Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mount Hood Race Camp 2009

A Week in Review

On the ski racing trip to Mt. Hood Oregon. We went out with WinAlpine and left June 17. While we were there we experienced the seasons all within a week. On the mountain we experienced everything from wintry conditions one morning getting as much as 6 inches of snow on the mountain while other days it was sunny and temps near 60. We were also above the clouds on the mountain so when it was cloudy down below there was sun and blue sky above the tree line. But over all the racing conditions were very favorable and everyone had a great time and learned a lot.

A normal day in the life of a camper consists of getting dragged out of bed at 6:15 a.m. to go and get dressed in your Gs suit and gear. Then it’s off to breakfast at the main house just a short drive away from the girls house in govy but for the boys just downstairs. At breakfast the campers will make themselves breakfast first and then a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the snack break on the mountain. Another key task to do before a camper leaves for the mountain is to fill up their water bottles and lather on some sun screen. After the stomachs are full and gear is packed it’s off to the mountain.

The ride up to timberline is around 10 to 15 minutes. During this time it is really cool to see that as the car climbs up the switchbacks and gets higher and higher you start to break away from the clouds and realize that it is going to be one great day of skiing. Once in the parking lot racers will grab their gear and head for the Magic mile chairlift to put on their boots and get suited up. Once ready the racers will head up the mile to meet their coaches at either the top of the mile or at the top of the other chairlift, the palmer. Once the coaches are found and bags dropped off the campers will get in a couple of free runs encompassing into their warm-ups drills and techniques that the coaches have worked with them on. After the warm up runs racers will usually ski in a course or work on their ski racing until about 10 when it will be time for snack break. After the snack break the camp will

We started off doing GS the first couple of days at camp, just getting acquainted with our skis again and free skiing for most of the day. After a couple of days of free skiing we started to get into some gates and brushes. We would get about 8 to 15 runs in each day. After spending 4 days on gs the groups switched over to slalom training. We worked a lot on technique using hero gates while free skiing and eventually utilizing full length gates with timing.
After a typical day of skiing, the group would grab some lunch at the main house and either go watch racing video that was shot during the day or we would do dry lands. Dry land training consisted of weight lifting, agility ball workouts, white water rafting, surfing, capture the flag, gears, hikes up to waterfalls, lakes, scenic lookout and driving into Portland for Saturday market on our day off. After dry lands the athletes had free time to go into town or relax at their condos. Some of the hot places to go when in town included shopping at the Fuxi store, going to The Huckleberry Inn for some shakes, and visiting ski reps to test the new equipment. After dinner we generally had a team meeting with guest speakers that included members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and ski reps. Many of these talks were very informative and inspiring.

The coaching staff out at Mt. Hood was phenomenal. The training was very personalized with a ratio of 1 coach to every 5 racers ensuring that each racer got special attention and really got a chance to improve their skiing. Scott Winquist puts together a great group of coaches and racers to make the ski camp a great experience.
A new season is quickly approaching come into Skiers Peak to get all of your racing equipment and don’t forget that the key to being fast in the race course is maintaining your skis. Skiers Peak offers world class ski tunes, so come on in and get your skis ready for the slopes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting Into The Proper Boot

Purchasing a new ski boot might entail a bit of anxiety and as everyone who has skied for years knows, the main ingredient to the recipe for a good ski day is a boot that keeps your feet feeling good and allowing you to perform to your potential. Short of a race boot, which is inherently geared towards performance at the sacrifice of everything else, the following are a few tips to guide you when buying your next boot.

If I could, I'd recommend that everyone use a blindfold when shopping for boots. That way you would not be swayed by how cool looking or ugly a boot is, nor would price be the primary factor. Put on a boot, decide if it fits. Get it adjusted for your ski bindings and off you go. Sound too simple? Yes, that is. Your boot salesman should be patient with you and indulge your every question. If he's in a hurry, or the store is about to close, go home and come back when you or the store personnel have plenty of time. Do not purchase a boot the evening before you are getting on a plane to Vail. Prices here in Michigan are usually significantly better than out west so a local purchase is smart but give your salesman a chance to get the right boot on your foot. With luck, you might have entered the store minutes after your evil clone walked out with the one boot that would have been ideal for you. How do you know that? Well you don't. Often times the sales personnel are directed to "sell what you got" but if you tell them you aren't in a hurry and willing to spend time with them, they should be able to get you dialed in correctly. Here is how they should do it:

