Wednesday, December 7, 2016

vert 180 report

The 7th Vert180 took place last weekend with perfect weather conditions. While there was not enough snow coverage to ski from the top of the nipple, we were still able to top our via a bootpack and then run down to a transition area on the groomed snow.

The usual suspects were there, while Matt, Caroline, and Lori Anne made the trip from the interior to collect some SMCC points and shake out the dust from the off season with the rest of us. While I lament the slow growth of ski mountaineering racing in Canada, there were more race skis and race backpacks popping up on both new and familiar faces.

3 laps in, it was just me, Joel, and Travis left in the front group. I was able to ski off the front with clean transitions. Unfortunately Travis had some stomach issues. Joel lurked behind me the whole race forcing me to have to hammer hard to maintain my 1-1.5minute advantage. I suffered hard in the last hour as I always do and was able to fend him off in the end. Strong performances by Matt Reid to take the final podium spot, Kylee , who didn't let me lap her until the 2nd last lap, Michelle, who battled hard to keep Kylee from lapping her, and of course great performance by 14 year old Tom who raced neck and neck with Kylee for 1.5hrs. Sounds like the battle for the final women's podium spot was also exciting with Marg taking it in her comeback.

I was pretty shattered after the race and was glad to get a burger and some chili in me to revive me. Looking forward to Castle Mountain in January!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gifts for the ski mountaineering racer in your family

What to get that ski mountaineering racer in your family? The one who has to explain his sport to anyone who cares to listen. Salespeople at your typical ski shop might not be aware of the unique demands of the sport, so I have provided a list of some items I think will be welcome for most racers. Or you could ring the credit card through

Black Diamond Gold Label Glue $10-$12 : Great for everything from touching up the glue on tailless race skins all the way up to a full reglue. It's such good glue that it's banned for sale in Europe due to the solvents it contains! Don't let the salesperson talk you into the "glue renew sheets" or any other glue, there is no alternative! Literature $25-$50: Rumour has it that Kilian Jornet once bought the Manual for Ski Mountaineering Racing so even the most seasoned racer can pick up a couple of pointers. Newly released is the 12 week training plan.

Socks! $20 and up: Always a welcome gift to replace crusty and worn out old ones. Thinner side is preferred, and make sure to get the right size. Merino wool is nice. Dissent Labs is the only option if your giftee is trying to fit in with the Whistler crew. 

Race Nutrition $20 and up: Endurance athletes will do anything for cheap race fuel, even going so far as to represent obscure start-up nutrition companies for a discount. Save them the hassle and buy them a box of Gu/Hammer/Powerbar gels and/or drink mix.

GPS/Heart rate watch: Not so much for keeping from getting lost but for tracking training and realizing how vastly inferior they are to Kilian Jornet and Anton Palzer who are racking up 4000m vertical days. There's a good deal on the Garmin Forerunner 920XT from Amazon right now.

Missing Items from the pack $50-$200: Okay, so they've got the skis/boots/bindings, the pack, what about:
  • Helmet: Dual climb and ski certified helmet required for ISMF international races starting this season.
  • Gloves: Any glove may do, but the CAMP Comp G Wind gloves seems to keep my hands at the right temperature and comes with a pullover wind cover. Designed for skimo, so they will keep your hands kinda dry, and not leave fabric on the skins.
  • CAMP crest shovel: Not an avalanche shovel, but meets the minimum requirements for being left in the pack during races.
  • Windbreaker top and bottom. Top of the line, extremely lightweight jackets and pants weigh about 125grams each, though something more reasonable within 50grams is acceptable for an item that lives in the race pack. Nice for warming up in as well.

Avalanche Centre donation $?: The guys going out everyday to gather information to keep your loved one safe. More applicable for those not in the Rocky Mountain Parks (those bulletins are provided by Parks Canada/Alberta).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Good skiing in the Lake Louise area

We were able to find good skiing in the Lake Louise area over the weekend. From the sounds of it, Kananaskis was mostly wind blasted, while starting elevations in Kootenay and Yoho are too low for the current state of the snowpack. The parkway is quite the haul, so we settled on Surprise Pass after hearing good things from the day before. Although we punched our skintrack up the north side, we were still the second group to ski, and then were able to put in another couple of laps while watching people ski one, then head home. Great day out.

We liked Lake Louise so much, we returned again, but with little overnight snow, we avoided yesterday's tracked out area and checked out the Lake Louise ski area backcountry. While the ski-out trail was definitely thin, it provided good access to the turns, and the exit wasn't bad. We managed a couple of short laps.

Skimo Camp

The team had an awesome early season training camp at the Asulkan cabin. As the popularity of backcountry skiing has exploded, especially at Rogers Pass, availability of the cabin was limited so we gambled on an early November date.

It's been an interesting season. Snow is piling in up high, but as it has been unseasonably warm, the snowlines are still quite high. So lower elevation trailheads require access on foot and bushwacking before getting to some good skiing.

