Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ken Jones Classic, Devon Blizzard, Sunridge Fatbike Race

I was pretty pumped for the concluding race of the 2015 SMCC season. After arriving home from Europe and getting some good rest, I was able to put together a consistent string of good training starting with a couple of fatbike races. I enjoyed the cyclocross style format which had us completing 4-5 laps for a total race duration of ~50minutes. 

Ripping the berms at the Blizzard bike race in Devon. The volunteers at the Devon Bicycle Association did an excellent job of preparing the course: packing it down, and putting sand on the icy sections
The Sunridge race had a little more elevation change and included more singletrack and I really enjoyed it!

The course at Lake Louise is dialed in and after being cancelled in 2014 due to cold temperatures, I was looking forward to racing there again. Rain falling overnight with the freezing level somewhere around mid mountain meant that we wouldn't have to deal with the cold. 
Lots of race suits out today. There were a bunch of people chomping at my heels on the first 2 climbs.

The race starts early in the morning and I was not disciplined enough to grab an adequate warmup after the race briefing and morning uplift. That said, after a couple of weeks of ski-mo intervals on Edmonton ski club, I felt really good for the first 5 minutes of the race! My shins really started aching as the groomed trail got steeper and I  settled into 3rd place occasionally looking back to see an epic back and forth battle happening behind me. In addition to many faces that are starting to become regulars in the race series, it was impressive to see Jakub Sumbera not far behind, even though he was racing on much heavier touring gear.

Looking ahead to the 2nd climb, I saw just a single set of ski pole marks in the snow. Travis was breaking trail. Extremely impressive. I upped my cadence through the soft track and distanced myself from the chasers. I skied smooth but really suffered when the final climb steepened. This year, I didn't have Eric Carter chasing me down the final descent so I skied more relaxed to the finish.

Race notes:
-Travis did a lot of trailbreaking
-Jakub is pretty fit to be able to hang in there on heavier touring gear
-There is a big chase pack of skiers brewing up behind me. They are already chomping at Steve Sellers' heels. 
-The Zamzow kid puked on the first climb. Now that's dedication!
-Only 7 females total raced. Anna Sellers had an impressive race in the Junior category. Kylee had to abandon the race early on with some lung issues, leaving only Martha and Michelle to contest the elite race.
-Junior Kevin Hinni put down the 3rd fastest rec course time and emerged from the epic back and forth junior battle for the overall. Hope he sticks with it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Poles for Ski Mountaineering Racing

I don’t come from a ski racing background (cross country or downhill). I didn’t know that you could spend $100 on a small brick of wax that makes ski bases so slippery that skins can’t stick to them. And I certainly didn’t know that you could spend $500 on a pair of poles! Frankly, I didn’t see the point of spending more than $40 on a pair of sticks that get bashed and crashed or lost, stolen, and forgotten. Fancy grips, pole straps, baskets, adjustment systems, and exotic materials promising greater strength, stiffness, and lighter weight don’t really justify the additional cost. I just wish that cheaper poles came with powder baskets, especially since everyone and their dog is now skiing on fast skis and should theoretically be chasing after scarce powder, not bashing gates on groomed runs.

Lately, I’ve been using cheap but flexy $20 Komperdell xc poles for my backcountry skiing. I don’t have much desire to change the length of my pole throughout the day. The skinny xc grips are pretty good for plunging into the snow, and the xc basket and tip provide enough float and don’t get in the way when I’m scratching across an icy sidehill.

But skimo racing is different. The clock is ticking. Each time I lift the ski poles up to plant them again further up the mountain costs me energy. I’m not a double-poling xc skier reaching high and crunching down low demanding ultimate stiffness, but I prefer not to have to think about my poles bowing under my measly single pole plants. So I use my trusty Dynafit SR Race poles. But like any concerning ski mountaineering racer, I’m wondering if they present the best bang for the buck, and what sort of performance advantages I can obtain for minimal costs.
This scale shot had me curious. Here Yannick Ecoeur's Swix Triax 1.0 ($400+) poles are shown to weigh 146g in what I am assuming is a 140cm length. XC poles are often quoted in g/m without grips and baskets, so it is nice to see a real world weight.
Ski mountaineering poles are nothing more than xc poles with larger baskets and straps that are easy to get in and out of (Leki’s shark system is also very popular for ski-mo), possibly with reinforcement. One can buy ski-mo poles off the shelf…er web from Dynafit, Ski Trab, La Sportiva, ATK-Race, Crazy Idea, Gabel, Komperdell, and Leki among others, but I wondered how the value of these compared to much more common xc poles, especially if they were placed on sale!

So I looked into the weights and costs of various ski-mo and xc poles. Many of these weights are claimed, some are verified by others, and some are estimated by comparing a verified or claimed weight of one pole to the unit tube weight (g/cm) of a pole from the same manufacturer. The measured and claimed weights (from skimo.co) were for lengths varying from 125-140cm, so to make for a fairer comparison of weight, I scaled them (g/cm, including grip/basket, although actual g/cm goes down as poles get longer). So after checking Skintrack.com for your optimum pole length, the DyNA will probably be the lightest out of the poles on this list. Lighter than many $300+ xc poles! Those black diamond traverse adjustable poles will be more than twice as heavy. Generic alpine poles (Komperdell Carv Pro) are also  near the top of the list of the worst g/cm.

XC and ski-mo poles ranked in terms of g/cm (less is better), either based on measured or claimed  weights(at 125,130,135,140cm) or estimated  from the claimed g/cm of the pole and adding the basket and grip (usually 60-65g). Note how there is a slight jump between the carbon Komperdell nordic classic and the aluminum Dynafit SR Race (although the aluminum Gabel Mezzalama and ATK Race Tour are on the carbon side of the jump!)

But what poles give you the best bang for the buck? I then compared the online sale price (retail is for suckers) multiplied by the g/cm. 

XC and ski-mo poles ranked in terms of $*g/cm (lower is better). Many aluminum poles have good $*g/cm as Aluminum is light and cheap! This high end XC poles have high $*g/cm.
Here my $20 Komperdells lead the pack. The Dynafit PDG pole seems to offer competitive value and light weight. My SR Race poles give up ~90grams to Dynafit’s best offering. And if you are interested in buying new poles, note that skimo poles like the Movement X-race carbon, Komperdell Nepal 10, Dynafit PDG Expert, and Gabel Piera Menta carbon give you pretty good bang for the buck, along with being pretty light!

What is the relationship between pole price and unit weight? One would expect that as you spend more and more, you are saving less and less weight. This is an exponential relationship and it is plotted below.
But how does ski pole weight affect exertion and overall race times? What about breakage? I've only seen/heard of carbon poles breaking (PDG, RSR, DyNA).

*Updated 2016 with Black Diamond's poles. Vapor 1 and Helio are extremely competitive weight-wise.