plug race boot but happens to have a walk hinge will find it a letdown in terms of stiffness, but the majority of sidecountry enthusiasts will find it has plenty of power for their needs. If you have an average width and volume foot and fit well in a Lange RX or Atomic Hawx you will be a good candidate for the fit of the 100mm Pinnacle (it also comes in a 97mm last). The boot is made in Montebelluna, Italy and compares favorably in terms of quality and finish with other top products from the area (which is to say almost all other ski boots). The included Intuition liner is quite nice as well, though it doesn't have the same thickness of heat moldable foam as Intuition's own aftermarket products. As a touring boot, the Pinnacle is very heavy but has a reasonable range of motion and good foot stability for skinning. The flat-bottomed Tech sole is something of a breakthrough (why didn't someone do this years ago?) and will allow you to use any type of alpine or touring binding without resorting to plates, adaptors, or swapping soles - this alone should sell a bunch of these boots.
March 12, 2013
I recently had the chance to upgrade my fleet of Plum Guide bindings from the 2011 versions I'd purchased from Marshal Olson to the current 2013 models. Ian at Apex Mountain Products was kind enough to facilitate a swap - I had asked for upgrade short toe levers, but he was keen on bringing the rest of the stuff up to current spec as well and agreed to swap my older bindings for new.
I'm really excited about the switch, not because I've experienced any serious problems with the older design, but because Plum has quietly improved a number of things on the binding and in my opinion they're all worthwhile changes.
The only real complaints I had with the 2011 models were with the toe lever design and a slight loosening of the heel pins. The original long toe levers were prone to "autolocking" by themselves or with just the slightest pressure from heavy snow or crust. While I commonly ski with the toes locked out, I'd prefer to be able to make this choice on my own, and the new levers stay put in "ski" mode unless you pull up on them. Also, the flat top profile on the old levers hit the toes of my two touring boots (Dynafit TLT5P and Mercury), which knocked the binding out of lock mode during uphill kickturns or if you slipped and dropped a knee to or close to the ski deck. Not good to be suddenly disconnected from your toepiece while skinning. I solved the problem by grinding down the toes of both boots, but really hard forward pressure on the lever base could still pop the binding open. In bench testing it looks like this won't happen with the new, shorter design levers. Nice.
There are other obvious changes to the toe unit - the toepiece arms are anodized black (not sure that this does anything functional) and the ski crampon slot is more sculpted with a more independent centering tab. They are still tight, and it's still difficult to work a Dynafit or B&D crampon into the slot at first. I suggest spraying the slot and crampon with silicone spray or TriFlow lubricant and working it into the slot a few times before you go out - it gets easier after a few insertions.
At the heel, there are obvious and not-so-obvious changes. There's a slot CNC'd into the front of the base plate to allow the attachment of a Plum heel support pad. These come standard on the Yak and J'Envoie du Gros models, and support the boot heel during moments of high stress so that not all the force is taken by the heel pins. A great idea that people have tried to enact in the past by screwing corks or pieces of cutting board under their heels, this is a tasteful OEM solution that should be seriously considered if you're heavy or like to drop stuff on your tech bindings.
The original top plate screws, which are all that really attach your heel to the ski, were Torx 10 head machine screws with a very fine thread. Several users reported pulling them out, and Plum responded by going to a T-9 head screw with much coarser threads that should really hold in the polyvinyl heel body. I suspect the move to a smaller T-9 head is to help prevent people from overtightening the screws. The heel pins themselves seem to be made of a different sort of steel with less chromium content (they aren't nearly as shiny) and the part of the pin that is supported by the leading edge of the bindings is slightly thicker. All of these changes are for the better in my opinion. The fore-aft adjustment system, which some people have complained about (loosening screws cause slipping of the heel unit) appears unchanged, though I've never had an issue with this.
