Thursday, February 16, 2006

Tongue Depressors

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The original Fischer Cruiser tongue depressor is on the left. The unfortunate copycat by Karhu is on the right. Behind the tip, the Fischer is genuinely worse, with a weird shape and fairly lackluster grip pattern. The Karhu uses a more conventional shape and an excellent base for both grip and glide. With any luck the ugly tips will soon go out of fashion, leaving only Fischer clinging to them. They're known for both excellent high performance skis and for hanging onto mistakes elsewhere in the line far longer than they should. Endure innovation! Posted by Picasa

Endure Innovation

I'm sorry. I hate Fischer Cruisers. They're just ugly bullshit.

Karhu's line provides great recreational skis in compact sizes. Too bad they picked up the stupid, ugly tongue depressor tip Fischer stuck us with when they pooped out the Cruising line. But aside from that unfortunate cosmetic detail, Karhu's compact touring skis do a vastly better job in all aspects of recreational skiing and don't stop a beginner's learning curve with their shape, the way Fischer's Cruisers do.

Fischer's Cruiser shape is a masterpiece of cynicism. It allows a beginning skier to ride a panicked snowplow down a hill, and herringbone up the next one, by laying a long edge down in the middle of the ski. But this same long edge prevents a skier from developing any better technique. True, a great many skiers will never improve. A great many skiers will never know the difference. But by marketing these distinctly ugly, limited-use tools as general-purpose skis, Fischer is just spreading disinformation.

Disinformation and propaganda are mainstays of the ski industry. No company is innocent. Only a rare shop will break cover and admit this, because we all have to move product to stay in business. Most people don't get to use their skis enough to be able to figure out exactly what they don't like about them, so the industry is safe in pumping out weird-looking sticks backed by basically fabricated claims. It's the age-old question. Does anyone really know that their company has produced a turkey, or are they all just caught up in the marketing department's good vibes?

I only mention this because a poor soul has brought in two sets of Cruisers to be waxed. I have to polish these turds to a bright shine for tomorrow morning. I feel like a cheap whore. What I'm doing may make them feel better temporarily, but it's degrading and sad for both of us. I'm wasting wax on something that wouldn't even look good nailed to the side of a barn, and the customers are trapped in the delusion that it is a ski.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


This season has turned a lot of skis into rock skis.

Most of us have rock skis. These skis have seen their best years, but still allow us to get out on really substandard surfaces and go through the motions while we wait for better conditions to arrive. In a normal year, we only have to put up with these decrepit relics for a few outings before the snow gets deep enough to entice us out on the better gear. The fact that we are usually premature in this insures a steady supply of rock skis as the years go by.

Here it is, February twelfth and we have just been threatened with our first good winter snowstorm. We aren't getting it, either. While Boston and Cape Cod burrow out from under more than a foot, close to two feet in isolated places, we're still waiting to collect our second inch out of this much ado about nothing. It's a slow mover. Some forecasts still dangle the notion of four to eight inches. I'll believe it when I'm shoveling it. Meanwhile, it was a good day to conduct unsanctioned medical experiments in the backshop.

I hoped to reanimate the mutilated demo skis I've been using because my rock skis were just too nasty to use for weeks and weeks. I justified using the demos because they'd taken a few hard landings during their service, and they no longer had the latest sidecut profile. Heck, they were practically kindling. And they fit me better than my real rock skis.

Strictly from a survival standpoint I didn't like to use my rock skis on anything steep. The edges are completely rounded. The skis are too soft for me, so they're squirrelly on a fast descent. Their only virtue is that they're shaped like skis and I can trudge around on them a few times on the flat fields we usually groom when the first flakes fall.

Excuses aside, I began to feel really sorry for those demo skis. In the last couple of days we'd been skiing some very tan snow. Earlier I'd managed to skip nimbly around the snags, even completing one whole run on a wretched day without picking up any new gouges at all. But eventually conditions got so bad that no amount of agility could save my skis. The granular snow was extremely fast where it was there at all, which meant that I would rocket into minefields of pea-sized gravel or rocky water crossings on blind drops or curves. Whether I sailed into the hazard or jammed on the brakes in the gravelly approach, the skis took the hit. It was a little sickening.

With a captive subject I could try a base repair technique I was developing, using the riller to push base material back into something like its intended shape. Many of the dings had not gouged material away, they had simply pressed a mark into the base, the way the riller does. The gouges are random and chaotic. The riller pattern is regular and carefully sized. I guessed that by imposing the riller's discipline on the randomly scored base material I could eventually push it straight again.

It's a scary procedure. A Swix 3 millimeter riller looks like it will leave trenches like a ploughed field in that shiny black expensive ski base. It's drastic. And once I'd made a couple of passes I had to continue, to see if the theory would hold up.

All I was doing was accelerating and reversing the natural progression someone might follow when structuring a base during a season of variable wetness. We generally use very fine structures on cold, fine-grained snow and very coarse, deep ones when the snow is very wet. Deep grooves channel free water away from the base. Sloppy snow usually happens in springtime.

Ideally I would have gone methodically from 3 mil to 2 mil to one mil, and so on down to .25 mil, but someone sold the 2 mil, so I went from 3 to 1. It was all right. By the time I got to .5 I could see it was going to work.

For good measure I went over it again with my Toko roller riller, using the coarse and fine inserts. A quick buff with Fibertex and a light pass with a new plexi scraper and I'm ready to start waxing. The cycles of scraping and brushing should smooth the bases further. The ghosts of the gouges are still there, but the base looks much better. And it was way cheaper than a stone grind. We'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, our day-long snow storm has left us still waiting for that second inch. Thanks again, Winter. I'll have time next week to do all that waxing.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Little Exploring

After four inches of sleety snow on January 29th, I went out to poke around the back mountain on the 30th. What made me think that four inches would have filled things in?

I'm still getting used to the strange landscape out there. I used to navigate by familiar trees, and the look of the land with the trees covering it. Now the contours lie bare. They look more varied and extreme without the trees.

Flowing water also complicates the skiing. There are more streams than before and they are all open.

On the old beater back-country skis I meandered along, looking for places I could slide along. It would have been quicker to take the skis off and walk directly, if I'd had a specific destination.

Working my way across the slope to my left, I crossed the biggest stream and poked around the clearings, climbing gradually. The snow barely covered the slash and debris from a couple of years of logging. I hardly recognized the terrain park when I first reached it. I should have brought the camera to record how much more jumbled and cluttered it looked.

Traversing further I looked down and back to see if I could put together a continuous descent line without running into a reef. I hopped into a few short snow patches that offered three or four turns, but nothing offered more than that. Then I hit a skidder trail that snaked up and down the slope in sinuous curves. It appeared to be completely filled in with snow, at least at my level and downward. Above, the curves hinted at how wonderful it might be with more snow.

Diving into this track I was able to link about ten turns and only had to jump once. It wasn't long, but it was good. Unfortunately, it took me to the top of the neighbors' clear cut. I could see their house down there. I was glad I had dressed entirely in black. I faded back into the sketchy cover of the leafless forest like any shy animal.

Winter isn't over yet. I can't say we're bound to get snow, but the odds favor it. When it comes I can tap into that sinuous line higher up and stay well above anyone's back yard.