Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day 90

Today was the last day of my ski season. Between skiing and snowboarding, I've put in about 90 days on the mountain. My snowboard technique has become really clean, at least until I stopped using it in favor of the skis, and my ski technique has reached a level where I can do the whole mountain, not necessarily beautifully, and I can really start learning the substance of skiing. I think that it got more fun as I got better, and hope that it just keeps improving. I'd better think of some goals for next season. Number one goal, of course, being to actually get a decent number of days next season.

Today was a good day to end on. My mother was up with her +1 and his +2s, but they weren't skiing today. Mom and I did some runs in the morning, before things got slushy and gross, with the goal being to have fun skiing and evaluate the possibility of giving her the Rossi Bandit B2s I got mid-season. We went to Squaw Valley, because it's still open and had stuff at High Camp for the entourage to do while we skied. Squaw currently has its base facility and High Camp open, a few lifts at High Camp, and the Shirley Lake and Granite Chief lifts spinning. Since diamonds mean "only interesting runs on the mountain" we went to Granite Chief.

The Chief's an old fixed-grip triple, something I almost never ride these days, and I managed to get one of my poles lodged in the back when I was unloading fairly early on. I'm not sure how, but it broke when it was falling out of the chair. I have held certain opinions on the importance of poles, or lack of, so I didn't want to stop skiing to try to replace it.

Anyway, we did groomed runs for a while until my mother was good and warmed up (I'm going to have to come up with a clever nickname for her or this blog will lose street cred. SkiMom? BadassMom? Maybe I'll poll all two of my readers.) At that point, we went to High Camp to switch her Atomics for my old B2s and see if I could find another pole. There aren't any in the retail store there, and the only spares at Lost & Found were too long, and I was afraid that one of them would make me put my weight too far back if I used it. I definitely wasn't going to go down to the base area to get sold something super-expensive, so I took my one pole and we went back to Granite Chief.

We took a couple more groomer runs. Mom found the Bandits easier to ski and smoother, but not that different from her Atomics. I said we should do some bumps, because that's where they might have an advantage over the other skis. Bumps are hard without poles! I really didn't have any issues with doing the groomers without them, and while dropping into a line was a little bit harder, reminding me of snowboarding, it didn't bother me that much not to have them. But I had issues with doing moguls. Reminded me of how they felt when I was a teenager and hadn't switched to snowboarding yet - quite hard.

This is Mom doing moguls.

We'd agreed to meet +1 for lunch at 1, so after some messing around in the bumps we headed back to High Camp. The waitress was cool but the hostess gave us some attitude. Apparently the +2s aren't high-end enough. The older one, Taryn, is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She's just about to hit five, and when she learns to turn parallel, probably some time next season, I'm going to have to show her some things around Sugarbowl. Along with jumping off cliffs, Taryn is probably going to be a supermodel. All credit for this picture goes to her.

Is this the face that sold a thousand pink ski suits? Yeah, probably.

And on the topic of ski suits, Zach, get those PEs, learn that zipper line, and get that 80s fluoro suit. You know you wanna.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New Trick from Google Earth

In procrastinating today, I decided to see if I could find good topo maps on the internet. This isn't completely a wild goose chase - if I'm serious about walking up 1900 vertical feet over the course of half a day in order to descend them in a matter of minutes I need good maps. And the government has to be good for something.

Anyway, check out One of the products available for download, free, is a plugin for Google Earth that allows you to overlay USGS topo maps on top of it and download tiff files of the appropriate ones. At least, I think it allows you to download them - my download's still running, and I haven't seen scan one. These maps show trails, so by using the map and a trail guide together, you can figure out where the trails are in relation to easily findable land marks, like mountains, and (in theory, of course) plan an approach route to bag some descents. Unfortunately most of what I found on the internet was oriented toward ski touring, snowshoeing, hiking, and other sports that don't involve descending steep faces of things that it might be beneficial to scope out in advance.

Now I need to do an avalanche class.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Elan m777 vs K2 Public Enemy vs Rossignol Bandit B2

I've been getting increasingly annoyed with my Rossi Bandits, and decided the other day that it's time to get something more advanced. For those who don't know, I'm 5'8", 145 lbs and ski moderately aggressively with an off-piste preference.

