Monday, September 09, 2019

Buying my boots all over again

Late last season I noticed that the midsoles in my beloved Asolo Snowpines were crumbing into little cubes. These were some of the last telemark resoles done by Carl Limmer before he had to quit the business because he developed a glue allergy. They were kind of historical.

I switched to my Garmont Combi Plus boots, that I'd bought for lift service and ravine trips. They're also leather, but have an instep strap that holds the heel snugly during hard turning. They were also much newer than the Snowpines. I bought the Snowpines in 1990 and the Garmonts in 1996 or '97. Since I quit left served skiing by about 1999, they'd seen most of their use in the back country. It didn't seem like a lot of use.

Coming into the house after a trip up the back mountain I heard a funny slap noise with each step. The outsoles were coming off the Garmonts, and the midsoles had cracks in them. The cracks were far less drastic than the crumbling of the Asolos, but undeniably there.

A cheapskate would have tried to use Shoe Goo or some other contact cement to patch the boots together. I chose instead to consult a professional. I did try to stick the Asolos together with some glue, but when it obviously couldn't hold I quit. No sense in making a professional repair more expensive because I gummed up the works being a cheapass.

We have the good fortune to have a real cobbler in the area. I sent the boots to Daub's, in Laconia. He got back to me with an estimate. Because I knew it would require the skilled labor of a human being, I was prepared to hear that it would be pretty pricey. I was even preparing to decide which pair to choose if the price was really staggering.

Technofascism afflicts skiing as much as bicycling. Most skiers would have junked the leather boots long ago for plastic, and maybe adopted a system binding for the touring skis. I flatter myself that I know better. Besides, the boots themselves are still sound. A well-made leather boot can last for decades, which is one reason that they are no longer widely available. My 1984 Fabiano hiking boots are on their second set of soles, but they're still comfortable and supportive, albeit rather heavy. We were used to heavy boots back then. A rugged boot was a comfort in rough country. The cobbler who resoled those used screws to reinforce the glue bond. And I wouldn't take them on a long trip anymore, but still on many a happy day hike.

Jim Daubenspeck (Daub) called to say that the boots would cost $160 each to repair. Because I had thought it might be far higher, and allowing for inflation, it seemed reasonable enough. I vacillated for a moment about whether to have just one pair done -- but which one? I said, "What the heck. Do them both." Then I did the math, of course, but dammit, the boots are irreplaceable in this modern plastic world, and they have provided my primary means of winter exercise. I paid wholesale for both pairs when they were new. I would pay wholesale now for a replacement, but I hate to junk something with life left in it just to have something new.

Each pair has its strengths. The Snowpine is an excellent heavy touring boot with turning capability. I learned on the groomed slopes using that boot and the typical skis of the time. The Garmont was my heavy artillery for driving a slightly wider ski in ungroomed conditions. Since I can get into those just by going out my back door and hiking uphill, let alone making the ten-minute drive to the other end of the small mountain range that forms the center of town, the boots are my lifeline to fitness and my treatment for winter depression.

This will guarantee that we don't have much snow this winter.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Out in the neighborhood

The day was sunny and too warm for the time of year. These things have always happened in New England, but they seem more significant now that we know what the Industrial Age has been doing to our atmosphere for decades.

The warm day made the snow very clingy and slow. It supported a high climbing angle, but the weight of it made progress slow. What I might gain in direct approach I lost in the methodical pace I had to maintain to keep a reasonable heart rate. But the grippy snow made my one little stream crossing very easy.

Above the sapling zone, I climbed through the logged clearings.

The snow has filled in more and more of the tortured surface left by heavy equipment, with stumps and slash thrown in. The rise of pellet stoves has made much of the slash a marketable commodity, so less of it is left behind, but there are still exposed roots and plenty of limbs and tops left over.

Going up I scouted the descent. The logging operation cleared hundreds of acres, but the property does not go to the summit. As I worked my way up and over, I also had to keep an eye on the snow cover, vegetation, and steepness of the upper reaches. The ridge divides into three smaller ridges on the southern end. You can waste a lot of energy if you try to go too straight up too soon. You already have to surmount steeper steps. I've developed a route that minimizes wasted effort by traversing to the left and then coming onto the summit plateau from a more westerly direction. I avoid frontal assaults.

The summit itself is a little bump on the ridge.