  1. Your salesman should ask you whether you have any foot, ankle, knee or back troubles, what kind of boots you have currently and your performance and cost expectations. It is a cold world out there and reality hits and ski boots are expensive so let's make sure you are not just happy but thrilled with your purchase.
  2. If you go into a store wearing open toed sandals anything on your foot will feel tight. Start by wearing only one pair of relatively thin socks. Don't start with thick socks and two sets of socks is a major no no. Thicker is not necessarily warmer. In fact it can be colder as they could be too tight and cut off the circulation or cause you to buy a boot too big and then performance is sacrificed. When people tell me they insist on wearing two pairs because it is warmer I will remind them the new boots are improved and it won̢۪t be necessary to do that. Why not four pairs then?
  3. I use four words that should be in the vocabulary of every decent boot fitter. The first three are "loose," "snug" and "tight." Two of them are bad and one is good. If the salesman says the boot is supposed to be tight, get up and leave. Tight is painful and your day on the slopes is going to be miserable. Loose is dangerous as you won't have control and snug is where you want to be. Now give the boot a chance. It takes several minutes to allow a boot to conform to your foot and the time of day you try them on can make a difference as your feet might be swollen if you were sitting at a desk all day. I drove up north one time and got into the room and tried on my new boots. I was shocked and said, "Who sold you those boots?" Well it was me and they were tight but they eased up after a few minutes and no doubt my feet were swollen. They were super comfortable and lasted several seasons.
  4. The fourth word is "footbed," also known as an orthotic. Purchasing one, in my mind, is a must. Unless you are getting a boot to stand on a pair of skis so you can monitor the kids at the hill, the whole experience is diminished without the proper orientation of the foot. The list of comfort problems alleviated by footbeds is huge and that does not even touch on the performance benefits. In lieu of a custom orthotic, try a boot on one foot and put a generic footbed in the other and you will most likely immediately experience the benefit. They are such a priority that I'd generally recommend you purchase a custom footbed for your old boots before you purchase a new boot. They are transferable from boot to boot. Over the years and the hundreds of feet I've seen, only one person had a foot that would not have benefited from a custom footbed and he was a professional hockey player. The footbed will keep your foot secure in the boot and tend to keep your toes from splaying out thereby allowing you to get into a smaller (more snug) shell, as well as preventing pronation for most of you which will minimize the ankle bones from banging into the shell. They are probably the most important safety equipment you can buy as it will allow your foot to perform better, keep your alignment true and minimize stress on the joints, particularly the knee, and when you do need to release they will facilitate a more efficient snap out of the binding.
  5. Once you realize that a boot fits better with a footbed, put a footbed in the next boot you wish to compare it to. Then with one boot on the left and another model on the right, pick the one which has the snuggest fit and is still comfortable. Eliminate the poorly fitting boot and try on another model. This is a simple process of elimination. This way you won't be confused and you might try on four or five boots. Boot fitters might hate me for this but so what? It might take more of their time but service is what they are there for so long as you aren't spending a huge amount of their time on a Saturday afternoon when the immediate world is in the store. Now, when you get the last one on both feet, you are entirely confident that the boot is the best one for you and most likely to keep you happy on the slopes. This works so long as your feet are similar in length. Those of you with dissimilar sized feet will have to work a little harder but usually with a footbed the old problems are eliminated and the right boot is there waiting for you. Often times the first boot on the foot might be the only one good for the skier as the foot might be particular due to width issues for example.
  6. The heat conformable liners that are in even moderately priced boots these days will enhance comfort. Warmth in boots is enhanced by good circulation as well as good moisture transfer. The liners are universally better in this regard than in the past and as a result most people are blown away by how much more comfortable the new boots are. The heat conformable feature of the boot should not be at the expense of a footbed/orthotic however. If you jump up into the air and land, where do you interface with the planet? Right, at the bottom of your feet. That is where the action is and that is why you need a footbed to control the fit into the boot and gain control of the boot into the binding and subsequently the binding into the ski. The liner fit is secondary to that.
  7. Your salesman should be able to line you up with a boot in your performance window. The old edict of purchasing a better boot still holds especially if you are on the upswing of your learning curve. Now a days boots aren't as stiff into the forward flex as they used to be because of the way shape skis are built but they can be stiffer side to side to withstand the forces applied at speed. Generally, widen your stance and roll side to side. Many salesmen will instruct you to flex forward into the boot but to me that is secondary to the side to side action you will be performing on the hill to get the ski on edge.
  8. If there is a wedge in the back of the liner or from the back of the shell, take it out. Unless you have Wilt Chamberlain's skinny calves, these force you forward and despite what you've heard over the years about getting forward, is fundamentally wrong. Your salesman might disagree with me, and so be it, but if you now put a heel lift into your boot and put that strap on snug, you should be able to "engage" forward now and having your heel lifted, while for some enhancing the fit, will enhance performance dramatically. Try it. Heel lifts are cheap. Consider the ramp angle of the boot and the cuff orientation fore and aft. Little is spoken of these aspects. I always recommend a boot with more ramping, a higher heel, and less forward lean. Dalbello makes a number of boots that have adjustable internal ramping that is simple to use and modify on the hill if need be. Getting the heel up is inherently more athletic as long as the boot fits comfortably and this is a key to better skiing.
  9. Buckle the boots snugly while in the store. NOT TO TIGHT and certainly NOT TO LOOSE. Start by pulling up on the back of the liner and tapping the heel on the floor. Then buckle the top two buckles, stand and flex the boots and then buckle the bottom two buckles snugly. When heading to the hill, wait until you are at the chair or even the top of the lift before making your adjustments to keep your circulation flowing and to minimize packing out the liner. Women, in particular, are notorious for not putting a boot on snug enough. This is potentially dangerous and boots should be snug in the shop so they can be snug on the hill. For that rare event when you need to snap out of the bindings, the resulting force of the foot into the boot will transfer more efficiently to the binding and a quick release will result.
  10. Despite the fact many boots have a walk feature, they really are not made for walking. Should you buy a pair of boots with that feature? As a boot fitter I'm not so concerned with how well you walk in your boots. I'm focused in on how well you ski in them. Purchase an inexpensive set of Cat Tracks which dramatically ease walking and prevent undue wear on the soles.