The Bandits were a great ski to relearn on because they're quite forgiving. They're fairly light, and easy to throw around. They're also quite easy to turn. I have the '06 (probably) model in a 170. On the negative side, their easy flex means that crud can cause the tip to wander, and if you seek out the soft stuff, the 76mm waist width just doesn't provide that much flotation. They can also have a feeling of a stuck tail, something that seems to be associated with tighter sidecuts. They carve moguls quite well, but they lose stability in a more aggressive approach. They're very damp, so there's not necessarily a feeling of chatter on icy groomers, but it's difficult to get them to carve unless the snow's a little softer.

Having tried my brother's Apache Chief, I knew I wanted something narrower, with a deeper sidecut. A friend recommended the Elan m777, and I got to try a pair, in the 176 length. I skied them at Sugarbowl on Saturday, after the resort had been closed all week and received several inches of new snow. The day before had been the first warm day since the new snow, so the snow was smooth but firm off-piste the day that I skied them. They're very stable skis, and stay comfortable at high speeds. I didn't do as much turning as I usually do when I was on them. When I did turn, they had much better edge grip than my Bandits, but I couldn't get them to carve very consistently. I felt like I had trouble just decambering them. Off the groomers, they were better than my Bandits, but felt like a lot of ski. They blast through crud like it's not there, but I found I had a tendency to dive the tips, and this with the binding mounted 3cm back of the manufacturer's recommended position. They were also a bit harder to release from a carve than the Bandits - not necessarily a bad thing, but not suited to my style off-piste either. Moguls weren't really in evidence that day, so I don't know how they did.

The Elans are constructed like a wide GS ski - two sheets of metal sandwiching a wood core, and a long-radius sidecut, 21.4m in the one I tried. After that, I figured that I should look for a ski in that width with a tighter radius and less metal in the construction. I shortlisted a number of skis, but found I could buy a Public Enemy at a pretty good price, about half what any of the others cost. So I did.

I got to try the PE today at Alpine. There was a pretty big storm on Saturday night, and Sunday was a powder day. Another couple of inches fell after lifts closed and during the night on Sunday. Today was a pretty warm, though, starting a few degrees above freezing in the morning and getting to be a few degrees above 50 in the afternoon. Off-piste was dense chopped-up powder, getting fairly wet toward the afternoon. The PE gave a feeling of a nice, locked-in carve on the groomers, but released easily too. I tried the B2s for comparison, and they did quite well too - the morning groomers were in great shape for carving. Off the groomed, the PEs floated nicely and tended to either blast through or pop up onto crud where my B2s would have chosen a different line. My first run down some chopped up powder felt a little awkward at first, but when I leaned into the fall line more and pushed with my inside leg to switch directions, things got much more fun. My experience with the PEs in general was that they need to be skied more authoritatively - if they're on a line, they want to keep following that line and it takes a committed movement to change. In the afternoon, when the off-piste snow started getting wetter, heavier, and stickier, I found that they had much less of a stuck feeling than my Bandits tend to get. The width is an obvious place to give credit - they're 85mm at the waist - but I think the stiffness helped distribute my weight better over the surface area of the ski as well. The Bandits sometimes felt like they were folding up, especially if I stomped the inside foot to change direction. I mostly did fairly short-radius turns off-piste with the Bandits, but on one run I did looking for an aspect of the mountain that wouldn't be so sticky, I started GSing instead. The surface was pretty chopped up, but the PEs held their line anyway, and felt a lot more stable than the Bandits.

My brother put in a special request that I try some moguls on them. It was hard to find real ones, but I did a run down the run under Wolverine Bowl that bumps up fastest. The ski stores a lot more energy when it's decambered, so there's more of a pop at turn initiation doing bumps. I found that at slow speed I could still carve the shoulders, but I picked up speed pretty quickly and found myself doing them in a more athletic style. While that tended to make me wipe out pretty quickly on the Bandits, I found that with the stability of the Public Enemy, I could land those little airs, including the surprise ones, and jump straight into my next turn. So Zach, if you want to learn to zipper-line, you can probably do it on this ski.

