Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Voile WSP Skimo Race Skis-Review (part 1)

Got the new Voile WSP race skis in the mail yesterday. I love this ski (have to actually ski on it to further confirm this).

Initial impressions:

- They look cool. At first glance there’s no denying that the graphics are the best in the industry. To ski good you gotta feel good about your gear. Graphics ARE important.

- As you can see from the picture there’s quite a bit of rocker. I’m really eager to try this out as a lot of our skimo races actually do take place in the back country (almost all of them when in Europe) and gliding over powder and chopped up powder soup is difficult on such small skis. The long scooping rockered shovel on these looks very promising.

Yet to be seen if, what I figure to be about 12% less skinning surface area, will affect climbing. Also, less edge on the snow for nailing hardpack. I’ll letcha know.

-This is the First American made skimo race ski. Hooray for Voile for breaking through the barrier. It shouldn’t come as a surprise since they make some pretty light and cool looking backcountry skis already. And yes, they are made right in Utah.

-Aspen wood core. Interesting choice. Aspen is a very dense, strong wood. Most skis seeking lighter weights opt for the Paulonia wood, which apparently grows like a weed down south. Aspen is a Rocky Mountain native and plentiful species...probably harvested locally. Very sustainable friendly.

I favor a wood core over the foams and honeycombs as I just think they retain their form longer.

-weight. This is the only dissappointment. I measured 807g and 811g. With bindings on they’re a full 100g heavier than my SkiTrab World Cups.

Commenting on the last 2 points. Fischer xc race skis puts a wood core in their race stock skis (generally only available to world cup racers) and a honeycomb in their "off the shelf" race skis. The wood core makes them a little heavier, but they figure that the stronger world cup athletes would destroy the honeycomb core skis too quickly. So, world cup skiers actually use a heavier ski.

A few years ago I remember my friend (USA skier) Pete Swenson sharing that he opted for a heavier, wider ski that was better at descending. During the world champs where this conversation took place (Claut, Italy) one of Pete’s USA teammates broke 2 skis in one race (super lightweight Merrelli’s). So there are several factors to consider in ski selection.

-Dimensions. According to the stats, the WSP's are ~10cm's narrower than most other race skis. But as you can see from the picture they're identical in width to the SkiTrab WC's. Maybe the Trab portion that is off the snow is wider, but the actual on snow portion is the same.

More to come!

The race quiver...

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Wind. That pretty much sums up this winter. For the Castle mountain skimo race the course was altered 3 times. The Crowesnest pass area has unbelievable winds (hence all the windmill turbines) and it was blowing around 100km/hour at the top of the mountain. The drifted in snow and wind kept race crews from even getting to the top of the mountain on snow machines. They knew there was no way we could run the race up there. So the final plan (after a couple alterations) was to have 2 up and downs in the cat skiing area. It still would be a 4000' plus vertical climb total.

As we ascended the top we were so exposed to the blowing wind that you literally got your breath blown away from you. You couldn’t see where you were going at times. However the descent was fun. Blown in powder for at least the first descent.

I was towards the back of a strung out pack of 6-7 skiers. But we were all pretty close except for super skier Reiner. I actually made up some time on the first descent. I blew by Canada’s top mountain and trail runner Adam on the descent, and even made up some time on USA top skier Ben Parson. At the turn around to climb up again I was only 30secs or so away from Ben. So many years he and his (mine too) good friend Brandon French, would come to Canada and absolutely school all of us. In this race Ben was 5th and I was right behind him. Good sign that Canucks are improving.

Last year I was on the podium in this race, yet this year there were just a couple more go fast skiers. So I was pretty happy with my sixth place finish. No cash this year, but lots of satisfaction.

As for this wind.... so many weeks we’ve had unbelievable wind. This week during one of the episodes I thought our home was going to blow over. It was shaking all night long. With the wind impacted backcountry the avi danger is sky high, so for my long 4 hour ski yesterday I just went to the nordic centre and pounded it out. There were so many blown over trees I couldn’t believe it. They must have really kept the crews busy.

So now we have a low snowpack that’s wind loaded. Giving us a red-high rating even for below treeline. One can only hope this pattern changes soon.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Should I stay or should I go now?! I definitely should have stayed. The Wyoming Rando Rally featured 3 races in 2 days and I was finishing up with the toughest of the three, the Jackson Hole race. It features 8000' of vertical climb... that and the weather conditions made it a tough day.

