As we announced in April, we’re offering a vastly simplified grind menu this year. We’re still happy to produce all your old favorite structures if you’d like, but we’re satisfied that the grinds on this menu represent the broadest range and most versatile structures we’ve ever made. What follows is the write-up from April 2015 when we first announced this menu:
I picked up my first Tazzari grinder at the 2002 Olympics, and when I brought it home I ran precisely one test of the structures that Lars Svensson had taught me to make before I started putting my own ideas into the testing. From that point forward the structure menu was subject to fairly constant revision. The revision most often took the form of addition, and options proliferated. Sometimes new structures would replace old structures, but additions outpaced replacements, and at times we were offering menus with as many as thirteen different grinds, with additional options available in the fine-print.
From a consumer standpoint this was confusing, and I knew it. But from the start I made a commitment not to dumb down the process for the sake of simplicity. Ski service is a nuanced art, and my goal was to use the tools at my disposal to learn what I could, and to share the process and the result. I have always put out the structure menus that I use for my own work and purposes, including some structures with very specific ranges.
Over time I’ve had a lot of people suggest that I adopt a very simple grind menu since it would be much easier for consumers to grasp and use. I understood the attraction, but it has always felt like a bit of a lie because it was so clear to me that performance would be compromised in easily identifiable circumstances. It has been a goal, for a long time, to introduce a simplified line that didn’t represent a real compromise, but that’s a pretty difficult mark to hit.
Why is it so hard to create a small series of broad-range structures that work at a really high level? Well, in part it might have to do with what I have defined as a “really high level”. Doing well in local and regional conditions and competition, and matching or outperforming broadly available factory-production-line structures or other local shop structures is not that difficult; mostly a question of doing careful and quality work. That’s more or less the menu that we’ve circulated as our “simple menu” for the past several years. But I’ve had the opportunity to put structures on World Cup skis ever since I started, because of my coaching relationships with World Cup skiers like Kris Freeman and Noah Hoffman. The World Cup presents several challenges that aren’t present in local competition. The races are in a totally different environment, and European snow absolutely acts different from North American snow. Also, the standard is extremely high. Both skis and grinds on the world cup represent the culmination of a trickle-up effect. Only the best-available materials make it into races. So putting a grind into a World Cup event and having it perform well means something a bit different from the same standard applied domestically.
The big problem with grinds, as opposed to wax, is that you can’t change them as easily. Even in a World Cup level fleet, you can’t afford to over-specialize a good pair of skis with a grind that only works in a narrow range. Skis (camber and flex characteristics) can address relatively broad ranges of conditions, and can’t be adjusted. Wax can address relatively narrow ranges of conditions, and can be adjusted. Grinds are tricky because they can address relatively narrow ranges of conditions, but they can’t be adjusted easily on a race-by-race basis. For practical reasons we need to treat grinds like skis, and design solutions to address wide ranges.
The performance parameters of grinds can be understood in a number of different ways. Unfortunately, we don’t get to pick and choose which types of performance we want to address with a broad-range grind. We need to shoot for all of them.
Temperature and moisture level
The tendency is to think of structures as targeting a specific range of temperatures or moisture content. This makes it sound easy to create a range of grinds that run from fine to coarse, and work well throughout the range. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Different snow types respond well to different patterns and frequencies. These are primarily mechanical frictional concerns. If we’re willing to target a specific crystal size and type (level of transformation), we can probably work with a wide range of temperatures and moisture levels. But then we’ve got snow-type specificity and the range is narrowed on that end.
Balancing Frictional Concerns
We’re always trying to address both mechanical friction (think of it as “dry” friction), and adhesion/cohesion (think of it as “suction” or “wet” friction). Smoother structures do better with mechanical friction, and rougher structures do better with wet friction. These competing qualities are a big part of why broad-range structures are challenging.
