Saturday, April 24, 2010

skiing: Elite Feet perfecting boots

The Nordica Dobermans I got 5 years ago at Elite Feet still fit well. The foot crushing soon relaxed into a snug fit. But two problems:
  • the sloppy Italians used a velcro™ knockoff for the power strap at the topthat simply doesn't velk — the straps break loose while skiing and slide apart when I carry the boots
  • water gets into the shell and after a few hours of skiing I can feel dampness in the liner
Nordica Doberman with BOOSTER strap and duct tapeI know Cosmo's Footwerks makes beefy power straps but I wanted to stay with Elite Feet who have adjusted and repaired the boots a few times over the years, always for free. I went in mid-week while Christian was around (Elite Feet is busy with a second shop at Northstar) and he replaced Nordica's joke straps with BOOSTER straps. These have a huge vibration-damping pad in front and a solid metal cam closure that locks in tight.

As for the water intrusion, I used the awesome power of duct tape and it's made some improvement. Nordica inexplicably cut a notch into the shell near the first buckle.

Meanwhile a Shred Betty had some problems angulating and engaging her inside ski's outside edge in her Nordica boots. Legendary instructor Tim Reeve recommended Start Haus to her boots and possible canting. But instead of working with the boots she brought, the boot fitter said they were too loose and tried to put her in Dobermans. Rule 1: if someone tries to put you in a tighter boot, they're showing off their boot-fitting prowess above listening to your needs. Instead, Christian at Elite Feet suggested removing her liners, allowing them to swell up and reverse some of the "packing out" that compresses the liner over the years. He tested her for canting using Elite Feet's complex mechanical rig (much better than a plumb bob from the knee, and shaved her boots down, inserting the special red shims in the photo and planing the boots so they engage with bindings.Nordica boots with Elite Feet canting shims
I was hoping a gross misalignment would explain my blown turns to the right with my left ski railing instead of engaging a turn, but no such luck; Christian tested me on the rig and I'm true.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