My original heel pins had developed a small amount of play where they entered the heel housing (they're held in place by black plastic blocks). To be fair, I've had the same problem with Dynafits as well. The fix was to disassemble the top end of the heels and wrap a thin strip of electrical tape very tightly around the pins before reinserting them. I'm hoping the slightly larger diameter pins in the new units will solve this; if not I've got a good idea of how to fix it. The Dynafit fix, by the way, was cutting a piece of duct tape to fit under the "holding blocks" and reassembling . . .
The leashes shipped with the new bindings are totally revised as well. Stretchy fluorescent green loops that fit most boots more tightly are still fastened with long buttons that look like they came off one of my mom's Chinese dresses, but they are fairly easy to fasten or unfasten with gloves on. I doubt I'll use these much, as I still prefer the springy red Dynafit leashes that come with the Speed Radical, but the Plum ones are now decent. Finally, they sent me a 2014 product catalog with the order, and they're actually showing 85mm, 100mm, and 115mm ski brakes for the Guide, as well as 100mm and 115mm brakes for the Yak. Lack of a brake system has been one of the main drawbacks to the Plum bindings for some people (I'm not one of them), so this MAY be the impetus that pushes them into the Plum camp. I say may because the brakes are quite unconventional, mounting under the toepiece with the brake arms facing forward rather than back. Time will tell if these are viable or not, I guess.
March 7, 2013
Dynafit, the company that's responsible for the Tour Lite Tech system and the TLT5 boot, is practically synonymous with ski touring. Anyone who aspires to travel far or fast on touring skis probably has a number of their products in their quiver, or will in the not so distant future. This doesn't mean the company sits around resting on their laurels, however - Dynafit's R&D department, now with the added brainpower of Eric Hjorliefson in the mix, has the developmental pedal to the metal on a number of fronts.
Paul, Brandon and Ryan from Dynafit were kind enough to put on a dealer demo event today for evo employees, and seven of us turned out at Hyak to sample some of the 2014 Dynafit product. The star of the show was the much-hyped Beast 16 binding, a burly tech clamp with a "DIN" of 16 and plenty of elasticity for hard charging lift-served as well as next-generation touring. I didn't ski it, as the special boots needed (a unique tech heel plate is required) wouldn't have fit without some boot work, but Shanti "Hippy XL" Sommers from the shop (our biggest employee) got in a lap with no issues. The binding is lighter than it looks, since much of the mass at the heel is a hollow housing for the added spring system and comes in at a very reasonable 957 grams. Compared to a small Duke EPF at 1432 grams or a small Salomon Guardian at 1470 grams, that's a weight bargain if it delivers similar performance. Careful of the "extra" spring-loaded heel retention bar, it looks like it could easily separate a small rodent into two halves.
The concept of the Beast 16 doesn't exactly ring any bells for me personally, especially since I don't seem to have retention problems with existing 12 "DIN" tech binding designs, but for the guy or girl who wants to rock one big ski with a stiff AT boot as their only rig, and who genuinely needs a release value in the teens, it might just be the Holy Grail. Time will tell. Besides, Hoji skis it.
Dynafit hasn't been sitting around hi-fiving each other in the boot department, either, though they probably deserve to after the successive releases of the TLT5 models and the Freetouring Vulcan, Mercury, and One boots. Both of these designs reached heretofore unheard of levels of lightness, stiffness, and mobility for their classes and they deserve all the accolades they've received. For 2014, they are revising the TLT5 line with the TLT6. The TLT6 will come in both the Mountain and Performance models and be somewhat wider in both the midfoot and toebox, which is good news for my feet but might not please narrow-footed people who fit the TLT5. There will also be a thicker liner to address complaints about the TLT5's warmth (or lack thereof), no Acti-Flex zone under the metatarsals, and revised buckles.
