Tuesday, October 3, 2017

six pieces of silver

So I have three items which I (more) obsessively upgrade and mull over than most pieces of kit. They are a shell, a ski and a pack. I've done the pack thing. Wait, you say that's not six pieces? You're right. I just like the album. If you have not heard it, get it.

Shells Shells have long been just about the most overrated, overpriced, chunks of junk for most of their history. I remember when a cagoule was high tech. But there are times you want one, and good ones are better than bad. There are hard shells, soft shells and hybrids. I am often annoyed with myself for having so many, but there are a few good reasons to have a few good ones.

  • Rain I think it was Marc Twight who said 'if it's raining go home'. While this is prudent advice for alpine climbing, I have not always followed it (the freezing line must be just ahead...), and when you don't, you need a shell. If I don't think I'm using it much, I'll bring a very lightweight one and hope to keep it in my pack. The Arc'teryx Alpha SL or FL is very good. There are nice less expensive versions from Mountain Hardware, Marmot, many others, and the Alpha only has one pocket, which is limiting if you wish to use it more casually. I have a really great Solomon Bonatti WP stretch shell which is like an upgraded Patagonia Houdini, much more weather protection, stretch, and every bit as indispensable clipped to a harness.

  • Driving Snow I personally think that 'full conditions' are only for those of Scottish descent and residents of the Northeast. Wait..I'm both. I like a heavier 3 layer Gore-tex shell for these kinds of conditions, or any serious wind. If there is serious wind but no precip, I'll opt for a softshell. I like the older Arc'teryx windstopper I have very much, as long as it's not too warm. If it is, I'll go with an even older one without the windstopper. The Arc'teryx SV is pretty much the bomb in these conditions. Mine is 15 years old and rarely broken out, but they are the standard. I have a Rab with stretch but the main zipper is a real bear to operate. Otherwise a great jacket, especially the oversized hood with wire brim. The pants, also Gore-tex Pro, are also very well dialed, if a bit more fussy in design than the Canadians.
  • Cold Wind Snow If I'm ice climbing, the Arc'teryx Windstopper stretch softshell top and old polartech softshell salopettes with built in knee pads are best. They are almost worn out and I think I'll have to turn to Northwest Alpine who have said they'd modify theirs to match that. It's an incredibly warm, mobile, comfortable combination for a 'go suit' for most climbing conditions. It's a little too warm for me for most ski mountaineering, when I prefer a non windstopper, Arc'Teryx Gamma top and a thinner pant. For skiing the Rab stretch Gore-tex Pro pants or the Alpha SV bibs seem to be best, depending on temperature.

  • Warmer Windy When rock climbing I generally won't wear more than a long john top. If I may however get chilly up top belaying. If so, I'll bring a small puffy, I have a remaindered old Patagonia which works well, or if it's not that cold I'll use their Houdini. This is a very lighweight item, but it's lasted me for years and is welcome each time I use it. I recently got the lightest Arct'eryx hooded puff, no insulation in the hood, and it's fine. In colder than 50-60 F temps, it might help if you remember a hat, but with a helmet it's enough for the shoulder seasons. I think Patagonia's version of this looks a little better (but was not on sale yet.)

Skis I ski very little, just a half dozen to a dozen days a season. But I like it a lot. And I love skis. I have also enjoyed migrating over the years from alpine to tele to AT. I predictably dream about a life where I ski more as I grow older and the work/play balance swings back to play. But I still get plenty of play.

The best skis are ones I have had long and still ski so well. Stelvio Trab's, Atomic Beta cap tele boards, some old BD ascents with silvrettas for approach in mountain boots, even the old atomic sierras we punt around my parents' property on are great. They are only chipped, rusty and worn on the kick pattern. They still ski fine, just like all the best skis. As Andrew says any ski can ski great powder.

In recent years I really like the Dynafit Denali. It's I think a good ski for a moderate skier. I ski a 184 in that and shorter in most others. Longer is too hard to do a kick turn for me, and I don't need more float. It is very light, fun in moderately angled powder and respectable on hard pack. It can also be had for cheap. I like TLT Superlights with no brakes ATK leashes.

