Saturday, December 28, 2013

West Porter Fork

Today we encountered fantastic snow conditions in West Porter Fork. The powder was abundant, fast and fun. The snowpack did not give up any signs of instability at all. We still have a few inches of facets down under though and that layer is much lower density than what’s above so we are definitely looking at an upside down snowpack that will require caution for yet a while. However we did stay on terrain well below 35° most of the time and whenever it was steeper it was in reasonably tight trees. The exit is reminiscent of what I can imagine the Trail of Tears would be but still well worth the effort considering this must be one of the very few favored spots right now.
Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):
Scenic cliff bands on the way up the skin track
at about 9,000 '

View into West Porter Fork

View into Main Porter Fork

Powder everywhere...

Mike in full transition

Scott coming down...

...and eric too..

From left to right: Don, Eric, Mike, and Scott.

Mike makes it to an old school first responder 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Powder in West Bowl

In an effort to introduce my two oldest sons, Adrien and Nico, to the Wasatch backcountry, under our routinely highly unstable conditions, I took them to West Bowl. We made this a bi-canyonal and so skinned from Alta to West Bowl where we did a couple of laps. The powder was exceptionally good, fun and fast. The last couple of storms really improved coverage so we hit hardly any rocks at all (what a difference two weeks can make!).  We skied out through Silver Fork taking the bus, at Solitude Beam Lodge, back down to 6200S park and ride. There was a fair amount of cracking on the south facing going up to the LCC/BCC ridge line. We also heard a lot of whoomps in Silver Fork, once on the east facing side and several times on the west facing one. We stayed well clear of any steeps so did not remote trigger anything.
Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):
Nico and Adrien working hard under the morning's unstable weather.

Mount Superior in the distance, Toledo Bowl and Cardiff Pass
in the foreground

Nico and Adrien arriving to West Bowl with
Mont Superior in the background.

Lots of powder in West Bowl with Emma Ridge in the background.

Turns in West Bowl.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thanks Scott Duley!

As I was about to take off on my skins from the gate where the road to Empire and Guardsman’s Pass is no longer winter maintained, this really nice guy offered me a ride on his snowmobile up to the pass. I figured that that’s one bonus lap right there and happily jumped on. Scott (see below) was on his way home; he has a cabin on Bonanza Flats where he has been living the last ten years. He gets perfect isolation and extra long winters: what’s there not to like! Some will argue that, what’s there not to like, is taking your groceries in by snowmobile. Sounds like groceries shopping just got promoted from chore to cool adventure…
Scott, his Skidoo and my skis on the snow.
Whatever the case may be with that, I was out on yet another conditioning tour, not much else to do these days since the only aspect that holds enough snow for a meaningful ski is the exact same as the highest avalanche risk including facets all the way down to the ground! Snow cover is slim everywhere except on northern aspects where the cover often is quite decent. I got a ridge hike from Empire Pass to Empire Express top, skied out to Empire Lodge and then skinned back up to the car. I am hoping that by Tuesday things will have settled enough that we'll be able to have a good touring day with at least some high value northern slopes being doable. 
View down towards Snake Creek

Bonanza Flats in its splendid winter season isolation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Silver Fork

Yesterday Mike and I went out to Silver Fork from Alta and into West Bowl for a few laps and then out following the Davenport ridge line and down via Grizzly Gulch. Considering that we are dealing with a Considerable avalanche risk on anything north facing at any elevation we may care about, we figured some low angle on the most west facing part of West Bowl would be a reasonably safe bet. It was. On that aspect we didn’t see nor feel any instabilities at all. The snow pack is about 1 and a half foot of snow. The first two inches or so are hard-frozen facets (pencil) well bonded to the rest which is soft (four fingers) snow. The skiing was a bit nerve wracking for anyone that cares about their bases; we were hitting rock regularly. Although we didn’t see any instabilities on the West aspect there was no shortage of avalanches and bad signs on the Northern aspects. Those aspects consistently show signs of instabilities including two avalanches west of Two Dogs, several cracks on Silver Fork Headwall etc.
Given the conditions Silver Fork should probably be exited by BCC. However, we were committed to an LCC exit (the car was parked at Alta…), so we skinned Emma Ridge to Davenport Hill then followed that ridgeline to East Bowl Pass and then down the Jeep road to Grizzly Gulch to the parking lot. Not a fascinating ski but a great recon tour and workout.
Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):
Spectacular panorama by Mike Florence. From left to right: The Pfeifferhorn,
the Dresden Face, The Hypodermic needle and the Coalpit Headwall.

One of my absolute favorite lines, MT Superior South Face.

Yours truly trudging up Emma 2, photo coyright: MFPS.

West Bowl, photo curtesy Mike Florence.

Looking down West Bowl.

Mike getting ready to transition.

View of True Flagstaff (right) and Peak 10561(left).

