Tag Archives: skis

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Race Ski Testing 101

Spring is the time of the season that we begin testing skis and boots for the following season. Here are some key reasons why we stress testing now opposed to the summer time:

Snow: When testing products you should test it on a condition that is most similar to what you will be racing on during the season.  This all revolves around the feel of the ski or boot.  Depending on the condition you will find that there can be differences that will/can eventually add up to a time difference in the course and that can be the separation between you winning or losing.

Tune:  Having the ability to test multiple different brands of products with the exact same Start Haus tune.  This will result in you being eliminate the tune as being a variable in the test and making it easier for you to feel exactly how the ski feels.

Product:  Ultimately you are testing skis or boots to see if you are faster than other brands.  When you have the ability to test multiple different skis or boots in one day you are easily able to determine the differences between brands.  This is easy because the snow conditions are the same, tune is the same and now the only differences will be product.

These three key elements are all necessary components to an effective test and deciding which brand is the best performing ski or boot for the athlete.

Ski camps will be taking place over the next few weekends through the Squaw Valley Race Program and Sugar Bow Ski Team; both camps will be open to all other programs as well. If you have any inquiries regarding these camps please contact Start Haus at 530.582.5781 or comment here and we will be happy to assist you the best we can.

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Build it Upside Down

Several years ago, a couple reps, company execs, and sponsored skiers were sitting around a dinner table celebrating the success of a new prototype that would revolutionize the way they made skis. The idea was born out of a frustration with rocker technology, which makes skis playful, but also instable and nervous. Ever the tinkering skier, Arne Backstrom proposed a solution that was simple, yet so profound, it should be written down in the ski book of Zen: Build the ski upside down.

Blizzard-Tecnica unveiled their upcoming 2012/2013 lineup for the first time in California and Nevada before an audience of Tahoe skiers and ski industry leaders at a launch party in Squaw Valley. Like last year’s line of Blizzard skis, next year’s models all embrace Flip Core technology, which was inspired by Backstrom and flips the ski’s wood core upside down so it naturally takes on a rocker shape. Incorporated in the Cochise to the Bodacious to an entire new line of woman’s big mountain skis and beyond — thirteen models in total for 2013 — the genius of Backstrom’s idea is that it can be applied to an entire line of skis, not just one pair. And on Tuesday night, there were many converts in the crowd who now believe in Flip Core.

“If I’m going to sell a product to a friend, I have to believe in it,” said Robb Gaffney, who first skied the Cochise prototype three years ago at Kirkwood, and now skis them nearly every time he goes out. “The first run, I believed it. The second run, I believed it more … He [Backstrom] knew what he was talking about.”

Ski writer Jackson Hogen noted that Blizzard isn’t just on the map, it’s leading the charge with its new technology. “They made it [Blizzard] the most important brand in skiing now, because it’s the reference brand,” Hogan said. “It’s all deserved because it’s product … These things aren’t pixie dust. There’s math involved.” Not just math, there was a curious person who was in tune with his equipment.

“A lot of it came down to this drive to understand how things worked,” said Ralph Backstrom, Arne’s younger brother.

Arne Backstrom was at the top of his skiing career when this idea came forward. And at that dinner table on that fortuitous night, the Blizzard-Tecnica crew was not only celebrating the success of the prototype, but also Backstrom’s skiing career. He had just won the first McConkey Cup and was filming with Matchstick and Warren Miller. It was that night that Stefano Mantegazza, Blizzard-Tecnica product director, proposed that the Bodacious become Backstrom’s signature pro model ski.

“It’s not a tribute,” said Clem Smith, sales rep for Blizzard-Tecnica, about the Bodacious. “This was always his deal. It wasn’t an afterthought.”

Backstrom passed away just as the first line of Flip Core skis went into production. Right before he left for Peru to ski the Cordillera Blanca, Backstrom signed his name five times — a true perfectionist — on a piece of paper that he left with Smith. That signature is now on every pair of Bodacious skis.

“Arne was a man of few words,” Smith said. “But when he spoke, everyone listened.”

