2014 Nordica Vagabond Review

Looking to next year’s skis, we’re seeing a lot of growth in the 100-110 waisted all mountain ski category. One of the shop favorites so far is the Nordica Vagabond, a 107 mm underfoot ski that got Jim and Phil re-thinking ski widths for next year.

Editor’s Note: The Nordica Vagabond Blem is now only $299! Click Here.


Over the last few years, skis around 98 mm underfoot have been our favorite “quiver of one” skis for Tahoe and other western ski areas where you might split your time between groomers and off-piste.

Philpug getting after it on the Nordica Vagabond

Skis over 100 mm had been more powder or big mountain biased, like the perennial favorite, the Volkl Gotama or the excellent Blizzard Cochise.

But the Nordica Vagabond is a solid daily driver ski contender for western skiers, thanks to its surprising on-piste performance that doesn’t give anything up in the powder or crud.

With no metal and an I-Core stringer to reduce weight, this ski definitely registers on the light and lively side of the scale vs. heavy and damp powerful skis out there, but it’s no wimp. One of our testers, normally leery of skis with no metal, said the Vagabond had surprising pop out of each turn, saying “for a metal-less ski, it has a surprisingly confident ride.”

Railing big GS style turns on firm snow, the large cambered section hooked up and dug trenches surprisingly well for a ski this wide. An on-paper 25 meter turning radius would suggest it wouldn’t do so well with quick turns, but here’s where light and lively come back in to play, along with the tip rocker and a slight rise and taper in the tail. Quick to initiate into a turn and quick to release out – it did well with just about anything at the WWSRA demo day at Alpine Meadows on Firm Snow.

In a foot-plus of fresh powder, one tester spent the day at Sugar Bowl seeking out untracked stashes and bashing through crud back to the lift, even doing a little out-of-bounds hiking with the Nordica Vagabond. The tip rocker kept the ski planing so well the tester didn’t miss fatter powder skis, and the relatively straight sidecut didn’t feel hooky in chopped up snow. Overall the ski seemed to attain the difficult-to-find balance between stability and fun.

Overall, our testers were amazed at both how versatile and how nimble the Nordica Vagabond is. It successfully walks the fine line between stiffness, width, weight and shape that makes it a great choice for skiers who like the feel of a wider ski off-piste but don’t want to give up much on firm snow groomer days.

It’s also a strong contender for a backcountry ski, thanks to those characteristics – through on some Dynafits and go deep into the mountains, or throw on some Marker Dukes/Barons/Tours and ski it in-bounds and out.

Nordica Vagabond Stats:
Dimensions: 137-107-125
Turning Radius: 25 M

More info:
Here’s a discussion on the Vagabond over at EpicSki:


2015 Giant Trance 27.5 Review

While the new Giant Reign 27.5 is getting all the attention for 2015, the Giant Trance 27.5 is still getting some love (Bike Magazine tester Vernon Felton picked it for his dream build here), and for good reason. Web Editor Greyson has been riding a 2015 Giant Trance 27.5 since the beginning of October over a wide range of Tahoe Trails.

In its second year in the 27.5-wheeled iteration, the Trance takes a middle-of-the-road approach to not only wheel size (between 26 and 29 inch wheel) but also in suspension travel (140 mm, or 5.5 inches, front and rear) and a good all-around trail riding geometry. All that adds up to a balanced ride that strikes a compromise between uphill and downhill ability.

The Maestro suspension is plush and active through pedaling and braking, absorbing square-edge hits, stutters and g-outs without complaint or weird feedback. Pedaling is efficient, but dialing the rear shock for long climbs makes it feel a little snappier – either way, the Maestro suspension gives you gobs of traction while pedaling. Wide open, I didn’t find myself wishing for more travel or a plusher feel – the wheel sticks to the ground and soaks up everything.

Likewise the fork, raked at 67 degrees, gives nothing to complain about, tracking well with a 15 mm axle and a tapered steerer. Overall the geometry hit the sweet spot – only rarely requiring extra attention on the steepest climbs or gnarliest descents. The low bottom bracket – great for a low center of gravity and amazing in-the-bike feel did mean a few more pedal strikes than I’m used to, but it’s easy to adapt to.

Overall, this is the kind of bike that just disappears under you. You’re just having fun riding whatever conditions you’re in – I’m never wishing for more travel or more efficient pedaling, a slacker headtube or shorter chainstay.