In the ski arena, proven winners like the Manaslu and Huascaran remain in the lineup unchanged from this year. The Stoke and the Mustagh Ata SL are gone, replaced by new designs called the Grand Teton and Cho Oyu. I took a lap on each, starting with the 174 Cho Oyu in 5-6 inches of very heavy new with the temperature rising to above freezing as we skinned. The Cho Oyu has a striking, futuristic look, with severely tapered tip and tail, a seemingly tight turn radius, and a squared-off tip with a metal insert for the skin hardware. It looks like something out of Blade Runner, but with a reported weight of 1080 grams in this size was a pleasure going up the hill. It performed admirably for a 89mm waisted ski going down in thick variable snow with "surprise" crust and sudden, "throw out the anchor" stickiness, and I'm anxious to try it on harder snow - at this weight it's a prime contender to replace my Mustagh Ata SL's as my spring/summer/fall ski. There will also be a new version of the Nanga Parbat, almost identical in construction to the Cho Oyu but with a narrower waist (80mm) and done in red.
My second lap was on the 182 Grand Teton. This ski is a mildly revised version of the Stoke; with Greg Hill jumping ship last year to Salomon, they needed to get something new to fill the category in a hurry. The dimensions are very similar to the Stoke (106mm in the waist) and the construction is as well, with just a bit more rocker in the tip to facilitate float. When I last skied the Stoke it was the 173 length, so this one felt a bit heavy, but it rocked the sloppy fresh like nobody's business, which is what it should do. Someone should have told them the NW native-inspired topsheet art comes from an entirely different region of the US than Wyoming, but the small legend "In Memory of Steve Romeo" on the tail gets the win.
February 17, 2013
Roughly 160 people braved the drizzle at Alpental yesterday for the Monika Johnson Memorial Rally. Rain-softened bumps and a slightly altered course made for some spicy and fun racing. Here's Kevin's firsthand report of what went down:
"Nice race course. Rain softened up the top surface and made for good skiing. Two ringers from SLC place 1 and 2. Brandon ended up 3rd. Seth had a cold and ended fifth. Holly took 3rd in race women. I ended up 15th. Frank skipped out, not liking the rain and thinking the bumps were still firm. Good turn out, 160 racers?"
More to follow later, and I'll try to find out who the "ringers from SLC" were . . .
More: The winner was Jason Dorais (misspelled in the results), second place went to Eric Carter (Brandon says he's actually from Canada). Congrats to all who showed up, especially those who went two laps! For complete results, click here.
Brandon emailed me this synopsis:
"Missed you out there yesterday. Yes despite the rain, the skiing and skinning was good. No Traslins, guess they were sick, Heather didn't participate as she was sick as well. Luckily (?) I just caught her bug the day before so I felt crappy but not bad enough to miss out on some suffering. With Seth and Holly sick it seemed to be the common theme of the day for a lot of people. Despite the Traslin brothers no show, Jason Dorais (they misspelled his name) simply destroyed the competition putting down pretty impressive times at what was probably a comfortable pace for him. Jason is the current Grand Teton ski speed record holder among many other accomplishments, pretty talented dude, and pretty humbling watching him just amble off into the distance. The second place dude was a twenty something fast guy from Canada. Another fast guy was the BD rep Alan, who Seth knew from bike racing, he was with Seth and I the whole race, and looks to be even faster once he gets more efficient. Alan actually was ahead of me towards the end of the second lap but got off course a bit thinking the Snake Dance gate was a turnaround. This was an opportunity I capitalized on, although I think that I could have caught him on the downhill anyways. All in all it was a great day, hope that some day we could have more of these events locally."
January 10, 2013
Thinking about doing Vertfest this year? It's coming up sooner than you think - January 19th is the innaugural Vertfest at Bend, OR and February 16th is the date for the Monika Johnson Memorial at Alpental, WA. If you want to be a contender, now's the time to start practicing. Rando racing is a little like cycling; the top guys always tell you they're "out of shape" and "just trying to hang with the bunch" but in reality they're training their butts off for these events for weeks or months beforehand.
