Monday, 12 March 2018

Hokkaido First Time

I've had something of a hiatus from the blog, despite getting out and skiing a lot in Hokkaido.


Whilst I enjoyed the trip, it was a bit of an awakening in terms of my ability to ski in loose snow (powdery or crud). In summary, I just haven't skied enough powder to be good at it, and so I ended up skiing poorly at times.


I want to be more capable as a skier, and the only way I really see that happening is living in a place where I can ski more and develop my skill set. As good as our alpine region is, it's still a mediocre existence as a BC skier in the shitest country in the world for mountains.



I know that I'll improve the more I ski - it's just a matter of being patient.

I'll be in Hakuba for the start of April, and then the Oz season awaits. By then, I will most likely have made a decision about next year's destination - either Japan or Canada...leaning towards the latter at the moment, but I know both would be fantastic places to live for a while.


In terms of gear, everything I've been using has been outstanding, and I'd like to be skiing better before commentating too much on my skis and boots. In terms of future acquisitions, two items are piquing my interest:




Fritschi Tecton 12

I'm interested to try a binding with more elasticity, and couldn't see myself lugging the weight of the Shift around. These are getting great reviews from up north, even if there are some reported brake problems - I use leashes most of the time anyway.


Technica Zero G Pro Tour

This boot sounds perfect; 1300g, great ROM and as stiff as a Mtn Lab. I'll see if they appear in stores down this way...if not, I may have to wait till the end of the year to get a pair.

I've got some Bogong pics to post too - went for a good walk and saw much potential terrain on the north faces and Quartz ridge. For now, a few more shots of Japan are below.












Team Weasel

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

2017 Post-Season Analysis

Temperatures have gone up, the rain has arrived, and our bountiful snowpack has disappeared.

From this...

...to this

In the absence of further skiing in the Australian season, it's a good time to analyse how I went this year.

This is aided by some of my slightly autistic tendencies - I've tracked my days in the mountains in terms of time, vertical distance and so on. Towards the end of the season, I noticed that I was closing in on a pretty decent figure of human earned turns for the season. It took a bit of grinding at the end, but I got there.

I managed 50,301 vertical meters of ski touring this Australian season.

Season 2017 Stats

Lifts                   - 11 days
Resort Touring  -   3 days
BC                     - 26 days

Total                 - 40 days

Days on each mountain:

Bogong      - 12
Feathertop  -  7
Razorback  -  4
Hotham      -  2
Stirling       -  1

I was pretty happy with the amount of skiing I got in. I thought that I'd do more resort touring, but if it was crappy enough to be at a resort, I found it more convenient to be on the lifts. As always, more time on Feathertop would have been ideal.


Closing out the season on Feathertop

In terms of analysis, I was most interested in seeing what my rough rate of movement was throughout the season - particularly as about halfway through I upgraded to a much heavier setup. I was also curious about speed of ascent when comparing booting to skinning for climbing up.

How much difference did heavier gear make?

 

Early in the season I was on my skimo race rig (weighing in at 3.6kg). Later, I moved to the setup that I used most throughout the season (TLT6, Blizzard ZG108 and ATK Freeraider) for a total of 6.5kg.

I was curious to see what difference it made...but it seems that any loss in speed was counteracted by increased fitness as the season progressed and gains in downhill efficiency.

Audax held together well till the end

Surprisingly, my rate of vertical movement didn't change significantly due to heavier gear. I even revisited the skimo rig late in the season, and my vertical times were still quite similar to when I used heavier gear. I would like to more 'scientifically' assess how much of an impact gear weight has on my performance next season; specifically, I wonder if there is a weight threshold that will negatively impact upon my performance, and also if it is important where the weight is in the setup (I'm guessing heavier boots are more detrimental for uphill gains than heavier skis).

I'm curious about those two issues, mainly because I am moving to heavier boots and higher total weights (in the 7kg weight range for total setup). Having said that, the advantages of the heavier gear on the way down (speed, stability, reduced fatigue) are also a factor in ameliorating the weight on the way up.

 

How fast did I go, and is skinning or booting better?

 

To some, the answer would seem simple - of course skinning would be more efficient (and that is true). I'm more interested in the planning considerations of ascending a mountain. Is it better to skin up the longer, less steep route or to boot up the fall line? Often, the mountain will dictate the answer, but I was curious nonetheless.

For me, Bogong generally means skinning (with exceptions like Eskdale and Audax), whilst Feathertop is all about booting. Hence, analysing the data was made a bit easier.

The figures I give for vertical rate of ascent are averages over many sessions, and include the up and down component of ski mountaineering and touring.