Every detail on the bike felt dialed, from stem length to handlebar width, and the bent toptube’s extra stand over height was much appreciated during mistakes in technical sections. The 2×10 drivetrain with a clutched rear derailleur has yet to miss, and the Shimano hydraulic discs are as reliable as they get.

A dropper post (included on the Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 2) is a great upgrade for this bike in the trail riding conditions it will likely find itself in. Incidentally, if you can shell out for the Advanced carbon bike, do it. Upgrade the parts as you go and you’ve got a world-class bike at a crazy-low entry price.

So if you’re looking for a Jack of all trades that will keep you happy on everything from smooth and banked to rocky and choppy, uphill or down trails, the Trance is a bike that’s tough to beat.


Start Haus Staff Picks – Skis, Boots & Bindings

Start Haus staffers are amped up for winter, and getting ready with new gear. Below are their picks for skis, boots and bindings this winter – no particular category, just for fun:

James, bootfitter & buyer:
Dynastar Cham 117
Marker Jester
Head Raptor 130
“The Raptor is ultra responsive – it’s stiff yet snappy with top-notch snow feel. The Cham 117 is a versatile powder ski that’s great in blower, wind buff and heavy snow – it crushes it. And the Jester is a beefy binding that’s also light weight – the strength to weight ratio is off the charts.”

Jason, bootfitter:
Armada Invictus
Look Pivot 14
K2 Pinnacle 130 LV
“The Pinnacle is just a versatile boot that skis really well and fits my foot perfectly. The Invictus is a strong ski that’s light and quick, great for a bigger guy like me. The pivots have great retention and transfer of energy.”

Krystal, bootfitter & sales:
Rossignol Savory 7
Rossignol Axial 3
Nordica Dobermann 100
“I really like the air tip and tail in the Savory 7, it’s light and easy to maneuver in trees and crud. The Dobermann has a good fit and is really responsive, and the Axial3 is lighter and easier to get in to.”

Alexis, sales & bootfitter:
Stockli Stormrider 88
Look Pivot 14
Head B3
“The B3 fits my tiny foot perfectly. The Stormrider is a fun snappy ski I can take anywhere – a great ride, and I really like the release of the bindings.”

Jennifer, buyer & sales:
Blizzard Black Pearl
Salomon STH2 13
K2 Spyre 110
“The Black Pearls are easy going – not demanding at all, perfect for a skier like me. They’re a good do it all ski. I have a wide foot, so the wider last on the K2 makes for a good fit. and the Salomon is a no-brainer, they’re easy in and out.”

Stan, sales & tuning:
Stockli Laser SX
Look Pivot 14
Lange RP ZA
“I like the responsiveness of a good race plug boot. The Stockli has incredible edge hold and a fantastic flex for hard snow conditions – it’s just super fun. You can’t go wrong with the Pivots.”

Allison, special orders & warranty:
Head Great Joy
Marker Griffon
Tecnica Cochise W
“The Great Joy is a great all mountain ski for Tahoe; really versatile. And the bindings are a good everyday driver with a great bang for your buck. The Cochise is a powerful yet comfortable boot, that’s extra versatile thanks to its walk mode.”

Greyson, website & marketing:
Dynastar Cham 97
Dynafit Radical ST
Scarpa Freedom SL
“The Cham’s weird shape was meant to make it a more versatile all mountain ski (and it does) – but it’s really perfect for the backcountry. When it comes time to head uphill, there’s no substitute for Dynafit bindings – the gold standard. And the Freedom SL has an incredibly progressive flex for a touring boot with a great fit – I’m happy skiing them in-bounds too.”

Brady, bootfitter:
Line Chronic
Marker Griffon
Lange XT 130
“I like the playfulness of the ski, and the boot goes from frontside to backside with the flip of a switch. The Griffon is lightweight, yet powerful.”

Jim, owner:
HEAD iSupershape Speed
HEAD System Binding with ski
K2 Spyne 130
“I love digging trenches at high speeds, and these GS-inspired carvers are great at just that. The K2 Spyne is the highest performance non-race boot I’ve tested, with great flex, feel and fit.”

