Armada JJ 126-136-115-133-121 @ 185cm. The Armada JJ first caught our attention when we learned it weighed in at around four pounds per ski (1.96kg or 4lbs 5oz to be exact). Most skis in this width category push 5lbs (or more) per ski. The JJ uses what Armada refers to as their “ultralight core”, and it combines generous tip and tail rocker with positive camber underfoot. Add sidewall construction and healthy dimensions, and you get an agile powder ski for the deepest of days.
"Wow" was the most common first impression of the JJ – related to both its lack of heft (we mounted it with Dynafit binders) and its on snow performance. The JJ impressed everyone who tried it. Can you say Powder Technician?
Sure, it is a quiver ski, and it is most at home in deep snow, but it is equally as fun at the ski hill as it is touring. Its positive camber underfoot gives it a carving ability not found in fully rocked out skis, seemingly without compromise in its soft snow performance. Overall, it is a lively short radius turner that was forgiving and fun in a variety of snow and terrain. It elicited many comparisons to the Voile Drifter (145-121-133 @ 172cm), and although the two skis do have similarities (light-weight, fat rockered boards), they are pretty different skis - more on the Drifter soon.
Sneak Peak at Our Ski Testing Notes - Dynafit Stoke
Despite the fact that it is snowing at elevation (again), the majority of our backcountry ski testing is now done. I get countless questions regarding what we liked during our testing, so thought I would share some notes from our highlights. The crop of truely touring-minded skis gets more diverse every season, and this year's line up is especially flush in light, capable skis.
First up - the Dynafit Stoke
The Dynafit Stoke is a touring-minded freeride and soft snow ski with an early rise tip and inserts for Dynafit bindings. It measures in at 129-105-119. We were able to ski the Dynafit Stoke in everything from ideal deep and cold touring days to recycled groomers and spring goo. The Stoke moves Dynafit skis into the world of big mountain “freeride” feel, but it remains relatively lightweight at around seven pounds a pair.
On snow, the Stoke is a big radius, big mountain turner. Aggressive, big terrain skiing are its forte. It has its roots in Greg Hill’s pursuits around Revelstoke and it shows. The Stoke felt a little forced in boot top snow, smaller terrain, and tighter tree skiing. Sure, it can ski tight, technical, and treed lines too, but this requires more attention and skill from you, the driver. Its soft, early rise tip is relatively mild in its rise, but it rides out of the snow as you would expect while the ski’s solid platform and relatively stiff tail hold it steady when conditions require. I see the Stoke as a quiver ski - a premium midwinter big mountain touring stick, but not necessarily an all-mountain, all-conditions ski.
It skied well with a variety of three and four buckle boots. We mounted them in the forward-most binding location after skiing them in the second position and felt it became more responsive to varied input, but its sweet spot remains big radius turning. Dynafit recently sent out a note that the mounting position for the fall production run skis will be 3.3cm forward of the production run we skied. This move will make the ski more responsive and will likely make it more nimble when the going gets tight, but its overall personality should stay true to its big terrain, Revelstoke roots.
It is a premier player in the big mountain, touring-minded world for aggressive skiers.
The minute I saw Black Diamond’s new Couloir harness, I knew I needed one. In the never ending quest to lighten my kit, it was immediately apparent that this harness would likely bump my current ski harness out of its favored spot. I have spent the last month using the Couloir while in the Chugach and the North Cascades. Here is what I have found.
The BD Couloir is a simple, clean, and ultra light ski mountaineering harness. It is made of 1 and 1 ½ inch webbing, weighs in at a mere 8oz, yet it comes complete with features not typically found on this type of harness. Right away, I appreciated the ability to put the harness on without stepping through the leg loops. It’s difficult to find a harness that allows you to do this and that still offers a belay loop. The Couloir has very usable, soft gear loops that aren’t even noticeable under a pack hipbelt, but the loops are ample enough to carry glacier travel gear. There is even a full strength haul loop on the back in the event that you find yourself wanting to ski a pitch on belay.
While ski touring on glaciers, we often wear harnesses regardless of whether we are roped up or not. Thus, it’s ideal to have a harness that you don’t even notice you are wearing. Between the harness’ light weight and the thin webbing leg loops, it was easy to forget that I was wearing the Couloir. As with many lightweight harnesses, the time you really notice them is while hanging in them. While practicing crevasse rescue and rappelling in the Couloir, its lack of lumbar support became readily apparent. BD has tried to beef up the 1” hipbelt with some extra fabric to spread the load, but the Couloir was not designed for hanging on a rope for extended periods. Personally, I can live with this for a harness that packs down smaller than a can of Red Bull.
