Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Bogong, Binding Delta and Bitchiness

It's nice to feel like things are progressing. Got up to Bogong again...

 Big Fella has the goods

Oddly enough, Cairn Gully and its surrounds were the best area on offer. Eskdale and Audax were very firm underfoot (as in screeching edge of ski firm), but Cairn was gorgeous to ski on. Over the two days I skied pretty much all the lines pictured above. I say 'odd' because many other aspects that were in the sun were not softening very much at all. That's ok though - all those areas will be fantastic in spring.

I also dug a pit - in a nutshell, snow stability is very good and will only improve. It's easy to see why so many Australian BC users simply don't bother digging pits, as they often confirm the fact that we almost always have a super stable snowpack. Still, worth it for the practice and the security of knowing what's going on; and for avoiding becoming one of the few but growing list of names of people who die from avalanches in Oz.

Skimo reality - most of the day is this view

After coming home, I immediately focused on the two things that I wanted to improve: my skiing technique (I take it this will always be the case!) and the nutrition system I'm using.

That's fine, but after seeing some stuff around the importance of gratitude in having a happy and meaningful life, I want to try and be more grateful for being able to even have these kinds of experiences, rather than to focus exclusively on areas of improvement. Whilst I'm in the hills I am certainly present, but I want to take that positive effect of my time skimo-ing and let it linger and be appreciated for how special it really is.

The reality is that we are all not long for this world...even more than that, there was a big part of my life where skimo was inconceivable or unattainable, and there will eventually be a part of my life where I will be physically incapable of these feats. As said in one of my favorite books (Catch-22):

Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.

We aren't ripe forever, so I will endeavor to appreciate this more while it lasts.

In particular, I can be grateful for not having any bad accidents or injuries, for seeing some sublime and beautiful nature whilst ski touring, and for the meaning and purpose my time in the mountains gives me. And that'd just be the start of the list.

Even the pack gets gratitude


I'm still trying to figure out the best way to fuel my body for big days in the mountains.

At the moment, I've been going with:

Brekky - Meal replacement shake (Soylent), Hydralyte sports drink

Lunch - One Square Meal bars (from NZ), museli bars, energy gels, boiled lollies and soy crisp / nut mix along with water

Dinner - Couscous and tinned vegetables, dark chocolate, Hydralyte and lots of water

I'm thinking that my breakfast could be better, as well as my dinner. I haven't had time to investigate options yet, but this will be a focus for future trips into the BC. More to follow.

Binding Ramp Delta

As I've said before, quad burn has been a significant issue for me. I know that I can improve my downhill technique, but the levels of fatigue I was encountering suggested that something else was contributing to the issue.

The other day I popped up to a resort and skied a heap of downhill - some fast, lots of turns, the steeps on offer (which ain't that steep) and jump turns. I did it all on the Zero G 85 with a ATK toe and the Dynafit Expedition heel (on a Hagan adjustment plate). I immediately felt more at ease on my skis, and had much less fatigue throughout the day.

Small drop in pin height = significant difference

I had only dropped the delta by 4.5mm (from about 12 to 7.5), and felt a noticeable and positive change to my stance and movement whilst skiing. I'm not overly familiar with resort gear, but from what I've seen, ramp deltas just aren't a part of their setups. The whole reason we even have it in tech bindings was due to the first, most popular iterations of the Dynafit bindings having about a +12 delta. Whilst there are things I don't want to emulate from the resort world (obsession with release value, weight), the fact that they have not used ramp delta in their designs is telling.

I've come to believe that having as neutral as possible ramp delta is the way to go - which can be hard to achieve with tech bindings that come with a wide range of deltas. Check out this page for a comparison - note that depending on which binding you have, your delta can be between -2.5 to +18!

Luckily, the guys at Skimo have the answer - selling toe and heel units separately, along with shims and other adjusting trinkets. Let the creation of the Frankenbinding begin!

Thus, I've arrived at two configurations for ski mountaineering and alpine touring.

1. With release values

Toe - Plum Yak (39mm pin height), 185g
Heel - ATK Free Raider 14 or Raider 12 2.0 (pin height 40/41), 190g or 125g

Plum Yak toe + FR14 heel (top) and Raider 12 2.0

This setup will be my general touring rig. Both the toe and heel have a relatively wide mount (50mm for Yak, 45mm for the ATK), which I like for the power transfer to skis, but not too wide to fit on thinner sticks like the ZG85.