Phil, sales:
Blizzard Bonafide
Look Pivot 18
Tecnica R9.8 130
“The Bonafide is still the benchmark for the category and one of the most versatile skis on the market – it’s my go-to ski. On the binding, I like the single-pivot toe and the all metal construction. The boot has a great fit and the lateral response is one of its best traits.”

Jared, sales:
Volkl Mantra
Marker Jester
K2 Spyne 130 HV
“The new Mantra is versatile, fun and really high performance for Tahoe conditions. The K2 Spyne has a great flex and fits my feet perfectly, and the bindings are sturdy and laterally stiff.”

Jim, sales, buyer:
Dynastar Powertrac 89
Salomon STH2 13
Lange RS 130
“The Powertrac is the epitome of versatility for its class with the best mix of capabilities among its competitors. The STH is one of many good bindings with great retention at a reasonable price, and the RS 130 is the benchmark 98 mm lasted soft race boot that fits a variety of feet.”

Collin, tuning:
Armada Al Dente
Look  Pivot 18
Dalbello KR2 Lupo
“I like the flex of the Dalbello for everything from the park to big mountain charging, and the bindings are reliable with no pre-release and all metal construction. The Al Dente is a great Tahoe park and everyday ski that can carve a turn – it’s not a charger but it’s just the right width.”

Doug, bootfitter:
Line Supernatural 100
Marker Griffon
Lange RX130
“I think the Supernatural is the first ski I’ve found in a long time under 180 cm that doesn’t have a speed limit, that I can really be happy with. I like the RX130 because it’s a traditional 4-buckle design with a really nice feel to it.”


Bootfitter’s Notes: Boot Buying Basics

A question we get a lot at the Start Haus, both in-store and online, is “What’s the best way to find new ski boots?”

ST bootfitter plumb bob

There are a lot of ways to go about it, including the “shotgun” method of just trying on everything in sight. We don’t like that approach, however, because there are generally 3 to 4 boots – at the most – that will provide the best fit. Trying on 10 is often counterproductive to finding the best one. Finding out what those few “ideal” boots are is our job.

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Ready to Race: Waxing Race Skis & Waxcall – Video

As we gear up for another ski racing season, now is a great time to brush up on some of the basics – wax selection for race conditions and how to use the Start Haus #Waxcall when waxing your race skis.


First up, Jim walks us through all the waxes, overlays, additives & more, explaining what conditions each is for:

Next up, Jim shows you how to take a typical #Waxcall and use it when waxing your race skis:

Follow these tips, and stay up to date with our #Waxcalls throughout the winter so your skis are ready for the best performance in current snow conditions.

Find all the ski tuning tools and ski wax you need at Start Haus.


2015 K2 Shreditor 102 & Remedy 102 – Video

Some skis are all business – a precise and demanding tool for pushing the limits of the skier at top speed. Other skis, like the K2 Shreditor 102 and the women’s K2 Remedy 102 – are built for fun. Those days you can’t go mach 3 or get the best untracked lines, these 102 skis make the whole mountain your playground. They’re perfect for popping off wind lips, snaking through the trees in search of left-over powder stashes and hitting a few features in the park.

Philpug walks us through their features in this video:

Testers loved the playful nature of the ski – the tip and tail rocker let it smear and pivot in tight trees, gullies and bumps, while the camber and construction made it poppy, perfect for lofting off natural or man-made features. The width was just right for some of our lighter skiers to call it a powder ski – while bigger skiers still had fun in soft snow stashes off-piste.

On the groomers, the Shreditor and Remedy had descent grip on all but the iciest slopes. K2′s seem to hit the sweet spot between great damping and lively energy, and these two are no exceptions. The smooth yet poppy feel was perfect in testing finding leftover pockets of soft, windblown snow, snaking through bumps and hopping off lips. These skis beg for creative line choices and exploring hidden pockets on your home mountain.

You’ll hit a speed limit – whether you’re trying to trench groomers or blast crud – but that’s not the point of a ski like this.

See how it stacked up against the competition in our Wide All Mountain Ski Comparison.


Bootfitter’s Notes: 2015 K2 Pinnacle Ski Boot Review

The K2 Pinnacle saw great success last year and has become a top-notch boot for all-mountain backcountry skiers.


Ski boot manufacturing is actually not new to K2; they had a line of boots in the 70’s, that saw mediocre success, and nearly a decade ago K2 launched the Full Tilt brand using the old Raichle Flexon boot molds. Through this manufacturing process K2 set up relationships with the Italian boot manufacturers, buckle providers, plastic sources, and liner manufacturers, setting up K2 to branch into boots and the market was primed.