The BD Couloir is not a do-it-all harness, but if you are looking for a ski mountaineering specific harness that is both ultra light and fully featured, BD’s Couloir is a great choice.
The 2009-2010 season's Off-Piste Mag issues are now available free online in PDF format. We post back issues online each spring. This year's issues are 42-45 and include the 2009-10 ski review, interviews with Sweetgrass Productions and PowderWhore Productions, skiing on Alaska's Mount Foraker, Dynafit Splitboard hybrids, ski pack reviews, alpine-touring bindings, the boutique ski movement, and much more.
I have been testing AT boots from Scarpa, Dynafit, and Garmont this spring as well as new XCD skis from Rossignol and Madshus. May has offered a bit of a bonus season here in the northwest, but it appears we are now headed for a more classic spring cycle of corn and sun. Here are a few shots of some recent jaunts up on Hood. I will follow up next week with info on the Scarpa Mobe and Maestrale boots, as well as the Dynafit Zzero, Garmont Radium and Garmont's new svelt LiteRider boot. Also look for details on Rossignols new BC125 (a 90mm waisted XCD ski) and the Madshus Annum (replaces the Karhu Guide). Photos by Nils Larsen and Dave Waag
Winter knocked on the door here in the Northwest last week. Incredible conditions were had throughout the Cascades. I made it out around Hood for several days of skiing and here are a couple of reports from Central and North Cascades that saw winter-like conditions as well. North Cascade Mountain Guides Cinco de Pow report.
Don Pattison and friends made out in the North and Central Cascades as well. Below is Pattison's trip report and a short video clip skiing near Alpental, WA.
THE BONUS SEASON ... THREE PASSES - THREE BUDDIES - THREE DAYS
When you're in your 50's, it's not easy pulling college buddies together for a ski-mountaineering safari. Jobs (or lack of), kids, wives, girlfriends, and out-of-shape excuses all pile on to damn the phone call and e-mail plans. After a two year hiatus from the the trip, I drove to SeaTac, picked-up my Duluth, MN buddy Dr. Woody and we powered on to Green Lake in Seattle to intervene on, our pal, Ralph's soccer coaching obligations. Slug-belly Puget Sound skies gave way to broken clouds and frosty peaks as we ascended Rainy Pass and made that epic hair-pin turn on Washington Pass. The Birthday Tour is a classic for good reason. We ascended the Spire Gully, instead of the Blue Lake approach and the required car shuttle. Mild weather and snow conditions allowed for a good descent of Madison Avenue, and although dark clouds threatened rain, we skied down a nice powder-to-crud staircase, via Hidden Gully, to the car.
The hospitable Klipchuck Campground, with no snow, open restrooms and a no-fee-yet policy was an easy deal. It rained and then snowed all night, however, so WSDOT closed the the Pass at Silver Star Creek the next morning, thereby changing our plans. Not to be shut down completely, we opted to move passes and hatched a three pass quest. Born from the denial of access to WA Pass our new plan was to hit Stevens Pass and Snoqualamie. Ralph and I have fond memories of Big Chief lift at Stevens Pass Ski Area. The lifts were closed for the season, but it was snowing like a bastard and the lift line run was our call. No tracks, a solid snowpack and no people are the best reason to ski closed ski resorts. It's a short hike for some great (ok pretty good) powder turns.
Lured by beers, showers and beds, we returned to Seattle, for the night, and casually rolled I-90 up to Snoqualmie Pass the next morning. A foot of new May snow was predicted and appeared. Four cars were in the Alpemtal parking lot. We railed the up-track to the top of International lift, and dropped International run like ski patrollers at dawn. Plenty of crotch shots, all round. Apparently it's true...it's not over till it's over!
I just got this note from Shelley Hakanson at WyEast Nordic. She just announced the summer tele camp schedule. Join us for the 27th anniversary of the Summer Tele-Ski Camp! This year there will be a documentary film night plus unique historic footage of previous tele camp participants and skiing styles. Here is what Shelley has to say...
Join us for high glacier skiing, spectacular scenery and professional instruction at the Summer Tele-Ski Camp.
Hello everyone! With this wonderful new extension of the winter season covering our high country, it's time to think about the 27th Annual Summer Tele-Ski Camp. Don't put away your skis yet- take a few more runs with some of the northwest's best tele instructors, see some old friends and ski on some incredible summer snow! Timberline has base of about 150" right now and with the good grooming up on Palmer, the snow should be quite good this year!
Please check out the website- www.wyeastnordic.com for more info. This year we will be welcoming back Karen Reader , Dave Waag and of course Mr. Larsen. Seattle's famous Shannon Marie and few surprise guests will be also on the list.