Sep 22 2011

Dynafit goes bi-sensual! Can you believe it?

You won’t believe it!

John Holleman keeps it tight and light.
Tioga Peak, California.

The concept behind Mark Lengel’s Telemark Tech System binding is so simple it’s a wonder no one tried it before. Perhaps there was a quack or two out there who did and didn’t even believe it themselves when they tried it, or they knew no one else would, so they abandoned it (afterall, they’re quacks).

It seems odd that the common view from backcountry’s religious sect know as telemarkers — who originally espoused light and simple gear for traveling in the mountains — would not recognize the value of the Dynafit system for enhancing the free mind that flows from a free heel. But as pinheaded telemarkers we didn’t – probably because telemarkers have been as poisoned and deluded with the bigger is better concept as much or more so than alpine skiers. Witness the trend in tele for phat skis, stiff 4-buckle monster boots and, consequently, heavy metal cable bindings.

As a tribe I can guarantee it’s going to take some time for pinheads to open their minds to the possibilities that the Tele Tech System (TTS) provides. However, when they do it will spawn a new generation of ski alpinists we’ve only been able to dream about until today.
Keep earning your turns

Aug 12 2011

Review: Black Diamond’s O1

To say that Black Diamond’s O1 is the most popular telemark binding in America for earning turns is to acknowledge reality. There are several reasons for that popularity, not the least of which is the fact that the O1 was the first telemark binding with a free pivot for resistance free touring that also, finally, delivered enough power to adequately drive fat skis.

Other bindings made it to market with a free-pivot sooner, but they were under powered and skis were only getting wider, boots taller, and aspirations higher.

Black Diamond's O1 - a.k.a. The One.

The O1 builds upon the platform established with the O2, using a pair of compression spring cartridges routed underneath your boot, for fast turn engagement. It was the first touring specific binding that came close to equaling the Hammerhead for turning power. It is no longer the most powerful telemark touring binding on the market, but not all telemarkers want or need that level of power to control their skis.

That is one of the beauties of the O1. You can vary the tension in the cable by changing the spring cartridges underfoot. Three tensions are available: Free-flex, Mid-stiff, and Ridiculously stiff. For most folks the mid-stiff spring offers a smooth, more than adequate tele-resistance for driving mid-fat skis with four or three buckle boots. It isn’t so stiff that it causes your tips to dive in powder either. If you ski fast with big boots and phat skis, you’ll probably be happiest with the rid-stiff springs.

The Couloir results of bench testing bindings in 2006.

In a side by side comparison with Hammerheads, mid-stiff springs felt like HH#3, and the rid-stiffs like HH#4, although there is a difference in the feel between the two bindings, it is subtle and hard to describe. For raw tele power there are more powerful bindings available. However, contrary to BD’s own motto, the O1 is popular because it’s not all about the down.

Even though the O1 rocks on the downhill, it rules on the uphill. This becomes immediately evident when you go to switch modes from a locked to a frictionless free pivot. The O1 is the most intuitive mode switch out there. To unlock the toe, simply put the tip of your ski pole in the rear dimple of the green toggle switch at the front of the binding, give ‘er a smack, and presto, your toe plate swings free.

60°+ of uninterrupted range of motion. Ahhhh!

That is but one reason it rules on the uphill. The other is the range of motion, a full 60+ degrees which gives plenty to spare in the rare case where snow builds up underneath the duckbill. Thus it never hinders the movement needed to pull off a jack-knife switchback on a steep and deep trail, even on the ice prone wet coast.

At 3 lbs, 12 oz. (1.7 kg) per pair it is not the lightest tele binding available, nor the heaviest. To minimize the effect of the weight the pivot point is located a few millimeters behind pin line. This is not something you will notice on a short climb, but may on a long one.

Arrrrgh! This thin coat of packed snow on the belly of The One can prevent locking the toeplate.