I think that the essential difference between the Bandits and the PEs is that the PEs move with authority. If they're going straight, they want to keep going straight. If they're turning, they want to keep turning and at the same radius. I definitely had to work harder on them, but as long as I was skiing a committed line and kept my weight forward, they did what I wanted, when I wanted it, and didn't let the terrain distract them. The difference between the PEs and triple-sevens was that for someone of my size, the PE is a stiff but turny ski, while the triple-seven would rather have straightlined down the mountain and taken me along for the ride, and it took a lot of work to convince them otherwise. I don't think I ever really got a short-radius turn out of the triple-seven, and those are pretty important to me.

Now that I have actually skied the Public Enemy, I'm glad I bought them. No ski can turn me into Doug Coombs, but I'm going to have a lot more fun with the PEs than I would if I continued on the Bandits. This is not to say that the Bandits are bad skis, necessarily. The B2s just aren't for an aggressive skier.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Expert Skier? Advanced Intermediate?

I'm currently in the process of trying to save my Tecnica Diablo Fires, boots that I bought about two months ago and may have to replace. While I don't want to replace them, because it would cost a lot and I don't think I'll be skiing enough next season to justify the process of getting something in a more appropriate class and better fit, it would also present the opportunity to do the above. The other reason I don't want to spend the money on boots is that I'd rather spend it on fatter, stiffer skis. Probably not significantly longer, but we'll see what I like when I demo some stuff.

In researching the possibility of both new boots and new skis, I'm discovering that the stiffer boots, wider, stiffer off-piste skis I want in a real, practical way, and powder skis I'm drooling over are described as being for experts. I'm described by the ski equipment industry as an expert. I find the idea of me as an expert slightly amusing, although I won't deny being flattered.

However, much as I may want gear the industry calls "expert," possibly even a (softened) race boot, I don't feel like an expert. I still think that it's over-posting when I ski past the signs that say "expert only," and I think that any "cliff" signs I ski past are a little ridiculous. At the same time, I've bagged every run at Sugarbowl except for the Palisades, and I'd take a shot at that run if there was snow on it. I collected a fair number of double-diamonds on my Kirkwood trip too, though not always as well as I would like to.

Which brings me to my point - I've been told that the black belt in karate, and most martial arts using a similar belt system, represents the level at which a student is ready to start really learning the substance of the art. Everything that comes before is groundwork. Aside from airing off of things, which continues to bother me, and jibbing, which is a specialty of its own, I can, to varying degrees, handle everything on the mountain. Not necessarily that well, or that gracefully, but safely. Which is to say that I think that I've got almost all the tools. At this stage, I think that what's left is to make everything I do more fluid, but I've also come to think that that's what really defines a good skier. Which is to say it's not what you can do, but how well you can do it. I don't want to use labels like "Advanced" or "Expert" to describe myself, because I don't think they express the room for improvement I think I have and I think they're static labels for something that's more of a process. Which is why I like the belt comparison.

A feature article I read in Powder Magazine a while ago talked about the writer's experience in finding ski partners outside of a skiing context - apres ski bars, the office, even on the lift ride up. He writes that some people will tell you that they're really badass, and can ski everything, etc. etc. My brother and I ran into that in the hot tub at Whistler. When you take this person to the top of whatever lift the next morning and get ready to drop into something fun and interesting, however, they freak out and can't do it. On the other hand, the writer mentions meeting people who will just say, "I'm okay." The next day, they're ripping down chutes, hucking off of things, and doing the whole mountain the way we all wish we could. My response to the question of how good I am is more of a resume quote - I'll say what I've skied at the resort in question. Apparently I'm better than Mr. Badass, but not good enough to be secure in the knowledge of how much I have left to learn.