skiing: mogul love 18 ways

O mogul field, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
classic short radius turn
Approach mogul, plant pole on top, as you crest the mogul the tips and tails of your skis clear the snow, so you can turn both feet simultaneously to swing the skis around in a short-radius turn and slide down the backside of the mogul towards the trough before the next bump. This is how most skiers attempt moguls, but there's more to life.
pivot slip
Turn your feet in-place on the crest so that your skis don't follow the arc of a short turn, instead they pivot within their length and you transition into a pure sideslip. Disadvantage: hard to control.
pop off pillow below
Don't turn so much, so your skis head downhill more than slide sideways. Guide your skis towards the soft snow in front of the next bump while keeping your body low. They'll hit that soft snow, your upper body will pop up and the unweighting will turn your skis the other way. Disadvantage: can be herky-jerky
leaper edge change
Ski diagonally to the bump, let it launch you, in mid-air tilt your shins and ankles to change from your uphill edges to your downhill edges, and land in the trough before the next bump. For bonus points, land past the next bump. Works better in shallower bumps. Disadvantages:needs room, takes guts.
GS turn across two/three/four bumps
Ski over the bump, use the unweighting to effect the edge change, extend your legs to the side but don't twist too much, and make a huge turn across the mogul field as you simply absorb subsequent bumps. Have faith, the power of your turn overwhelms the forces from the bumps. Disadvantage: how strong are you?
two tight turns down the spine
Make a tight turn or a pivot turn at the crest of the bump but rather than slide down its back, make a second turn again on the convex part. If you imagine your skis resting on a sphere, your tips and tails are always clear and ready for another turn. Works best on longer "beached whale" bumps. Disadvantage: it's harder to turn on a downward slope.
hop turn
Instead of a scrabble slide down the back of the bump, just do the entire turn in mid-air. This avoids any worry about your skis clearing the bumps nearby. Pick a suitable landing spot: on the backside, in the trough, in the pillow of soft snow before the next bump, or even on the next bump. Disadvantages: Could be a big drop, your back might hate you.
carve the water line
Don't slide down the backside of the bump, don't slide into the next bump, don't even pivot on the crest. "Simply" follow the 'S' shaped path between the bumps that water would follow down the hill. Retract your legs as the path flattens out, extend them to the side after the path changes direction and curves. Disadvantages: In two turns you'll be going ridiculously fast, sometimes there's no room for a carved turn.
aggressive turn finish uphill
Most people trying to link turns in moguls stop turning when their skis face across the hill, which doesn't reduce speed. As they improve they try to stop turning when their skis point to the start of their next turn, which usually picks up speed. To control your speed, keep turning your skis (whether skidded or carved) until they point uphill; you'll need to practice twisting your knees at the end of turns. (If turning is good, more turning is better!) You can either steer to a bump slightly uphill or skid backwards into the next turn. Keep your upper body facing downhill and the extreme counter-rotation of your upper and lower body builds up big forces; the moment you relax your skis will swing into the next turn. Disadvantages: none.
avalement avec le deep knee bend
"avaler" is French for "to swallow". As you ski to a huge bump, instead of popping off it or launching, crouch low to absorb it. Crouch ridiculously low to look French; when you plant your downhill pole on top of the bump your hand should be above your shoulder! Disadvantage: it's harder to pivot when you're that low.
le jet turn
Instead of pivoting as you crest the bump, shoot your skis forward and turn the tips in front of you. After a stylish drop into the trough, bring your upper body back over your skis Disadvantage: unless you're French, you'll look dopey.
backpedal the feet up the face
Retracting your legs as you ski up the face of a bump picks up speed. It's possible to resist the upward pressure of the rising face to slow down slightly. One way I've heard it described is you move both feet as if backpedaling from bottom to top on a bicycle. As you approach the face of the bump, push your feet forward and let the bump push them upward. Disadvantage: you have very little time to get this right.
push the dolphins back under the water
You can think of this as the reverse of back-pedaling up the face, you're moving both feet to pedal forward and down. But riding dolphins SeaWorld-style is more poetic. You don't want bumps to throw you (unless you want to do leapers or hop turns). After you reach the crest of a bump, you need to aggressively push the tips of your skis down and into the new turn to avoid an unintentional launch. Especially in bumps in new snow, you want to feel as if you're driving your skis back under the water — as if you're astride two dolphins that crest out of the water and then you drive them back under. Disadvantages: none.
punch the gearlever into third
The pole plant on the crest of a bump helps timing and gives you something to twist around. But as you move downhill you don't want that pole plant to hold you back and you definitely don't want it to pull your shoulder back so that your upper body faces across the hill. So reach downhill and plant the pole, but immediately push your hand further downhill in an aggressive move. It should feel as if you're rapidly shifting a car's gear lever from second to third. Watch freestyle skiers, their hands always return to downhill in front of them. Disadvantages: none.
one-and-two independent leg ("Hey, it's slightly better than a stem christie")
You want slightly more weight on the outside leg in any ski turn, and in moguls the outside leg has more room. If you're in a slight snowplough the outside leg is pointing in the direction of the new turn but your inside leg is pointing the wrong way and has less room. and winds up perched on the bump. So you start the turn with the outside leg and simply lift up the inside leg and put it down next to the outside leg. It gets you down the gnarliest bumps. To help avoid this, before you start turning bring your skis closer together and crouch lower. Disadvantages: less fluid, less control at the start of the turn.
skidded parallel turn to out-of-control traverse (oops)
Skidding a turn, leaving your pole behind, and not turning your skis all lead to you facing across the hill and bouncing into the steep sides of nearby bumps. Disadvantages: not stylish
sideslip with optional caught edge and shoulder plant (ouch)
Nearly all mogul turns involve some skidding, so skip the turn part and just do the skid. Act like a novice snowboarder and sideslip over and down the bumps fast and smoothly. Imagine that you're a 70s skier on 7 foot planks and it'll be another 3 seasons before you can make parallel turns. Disadvantages: by definition in bumps the snow isn't flat, so there may be NO correct edge angle for effortless sideslipping.
And if all else fails, straightline short sections, pumping your legs up and down like Jonny Mosely to absorb the bumps.
Disadvantages: can your knees take the abuse?
Armed with these techniques you can approach a mogul field as artistic goal-driven surgery. Here are some operations:
  • Descend as slowly as possible yet smoothly, by turning uphill and steering uphill to bumps.
  • Le French totale, all deliberate lower leg actions and huge knee bends.
  • Stickwork, punching the gearlevers and planting poles to set your downhill progress.
  • Maximum absorption, using retraction and extension over and down bumps to increase or reduce speed (I suck at this, in a skateboard halfpipe after pumping the deck five times I wind up motionless at the bottom)
  • Minimal effort, just directing and pivoting the skis in advance so that as you reach each bump it turns your skis for you.
  • Stay off the snow, doing leaper and hop turns off every bump instead of absorption
  • Two monster GS turns to cover the whole thing.
  • Keep all your turns in a narrow corridor regardless of conditions.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