New this year from Blizzard is a women’s big mountain line of Flip Core skis, including the aggressive Blizzard Dakota ski, which is the female version of the Cochise. Tecnica is also coming forward with another line of boots inspired by Backstrom’s infamous Frankenboot. The 2012/13 free mountain boots feature interchangeable soles, a walk mode, and can be skied aggressively in bounds or in the backcountry.

“It’s rare to see an athlete have this much inspiration in a global brand,” said Dana Greenwood, sales rep for Blizzard-Tecnica. “It’s got Squaw DNA … [Backstrom] knew it was a good idea, but he never would believe the impact worldwide that he would have.”

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Kastle MX88 the Porsche 911 of the ski world

The MX 88 is the ski that single handedly built the formidable reputation of the Kastle brand. Some brands may have a ski model that become a hot seller for one year, but almost invariably, they feel the need to tinker with it and change success. Fortunately for all concerned,  Kastle does not work that way. The Kastle MX 88 has been the flagship of the collection since its inception, has not really changed at all and yet it still sells out early every year. There are some very good reasons for this with the primary one being the construction and feel that sets Kastle apart from other brands.

Most ski companies tout their technology and construction and of course they should. A lot of times the new “whiz bang” tech that is “going to change everything” is just smoke and mirrors. With Kastle it is a different program. Kastle utilizes design and construction techniques that give their skis a unique and highly desirable feel, they tune the build and flex for the target customer, put on a fairly simple elegant graphic and then……they leave it alone. It is a plan that works pretty well for them since the skis sell out early every year despite being some of the higher priced models on the market.

The MX 88 falls right in the middle of the width range for today’s all mountain skis. There are a lot of skis in this range of course with some being biased toward soft snow and some biased toward hard snow. Then again, there are some that have about an evenly weighted conditions bias and these tend to be the most versatile in our opinion. The Kastle MX 88 is among the very best in this width range on hard snow and yet, I tend to rank it with only a slight bias on the hard snow side. The reason that I give it only a slight bias toward hard snow is because despite being a fairly stiff ski, it is quite good in other conditions as well. Kastle manages this by producing a ski that is stiff enough torsionally and has such good dampening that it will hold on anything short of a watered down racecourse.  Yet for a ski with all that power it feels lighter and more nimble than one would expect and it is even reasonable in soft, mixed conditions. A combination that is grippy and powerful yet light and nimble at the same time has been one of those unobtanium deals in the ski industry but Kastle has managed it. The Kastle MX 88 will have many differing applications depending on where and how you ski. This is a ski that would make an awesome one ski quiver for any Eastern or Midwestern skier and could still be great fit for a Western guy that skis off trail a bit but doesn’t live there. This is a ski for someone with developed skills, and does require some strength and or speed to generate turn initiation. The MX 88 is not a ski that I would normally recommend for an intermediate skier.

Chris Davenport and the MX88 in action

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Looking for hard snow edge grip???

Dynastar has been a major player in the race world with many Olympic and World Championship medals as well as World Cup titles in their long history. This racing pedigree really shows in the Dynastar Speed Course TI. The Course TI wears race graphics, carries a racing binding plate, and shares the wood/metal construction characteristics of the World Cup skis. Despite this, it is in fact a pretty different animal than a pure race ski.  A wider waist width and rounded tail are the first visual clues that this is not just another race ski. The Course TI has a tight 15m turn radius in the 171 size and it is available in sizes as short as a 159 and as long as 183. This is a very good dual event race ski for non-FIS level competitors and also makes a great “cheater” GS ski for Masters racers. The Speed Course TI is even more than this though. This is a very good ski for someone that doesn’t race at all and is looking for a hard snow biased ski for everyday use.

The first runs I took on the Dynastar Course TI was at Winter Park during the annual SIA intro. The main test run there is an FIS homologated GS trail and has very hard snow most of the time. The upper part of the run is relatively narrow and has a moderate pitch. I used this part of the trail to vary turn shapes between short medium and long radius and then back again. The tapered tail released much more easily than the grippy, squared off tails that you find on real race skis these days. Through this exercise the Course felt amazingly comfortable and compliant through changing turn shapes and the turn release was energetic but manageable. As the trail got steeper it also gets wider and in this section of the trail, I opened up the turn radius and picked up the speeds. While the Course TI is easy enough at slower speeds, it really stands out when skied aggressively. The grip was like a razor even on the spots that were scraped off and shiny and the dampening was on par with a World Cup GS ski. The tighter turn radius kept the ski from running out at the turn finish the way a GS race ski would and when I took it out to the edges of the trail it managed the soft crud very well. For the skier or instructor/coach looking for a hard snow specialty ski, it doesn’t get much better or more versatile than the Speed Course Ti.