Be patient, purchase a footbed, try on the boots and shop at a time when the store is not busy and you will maximize your experience when you hit the slopes. Boots have numerous technical features that can be attuned to your foot and time should be taken to accommodate you. These include ramp angle, cuff alignment, shaft angle, and canting. Many of these elements are dynamic, so as you improve, your boots can be modified to improve with you.

E.J. Levy is a Master Bootfitter and can be reached at EJ@SkiersPeak.com.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where To Turn On Skis

Where to turn?" might be the defining question for assessing which skis to consider buying this season. Most skiers who have been on top of ski industry innovations are by now convinced that shape skis are indeed the significant improvement in product development for more then a decade now. That said, several quantum leaps in advancement have infused the ski arena with skis that are increasingly versatile and with expanding flight envelopes.

The past two seasons in particular have witnessed a jump in ski widths which allow for an enhanced all mountain experience. Skis now are nimble and fun on the groomers but ready to float to heaven on the powder. Skis which came to be known as "mid-fats" with mid-body widths of 70-72 mms were initially considered by non-visionary buyers here in the Midwest to be too wide yet now, skis with 72 mm waists are marketed as primarily groomer skis, 80% on and 20% off piste.

Ski reviews in hand, skiers hit the stores on a quest for the ideal ski. Some of the terminology we read about which includes "carvers," "cruisers," and "all-mountain," give us a flavor for what skis can do but are less than empirical as descriptors. Other terms are vague yet appeal to the skier's mindset, such as "freestyle," and "free ride." So let's explain these terms and get ourselves using a common language to help you articulate your needs to your friendly neighborhood ski salesman.

There are two basic elements which contribute to the description for performance of skis. These include overall shape or side cut and width. The shapelier the ski, the greater the width differential between the tip and tail compared to the narrower middle section. These days the reference for this aspect is determined by its TURN RADIUS. Most skis will list the dimensions of the tip, midsection, and tail in millimeters and the radius as "r." A short turn radius would be 10 meters and a long radius might be over 20. A world cup GS (Giant Slalom) ski might have a turn radius of 54 meters at the extreme. The radius is the theoretical line that the ski would create at stress from the center of a circle to the arc of that circle when the ski is turned at maximum stress. The width of the ski can be wider or narrower depending on the skier's needs. A narrower ski is quick acting and the skier's force will more readily be translated into energy into the snow. Wider skis, tip thorough tail, have a greater surface area and the result is better floatation on the powder for example. Width, not length is the primary determinant of floatation. Snowshoes float on snow and they aren't particularly long.