One thing you are certain to notice is the tendency for the binding to ice up when skinning. Saying the binding ices up is actually a misnomer since it rarely becomes choked with ice preventing the latch from holding the toeplate down. What happens instead is much more subtle, but equally effective at preventing the toeplate from locking down. A thin layer of snow gets packed on the underside of the toe plate, creating a shim of ice that prevents it from seating low enough for the latch to hook on and hold the back of the toe plate. How often this occurs is dependent on the snow condition you tour in. On the wet coast it probably happens 10-20% of the time. In drier ranges it is pretty rare. To cure it, reach under and wipe that thin sheath of ice off and the latch will do its job quickly and securely.

There are three other idiosyncracies about the O1 that may or may not affect you. The most common, is the tendency for the spring cartridges to spin and loosen. This is understandable when subjected to road vibration on a ski rack, but not while skinning. BD modified the spring cartridges so this can’t happen anymore, but there are plenty of bindings already on skis that do exhibit the problem. Theoretically the cartridges can not spin when under sufficient load. A sufficient load is when the Xxxx tube protrudes XX mm out the back of the cartridge when latched to your boot. When I’ve obeyed the pre-tension guidelines I’ve never had a problem. However, there are plenty of people who swear they set the tension right and the dang things still loosened up after a few climbs. Two solutions are recommended. One, ALWAYS check the pretension before heading down or two, use some plumbers tape on the threads of the cable that attaches and adjusts the tension so that there is resistance to movement, kind of like a lock nut. Or get a new pair of redesigned cartridges that are immune to this.

One of the things that strikes you when you look at the O1 for the first time is how solid it looks. Indeed, the whole binding is anchored to a hot forged plate of aluminum using the common 4-hole pattern for mounting. To this is mounted the latch, and the toeplate via an axle a full 10mm in diameter. All these are qualities associated with durability. For the majority of users, the O1 is as bombproof as they need. For others, however, it seems that the power the O1 provides is more than the 4-hole pattern is capable of withstanding. There are plenty of stories on ttips of folks ripping their O1s out of skis, with the most embarassing evidence coming from Nick Devore, one of BD’s own sponsored athletes. I say don’t trust the 4-hole pattern on any binding, especially with as much horsepower as the O1 delivers and use inserts right from the get go, at least on the two rear holes.

That 10mm axle sure looks bomber, but I’ve heard repeated reports that it will get wobbly after 200 days or so. Again, for a lot of folks that’s 5 or 6 years out, so no biggee. If you’re logging more than 50 days a year, it’s something to consider.

Don’t like the heel levers. Saw a friend swap a pair of G3 heel levers. They held well and were easier to put on but I’m sure BD wouldn’t recommend such action. They’re not bad, but if you have experience with all the options available you will notice they’re less cooperative than say, G3’s heel lever, or Voile’s.

The O1s heel peg system is a mixed bag. On the positive side it provides a handy lip at the back of the heel post to hook the heel lever on so the cables don’t flop around when you’re shouldering your skis. Most people will love the two heights of climbing peg, high and higher. However, compared to other climbing pegs these are less friendly. They work adequately, but spring loaded climbing bars like the Hammerheel are much easier to engage. In the O1’s defense, BD’s climbing bars are less prone to bending than the Hammerheels.

One more quirk on the heel post. Because of the spreader bar used in the cable assembly you can’t put the heel post too far forward, making optimal positioning critical. Be sure to check with a boot latched in the toeplate before drilling holes for the heel post.

For a lot of folks, these are minor blemishes on a benchmark of performance. Most of these blemishes are easily overcome or accounted for so your experience of the O1 is that it behaves like a good binding should. You fuhgitaboutit. What you notice instead is the excellent range of performance for both the uphill and downhill portions of backcountry skiing. So unless you absolutely must have the most powerful binding, or the lightest, you can hardly go wrong with the O1.

Links to threads on the O1
O1 Issues

Adjusting BD’s O1 Telemark Binding here

Jul 10 2011

Review: Black Diamond’s Seeker

For Black Diamond, the Seeker is the most touring friendly telemark boot in their line. It is not, an unfriendly touring boot, but it is more of a small big boot, than a big small boot. By that I mean that, it is optimized more for turning than for the earning. So while it certainly is the most touring friendly of BD’s tele boot line, if your emphasis is for touring this boot is a bit oversized, particularly on long tours.