Targeted Performance Parameters
It’s easy to think of “fast” as one characteristic, but it often doesn’t work that way. Running speed, as you might measure in a speed-trap or glide-out, can be very different from moving speed, which is the performance of the ski under pressure, and upon release. This boils down to a difference between classic ski priorities and skate ski priorities. For classic skis the speed performance is aimed at passive circumstances; the ski doesn’t glide under conditions of active loading, or leave the snow in motion. For skating it’s necessary to target glide performance under active loading, and to facilitate free release from the snow. These skate priorities target more mechanical frictional properties, and so generally “lighter” structures perform better.
Some grinds seem to work really well in a specific geographic area – we see examples of this all over the world. Finding “global” solutions is more difficult. But it boils down to another example of range. The broader-range grinds (in terms of temperature and snow-type) have less geographic specificity.
Put simply, the range of a grind is the variety of snow-types, temperatures, moisture contents, and applications that it can successfully address in competition. We always target a very broad performance range in our structure design, but what does that even mean? Ranges aren’t digital – a grind isn’t always clearly in-range or out of range. Instead, it’s better to thing of the range as a performance bell-curve. What we’re really trying to do is broaden the curve without lowering the peak – that’s what broad-range means.
Out-of-Range Performance (Potential Liability)
We can also think in terms of out-of-range performance – that would be raising the level of the tails of the bell curve. If we can bring the level of the tail up to a competition-worthy place, then the grind takes on tremendous utility for a small fleet of skis. Creating structures that aren’t bad outside of their target range means that they won’t be responsible for bad races when the right skis have the wrong grind, or when conditions change unexpectedly. Think of it as the “do no harm” objective. Limiting liability is a big deal.
Creating a simple structure menu that offers performance at a high level means trying to hit a lot of targets with a small number of bullets. I think we’ve done pretty well given the complexity of the task. Under the circumstances, it’s not a surprise that this entire range of structures is based on one compound (multi-layer) structure concept. It seems to be a pretty robust concept. There is variation in the depth of the grinds, the frequency of the patterns, and the frequency-shift of the layers. The grinds have won most of our tests against our other established structures inside the appropriate target ranges. But they’ve also demonstrated very low out-of-range liability, good tolerance for variations in crystal type and wide ranges for temperature and moisture content. They’ve been competition-tested domestically and internationally with good success. There are specific conditions where we can do a better job with specific structures, and we will continue to produce those structures as circumstances warrant their use and customers request them. But for a simple core-menu, I’m really happy with the new line-up.
Enough of you have seen or worked with new structures in the past two seasons that it’s worth giving you some context. The structures in this new menu first hit the snow in a meaningful way at the very start of the 2013-14 season with Erik Mundahl’s testing of a new TG1-1 at Hatcher Pass in AK . That original TG1-1 was produced on the very smooth “Green Stone”. The first iteration became a TG1-2 as I worked with depth and pressure of the different layers to come up with a milder and “colder” version which then slid into the TG1-1 slot. For all of 2013-14 we worked with both TG1-1 in the blue range and TG1-2 in the red range with a great deal of success. During the season we also started working with variations in frequency, and made what we called X2-0, X3-1 and X4-2 on the normal “Blue Stone” for warmer conditions. Those also showed a great deal of promise. To be fair, they existed in a number of different iterations and variations, and they weren’t all stellar.
We worked through some ideas and modifications during the off-season. The next stage of development was partly facilitated by the introduction of a new Blue Stone formula from Tazzari. The new stones gave us a new level of control and refinement in our ability to reproduce delicate compound structures, and the adaptation of the TG series grinds to the Blue stone went well. We spent the season testing the new TB series structures in something very close their final form, and we have good success throughout.
The new TB grinds are all broad-range structures. Specifically, they are quite tolerant of a wide range of crystal types. There are two frequency-shift relationships in play. The TB1 and TB2n utilize what we’ll call the “new snow” frequency shift, while the TB2w and TB3 utilize more of an “old snow” frequency shift. But we find that the all the grinds have tremendous tolerance for a wide range of crystal types.
The thing I’m most pleased with is that the structures generally present very low liability outside of the target range, even on the cold side of things. TB2n was on the podium multiple times in brutal cold conditions this winter. TB3 was successful in blue drywax conditions on classic skis. These aren’t the intended conditions, but it’s great to have the flexibility!