Now you've got a mini-series of five night rando races held at Summit Central Ski Area on more or less consecutive Friday nights at 7:00 PM to test your fitness and uphill/downhill skiing skills. The series, not surprisingly, is the brainchild of Brandon Kern, Seth Davis, and Lowell Skoog, who also happen to be perennial Vertfest top finishers (Seth won last year). This event is being held with the cooperation of the Summit-at-Snoqualmie, but they ask that participants be inconspicuous and that no uphill travel or lengthy traversing take place in lighted areas used by the general public - in other words, stick to the shadows while skinning and try to be as stealthy as you can. Jibbing on your race skis is permitted only if wearing Spandex.
For more information on the series, check out Brandon's website, http://snoqualmiepassskimo.blogspot.com/
January 2, 2013
May you avoid cliffs, fiscal and otherwise, and find rays of hope in the New Year!
December 13, 2012
The DOT and Alpental Pro Patrol were doing target practice on Snoqualmie Mountain this morning, and after a failed attempt to bypass the artillery by skinning up and around the howitzer (we asked, they said no) we made other plans. They had set up the re-conditioned 105mm howitzer in lot #3 and proceeded to take pot shots at the Phantom for some time (we could hear the rounds from down the road) while Crispin, Kevin and I headed up Commonwealth Basin with an eye on Red Mountain. Crispin's new dog Geeb was stoked to be out in the snow and didn't seem perturbed by the shots though he still needs a little ski avoidance training. Skiing was stellar, as evidenced by the photos!
With Alpental scheduled to open this weekend, uphill travel is no longer permitted within the ski area boundaries for the remainder of the lift-served season - this includes Mondays, even though the area is normally closed that day. Alpy patrol takes their job seriously and does tons of control work - let them do what they do without having to worry about people skinning up through avalanche zones when they are setting charges.
December 10, 2012
Yes, it's virtual Christmas Card Time again.
Best Holiday Wishes and tons of fun in the snow to all! May your turns be deep and fruitful, and all your trips round trips. Here's a digital version of our family picture for 2012:
December 6, 2012
I was convinced there was sufficient snow coverage at Alpental to take out the new Huascarans for a few laps. Kevin had been making almost daily trips up the ski area for a while, and even after the 1.5 day rain event of this week, the bottom was filled in enough to slip through without hitting much. After all, skis can only stay new so long, right?
Tom Davies joined us for a lap, and we followed a track set by Crispin, Silas and Victor an hour earlier. Dropping into Upper International for the first time each year always feels good, especially when there's fresh snow underneath and no rocks to dodge at the entrance. Snow conditions ran the gamut from 8" of windblown fresh to scoured icy stuff, but clean tracks are clean tracks in any language. Kevin and I did it again for good measure.
With more snow on the way, Summit West looks ready for an opening tomorrow and Alpental as early as next week . . . stay tuned! Oh yeah, the Huascaran/Mercury combo kills it . . .
November 17, 2012
I received my Dynafit Mercury boots last week, and have been fine tuning them ever since. Frickin' stiff is the operative adjective for these things, and we're not even talking about the top-of-the-line Vulcan with the carbon fiber cuff! After playing around and spending time with both my Lange RS 130's and my Dynafit TLT5P's on the other foot, I've made the following mods with an eye toward finding a forward flex in between my alpine and light touring boots without sacrificing "crush resistance" under full load:
1. Sixth toe punches, both sides. 2. Medial mid-foot punches, both sides. 3. Reduced the height on the removable tongues by ~ 2 inches. 4. Cut a V-shaped slot in the removable tongues matching the shape of the shiny patch on the inside of the tongues.
I'm getting close to a flex I like for this boot, a bit softer than my Lange plug boots and still quite a bit stiffer than the TLT5P's. The Mercury is quite sensitive to buckle tightness as well; tightening the top buckle tight makes it feel quite a bit stiffer. Try backing off a notch if you want a little more give in the flex. If you position the power strap in back of the fixed "V" tongue with the fabric sewn in the middle, you can leave the removable tongue in place while skinning without limiting your rearward cuff mobility to any serious extent, so transitions are simply a matter of opening or closing the top buckle. Pretty sweet, since I already have slots for Dynafit buckles cut in three pairs of my touring pants!
