Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tradeshow Season

Sorry for the time off on the blog, but we’re in the middle of tradeshow season. Every year, the office packs up for a couple weeks at the end of January and hits the road to unveil new product and sit down with dealers and media. Last week it was Salt Lake City, UT for Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. Plenty of new snow fell on for the Backcountry Basecamp on-snow demo at Snowbasin, UT.

(Cold powder shimmers in the air at the start of the on-snow at Snowbasin, UT, as testers check out the Women's Series and Freeride Series skis. Photos by Graham Gephart)

After a successful demo on Tuesday, ORWM opened on Wednesday. The show has a great vibe, packed with friendly outdoors retailers, media, and exhibitors providing strong energy and enthusiasm in such a good winter. It’s definitely a specialty outdoor scene, with lots of mountain dogs and kids running around. OR is usually our busiest show, and this year was no exception. The Karhu booth was packed from open to close, and there was a lot of excitement around the new product, and the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the original XCD ski.

(The Karhu booth at ORWM in Salt Lake City.)

Most of the craziness comes at the beginning and end of the show. You’re always at the mercy of when the crates arrive to pack up product headed to Vegas, or booths being sent back to Seattle, but the reward for staying up all night to pack the crates was having an open day to ski on Sunday. On four hours of sleep we hit the road for Alta, legs tired from walking the floor all week, but ready to breathe some mountain air. Salt Lake’s big storm wasn’t hitting until that evening, but strong winds and increasing snowfall quickly filled in the trees off the High Traverse. With the winds and warmer temperatures, it filled in as smooth windbuff in the trees, fast and supportable. High Rustler, Stonecrusher, Lone Pine – the laps came quickly, as fast as we could cycle out the traverse. Finally our legs screamed for mercy, and we had to hit the road to make our flight out of Salt Lake.

This week it’s Las Vegas, for SIA 2008. The show is a completely different dynamic, as it caters to the broader snowsports retail channels. There’s the usual buzz circulating through the larger alpine ski companies, a lot of innovative new outerwear, and a raucous scene in the snowboard section of the show floor. In the midst of all that, you’ll find Karhu. Two more days here, and then we return to Seattle. Interstate 90 just reopened up to Snoqualmie Pass for the first time in two days, and the snow is supposed to continue at least through Thursday. The timing couldn’t be better. Our turns at Alta were enough to keep our sanity and push through another week on the show floor, but everyone’s ready to get back into the mountains and make more turns.

Thanks for your patience, and when we get back to the office next week we’ll be back online with a lot of new blog content. Who knows, maybe even a tease of some of the new gear. Hope you’re making good turns out there!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Checking in from the Sierra

Last Sunday the skis cleared over Tahoe, where a long-overdue Sierra storm laid down a thick coat of winter wonder. Mike Colpo from Patagonia sent us this dispatch:

The news reports were pretty accurate about last week’s storm… the Sierra did indeed get a good ol’ fashioned walloping:

Snowfall amounts on the Sierra Crest didn’t quite live up to the forecast totals (as high as 10 feet), but the higher elevations of the Mount Rose area helped the northeast corner of Lake Tahoe grab just over 6 feet of new.

(Parked next to a berm that didn't exist two days before. Photos courtesy of Mike Colpo)

Six feet of new was enough to bring a whole host of local shots into the game. Local skiers had been whittled down to precious few backcountry options before the storm, but each forecast update meant new additions to the “to do” list. Six feet of Sierra snow is an intimidating dump, any way you slice it, and the firm glaze on the old-snow surface was reason enough for prudence. So Day One after the storm found us on some well-treed south-facing shots that, before the storm, were completely free of snow. As much as I hate to admit it, it was too deep Dropping a knee—even on a south-facing shot below the filtering canopy of thick timber—brought me to almost a complete stop as waist, chest, then shoulders sank into the pillows of collected snow.

(Toby gaining ground on the stormy ascent.)

(Jimbo makes turns in the uber-deep. Storm skiing at its best.)

Continued cold temps and snow through the weekend keep the freshness intact. Moguls refused to set up at the local resort, making for fun chop-charging, but the winds started to kick up. By Monday, the steadily improving avy forecast and consistent, reliable stability tests were enough of a green light to give the treasured Credit Card shots (ski now, pay later) a go. Quick access to over 2,000’ of open pow is hard to resist, after all, even if the run always ends with the climb back out. Clocking winds out of the north, then east, were sufficient to hammer these lovely gems into a marginally enjoyable mélange of soft pow, wind buff and breakable crust. Bringdown.