BD's Seeker • MSRP: $659 A small Big boot.

It packs a lot of power for downhill control thanks to the extra muscle provided by the BOA lacing system on the liner. There’s a lot of overlapping layers of plastic on the cuff to, further adding to the muscle of this boot.

 

Some folks will automatically discount the power of this boot because it only has one buckle on the cuff. In most situations I’m inclined to view a fourth buckle as a mental crutch, but I don’t venture into the realm that requires it much either. Regardless, the Seeker delivers more than enough power to drive skis with a stocky 100mm plus waist width, even obese planks, although I can’t imagine why anyone would pair these boots with anything wider than 110mm underfoot.

There are several noticeable but not dramatic revisions to this boot. The original Seeker suffered from an imbalance between the flex of the cuff and the bellows. In short, the cuff felt too stiff for the bellows. This revised Seeker for 2011 still packs a lot of wallop from the cuff, but it is a smoother, more balanced flex between the top and bottom of the boot. Part of this comes from changing the routing of the BOA laces across the tongue of the liner so that the tongue can move with your shin as you drive your knee forward.

Good liner for walking around camp or a hut. Revised BOA lacing allows more flex than original.

I’m still not a big fan of the BOA system. Too much gadgetry and even though they have loosened the grip of the laces on the lower leg they still hold it much tighter than any other liner, or small big boot cuff on the market.

 

It appears BD has gone the way of cheap insoles. The early versions came with a insole that had some depth to the arch, this version came with relatively flat insoles. Not an issue for this kid since I replace stock insoles as a rule with something more appealing for my foot.

The buckles are very light, and the instep buckle and cuff buckle both have teeth with an extra hook on the end to help hold the wire when the buckle is flipped open. This does a good job of not letting the wire unclip from the teeth so you can open the cuff buckle while skinning. However, once you’ve placed the wire in a particular tooth, it also makes it hard to move it to a different one. Just a little annoying side effect.

The hooks make adjusting cable position frustrating, don't always hold when loose. Garmont's method is better.

The most annoying feature of the boot, however, is oversized duckbill. The spec calls for an 18mm thick duckbill plus or minus 1mm. These were so fat I had a hard time getting them to fit under the toe bale of an O1 and a Switchback. Hammerhead provides a full 22mm of clearance so they’ll probably fit easily in those bindings but it was odd for them to have trouble wedging into two of the more popular telemark bindings on the market.

 

It should be pointed out that, while these are on the big side of smaller touring boots, they tour well for their size. The flex of the cuff to the rear when in walk mode was enough to allow my front leg to rock back a bit for a longer stide. My T2Xs bend back further, but these were at least equal or better than Garmont’s Kenai.

Who is the Seeker for? With three buckles it’s too small of a boot for the aggro downhill turn burner, and the cuff is so substantial it isn’t that efficient on the earning side of the equation either. It is not a good match for this writer but for aggressive skiers who are willing to flirt with the less is more perspective, the Seeker would be a good stepping stone to a smaller boot requiring more finesse with less material. It delivers the power of a bigger boot, while shaving weight and bulk, without fully embracing the light is right paradigm. A good match with fat skis for big days where saving a few ounces on the boot means more vert and thus, more turns.

Black Diamond
Seeker
Weight (Mondo size 27):
Size range:
MSRP: $ 699

© 2011

 

Jul 10 2011

The Sierra High Route – Panoramic magic

Part of the reason it took me so long to get around to doing the Sierra High Route was a simple misunderstanding of what the trip was about. Mostly I did it because I knew it was a classic for a reason, but frankly, I couldn’t wrap my head around what it was.

They weren't all good torns, but "some were magnificent."

Indeed, to traverse the Sierra Nevada and feel its breadth and width and depth seems a magnificent undertaking. Having finally done it, I concur, it is indeed magnificent. Some of the turns were even magnificent, but that isn’t why you will appreciate this tour if you ever do it.

