Monday, February 26, 2007

Oh, the irony

I'm going to Whistler at the end of the week to do some skiing with my mother and brother (I'm also bringing my board.) As I'm sure most of you already knew, but I didn't, a passport is now necessary to fly into Canada, and will soon be necessary for driving as well. Because mine was expired and I didn't give myself the lead time to renew it by mail, I had to drive into San Francisco in a heavy snowstorm last night for a morning appointment at the passport office. I got to miss snowboarding in a couple feet (yeah, feet) of fresh snow in order to make arrangements for a ski trip.

Sugarbowl says they've got the tall ones open. I have a selfish hope that it'll take a couple days to get Sugar Bowl and the Mt. Lincoln off-piste open, so it'll still be fresh and nice (and nice and fresh) for me when I get to hit the mountain on Wednesday. Otherwise, I'll use the skis, which I'm already better at doing more beat-up ungroomed terrain on.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Skiing vs. Snowboarding

So today I rode my snowboard again after a couple days on my new skis. I found myself wishing I was on the skis. Conditions were what I call "fast-running," so the snowboard was not really in its element, but that's one point against snowboarding right away - it seems to have a narrower range of conditions in which it's fun. If I'm riding at speed, surface irregularities mess with the snowboard a lot more than with the skis. Probably at least in part my technique and the size of my board, but I think that the single-edged aspect makes it a lot more vulnerable to that sort of thing.

My board's got a lot more surface area than my skis, and now that I have the binding placement tweaked it performs well in powder, although I have some trouble in choppy stuff. I'm going to hold off on trying the skis in powder until the second day following fresh snow, when I start hiking for powder and I think that I can start getting my equipment to work for me instead of me having to carry it under my arm or something. Of course, skis are better at traversing too, although this pair gets death wobble at low speeds. It occurs to me that the leading edges might need to be detuned.

I have a truly bizarre foot that's actually more comfortable in a hardshell boot with buckles than in a snowboard boot. Weird, I know, but there's another point in favor of skiing.

Skis can do more kinds of turns than snowboard. If I'm doing a nice, clean turn on the snowboard, there's basically only GS and powder turns. If I want to travel pretty close to straight down the fall line, I do longish carving turns and change edges before I get too far from the fall line. On skis, I can keep my chest pointing straight down and my body on one line, and turn the skis under me (OK, my body probably moves laterally a little bit. But it doesn't have to.) Linked turns on skis also seem to be more stable than doing a near-straight wavy line down the mountain on a board, and I can do them through smallish moguls. I think larger moguls are probably a matter of practice for me at this point. Skis can also do GS turns, of course.

For people who are dodging the issue of whether one or the other is ultimately "better," and of course what "better" means, there's always the discussion of which one is easier to learn. In the past my attitude about this has been that with skis you can be sort-of skiing on Day One, but it's a lot harder to get to be a good skier, whereas with snowboards, if you commit to the Three Days of Pain, you very rapidly become a pretty good boarder afterwards. I'm going to stick with this. I think that in learning to be an intermediate skier as a kid and teenager, I learned a lot of technique that I wasn't a good enough athlete to actually do. Since then, I've trained in ballet and done a lot of other things that have made me a better athlete, as well as learned to snowboard. I think all of these have contributed to me being able to get on skis last Friday and discover that I'm actually a better skier now, after not skiing for about six years, than I was last time I went skiing before this recent re-discovery. All this leads me to believe a couple more things about the learning process for the two sports.

Snowboards will teach you how to ride them. If you make a mistake, they dump you on your butt. It's helpful to have a couple lessons, I think, but mostly, it's a matter of feel. The board also forces the rider to learn edging, which I think it's possible to avoid learning for a pretty long time on skis.

It doesn't take that good an athlete to be a good snowboarder. The posture is fairly erect and relaxed, and getting the board up on its edge is just a matter of leaning over.

