On Snow Demo – Snowbasin Utah – Day 2

Day 2 is a stormy, windy, wet mess.  The guys at the base hand out skis with one hand while holding down their tent with the other.  The day progresses from white-out and dumping sideways snow at the top with wet snow at the bottom to even whiter white out up top and rain at the bottom.  It’s still totally fun.  All of the that day’s skis get tested in 3, then 4 then 5 inches of fresh as well as wet-snow bottom-of-the-mountain-glop.  The bumps and trees get really good and help a lot with visibility, becoming a nice test for float and quickness in the wind-blown powder.  We stay with our theme and focus on the 90 to 105 waisted skis, sometimes indulging in skis we’d liked on day one to see how they’d perform in some fresh.  We discover that yes, fun skis are even funner in powder.  Who knew?

I like to go fast and mix long arcing turns with quick edge to edge slalomy ones.  For me, I came away loving the skis that were powerful under foot (that usually meant sidewall construction in the middle of the ski), had a full, non-rockered tail, and were light and quick in the tip (moderate rocker, cap construction and a tapered shape with the wide point back a bit).  If you favor crud-busting, or more smeary turns, or longer radius turns, or skiing at slower-than-stupid speeds, or are some other gender than me, a different flavor of ski will, no doubt, be the one for you.  After this demo and after getting feedback from Kathy and Chris (as well as the other guys in the shop who attended the Mission Ridge demo), I think we’re all much better positioned to help you find the perfect ski.

Here’s a compilation of some of our impressions of the skis.  Keep in mind that for every ski we tried, there were ten more we wished we’d had time to try.  While we focused on vendors we knew and skis that we have in the shop but have never skied, there was a random element to the whole thing too.  If one tent looked really busy at the moment we came through, we’d give them a break and move on to another.

MEN’S REVIEWS: Men’s skis, John and Chris

WOMEN’S REVIEWS: Women’s skis, Kathy

On-Snow Demo @ Snowbasin Utah – Day 1

This is all new. A new ski-shop owner trying out new next-year’s skis at Snowbasin Utah, a ski area that’s new to me. New and yet oddly familiar in an alternate universe sort of way. Snow Basin is owned by the same group that owns and operates Sun Valley in Idaho. Sun Valley is known; familiar stomping /skiing grounds. I’ve been going there for decades, usually staying with friends Chris and Kathy, now along with me for the ski demo. The Snowbasin lodges are modeled on, or perhaps cloned from, those at Sun Valley. The same big blond log construction, the same cushy carpets, way-better-than-at-my-house furniture, giant fireplaces and brass-everywhere, sheik-worthy bathrooms in the basement. Even the best-sk- lunch-ever baked potato with chili and tasty fat (sour cream, bacon, cheese, the list goes on). It’s like we’ve taken a left instead of a right somewhere, gone down a run we’ve bothered to take before and wound up at in a part of Sun Valley we never knew existed.

The whole big demo thing is centered just outside the base lodge where there are an unimaginably large number of tents lining each side of a ski-through gauntlet. Chris, Kathy and I let out a collective “Wohhhhhhh!” as we first ski into it. There’s a tent for every vendor ProSki carries and dozens that we don’t. We can demo skis, boots, poles, touring gear, snowboards, goggles, socks, pizza, coffee, small farm animals and more. It’s overwhelming. We decide to stick with skis.

It’s so easy. Just ski up, talk about what’s new, what’s not for next year, choose a ski, tell the tech your boot sole length and DIN and seconds later you’re skiing. It’s Christmas mixed with Ground Hogs Day (the movie, not the day). We’re given new, perfectly tuned skis, we take a run or two on them and then head back to the tents to try something else, looking for perfection. I work to change my normal ski mindset and focus not on whether a ski works for me, me, me and all my 58 year-old skier peculiarities but on what it does well and what kind of skier might like it.

Day 1 is a good day for testing what I’d come in wanting us to test: all mountain skis up to about 102 under foot. There’s good snow and OK snow and very bad snow. It’s nicely soft groomers and crud/bumps up high transitioning to crunchy roughness near the base. The soft groomed is great for testing turning radius, the soft-snow bumps for quickness, the crunchy groomed for stability and the refrozen hard bumps for our tolerance of refrozen hard bumps.

It turns out to be so much fun to finally get on all these skis we’d read about, talked about, lusted for, but never actually skied. “That was the best ski ever,” is generally, a run later, followed by “no, that was the best ski ever. Must have a pair, stat!” We become full on gear head ski nerds during the gondola rides blabbering on about what was good or not so good with each ski, taking notes on our phones and planning what to ski next. As an old dog who normally skis a narrower ski (around 80 under foot) when there’s no new snow, I find myself becoming a slobberingly happy, roll on my back and rub my belly puppy on all kinds of 90 to 105 wide skis. Maybe it was the kid in the candy store effect the whole demo thing had on me, but I loved a lot of these skis and could happily picture skiing on them every day.

See what gear vendors were @ Snowbasin:


Mustang Powder Expedition / January 2014

Mustang Powder Trip 2014

This won’t be like the articles in ski or skiing or skied or any of the other conjugations. They’re better. The writers remember the names of everything. Run names, names of peaks, names of guides, people-they-skied-with-names, even the names of the wines in the wine pairings and the type of exotic fowl they were paired with. Probably that particular fowl’s personal name too. I try to remember that stuff but it doesn’t happen. By the end of a four day cat trip, I start to think I know the names of the people in the cat, but then I realize I’m just reading them off their rental skis. Bad penmanship has had me calling Peter “Leter” for an entire day and sorry, but if you brought your own skis so there’s no tag on them, your name is Dude.