Skiing at the Sugar Bowl ski resort near Truckee, CA on February 15, 2010.

Using the Ankle as a Hinge

It is important to maintain a centered stance over your skis to work the skis effectively.  While standing on your skis on flat terrain, try moving your body forward and backward over the skis by using the ankle joint as hinge.  This is how we want to re-center our center of mass over the skis.  The goal is to maintain a perpendicular relationship of body to the skis.  When approaching steep pitches it is natural to move your weight back because you are hesitant and maybe a little nervous.  Unfortunately when this happens, you lose the ability to direct and work the ski effectively.  You may find that you are suddenly going faster than you want and may be heading out of control.  When skiing steeper pitches, concentrate on keeping your body perpendicular to the hill by hinging the body forward through the ankle joint, especially at the start of the turn.  This will help to apply pressure on the front of your boots with your shins.  The pressure on the front of your boots is conveyed to the tips or your skis and will allow you to control your skis with more precision.  Skis are designed to perform best when strong forward pressure is applied to start the turn.  It is amazingly easy to adjust the radius of your turns if your weight is centered over the skis.  Don’t hesitate when you hit the steeps – be assertive, move your body down the hill and have fun.

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You can be an even better athlete this winter!

By: Chris Fellows

As director of the North American Ski Training Center and father of three active kids, I don’t have large chunks of time to spend in the gym.  However my skiing performance and fitness is important to me. I’m guessing that’s the way you feel as a passionate skier too?

By staying healthy and fit throughout the season, I can provide my clients with solid skiing instruction and demonstrations and I can keep the wheels from coming off the cart mid-season due to overuse injuries, bad alignment, or illness due to lack of recovery time. Don’t forget well-fit boots and the right skis in your quiver complete the perfect relationship: good fitness, good equipment, and good technique = lots of fun, excellent skiing and reduced risk of injury.  Thanks in advance for reading.

The following tips keep me moving athletically throughout the ski season and help prevent injury.

  1. Exercise fads come and go. Make a commitment to keep fit and make exercise a part of your daily routine.
  2. Posture, good or bad, can effect your athleticism. Pay attention to your sitting, standing, walking and exercising posture.  Poor posture will result in poor performance; good posture will help you perform like a top athlete.
  3. Focus on a strong core for stability and flexible hips for skiing mobility.  Limited range of movement and weak core muscles can over-stress connective tissue.  This will limit your performance and body durability.
  4. In the winter, cold weather tells your body to pack on fat for survival.  Don’t let it go too far. Eat fresh vegetables and fruits and don’t overdo the high carb foods. Diabetes runs in my family and I’ve seen the damaging effects of the disease.  From a young age I have tried to eat healthy and exercise regularly.
  5. The biggest technological breakthroughs in sports in the next decade will include advancements in human performance through food.  This will come in the form of body enhancement foods or super foods.  Like the tobacco industry 15 years ago, the food industry will be under the microscope over the next 20 years and will be expected to clean up its act. Athletes are ahead of the game and are adjusting their diets to exclude starches, sugars, industrial additives, pesticides and dyes.  Athletes’ diets are rich in nutrients and proteins, like raw locally grown fruits and vegetables, nut, whole grains, yogurt and smaller portions of meat.
  6. Change up your work out intensity.  Mix up your high intensity days with low intensity days and don’t skimp on sleep for total body recovery.
  7. Ski athletes focus on total body work outs. The best weight training program for ski athletes is NOT the muscle specific routines of bodybuilders, but instead sessions that work out the whole body.
  8. Keep your aerobic engine active throughout the winter.  You aerobic levels will slowly dwindle if you forget to get a run in, go for a cross-country ski or backcountry climb regularly.  Your aerobic fitness is the furnace that fires your athletic abilities, without it you are running on fumes.
  9. When crunched for time, up the intensity of your work out. Skip rope fast for ten minutes or do 100 split squats for a personal best time. High intensity workouts will force the issue and teach your body to adjust to high power output.  Skiing is high power output.
  10. Energize yourself with the youth!  Work out with people younger than you.  My kids force me out of my comfort zone.  “Daddy try this trick on the tramp”, or “Dad, race me to that pole and shimmy to the top, let’s see who wins”.  Younger partners will make you rise to a higher level of performance.