After super suffering the day before in the Grand Targhee race because I went out too fast on the 30 minute wall climb to the top of the mountain (in altitude I wasn’t acclimated to). For the JH race I kept my heart rate 10-12 beats lower on the first climb that was probably as long, though not as insanely steep as the day before. Interestingly, half way up that hill skiers started coming back to me. One by one I passed several skiers. This was a lot more pleasant way to race than suffering a major lactic acid dump at the start, then trying to continue as it slowly-dissipates.

The JH racnd bootpack in the race) up the iconic Corbett’s Couloir. At the base of the couloir I was feeling great. "Finally get to stomp up this section that I’ve seen in several Youtube vids." However at this point I was greeted by my good friend Janelle Smiley who commented that my face was real red and needed attention (she later said her second look revealed a lot of frostbite white). I was thinking, "red-ok, white-bad" so I didn’t think that much of it, but I shielded my nose with my mitten covered hand for some of the climb. This section tops off with a super cool ladder up and over the cornice at the top. From this point there was a short 150 meter ski then a 4000' descent, however the wind was so bad it almost was blowing us right off our feet. What I figured out later was that at these temps the wind almost instantly turns exposed skin frozen and into frostbite. Janelle’s volunteer partner at Corbett’s base shared (as we waited in "emerg." for one of my teammates suffering major frostbite on her hands), that 75% of skiers came through with at least some fb on their faces (there was a real exposed section leading up to their Corbett’s base station).

So after fighting hard all race to reel in skiers one by one I was forced (yes, forced) into the ski patrol shack because I had some serious frostbite all over my face. The race director said, "I hate to do this and wouldn’t unless you were really bad... and you are." As I entered the shack I saw a guy in there who had a really frozen white nose. I’d never seen such a badly frostbitten nose. I thought to myself, "He looks awful." I later learned after talking to the same race director in emerg that I was almost certainly a LOT worse.

At this point of the race you’ve got a 4000' descent, then a shorter climb, then final descent. Perfect for recovery and a strong finish. I can’t tell you how hard it was to sit in there trying to warm my face. I thought about how hard I’d worked all morning. I also recounted how many months I was looking forward to this race and how long I’d driven just to be there (13 hours). So way too soon I charged back outside, put my skis on and went on to finish the race. I was probably in there 10-15 minutes.

Looking back on it that was really stupid. My skin had faced some major trauma and now I’m hurtling my carcass down the mountain with my face fully exposed to the cold again (I put my mittens up and shielded it at many points while tucking). So what that I worked hard, fought a good fight, was doing well, etc. It’s just another stupid race. Who cares what the results say (my 10-15 minute warm up cancelled out a good result anyway) or what anyone thinks about me. I’ve got to take care of myself. There will always be other races. Heck, that would have given me a good excuse to come back again next year. Your first priority has to be your health and safety. For the rest of the race I’d dialed in the dress perfectly. I wore an extra wind vest over my race suit. Legs and feet warm thanks to my Craft pro cool long undies (wind panels on all the front). Even carried, then eventually used warm mittens with hand warmers in them (busted them out before the race so they’d be at max hotness). My only mistake was to leave my balaclava in the lodge. If I’d just brought that then everything would’ve been fine.

That gal at the base of Corbett’s remarked that the athletes that had a hood built into their race suits were the only ones w/o frostbite. I’d always thought those things were useless. Not now.

So here I am, 2 days later. My nose is itching like crazy, it’s red and kinda hurts. My cheeks too.

Oh, one other dumb thing. One of my race partners from Canada needed to get home and get some specific health care for frostbite. She had to hold her hands in a perpetually Pentacostal position the entire 14 hour drive home. Needless to say, I did all the driving. We didn’t get in until 6 a.m. the next day. So I lost an entire night of sleep. I haven’t trained since. My body needs to recover. This sounds like something a 20 year old would do. I ought to know I’m not invincible.... especially after my humbling trip into the patrol shack at the mountain top.

Next week...race weekend #2 at Castle mountain. Let’s hope it’s not as eventful.