I took this picture looking back as I started down. In a sunny patch, I stopped to tighten my boot laces for the torque of turning in heavy snow.
From the climb I had determined that I wanted to keep my descent route to the right of my climbing track for the first few hundred feet of elevation loss. Some of the steepest terrain is still tree-covered, and this snow was not good for quick turns. As slow as the snow was overall, on a steep pitch it wouldn't provide much braking, while it still inhibited turning.

The first bit off the summit is pretty mild.

Not far beyond that, the slope drops off significantly,
Note the dropoff.

Once on the upper steep part, you get to see that it gets even steeper below you.
I stopped along here to eyeball the descent ahead of me. It's easy to get lured down too far in this part, and have to traverse out again. Time was short.

There's another dropoff. Deer tracks create the illusion of my own tracks, so I had to make sure I was shadowing my actual line, rather than following the herd.

I tried to capture the steepness in a picture, by sticking my ski pole down a couple of feet below me. You have to look at it a while, and have looked at similar prospects yourself, to begin to see it. Photos flatten everything out.

This tree was worth a small detour. I don't know which windstorm brought it down, but I bet it made a noise.

A few more careful turns brought me to the top of the open area again.
Geological landmarks like this boulder have been hidden by the forest. They're quite noticeable now.

To the left of the boulder I could scan cleared areas that go higher. If shredding the clearings was the goal, it would make sense to go up over there. I did ascend through some of that to begin my traverse of the upper zone on the way to the summit. But the descent lines through the remaining forest above that were not good. Okay for climbing, gnarly to thread on the way down.

Looking the other way from the big boulder, even steeper possibilities beckon, in the face of a stunning panorama of the Ossipee Range, Ossipee Lake, and more mountains beyond.
Again the photo flattens the steepness. You really have to look at the perspective for a while, unlike in person, where the depth of it pulls you in.

From here I traversed left to pick up my ascent line again. I'd mentally flagged the most promising looking swaths to ski down as I passed them on the way up. The heavy snow required some experience to manage speed control and turns. Most of the time, I had to aim pretty straight down, with the skis already in a narrow telemark stance, and then start to angulate as soon as I reached a moderate speed. But it was easy to suddenly over-turn as the heavy snow pulled the leading ski tip around. If that didn't happen, I might just go railing straight ahead. Then I'd have to either torque harder on the old boots or jump out of the cement to plant the skis on a new heading.

Sometimes I got results like this:

The sun was definitely getting low, and I still had to negotiate the bushwhack through sapling hell to get back to my own old-growth woods. Depression has always sunk its hooks into me at the end of an outing, even if I want to get home. The setting sun imparts urgency to the need to get back to easy territory. Sure, I had a headlamp, but I really didn't want to be groping through a steep thicket in the dark. It wasn't a strong possibility, but it could happen.

One fall reminded me of how stupid little mishaps can really mess up your life. I skied over a fallen log, and it washed my skis out from under me. I fell hard on my right elbow. The jolt went straight up my humerus to my neck. The snow cushioned the elbow, so it didn't get a real crack, and the pain in my neck was momentary, but I could imagine it being worse, with me out alone. I don't mind the idea of dying from my own stupidity, alone in a beautiful setting, but not right now. Less dire than that, but more probable, I could see giving my neck such a tweak that I have to wear one of those collars for weeks. Indeed, it did stiffen up a bit in the evening, and hurt when I awoke this morning.

Alpenglow settled across the mountain as I entered the sapling bushwhack. A layer of cloud to the west created a false sunset a few minutes ahead of the actual sunset.

The sun disappeared into the cloud for a little while before emerging below it to set for real behind the Ossipee Range. I squinted gratefully into it as I followed my track to the house.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Hot boxing: What it will do. What it won't do.

Many skiers like to have their skis saturated with glide wax using the “hot box” method. This has led to a lot of misunderstanding about what it does for the skis and the skier.

Hot boxing began as a way to speed up the saturation process on new skis, and increase the absorption of glide wax after a routine waxing. Early experimenters believed that keeping the skis warm for a while after regular iron-in waxing made more wax go into the base material. Extended, gentle warming does seem to help saturate new bases more quickly than applying dozens of coats of ironed-in wax. That's the beginning and end of it right there. You might also like to do it at the beginning or end of a season to refresh wax in the base, but the procedure is most useful to put a quick charge into new bases that have not been waxed at all.

Hot boxing is not a wax job to last you all season. You will need to iron on some glide wax after skiing a few times. Because your skis have been initially saturated, they will absorb and retain wax better than skis that have only had meager coats of wax at long intervals, but you still need to renew the surface. Cold, hard conditions are abrasive. Warmer, moist conditions often bring debris to the surface, which is also abrasive.