At the highest end, I managed about 350 meters an hour (mph) (recorded during a day of resort touring). At the lower end, I was averaging about 220mph (mid-winter booting on Feathertop).


TLT6 print - many of these were left about the place


The averages for each mountain were 328mph for Bogong, and 241mph for Feathertop.

As a result, it seems that skinning on Bogong is about 25% more efficient for gaining vertical altitude than booting on Feathertop. Again, this is quite a rough calculation, and I'd love to find more robust and stringent ways to assess performance...but for now it will do.

In the end, my rough planning speed should be around 320mph for skinning, and 250mph for booting. This will vary quite a bit due to conditions, fitness and other factors, and also includes time taken for transitions and breaks. It might not be wholly accurate, but having a figure for comparison is better than nothing!

In the end, I've gravitated towards the free-touring side of skiing as the season has progressed. For the immediate future, I'm looking to cope with snow withdrawal by preparing for a month in Hokkaido in January.

My new skiing goal is simple - climb like Killian, ski down like Hoji. To that end, I've employed a heterogeneous variety of gear to do my thing, as displayed in the photo above; the freeride-inspired 4FRNT Raven skis and Salomon Mtn Lab boots contrasted with skimo race clothing and pack.

Speaking of Hoji, I had his words in mind on the last day I skied. In a podcast he was discussing gear weight, and he said that if you're going to be dumb and choose heavy gear, you'd better be tough. I thought about that whilst I lugged this behemoth down the track:


This is what happens when you decide to test different setups in November


Here's a video of some of my season highlights (limited as always due to the first-person perspective and some bumpy, firm spring snow causing some rattling at times).




I saw this quote the other day, and bastardised it to reflect my feelings about my time in the mountains (property of Wally the Qigong master):

I'm constantly moving, unifying with patterns of nature, absorbing the energies of heaven and earth. My being in the mountains is in accordance with the principle that nothing stands perfectly still in nature, so my natural state is also one of movement.



I'm already looking forward to Hokkaido and getting on the move again.


Team Weasel

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Spring Frenzy

Just got back from a busy week in the mountains.

Over the course of eight days, I managed to accumulate about 11,000 meters of human-earned turns. I felt pretty wrecked by the end of that last day!

My first day started with a day trip up Bogong. I didn't stay longer due to the threat of poor weather (which didn't materialise!), and made up for it with a massive day on the Big Fella.


Besides enjoying being in the mountains, I was also there to assess how carrying a beefier setup might impact on my ski mountaineering experience. As mentioned last time, the heavier gear has been a revelation on the way down, but I don't want to tour significantly less as a result. According to my own and other's predictions, I was going to do about 20% less skiing as a result of putting on the extra weight of the setup below.

TLT6 Performance out of shot

Turns out that I could still get plenty in during the day. If anything, it may mean that I move at a slightly slower pace (meaning longer days)...but looking over past sessions, the time difference is negligible. I also think that I didn't realise how difficult downhill skiing  on Syborgs and thin skis was in terms of adding to leg fatigue. The above setup (at 6.51kg) felt like a great compromise between downhill prowess and uphill efficiency.


Cairn Gully has the goods

After a big day on Bogong, I ended up exploring Hotham 'sidecountry' areas for the next couple of days. I found one great area (I think near Blowhard gap?) where I spent a day and a half, followed by some more quality time on the Razorback. Photos below are of this unknown new area.





All of this was just a prelude to the main event - Feathertop for a few solid days of steep skiing.


I was pretty surprised that I was the only person out there skiing the steeper aspects (except for a few snowboarders on my last day who did a single run down Avalanche Gully).

Boarders (aka Mountain Peasants) enjoying a steep climb out of Avalanche Gully


I got quite a few great runs down both the major gullies, and undoubtedly the ZG108s made my life easier. They were confident and predictable whether it was corn, ice or fluffy wet melt. They were stable at higher speeds whilst being capable and reliable during jump turns. Paired with my TLT6 and ATK FreeRaider 14, there was much joy to be had on the way down; especially in comparison to my last visit here on Minims and Syborgs.

Some wet slides were occurring, particularly in Hellfire Gully - nothing too serious, just had to wait for some snow to slide past a couple of times...with some of the terrain traps here, trying to race the debris was maybe not the best idea.

 A very small wet slide

The more sedate side of Feathertop is still great fun

Steep entry into Avalanche Gully

Maybe why so few customers - the long boot out of Hellfire

Turns down the middle of Hellfire Gully


There's still a few solid weeks of snow up high, so my main goal is to get up there as often as possible.


And now, it's that time of the year again...