October 29, 2012
Last night my place of business picked up and moved from its old location in Fremont to a new one a few blocks east at Stone Way and 35th. In typical evo fashion, a team of employees massed at both locations and worked through the night to transfer fixtures, art and inventory from 122 NW 36th to 3500 Stoneway N. - no downtime allowed! We opened the doors promptly at 11:00 AM and were busy almost immediately with a mix of regular customers, neighbors from the hood, family and friends.
The ski department was crankin' - lots of boot fits and sales of all manner of hardgoods. We would have done even better if we'd been able to bring up more inventory, but the crew was at the limit already. No worries, everything worked and comments were universally favorable regarding the new space. It doesn't really look or feel like a sporting goods store, but we've got the gear to prove we are.
October 25, 2012
The new season is up and running as of now, with powder, sunshine, and yes plenty of rocks today on Mt. Rainier's south side. Regular partners Kevin, Frank and Elissa joined me for a spin on the Muir Snowfield in what began as a slightly dreary day in light snow. Eric Rouss hooked up with us for a while on the skin up, and we talked shop while we climbed. Above Pebble Creek, the clouds began to thin and we found ourselves under blue skies the rest of the way to Camp Muir.
We were lucky to be behind a group of 4 who set a nice skintrack in the 8 inches of soft new snow, and got a few shots of them as they descended as a group. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and we got more and more stoked as we approached the climber's shelter. After a brief break for lunch, we hit the Muir Snowfield ourselves with ear to ear grins. Almost too deep for the mild slope angle, we nevertheless were thrilled to cruise the perfectly smooth fresh - first new snow of the year for each of us.
Don't take your new skis. Below Pebble Creek is a minefield of barely submerged rocks that are unavoidable if you choose to ski it (and of course you will).
September 28, 2012
The W. L. Gore Corporation was kind enough to extend an invitation this week to my colleague Jordan and me to visit GORE-TEX® headquarters and several production facilities in and near Newark, Delaware the past three days, flying us to the east coast and putting us up with a group of other North American retailers to get an inside look at what makes both the company and the product tick.
The entire trip was quite impressive and pointed out what a diverse and global company W. L. Gore really is. In addition to the waterproof/breathable garments we've come to know and love as skiers, they are a huge presence in the medical, industrial, and electronics industries with a host of products based on expanded polytetrafluoroethylene. Heart stents, computer cable, industrial filters, dental floss and the normal assortment of garments for sport, military and rescue purposes were all on display. We were able to tour (but not take pictures in) the membrane lamination plant for the US, and tested the "rain room" and seam taping machine in person.
We toured rooms with countless washing machines running 24/7 testing the durability of fabrics, mechanical feet doing the stationary equivalent of thousands of miles of hiking, and machines for testing the waterproofing and breathability of jackets, pants, gloves and shoes. Our hosts Dan, C.J. Adele and Louise didn't scrimp when it came to wining and dining us either - night one was steak and sushi at a Benihana-style Japanese restaurant, while day two found us at the Chesapeake Inn for oysters and fish, with Maryland crab cakes and Philly Cheese Steaks catered in during the day. Pretty over-the-top, but they obviously have this tour thing dialed.
Overall, the tour made quite an impression - no one does it like Gore when it comes to research, development, and insistence on stringent quality controls at each step of the process. I'm sure some of their customers see them as an 800 pound gorilla breathing down their necks at times, but the product really does speak for itself.
September 23, 2012
A large serac fall and subsequent massive avalanche completely wiped out a full-to-capacity Camp III on Manaslu earlier today, resulting in 9 confirmed dead, many more injuries, and 3 people still missing. Freeski legend Glen Plake was among the fortunate survivors, and was able to make a satphone call to his friend Trey Cook in Chamonix, reporting that his tent partner Greg Costa and climbing partner Rémy LéCluse were among the missing. Another group of skiers containing endurance athletes Greg Hill and Benedikt Böhm was camped nearby and was able to join in the search for survivors as well as help Plake down the mountain.