Hot boxing is only worth it on a high performance base. Performance skis have sintered bases. Sintered bases are made by pressing particles of base material into a layer in a sort of dry process, compared to extruding the plastic in a liquid or semi-liquid form. Extruded bases do not have the porous structure that sintered bases do. The pores are what hold the wax. Ski wax is more than just a polish. This isn't your kitchen floor, or your car.

Not all sintered bases are created equal. Cheaper racing skis, and many touring skis, use high-density sintered bases. These will not retain wax as well as lower-density base, but their microporous structure appears to interact better with the adhesives used in ski construction, making them somewhat more resistant to delamination than skis using extruded bases. Some of you may have experienced the tragic loss of a good old Trak or Karhu ski because the base material peeled off. Those companies used extruded bases because that technique was the best for producing the beloved Omnitrak waxless pattern. But plastic is notoriously hard to glue. Smooth plastic presents the greatest challenge to long-term adhesion. While high-density sintered bases are not immune to delamination, the material appears to give the glues a better grip. This is purely a field observation, unsupported by any kind of formal experimental proof.

If you do decide to iron a glide wax on a high-density sintered base, understand that you will have to re-wax at least as frequently as someone lovingly caring for a higher-end racing ski. The harder base material is more resistant to abuse, but also to hot wax.

Cheap skate skis will have higher density bases than more expensive skis will have.

Smear-on wax is not your friend. Almost no one likes to wax. If someone invented a magic wand that you could wave over the ski base to leave it perfectly waxed, skiers would say, “Awwww! Do we actually have to WAVE it?” Many skiers seem willing to believe that the smear-on potions made for extruded and high-density bases are good enough to get by with on their performance skis. Not only are smear-ons inadequate for more than a minute or two, they will actually leave residues that inhibit the absorption of ironed-in wax. Interestingly, super-expensive fluoro racing waxes in all forms will also leave residues in the base material that need to be cleaned out with expensive special fluoro remover so that you, the performance addict, can properly iron in some wax to nourish the inner structure of the base material.

Damaged bases will not absorb wax. Bases are most commonly damaged by using too hot an iron. A hot enough iron will fuse the sintered material, sealing the surface so that melted wax cannot soak in. If the damage isn't too deep, it can be scraped away using various methods, from razor scrapers, wire brushes, and abrasive pads like Fibertex, all the way up to a stone grind. Portions of the base can also be sort of mashed flat if you have skied them dry, or with too soft a wax, over very hard conditions. This damage can also be opened up again with brushes, scrapers, or Fibertex. This is more likely on a high-end ski with a low-density base. Low density bases are designed not only with plenty of porosity to absorb wax, but with the idea that a performance skier will want to imprint temporary structure into the base to deal with warmer, wetter conditions. The base material in its naked state is noticeably softer than on a ski designed to withstand neglect and abuse. And, as mentioned above, smear-ons and fluoros in general will fill the base pores with sludge. Expensive sludge, but sludge, nonetheless.

That white stuff isn't necessarily oxidation. Whiteness on a black ski base is commonly identified as “oxidation.” This is true often enough, as skiers neglect proper waxing, but even a careful and diligent waxer will see some whitened areas at times. Abrasive conditions can roughen an area, and cold conditions can cause wax to squeeze out of the base pores as the material contracts. Waxing guides mention that the skis should be cooled to air temperature and brushed out a few times as excess wax comes to the surface. Before hitting the panic button and insisting that your skis have been inadequately waxed, hit them with the horsehair brush for about ten strokes and see if the color improves. After a while you will develop the ability to look at the base after brushing to determine whether the whiteness was really oxidation. And of course you can never go wrong by waxing your skis one more time. But a good brushing may save you the trouble.

A note about skin skis: In the past couple of years, skin grip inserts – formerly known as mohair – have made a comeback. They first reappeared on classical racing skis to cover a temperature range and snow conditions in which kick waxing was basically impossible. “Zero” skis address the narrow heart of that range, but mohair offers a wider effective range. Now most companies offer mohair bases on multiple touring models as well.

