Thursday, November 14, 2019

Used Ski Mountaineering Race gear, buyer beware

I've talked before about how I don't believe ski mountaineering race gear is durable enough for daily driver use. Some breakage will of course be covered under warranty. But what if you are buying used, with no warranty support, and unknown abuse? While pretty much every brand and model of race gear has been broken, I've listed some notorious models below, that I believe that even if lightly used should be avoided on the used market. A good deal that breaks with limited use isn't a good deal.

First generation Dynafit Low Tech, Speed Superlight toepieces:

Normal Dynafit toe-pieces are fairly bombproof. The Low tech version swapped a steel base plate and toe wings for aluminum. Unfortunately too much material around the mounting holes was machined away and the toepieces often broke around the holes.

If you are buying used, look for later versions of the toepiece, with more material around the mounting holes. These are usually dark green, 1 yellow/1 blue, 1 red/1 green, or yellow (Fischer version).

Dynafit Low Tech Race (2.0) Heelpiece:
The plastic body of this heelpiece is notorious for breaking and is to be avoided. Look for the older 3 hole, all metal Dynafit/Fischer heelpieces or a different brand of binding instead.

Dynafit RC1/Pierre Gignoux Pack Ultimate Binding.
Containing both the previously mentioned heelpiece as well as a carbon toepiece that would also commonly explode, it seems that this binding was not designed with heavier North Americans in mind. Buy any other binding unless using these for verticals.

Fischer Alp Attack:
All race skis break. I don't have any data to back it up but it seems that these skis with a radically designed cross section and minimal sidewalls break more than normal.

First Generation Scarpa Alien:

Here, I am only referring to the very early versions of the boot with a wrap liner instead of the later sock liner. The skeleton-like rear levers were weak. Later versions of the boot with the sock liner had stronger levers. Make sure whoever owned the boot before you had the levers upgraded to the stronger ones!

Any other race gear to be avoided?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Training for the Uphill Athlete - Review

Just last summer, a long time ski buddy, someone who seems to make a point of doing mountain activities for their enjoyment rather than fame and bravado started acting funny. Max heart rate tests, climbing hills with weight in his backpack, breathing through his nose. Something must be up.

Turns out he had been reading "Training for the New Alpinism", a training manual for climbing written by Steve House and Scott Johnson. I took a flip through the book, read off a couple of key phrases and his girlfriend goes "that's the book you've been reading, that's why you've been talking funny lately! I need to hide that book from you!"

Steve and Scott noticed that a lot of mountain runners and skiers were reading the book and they should write something more targeted to them so they brought in Kilian Jornet and wrote "Training for the Uphill Athlete". As someone wanting to eke out more speed in ski mountaineering racing, I bought the book. Anyways here is my review.

A bit of a background for those that don't know me. While normally a quiet person, I'm a bit of a shit disturber on the internet. But I'm also a decent ski mountaineering racer. With a mountain biking background, I was able to get up to a level where I was barely hanging on to a spot on the Canadian national team (not nearly as competitive as the US team). I spent a winter in Canmore, skied a bunch (ski touring, downhill, cross country) and got pretty fast, well 42nd at World Championships, less than 10min behind the fastest North American. Then I moved back to Edmonton where real life sunk in and I went back down to the plateau I was at before. After an injury, I came back with extra motivation, did intervals using what I had to work with in Edmonton (indoor bike, short hills, XC skis) and have climbed past the level that I achieved while living in Canmore. While I wish I could work on my weakness of downhill skiing, I have achieved some decent results in the vertical races at World Championships. Getting fast while living in the prairies has required some creativity on my part.

Now back to the book. It's a 300 page book. It's opinionated It's full of stuff that probably worked for Mike Foote, Luke Nelson, and Erik Bjornsen. It has an excellent muscular endurance circuit progression. It keeps it simple by suggesting just a couple of workouts to cover the range of durations. It has a bunch of sample seasonal training progressions and sample weeks which I will find very useful. Then there are a couple of sentences that if you are actually thinking while your are reading, your jaw will hit the floor. 

The first inconvenient truth: the book states that ALL aerobic training should be weight bearing, aka no bike riding. I know it's April, but I'm watching John Gaston, aka the fastest North American male ski mountaineering racer EVER crushing bike rides. A bunch of the European skimo racers I follow on Instagram regularly post pictures of bike rides: Damiano Lenzi, Laetitia Roux, Anton Palzer, Remi Bonnet, etc.. These men (and woman) are all faster than anyone ever coached by the Steve and Scott duo. I have certainly benefited from adding more weight bearing activities to my training, but I'm not sure I would ever completely eliminate biking. Biking is a good way for some to fit in volume and intensity and it is unfair for the reader to walk away thinking that they are verboten for successful skimo athletes. I am coming off of a winter that was plagued with IT band issues where I had to do a lot of my workouts on the indoor trainer.