K2 spent a significant amount of R&D setting the boots up right, 3-D printing and CAD software allowed engineers to have working samples in a day, test the product, make some tweaks, and have new designs. Much of what they were doing wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.

K2 did their homework, and I’m pleased to say we’re ecstatic with the product. If you’re looking for one boot to work for you at the ski area and touring it’s hard to beat the K2 Pinnacle. I ski the 130 flex version, if you’re looking for a softer flexing boot the Pinnacle is also offered in 110 in the unisex model and the ladies Minaret in 100 flex. The Pinnacle has three last widths; 97mm, 100mm, and 102 mm. The ladies Minaret at present is only offered in the medium fit 100mm last. The 130 flex is progressive and for me, just right, not too stiff and not too soft, and fit is phenomenal. The low volume version hugs my narrow foot, has an excellent heel pocket and navicular wall.

K2 boots come stock with an Intuition custom liner. The liners come specially made from Intuition with a tongue like an alpine liner, but have closed-cell Ultralon foam on the outer portion of the liner and a comfortable open-cell foam near the foot doing a good job of blending comfort and performance.

The skiability of the K2 Pinnacle is off the charts. Of all the hike-mode “adventure series” (as it was called in the Ski Magazine boot test) the K2 had the best piste performance with some stout competition. The K2 Spyne lock hike/tour mechanism transfers energy with almost no loss in performance, and is a fabulous boot for the ripping skier or bigger guy who wants a releasable cuff either for touring or walking through the parking lot. It’s hard to over-emphasize just how good the Pinnacle skis; simply put the boot absolutely rips.


Start Haus Holiday Sale

Cyber Monday on Dec. 1 kicks off serious savings at Start Haus, and this year we’ve got three sweet deals for your holiday shopping list in our Ski Outletbut hurry, these deals won’t last long.

Here’s a few to get you going:

Tecnica Cochise Pro Lite Touring Ski Boot: $799 $249


The Tecnica Cochise Pro Lite is a great backcountry ski boot that skis and skins well, but because Tecnica updated their boots this year, we are deeply discounting the 2013/2014 Pro Lite. This boot evenly splits priority between weight, touring and ski power and control, making it a great choice for those who want to go big in the backcountry.

Nordica Vagabond Blem: $749 $349


The Nordica Vagabond was a testers’ favorite at Start Haus, scoring nearly as well on piste as 98mm skis while adding the extra width for serious fun off piste. Our staff has skied it everywhere from powder in the backcountry to corduroy at the resort, and it always came up a winner. Blems have small cosmetic defects that don’t affect structure or performance, and come with a standard warranty. Typically we can’t even find the bump, dimple or run in the graphics.

Nordica El Capo Blem: $699 $329


Almost identical to the Vagabond, the El Capo uses the same shape and dimensions, but adds a sheet of metal for a little extra damping and weight, making it a better choice for heavier skiers looking for a smoother ride. Another testers’ favorite among Start Haus staff. Blems have small cosmetic defects that don’t affect structure or performance, and come with a standard warranty. Typically we can’t even find the bump, dimple or run in the graphics.

Ski Racing Development Roll Up Team Bag: $220 $119.99


The SRD burrito ski bag is a must for anybody traveling with multiple pairs of skis – keep your gear organized and secure to and from the mountain.

Scott Faze Ski Goggle: $110 $55


Spherical lenses give the best distortion free field of view for ski goggles, and you won’t find anything like this for such a low price. A staff-favorite ski goggle at Start Haus, you can’t go wrong with the Faze.


2015 Women’s All Mountain Ski Comparison

Don’t you just hate it when you walk into a ski shop or browse your favorite ski forum and you get a bunch of men telling you what you should or shouldn’t be skiing on? How would they even know? While some of the best all mountain skis in the men’s category range from 90-100mm underfoot, the bulk of women’s skis sit in this 80-90mm range.

It’s important to remember that picking a ski really depends on the skier, the type of terrain they typically ski, and the personal preferences of that skier. While the trend to go wider has made an impact on the ski industry as a whole, the need to talk about the narrower skis, not only for Eastern and Midwestern skiers but the westerners alike, is still important.

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