Mohair was fairly common in the 1970s. It's the same material as climbing skins. As a grip base, it is held in with temperature-sensitive glue, similar to what is used to hold grips and baskets on poles. It is purposely intended to come off with the application of heat, so that worn out inserts can be easily replaced. This is generally not much warmer than the hot box temperature, so hot boxing of skin-base skis is not recommended. You need to be careful enough just ironing around a hair insert because you don't want melted wax to flow into the hair.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Space travel

Small to medium snowstorms over the past couple of weeks have left a dense base of snow in the woods around my neighborhood. It's not a deep base, but it is very substantial, allowing for some easy travel and careful turning on a couple of inches of the top layer. At least that was true when I took this picture:
That was a week ago. A small storm had dropped 2-3 inches of powder on top of the firm base. A bigger storm arrived the next day, bringing about 7 inches of much wetter, denser snow. That set up firmly when the temperature dropped to overnight lows just above and below zero.

A week ago, I ventured far into the logged area up the back mountain. The loggers had finished cutting, so the only noise and activity came from their loading area down by the road. The little powder layer offered surprisingly good turning, although the deep skidder ruts, and reefs of logging slash kept me from letting my speed build up. And I still have to thread dense saplings to get clear of my little patch of mature forest to make my way to the clearings.

Bushwhacking on skis isn't just a matter of slithering through the first gap you see, or even the widest gap you see. The consistency of the snow determines how steeply you can climb. Slope angle is the primary factor in route finding. Even if the snow has good density and moisture for climbing, slope angle determines how hard you will work to gain elevation. It's always easier to proceed obliquely than it is to charge straight up the fall line. Within the general angle of a slope you will find lots of micro terrain around which to shape your course.

I'm not one to want to get all sweaty and out of breath when I'm not on a groomed trail. On the groomies I will act more like I'm on my road bike, pushing things aerobically for a specific length of time. Trail conditions are usually consistent, and the way is clear. Out in the woods, I'm usually alone, and obstacles may be anywhere.

Coming down last week, I could link a few turns at a time before I had to work around slash, ruts, stumps, or rocks, mostly buried in the base snow.

Today, with the benefit of more than half a foot of added base depth, more surface obstacles were covered. But the higher water content made a breakable crust that was stiff to turn in. Below the crust, the snow was granular, so it didn't support a high climbing angle. In addition, once I got out into the logged area, the sun made the top layer clumpy. This really surprised me after three nights near or below zero, and daytime highs that stayed well below freezing. It was a good reminder that New England is not as far north as it acts. The sun is already starting to climb higher each day, and apparently can exert quite a bit of power, even through bits of high, thin cloud that kept the day from being completely dazzling.

Last week, even descending through the sapling cover I was able to fit in a few turns here and there. This week, that would have been an invitation to multiple injuries. But up in the open I was able to link a few.
There were still snags to avoid. With more snow due in a couple of approaching storms, the open spaces will offer more and more freedom just to carve it up. But the reward of bushwhacking is not just the skiing itself. It is also the quiet and the chance to peek at nature. I saw a porcupine dozing in a sunny treetop on my way up, and saw the tracks of deer and bobcat in the clearings.

Back down in the woods, the snow was even crustier because it had dripped from the trees for a couple of days after the storm was over. That wet mess refroze, making a fast surface. The firm crust resisted turning. Progress was a bit jerky, but it was still more fun than snowshoeing. If I had a firm objective, like a mountain summit, snowshoes would be a better choice. It's a plod on snowshoes, but a reliable plod.

Every time you go out on skis you learn a little more about what works. If you get to cover even an extra foot per stride, that's distance you would not have gotten "for free" on snowshoes. You may have to average out your gains with a bit of extra effort or ingenuity, threading the gaps and working the angles, but it's fun trying.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Open terrain

The technical term for what they're doing to almost 300 acres behind my place is "logging the shit out of it." It's the most drastic timber harvest I've seen on this face of the range since I moved here in 1989.
This is just the easternmost swath. The real work stretches to the left of this view, farther than I cared to venture on this recon. They're still noisily at work over there.

Features are exposed that I had only seen before under mature trees.
This rocky step is ten or fifteen feet high. The mountainside has two or three such formations on the rise to the nearest summit.

The open slope would provide an exhausting number of skiable lines with enough snow. The ground was already rough, and has now been churned and trenched by the passage of massive machinery. The snow will need to be deep, with a dense base. Even then, knee pads and controlled speed are advised.

When the slope was completely forested, back in the last century, it was overlooked by everyone except a couple of skiers and a few hunters.  But a big white snowfield is like a giant billboard. It could attract motorheads who will gash it all up and make depressing noises while they're at it. Previous logging operations, as big as they seemed, were way less drastic than this one. This one can be seen for miles.