Carving skis are generally quick on edge, responsive and dynamic. The stronger the skier the greater the "punch" or responsiveness the ski will be requested to give back. There are carving skis for every level of skier up to world cup slalom racers. As implied by the introduction, it is now possible to own a beautiful carving ski that will be at home in the powder or crud as well as the groomers. This is the arena I live for on the slope. Generating high G-force turns without generating decapitating speed! As my daughter Alana still states, "If you aren't turning you aren't learning."
Now, combine the two concepts of ski width and turn radius and you will see that it is possible to have a ski with a mid-body of 66 mm. and a turn radius of 11 meters as well as a ski with a mid-body of 76 mm and a similar 11 meter turn radius. Similar side cut shape but the latter is wider overall. It will no doubt be a tad heavier as well though perhaps designed for a similar level skier. Arc 'em or park 'em!

One other advantage of a wider ski is that there is less of a chance of "boot out." This has been the bane of expert skiers as they get such a high banking of the ski into the snow that the boot on the lean over hits the snow and lifts the edge off the snow causing the ski to slide away and the skier goes down despite the fact that he was flawless in technique. A wider ski moves that boot away from the edge enough to decrease the possibility of an unintended fall.

How this all works is magic! Shape skis are only of use if torsionally stable. That is, the twisting action of the ski sideways to its length is minimized end to end so that the ski stays strong on edge. In the past, for a ski to be strong on edge, the construction methods usually created a ski that was stiff tip to tail as well. They were tough in the bumps in particular. The advent of wider skis, especially those we see this year, is the result of dramatic improvements in material science which results in light weight yet strong skis. Skis are built to be torsionally resilient, so they hold while on edge, yet longitudinally forgiving, so that they will engage the bumps and respond in softer snow. Combine this with the advent of integrated bindings, which allows the ski to flex smoothly despite having a rigid boot mounted in the middle and the result is ski strong on edge yet able to undulate with the terrain and perform like a dream in the bumps. For skiers who took time off from the sport and came back now that the kids are older, the new skis make them realize that they were good bump skiers for the first time!

Turning skis with various radii will take you on significantly different arcs. A slalom ski or slalom carver type ski will engage on edge and encourage the skier to work the ski across the fall line. (The "fall line" would be the line your growing snowball would take if rolling down the hill determined by gravity.) A short radius ski does not force that arc but will if stressed by the skier. Even a short turning ski will go straight if not otherwise engaged. An "all mountain" ski might have a more relaxed turn radius of between 14 and 18 meters for example. A ski of this type, compared to the carvers mentioned earlier, want to turn a bit later instead of sooner. A GS or Giant slalom ski will still arc a turn but that arc will be significantly greater still. Strong skis with longer radii want to go down hill and fast. I refer to these skis as "point and shoot!" They are in a hurry to mess up your hair (assuming you aren't wearing a helmet) and get you to the lift line.

Where to turn? , we see now, is qualified by whether you want to turn high to that tree you are approaching or arc below it. Where to turn is influenced by the ski width as the wider ski will turn more readily on the powder side of the ropes than will a narrower ski.

Let freedom ring! Know no boundaries and go where your heart leads you. "Free ride" skis are a general category of skis designed to go off piste. Often 84 mms wide or wider, this huckster takes the lift up and is seeking stashes of deeper snow on the other side of the ropes. The wider the ski the better the float yet on piste response may still impress you. Skis up to 120 or even 130 mms live for powder and riding off of helicopters. Some Free Ride skis have twin tips to allow for catching air and landing backwards. Others will say it will help the ski release from the turn.

So for you dude or dudette, if your turn location is somewhere in the air but over the half pipe or engaging a rail, then a "Freestyle" ski is in your future! Twin tip skis go up in the park or half pipe and air turns are generated by gyrating bodies in flight. These skis are a significant portion of all ski sales these days and of great appeal to the "comeback" skiers. These are former snowboarders envious of the bigger air they witness the freestyle skiers taking in the pipe and park. These skis do not sport integrated binding systems nearly ubiquitous on most other skis as these riders are looking for a quick feel for the boot into the ski and do not want the additional leverage provided by a higher binding that carvers and racer types are seeking. Wider brakes will come with the appropriate binding that your salesman will provide you.

So where you turn on the slopes is initiated by your first turn into the ski shop. Make the trip and enjoy the ride and remember one good turn deserves another