Sunday, 24 September 2017

Inopportune Exit

This was going to be my last post for the foreseeable future. After a couple of days on Feathertop, I was feeling like I'd reached a point that I'd long aimed for - I was skiing steeps on narrow skis, having days of big elevation gain, and just generally enjoying the mountains.

Skied many lines here; the one with tracks on it, the taller gully to looker's left, and the left-facing corner in the background

And then I skied the Buller chutes on an icy day.

I did have a bit of an epic in chute one - I had that horrible feeling of losing a ski in a pretty dangerous situation. Not only did the ski detach (most likely from ice buildup in the toe - shoulda done the usual few fore/aft movements of the toe to make sure if was good to go), but my leash came off too. Basically, it was so steep that it slid right off the end of my boot. After that, I had to put on crampons and down, a few lessons were learned. Despite that, I just want to get back out there and improve to the point where I can ski terrain like the chutes in a fast and competent manner.

It is partially technique - I'm using too much edge angle too quickly on icy slopes, resulting in my downhill edge grabbing...which throws me into the backseat, and that's the last place I want to be in steep and narrow terrain.

Top of the Buller chutes - challenging terrain

In addition, my gear was less than ideal in some of my recent situations. There's a reason why freeride skiers aren't on skimo boots with race skis and bindings - you just can't go very fast on that kind of setup without it being terrifying and your shit just folding over.

I can ski on a rando race rig; the picture above is of jump turns down a steep pitch on a 3.5kg setup. Besides not going too fast, the other thing about the super-light gear is that it works well for the most part, but if conditions are a bit tougher (icy, variable snow, etc), then things get very shady - as in survival skiing rather than fun.

After skiing on my Syborg / Backland / Trab binding combo (4.43kg) at a resort, later in the same day I got on my TLT6 / Blizzard 108 / ATK FreeRaider 14 setup (6.51kg)...and I quickly realised how compromised my skiing had become by using ultra-light gear. Yeah, I can ski the skimo race toothpicks, BUT there's some significant qualifiers in there - not too fast, and not in really tough conditions.

The Zero G 108s crushed through variable snow, loved being pointed downhill, and still retained a really solid edge. I used to think that they were overkill for most Australian conditions, but the difference of a 'heavy' setup almost completely changed how I skied. And I liked it.

I'm not sure if it was simply going to a heavier boot that made the difference - I'll be doing some more experimenting to figure out where my sweet spot is in terms of weight to drag up versus performance on the way down...starting with getting back into my TLT6 boots.

I'm thinking that boots around 1.2kg each are about right - the TLT6 feels plenty of boot for me (although I still have my Mtn Labs too...may have to give them a burl at some point).

I'm going to keep my bindings light, but may go a bit beefier than some of the race bindings I've been using lately. Again, I've got both the ATK Raider 12 and FreeRaider 14 to take care of my needs (so about 350g per binding).

As for skis, I'll keep making use of my extensive quiver during the rest of the season. I've skied my Minims, Backland 85s, Alp Tracks 100s and ZG108s this season so far, and each have their place in my skiing repitoire. What I am interested in exploring more is the freeride side of the house, which has resulted in yet another ski joining the family.

Departure from my norm - 4FRNT Raven

Skiapler likes them, which is a good start. I'm interested in skiing in a more balanced, slarvy way on the middle of the ski rather than constantly pressuring the tips, and these guys fit the bill. They weigh about 1kg more than my Movements, and it will interesting to see which ski gets more use - the light and agile Alp Tracks 100, the beefier Raven, or the more traditionally-constructed ZG108s.

A recurring theme in my mountain experiences has been the style or nuance in which I explore the high places, which is important but has also changed over time. I think that with skiing, I've realised I like it all; I love the idea of a super long spring mission on rando race skis, or jump turns down an icy couloir, or sking fast down steep big mountain faces and spines.

One place that I didn't expect to end up was in the terrain park of a resort - but even that has a role for me now, in that jumping stuff is now a possibility with some heavier-duty gear. As a result, I'm focusing on skiing faster and more down the fall-line, turning more with my thighs and getting comfortable with hitting jumps.

Both the major lines in Hellfire were in great condition - plenty of snow all the way down

In terms of executing jump turns, it is a bit like a dark art that not many openly discuss. This this guy does - and in great depth at times. I have found the most helpful points to be getting one's weight low and down over the bottom ski, to work on getting forward just before initiating the turn, and to focus on lifting from the heels rather than straight up.

Just as with everything in ski mountaineering, no amount of talk can compare to the experience itself - and beyond a few pointers in the right direction, that is all most of us need - to immerse ourselves in the mountains in whatever way our predilections and desires take us. And that's where my passion and focus is.

A long way down Avalanche Gully

Team Weasel

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