skiing: Shane McConkey

Tonight's CBS 60 Minutes had a great segment on wingsuit jumps off mountains (watch it). At 8:15 JT Holmes reminisces about his friend, skiing icon Shane McConkey. Shane died last year when he couldn't release his skis in time — he was combining skiing and wingsuit flying just as he earlier combined skiing and BASE jumping. Fly like a bird, about 1 in 400 risk of dying doing what you love.

there's something about McConkey box shotThe only ski movie I own is
there's something about McConkey:
From ridiculously exposed mountain goat descents to Alaskan peak straightlines, from full-twisting switch backflips in the terrain park to double backflips off cliffs, from building base jumps to swinging on helicopter skids, from rock skiing to stream skiing to the inebriated shenanigans of Saucerboy, ...
The film focuses on the abilities, attitudes and antics that have made McConkey a hero for a generation
Indeed when he died, messages boards were split between "He died doing what he loves, he's my hero" and "He had a wife and kid, unlike a fireman he risked his life for nothing, he's no hero", which shows “hero” has both the Greek ideal for-the-greater-good and an ironic worshipping-false-gods meaning.

After that movie he tried skiing on waterskis which led to his invention the first reverse camber ski, the Volant Spatula, followed by the K2 Pontoon and now a whole category of reverse camber and rocker skis.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

skiing: always learning

With global warming looming, any season with snow is a good one. I got to ride powder day after day on two occasions, so 2008-2009 was really special. I'd have my best tree run ever, a short shot of untracked powder through a grove of trees, steering on the edge of control until the trees would spit me out onto Shirley Lake or Squaw Creek, and the next day I'd have an even better tree run.

Anyway, on the last day of skiing I was playing around with crossunder, where your skis move from one side to the other under your body. Expert skiers say "just get your skis out to the side and on edge", but do that and nothing else and you fall down. It's a dynamic motion in response to the forces that build up in skiing, and despite spending hours leaning against the wall in classic ski racer poses I've never been entirely sure what I'm trying to do. Back in 2006 I thought
The key seems to be keeping hard pressure on the tongues of your boots to make your skis work during the transitions.
but that only takes you so far and I remained frustratingly upright. I realized that to keep the skis moving across the hill while my upper body continued down the fall line I'd have to twist my knees as well, and then to bring my skis back I'd have to twist them the other way. Adding the twist let me face down the hill more and anticipate the next turn as Dan Ray was telling me, which counterintuitively let me get the skis further out to the side and more on edge.

So I'm forward with my hips and shins, but also twisting my knees to direct the skis under and across, then pushing the skis out to the side, then twisting my knees the other way slightly, while flexing my ankles to adjust my front-rear balance. ?!??! It worked pretty well for a few turns, then the season ended. It'll take years to get the hang of it. What a sport!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

skiing: Squaw Valley lies about ski lifts

Here's Squaw Valley USA's lift map. Looks great, dozens of lifts. But if you visit Squaw Valley on a weekday, I guarantee many of those lifts will not be running. I never saw Olympic Lady, Cornice II, Newport, or Mainline run, and Searchlight/Exhibition only ran when the upper mountain was closed. Squaw One Express never ran. You could argue that all this terrain is reachable from other lifts, but as I wrote that stiffs intermediates who can't ski the black diamond runs down to Newport and Squaw One's terrain.

