Sunday, 5 January 2014

Review: Dynafit Cho Oyu ski

For my ski trip to South America I used a new ski setup. I wanted an all-around performer which was light on the uptrack. That's how I ended up with one of Dynafit's new skis for this year, the Cho Oyu. They definitely fit my criteria of fast and light, weighing in at 1180gr per ski, and with an early rise tip and 88mm underfoot they could definitely do a little bit of everything. As a Skimo athlete, I appreciate the benefits of a short ski for skinning: short skis make kick turns much easier. With that and weight in mind, I went with the 174cm length, the shortest ski in the Cho Oyu line.

When it came to bindings, they also had to be really light, but I was willing take a bit of a weight penalty so that they could be adjusted. I wanted to be able to ski the Cho Oyus with different pairs of boots, each with different boot sole lengths, depending on my objective and the conditions. Specifically I planned on using both the Dynafit TLT 5 Performance and Scarpa Alien 1.0 boots.  I ended up mounting my Cho Oyus with a set of Plum 185 race bindings. They are (you guessed it) 185 grams and have an adjustable base plate. 

The Cho Oyu/Plum 185 setup weighs in at 1734 grams per ski. After 13 days touring on them in South America in everything from powder, to corn, to ice, I am very happy with this setup. The skis' light weight makes skinning and boot packing easy. They also ski great considering their weight, but light weight also means they are on the soft side and will not bust through crud like a heavier ski. I was particularly happy with how the Cho Oyus skied in powder; the rockered tip really helped to keep them floating.  If you are looking for a fun and really light backcountry ski, check out the Cho Oyu!

See what Trevor Hunt had to say about the Cho Oyu.                                  

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Millet Pro Lighter 38 + 10

This spring I received one of Millet's lightweight mountaineering packs, the Pro Lighter 38 + 10, and I have been using it nonstop since.

I got it to replace my worn out 35L pack. Normally I would use a smaller pack for day trips, but I had two other requirements in mind for this pack other than light weight. I wanted it to work for overnight ski and mountaineering trips, and it needed to be big enough to hold climbing rope inside of it while approaching climbs.

Here are my thoughts after 4 months of using the pack everywhere from mountaineering trips in the Joffre Group and Rogers Pass to ski mountaineering in Argentina. First off, I like its clean design. It has no extra junk hanging off it, which is part of what keeps it light. The other main reason for its light weight is its internal fibreglass frame. I also like how you can remove your ice axe without having to take off the pack. After all, the more time you stop to fuss with gear, the less time you are climbing or skiing. The inside of the pack is constructed with a light coloured fabric, which helps to brighten things up so you don't need a headlamp to see what is in your pack in the middle of the day. The hip belt, top lid, and fibreglass internal frame are all removable, which allows you to customize the pack to your chosen objective. I, for one, will commonly remove the top lid for short day trips requiring less gear. There are purpose built ski carry points under the lower compression straps, so if you want to have only one pack for summer and winter this could be the one for you.  

Hiking with a heavy load through bamboo in Argentina
You may want to go with the 30L version if you are not planning on using it for overnight trips as, like all packs, the Pro Lite functions better when it is full. If this was going to be my main ski pack I would also build a diagonal ski carry for it as I think this is a handy feature. Thank you to Millet for the support.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Skiing at Refugio Frey!

During our trip to South America this fall one of the first places that Aimee and I skied was at Refugio Frey. It turned out to be one of our favourite places that we skied on our trip. Frey is situated near Cerro Catedral, the largest ski resort in South America.  More specifically, it is located at the outlet of Lago Toncek, in a large cirque below Torre Principal.

Bus to the ski centre.
The skiing is amazing and you can read lots about it online. In this blog post I would like to discuss some of the logistics of planning a trip to Frey.

Our trip into Frey started with a bus ride to Cerro Catedral. You can catch the bus from several spots in Bariloche for about 10 pesos; we got on it from behind the Parks office in downtown Bariloche (Intendencia de Parques Nacionaies). Once at the ski centre there are three options for getting to Frey:

The view off the back of the ski centre.

