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January 26, 2011

Down on the Delta

Mike O'Brien had been skiing in Dynafit Comforts for a while, but had been experiencing some trouble with what he considered excessive ramp angle - that is, the heel was enough higher than the toe of his binding (a bit over 10mm) when in ski position that he felt "up on tiptoes" compared to his alpine setups. A recent visit to our mutual bootfitter Jim Mates piqued his interest in fixing this, and after an unsuccessful attempt at installing Voilé plates under the toes, I suggested this remedy.

We rounded up a set of TLT Speed heels from Matt Schonwald, and swapped over the longer heel pins and Comfort top plate/volcano, all of which fit perfectly. As per my usual practice, we ground off the injection molding bump under the heel pins on the plastic body of the Speeds, re-lubed the twisting mechanism, and reassembled the units.

After reading Jonathan Shefftz's account of dealing with the Plum Guide people, who had sent numerous instructions and diagrams to accompany their recommendations for a 4mm gap with their ~13mm long heel pins, I decided to do the same with Mike's bindings. The mount went without problem and the toes aligned perfectly with the heels, so we were good to go with a test drive at Hyak today. Skiing left something to be desired with refrozen bumpy corn the order of the day, but after the first run the sun started to soften the hill up and it got better and better. Success!

We swapped Comfort heel pins and top plates onto Speed heels/bases, thus lowering the pin height from 53.0mm (top of heel pins) to 42.5mm and pretty much zeroing out the ramp angle!

Mike tests out the new setup - he also went from unrockered Baker SL's to this year's rockered Waybacks, but performance was quite similar and ramp angle felt right on.

January 19, 2011

Gear Mod Field Update

The rain let up long enough to get a quick few laps at Hyak on Tuesday and a tour in magnificent sunshine to Kaleetan Peak on Wednesday.

My gear that's been cut up and sewn together, or had pieces retro-fitted to it, is all working well (huge sigh of relief). The pant cutout allows both open and closed positions without requiring lifting up the front of the pant, and has the added advantage of hooking over the buckle to help the pant stay down while booting (we did a lot of that today). If you want to remove or insert the tongue on your TLT 5 boots it will still require lifting up the pant legs, but I've got a system down that either leaves them in all the time or out all the time, depending on which skis I'm using.

The quick-carry addition to the Arc'teryx Silo 30 seems to work great as well; you need to grip your skis by the waist with one hand while holding the loop with the other, insert the ski tails then lift the tips over your shoulder and pull the elastic clip until it goes over both skis. It's a little loose feeling compared to strapping them on diagonally or A-frame style, but they seem quite secure and it saves minutes on each boot-up every time you don't have to take your pack off. There's also a significant safety benefit in not having to deal with stripping your pack off on sketchy steep slopes . . .

Booting up to the col that separates Melakwa Lake from Kaleetan Peak; the skis carry off to the right side but are quite solid    Kevin Curd photo

January 14, 2011

Gear Mods of the Day

Another day of standing water at the Pass meant more tinkering with gear when I should be skiing.

I've been admiring the slick diagonal carry setup on Kevin's Dynafit Manaslu pack - when we hit a boot-up section, he's got his skis on his pack and is disappearing into the distance before I've even got the skis strapped on and pack on my back.

I came up with a workable modification for my race pack using stuff I found in my basement today, making a metal hook from a leftover SKS bike fender support, wrapping it with duct tape and sewing up an elastic sleeve from some 3" elastic I had in my sewing kit. Then I sewed the webbing from an existing loop on my LifeLink rando pack into a round shape and slid some plastic tubing from a Camelbak over it. Works great in the privacy of my workroom for putting skis into diagonal (actually more like vertical) carry mode without removing the pack, we'll see if it's a go in real life.

Playing around with my stuff again. Let's see if Martin puts a ladder section through the Rollen Cliffs this year.

I went to work on my "regular" touring pack, an Arc'teryx Silo 30, in the evening, fashioning a gear loop from folded over 1" nylon webbing crammed into clear vinyl tubing with the help of a bunch of silicone sewing spray and an icepick. The metal hook was again made from an SKS fender support bent to fit my Manaslus, while the elastic was put together with six strands of braided shock cord. Both can be removed from the permanent straps they're attached to. This one also works great in the house - the skis sit against the right side of the pack rather than in the back, but seem secure. We'll see how it works in the field soon.

Braided elastic strap hooks into pack strap for storage

Vinyl-reinforced ski loop is easy to access on the right side without removing your pack

January 13, 2011

Softshell Pant Mod for TLT 5

Sooo . . . five days of pouring rain in the mountains means maybe no skiing, but I still can't help THINKING about skiing.

I've been bothered the past few weeks by my touring pants, mostly different models of Cloudveil and Arc'teryx Schöller models, which weren't really working with my Dynafit TLT 5 boots. I had to pull the pants over the front buckle mass and tongue, but leave the top buckle itself exposed to open and close it. In addition, the pant fabric often got in the way of the top buckle "peg" when closing it down into ski mode, making it impossible to lock and requiring opening the buckle again to pull the pant up . . .

Here's the mod I came up with, cutting a hole roughly 4" x 1" and finishing it off on the sewing machine. I put each pair of pants on first and wore them around the house with the boots on, then marked the actual buckle position with a pencil before cutting. Hope it works out, because I did 3 pair of pants!

Apparently Dynafit has a pant like this you can buy retail, but I've never been able to see a picture of it from the back . . .

January 11, 2011

Before the Deluge

Got out for a quick morning tour today with Josh and Monika, blasting up to Kendall to enjoy the windcrust in 10 degree weather with 35 mph gusts of wind. We needed warm gloves, hats and goggles skinning up to stay semi-comfortable! Good to see Monika again, and Josh got to see a few new possibilities around Kendall before we headed over to Alpental for some laps to try out my new Dynastar Sixth Sense Huges. Definitely a quicker-turning ski than the Legend Pro Rider 115's that I've been herding around the ski area, with good edgehold on the hard stuff and with the benefit of being able to choose between carving and smearing the turn. Forecast calls for 5,000 ft. freezing levels coming in tomorrow afternoon and for a couple of days, so we're happy to have made it up today . . .

What most people see all day when they go out touring with Monika . . .

January 7, 2011

And for the Guy Who's Got Everything . . .

You know the guy who mounts everyone in the neighborhood's skis in his basement, who never takes money for doing it? Here's the perfect late Christmas present, thanks to Mike and Frank!

Uhhh . . . not the washing machine, but screws for mounting most any binding you might imagine on pretty much any ski . . .

January 5, 2011

Marmot Mt. Works Demo Night

With what's becoming almost a tradition, Marmot Mountain Works' annual demo night at Summit West took place in very damp conditions tonight, after threatening clouds let loose around 1:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon. I made an attempt to beat the rain by showing up for the early 4:00 PM session rather than the 6:30 one I had reserved for, to no avail - it was already pouring when I pulled in behind the Summit Learning Center. I briefly considered eating my lunch in the car and heading home without skiing, but eventually got out and pulled on the TLT 5 Performances.

Lock Miller and staff, along with dedicated backcountry ski reps from G3, Black Diamond, Dynafit, Rossignol, Scarpa, Garmont and K2 (sorry if I missed any) were already in position and adjusting bindings for those with flexible work schedules - a few of the die-hard semi-retirees like Zap and Silas were wandering between booths and making a game plan for the evening. I headed straight to the Dynafit tent and determined that the 173 Stokes were vacant and that the 182's were unfortunately mounted in the outer set of holes and wouldn't adjust short enough to fit my 297mm boot soles . . .

What did I like? Among the winners were the 173 Stoke, surprisingly nimble at 105mm underfoot, with a seamless transition for those of us who habitually ski a 178 Manaslu. Easy turn initiation, ability to make both quick and large-radius turns equally well, and a "small" package feel for such a wide ski make it a real contender for a big ski you can actually take on a tour. The Dynafit guys even had several pair of TLT 5 Mountain boots on hand for people to try out!

