Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Is ski mountaineering race gear too expensive?

Possibly if you are looking to get into the sport, or are Canadian! And I'm not even talking about carbon.

When I purchased my first full brand new setup, the dollar was at par. The Canadian dollar is now at $0.76US, so gear ordered from the States (or imported by a distributor...from the States) is now 30% more expensive!

Online skimo gear shopping is as good as it has ever been in North America thanks to Skimo.co, and backcountry.com's continued supplying of race stuff. Cripplecreek.com still looks to have a solid offering as well. But I can't help but notice that the box stores with probably the biggest exposure: MEC and REI have pared down their skimo offerings (edit, MEC is offering the Salomon Minim for $550. This is the deal of the century!). Boulder Nordic sport looks to have gotten out of the game. CampSaver too? Certainly these shops have had enough of skimo gear collecting dust in the back before getting snapped up during end of season clearance sales.

The gear is highly specialized, but it hurts that what is essentially a stripped down (less material, less parts) boot like the Alien or the PDG sells for at least $100 more than a comparable TLT6/7/F1 Evo style boot. Blame lower quantities, less competition, and the fact that racers will pay anything for a weight advantage.

There's a history of weight weenie skiers paying ridiculous amounts of money for minimal weight savings. For years Dynafit sold exotic titanium(or the aluminum alloy Titanal?) toe pieces on $700 bindings with something like a 30g per binding weight savings over the toe piece on a $350 binding. And there are certainly lots of recreational ski tourers who give up adjustable release and cheaper bindings to ski on low tech style bindings; extra granola bars lying in the bottom of their backpack be damned!

$700 for 30 gram weight savings! Skimo racers lapped these up in 2009
I'd think that a pairing of a low-tech race heelpiece (not the sketchy, non lateral release Expedition model) with a standard run of the mill steel TLT Speed toepiece, something that would retail for $385US, weighing only 60g per ski more than the $800US Low Tech Race would fly off the shelves. Fortunately it is possible to build this setup part by part on skimo.co, though it comes out to $430US. And I certainly see enough people skiing Dynafit's 2nd tier PDG ski and boot setup to justify this offering.

On a related skimo note, on the eve of a season with updated helmet regulations, it is certainly alarming to see that the Camp Pulse and Mammut Alpine Rider helmets (I was able to snag a display model at a nearby Atmosphere store) have been discontinued and the $190 Salomon MTN lab is the only helmet available. Supposedly there is a less expensive Salomon helmet and a Dynafit helmet on the way, but things have definitely gone up from my previous $90 Edelrid Shield2.

New rules are requiring skimo racers to use 3 antenna beacons. In response to this, Pieps has come out with the 150g Micro beacon.  $400 to save 65 grams over a BCA Tracker 3 with greater functionality (so still pretty much a race-only beacon). Hilarious when you consider that the current generation of backpacks from CAMP, Dynafit, Ultimate Direction, etc give up at least that much weight to my CAMP XLP 290 that I bought in 2010.

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