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Feburary 3, 2013

Scenes of Winter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I enjoy trying out new gear.  Even if it/they don’t end up perfectly suiting my needs, which is the norm, they are usually close enough that I’m happy.  I know I’ll adapt to each new toy and it will adapt to me.  Like that other stuff, virginity is not where it’s at.  Which means I get a particularly intense thrill when something new does exactly what I had hoped for on its virgin run.  This gets amplified when, like the new pair of ski-boots I bought, it takes me into a place I love.

I had ordered the ski boots on Friday night.  Thanks to priority mail, they showed up on Monday.  The box was too big for the post office’s lockers, so I had to come in the next day, when the post office was open.  Spendthrift and slave to fads that I am, I bought these boots to replace a pair of Asolo Snowfield I’s---the ones that still were all leather---that date back to the mid-eighties.  While the old leather stalwarts were still doing fine for jaunts based from home, I figured it might be time to switch to plastic and modern technology, particularly as I am really considering doing some backcountry skijoring this year.  The fact that their price had already been cut by a third---it’s getting to be that time of year for ski gear---didn’t hurt.  That the Scarpa T3’s I’m trying to break in are beating the crap out of my shins only added to my motivation.

I swung by the post office and picked up the box midday.  It’s not unusual for me to open a box like this even before I get home, but this time I waited.  I figured I wanted to put the boots on pretty much as soon as I got them, and the best venue for that would be in my kitchen.  

The closest thing to a flaw showed up as soon as I opened the box and looked at the boots.  The basic design and closing system are identical to my x-c skate-ski boots—both Rossingols---laces on an integrated inner boot, zipper on the outer boot, and then straps across these.  The straps on the skating boots are secured by Velcro, these by ratcheting buckles that pull them tight.  The good news was that the flaw reviews spoke about, that attachment of the buckles to the boots was too flimsy, was not an issue.  I had counted on that being fixed between the time of the complaints and now, and apparently it had.  The bad news was that figuring out how to release the ratchet---there should have been instructions and there weren’t---was far from obvious. 

In spite of how I sometimes act, I’m actually reasonably mechanically inclined.  Half by noticing a hinge that only made sense if it were part of the release mechanism half by trial and error, I figured out how to free the straps.  And with this, the boots went on.

The tongue used to hold them into a standard 75 mm binding made them a little clumsy, but I walked comfortably around the house with them on.  Changing into clothes I could ski in finally forced them off. 

Generally, I’m decadent enough that I drive the mile or more to a better spot to ski from than my house.  Skiing roads or the poorly tracked snow off to the side isn’t the option I normally take, and it wasn’t this time either.  I parked in the snowmobile parking area next to the local heliport and donned my skis there.  Already, the fact that the boots were light, comfortable, and easy to walk in showed up---depressing the clutch proved to be a little awkward, but nothing I really worried about.

We were in the middle of a snowy stretch of time, a good thing as we were a little shy on moisture.  The good and bad thing was that there hadn’t been a lot of moisture in the set of systems at that time.  They produced cold, dry, Rocky Mountain snow like I remember from my days in Boulder, Colorado.  It’s stuff you can blow away---we never used shovels, simple brooms were more than adequate to clear even driveways.  That’s the snow that had been falling for two days.

Which also meant a blue wax on my Rossingol Chamois’, standard metal edged classic/diagonal stride skis, was going to work fine even for the climbing I had planned to do.  The skis themselves were also a product of the eighties, but basic light backcountry skis like these haven’t changed a lot.  By the time these skis came out, Rossi et al. had figured out to soften the tip a bit to make them workable in a Telemark.  They won’t carve like my B.D. Boundaries from the late nineties and surely won’t match a pair of modern parabolic skis, but they’re light and strong and work well with a wax.  They were a good match to following the snowmobile trail on up the hills beyond my house. 

I had set up a light pack with a headlamp, jacket, matches, etc, but managed to leave it in the truck, something I realized about a third of a mile in.  Screw it, I decided to go light and be careful---I wouldn’t be trying to carve Tele turns off the trail.

The first half mile consisted of tracks from a groomer on ten inches of fresh snow over groomed road.  From then on, I ran in new dry powder, maybe 8”-12” over a groomed base.  Running in easy powder, the skis silently and softly passing through the snow, feels like walking on soft forest mulch, only gliding instead of walking. 

I worked to break trail and climb, but not too hard.   And the new boots were wonderful---light, comfortable, and functional.  The technology used to give skating boots their lateral stability transferred well to light weight backcountry gear. 

Every aspect of the scene---gliding through powder snow, snow-draped lodgepole and tamarack forest on either side of me, and continuing light snowfall, matched what some artist might paint.

I had started a little late and, particularly since I had left my headlamp back in the truck, wanted to make sure I got back before it turned dark.  The one extra item I had brought was my GPS---I turned around about two and a quarter miles out and 500’ higher. 

Though I had climbed substantially and packed a track, the fresh snow kept my speed down.  I had taken the same tour last week and had even broken into a snowplow to slow down on one of the turns.  This time, I did everything I could to maintain whatever momentum I had. 

On the last hill leading to the parking lot, I pretended to carve a couple of Telemark turns.  My velocity never got high enough to allow me to punch my lead ski into the right spot, but it also never got high enough for that to matter, and the boots themselves did give me nice control.

The next day, the temperature climbed and it remains high.  With the continuing snow and rain, we pretty much caught up with the average amount or precipitation for January, a good thing.   However, the powder disappeared.  We’re still supposed to get snow, but nothing like the cold dry powder we had. 

The two winter joys that have been the most rare and fleeting have been powder snow and a clear winter sky during the full moon.  My ski boots lost their virginity the right way. 

   
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