Skis, because there are two of them, are forgiving enough to allow someone not to learn good technique. They also require a better athlete to learn good technique because getting the ski up on its edge is done in the hip and leg, and requires a pretty deeply bent knee, especially as the slopes get steeper.

I think snowboarding has contributed to my ability to ski, because of the forced learning of edge work, something I don't think I could do when I was skiing in the past.

So which one's better? I'm glad I learned both, and I'll be on my board tomorrow for the fresh snow and the next day for the deep stuff that should be on the way.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Dude! I totally rock skis! The outcome of my little adventure the other day was that yes, my knees come out a little more sore than after a day of snowboarding, and no, it's not enough worse to make me not do it. So I bought the Tecnicas, a pair of Rossignol Bandit B2s, and the cheapest bindings and poles I could find. I've been on skis every day since then. I'm actually skiing better than I was when I stopped about six years ago. I'm also almost as strong on skis as on my snowboard, which I find really amazing. I think that there's much more room for my skiing technique to be cleaner, though. I've skied everything at Sugar Bowl that current conditions would permit me to do on my snowboard, and I can also go through moguls pretty well. I can't do them continuously and indefinitely, but I string together a couple before I get derailed, so I'm on my way. Certainly beats trying to navigate them on a snowboard. The B2s are off-piste skis (50/50 according to Rossignol) and should, hopefully, work well in softer and variable conditions after we get some new snow later in the week.

Mind you, I'm still planning to do the powder day (fingers crossed. Not counting chickens, I swear) on my board. But dude! I totally rock skis!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Longer and stiffer

I've been planning for the last two weeks or so to try skiing again, and for the last two weeks or so I've been feeling a lot of fear around the idea. I'm not a guy who gets scared easily, but this was pretty visceral. Anyway, I did it today as much to get it out of the way as for any other reason. Turns out it's fun!

The whole skiing adventure started with a visit to the resort's snowboard shop. I'm having a somewhat nebulous issue with my back foot and was considering putting a heel lift under the binding, a part that used to be relatively common but has since disappeared. I also took the opportunity to look at the clearance ski boots in the shop's back room - my thought was that if I decided to relearn skiing, whether or not I ended up buying skis right away I'd need my own boots, so they could be fit to my feet and I could get fancy insoles custom molded to my feet put in them (makes a huge difference.) Anyway, after trying on a pair of Tecnicas that fit really well, I was way too excited about the idea to not actually rent some skis and try it. If you weren't sure, by the way, rental boots suck. The rental technician, who I think doesn't ski, tried to put me on 150cm skis, which would be a humiliating 10cm shorter than my snowboard. I went with 170s.

I started by riding up the bunny hill. It felt like riding up the first really tall, straight piece of track on a roller coaster. I was just a little terrified. Anyway, I offloaded without falling, maneuvered myself onto the piste, and somehow managed to do some pretty okay carved turns and a hockey stop at the bottom. Didn't even snowplow. After that, I went on some steeper runs and finally on a run from the top of one of the two taller lifts, for 1200 vertical feet. Since when I stopped skiing, I seem to have developed the ability to do linked turns, and I'm pretty sure that I'm also better at keeping my body pointed down the fall line while I move my legs from side to side.

My biggest worry was that my knees weren't going to be able to deal with all the extra lateral and torsional stress. As I'm writing, the muscles immediately above the knee feel a bit tight, but I'm not feeling swollen, and nothing hurt while I was skiing. On the snowboard, if my binding angles are wrong something always hurts, and when I ride more challenging terrain, my left knee tends to get pretty beat up. Of course, I didn't ski anything as challenging as what I'll take my board down on a typical day, but it seems like this is something that my body can handle. I suppose it's possible that I won't be able to ski off-piste, but groomers are fun too. Tomorrow is the true test - either I'll get up feeling great (or slightly sore) or I'll get up feeling great, try to step out of bed, and have trouble with the whole "load bearing" concept. So I'm going to ask all my readers to cross their fingers and toes, and maybe make burnt offerings to the Snow Gods to intercede with the knee problem demons on my behalf.