Squaw Valley Ski Corp only ran Solitude once when they thought Shirley Lake Express was broken, which is absolutely shameful; it's a big chunk of terrain that you can't reach from other lifts. Some weekdays they didn't run Far East Express, also cutting you off from skiing huge areas.

Squaw's cop-out "All operations are subject to weather conditions" is a lie. All the lifts I mention above were on "money hold" on weekdays throughout the 2008-2009 season, I paid $850 for a mid-week pass, run the damn lifts you cheap bastards.

To complete the list, Broken Arrow and Silverado rarely run but that terrain does get patchy coverage and ski patrol does have to close the lifts.

Squaw Valley USA is an amazing ski area, six peaks and long ridge lines crammed into one valley, but it's doing worse and worse in ski area ratings.

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skiing: Squaw stiffs intermediates

Squaw Valley Ski Corp are tight-fisted jerks who don't run many of their ski lifts, putting them on "money hold". Their excuse seems to be that if the terrain is reachable, why run a second lift. So lifts like Cornice II and Olympic Lady never run except on a packed holiday weekend, because you can reach the terrain from KT22 or Headwall.

But those are expert lifts to the top of steep peaks! Just because an advanced skier can ski over to the terrain doesn't help an intermediate. Here's a poor photo of Newport on a powder day.
the rollers under Newport - intermediate paradise, but unreachable
The terrain under the Newport chair should be intermediate paradise. Wide, lovely, undulating; a nice break from endlessly lapping the Gold Coast six-pack (from which I took this photo). But the only way to get to it is to ski the face of Siberia (the chairlift visible above it that crosses over it, a hard black diamond run.

It's really sad on a powder day with fresh snow such as when I took this photo. This is perfect terrain to get the experience of surfing the white gravity wave, and experts leave it alone as it isn't very steep. But intermediates can't get to it. So they ski around the overtracked Gold Coast intermediate terrain, and (unless they have a local like Alberto Spagetti to take them into the trees and hidden powder stashes), they wonder what the fuss over "virgin pow!" is all about.

Squaw One Express is another lift from which advanced intermediates can access a nice chunk of terrain. It's also great on powder days, a convex dome above the Mountain Run. It too rarely runs. Bastards.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

skiing: Advanced Ski Clinic

I took the Squaw Valley Ski School's recent three-day Advanced Ski Clinic, with Dan Ray, Tim Reeve (the two top instructors with whom we had private lessons last year), and Jim Moore. I kept a lid on the pernicious rumors that I'm a former ski instructor myself; skiing isn't a sport you master, it's a sport in which you progress, and like most skiers expert tuition accelerates my progress. My group of 3-5 skied with Dan Ray. Ahh I remember back when he was a kid hucking technical lines between ski lessons.

Here are the instructors scoping out a steep firm icy chute under Olympic Lady chair (off KT-22) for our video capture.
looking down into a chute under Olympic Lady off KT-22
A big part of the clinic is daily video recording, with review at lunch and further review in the evening. At advanced levels this is incredibly useful, because all skiers need to be more forward yet most skiers think they are pretty forward, until they see incontrovertible video evidence of themselves in the back seat/on the toilet/riding the backs of their skis. At expert level video review is less useful because the focus is on moving your hips and upper body down the hill/into the new turn/across your skis; you don't need video to know you haven't got that subtle complex motion right and you would need an overhead tracking camera to best capture the movement. The video showed my hands rising way up away from the snow instead of a tight reach downhill, I had no idea I was doing this.