Maybe the goal was not to overwhelm the reader, but the list of suggested workouts was quite limited. Not everyone lives in the mountains, not everyone has access to an office tower or an incline treadmill for longer intervals but maybe some sort of hill longer than the suggested 15 second hill sprint. I, personally have found some success fully utilizing whatever terrain I have available to me. Maybe they don't have experience with a wider variety of workouts, but a larger supply of workouts would allow the reader to pick a handful that work with the terrain that they have.

There is nothing on how to improve downhill skiing and running aside from improving muscular endurance. There is definitely a way to maximize the benefits of a downhill ski day, which terrain to target, how to ski it, or even suggested drills in order to get faster. Maybe someone else will write about this.

Lastly, the book completely ignores the sprint discipline. This is a fairly new discipline, and a good spot for North American athletes to find success, in fact they already have with podiums at World Championships and World Cup victories (Nina Silitch, Quinn Simmons, Melanie Bernier). Maybe someone else will write about this.

So overall, not a bad book, I just don't see it on the same level of completeness as Joe Friel's Training Bibles which has more sample workouts, and suggestions for races over a wider range of intensities. "Training for the Uphill Athlete" contains a couple of excellent tools to add to my toolbox in addition to stuff that I have found that works for me. I am motivated to add more weight bearing activity to my training and flip through again when it comes time to lay out my season. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mountain running?

In the past couple of skimo seasons, I have felt strong in vertical races and the first climbs in individual races. An interesting project that I have taken up this summer is to see how well that vertical speed translates over to the steeper trails up to some of the local summits.

The FKT board at after my latest exploits
Ha Ling and the Lady Mac Teahouse strava segments were my initial targets. Both are similar in duration and vertical climb and are relatively untechnical (I'm not skilled enough to challenge for a fast time to the summit of Lady Mac). While I was initially just trying to put my name on the top 10 of the respective Strava leaderboards, initial attempts showed that I had the speed to challenge for the digital FKT's. It took a second attempt on each, carrying less stuff for me to take down both segments.

Ha Ling: Strava: 29:50, watch (green gate to summit): 31:53
Lady Mac (teahouse): Strava: 35:49, watch (parking lot to platform): 40:49

I also put in an attempt on the trail under the Sulphur mountain gondola. This trail isn't as steep and my running speed wasn't fast enough to come close to the current FKT.

All in all, something that makes me really look forward to spending time in the mountains and I have my eye on some segments throughout Western Canada

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ken Jones Classic - Pan American Championships

With World Championships happening every 2 years, there has been a push to get a continental championships going on the other years. The idea is that the venue will alternate between Canada and USA. This year, it was Canada's turn (Crested Butte in 2012, Wasatch in 2016, etc..).

The three day event took place at Lake Louise with a vertical race on Friday, a sprint on Saturday, and an individual race on Sunday. Going in, I wanted to focus on the vertical and have a good result in the individual, and I wasn't too concerned with how the sprint would play out which would be beyond my control. So I skipped the sprint.

The vertical race took place on the final climb of the Ken Jones classic individual course. Up Larch, through Rock Garden to Elevator shaft. This is a climb that I have suffered up many times with fatigued legs at the end of the races, battling with 1-3 other skiers. This time, we'd be taking it on with fresh legs and starting with the entire field!

After a comfortable start, it started to feel a little too I attacked. By the time I was caught, just as we reached the flatter section, there were just 4 of us in a front group, but my legs were hurting! The course finished with a single skintrack section so while I entered the pain cave early on, I didn't have to worry about passing, just about hanging on. Barely. In the end I finished 4th. I had a strong race but was regretting not pacing better.

Sunday's individual race started early and cold with not much time for a warmup. The race would be long with the ER5 bootpack added in (as it was in 2016), in addition to the rest of the normal course! I let others dictate the pace and pretty much dangled in 4th place the entire race, seeing Rory in 3rd at skins-on transitions. With a strong bootpack, I had increased my grip on 4th place, but definitely was looking forward to the top of the final climb (the same climb as Friday's vertical race). 

The large field. Not only did a bunch of Americans come out, but it seems like there are more local guys donning skinsuits every year!

Grabbed a shotski from the bar to bring up onto the podium
The legs are happy the season is over but I'm feeling pumped for next year after keeping it together during the busy March schedule.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Marmot's Revenge. Racing and course design

The idea of hosting a race at Marmot Basin has been tossed around before, but Alex Stieda was the first to go through with that idea. The namesake "basin" on the mountain provides a great amphitheater of terrain that is perfect for a ski mountaineering race. The mountain is a bit of a hidden gem, but it has the terrain and skis pretty good for the snowfall it gets. Unfortunately, I hadn't actually skied the terrain since 2005, as when I checked out the mountain on the 2017 closing weekend, the upper mountain was closed due to rain and warm temperatures causing avalanches to ground!

Course setting morning, I was relying heavily on the local knowledge of volunteers and staff who were seeing "skimo" for the first time. While things seemed a little hectic in the morning, by the end of the day, we had skintracks that had been bedded in again, and big GS gates on some of the descents. Big kudos to the volunteers for picking things up quickly and making it happen!

