Monday, March 30, 2015

Using the Gear You've Got

Toby and I made it up to my parents place in mid-state NY for one more 'last snow sports' weekend of the season. We've had quite a few. At the last minute I threw Toby's xc skis in the car, but neglected to bring much else (like his gloves, hat, sunglasses and wellingtons). No matter. After a brief squawk, he gamely adopted whatever was in the mud room and off we went. The skiing early Saturday was not so hot, but he sagely said he was going to wait until the steady snow took effect and took the edge off of the very hard and fast conditions in the woods. He was right. The rest is part of the fleeting history which is childhood, and it was a lot of fun.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Only Needed When Not Brought

So my January trip to the OR show in SLC for 'work' was as usual a treat. My company does actually service some of the brands who show there, but it's a few days of enjoyable work followed by great times with friends. My hosts in SLC and Park City were the incredibly gracious Nathan Nebeker, Mike McGurl and Robin Cabral, and they were the highlight of the trip, with great company and eats and even some Sundance action. The day out with Andrew McLean and Polly Samuels, who were also incredible friendly to my gumby self, and the inspiration for this post. We did a nice 3-4 mile tour in from the White Pines trailhead just downhill from Snowbird. Andrew has been a great guru over the years, and Polly, whom I knew only socially, proved to be very helpful. She also gets the credit for the tagline, more on that later.

I have been very happy with my main boards, old Trab Stelvios. But I also wanted something more, and with rocker, for bigger snow days. I settled on Dane's current fanatical interest in the Denali I also went with his binder of choice the Dynafit Superlight. I was fortunate enough to score a tour of's distribution center (combing work and play) and chose to get my guys there to set me up with the new boards then, at the tail end of my OR visit, and just in time to use them on my last day outing. On the recommendation of the group sales team of Eric and his colleague, I sized up to 184. While I like a sub-180 cm ski for my general BC activities, and for alpine outings in particular, I was told they would 'ski shorter' and so bumped up a few cm. More on that later.
Andrew & Polly about halfway in, before the real climbing begins.

Most of my outings with Andrew have been in very good snow, except the past few years. We skied Mt. Kessel in terrible snow (read scary). The outing to Red Top Mountain (I didn't know our destination) was not looking like either extreme. The snow was ok in late January, but as it happened wind-hammered up high. I was unaware of the implications of this until we headed above treeline and Andrew kindly offered me both of his Whippets. I was using some baton style french poles made by A216, which while great for touring are about as effective as a toothpick for self-arrest. I accepted one Whippet, and immediately felt more secure, as well as more mindful that while low-angle, a slide in the wrong direction could quickly get out of control. Hence Polly's comment about her Whippets 'I've never needed 'em, except when I didn't bring 'em.'

Me and Polly on the bootpack near the top, copyright Andrew McLean

I noticed both my companions toured with their poles quite short, say 120-125 cms, or around where I use poles for downhill. Andrew likes to push down on the tops of his, and I stuck with this approach. The only thing you lose is the longer pole for xc-type use, and the compact size is actually nice when fussing with steep, greasy kick turns. The same was true of ski length - I liked my 184s on piste, and downhill in good conditions, but for alpine jump turns, kick turns in the skin track, and in general, I wished I'd stuck with my usual less than 180 length. Since I was looking for 'more' ski, and have a 176 in the Trabs, it's no biggie, but I didn't see that much merit to the comment that rockered skis 'ski shorter'. In big snow maybe, but I think 184 is 184, rocker or no, especially if you're ski mountaineering. Dane is once again annoyingly right. The only consolation is that his A216 poles will not join me for the next trip to Chamonix - I will bring Whippets anytime I have even the slightest exposure or fall risk to contend with.

Team Summit Selfie copyright Andrew McLean

I also have not traditionally given much thought to the locking of my toes on the Dynafits. Andrew had me lock them for the bit from below the summit to treeline. As he pointed out, the small Dynafits can build up a vibration on chattery snow and out you go. This would not have been a good option for the same reason he loaned me the Whippet, good, as the maximum ride would have taken you down the wrong drainage and into a nice tree strainer. 

Me skiing off the top with welcome addition of a Whippet copyright Andrew McLean

I bumped the toes back down at treeline, gave Andrew his Whippet, and bumbled down from there. He's got some sweet personally customized Whippets, with the old chrom-moly head and a personally lathed carbon bottom; they collapse quite small and have the great swing rate of the old ones. I have a pair of new carbon ones with recalled stainless steel, and do not like them. I can't get the flip locks to close both open and compact - if the tension is right for one, it's off for the other. I did exchange the heads, but it's still stainless steel, and I'm not a fan. The old ones I have are fine.

It was overall a great tour, and when we emerged I was pleased to be able to drive: 7700 to 11300 feet above sea level was enough elevation gain for my Brooklyn legs and lungs, and the distance seemed about right in current form. It's always amazing to get out with good friends, and never more so than when they can mentor you.