Upper West Bowl in the forefront and part of the Silver Fork headwall.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pre-season fling with Lady Morgan

I was back out for yet another pre-season workout starting from Empire Lodge at deer Valley. I met James Dumas and took a picture of his turns (see below). The main characteristic about the snowpack today is wind-affected! The good news is that there is nothing wrong with the quantity. I went up with Skadi who had her first tour in two weeks as she has been recovering from a gash she took here two weeks ago. I went up to Empire Express and dropped into PCMR’s Tycoon run which I skied for a few hundred yards then dropped back into Deer Valley and crossed over to Morgan Express and back down to the Lodge. After that I did the regular skin up veering left from the parking lot and up Empire bowl by the ridgeline.
Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):
James' beautiful turns
Daley's are filling in.

Skadi: I'm back!

And the close-up.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Follow your INTUITION…

Click here to see the "after 100 days" update of this post

INTUITION Sports out of Vancouver produces world class liners. These are premium liners that, when used right, will do a whole lot for your skiing no matter what type of skiing you’re into. Not only are they a godsend for performance, they are also a lot warmer than the typical stock liners. I use them in the BC for touring and on the rare occasions I ski in resort. My son Max, a U16 on the Park City alpine ski team, uses Intuition’s HD Race liners in his Salomon Custom 130 race boots. This year I am testing the brand new Pro-Tongue liners. But before getting into the liner review let’s take a quick look at boot and fit.

Step #1: Make sure you have the right shells 

Poorly fitted boots is probably the main turn off for most beginners in our sport. Having your feet in an ice cold and hard vice for endless hours does not necessarily develop the kind of passion our sport deserves. So here are some basics on getting yourself into a great fitting pair of ski boots. The main factors determining fit and performance are:
  • Size
  • Shell and cuff shape
  • Flex and your ability as a skier

The sizing proper is relatively straight forward. There are basically three different sizing charts that you will encounter when sizing (I do have a favorite but more on that in a bit): U.S. size – Euro size – Mondo size. This last one is a disarmingly simple measurement based on the metric system and measured in centimetres. For those that need a refresher on metric, an inch is 2.54 centimeters and an imperial foot (i.e. the measurement unit) is about 30 centimeters. Under this system a Mondo size 25.0 is simply a 25 centimeters long boot (i.e. about 10 inches) measured from the heel to the toe inside the boot. Click here for a good Mondo to “regular” conversion chart.
Once the length is established, width is the next important measurement. This is the width of your foot at its widest (the experts talk about “metatarsal” width). As an example, if you are a US men’s size 10, then a foot width of about 3.8" is considered narrow, 4.0" is considered pretty standard and 4.2" is considered wide (for all other sizes see table below). Knowing which width you are will allow you to zoom in your choice on boots known to be narrow, medium or wide.
Now to the reason the Mondo is my favorite system: Whether you are buying/renting boots in Alta, Chamonix or Rusutsu, as long as you “speak mondo” you’ll be able to get what you need no matter where you are on planet earth!

For shell and cuff sizes all boot manufacturers have a “standard” foot and lower leg shape they model their boots on. The problem of course is that feet come in all sizes and shapes. With each brand of ski boot having a unique configuration of shape, volume, and geometry your challenge is to find the manufacturer whose “standard” foot and lower leg shape matches yours the closest. The only way to find out is to spend the time trying them out and looking very carefully for pressure points. To figure out how a shell fit pull the liner from the shell, insert your foot so the toes are just barely touching the front of the shell, and measure the gap left behind your heel. A gap of less than 1 centimeter (a bit less than half an inch) is considered a snug race fit. A gap between 1 and 1.5 centimeters would be a normal, high-performance fit for advanced to expert skiers. 1.5 to 2.0 centimeters would be considered an ample fit for the skier that prioritizes comfort over performance. At more than 2 centimeters of gap you probably need new shells. However, and although not guaranteed, if you were to pick a high volume, high density INTUITION liner you may be able to “save” such a shell. That’s how determining these liners can be.
When trying out boots in the store don’t loose sight of the fact that a subtle pressure on your ankle in the shop can turn into major torture session after a few hours on the slopes... Know also that if you find the 99% perfect fit but the boot fits a bit too snug in a very specific area then heat “punching” the shell out to fit is a very easy and fast step to take towards perfection. For the lower leg shape a good thing to do if you find the boot is either too hard to buckle on the cuff or too loose, is to unscrew the buckles on the cuff and move them one hole or two either direction. This will typically just require an Allen key (sometimes offered as a give-away with the boot) and can easily be done at home and can make a huge difference in lower leg fit. Finally one word about half sizes: They don’t really exist… The shell size doesn’t change and contrary to popular belief neither does the thickness of the liner. Remember how we said that Mondo sizes are one centimeter per size (a Mondo size 25.0 is 25 centimeters long)? Well then a 25 and a ½ would be 25.5 cm i.e. a difference of 5 millimeters (1/5 of an inch). The manufacturers feel that that difference is too small to justify anything but a difference in the thickness of the insole. This is somewhat understandable given the cost of a boot mould.