©Andrew McLean

The next in line is the Movement Vertex, a ski so good they keep making it. It's a bit like a supercharged Stelvio with marginally less weight. I pair it with Plum Guides, but may like the old Speedturns on the Trabs better. I find the Plum adjustable heel plate shifts, and while I like the beefy beautifully machined heel post on the Plums, the old Speedturn is just so reliable and solid. I do like the Plum brakes which are light and right for some applications. I've been known to lose skis since a very young age...

I have some Atomic Ultimate 78s for ski mountaineering which I've only used on icy hills in the Berkshires. They are short, around 160, but they ski well. Lays down an edge, little bit of rocker, and paired with the old yellow Dynafit TLT5 boot they are a great setup for just about everything except deep.

Finally the ski I'm yet to ski. It's out there somewhere...

Packs come later. I'm still working on that. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

You call that a liner?

When I first bought a pair of Galibier SuperGuides I was warned to get neoprene sheets and cut them to fit the footprint. The insole of the superGs were beautifully crafted, hard leather. Along with the steel shank you could not have a more perfect conductor of cold from crampons strapped on to them (which is what they were for.) I dutifully used them, and they did cut down on the cold, but I also appreciated the additional cushioning. Fast forward about 35 years and I still like a nice insole, especially with my very flat and flattening feet. I use the term 'insole', 'footbed', and 'liner' interchangeably throughout this rant. 

(Benjamin Dulchin sporting said Galibier Super Guides in their 3rd decade, somewhere on the Sisters in the Adirondacks I think)

I'm a long time user of Superfeet's green, and at least one pair of orange insoles. I like their new black ones just as much as all I've used. The holes in the forefoot seem like they might breathe better, but I not sure and have used them only in cool and cold weather. The holes do cut some minor amount of weight. Maybe they are supposed to look cool and I’m overthinking it. They do last less long than professional leather orthodics, more on the pros below.

Custom orthotics insoles (what I used to call boot liners) are a luxury and arguably fit your individual feet best. Superfeet does offer a range of off-the-rack insoles for high arch/volume, etc. Except for the most specialized custom orthopedic applications, like for very small last ski boots (think Dynafit TLT 5s, more on that later) or other weird shapes, I'd use these. You can always trim them. I like to buy them to fit, which they do, and well. A good fit is also as warm as that specific boot will ever get. If you have a good fit on your boot you can focus on climbing or skiing as well as you can, whatever that means. Uncomfortable feet generally drive normal folks from the sport by which they experience that discomfort.

Cousin Joseph Hooper after almost stepping out of generously sized boots in the Catskills (Spiral Staircase?)

The insoles/liners these sometimes replace are those stock ones included by boot manufacturers who would like to sell you their $600 mountaineering or $900 AT boots. They should put these in there as stock, or something of similar quality. La Sportiva is the only one who includes footbeds which I'll repurpose/cut down for my child. The others are a placeholder, an admission by the manufacturer that it's not included in the price of their premium boot. It's similar to upgrading to an Intuition or Paulau moldable ski boot full liners (which top manufacturers do include): those who offer a premium boot should include a premium footbed/insole/liner. I think these are enough of a mountain standard that manufacturers of high-end boots should make them standard. And I like them in approach and work shoes too. If not Superfeet, then something comparable.

So when is it worth plunking down an additional $300-600 for custom orthodic footbeds from a professional? When nothing else works. I used Steve Rueda for some great TLT5s which were way too narrow for anything (http://www.turnpikecomfortfootwear.com), and he was at the low end of the range. The ones he made were based on bamboo and as a skier he totally nailed it. They are so good I use them in my TLT6s, really nothing like it. But when I presented my old Batura 1.0s, he asked if they were comfortable with stock aftermarket insoles, and declined to make customs because I said yes. I have also had street shoe orthos and while nice, the cost is rarely worth it. Except when it is.

So the blog title is from a (?) joke. A man in a trench coat walks up to an aged female fellow passenger on the subway platform. He opens the coat and exposes himself to her. She looks at his open coat, then looks up at him and says 'You call that a lining?'

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mo Wasatch

Just another pair of busy days in a small fluffy range in middle america...first three and last 6 images are copyright Andrew McLean, the rest are mine.