1) You can walk in via a trail (marked by National parks signs) that leaves from the southeast corner of the parking lot. Note that if the snowline is above the base of the resort, like it was when we where there, this option will involve a lot of walking before you hit snow. With that being said, this is the best option if you are not sure about avalanche conditions.

2) Get a ticket for Cerro Catedral and ride up the lifts to the top. If you choose this option you will have to pay for a full day ticket, unless you are with a Guide,  in which case you will be able to get a one trip ticket. Once at the top, pass through the backcountry gate at a col between Punta Nevada and Punta Princesa (about 2038m). This col is to the skiers right of the Nubes quad chair.

The reality of a low snow year.
Bushwaking bellow the hut.
3) Walk through the base area to the north side of the ski centre, and walk up or skin up a road or green run until it switchbacks and brings you to the top of the Esquiadores double chair and a radio tower. From here, continue along the edge of the ski area to the top of the ski area and the summit Piedra del Cóndor. Traverse the ridge along the top of the ski centre to the backcountry gate. This is what did. You will gain over 1000m of elevation to get to the top of the ski area.

Once you are at the backcountry gate the normal route follows the summer trail to a col northeast of Torre Piramidal. From this col, you ski a steep ESE facing slope down to Lago Schmoll, and then a south facing slope to Lago Toncek. From the west end of Lago Toncek you should be able to see Refugio Frey at the east end of the lake.

The other option from the backcountry gate (the option we chose because of icy conditions) was to drop down off the summer trail to the SE at the first col encountered along the summer trail, shortly after leaving the ski centre. We skied moderately steep slops on the SE side of Punta Princesa to the bottom of the drainage and then skinned about 300m of vertical from the bottom of the drainage to Frey.

The amassing skiing from the back of the hut.

Once at Frey, there is amazing skiing at the opposite end of the lake from the hut that should keep you occupied for up to 4 days. After that you can start exploring farther afield in cirques to the south or in the cirques to the north bellow Punta Princesa and the alternate route in to Frey.

For gear you will need your regular day touring stuff and a larger pack to cary a few extras. I used my Millet Pro Lighter 38 and Aimee had a 35L pack. You will also need a sleeping bag, ski crampons, boot crampons and ice axe.

- Bus ride to Cerro Catedral - 10 pesos.
- Frey hut - bed, breakfast, and dinner- 200 pesos/day
- Frey hut - only accommodations - 80 pesos/day
- Fee for using the kitchen - 30 pesos
- Homemade pizza at the hut - 80 pesos
- Beer and wine - 25 pesos and up

We brought two dinners with us and all our lunches and ate breakfasts and one dinner at the hut. If I was to go back, I would just go with the full board and only bring my lunches and some extra breakfast stuff. Argentinean breakfasts are quite small, normally consisting of tea or coffee with toast and dulce de leche, which is not really good enough to power me through a day of ski touring.

Looking off the back of the ski centre to Torre Principal.

I highly recommend a trip to Refugio Frey if you are in the area. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

How to trim skimo race skins!

There are two ways of ordering your skins, pre cut with the tip attachment installed or off a bulk roll with no tip attachment and not cut to shape. Buying mohair skin material off a bulk roll is normally quite a bit cheaper. Although bulk rolls of skin material are not common in North America, they may still be found. I'm going to walk you through how to prepare bulk skin material into skimo race skins.

Step 1) Order your preferred brand of mohair skin material. Three metres will do one set of race skis. I normally use 60mm or 62mm width.

Step 2) Cut your three metres of skin material in half.

Step 3) Make a trimming template. The trimming template helps you keep the tip dimensions the same on both of your skins. There's no exact science for making one, just copy the picture below!
Bulk skin material on the left, trimming template on the right.

Step 4) Trace the outline of the trimming template on the glue side of the skins.

Step 5) Cut off the extra skin material from the tip. Before cutting double check that you are putting the tip attachment on the right end of the skin. Think - is the finished skin going to glide in the intended direction?

Step 6)  Using a thick plastic that can withstand freezing temperatures, make two circle shaped stoppers (about the size of a toonie). Drill a small hole in the centre of the stopper just large enough for two strands of elastic cord to pass through.