Our last hopes lay with Tuesday night’s storm, which brought another foot to the Rose area. A reliable north-facing glade dropping from just over 10,000’ clear down to a large open apron of snow at 7,800’ was the call for dawn patrol. Alas, we must not have offered fitting propitiation to the snow gods. Despite its normal promise of protection from the elements, our little local stash had been fully and completely worked by the wind. Oddly, the more tree cover, the worse the conditions. The only soft snow to be found lay in subtle folds of open terrain that happened to collect some wind-deposition.

(Lee finding the whole gamut on Rose).

Yesterday’s warm temps were the nail in the coffin of Sierra snow conditions. At 2 pm the call came in from 9,100’: “Guys, it’s CRAP! I’ve got 854 lbs of glop clinging to each skin. I can’t move!!”

So today, it’s off to the slightly more continental snowpack of the Toiyabe Range, deep in Nevada’s interior. With a little luck, the pow might still be holding on.
-Mike Colpo

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Everyone Karhu

From the email the other day, a photo from Chip Chase at West Virginia’s famed White Grass Touring Center – a longtime Karhu friend and evangelist of telemark and cross-country.

(A good collection from over the years. Photo courtesy of Chip Chase/White Grass)

Glad to see there’s snow on the ground again, Chip! If you’re a Mid-Atlantic skier, bookmark the White Grass’ daily report and get over there to experience the enthusiasm and adventure that the Chase family embodies.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Happy Place Video

Just back from our Pacific Northwest Dealer Camp at White Pass, WA, and feeling the soreness this morning from running bell-to-bell laps in the powder. 9" followed by 9" followed by 10" and completely empty midweek - the only people tracking up our lines were in our group. Once the photos are downloaded, I’ll toss a few up, probably on Monday. In the meantime, while we’re packing crates and trucks today for the upcoming tradeshows, here’s a little video called “Happy Place” from Karhu skier JT Robinson and his Vertical Integration crew:

(Video courtesy of JT Robinson)

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

XCD on the UVM Campus

Blog reader submitted Peter Wadsworth submitted this entry earlier in the week on what XCD skiing means to him, and it perfectly captures the versatility of XCD and the freedom of winter exploration that it’s built for.

The University of Vermont is known for being close to good skiing, but few people realize just how close it is. Centennial Woods is a 65-acre tract of forest literally on the UVM campus and entirely within downtown Burlington City limits. It is bordered by a minor league baseball stadium, a town dump, an interstate highway and a housing development. It also has some great skiing.

(Jessie-Willow Janowski and Carter the dog heading out for a dusk tour. Photo courtesy of Peter Wadsworth)

To me the very idea of backcountry skiing is skiing in un-tamed terrain and in places that the masses don’t think to go. And XCD skiing is learning to make the most of every bit of terrain, to close the gaps between isolated stashes, to discover those little bits of ‘gnar’ lurking everywhere. With XCD, “backcountry” can suddenly be found in the backyard.

(Peter Wadsworth and Carter run back up for more. Photo courtesy of Peter Wadsworth)

I get out of work and meet my UVM med-student wife arriving from class with only one hour of daylight left. We grab our “schwack” skis and take the dog skiing in Centennial Woods, right outback of the hospital. By linking a few gladed slopes, an old fire road, and a powerline break we can get dozens of real powder turns and hundreds of feet of combined vert. We also get several miles of running/gliding with the dog. We usually ski well past dark, pushing our limits as we thread sketchy turns between the big trees and drop into little gullies where the dog walkers and hikers never go.

(Good friends making dusk tracks in Centennial Woods. Photo courtesy of Peter Wadsworth)

When we slip back out of the woods and into the pub we sometimes smile to ourselves as we hear all the UVM students comparing their days skiing groomed slopes at the resorts an hour’s drive away. If only they knew how close UVM is to great skiing.

-Peter Wadsworth

If you have a trip report or submission that you would like us to publish on the blog, please feel free to send it in to

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Making Skis

Happy Monday! The forecast looks strong this week for some night skiing and maybe a powder morning. Over the weekend Nils Larsen passed on a couple photos and words from his latest project. After traveling several times to the Altai region of China to document skiing’s oldest roots, he’s begun making a set of skis in the Altai tradition. Be sure to watch Nils’ Journey to the Source clip to see how the Altai build and use their skis. It’s a really cool project, and it will be fun to follow his progress in construction and use.

After 3 winter trips to the Altai and spending quite a bit of time on their skis, I have decided to make a pair using, as close as possible, their tools and methods. Why? In part because I like making things by hand, and because I like skiing – it’s a natural joining of interests. The more prominent reason is that I've acquired a taste for this type of skiing, and I'm nervous about breaking or damaging any of the skis I've brought back from the Altai. They all have personal stories and histories attached to them as well as being collector’s items.