Travis, Michelle, Matt, and Lori arrived a day early and set forth on the task of breaking trail up to the cabin through isothermal snow. With cell service at the cabin, they were able to update us on conditions and it wasn't sounding too great. Hmm, maybe I should be road biking in Edmonton?

I arrived the next day with Kylee and Mark and although the approach on foot and ski up a barely covered and sometimes steep summer trail was not ideal, I appreciated the deep trailbreaking done the previous day. I also noticed that there was at least a supportive crust forming on the snow that would make the exit a little more pleasant.

Alright, time for the main day. Game on. Travis et al had done some good exploring while we were skiing to the cabin and found an interesting way to access Sapphire Col hut via a couloir south of Leda peak. We went back the next day. Spindrift poured down the couloir and when we did top out, it was windy, cold, and visibility was not great. So we headed back down the couloir.

In the afternoon, we skied towards the base of Youngs peak, then lapped the Asulkan glacier some more in the whiteout. The smooth, windblasted surface provided consistent skiing even if the visibility was not there. It was nice to be able to crank out some easy vertical.

We were greeted on our exit day with some fresh snow, but no visibility, so we just skied out. Skiing was interesting while occassionally punching through the fresh powder and the crust under the weight of the big packs. Ultimately the exit on the summer trail down through the mousetrap proved to not be much of an issue and I was able to schuss most of the way down the trail until finally giving in and taking my skis off on an uphill before the bridge. A Teton style boot exit was all that remained to cap off the training camp.

I'm happy to get some good turns and training in so early in the season, especially when conditions were not sounding so great. Thanks to the Alpine Club for use of the hut.

Ode to the consignment store Elans

A couple of years back, the Switching Gear consignment store in Canmore picked up a bunch of Elan touring skis. There were a couple of pairs of  ski mountaineering race skis and some fatter skis that went quickly, but mostly the 160-170cm, 70mm-ish underfoot stores sat in the store. Prices were chopped. They are now at $100. I thought what the heck, the core doesn't make much difference on a ski this tiny and went with the lightest ones, the women's model! Binding mount was a tad sketchy with many of the screws spinning in the honeycomb core (pro tip, buy the Greenish-yellow or Red  ones with more wood in the core!).

I smoked a rock on my first turn and the ski ejected. This is why I bought these skis. Once down in the trees, the rocks went away, and with some light blower on top of a supportive base, the skis were fine. Great conditions for late October at Bow Summit! I lapped the slope until my legs died.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Where to buy ski mountaineering gear

So you are looking to get into ski mountaineering, but not sure where to get the gear? Many backcountry ski stores are starting to carry light gear, but still at a weight penalty compared to even an entry level race setup.

Although ski mountaineering racing is an emerging trend, it is still hard to find in North America. In Canada, this is further exacerbated by shipping, exchange, and brokerage costs when buying from the United States. And the shops that are nice enough to bring in skimo gear? Well it usually sits and collects dust all season(s), and they vow to never purchase it again.

Here are a list of shops that I've come across in my searches.

Used: High initial cost and low supply means that skimo gear typically has great resale value that comes at a cost above a typical "impulse buy". Demand is spread thinly across the continent, so it can be hard to find buyers! Gear Swap : Stano has left a space on his website for buying and selling gear. A great, focussed place to look for skimo gear. gear swap: A similar gear swap setup by Utah Skimo. This one is a little busier. forum gear swap: Race gear occasionally makes it on here. It seems everyone who uses this website has access to deals, so prices are low!
Skimo Gear Swap & Forum Facebook Group: Lots of gear here, although some telemark and "freeride" junk is popping up here.
Local kijiji, craigslist, ski swap: Pretty tough going.

Canada: Want cheap shipping, favourable exchange rates and no fees when you pickup? Best buy Canadian (if you are in Canada!). As more alpine brand distributors import skimo skis and more shops start carrying ski touring companies, any decent ski shop should be able to special order stuff for you.
MEC: The Co-op has some entry level boot and skis (Scarpa Alien, Dynafit PDG), low tech race bindings. Still no word on the $550 Salomon Minimums. They've done a good job in the past of keeping prices under control with the struggling Canadian dollar, but they seem to have lost their handle  this season.  : Formerly le Yeti, this Quebec based retailer has the Dynafit PDG series as well.
Vertical Addiction; In Canmore has some Scarpa Alien boots in stock. They've also been able to special order CAMP stuff for me.
Sundance Ski Shop : In Edmonton has a pair of womens Fischer Alpattacks in stock. I was also able to special order dynafit race binding parts.
Escape Route : They've previously carried Dynafit race gear, Colltex skins and Plum race bindings on their website.

International websites: A good strategy is to image search "Scarpa Alien" or "Dynafit PDG" to find websites that might carry skimo gear.