All of which brings me back to the question of labels, which seem like they ought to be useful. The problem is that, with a few exceptions involving drops and chutes, an intermediate skier can safely descend pretty much the entire mountain. It might take a very long time and involve side-slipping, but it can be done. So if the level is defined by the terrain skied, and this person rides the tallest lift and then sideslips down most of the mountain, they've just achieved advanced. And while technically I've dropped a cornice, as my brother points out I may as well claim to have done a double misty, whatever that is, off of it if I'm going to claim to have done it well because it was more a matter of scoot-scoot-fall-tumble-tumble. I maintain that if I'd had the opportunity to do it again, I'd have made it look good, but the hard fact is that I did have a shot, and I didn't make it look good. From a factual point of view, I still did drop the cornice, to the same extent that that intermediate just bagged Upper Headwall or Death's Head Chute, or Doom Bowl.

So Expert? I'm really not. I think that that label ought to be reserved for the folks who take whatever terrain and conditions are handed to them and make it look good, not just the hero snow. What about Advanced? I don't think I make moguls look good enough for that, and stop and start too much in the double-blacks, at least unless I've memorized them, although I've also started picking lines that aren't shown on the map. What about advanced intermediate? That's also the guy who just started linking his turns down Pony Express, and if we hit the mountain together, I'd be impatient and he'd be mad at me for taking him down "that!?"

Both the American and Canadian ski instructor's organizations use many more level gradations - nine and eight respectively - and include levels that seem descriptive of where my skiing is. Too bad nobody will know what I mean if I go around saying, "Level 8." Of course, ski resorts don't help matters by describing green, blue, and black runs as "Beginning," "Intermediate" and "Advanced."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Messing with my boots

So along with the option of canting the sole of the boot, I thought it would be worth trying canting my forefoot. I cut some neoprene to match the shape of the boot board and then cut away the part that I didn't want to lift.

Today I tried skiing with my own cant, then again with more of it cut away, and with the Starthaus's recommended cants, and with the cants put on the opposite way at their suggestion. My cant felt kinda weird, and when I took it out I felt like I actually got less shin bang and a little better support up the whole medial side of the boot. Not sure why, but since these were my goals in putting in the cant, obviously it was counter-productive.

After that, I put duct tape temporary cants on my bindings and did some groomers with them oriented as suggested by the Starthaus's alignment check, and the opposite way. When I got off the lift the first time, I almost fell over my outside edge. That led me to expect that I'd feel a huge difference between having the cants on the right way and having them on wrong. In switching back and forth between having them oriented "right" and having them oriented the opposite way, I noticed that if I canted the insides of the boots, my uphill ski felt like it was just along for the ride - it got very little edge grip. The skis also felt kind of weird on the flats, and I sometimes caught my inside edge and got pretty pronounced speed wobble. With the cants on the correct way, I felt like my uphill edge worked slightly better, although not significantly so, and I was a little more stable on the flats - didn't get any speed wobble. However, when I took the cants away entirely, I didn't find that I missed them particularly. I got a little speed wobble on the flats, as I have been since I bought my setup, but my turns didn't feel much worse at all. Without the cants, my skiing is slightly less two-footed, but it wasn't a significant difference. Neither canting option eliminated my shin bang, though.

There are two options left for trying to get ride of shin bang. I can cut away some of the tongue shim Sako installed in my boots to help get the cuff tighter. I still have a couple of notches on the buckle before I run out, and the wings of the cuff have a ways to go before the touch each other after his liner trimming, so I think this is a good option.

My other choice is to try to find the cuff angle that works best for my ankle, mark where that puts the pivot point on the cuff, and then drill a hole in the foot part of the boot and put the bolt from the dual pivot plate into a nut on the other side of that. I'm a little wary of this option because the hole would be permanent and I think that whatever I put on the other side might create a pressure point that would require cutting away some of the liner to alleviate. I'm afraid that the liner might not be thick enough to cut away enough to do this, and both drilling a hole and cutting the liner are irreversible.