Most importantly, remember to have fun with your workouts. This is the single largest indicator that you will continue them regularly throughout the ski season and off-season.

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Introducing the LINE Influence

Influence 115:

The Influence 115 for 2012 is a modified version of last year’s Prophet 115. The new version comes with a slightly softer flex and a bit more pronounced rise in the tip rocker section. These are important changes as the Prophet was a little too stiff to really shine in light, deep snow and it was a little too wide for the preferences of many big mountain skiers for a daily driver ski. The changes have clearly benefitted the new Influence 115 and made it a much better powder than it was last year.

I tested an Influence 115 on two different occasions during March of 2011 when Tahoe was getting heavily pounded by big storms. Both times I noted that the 115 floated well and turned readily enough when in the deeper snow but it just wasn’t as nimble or maneuverable as softer double rise skis. On the other hand, when I skied out of the deep stuff and into shallower crud or back onto the groomers, the Influence was one of the most solid feeling skis in this width category. The Influence 115 illustrates the conundrum that ski makers have to face when building skis in this width range. The question is whether to build a little stiffer ski with less rocker so it excels in crud and heavy snow, or do they add more rocker and taper and make it softer and more nimble in the deep stuff. Of course the consumer expects both things but that isn’t reality. Everything is a compromise the Influence 115 is a blend of powder float and big mountain stability. If a skier wanted a ski inb this width range for everyday use, the Influence 115 is one of the best choices.

Influence 105:

The influence 105 is a new model for Line this year and this ski fills a position in the lineup that Line did not really have in the past. The “big mountain” ski as we define it is basically a large economy size all mountain ski. By that, we mean a ski that has a mix of all mountain ski characteristics but in a width (approx 102-108mm) that is close to powder ski territory. The Line Influence 105 fits right into that mold. The 105 is of course, 105mm wide at the waist and uses Lines Metal Matrix topsheet. This gives the ski a medium-firm flex that helps it to power crud and grip well on the groomers. The Influence 105 has a fairly low rise to its rockered tip so that it lifts a little better in softer snow without detracting much from the feel on harder snow.

I got the chance to test the Influence 105 at Sugar Bowl on a Wednesday in March 2011 at the Sugar Bowl ski resort. It had snowed Monday night and part of Tuesday but then had cleared up and the powder was pretty well skied out. It was very cold Tuesday night and the wind blew so the snow had blown around and filled in, but had also compacted some. By Wednesday, the conditions were vastly different on different aspects of the resort. This is the type of day when you sorta want your powder skis for the deep spots and you sorta want your all mountain skis for the crud, wind pack and groomers. That is the catalog description for the “big mountain” ski as it is the blend of both those two categories. There are a few truly great skis in this category and the Influence 105 is one of the best. Skiing into the main area from a fringe parking lot, you have a couple of lift rides and some groomers to deal with and the Influence 105 feels solid, stable and relatively grippy in GS turns. When I got to the top of the Disney lift I cut right through the trees to get to the east face bowl where the wind had filled in yesterdays tracks. The snow was about mid calf and had some substance to it because of the wind compaction. The Influence 105 sliced this stuff with ease and the early rise kept the tip from hooking when I hit a patch that was little heavier than the surrounding snow. Down lower, I dropped into a gully where the snow had collected but was not compacted much. This was pretty deep stuff and the influence skied through it with ease but certainly not with the float that you’d get if you had on a wider and softer ski.  Later in the day on the Lincoln lift, I got into a steep pitch that was heavily skied out. Here, the 105 made short radius turns quickly enough but the nimble feel of some narrower all mountain skis was lacking. This test day really explains the category of “big mountain” skis very well. While it lacks the flotation of the pure powder ski, and the nimbleness of the all mountain ski, the Influence 105 blends those two characteristics very well. It is certainly no accident that many big mountain competitors choose skis in this range as their competition ski and also as their daily driver.