Step 7) Fold over the narrow portion at the tip of the skin and sew it back to its self.

Step 8) Thread a piece of elastic cord through the loop at the tip of the skins. Slide the plastic stopper onto the elastic and tie a knot just above it. Tie another knot near the ends of the elastic cords. You've now finished constructing the tip attachment. When your skins are installed on your skis, the plastic stopper sits on the top of your ski to keep the cord from sliding through the notch on your skis. 

Step 9) Fit the skins on your race skis and trim them to length - any place between the heel attachment of your binding and a few centimetres from the tail of your ski will work. When trimming the ends of the skins, remember to round the corners of your skins to keep them from peeling off during your kick.

Step 10) Get outside and test them out!

This is one way of building race skins. Everyone has his or her own way of doing it, and you will have to experiment to find something that works for you. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

My South American Ski Trip - in photos!

I just got back from South America - what a great place to do some spring ski mountaineering! Here are a few photos from the trip. I will be posting some short trip reports from some of my favourite ski days in the coming months.

Looking off the back side of Cerro Catedral on the way to
Refugio Frey.
Lots of fun ski touring to be had from Refugio Frey.

Emilio holding the fort down.

The German town centre of Bariloche, Argentina.

Next, off to Chile!

First stop was Volćan Puyhue with its lack of snow.

A change of plans and we were off to
Volćan Villarrica and its steaming crater. 

Weather moved in on Volćan Villarrica
just as we finished skiing it.

Aimee on the way up Volćan Llaima in the early morning

Lots of wind affected snow on Llaima.

Aimee skiing off the top of Volćan Llaima
in high winds and on styrofoam snow.

Volćan Llaima after a successful ski descent.

Monkey Puzzle trees grow all around
the lower slopes of Llaima.

Nothing breaks up long drives through Argentina like
feeding roadside animals.

There was not a lot of snow left around Bariloche
by the time we got back from Chile.

So we did lots of walking with skis on our backpacks...

But there was still some fun skiing at López Trees.
Can you tell?
Looking down on the town of El Bolsón
from the top of Cerro Piltriquitron.

Home-brewed beers at Refugio Piltriquitron after a fun run
down from the summit.

What the end to another great day in Argentina looks like.

Time to say goodbye and walk back to the road.
 I wish this guy could come with me.

We found a fun race for the last day of skiing in SA. 

Now that's what you call being in the pain cave!

The long trip home started with a 20 hour bus ride,
 but it all went well.

What an amazing place, I will be back!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Fall Ski Mountaineering training

With the ski season on its way, here are a few things I do to get ready.

Improving your uphill

Trail running is one of my favorite types of cross training for ski touring. Other than roller skiing, it most closely mimics the muscle groups used during ski touring. Long runs (3 hours or more) are ideal, but there's no need to start there. A few things that you can do to build up to long runs are
1) do a long 3 hour workout, but power hike the hills and run the flats and downhills; or
2) if this is still too much, go for a long hike with poles and push hard on all the uphills.

As you get stronger start running the flats and downhills and with some persistence you will get strong enough to run everything.

A tempo run once a week to work your top end is also a good idea. My favourite way of getting a good tempo workout in is racing. Doing some trail races in the fall will keep you motivated by giving you a short term goal to work towards and provide a good tempo work out at the same time.

Improving your downhill

A good strength class two to three times a week will go a long way towards to strengthening your legs and core, helping you have your best ski season ever. With stronger legs and core you will be able to ski longer runs without having to take breaks as often and you will be able to ski faster in variable conditions without crashing. My favourite place to train is Challenge By Choice. The advantages of going to a class are that you push harder in a group, the trainer will set up a class that is well balanced and works your whole body, and the trainer will make sure you are using proper form. Remember that you do not just need strength - you need strength endurance. Lower weight and higher reps are key.

If you put in some hard work this fall you will be rewarded with the fitness to push a little harder and be the first one to the top of the great powder run or the get in that extra lap at the end of the day. Get out there and get after it!