"Is the race going up the Cornice? That's pretty steep!"

Race day went pretty well. I took the lead off the start as I usually do, and because I wanted to make sure everyone went the right way as it was not a straightforward cat track. The group was pretty well strung out heading into the technical skinning section and the steep section directly up the ridge to the top.

Then came the descents, into whiteout, which would be the theme for the day. Rocks were hit if you veered too far from the cornice at the top of Tres Hombres. Fortunately the red pin flags provided the definition to get us down. I'm sure even the skiing public appreciated them unless they were content to stick below treeline.

Eric and Nick took off from me for the rest of the day, likely breaking trail on the old skintrack that had been skied over, putting in a huge chunk of time into me on the last climbs. The peak bootpack seemed to go on forever. The elite course did some extra climbs than the recreational course and it was nice to swap encouragement with the skiers as we passed by. In the end I finished 3rd, what I expected, but I couldn't match the pace on the last 2 climbs.

If I were asked to redesign the course for a future event, I would look to changing up the course. 3 descents down the busy Basin Run down to the mid mountain chalet is a little dangerous with all of the people there! The course was a little long and I didn't get to fit Eagle East or Caribou Knoll into the course. I appreciated the technical skinning, but the 1st climb was steep, and we had to repeat it again. So here's what I'm thinking:

1. start at Chalet and climb Eagle ridge
2. descend eagle east to transition at Slash
3. Climb Slash, and Eagle ridge to top of Cornice
4. descend cornice to transition at Knob (avoid going down the busy Basin Run!)
5. Climb to peak (same climb as this year)
6. Descend peak, transition on upper traverse of basin run.
7. Short climb to top of Tres Hombres
8. Descend Tres Hombres to just above traverse
9. Climb up to lower gate of Tres Hombres to top of Caribou Knoll
10. Descend Caribou Knoll.
11. Climb up to lower gate of Tres Hombres
12. Descend Showoff Cattrack to finish!

If that seems long, maybe eliminate 2 and 3.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Panorama Steep Dreams

With a week filled with lots of skiing (backcountry, cross country, and ski hill!) it was hard to remember to leave something in the tank for the Steep Dreams races at Panorama. A vertical race on Saturday followed by the individual race on Sunday.

The vertical (equivalent to a hill climb bike race) is probably my strongest discipline, but with some very fast biathletes crossing over I was a little nervous, as there aren't really any special skills required for the vertical. But I put the nervousness behind and set a brisk pace to the top of the first pitch of the vertical that only Nick could match. Joel from Montana closed the gap as Nick broke some trail which deposited us at the bottom of a very steep groomed section. Nick took off straight up the hill while I took a traversing line and had something left at the end to out-sprint Joel for 2nd.
Vertical Start

Individual race start!

The individual race the next day had a novel format with skiers repeating the same climb 3 times going to a different descent each time before finishing with a different climb. This worked great as from my experience helping set the climb after the vertical race, it was a lot of work to put in just one track. While the track was generally at an appropriate gradient, lots of switchbacks and some short steep sections rewarded good skinning technique and penalizing others with wasted energy and skin failure.. Further magnified as the climb was repeated 3 times!

The short, flat/rolling 1st climb followed by a descent presented an interesting scene as the first 2 transitions were more crowded than usual.

The technical skinning was no problem for me, but unfortunately, I lost sight of Nick after the first descent. Let's just say the timed downhill results from this race quantify how much work I have to do! But I held on for 2nd place.

Unfortunately I will miss the Squamish race (which has an astonishing 82 entries as I write this!), but will course set at Marmot and aiming for a good result at the NA championships at Lake Louise at the end of March.

Roam Randonee at the Coldsmoke Festival

This year's edition featured a different course than when I last did this race two years ago with 3 big climbs, the classic "skins-on descent" and a flattish skin out to the descent of West Ymir run. In the grand scheme of the Canadian race series, the race kicks off a stretch of 5 straight weekends of racing!

I did my usual thing and took to the front off the start and with only minor trailbreaking in a couple of cm's of new snow, me and Eric were clear at the top of the first climb. Eric took charge on the 2nd climb picking his route and scanning for course markings, "trading off" to me after overshooting a switchback after which I finished off the trailbreaking which ended up being quite deep in the fan up to the base of the bootpack. I could see a group of 4 below, but fortunately that was as close as they would get. The pace along the flat section towards West Ymir was brisk. I fueled up at the top of the descent and dropped in right behind Eric, only to have him gradually disappear into the distance and leave the skins-on transition before I even got there.

On the final climb, I pushed hard to try to close the gap although it was obvious there were a couple of short spots where Eric did some significant trailbreaking. After pushing hard and running the flat section of the bootpack, I counted my time gap, only to lose another minute on the descent to the finish line. So obviously I need to work on my downhill skiing to be more competitive at this level.

The next race is the Steep Dreams at Panorama, so I decided to take a week off of work to do some skiing.