Here's Dan on Dead Tree, also off KT-22. Also pretty steep.
Dan Ray on Dead Tree run off KT-22
I would have liked to ski even harder terrain, such as the entrance to Dead Tree or hike somewhere, but that's a lot of pressure on the instructor—one participant falls and the day is over. Once we reached easier terrain Dan skied ridiculously fast. I could keep up with him for one flat-out run but then the little speedometer in my brain would flash red and I'd scrub off speed. Skiing fast recalibrates your skiing.

Three days with a great skier full of technical expertise who loves to ski, what's not to like?

Even though I didn't master the hip move downhill into the new turn, I improved. My goal was not to shred my skis and while working on other things that problem cleared up.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

snow fun

At night, cold tired and aching after a day mining powder all over the mountain, shredding my skis in the deep. The little black dog is dancing on her hind legs trying to bite fluffy snowflakes. Which is a guarantee of more of the same tomorrow.

Another peak moment for the databank. I almost whipped out a camera to re-stage it, but as John Mayer wrote in his only great lyric so far Today I finally overcame tryin' to fit the world inside a picture frame. Reaching back to 70s cliché:
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

snow: best piece of gear ever

On a scale of 1 to 10, my baby's a 26
(CHIC, "26").

Arc'teryx Theta SK high-waisted pantsThe XScream had more impact, my whip-thin Scott Limited poles have yet to be equalled, but these Arc'teryx bib pants are hands-down the best winter equipment I've ever owned. I've skied, snowboarded, and hiked in these for 8 years and they're flawless. Zero color fade, everything elastic is still elastic, no damage whatsoever. Even the parts you think would break like this slim velcro closure and exposed snap are immaculate. The famed Arc'teryx surface zippers can't snag on fabric, unlike other zippers.
no defects and barely any wear after 8 years

And the design is perfect. Although there's no insulation, the high-waist design traps heat from your core. (S pities the fools in their low-slung pants, because every time they bend at the waist they pump that core heat into the jacket and out into the cold. Keep it inside.) The stretchy material at the back feels great. The articulation at the knees and the curve of the legs is perfect.

I believe Arc'teryx is still selling these, almost unchanged, as the Theta SK Pant.

And they're made in Vancouver, BC. Go Canada! ("It's not even a real country anyway")

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

skiing: replacing an icon

ripped out edge of Salomon XScreamnicked top edge of Salomon XScreamIn mid-December I skied slightly off to the side of KT22 and hit a rock that not only gouged my base but ripped three inches of the metal edge off. It would cost at least $100 to fix, not worth it for such beat-up skis. Having already replaced my unloved Völkl G41 Vertigo powder skis with ex-demo K2 Apache Chiefs at the end of last season, I was not looking forward to more demoing. As I recounted, in the past I've found nothing that comes close to the XScream Séries.

But this season turned out to have an abundance of riches. I needed an expert ski that could ski everything but powder (and no need for skiing backwards or in the park), with the wrinkle that I love short-radius turns and moguls as well as carving. "All Mountain Expert with emphasis on short turns" is a huge range to cover.

The Völkl AC3
I was dubious on my demo loop, but gave it another run and started to enjoy it. A really tall ski with lots of wood running along the edges, so there's a lot of stiffness in front of your foot. Yet it felt lively and fun and willing to make all kinds of turn shapes. Its big downside is not much radius, so you tip it into a carve and it doesn't turn much. You have to load it up to do a tight carve.
Völkl Allstar
More of a carving ski, this helps you turn and will do a lovely carve. It didn't feel as solid in crud but it's got such a nice turn initiation that you feel confident in bad conditions. Fast into the turn, fast through the turn, but not a lot of acceleration.
Atomic Metron 9
Incredibly lively, with a grabby tip that just digs in, turns sharply, then pops you off into the next turn. Great edge grip on ice. This was a lot of fun but I was dubious about versatility.