The wood used in the Altai is spruce – light and relatively strong. Living in the interior of WA, I have quite a bit of Engleman Spruce around here, which I think is ideal for the job. In early December I went into the woods near my house and picked out a straight tree about eight inches in diameter, cut it and hauled it back to my place. The tree was growing in a shaded creek bottom so it was tall as well as straight, as you can see, and I got two good logs out of it.

More to come,

Two good logs to start.

Split and ready for the next step. Photos courtesy of Nils Larsen.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Double Birkie

We’re back! The office is open again, with everyone digging out after vacations filled with turns. The new year looks to be a good one with lots of snow, and in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, we received a great entry from Hansi Johnson on setting goals and pushing boundaries:

For every type of skiing there are defining moments – the graceful dip of a telemark turn in waist-deep powder, the power of a locked-in heel on a hard GS carve. For Nordic skiing, that feeling is the one of great glide on a long endurance ski.

For the past 20 years a group of pro cyclists in the Midwest have come together in late December to get in a long slow arduous day of skiing. The brainchild of former US Pro Cycling Champion Tom Schuler, the goal to continue hard winter training on skis instead of a bike. With the bar set at 1,000 hours of training, the idea of the Double Birkie came soon after.

The American Birkebeiner is a legendary Nordic race, covering 55km on an obnoxiously hilly course in Northern WI. The race trail is kept immaculately groomed all season by the race foundation and is open by to anybody who wants to come and prepare for the big race in February. The winners race the course in a little over two hours, and the average skier however will take three to five hours to complete the grueling tour. For Tom Schuler, the early winter training mark would be skiing the course from the south end to the north end and then turning around and skiing it back – a 90km ski that at training pace quite literally takes all day!

The night before I spent a lot of time on my skis and on getting support gear prepared. I put a couple of layers of wax on my Karhu skate skis and prepared a bag of dry clothes to drop at the course finish for the second round on the way south. I am not much of a racer anymore, relying on not so scientific food choices like a box of pop tarts, some Gatorade and a ham sandwich. The ski starts at 8am. There is no fee, no organization; you are on your own. If you bonk at 40km, you have to hitch home on your own or beg food off other skiers. On the way north, there’s plenty of talking and laughing, but coming south there is just silence and a veritable trail of tears.

My skis feel effortless as we start, and my mind is eased as I relax into long strides and great glide. Had my wax been off my workload would have been heavier, but I’m beating my buddies to the bottom of the hills and gliding further back up. The milestones fly by – the Double-O cutoff, Snowmobile Hill, Bitch Hill (aptly named for its size and for the the two guys who dress in drag every year and scream at racers as they zone up it), Mosquito Brook, the North End trails, and lastly the famed powerlines and the Telemark Lodge at Cable, WI. At the lodge we sit down for a cup of soup, dry clothes and hear the excuses of people begging off for sore muscles, sickness or blisters.

Generally it is here at halfway that you look deep inside your self and really discuss in your heart whether or not you have the stamina and the drive to drag your ass 45 km back to the start of the ski. For me there is no choice, I came by myself, with no support, no person or car at mid ski to pick me up or save me so I have to ski back.

I shove down my food and stand naked in the guest laundry room of the lodge as my clothes dry in the pay dryer. My Ipod plays Low’s “I am a Prisoner” as I slap on my skis and head south. I marvel at the fact that as a human I can travel by ski over hill and dale for such a distance, an alien surfing a white road on a frozen planet.

The Birkie trail heading south is much easier. The hills seem to flow faster, and my mind and my soul seem to lose track of time as I slug up hill after hill and tuck down endless rails on my way home. Eventually the pain becomes extreme, and you have to really bear down and try to keep your composure and your form. That is the zone where you become a better skier, when you have to keep it together regardless of the fact that your legs are stumps, your lungs are seared, and your back feels like a broken hinge.

People that I had trouble skiing with on the way north start to filter back to me. Some say hi, others say nothing, leaning over on their poles and staring down the trail at something only they can see. I trudge on.

The light is getting dim and the alpenglow is tickling the snow covered pines, and I still have 10km to ski. My skis seem to speed up, and my glide is becoming my only saving grace. Even though I am blown, I just point them where they are supposed to go and hold on as they seem to speed forward. Eventually I catch up to Tom Schuler himself, at 51 nursing some pains that only an aging retired professional cyclist can describe. He no longer skis the full 90km, but still cranks out more than his fair share with nothing to prove to anybody. When I pass him he smiles and waves and exclaims what an unbelievable day it has been and invites me back next year. I recall his invite as I finish the ski in the dark, too cold and exhausted to lift the back door of my car and change into my dry clothes.

Hmmmm… next year? Wonder if I could ski 120km???? Nah!

-Hansi Johnson

For more info check out: The Double Birkie Turns 20

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