Tag Archives: squaw valley

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.

Catch Up: with Keely Kelleher


(Photo Credit: Marcus Caston)

By Lesley LeMasurier

Former World Cup Skier, National Champion, and Rahlves’ Banzai Stop Winner.

Only two athletes hold these multi-titles, one male and one female.  Funny thing is, the latter looked up to the former when she was a kid.

Montana Girl

For Keely Kelleher, skier Daron Rahlves is the man.  “I loved going off jumps pretending to be him when I was a kid,” she reflects.  “I tell all the kids I coach now, Just Daron It!

Just Daron It! is something Kelleher has been doing her entire career.  As a young ski racer, Kelleher was on the smaller side of the field.  “All my coaches called me birdlegs.  I could create these outrageous angles, but I was not fast. I developed so much later than most the girls I was racing against,” Kelleher reflects.

Her first year of FIS racing, Kelleher was a mere 95 lbs and pushing her birdlegs to compete against fully developed phenoms, like fellow 1984’s Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn. Kelleher’s road to the World Cup would require unmatched patience and persistence.

Fortunately for Kelleher, she grew up in Big Sky, Montana, where there was no daycare, but the great outdoors.  Her adventures in alternative babysitting took her down steep chutes, long groomers, and eventually, to the junior ski racing circuit. “I was not a J3 standout as far as speed; however, I had a really solid technique built up from freeskiing so much,” Kelleher recalls.

This freeskiing base—acquired on the open mountain, as well as on the Montana waters, where Kelleher excelled as a freestyle kayaker—shaped a solid and daring technique that would eventually take Kelleher to the top of her game.

Just Birdleg It!

In 2003, Kelleher pushed her small frame down foreign mountains, and hit her stride on the speed tracks of the Europa Cup Circuit.  She quickly earned her spot on the USST, proving her worth on some of the toughest, gnarliest speed tracks around, taking several top results across Austria and Italy.

During her first season with the US Ski Team, Kelleher broke one of her birdlegs.  A wing down, Kelleher was grounded for nearly two seasons, and took another few seasons to fully launch again.  In 2009, she scored her first World Cup points.  In 2010, she earned the US National SG Title.

Kelleher retired from the US Ski Team in 2010, unable to bear the chronic pain caused by the injury.  “I was honestly burnt out on managing the pain all the time on hard ice.  My last season I would take 2 runs while all the other girls were taking 10,” she recalls.

The competitive hunger struck during the first season of the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour in 2011.

“I wasn’t ready to be done with competing when ski racing ended so I continue to push myself in skiing. I want to ski terrain that is just as difficult or more difficult than a world cup downhill course,” she says.

Kelleher won her first entry in the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour, taking the Kirkwood stop in 2011.


Since retiring, Kelleher has set her sights on the Banzai Tour, school at Westminster College, and coaching.  In the summer of 2011, she founded ‘Keely’s Ski Camp for Girls’.  With a group of 22 junior girls ages 12 – 16 and a staff stacked with all-female former Olympians and World Cup athletes, the girls turned Government Camp into Girl’s Camp.

(Coaching Staff: Jess Kelley, Libby Ludlow, Keely Kelleher, Katie Hitchcock, and Tara Hines. Photo: Marcus Caston)

“The aim is to empower girls through ski racing and skiing. The camp motto is ‘Conquering the mountain one girl at a time.’ I see two meanings in it: I want the girls to come away from the camp feeling like they improved—or ‘conquered’—an aspect of their skiing. But the deeper meaning is ‘conquering’ the challenges that ski racing and life throw at them,” says Kelleher.

In addition to her Mt. Hood camp, this spring Kelleher will host a big mountain free ski camp for girls at Snowbird, Utah. The camp will be the first ever of its kind: all mountain, all girls, all time.

Be sure to catch up with Keely Kelleher when the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour kicks off in 2012 at Kirkwood Resort!

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.”

Three easy tips to improve your pow skiing

Nothing is better than waking up and seeing 2 feet of fresh at lake level or the valley floor; especially this season! We’re all pretty comfortable with the light and fluffy stuff but sometimes when the “Pineapple Express” hits, the fresh snow can be dense and heavy. How do you approach these types of conditions? Here are three tips to help make your day more enjoyable if its not as light as you hoped:

1. Allow your skis to plane out of the snow, you may need to aim straight down the hill or at a diagonal to get some speed built up. It will help keep your skis on the surface.

2. Steer your feet and legs progressively, spend just a little more time in the fall line than what your instinct directs you to do. Big, aggressive twisting moves will bog you down and throw you off balance.

3. Shrink your turns to go slower and stretch out your turns to go faster, read the terrain and scope out your line, so you know where you will need to make adjustments to maintain fluidity and control.

And don’t forget to check out our selection of powder skis, all designed to make powder skiing easier and more fun with wide widths, rockered shapes and easier flex patterns: Shop Powder Skis


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

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.

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.