Finally, as far as Flex and your ability as a skier are concerned know that these two factors are closely linked. Typically the more advanced skier in any given weight category will need or want the higher flex. However when it comes to backcountry boots it seems there are precious little standards to define the flex. So far I have always found that for the exact same flex advertised on a resort or free ride boot I get a stiffer boot than its corresponding ski mountaineering boot advertising the same flex. In general true ski mountaineering boots, because of the requirement to keep the weight down, are going to be less stiff than their beefier brethren in resort or sidecountry.

The liners

One key to Intuition’s success is its use of a special formulation of the Intuition foam. Many years ago that started in collaboration with Ultralon, a brand of EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) thermoformable foam. Nowadays Intuition does it all on its own and has developed the only foam formulation specifically fabricated for winter sports (snowboarding and skiing). As a result, this foam is more resistant to heat-related shrinkage and pressure related “packing out” than other types of foam.

Intuition liners are designed to improve on stock boot liners by:
Being lighter and warmer
Being longer lasting
Offering a better fit and being tuneable

The Intuition liner, once heated, will take the shape of your foot and your shell. Why does this matter above and beyond comfort? Because with no empty spaces left between your foot and the shells there is now a perfect transfer of energy from your foot to the liner to the shell. This gives your ski set up an ultra-responsive feel, because no energy is lost in open spaces or sloppy cushioning. I can say that this is no exaggeration: The Intuition liner is really that good. Now, these liners are no give-aways; at close to $200 I wouldn’t throw out my brand new Garmont liners if the only thing the Intuition did for me was to offer some vaguely improved comfort. For me the attraction is improvement in the performance (and efficiency) of light backcountry boots that need all the help they can get in that area.

For a bit over ten years now I have exclusively been using INTUITION liners in all my ski boots. For resort skiing (rare) I use them in my Salomon X-Waves. In the back country I use them in my old Garmont MegaRides 5my current “rock boots”) with Intuition Pro-Tour liners and on my new Garmont (RIP) Cosmos with Intuition Pro-Tongue liners.


The model that Intuition designed for back country skiing is the Pro-Tour, not this new Pro-Tongue. In my old MegaRide I used the Pro-Tour which is a great, pretty high volume liner. That liner was so good it absolutely extended the life of these boots. When I needed liners for these MegaRides I bought a size 28 Mondo liner for my 28 Mondo size boots. The MegaRide size 28 has a sole length of 320 millimeters
Pro Tour liner in MegaRide
Pro-Tour liner
For a reason that escapes me the size I need in the Cosmos is different so I ended up with a boot size labelled 27.5 (just the 27) with a sole length of 306 millimeters. These boots are lighter and narrower than my MegaRides but stiffer (advertising a flex of 130). I clearly was going to need a lower volume liner for the Cosmos. I picked the Pro-Tongue because they are thinner in the body and forefoot, with an extra thick dense foam around the cuff and down the full length of the tongue. The 2mm thick rubber ensures I am keeping overall volume in line with the tighter boots (the Pro-Tour sole is 7mm). At the same time they are dense and stiff enough in the cuff that I get really good support on the downhill. I have been out on four outings so far and this liner is shaping up to be the most responsive tongue liner I have owned. It reminds me of the high performance feel I had a few years back in the Power Wrap (too voluminous for these boots).  So far I am very excited about the responsiveness and performance I get out of these in cluding a week ago at suicide chute. I was also just a couple of days ago out at Alta in 4° and the warmth and comfort of these liners were irreproachable. I will do a more in depth analysis of these after a full season with them but so far they feel like quite the winners.
Pro Tongue liner

Pro Tongue in Cosmos


The liner my son uses right now is the HD Race liner. This tongue liner is classified as a low-volume liner. It is designed for low-volume and race-fit boots and that’s what he is using them for. Interestingly enough he has been told his boots are too large and he should go down a size. What he did was to get these liners that are thicker than the stock liner and after heatmolding they filled up any open spaces and he regained the level of responsiveness required of a race boot. The feel as well as the training times he achieved so far in this pre-season are very encouraging. I will get back with more towards the end of the season.
HD race liner

HD Race in Salomon World Cup
Custom 130 race boot

Where to buy these? For online ordering click here for US store locator click here.

Where do you fit in?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Best powder day of the season (so far)

After some nerve-wracking monitoring of this last storm for what feels like ages, seeing its probability grow in the NOAA forecast from 10% to 40, to 60, 80 and finally 100% and praying frantically for it not to be yet another cruelly disappointing dud: We got to ski powder! This was yesterday at Deer Valley from Empire Lodge to PCMR with Scott and Mike. We skied Empire Bowl, then Sunrise in PCMR, then four laps off of Pioneer, back up to Pioneer and down via Summit Lodge to PCMR First Timer parking lot.
All these pictures are courtesy Mike Florence (click to enlarge):

Jupiter through the Aspens...

Scott and yours truly in love with our signatures...

Scott having a little too much fun... my dust...
Working at it..

Proud line ownership