Monday, February 12, 2007

How complicated is a haircut?

Today being one of my two days off, I decided it was time to get a haircut. So after I finished snowboarding for the day, I got in my car and drove into Truckee. I'd looked in a yellow pages and couldn't find Supercuts, or any other "fast food" haircut sounding names, so I decided to see if there was a place in the shopping center where Safeway is located. Nope. Then I drove down Donner Pass Road for a while, stuck my head in a bunch of fancy looking salons, and failed to get my hair cut. They all needed appointments, and I didn't want to have to go to Truckee again. It's Truckee.

At this point I'd picked up a door knob for the cabin, but I still hadn't done my grocery shopping. So I ran into Safeway and bought some food, then to Rite Aid and picked up a facial hair trimmer. It's supposed to charge for 16 hours before I use it, so I'll post results tomorrow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Eating paste

We've been getting little bits of new snow since Wednesday, but today was the first powder(ish) day of this storm. It's a warm storm, coming from the south, and the weather forecasts have been saying nasty, untrue things about rain. The Weather Gods should consider suing the NWS for libel. In any case, the snow that came down overnight and during the day today was wet, sticky, and dense on the ground.

I spent the first hour and a half or so submarining the nose of my board and getting stuck, frequently in a standing position. On one occasion, I actually had to dig it out with my hands before I could roll into a position from which I could get up and resume the run. Finally,
I decided to move my bindings back to the next position, which is only about 20mm behind the centered position. I didn't think it would make a difference, but I figured I was actually pulling up on the nose with my front foot, and it was getting a little ridiculous. It turns out that those two centimeters are actually very important. After moving the bindings back, I got a lot more float out of my board. We'll see if I can ride it that way on groomers and hardpack - it felt a little squirrelly on skier-packed traverses. If it's a problem, it'll bring the number of setups I want to three - a crud and a powder board to go with my soft boots and one hard-boot carving setup.

After moving the bindings I did some more riding, did a couple runs with the night security guard, apparently the only other person who's working on the mountain to go skiing a lot, and added a really bad run down Crow's Face, a steep, treed face run just outside the avalanche control gates, to my double-black resume. I'll have to give it another look when the top gate is open and the cross-country resort has groomed their run that goes to Sugar Bowl.

While I was having lunch, another snowboarder and I agreed that the consistency of today's snow was a lot like the elementary school paste that's made out of flour, water, and corn starch. However it was also the best day of the season so far. If you can't handle thick, wet, sticky powder... Get out of the oven?

Monday, February 05, 2007

The new hotness

Everyone who's ever hit the mountain with me has probably heard about me complaining about my boots and/or feet more than I care to think about. Well, I finally decided that my K2s were too beat up and too soft, and went out and bought Burton's stiffest boot and their second-from-top-end freeride binding.


Riding in this setup reminded me a lot of going hard-booting. The edge hold was really good, but I got kicked around by every little bump. The boot seems to be not only stiffer than my K2s, but thinner - I think that perhaps the K2s were squishy enough to let the board move around more relative to them. These boots have no such intention, and while the highbacks on the new bindings have a little torsional flex, they don't seem to be interested in bending further back, which is allowing me to use significantly less forward lean on the back binding to achieve the same results.

Anytime someone asks, I'll say that I don't think that fancy equipment can make someone a better athlete, but I do think that inferior equipment can mess them up. I liked my old setup, but I think that I've progressed about as far as I was going to in it. This setup has the feel I was looking for - it's almost too much for me, so now I have something to grow on again.

If you want to know what the boots look like, come riding with me or find them on Burton's web site (I have them in black.) In a continuation of my previous post about my Frankenbinding, here's a picture of my board with the new bindings. They're big, shiny, and not broken.