Volkl AC3 skiAll three are fine at short-radius turns, though they reward different techniques. You tilt the Metron 9 on edge and the fat tip just digs in and starts turning, the rest of the ski bends into a curve, and if you don't screw up, sharp turns happen; you feel like you're standing at the center of springy rubber bands. You scoop the Allstar tip into a turn and then ride the entire edge through the turn. You guide the solid front of the AC3 into a turn with a combination of tipping and steering, and modulate both throughout the turn. The reviews got it partly right, the AC3 is a fine crusing ski, but you can take it out of that comfort zone and have fun with it. And that ease let me ride it long, in 177 cm instead of 167-172 with some other skis. (I remember when 204 cm was considered short.) I bought the AC3!

The also-rans:
Nordica Nitrous
Easy turning, but too slow
Nordica Top Fuel
Same geometry as the Nitrous but extra metal. That made it stiffer, but no livelier. However, once locked into the one turn shape it wants to make, it's very stable.
Atomic Metron 11
It seems like a great idea to make a ski that's less a hardcore turner than the 9, but this just felt slower and less alive without any great payoff in versatility.

The ones that got away: I really wanted to try the Salomon Tornado which got higher marks than the AC3 in every category in the ski magazine reviews, but couldn't find a pair to demo. Everyone raved about the AC4 and those ski magazine reviews rated it better than the AC3 (I bet next year they come out with an AC5), but I assumed fatter meant less good at short turns. Maybe a Völkl RaceTiger would be a meatier version of the Allstar. I heard good things about the K2 Apache Recon, but just ran out of time and energy to continue demoing. I never got to the Fischer and Head lines, and Blizzard, Elan, etc. are rare on the West coast.

Kudos to John, Dennis, and Cory at Squaw Valley Sport Shop for letting me take demo skis out in low snow conditions with rocks a plenty. Granite Chief and the Gold Coast demo center would not let me demo skis, though to be fair a guy at the demo center pointed to a rack full of damaged demo skis.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

skiing: hick nicks ripped sticks

hacked-up Volkl G41 and Salomon XScream Séries skisHere are my skis: fat-ish 188cm Volkl G41's from about 2000 and the legendary mid-fat Salomon XScream Séries in one of their weird power ratings from 1998. As you can see I continue to shred the living daylights out of my right ski, which means both need replacing. The XScream seems to take the abuse well, but the Volkl wood core is exposed to moisture and that's not good.

I have a hate-hate-love relationship with the Volkls. They're fast and they work in powder and crud, but they need a lot of manhandling to turn. I have to ride them for two days before I start to enjoy them. I was suckered into buying them by the petite salesperson at Granite Chief who claimed to ride this length in all conditions. I should have got shorter skis or held out for Salomon's All Mountain skis.

The Salomon XScream Séries is just great in any conditions less than 6 inches of powder or major crud. Bumps, carving, speed, short-radius, long-radius, chopped, ice, anything! They're fairly soft but still respond to aggressive moves. I was very dubious about the Prolink bars you can see in the picture — why not make the ski thicker? — until I saw race stock Salomon downhill skis with three sets of these.

I'm sure I would be happier on several powder skis than the G41's, but I spent 2000-2005 demoing replacements for the XScreams and never found a ski as versatile and unfailingly excellent. Besides, until I stop scissoring my left ski into my right and tearing its top edge to shreds, I don't want to subject new skis to the same abuse. Time to go second-hand.

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skiing: Salomon's missteps since the XScream

The Salomon XScream Séries from 1997 had more impact than any other ski in the last 20 years. Although Elan came up with super sidecut "parabolic" skis several years earlier, it was the XScream that convinced tens of thousands of skiers to abandon their long skinny skis (in my case, Fischer Vacuum SL 204cm's) for shaped skis. The Rossignol Bandit XX was also influential (back in 1998 it was hard for me to choose between them) but Rossi confused the issue by selling the thinner Bandit X; the K2 Four was another great mid-fat ski from that time but it didn't have any extreme cachet.

The yellow XScream was so stupidly popular that intermediates who couldn't handle the stiff-ish tail were demanding "XScream thingys with double Prolink bars", so Salomon made all kinds of other XScream models. Meanwhile other manufacturers had to come out with yellow skis.