While I could always glue the piece I cut out of Sako's tongue shim back in, cutting it out in the first place seems like it could be messy and difficult, and the whole thing has the potential to have a pretty skanky-looking result. Since there's no skiing tomorrow and Tuesday, I'm going to give my shins some time to calm down, and see how the boots ski unmodified on Wednesday. After all, I've been skiing pretty much every day since the shin bang first presented, and because the bruise is more tender now that it's there, I might not know if I solved the problem with cuff cant alone.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

So over my funky legs

About a week ago, I had my ski boot liners trimmed and a shim added to the tongue so that I could get the boots tighter around my skinny ankles. The good news is that it worked. The bad news is that I started getting boot cuff bruising at the outside of my ankle on both sides. I flipped over the little plate on the boot that controls cuff cant, and it helped. But not enough. So I decided to see Sugar Bowl's resident boot fit genius, but it turns out he's in Moab. Sako, I hope you're having fun. You deserve a vacation.

Anyway, without my boot fit guru, I figured I'd just wait until next season. After all, there are only a few days left. This morning I tried to go skiing and after about two runs, it just hurt too much. First I visited the guy at Java Summit Sports, who didn't want to try anything. Then I went to the Starthaus, the local race shop and Sako's former employer. After their fitter established that yes, I had indeed maxed out the cant on my boot, they tried shimming the inside side of the boot, to take up the space created by my ankle being funkier than Tecnica anticipated, and then they tried stacking up some shims under the boot. In order to get my knee into a straight line between my foot and my hip, it's necessary to cant the outside edge of my left boot up two degrees and my right boot up one. Kinda counterintuitive, especially since I had to do the opposite to get my racing bike to work a little better for me.

The fitter also tried flipping the cants around, which he says is a more common procedure, because my knees turn in like crazy when my feet are canted that way. It felt way awkward, although it looks more natural. The verdict is that I'm going to build some prototype shims from duct tape and try them tomorrow. I should be able to tell very quickly if canting one way or the other, or not at all, is best. The running list of custom work on my boots (because I'm unique, dammit)

Fancy footbeds
trimmed liners
shimmed tongue

Why can't stuff ever just work for me?

Friday, April 13, 2007

85 days (and counting)

So I asked the lifty today how many days I've skied. Sugarbowl's records have me at 67. They're probably short 3-5 days from the beginning. Here in Tahoe I've also done two days at Alpine, a day at Flatstar, and a day at Kirkwood. In Utah I did a day at Brighton, three at Snowbird, and one at the optimistically named Snow Basin. And then six at Whistler.

So I'm at 82 days, plus three to five that Sugarbowl didn't count because of early-season computer problems with the lift ticket scanners.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kirkwood Rocks My Socks Off

I decided that today I’d ski somewhere other than Sugarbowl. I’ve memorized the whole mountain, and most of it’s getting pretty goopy anyway. So I was wavering between Flatstar and Kirkwood (if it had a nickname, maybe it would be Chutewood?) because Northstar doesn’t really need much cooperation from the weather to be as good as it ever is, and Kirkwood has a high base, still has a lot of snow, is one of my personal favorites, and I hadn’t been all season. I ended up going with Kirkwood. Northstar’s really only good for about two hours anyway.

This was the first time I’ve driven the West Shore road. It’s not as good as skiing, but it’s close. I’ll have to revisit it in a sports convertible some time. Long drive, though, and Kirkwood really is in the middle of nowhere. I was supposed to meet some people from, on the theory that if you’re skiing with someone and get hurt, they can go find Ski Patrol. I got to the meeting place a bit late, though, and didn’t find anyone. I’m not sure if they were late too, or if they left. I would have. Anyway, I waited around for a little while, then obeyed the call of the mountain and started skiing.

At 10:15 in the morning, it was still too icy off-piste for my taste, so I did some very fast runs down the backside groomer. Then I checked out Chair 6 on the theory that the sun had been hitting that aspect of the main bowl for a while, but there was no groomer down and it was still too early for the mogul run. Huge moguls, I swear. This big. So I went back to the backside, did some runs, decided I should get lunch and took something steep and crusty back to the lodge. After lunch, I did another backside run and another chute run, then started working my way across the front face. Steep, tight gully runs. I was happy.