The Second Annual Team Weasel Gear Awards

For gear that gets my full attention

  • Most Valuable Contributors - gear that has been outstanding and influential in having a great time in the mountains. Basically, stuff that I would wholeheartedly endorse and buy again. 

 

Millet Pierra Menta Jacket

 

This jacket has been outstanding and my most used item this season - so much so that I've got two of them. It is perfect for a wide variety of conditions, and most of this season I have only had a wool t-shirt under it and been more than warm enough. The pockets are accommodating and easily accessible, the hood is very effective and the fit is extremely comfortable. Could not speak any higher of this jacket.


S-Lab 20 skimo pack

 


I've had more ski touring packs than I care to admit...all in the search for that elusive, perfect pack. The S-Lab 20 is my favorite pack so far. It has almost every feature that I want for a pack: light weight, rapid to use diagonal ski carry, separate and easily accessible safety box compartment, plenty of space for its size and nice features like a drink bottle holder and hip pocket.

The only minor issue I've encountered is when walking downhill with longer skis - diagonal carriage results in the tails sometimes hitting the ground as I descend. Having the option of A-frame carriage could be the solution.

Blizzard ZeroG 108 ski

 


I've skied extensively on the ZG85, and not so much on the 108 due to not really having the snow depth here to justify it. I decided to give them a go this year after purchasing my Ravens; touring with the ZG108 would give me a feel for a weightier, longer ski.

Turns out these things ski remarkably well in almost any conditions. They have quite a straight sidecut, making them able to hold an edge on icy snow. In softer snow, they are outstanding. They like to go fast, but are still capable of short radius turns if you put the energy in. Not a ski for meadow-skipping, but a great tool for committing and challenging ski lines.



  • Unsung Heroes - less noticed and less obvious, but these items have made life significantly easier by increasing efficiency or by doing a tough job so well that you almost forget that they are even there.


Direkt 2 tent



After using Hillebergs for the past 10 or so years, I've been making greater use of my Direkt 2 this season in an effort to cut weight. There is really only one big limitation to this tent; it has a tendency to collect significant condensation due to having a single wall with not a lot of ventilation. Aside from that, it has many excellent qualities - you can sit up in it, it is the perfect size for one person, the optional vestibule is a handy addition, and then there is the super light weight (1.42kg).

Grivel Ski Tour 2.0 

 


I always carry crampons, and these ones are excellent for ski mountaineering. The main advantages these have over things like the lightweight CAMP options are the steel front piece and the quick and easy manner of attachment to the boot. Definitely my go-to crampon if conditions are going to be firm.

Plasma 1000 down jacket


This jacket has been used throughout this winter, and has been more than sufficient at keeping me warm in the evenings or when I'm stopping for a quick break. It also packs down into a very small bag and weighs less than half of my other puffy jackets - highly recommended.


  • New Players with Bright Futures - these are bits of kit that I haven't had quite enough time on to fully appreciate, but their utility is already very apparent and I am definitely excited to make greater use of these thangs.

 

Elliptical rocker skis



The irony - last year I dissed upturned tails. Now I'm wondering if they are perfect for me and my style of skiing. Going fast and slarving my turns feel very appealing - hence the Raven is joining the family. I'm also interested in the Hoji and seeing how the new Dynafit Beast 108 skis.

MSR Reactor stove


After years of making use of my MSR XGK, I grabbed the Reactor and have made much use of it so far this season. Besides saving a bit of weight, the Reactor is super efficient and easy to use. In full winter, a canister lasts about two days (cooking and meting snow). Simmering can be difficult, but the solution is to simply cook to a boil, allow to sit and then restart the stove for another round as needed.

ATK Free Raider 14 2.0



I've used ATK bindings for a while now, and consider them to be the best that I have skied. This latest version will be standard binding for almost all of my skiing - light, reliable, variety of heel lift positions and the stomp block all make this the perfect free-touring style of binding.



  • Underwhelming, Disappointing or Superfluous - Stuff that was hyped or promised much, but failed to deliver (for me, at least).

 

Skimo gear in tough conditions



I've come to realise the limitations of skimo gear for ski mountaineering. It's great to have the light skis and boots, but if the descent is conducted in dubious conditions, going down becomes much harder work than it needs to be. I will continue to experiment with gear combinations, but I no longer believe that the advantages of light gear on the up counteracts the extra energy you have to expend to safely negotiate the down.

Gaiters 


This feels like the one part of my setup that I just have no idea of how to address. I've tried purpose-built ski pants, I've recently used mountaineering gaiters...and still I have sometimes been pouring water out of my boots at the end of a day. I'll be mighty satisfied if I can resolve this issue sometime soon.