The structures have all provided us a good combination of top-end running speed and good ski feel, so that we don’t see a need to run separate menus for skate and classic. If anything, we might expect to run a given grind in slightly colder conditions on classic skis. Geographically, the grinds ran well in a ton of locations, both domestically and abroad. Certain regions and locales will keep their favorite structures, but I’m confident that the grinds will function well pretty much everywhere.
TB1 – In some ways the TB1 doesn’t feel “necessary” because TB2n covers the cold range quite well. I fully expected to find more difference than I did between these structures when the temps are down in the single digits F. We saw a lot of those conditions in the East this year, and while we saw really big differences between ski flex characteristics, and binding set-up (wedge bindings were much faster at times), I seldom felt that the snow was really demanding a finer structure than TB2n. However, on the occasions that a finer structure was required, the TB1 was very good. On balance I would say that it was on-par with LS0B in the coldest conditions, and had better tolerance for more mild conditions.
TB2n – We’re going to make a lot of these next season. The 2n might be the broadest range structure I’ve ever made, competing well with TB1 at the very coldest end of the range, and dealing gracefully with emerging moisture in the red range. The 2n is exactly the same grind as the TG1-1, but made on the blue stone instead of the green stone. For reasons having to do with the nature of the compounding layers and they way they combine, I think the TB2n has a broader range. In some conditions (and on some base materials) the green stone version is better, but on balance the TB2n has been more reliable.
TB2w – We’ve made fewer of these than the other structures, and this is the one that we’ve adjusted the most since the start of the season. At the start of the season we were making a TB2o (for “old” snow, as opposed to “wet” snow or “new” snow – get it?). All of these grinds are labeled with a 2 because the primary cut on the underlayer is in the frequency range that we label with 2. For the sake of consistency we’ll keep that the same, and we therefor need to use something else to describe the moisture and crystal range. The 2w is deeper than the 2n, and it uses a different compound ratio, better suited to higher moisture and older crystals. But it still targets fine-grained snow. Paddy Caldwell used this one to win NCAAs.
TB3 – I made this for the first time in December of 2013, after our early testing of the TG1-1 and TG1-2 structures. This was the first attempt to make a structure of the same concept on the blue stone. We had good luck with that first round at US Nationals in Soldier Hollow that winter. I also took some skis to the Olympics with this structure. They weren’t World Cup race skis – just some stuff I had around. But they did really well in testing, both in the pre-Olympic World Cups in Toblach, and in Sochi. We put a bunch of these out on race skis this past season after some really successful off-season testing on a wide range of conditions on the Dachstein glacier, and the feedback all year has been excellent. This grind can be really good from violet drywax conditions up to full slush.
The major objective of this project has been to create a very simple menu to cover a broad range and bring better function and clarity to the decision making process for customers. But there is plenty of room for old structures. For instance, L2-0s remains an outstanding dedicated violet (fine-grained old-snow and manmade) grind, and I expect to continue making them for dedicated skis. I’ll make whatever structures people want based on their experience and preferences, but we’ll focus on pushing a bunch of the volume in the direction of these TB grinds. That will create better work-flow and time & material economy in the shop, and will make the quality control aspect of production easier.
I guess it’s pretty likely that this is the beginning of a new period of expansion. Things are already complicated by the ongoing viability of the green-stone versions of these same grinds. TG1-1 is the same pattern as TB2n. I made a handful of TG0 grinds last year, which are the same pattern as the TB1. I will have to decide whether to continue offering those green stone versions, or just make them by special request. The green stone seems to offer superior performance in some locations and circumstances, but not categorically in any range of conditions. Looking ahead I’ve got new ideas cooking. Like a TB1x (polished TB1 for extra cold) and a variety of other dedicated cold snow concepts. For next season I’m already planning some test projects focused in specific areas like that, and I anticipate that it won’t be any easier than it’s ever been to get the grind menu to hold still. But for this fleeting moment, it’s quite satisfying to feel that I’ve got things pretty nicely bundled.