NASTC now an AIARE Avalanche Course Provider

Isn’t safety the #1 concern for all of us when it comes to skiing and riding in the slackcountry, sidecountry, or backcountry?  True to NASTC standards, our avalanche instructors are of the highest quality, professionalism, and experience level. This is a 3-day education and certification class in which you earn your AIARE Level I (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education). It’s the minimum amount of know-how if you want to travel, ski, or ride out of bounds safely. There is time spent in the classroom and on the snow daily. Each year more resorts are lifting their boundary lines, allowing us to get to fresh snow and exciting terrain even after the resort itself is “skied out.”

However, the risk has never been greater. You need to know what you’re doing if you are heading out there. A friend may say, “oh I know some avalanche safety stuff…” but really? Do you want to rely on them, or have the knowledge yourself? In this course, among other skills you learn how to plan a trip, what are the “red flags,” how to recognize different types of avalanche terrain and avalanches, how to perform certain observations and snow safety tests, route finding and terrain management, and how to use your beacon.

So often accidents occur not as the result of one bad decision, but several. These human decision-making errors can be avoided. The snow science around avalanche education is truly fascinating, and the Level I curriculum has come a long way. The risk has never been greater, everyone is pushing the envelope. Get certified. You’ll enjoy it and be safer.

Dates for the NASTC AIARE Level I courses:
January 21-23 or February 11-13 $425  (includes instruction, AIARE fees, course manual and field notebook)

Transferring from Tahoe League to Far West or The first time Far West racer

You have spent a couple of seasons racing Tahoe League and are ready to make the transition to Far West/USSA races. Or, you are a first time Far West racer this season.
Here are six items to help you get started.

  1. 1.        You will need a USSA and Far West membership, required to participate in a Far West race.
    1. Go to the USSA website, www.ussa.org .
    2. Find the drop down menu on the right hand side of the screen, “membership tools” and then choose “become a member.” You can choose to do an online registration (the fastest way to complete a membership) or you can download an application, fill it out and mail it in.
    3. Please note that after October 15th any returning Far West and USSA membership is assessed a late fee. The first time you become a member there is no late involved.
    4. 2.        Far West Skiing website, www.fwskiing.org. This is our local division’s website and is where you will find all of the information you need regarding race schedules, scholarships, upcoming events and articles. Please become familiar with this location, and cruise the site for a bit. You will want to locate the ‘competition’ tab so that you can go to ‘schedules’ and then click on your age class schedules page. (You will see the age class breakdown below)

Junior Racing

Age Classification is based on your age as of December 31, 2010

            MID      20 and older (born 1991 and earlier) **                J3         13, 14 (born 1997-8)

            J1         17, 18, 19 (born 1992-94)                                   J4         11, 12 (born 1999-2000)

            J2         15, 16 (born 1995-96)                                         J5         10 & younger (born 2001 or later)


  1. 3.       Sign up for your Age Class Email Hotline! This is the best way to receive an email regarding information for your age class racing group. You can subscribe to this email by clicking on your age class on the homepage of the Far West website. The Far West Office throws out emails for upcoming deadlines, scholarships, important announcements, etc.
  2. 4.       Signing up for a race. This is different from Tahoe League as you will now sign yourself up for each race, unless otherwise noted by your program. You can do this through the online process or via a faxed in or mailed in entry. For a detail of how to sign up please see below.  There are late fees assessed for registering late, so please take a look at the race announcement early!
    Online registration via www.alpinereg.org
    1. Download the race announcement and waiver from the race schedules page on the Far West website. Read the announcement for date and registration details. The waiver must be faxed in and should be provided to your coach to take to the team captain’s meeting, too.
    2. Go to www.alpinereg.com
    3. Click on California Nevada
    4. Choose the host mountain or club from the drop down menu.
    5. Click on the “register now’ button.
    6. Enter your athletes USSA number, beginning with the F (which stands for Far West)
    7. If this is the correct athlete then please click ‘continue to register’, if not go back and retype
    in the number.
    8. Click on the state on the right hand side.
    9. Click on the club/mountain – if that club or mountain does not show up then they are not
    accepting online registration and you will need to follow the registration directions on the
    race announcement.
    10. Choose a race by adding it to the cart.
    11. Complete steps 7-10 until you have added all race days to your cart. Follow directions
    to check out.

Faxed/mailed in entries:

1. Download the race announcement and waiver from the race schedules page on the Far West website. Read the announcement for date and registration details. The waiver must be faxed in and should be provided to your coach to take to the team captain’s meeting, too.
2. Download an alpine entry card at the top of the schedules page.
3. Fill out the information on the alpine entry card.
4. To pay for the race you can either create your own credit card authorization form, or place
it on the ‘date paid’ line, or send in a check. Please write legibly.
5. Fill out the waiver for this event location.
6. Fax/mail in the waiver, payment and the alpine entry card to the race organizer.

  1. 5.       Confirm with the coaches! The most important thing that you as a parent and athlete can do is communicate with your coaches regarding your race and training schedules!
  2. 6.       The Far West Office is always available for help. Have any questions? Call Lucy Schram, Far West Divisional Manager,  in the Far West Office at 530.559.4130 or send an email to lucy@fwskiing.org

Enjoy and have a wonderful season!