This setup should be perfect for most applications - adjustable release, only 760g for the pair and proven quality and reliability, along with negligible ramp delta and a good variety of heel lifters at the back for the up.

2. Balls-out skimo

Toe - ATK (pin height 29), 150g, 6.4mm B&D shim
Heel - Hagan adjustment plate , Dynafit Expedition (36.5 pin height), 100g

ATK Raider 2.0 toe with shim + Hagan plate / Expedition heel

This configuration is lighter (520g for pair), but gives up lateral release at the heel...which is sometimes not a bad thing. Trevor Hunt has spoken about skiing the steeps and looking down to see his heel turning under the force placed on it, which would undoubtedly cause the shitting of pants.

The other thing I like about this setup is its simplicity and the fact that it just works - no bells and whistles, just a solid attachment between ski and boot...but there is the potential for a nastier fall if a proper yard sale occurs.

Leashes vs Brakes

I've varied in my thoughts about this topic. I started on leashes, moved to brakes and now I'm back on leashes.

In terms of benefits versus disadvantages, I list my thoughts below:

Brakes have worked for me for a while now, and in the odd fall that I've had, they have functioned well. Having said that, there have been moments where I have stepped out of a binding, only to find that ice and snow buildup has kept them locked in place, retracted and not doing their job.

The major disadvantage of leashes is that they become weapons against you in some falls, and especially in an avalanche where you want (ideally) to stay near the surface, rather than be dragged down under the debris.

The tipping point for me is the retention aspect - I never want to do that long walk chasing a ski that has ended up fuck-knows-where. It'd be really annoying in Australia with our little hills, but in the big mountains overseas, it would be truly fucked and possibly life threatening.

B&D make a leash with a breakable link that will snap given enough force - which negates the avalanche concerns that leashes engender. I'll be seeing how these leashes treat me for the rest of this season.

Tech bindings in general

The simple reality is that you need to be a better skier to use tech bindings.

For some people that's controversial. For most people at a resort, they'd have no idea what a tech binding is, nor care. Half the time I get confused with a telemarker. I even had a skiing instructor (in a gondola in Japan) mock my gear, saying it probably had a DIN of 1.

The thoughts of the average resort skier / instructor on BC gear are pretty clearly irrelevant; the guy I mention above had no idea and wanted some kind of DIN cock-measuring competition. It comes up as an issue only because some of us choose to ski on tech gear in resorts - whether that be because we don't own resort gear or prefer to ski in the gear we'd rather be using, or for a host of other reasons.

And this brings me back to the point above - the person on tech gear is doing it harder than the resort skiers around them.

They don't have the forgiving elasticity of a resort binding. They accept a higher degree of danger in that tech bindings don't have the same release characteristics as other bindings. They reduce the mass of their gear, making some snow types more challenging as a result.

In short, you have to be better on your skis and a bit braver to ski tech gear...which really doesn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but is worth remembering the next time you are confronted by an ignorant douchebag bitching about your awesome setup!

Having eschewed the 'free ride' form of touring, I've started to think about how light I can go. I think that if you focus on a more turn-y style, the gear needed for skimo can be quite light. For example, if you can ski on a Radical / Speed Turn / G3 Ion, you can absolutely go lighter with a race binding that will do the job effectively (and that is what I did when I went to the Kreuzspitze SCTT). For general touring, a TLT6, a decent race binding and a good, lightweight ski can get you a setup around 5kg without too much trouble.

Seen this view enough for now...might be time for Feathertop

The Remaining Season

It's been a bit odd thus far - a couple of big snowfalls, some rain and not too many big fronts moving through. Spring could be a touring bonanza up high, or the rain could come and trash it all. Hopefully we get a couple more hits of snow before a mild Spring.

My goals are to keep on skiing Bogong and Feathertop as often as possible, and maybe get up to the Main Range these holidays. I'll keep improving technically, and hopefully be able to report in next time with a better nutrition system for skimo shenanigans.

Team Weasel

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