Team Weasel

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Inopportune Exit

This was going to be my last post for the foreseeable future. After a couple of days on Feathertop, I was feeling like I'd reached a point that I'd long aimed for - I was skiing steeps on narrow skis, having days of big elevation gain, and just generally enjoying the mountains.

Skied many lines here; the one with tracks on it, the taller gully to looker's left, and the left-facing corner in the background


And then I skied the Buller chutes on an icy day.

I did have a bit of an epic in chute one - I had that horrible feeling of losing a ski in a pretty dangerous situation. Not only did the ski detach (most likely from ice buildup in the toe - shoulda done the usual few fore/aft movements of the toe to make sure if was good to go), but my leash came off too. Basically, it was so steep that it slid right off the end of my boot. After that, I had to put on crampons and down climb...so, a few lessons were learned. Despite that, I just want to get back out there and improve to the point where I can ski terrain like the chutes in a fast and competent manner.

It is partially technique - I'm using too much edge angle too quickly on icy slopes, resulting in my downhill edge grabbing...which throws me into the backseat, and that's the last place I want to be in steep and narrow terrain.

Top of the Buller chutes - challenging terrain


In addition, my gear was less than ideal in some of my recent situations. There's a reason why freeride skiers aren't on skimo boots with race skis and bindings - you just can't go very fast on that kind of setup without it being terrifying and your shit just folding over.



I can ski on a rando race rig; the picture above is of jump turns down a steep pitch on a 3.5kg setup. Besides not going too fast, the other thing about the super-light gear is that it works well for the most part, but if conditions are a bit tougher (icy, variable snow, etc), then things get very shady - as in survival skiing rather than fun.

After skiing on my Syborg / Backland / Trab binding combo (4.43kg) at a resort, later in the same day I got on my TLT6 / Blizzard 108 / ATK FreeRaider 14 setup (6.51kg)...and I quickly realised how compromised my skiing had become by using ultra-light gear. Yeah, I can ski the skimo race toothpicks, BUT there's some significant qualifiers in there - not too fast, and not in really tough conditions.

The Zero G 108s crushed through variable snow, loved being pointed downhill, and still retained a really solid edge. I used to think that they were overkill for most Australian conditions, but the difference of a 'heavy' setup almost completely changed how I skied. And I liked it.

I'm not sure if it was simply going to a heavier boot that made the difference - I'll be doing some more experimenting to figure out where my sweet spot is in terms of weight to drag up versus performance on the way down...starting with getting back into my TLT6 boots.

I'm thinking that boots around 1.2kg each are about right - the TLT6 feels plenty of boot for me (although I still have my Mtn Labs too...may have to give them a burl at some point).

I'm going to keep my bindings light, but may go a bit beefier than some of the race bindings I've been using lately. Again, I've got both the ATK Raider 12 and FreeRaider 14 to take care of my needs (so about 350g per binding).

As for skis, I'll keep making use of my extensive quiver during the rest of the season. I've skied my Minims, Backland 85s, Alp Tracks 100s and ZG108s this season so far, and each have their place in my skiing repitoire. What I am interested in exploring more is the freeride side of the house, which has resulted in yet another ski joining the family.

Departure from my norm - 4FRNT Raven

Skiapler likes them, which is a good start. I'm interested in skiing in a more balanced, slarvy way on the middle of the ski rather than constantly pressuring the tips, and these guys fit the bill. They weigh about 1kg more than my Movements, and it will interesting to see which ski gets more use - the light and agile Alp Tracks 100, the beefier Raven, or the more traditionally-constructed ZG108s.


A recurring theme in my mountain experiences has been the style or nuance in which I explore the high places, which is important but has also changed over time. I think that with skiing, I've realised I like it all; I love the idea of a super long spring mission on rando race skis, or jump turns down an icy couloir, or sking fast down steep big mountain faces and spines.

One place that I didn't expect to end up was in the terrain park of a resort - but even that has a role for me now, in that jumping stuff is now a possibility with some heavier-duty gear. As a result, I'm focusing on skiing faster and more down the fall-line, turning more with my thighs and getting comfortable with hitting jumps.

Both the major lines in Hellfire were in great condition - plenty of snow all the way down

In terms of executing jump turns, it is a bit like a dark art that not many openly discuss. This this guy does - and in great depth at times. I have found the most helpful points to be getting one's weight low and down over the bottom ski, to work on getting forward just before initiating the turn, and to focus on lifting from the heels rather than straight up.

Just as with everything in ski mountaineering, no amount of talk can compare to the experience itself - and beyond a few pointers in the right direction, that is all most of us need - to immerse ourselves in the mountains in whatever way our predilections and desires take us. And that's where my passion and focus is.

A long way down Avalanche Gully

Team Weasel