Check out the Line Influence product pages and order on our website:

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Its baaaacccckkkkkk, the Rossignol S7!!!

It is safe to say that the Rossignol S7 has taken the world of powder skis by storm over the last two years.  This is the model that has been the highest in demand and shortest in supply during that time.  It is also safe to say that the S7 started out in the market a little slowly.  There was not much marketing behind the S7 at first, Rossi didn’t have a real high “cool factor” at the time, and it also looked very different than most of the other powder skis available at the time.  The current huge demand for the S7 came about slowly at first and it was mostly word of mouth.  Later, the S7 received a #1 ranking in a magazine review.  After that, it was the ski that everyone wanted but after early December (or so) nobody could get.  So, One might wonder……what is all that about?

At the time the S7 came out, there were not very many innovative designs available in the world of powder skis.  For sure, there were a few groundbreaking designs already on the mainstream market and some interesting stuff in the independent ski world but there were not all that many readily available choices.  When Rossi quietly introduced the S7, it was a nearly unique blend of powder technologies at least from the major suppliers.  The S7 took rocker and reverse sidecut (the major components of powder ski design) and carefully blended them without taking any of those technologies to the extreme. The S7 starts with a section in the middle of the ski comprising roughly 50% of the skis length that has conventional sidecut and camber.  Moving fore and aft from that starting point, the tip and tail are substantially rockered and the tip and tail are also tapered.  This may or may not have been the very first iteration of this combo but it was certainly the first from a major supplier.

I got my first pair of S7s in the early winter of ’09 before it had really caught on.  I honestly bought it so that I could put some extended time on it to figure out if this was a good direction in ski design for my personal use.  I had previously owned a K2 Pontoon and while it was magical in deep snow it was really not my cuppa anywhere else.  At the time that I got the S7, my powder ski Du Jour was a 115mm twin tip ski with low, conventional camber.  For the early part of that season, I had gotten got out on the S7 maybe 5-6 times and found that I really liked the blend of characteristics.  When the snow was not very deep, the longer conventional section of the S7 felt grippier and more stable than my Pontoons had.  Another bonus was that the tip was nowhere near as big and bulky and so the S7 felt more nimble than either the old Pontoon or my current conventional powder skis.  I also noticed that in consolidated and or chopped up snow, the tips of the S7 deflected less than the Pontoon did.  I didn’t hit a major dump early on and so, while I really liked the S7 better than the Pontoon, I didn’t find it dramatically better than the conventional powder ski I had.

Then came “Big Wednesday”……………………….

On a cold, windy day in February, I hit the day the S7 was made for.  It had snowed pretty continuously since late Monday and by Wednesday there was over 3 feet of accumulation, not much skier traffic and some closed roads to boot.  I drove up to Sugar Bowl from Truckee that morning figuring there would be less traffic than going to Squaw or Alpine.  Sure enough, the factors contributed to deep snow and not many skiers. Skiing into the main area I noticed that Mt. Lincoln was not yet open so I bypassed it and headed for Disney.  Disney had been skied a bit but there was no problem finding untracked lines and that is where I discovered what the S7 was made for.  The S7 floated the deep snow with a fairly even fore-aft bias and the low resistance from the tapered tip and tail made the ski feel more nimble and turny than anything I had ever been on.  The S7 skis very short and for most average sized men the 188 is the minimum length to really consider.  Skiing down the nose of Disney, I dropped into a shallow gully where the snow was chest deep and the next four or five turns were nearly blind as the snow billowed past my head.  I skied up out of that gully thinking to myself……….SOLD!! The rest of the day was spent exploring all over the area as additional terrain became available and in the tighter spots like in the trees etc. the nimbleness of the S7 really shows up.  This type of design allows the skier to slide the skis practically sideways while submerged in the snow.  This maneuver can be adopted as a general technique if you choose to or saved as an emergency avoidance or “whoa down” maneuver.  Either way, the S7 can be skied in a conventional “powder carve” technique or in this newer “slarve” technique very well.  The S7 has decisively proven that a properly designed powder ski does not need to be enormously wide in order to be effective.