It was not just good skiing, but exceptional. About half a foot of new on top of a compressible consistent base which did not slide much. We did not ski very steep because of recent snowfall.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Way Back in the Wasatch

By far the best January in the Wasatch I've seen in a decade. The gear was fine. As Andrew says anything skis powder well. We both went big (99 mm and 105ish in the waist) and that was the way to go. It was actually about 5 to 10 inches of fresh on a soft, compressible base. Every day for over a week. Just about as good as it gets. And we took my 9 year old out for his first real backcountry skin and ski. His kit worked well too. Nice for $25 rear-entry Nordica boots and a nice setup of kid's Hagan and skins under small sized Fritchis and god did I mention the snow was great. I skied TLT lights on Denalis with T7s and Andrew is on new Scarpa Maestral's with Dynafit Verts (?) on BD Helio and seems very happy with their blizzard made fine finish skis. 

 Entering Brighton BC via Crest Lift 
Copyright Andrew McLean
 Andrew tells Toby about butter in hot coco on expeditions
Copyright Andrew McLean
  Hitting the skin track into Andrew's zone
Copyright Andrew McLean

 look at that 

  And he stripped Toby's skins and put them on. No, 9 year olds can't apply and remove their own ski skins. Yet.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Back in Salt Lake City

It would be a lie to state that I attend the Outdoor Retailer show every winter for work alone. And nobody would believe me anyway. However, this year was good on many fronts, both in terms of seeing old friends in the industry and making a few new ones, and some really nice skiing. I participated for the 2nd time ever in 'demo day' at Solitude, where you can ski some great boards and the entire mountain for $40. On a run to the top I took SolBright - right between that ski area and Brighton, and was very pleasantly surprised. The skiing was great on piste, but as I was taking one of many 'acclimatizing breaks' two locals stopped to ask where I was from. When I admitted Brooklyn, and they confessed to be locals, I thought the conversation might grind to a halt. Not so - they quietly told me a route through some low angle trees where I found fresh powder aplenty. I'm not sure how many folks would usually be so generous, but it set a great tone for the trip.

I did actually go to work the show, but the weekend was my time to catch up with legendary guru Andrew McLean, who had enticed me with a stellar view of the Pfeifferhorn from Red Pine the previous year. He thought I was up for it, so we made a plan. Two very fit friends joined, and we were off. A 7am trailhead start was slowed a bit by malfunctioning water bladders (avoid them) and then we were off.

At Red Pine Lake we took a break and got a good view of the ridge. The peak is not the Pfeiff, but is on the way there. The skiing between the clumps of trees was just as fantastic as it looks, as was our second run to the left of the left-most trees.

Copyright Andrew McLean

This is our brief but stressful boot up to the ridge which leads to the Pfeiff. We had fantastic weather until we achieved the ridge, when things got pretty socked in. 

Once we got to the base of the col which then leads to the last 500 or so feet of climbing, we considered our options. 2 of us had no climbing experience, and only 2 of us had headlamps. An attempt was not going to get us much of a view, and would have returned us home after dark. We decided to try another day, but were favored with a very brief view of a peak I'll be back to enjoy again some day.

The ride back down the plateau was non-eventful, but the reversing of the very loose power/rock section below the ridge was far from trivial. No accidents on the job, but it felt a lot like ski mountaineering.

After that the fun began, and we skied the terrain pictured above Red Pine lake. It was the best powder I've had in about 5+ years and well worth the effort.

Size of smiles = quality of company and skiing. I'll be back next year for sure. Thanks as always to Andrew, who continues to demonstrate a high tolerance for my pokey ways.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

More Torch Songs

Gregory Rukavina has more intimacy with his inner child than most kids I know. He's also a phenomenal teacher, whether it's chess or 5.0 chimney moves. He was generous as always with his time this past weekend at the Trapps with Tobias, who is always comfortable with his guidance.
No the angle of this image has not been modified to make the participants look even more manly...
Yes, there was a bit of trepidation...
but the chimney behind Laurel proved enjoyable, to a point.
and afterwards a brief break.
and a faint ghost of Muir haunted the woods of New York this weekend...