Even worse would be if it was subdivided and developed. I used to have nightmares about the forest being torn down and various things built on the mountain, including a WalMart. Elements of these dreams have happened in real life, but without the intrusion of human structures and permanent activity, for the most part. I have to learn not to care. Give it up. Go elsewhere. But the convenience of a wilderness that abutted my yard was pretty darn nice.

The loggers have been at it for what seems like months, and they sound like they're still at full throttle.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

There's snow and there's snow

October was cold and November has been snowy. It happens sometimes, even now in an era of warming average temperatures globally.

November 1989 was not only snowy, it was downright wintry. November and December were so cold that year that the ice in Wolfeboro Bay would support trucks and clusters of bobhouses before Christmas. But then January 1990 set what was at that time a record for average warmth. And the latter half of December had been very dry, even as it remained cold. We farmed our accumulated powder on the cross-country ski trails until January's warmth ruined it. By the middle of the month, winter precipitation had made its way back to us, but the winter was not epic.

The snow this November has not been powder. Today's snow kept mixing with rain. The temperature remained above freezing, so the moisture content was high, but the snow did not get impressively deep. There's a layer of wet slush at the ground that could still be there in January...and beyond.

Deep early snow inhibits the freezing of the ground and insulates water in the depths of the snowpack. If we get sustained bitter cold, and the snow hasn't gotten too deep yet, the lower layers have a chance to set up. If, instead, we get more warm snow before any cold powder that might come our way, the ghost of autumn's rains will lurk in the hollows to ice your skis as you shuffle through the back country.

The sticky stuff is great for going uphill. It can also be a good friend when threading tight vegetation going down. Today I went out to look at some downed trees that had taken down a power line. It wasn't the power line that serves my part of the grid. That went down later. But it's near my house. Someone on a local social media page had mentioned it. So I bushwhacked over. The slow snow allowed me to maneuver through tangles of downed trees that date back to last October's roaring gale that dropped a 95-foot pitch pine on my property. That one fell conveniently between two buildings. It took out the power to my house for a week, but it didn't break walls or roofs.

The maximum height for a pitch pine is usually 75 feet. But the ones still battling here as the white pines take over are quite large. At least a couple of them form the largest part of the tangle I skied around today.

People who don't know any better see snow and assume that it's good for ski areas. Ski areas will make the best of it and take the money, but even downhill areas are dealing with lots of surface water, tough grooming conditions, and unfrozen ground. Cross-country trails have it even worse. Especially with a large percentage of skiers who depend on groomed surfaces, we spend a lot of time explaining things to impatient skaters. They're welcome to go out and experience it for themselves. And once someone does, no further explanation is needed.

Last week, snow that fell as heavy, barely movable cement dried out and fluffed up with a shot of bitterly cold air. It became genuine powder. It was great for gliding and pretty poor for climbing. And it wasn't deep enough to provide security going downhill at any speed. Believe me, I tried. Below that tempting white mantle was the forest floor: newly-fallen leaves, branches, stumps, sticks.

No shot of deep cold is poised to follow this most recent winter storm. Quite the opposite: temperatures headed for the upper 30s to 40. Daylight is near its shortest now, so the sun can't do much if it comes out at all, but 40 is still 40.

Statistically, snowy Novembers do not tend to usher in long, continuously snowy winters. That's not to say they can't, but they usually don't. It's good, in a way. Snow management turns into a serious full-time job when it keeps on dumping, week after week.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Carte blanche

Out for a slither on the slush today, before the temperature hits the 60s tomorrow, I crisscrossed the woods behind my house to try to get something of a workout without having to bushwhack up through the saplings. The snow is melting fast, but it's dense enough to support a skier over the forest litter and some of the fallen branches and trees.

Snow in general provides a pathway and absolution for the innocuously trespassing bushwhacker. While I barely ventured beyond my borders today, I have navigated on the snow for miles over the mountain range when time and conditions allowed it. Almost none of that is ever on a trail of any kind. Even when my ski outing is centered on a trail, I'll look to the forest on either side if I need to pick a better line to climb or descend.

Today's goal was to fold as much distance as I could into the 13 acres at my disposal. I tacked roughly from property line to property line across the lot, working my way gradually toward the back line.

The slope faces south. Any part of it tilted up has already baked brown. And tomorrow the remains will disappear with a nearly audible sizzle.