Salomon stopped selling the XScream Séries model a few years ago, mainly I believe because the awful pun on the tired "Extreme" craze embarrassed someone in marketing. But Salomon have yet to make a proper replacement! First they came out with the integrated Pilot binding which dulled response, then they dropped the 'X' and the Prolink bars to make some beefy "Scream" ski that didn't do much except for an "Xtra Hot" model with a chili pepper graphic (so they're embarrassed by an xscream pun but not by sizzling hot jokes?). The closest ski to the XScream was the Crossmax 10 with super! ugly! graphics, but Salomon stopped selling that model. This year they made an 'S' Hot model that was pretty solid, but for next season they're replacing it with an XWing model and replacing the Pilot binding with a rail binding.

Around 1999 Salomon also came out with the fine Pocket Rocket, one of the first and best skis for all-mountain "ripping on planks tilted on edge", and the 1080 twin-tipped park ski. Salomon were deservedly the most dominant manufacturer. But they dropped the Pocket Rocket and replaced it with a new "GUN" name, and the 1080 is now an illegible "FOIL" model ("FILTY"? FTL"?).

Salomon are truly the masters of destroying their own brand equity by destructively renaming and replacing trusted model names.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

snow: NBC blind to world-class achievement

Bode Miller came fifth in the Olympic men's downhill. Fifth best skier in the world on the downhill. That is a fantastic achievement!! Instead that jerk Costas portentously intones about how his medal quest has got off to a bad start. Then when he missed a gate in the slalom, that jerk Costas portentously intoned "Ø for 2 in his medal quest". Bode Miller has every right to his attitude "I am so much better than the bozos in the media, I'll engage, ignore, or ridicule them as I see fit".

Then the American women snowboarders come first, second, fourth and sixth. That dominance of the field is staggering! But NBC only has Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler on air, Kelly Clark and and Elena Hight are nowhere to be seen. NBC's commentator was spot on, Kelly Clark threw down the biggest run ever by a woman for her final run, with insane airs that would be the envy of most of the male competitors. She fell on a huge 900 at the end of her run, where most snowboarders are happy just to get a 540. Yet because she has no metal around her neck, she gets no coverage. All four women should have been fêted.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2006

skiing: get down, stay down in a pure carve

It's easy to finish a turn on skis in a pure carve. Traverse across the hill on edge with your hands in front and facing slightly downhill. Then just move your hips hard sideways up and into the hill. Hey presto, your skis turn up the hill and lay down two righteous grooves. By moving your hips you can vary the turn shape, making "garlands" across the hill.

But doing an entire turn in a carve is hella hard (well, after 30 years of Austrian ski instructors' "Bend ze knees!", French ski instructors' "Swivel zose hips!", and Americans ski instructors' "Anticipate, counter-rotate, plant, up-unweight, weight shift and ride the new outer ski").

I taught myself to do a pure carve by doing "pencil turns" at the end of Squaw Valley's Mountain Run. With feet apart, just pull up on one side of your feet to tip your skis onto edge and don't do anything else: no rotation, no turning, no skidding, no weight transfer. On modern shaped skis you'll start to turn. You lay down parallel tracks like drawing with two pencils in your fist. Once you get used to using sets of leg muscles you never knew you had, you can put some meat into it with side-to-side hip motions, and really load up the skis to feel the g-forces rocketing you across the hill. Eventually you're mach-ing down the Ramp Run next to East Broadway making "VRRRRRMMMM!!" jet engine noises and almost looking like a racer.

Until you hit a steeper slope and it all falls apart. Standing tall, tipping edges, then moving hips into the turn just doesn't work on a steep and/or chopped up slope. You're too far from the snow, your weight is in the wrong position, it takes too long. I really noticed this skiing Shirley Lake with a taught-by-racers local like Larry Lawrence. I fall back to skidding parallel turns and he's still ripping parallel carved tracks.