My perception that there wouldn’t be that many good turns to be had completely missed the mark for why you should do this tour. That’s not to say we didn’t experience some awesome turns along the way, but it wasn’t like doing laps on a powder day in the backcountry. Those were fleeting moments of downhill hedonism that simply added to the real reward of the Sierra High Route.

Just what is it that justifies lugging a turn compromising heavy pack for hours on end to cross the Sierra? Simply put, it is to immerse yourself in the grandeur of one of God’s finest creations, the Sierra Nevada.

Day 2 (w-e): Looking SE from unnamed pass (after Table Lands).
Click to enlarge. For best results - make your browser full screen on a wide, hi-res monitor.


Keep earning your turns

Jul 10 2011

test by tuyn

Part of the reason it took me so long to get around to doing the Sierra High Route was a simple misunderstanding of what the trip was about. Mostly I did it because I knew it was a classic for a reason, but frankly, I couldn’t wrap my head around what it was.

Indeed, to traverse the Sierra Nevada and feel its breadth and width and depth seems a magnificent undertaking. Having finally done it, I concur, it is indeed magnificent. Some of the turns were even magnificent, but that isn’t why you will appreciate this tour if you ever do it.

My perception that there wouldn’t be that many good turns to be had completely missed the mark for why you should do this tour. That’s not to say we didn’t experience some awesome turns along the way, but it wasn’t like doing laps on a powder day in the backcountry. Those were fleeting moments of downhill hedonism that simply added to the real reward of the Sierra High Route.
Part of the reason it took me so long to get around to doing the Sierra High Route was a simple misunderstanding of what the trip was about. Mostly I did it because I knew it was a classic for a reason, but frankly, I couldn’t wrap my head around what it was.

Indeed, to traverse the Sierra Nevada and feel its breadth and width and depth seems a magnificent undertaking. Having finally done it, I concur, it is indeed magnificent. Some of the turns were even magnificent, but that isn’t why you will appreciate this tour if you ever do it.

My perception that there wouldn’t be that many good turns to be had completely missed the mark for why you should do this tour. That’s not to say we didn’t experience some awesome turns along the way, but it wasn’t like doing laps on a powder day in the backcountry. Those were fleeting moments of downhill hedonism that simply added to the real reward of the Sierra High Route.

Just what is it that justifies lugging a turn compromising heavy pack for hours on end to cross the Sierra? Simply put, it is to immerse yourself in the grandeur of one of God’s finest creations, the Sierra Nevada.

Day 2 (w-e): Looking SE from unnamed pass (after Table Lands). Click to enlarge. For best results - make your browser full screen on a wide, hi-res monitor.

Keep earning your turns

Jun 23 2011

Review: Princeton Tec’s Apex Pro

Princeton Tec’s Apex Pro has been my headlamp of choice for the past five years. It hasn’t been an unblemished record, but the pros continue to outweigh the cons. Nary a day goes by that I don’t use it, whether taking the dog for a walk after dark, hunting for a dropped widget in the dark corners under a desk, adding illumination for a bit of repair work, or an early rise for a dawn patrol tour. For smaller tasks, like reading, cooking, a lighter weight headlamp could do the task but I like using a single tool for as many purposes as possible, especially when you want serious illumination power, which the Apex does like a pro.

Princeton Tec's Apex Pro. Not a lightweight, but a headlamp with substance, longevity, and power!

The Apex Pro is not a light weight headlamp, so it isn’t meant to be an emergency light that you stuff in your pack just in case. It isn’t a tank either, but that is a relative term as well. The Apex Pro fits in the heavy weight category because it doesn’t skimp on any of the features I look for in a headlamp which are: lots of light, adjustable intensity, long battery life, and a top strap. Durability is important too, but my experience dictates Princeton Tec only rates a B there (more on that below). I’m a heavy user, but not an abuser.

 

Let there be LIGHT!

It has five LED’s to provide lots of light, one of which is a single LED 200 lumen hi-beam spot light, plus an array of four LED’s that kick out 40 lumens of medium range, wide beam light that can toggle down to 20 lumens, or flash.