Here's the text of Plake's phone call, as reported by Trey Cook:
"Greg (Costa) and I were in a tent together, Rémy was in another. It was 4:45a and I was in my sleeping bag with my headlamp on reading my devotional when we heard a roar. Greg looked at me and said, "That was a big gust of wind," then a second later, "No, that was an avalanche." Then it hit us. I was swept 300 meters over a serac and down the mountain and came to a stop still in my sleeping bag, still inside the tent. We all went to sleep with avalanche transceivers on so I punched my way out of the tent and started searching. Searched for 10 minutes when I realized I was barefoot. Greg was using my down suit for a pillow and I found my suit, I found everything that was in my tent - camera, sleeping bag, ski boots, it was like someone had thrown my gear in the back of a pickup - but there was no sign of Greg. Rémy and his tent are nowhere to be found."
August 19, 2012
I celebrated eight years of Turns-All-Year today with my friend Elissa and a marmot family on the Paradise Glacier. The turns were mediocre but the company was great!
July 29, 2012
After mounting up a pair of Movement Randoms with Dynafit Speed Superlights for Silas last week, we agreed on a Saturday ski in the general vicinity of the Paradise Glacier. Elissa and I showed up around 9:30 and joined Silas and Emily, along with tele holdouts Greg and Dave, at the Fourth Crossing Trailhead. Drizzle in Seattle had turned to glorious sun on Rainier and the skin up was like a good beach volleyball workout (i.e. pretty sweaty). We did a couple runs in the Paradise drainage and one superb one in the Cowlitz basin. Hard to argue with a few thousand feet of smooth corn in the last week of July.
July 27, 2012
Today we set aside the afternoon for a tour of K2's World Headquarters in SODO. While not technically the "factory" - they make your skis in a facility on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China - the building on 6th Avenue South in Seattle is home to K2, Line, Ride, 5150, Atlas, Tubbs, Karhu and whatever other companies happen to be in the K2 family of outdoor brands. Völkl and Marker, though part of the group, appear to have their R&D and marketing staff housed elsewhere.
Chez K2 is a bit of a sensory overload. The sales, marketing, development and graphic design groups are clustered loosely in a hub, decorated with K2 memorabilia from 50 years of making skis and the assorted ad campaigns designed for selling them. Need a 30 ft. high replica of the Space Needle? Some 600 cm glass skis? A K2 themed Harley from Orange Country Choppers with custom machined K2 gascap? They're all here. And by the way, they've got a building and some prime real estate for sale on Vashon Island if you're interested . . .
The business end of K2 takes up a huge amount of space, but surrounding the offices is a full-scale ski factory. I was surprised to see so much tooling, pressing and testing equipment still taking up residence in the Seattle office, but our guide and North American VP John O'Conner explained that they continue to make every ski in-house, including the molds and topsheets, before sending the numbers along with production specialists to China to duplicate the process. Master ski maker Aaron fired up a press and built a pair of special 189 ObSETHed's with custom topsheets while we watched - the speed and precision with which he slathered on epoxy resin and laid the components into the mold was staggering. After roughly 15 minutes of assembly and 12 minutes in the press at 200 degrees, a pair of new skis emerged. Pretty cool.
Apparently we got the deluxe "industry" tour rather than the "casual" tour, and were accompanied by several K2 employees who had never seen all aspects of the process in action or every corner of the plant. John warned us beforehand not to take pictures during the tour, and it soon became obvious why - we came across some 2014 graphics already coming off the company screens, near-ready 2014 K2 boots, and a number of intentionally broken items that were being analyzed in hopes of improving them. They even had pizza and beer ready for our crew, definitely a beyond-the-call-of-duty effort. Highly recommended if you ever get the chance!
Previous Incoming Pages:
China: Wandering in the Middle Kingdom
"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 randosaigai.com link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .
© 2013 Gregory C. Louie