The payoff of the balanced design and nimbleness of the S7 is that these factors make it one of the most versatile of the powder specialty skis. Literally anyone from a solid intermediate skier and up can take advantage of the S7.  For all its popularity and versatility though, the S7 is not without its weaknesses.  The nimble feel of the high tip rise and its taper can cause the S7 to get knocked around a fair bit when the snow gets heavy or heavily tracked out.  The soft narrow tail can cause the ski to wheelie out from under the skier if he gets tossed into the back seat a little due to the terrain or conditions.  Finally, while the underfoot section of the S7 grips well on firmer snow, the tip and tail can display some significant flappage on firm or rough snow.  While these paybacks are valid enough questions for some skiers, the fact remains that most all powder specialty skis display the same things to one level or another and the S7 minimizes these perceived weaknesses better than most other similar skis.

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Diary of a Non-Wimpy Ski Racer

Journaling isn’t just for detectives like Nancy Drew (and diaries aren’t just for wimpy kids like the wimpy kid that kept a diary).  Writing, journaling, diary keeping—whatever you want to dub the pages soaking the ink of your thoughts—is rad.  And if you want to be numero-uno down the road, a training log is a great key to long-term success.  If you track it, you’ll always be able to go back to it.  If you end every training session with a journal entry, you’ll begin to recognize patterns, and solve the issues when you hit a plateau

Writing is also a good way to problem solve.  Ski racing is full of confusing, convoluted lingo.  Believe me, there were many times when I had no idea what my coach was asking of me.  Don’t feel ashamed to ask questions, and in your journal, work through those questions.  Technical talk is often hard to understand.  When you work through a training session in your journal, you may realize, “Hey, I didn’t even know what my coach wanted me to do.”  Ask for a drill the next day, and record it.  If you’re ever having the same problem again, you’ll be able to look back and know exactly how to solve it.

You’ll also learn what works and what doesn’t work.  Say one day you take two warm-up runs and the next you take five.  This pattern continues and you realize that two warm-up runs work for you.  Five just tires you out.  Boom, problem solved and now you’re on to a more productive training session.

If you want to hit the front page every race, get proactive.  Keep a ski journal.  It’s a smart way to victory.

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Bro-Ski is for Real

Boy or girl, we’ve all got bros that ski. Pant sagging, goggle gapping, and ski rapping—your bro-ski, man. You know who I’m talking about. It’s likely they give you a hard time for your ski strapping, goggle lens-packing, gate bashing style. And it’s likely you give them a hard time for—well, bro-ing. You love them for their different style, and their argyle one-piece pile.

Truth be told, we have a lot to learn from each other. To ski racers, technique is all discipline of the body. To free riders, technique is all creativity of the mind. Oftentimes, in the world of ski racing, the athlete gets very caught up attempting to travel past a gate the “correct” way. I’ve been a victim of this mindset, and I’ve watched kids ski stagnant trying to force technique. While there are basics to master, in the end, every skier has a different style, a different strength, and travels a different line.

Consider this common scenario: Your coach instructs you to move your hips forward in the transition. This piece of advice doesn’t mean move your hips forward like Johnny or Jackie; it means generate forward movement in your own way, to re-center over the ski in the transition, so that you can flex your ankle, bend the boot, and snap off a turn. Ted Ligety and Bode Miller have two different styles in the transition. You should, too.

Instead of lapping around, jumping back in the gate, and trying to do what you’re told in the blues and the reds, it’s time for the bro-ski in your head. Take the concept, and go make it unique to you. The best way to drive home an idea in ski racing is to master it in your free skiing.

Free skiing is the most underutilized tool in today’s ski racing environment. Programs pay a lot for training space, gates, and free skiing is, well, “free.” If you look to Europe, young ski racers are not allowed to touch a gate until they have mastered technique in their free skiing. These athletes are learning from the mountain; it is a natural course, using terrain as the turning pole, and mastering the arc without a pole.

If you’ve been slapping gates since you were 6, take a chance on free skiing. Opt for the free run over the training run (with the permission of your coach, of course). Put your hips on your tails for a few turns, move them so far forward you can’t initiate a turn, and find your own medium in the transition. You have to find the top of your own turn, your own way. It is, after all, your turn.