In the frickin' huge category, I liked the Black Diamond MegaWatt 178 a lot. Very maneuverable, especially for a ski that's 120mm underfoot and again pretty darn good at both short and long turns, it didn't especially like the two patches of icy crust I hit mid-run but railed well in the wet corn. Surprisingly, it felt more precise and held direction better than the 175 Justice I tried immediately afterward. Too bad I couldn't have taken a few runs in 18" of wet mank with frozen avy debris underneath through the Alpental trees . . .

Hats off to the Marmot crew and reps who stood through the night in the pouring rain adjusting bindings and giving people the rap on this year's gear! Hope our Northwest weather doesn't prevent these guys from coming back next year, as this is a great event and invaluable for those wanting to test a bunch of backcountry ski gear in a concentrated period of time.

Lawrence sets up the 182 Stokes for Zap early in the evening

January 4, 2011

Boots Pretty Much Dialed

I took a quick lap at Kendall Peak today with Josh Marvel, in between breakfast and work. Well, work for Josh and "applying for jobs" online for me.

My main purpose was to check on my progress boot-wise, to see if they skied any better with the cut-down tongues. Skinning up worked well, both because the track had been "groomed" by dozens of snowshoers since last week and because I no longer had to loosen the velcro power strap on the TLT 5 Performances and slip it in back of the tongues (or remove the tongues and put them in my pack). With the lower tongues there's nothing restricting the rearward movement of the cuff and you can just leave the strap in place for both skinning and skiing. Nice.

Skiing-wise the boots are just about perfect. The snow off the top of Kendall was again variable, with 8 inches or so of thick wind-deposit interspersed with some crusty goodness, and my stance seemed to be back to what I'm used to. Next I suppose I should try them on something a little steeper, where I tend to crouch down in between extensions at the turns. Good times except for hacking through the Kendall trees which is still heinous, and a good "mind clearer" for both of us. The boots seem good for tomorrow's Marmot Mountain Works AT and Telemark Demo Day (night, actually) at Summit West, more to come on that in a day or two.

Josh is getting a good introduction to Northwest skiing; he's independently hooked up with many of the people I ski with both on and off the lifts

January 2, 2011

TLT 5 Performance Boot Mods

What is it with backcountry skiers? They've got some innate DIY gene that calls out for modifying gear, and I'm no exception. After a few days of touring on my boots and a little lift skiing in them, I decided that the boots with the auxiliary tongue in were TOO stiff, or at least stiff too SOON in the flex progression. That, combined with a perceived slightly lower heel position was putting me in an unaccustomed "back seat" stance. I decided that I still wanted the additional stiffening, at least with my wider touring skis (normally Manaslus), but didn't want the full height of the tongue above the top buckle.

So after removing all the velcro from the liner, including the "hook" that was sewn to the outer edge plus the un-used velcro from the power strap (about 1.5 inches) and the chrome cat face from the rear, I've gone ahead and chopped off a good portion of the auxiliary tongue. So far it seems that I've succeeded in getting the progressive sort of flex I'm looking for, though I haven't skied them yet. My goal is to have only one thing to do with my boots when transitioning (ie. close the top buckle or open it) and not have to screw around with taking the tongue out or putting it in or stashing it in my pack. The plan is to ski the boots with no tongue in light, summer/spring mode (with Mustagh Ata Superlights) and the cut-down tongue in all the time in bigger ski mode (with Manaslus). More to come later . . .

I cut about an inch and 7/8 off of the tongues at the level of the top buckle strap, amputating just a bit of the big and second toes in the diagram . . .

Tongue (light grey area) now sits at the level of the buckle strap; you can leave the velcro power strap fastened when you transition to tour mode

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Kevin, Seth and I opened 2011 with a tour around Mt. Roosevelt in beautiful but cold weather today - the temperature at the parking lot was 9 degrees when we set off at 8:15, and most probably a bit colder as we traversed Snow Lake a little later with a 40 mph tailwind. Really nice turns on the back side of Mt. Roosevelt, and again coming back into the Snow Lake Basin . . . stopped in at the Walker condo after the tour to see Holly and baby Eli, what an expressive sleeper!

I might have put on a few pounds during the holidays, but those are my skins inside my coat!    Kevin Curd photo

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China: Wandering in the Middle Kingdom

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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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