The trick to providing lots of light from an LED is to be able to bleed off the heat generated. Light Emitting Diodes are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but that efficiency is short lived unless the heat generated is conducted away. Thus, to shunt the heat created by the 200 lumen bulb the Apex Pro has a serious rack of aluminum on the backside of the bulbs to keep this unit cool.
Keep earning your turns

Jun 22 2011

Kiteboarding 101: Not sailing – FLYING!

If windsurfing is like sailing, then kiteboarding is like flying. Who can say they’ve never shared the dreams of Iccarus? To be sure, it isn’t really flying, but after finally taking lessons from Bruce Sheldon I found out in short order, the similarity is more true than not.

Windsurfing the central coast of California.

As a die-hard skier, windsurfing became my sport of choice when the snow melted and the warmth of the beach beckoned. It shares the adrenaline of speed with skiing, requires skill and balance, and harnesses natural elements. Unlike sailing a boat though, windsurfing is primal sailing, where your body is an integral part of the process, fulfilling the roles of shrouds and stays to hold the mast upright, your arms become human sheets to control the sail, and your legs steer the rudder. When the wind is up, it’s like being on trapeze all day while flying hull on a catamaran. It’s kind of like fun, only on steroids.

Over time reality has tempered my love affair with windsurfing, most notably by the lack of reliable wind. Unlike snow, which lingers after a storm and is thus relatively reliable, wind only occurs and lasts while conditions exist. One of the keys to sailing is to know where the wind is, or will be.
Keep earning your turns

Jun 15 2011

Summer arrives in Tahoe

Well it figures. As soon as I made a big deal about it still being winter in June, summer arrived.

Look familiar? From the best powder day of Ten-11. Aaron Brietbard demonstrates why tele rules.

It’s been sunny and warm for over a week now. There’s still lots of snow at Donner Pass and around Lake Tahoe, even on south facing slopes, but even Donner Ski Ranch is finally giving up the ghost. Old landmarks that had been buried so long I’d forgotten about them are sprouting up on the trade routes from this past season and there is still over ten feet of snow on north-facing slopes.

Not only is Mammoth planning to be open July 4th, so are Sugar Bowl and Squaw here in Tahoe. Given my druthers, I’d recommend Mammoth over anything in Tahoe at that time.
Keep earning your turns

Jun 08 2011

It’s Junuary (again)!

There are a lot of amazing things about the winter of Ten-11 and we’re still getting over it. Like the obvious — it’s still here and it’s June already. I want to call it the month of Jane since we already had June in January so we can’t have the same month twice in the same year, right? Except that, so far, we are. So I’ll concede on the name and agree with my wife that it’s Junuary (again).

Runnels dominated the snowscape in the Tahoe area in late March/early April.

This time around it’s still January 7,000-feet above sea level where snow coats the slopes with a frozen blanket ranging from one to 20 feet deep depending on what side of the mountain you’re on. On the home front, just beneath the 6,000-foot level, the grass on the lawn reaches up to grasp the occasional showers of sun that break through the clouds to assure them it is indeed June and summer is only a few weeks away.
Keep earning your turns

Jun 02 2011

Quack: Making sunglasses with Duct Tape

You probably thought I meant, repairing sunglasses with duct tape when you read the headline, but you assumed something not stated. I really meant making a pair of sunglasses with duct tape.

Function is the only fashion. Oui! Love the mirrored look. So 70s Dude!

How do you make sunglasses with duct tape? First, you need to get to the root of the purpose of sunglasses, especially on snow. That would be: to restrict the amount of light your eyes are exposed to so they won’t get sunburned.

I remember a friend who thought she didn’t need sunglasses while skiing. She spent three days sequestered in the dark, her eyes ablaze in pain the first 24 hours and permanently shut with shades drawn to allow her sight to heal. Effectively blind for three days, which is why it’s called snow blindness. It was not a pretty sight.

So my buddy Gil had his buddies give him a lift to the Rock Creek trailhead. As the truck is pulling away he realizes his shades are in the truck, not his pack.
Keep earning your turns

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