West Yellowstone Testing 2016

austinpatEarly Season Testing Report

For the past two weeks most of the US-based racing scene has been focused on West Yellowstone, Montana. For the past several years Amy has made the trip to West to test wax and skis, as well as help coach masters clinics. This year the Super Tour was not scheduled to be part of the Yellowstone Ski Festival, and we decided not to go since there wouldn’t be as much contact with Super Tour teams. As it transpired, the Bozeman Super Tour races ended up moved to West Yellowstone, resulting in two solid weekends of racing at one venue.

Last season we worked quite a lot with Pat O’Brien, the coach of the SMS Elite program, on wax testing. Pat is a close friend, and an amazingly hard worker who won’t be able to live with himself unless he puts in as much work as humanly possible on behalf of the athletes he supports. That is the kind of guy you want to collaborate with. Last year we also had my (once-removed) cousin Austin working with us, and he was a key part of the testing team. Austin is now the BSF Elite coach. For the past two weeks Pat and Austin have been teamed-up testing and waxing for SMS Elite and BSF Elite athletes.

It’s a bummer when we can’t be at early season races and get early season test information on the products that are most interesting to us. So this year we packed a bunch of test wax and an extra fleet of our test skis up for Pat and Austin to work with, in exchange for information. Our arrangement has been that we will share specifics only once the races are finished at the venue. I just got off the phone with Pat, who confirmed that it’s fine with him to share information now.

There is a lot of information produced by systematic testing. Pat and Austin spent at least five non-competition days on testing underlayers, paraffins, powders and application methods. By race days their testing was focused more on top coats and hand structures. I think their focus on glide waxing was well reflected by the results, where they fared well – particularly on the skate days. In the skate race during the Yellowstone Ski Festival those guys waxed for both winners, and four of the top seven in the women’s race. In the Super Tour skate sprint this past weekend, they had second place in men’s qualifying, the top two positions in women’s qualifying, and a podium sweep in the women’s final.

Here are some specific highlights from the last two weeks:

We need to talk about Star first because we’ve seen some outstanding performances from Star in the past couple of weeks. The Star product line is all new in the past two years – we picked up the first fluoros for testing at Falun World Championships. Last year we tested a bunch of prototype paraffin, and had outstanding success. So this year we’re putting more testing resources into the Star products, and the reward has been immediate.

VF4 Paraffin remains a really reliable performer in moderate conditions. Last year it dominated our testing from early January on. In the Ski Festival skate race the weekend before last the VF4 was an easy pick for them women, who raced second in warming conditions, but the colder VF6 was edging it out in the colder morning snow. Pat and Austin did a bunch of base testing, and found the very best performance from Rex RCF Pink – a wax that Rex just re-released this season due to popular demand after discontinuing it. So, Rex RCF Pink and Star VF6 or VF4 were the paraffin layers. Paddy Caldwell was on VF6, while all the women were on VF4.

For that Ski Festival skate race the ironed fluoro powders didn’t seem to provide a huge advantage, while the “slurry” application that we worked with a lot last year, utilizing a roto-felt to spread a mix of powder and liquid, was outstanding. The Vauhti LDR slurry that we used a lot last year was quite good, but the Star F25/XF6 mix was a clear winner. And the ski performance was boosted even a little more by a straight application of XF6 liquid on top. The FS6 block was also good in a top-coat test that involved a lot of product from a lot of different brands. But the XF6 liquid beat it out.

As a side note – it’s really uncommon for us to find a single brand taking all the slots above the base paraffin. This wasn’t because the guys didn’t test other product. The Star just did well on this occasion.

The classic day was a bit warmer than the skate day on the Ski Festival weekend, and the tried-and true Vauhti LDR slurry felt safest in a close test against the F25/XF6 combo and a more experimental F20(warmer)/XF8(colder) slurry combo. All three were much better than powders, and the waxers had plenty of confidence that the LDR slurry would run well in increasing glaze as race traffic was concentrated in the track.

The more recent Super Tour weekend was different, with more new snow in play, and somewhat colder temps for the first day. This was a fascinating situation from my point of view because Pat and Austin spent three days testing to come up with perhaps the simplest wax job I’ve seen used with such big success in the past few years. They went with Vauhti LF Green as a base, and Star FS6 block. A few skiers chose a “warmer” ski with Vauhti 10F hardener as a base under Vauhti HF Blue. The testing from the previous days indicated that a warmer paraffin over a hardener could go well, but the colder paraffins seemed to want to run ‘clean’, so Pat and Austin did a double-application of the LF green. Powders slowed the skis down, and the slurries were good, but not competitive with the FS6 block application. Normally when we have time to run testing for multiple layers of paraffin and different fluoro applications we end up with a fairly complex build-up. This time all the testing resulted in a simple solution. Does that mean that it was unnecessary to do all the testing? Pat had a good perspective on it when he pointed out that it’s nice to have a simple wax job that you know you worked really hard to get to, instead of just decided on because it was easy. Confidence is important, and usually comes as a result of hard work!

We also know of at least one team that use the Red Creek green paraffin with really good results for the skate sprint. That wax was in Pat and Austin’s test, and often had the most “slippery” feel, but wasn’t winning the glide-outs. We’re working with different application methods for that one. It has been used a lot in the opening World Cup weekends according to the guys at Red Creek, and our results are continuously really close to the top.

The classic day this week was a hectic one, with a serious windy snowstorm but rising temperatures complicating things. The waxers went straight to VF4 based on its good test results in the warmest temps of the previous days. Once again, the LDR slurry rose to the top of testing. That product/application is one of the most reliably good ones we’ve come across!

Our testing this year will continue to cast a broad net over a bunch of different brands, and we don’t expect to see Star products winning all the time. But we did make a pretty big bet on them for this year after really encouraging results last season. So we’re encouraged by the good start. We’re working on adding the new Star product to our webstore. In the meantime, we’ve sold out of our first shipment on many of the products that were good for us last year, and that have been testing well this year. The next shipment has already left Italy, and we’ll be ordering again before Christmas.