I've been working on it all season since I got schooled. Obviously you have to stay down all the time through the transition from one set of edges to the other, but just moving your hips downhill to change edges leads to your weight on the wrong ski and blown turns. The key seems to be keeping hard pressure on the tongues of your boots to make your skis work during the transitions. Just like the racers. It's hard and tiring. I'm practicing staying far forward, and drilling with "munchkin turns" (hold your poles halfway down the shaft to keep you down during pole plants).

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

skiing: extreme fear x 2 on Silverado

After "teaching" a little girl how to get down Bailey's Beach, I headed through Tram/Bungee Bowl gate to Silverado. Ski through some nice snow to the "Caution" and "Cliff" signs. I confidently duck under the rope line with the arrows pointing you to the merely damn difficult route to the lift, and ski down to a straightforward rock chute I'd scoped from the Squaw Valley cable car.

Oops. The hill curves away, I can't see a thing except some lethal frozen ice waterfalls and no bottom. So I traverse over a ridge hoping to find the line I thought I saw, and that is likewise an ice cliff of unknown height.

OK. There's a gaping pit in my chest where my stomach used to be, and I have to willfully choke it back so it doesn't become nameless panic. I have to sidestep up a hill of deep, breakaway snow. I can't just keep my head down, I get disoriented because it's so steep. Halfway up I get a phone call, "Uhh, I'm kinda busy right now".

I reach the rope line and ski on, finding a nice box chute (McKinney's?) that I can actually see down. A few hop turns and then a manageable extreme experience.

On the lift up, I figure I need my last encounter with Silverado to be a good one, so I ski back in through Beaver Bowl gate to take a straightforward run. I head far right (almost to Bailey's Cirque?) to get some steep freshies. Again it's a convex hill and I can't see what's below and to my right, but I can cut back to the left as long as I don't fall...

I fall on my turn to the right and slide off into the unknown. Immediately I try to recover, but the snow is too deep. Then I slide onto firm snow, and immediately try to push myself away from the hill to gain traction, but now I'm onto pure ice. I'm trying to dig something, anything, in while keeping my skis below me, still not seeing what's below, while my mind is previewing ski movie out-take reels of sick crashes. Then bam! I drop maybe 5 feet into deep soft snow, directly onto my skis, and ski away as if nothing happened. I don't feel a thing, though later my back and entire right side are sore.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

snow: shockingly pleasurable

Cold and snowing. Down Red Dog, hard left under the top of Far East Express lift, take a line down into the trees next to the dog leg. I make three and a half proficient turns in deep, nearly unskied powder that gets steeper. The slough from my first turn races down the hill, I turn back into it and through a mini explosion of snow, before I outrun it, balancing muscle and g-force to surf gravity.

Stop. Silence. I'm chilled, but not from the cold. My blood has left my extremities to pool in the pleasure center of my body, somewhere between the heart and head.

Not as purely pleasurable as 1999's "I need a tissue and a cigarette now" six turns down Cornice II (by far the most pleasurable experience of my life, beyond orgasmic), but I'll take it!

Head left onto Christmas Tree run for more powder turns between the trees that were merely awesome fun.

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Saturday, February 5, 2005

snow: New Boots not Panties

(Old Ian Dury and the Blockheads album title)

After 6 years I got new ski boots. Back in 1998 after a disastrous experience with Lange in another store, Christian and Rob at Elite Feet put me in the yellow Head M102 boots with custom foam liners and custom footbeds , and I couldn't imagine anything better. But the boots were getting worn.

I was confident I'd get another pair of Heads, but they convinced me to go for the "hot" boot du jour, the Nordica Doberman. This thing is so low-tech and old-skool it's a wonder you don't lace it up. But it has a great lining and straight from of the box felt suspiciously comfortable in all my trouble spots. I would much rather be in an uncool boot like the Nordica Bichon Frise or Nordia Chihuahua, but what can you do.

Of course I found a new trouble spot: the boots are trying to crush the top of my instep to dust.

Christian and Rob are awesome, the best boot fitters in Lake Tahoe. (Well, maybe "Gunnar" of Granite Chief is great, but with multiple stores to run he's not always around.)

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