US: The exchange rate is a tough pill to swallow for Canadian customers. Look for places that ship via USPS, or can include some sort of "all in" rate to avoid any surprises when the Purolator or UPS guy shows up at your door. Or you could look into self declaring if there is a CBSA office nearby. From the CBSA website:
  • When the courier attempts to deliver the shipment, you must refuse delivery and advise the courier that you will pay duties and/or taxes directly to the CBSA.
    • Write down the unique shipment identification/tracking number. The shipment will be returned to the courier's warehouse for storage for a limited period of time. 
  • Next, visit a local CBSA office that offers accounting services to the public. You will need to provide specific details about the shipment, indicated on the commercial invoice. 
    • You will need the shipment identification/tracking number, the commercial invoice (receipt), and personal identification when you visit the CBSA.
    • If someone else is doing this step on your behalf, the CBSA requires a letter of authorization and a photocopy of your identification.
  • You will be given an official receipt indicating that you have paid duties and/or taxes paid to the CBSA. 
  • A copy of this receipt must be presented to the courier, either in person or by fax, at which time receipt or delivery of the shipment may be arranged." : The largest selection and most knowledgeable source for ski mountaineering gear in North America.
Cripple creek backcountry  : Another keen store with a good selection. The Totally Deep Podcast is awesome as well!
COSMIC shop :  proceeds go towards organizing races! : has some skimo gear : The goliath of the online shopping world in North America, they have skimo gear.
Boulder Nordic Sport : The of the nordic world, unfortunately they are getting out of the skimo market. They do have a limited selection of boots and bindings left at closeout prices though. : The outlet section is often a good source for skimo essentials: packs, gloves, clothing, training skins : I picked up a race backpack and a race harness from here a while back with free shipping to Canada. It looks like they have Dynafit race gear this year, though they say they aren't allowed to ship it to Canada. : Some Dynafit DyNA Evo race boots in stock. Careful, these might be an early pair that had some sole wear issues (losing the rubber lugs).
Voile and Scarpa both offer direct sales on their respective websites.

Europe: Look for websites that offer VAT free pricing for North American customers. A bit more hassle, but the retailers actually put stuff on sale. Due to the sport's popularity across the pond, there are more retailers than listed here. These are just some I have heard of friends buying from. A rabbit hole you could tumble down... : A starting point for European shopping. : Good source for race gear and good prices. Large skins selection
Riap Sport : German website. A little more expensive I find. : Some good deals can be found here. : Another German website.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Keeping costs down

In a previous post, I brought forward  my costs over the last couple of years of participating in ski and bike racing. Here are some strategies to keep costs down.

Limit the driving: Turns out, I had spent a lot of money on fuel and repairs for my vehicle. I've switched to a newer and more fuel efficient vehicle, and I'm hoping the fuel and repair savings will pay off that purchase soon. Additionally, I could carpool more, though it can be difficult to play by someone's schedule. Finding effective ways to train in the city right from the door of my house is something that I've gotten better at over the last year. I picked the location of my house so that I could bike to work and was close to the places where I train.

With this in mind, don't forget that the main reason we mountain bike and ski is to play in the mountains; don't be afraid to treat yourself. But try to make those weekend trips worth it by looking for good weather and maximising quality activity time.

It's not a deal if it doesn't fit: The sale rack can be tempting, but it's only worth buying something that is EXACTLY what you wanted before. Otherwise you will have to suffer with an ill fitting product, or take the loss when you eventually buy what you wanted in the first place. Buy it right, don't buy it twice.

Camp: Stop staying at hotels in the summer. I once raced with Catharine Pendrel (multiple World Champion Mountain biker, Olympic medalist). She sleeps in her van in parking lots. She got into mountain bike racing because it meant she got to go camping with her family. In the winter, look for friend's couches, hostels, or airbnb.

Don't stock up: Stocking up makes sense for food, and some "timeless" wear items like gloves and socks. Stuff goes obsolete. Bike technology advances, rules change. Don't get left with obsolete stuff that you will eventually have to sell for a loss.

Don't race more than you have to: I get it, I was young once and believed that I deserved to be in a better category than I was at the current time and I chased points. Now, I can tell you after 5 or so seasons of racing elite, I could care less when I upgraded. I wish I had won more podium prizes rather than accumulating points with 8th place finishes. Race only when you are feeling good and when course conditions are good. Think of the cost of racing being not just the entry fee, but the gas, food, and hotel stay required as well.

Don't ride or race in the rain or mud: Increased risk of crashing and breaking stuff, increased wear and tear on bike parts plus additional clothing requirements. Stick to the road if you must.

Cross train: While there is some benefit to specificity, even from a performance standpoint, I believe it is impossible to replicate the demands of mountain bike racing by just going for a mountain bike ride. Long climbs can seem uncomfortable after only mountain biking on the short, punchy climbs found in Edmonton. You wont be breaking bike parts in the gym or out on your running shoes!