That said, what I do recall of Mustang Powder is that of all the cat and heli operations I’ve skied with (ten I think, but again, I may have forgotten a few), it’s my favorite. That said, it’s not fun getting there. Ski-buddy Chris and I leave Seattle at 6:30 in the morning and with coffee, lunch, gas, the pretty much mandatory duty-free border stop and a 20 minute wait at the snow-shed on the Coquihalla Highway for something involving a tow truck but we were never sure what, roll into the truck stop at exactly 3:30. Per the website, “Please arrive NO LATER THAN 3:30 at the truck stop.” Hey, someone has to go last. We throw bags and an embarrassing number of skis into the very large, very chained-up, very noisy old school bus and then it’s time to rattle up the snow road for a butt-numbing hour or two. It feels like four. At the top of the road it’s snowing hard, dumping really and we immediately forget the bus ride ever happened. We make the departing skiers tell us how awesome its been, chain gang load bags and skis into giant boxes the cats will carry up then we’re off for another hour-plus ride, this time in the snow cats, up to the lodge. The dumpage continues and as we near the lodge we see outlines of ski tracks descending to the road, being blurred and buried by the fresh.ProSki Seattle | Mustang Powder

The food at Mustang, is absurdly, unnecessarily good. Once we’ve moved into our rooms (thankfully Chris-snores-like-a-buffalo and I get separate ones) dinner transpires and it’s some kind of soup made of pureed magical goodness, followed by venison afloat in an impossibly tasty sauce and then a dessert involving palm-tree shaped cookie contraptions emerging from limey something-or-other that’s really good too. After dinner (or maybe before, who knows – by this point the results of that duty-free border stop are in effect) announcements are made, weather, snow, a few watch out for this and thats and the all important schedule comes to light: we start early and ski late. This is one of the very cool things about Mustang. Yes there’s awesome food, a hot tub and great people, but it’s really all about getting in tons of skiing. We start when it’s barely light and ski until it’s almost dark.

Morning one is avalanche school for an hour or so and then we head up. The good news is there’s lots of new (they talk centimeters so it sounds like even more), the bad news is the wind has cranked up overnight and it’s still blowing hard in places up high. We do one low-angle-ish run to warm up in nice, boot-top snow and then our guide wants to check out another aspect nearby. We get out of the cat and the wind is ripping, blowing straight up the slope producing barely skiable wind-pack festooned with tree debris that the 50 mph gusts have torn off the trees and ground into the snow. It’s terrible and I’m thinking, is this what we’re in for all four days? Nope. With that unfortunate piece of data gathered, the Mustang ski algorithm takes us to protected, awesomely steep tree runs and knee deep snow for the rest of the day. And our guide Bruno (Ha! I do remember his name) is exactly what you want a guide to be. Low key, an awesome skier and really only interested in skiing the steepest, funnest-of-the-fun runs. We’ve got some kick-butt young Aussies in our cat who are willing to huck themselves off pretty much anything and once Bruno figures this out, he starts each lap with “if you’re interested in a bit of a sporty line come with me, otherwise check out the route over there.” We quickly come to understand that ‘sporty’ is Canadian guide for cliff drop. As fun as that sounds, my 58 year knees know better, so I take the near-vertical alternative routes and leave the truly-vertical to the young guys and Bruno, who drops them with ease while wearing a thirty pound pack. This works out great. The Aussies get the drops leaving the other routes way less tracked up for the rest of us.

Chris and I swap skis around, rotating between this year’s K2 Pettitors, RMU Professors and Armada TSTs. The Pettitors are really fun and skiable this year (they’ve softened them up to work for mere mortals); they definitely feel like a big mountain ski, built to go fast in deep snow, a little less pivoty and quick in the trees than some others. The Professors are a ton of fun, a big 122 under foot, but light enough that they’re quick and versatile. Chris’s reaction to the Professors, “I want a pair.” The TSTs aren’t particularly wide, only 102 under foot, but they remain a favorite powder ski for me, weighing only 145 pounds. They’ve got a tail (tip rocker only), so they love to go fast in powder, yet they’re so light in the tip that they’re a perfect, quick-turning tree ski. I’m also sporting a BCA 22 Float pack which works great as a day-skiing airbag. Enough room for a probe, shovel and a few stray items and light enough at 5.5 pounds that if the avalanche danger is there, I’m wearing it. It’s also got a well shaped pull handle: there when you need it, but not so big and prominent that it’s in danger of catching on things.

The days blur together, the first three all being limited by visibility and wind so we’re largely in the trees (my favorite place to be anyway, so I’m happy). On day four, our last, the weather warms a bit, the sun comes out, the wind is done and we spend the day in the high alpine. What was an unfortunate wind-crust bakes away, leaving knee-deep to boot-top snow on 2,000 vertical foot slopes. The terrain is ever-changing, rolling and pitched perfectly for high speed powder descents. At times we can see all the way to the bottom of the run from its start, allowing for swooping crazy-fast long turns and floats off rollers. We all ski like heroes, faster and better than we have any right to.

The end of the last day is a scramble to get changed, gear where it’s supposed to be so it comes home with us, goodbyes made to the ridiculously friendly staff and then it’s planes, trains and automobiles all over again to get us back to reality. Next stop was Revelstoke, but that’s a post for another day.

Mustang Powder 2014:
Part 1/4:

Part 2/4:

Part 3/4:

Part 4/4: