Wednesday, January 09, 2008

19 Ski Days, new gear

15 Sugarbowl, and 4 Grand Targhee.

I spent the tail end of last season trying to get my ski boots to work for me. I thought I might have solved the problem I was having with them - shin bang - but because of how bruised my shins and ankles were by that time, I couldn't tell. The problem came screaming back during the Grand Targhee trip at the beginning of the season. I even spent a day in rental boots and part of the next trying a pair of Salomons that I thought might be better. The conclusion from all that was that my Tecnicas weren't working for me, but the Salomons wouldn't either. My first ski day at Sugarbowl was actually half on the snowboard and half on skis in new boots. I knew it would be a busy day, so I did first tracks on the board before going to Granite Chief down in Truckee.

When I bought my Tecnicas last season, it was from the back room at Summit Snowboard, which Sugarbowl owns and uses to dump some of its older ski equipment as a sideline to selling snowboards. Needless to say, the boot fitting process was done entirely by me, and not very well. I got the shell fit right in terms of sizing, but my skinny little heel and ankle get lost in that part of the boot. I spent a bunch of the very end of the season trying to save the boots, including getting the tongue shimmed, parts of the liner trimmed, material added to the liner, and a booster strap. That setup sort-of worked if I skied with the buckles quite loose, but that resulted in a sloppy feel. Unlocking the flex helped too, but made things even more sloppy.

This time, one of Granite Chief's three boot fitters helped me. These guys spend most of their time at the store selling or working on ski boots, and I overheard one of the more junior sales staff being instructed to spend his downtime trying on boots. They know their stock. The process started with me talking about where I ski and whining about what I didn't like about my old boots. Then I think I tried on about half a dozen different boots that were close but wrong in one way or another before ending up in the Rossignols I ultimately bought. Funny enough, the first pair of Rossis I tried were excruciating, but one shell size larger and they work really well. After choosing the boot model, the fitter, James, balanced it. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it involves standing on a plate with lasers, setting the cuff cant, and something done in the back room, probably grinding the boot board. Finally I had the teeth the buckles engage moved to a tighter notch and my booster strap transferred over from the previous boots. I'd dropped in my foot beds during the process of trying on different pairs. After all that, I bought the boots, went back up to Sugarbowl, and had time for a little bit of skiing before the end of the day. My turns were magically more even, and the shin bang pain is gone. Sweet.

The other big gear issue for this season was a pair of Atomic GS 11 racing skis I bought in the Fall. During the Grand Targhee trip, I went to have the binding set and tested for my boots and the bindings failed a safety check. I was eventually able to get them replaced at the Starthaus, but between work, a little faulty information, and not wanting to front a whole bunch of money since I wanted to get them replaced by the eBay seller, it took some time. So, of course, when I went to the Starthaus I was able to fill out a warranty form and pick up the skis mounted with a new binding the next day. I could have done it the same day if I didn't have to drive to Sacramento and pick up a friend.

One of the things I love about my racing bike is how it can be fast, responsive, smooth, snappy and comfortable all at the same time. I'm used to the idea that when you make something better in one respect it loses in others, but the racing bike is just better at everything than other road bikes I've had. I haven't owned any other carving skis, but compared to the piste performance of my other skis, the new racing skis are also better at everything. They hook up incredibly well, turn like they're on a track, transition beautifully, and make the mountain ski smoother. As long as I keep my wait centered over the binding, they're also incredibly easy to ski. I just push with my outside leg and they turn. I had them out for a while in the afternoon today on more beat up surfaces than the smooth groomers I'd had them on in the past and it turns out that they're even good in moguls. Between the stability and low swing weight, as long as I stayed centered and charged, they were fine. The only things I can think of to dislike about these skis is that they don't transform into powder skis or possibly a jet fighter and they make the mountain ski smaller. There's only one run at Sugarbowl that's long enough for me to want to control my speed on these to keep them at a speed I'm comfortable with - I mainly control my speed because the runs are open and I'm afraid that if I cross another run or go over a roller too fast I'll find someone waiting around for me to hit them. I generally don't like Northstar very much, but I think I need to pay them a visit at some point this season so that I can do the backside the way it's layed out to be done.

Now that I've experienced these skis, I'm really sorry that most people never get to use true racing equipment. These things are way too much fun. Not that I'm complaining. When I got to try a carving snowboard, it showed me how much more responsiveness a snowboard can be made to have. One of the things I think I'm gaining from using the Atomics from time to time is
a better feel for what carving feels like when it's working. No piece of equipment can make me a better skier, but these skis give me much better feedback as to how well I'm skiing and I think they're helping me to make me a better skier.

I'm still loving the Public Enemies, but since we're actually getting storms this year, I may need to demo some powder skis if I do another longish trip to Tahoe.

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