I had some work done on my boots recently to get them to fit my ankles better, which they do now. As a result, I started to get some boot cuff bruising on the outside of each leg, so I messed with the cuff adjustment last night. Tecnica has an unusual but, for me, quite effective system in which canting the cuff outward to accommodate my bowleggedness also means that the cuff hinges on a slightly different axis, in which my knee travels inward relative to my toe, which my knee wants to do. So today I had both less boot cuff bruising and less knee pain than I’ve been getting. Yay!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Not Another “I Hate Flying” Blog

Of course my desire is to do a blog about how much flying sucks. But I’m pretty sure I already have, and it doesn’t do anybody any good to dwell on negativity. Hippie BS aside, here’s what I propose we do instead of flying.

Trains. Really fast trains.

An airplane travels at around six hundred miles per hour. If a train went two hundred, it would take fifteen hours to cross the United States. Granted, it only takes six and a half on a plane. But lets look at all the other stuff that goes into flying. Under the new rules, we’re supposed to show up at the airport an hour early. Add another hour to take the ‘A’ train from civilization out to the aiport and it’s really an eight and a half hour journey. On a train, we could be shown into private compartments for each group with blast plating all around so that security measures would be unnecessary. Then, not only do I get a little bit more space but I don’t have to de-claw before travelling or strip at the security checkpoint.

When I went to Utah, part of why I drove was because I didn’t want to fly. I also drove so we’d have a car, and I think that the total cost of flying and renting is more than the cost of driving, but not flying was definitely part of it.

Volvo S40

I’ve been on Long Island all week, which is closer to where I’m usually located but still counts as travelling because I haven’t even gone into Manhattan so far, and that means another rental car. I like renting through Enterprise because they’re cheap and frequently give me a free upgrade. I won’t risk driving an “economy” car because life is short and there’s no reason to make it shorter, but I reserve the compact unless I’ve got a very good reason to reserve something else. This week’s car was the Volvo S40.

The S40’s a funny car. As I understand it, it’s Volvo’s entry to the sporty sedan class. What it really is, essentially, is a fast(ish) luxury car. It’s got a leather interior, power everything, heated seats, tilt wheel, etc. etc., largish wheels, and smallish tires. I think it’s front-wheel drive, though. Certainly handles like it. This one has a “geartronic” transmission, which is a really funny transmission. It’s an automatic transmission, but you can yank the shifter into another gate on the right that locks you into the current gear, whatever it is, and allows you to instruct the car to shift up or down. However, the car will still shift up if the engine gets close to redline, or down if it’s close to a stall. I haven’t had it on any roads where I could push it – I’ve basically been driving in traffic – but my understanding is that it’s a system that you can use to keep it from shifting during a curve. However, if I want the car to shift, all I can really do is make my desire known and then wait for it to decide it feels like doing it. It took several seconds between when I used the shifter and when the transmission got around to doing something about it. So the feature looks more sporty, but doesn’t go all the way.

The reason I devote a whole paragraph to the transmission, aside from the fact that it’s the first time I’ve used one like that, is that the car in general is like the transmission. It looks a little more aggressive than most of Volvo’s line, but aside from some vibration that I think is due to the larger wheels and lower-profile tires, it’s a smooth but fairly pedestrian ride. At least the sound system was a little better than the one in my Forester, but I had more fun with my last rental, a Chevy Cobalt.

The other complaint I have about the Volvo is I never did find a seat position I really liked. It’s like they stuck a sporty seat in a family car – I tipped the steering wheel down as far as it would go without obstructing my view of the instrument panel much, but it was still too high for where the seat is. Maybe all Swedes have fat thighs. Didn’t like the pedals much either – the throw was too long and the resistance was too light, so I couldn’t leave my heel in one place on the floor and just move my toe, so driving was more work than I like it to be, at least in that respect. Visibility out the back and sides isn’t great either.

Some cars are supposed to be like a shaved gorilla in a suit. This one is more like a poodle in a leather jacket. And it’s clearly a Banana Republic leather jacket.

In figuring out what, exactly, the geartronic was, and finding it was what I thought it was, I also did a little more reading about semi-automatic and clutchless manual transmissions. That’s what I want in my next car. And it could weigh about two thousand pounds less…