Every year we spend the Fall working on skis, and most of the time we’re working its t-shirt weather. At least 60% of our total grind volume gets done when there is no snow. This is good because it gives us a small chance of actually enjoying winter skiing when it comes. But it does get a little unreal working with all those skis without any feedback on how the work is going. What if an S2-1X was only awesome everywhere in the world last year because of some strange global snow anomaly? What if the ground – water in the Sackets Brook drainage basin has some sort of mineral content that is incompatible with grind stones? What if I just thought I was really smart about this stuff, but I had actually been wrong about ski selection all along?
Man, that would suck.
So, we eagerly await reports from early snow. This year the wait for good information was fairly long. The Craftsbury Green Team headed off for Finland at the end of October, and those guys sent some reports. But they were skiing on a ribbon of saved snow/mud/woodchips from last year. Most of what we heard was “well, I trashed my skis today, so you might have some more work to do when we get back”. A few members of the US Ski Team headed over to train in the tunnel in Torsby on something that was never natural snow to start with, and is now some substance resembling Styrofoam with a snot-content that can only be speculated at. The snow was so sugary and deep it was hardly confidence inspiring for the skiers, let alone the ski service guys back home.
After some concern that the opening World Cup weekend might end up being cancelled, Sjusjoen got just enough cold weather to blow enough snow to hold races. So, feedback would be forthcoming, 2.5K at a time, like it or not! Meanwhile, Western North America was getting a really good start to the snow season, and West Yellowstone was looking promising. The last weekend in November became a focal point with the Kuusamo mini-tour and three race days in West Yellowstone. And now, at the beginning of December, we finally have some race reports, and some assurance that we didn’t just mess up 1200 pairs of skis!
Backing up, the first on-snow reports I got were from Kerry Lynch who works with a US Ski Team nordic combined development group based in Steamboat Springs. They had some early snow up on Rabbit Ears Pass, and Kerry got down to testing within days of getting a batch of skis that Spencer Knickerbocker carried back West from a visit home to Brattleboro. In the early cold snow Kerry confirmed that the LS00 and LS0 were running really well. He also confirmed that this year’s production of Fischer 610 cold skis is awesome. Those combined guys really suffered for a lack of good skis/grinds in the brutal cold snow of Otepaa at World Juniors last year, so it was a big focal point this year to identify some good cold skis early on. I was super-pleased with what I saw in the cold ski production when I was picking skis, and I grabbed more than I normally would have. It’s great to have Kerry confirm that the new black skis in Spencer’s fleet were killing all of last year’s cold skis. Predictably, the weather turned warm and gave Kerry a chance to confirm that the 258 was feeling really good as the snow started to break wet.
In Sjusjoen the USST crew had one training day on the manmade loop before hitting the racing. The snow was fast, and the course was fast, and everything was prone to glazing. But still, stronger “violet” type skis were working well. Noah and Tad both raced on skis that we had identified as good violet skis at World Championships in Oslo last year, with newly-made L2-0S grinds. For Noah it was the same pair that was so good for him in the 50K. For Tad it was his second ski from the WM 50K, but with a new grind. While the result is something Noah would prefer not to talk about, both guys were really happy with their skis. Ida also struggled in her race performance, but had awesome skis on a pair I picked in June with an S2-1X. The skis might have contributed to some
stupid less than optimal race strategy for Ida, as she went flying by some Norwegian girl on a downhill soon after she started, and figured maybe she would win the race if she just hammered as hard as she could. The race turned out to be about eight and a half kilometers too long for that strategy.
Word from Kuusamo was all over the map – mostly because of variable weather, starting cold, raining the next day, and then going back and forth across the freezing line, and dumping some snow someplace in there. Oh yeah, and windy rain during the skate race. On the first classic training day everybody was digging their hardwax skis. Tad had two new pairs of cold classic skis from my August trip to Annecy – both ground with LS1. We picked two pairs to learn a bit about what kind of skis work best for him – classic isn’t his strongest technique, and it’s important for him to have a platform that’s really easy to work with. One of the pairs is a bit stronger, with the highpoint (L3) further back under the foot and the other is a bit softer with the high point further forward, and a little higher (more residual camber). Both skis were good, and both beat his go-to classic skis which are about five years old. In the races in Kuusamo the sprint was run in hard track klister conditions. There were no big ski surprises there and everybody was happy with what they had. After the sprint it snowed pretty hard, and cooled off. But for the next day it was above freezing, and windy misty conditions with maybe some rain. Kris raced the same pair of regular production 115 skis that he used in Kuusamo last year. Then it was bitter cold, and he was on a factory produced P5-1. This time he was on a newly made L2-0S, and it was sort of rainy. Must be good skis in Kuusamo! Ida was back on her same 610s with the S2-1X. I think we’ll hear a fair amount from those skis this winter! Noah raced a wetter ski – Madshus 119 model – picked for hard snow with a 258. And Tad might have been back on the same L2-0S he used in Sjusjoen.
It’s a pretty big challenge for a young skier to make the move from success at a domestic level to being competitive on the World Cup. Skis are a part of that challenge, and with Ida, Noah and Tad we’ve taken that on in partnership with their suppliers, the athletes themselves, and their support staff. The color-coding system that we introduced this year grew out of a need to create simple but useful ways to communicate a lot of information about ski and grind characteristics in order to simplify decision making. There have been one or two hitches in the early going, and a lot more really good success with the skis. It’s quite gratifying to see our system work the way it was designed at the highest level of competition.
Back here on the domestic circuit the whole world descended on West Yellowstone, as usual. What was unusual by recent standards was that there was perfect snow well in advance of the scheduled camp. No anxiety about whether or not there would be skiing, or even about whether rock skis were necessary! We shipped a metric ****-ton of skis out of here in the weeks prior to West Yellowstone, and got pretty good feedback.
Bruce Cranmer reported that the big batch of new Fischer CU team skis that I picked and ground for him were running well right off the bat. Reid Pletcher staged a phenomenal comeback from a crazy climbing accident this summer, and won the skate sprint qualifier on an S2-1X. Us ski grinders will take vicarious-success-by-association anytime we can get it. Remember that!
Colin Rodgers, who took over as the head coach for the Sun Valley program this year, has been great with feedback on the big batch of Sun Valley skis we sent out just in time for the races. The Sun Valley crew got their skis on Monday, and started skiing on them Tuesday. On the first day on snow the new grinds felt a little, well, “new”. But by Friday’s skate race pretty much everybody was loving their new S2-1X. Colin said that Morgan Arritola went (and won) on an S2-1X that I had made in Oslo last year at World Championships, and had excellent skis. For Saturday’s classic race the LS1 got plenty of action – further underlining the versatility of that grind for cold classic skis.
Meanwhile, Sylvan Ellefson of Team Homegrown was busy bucking the trends. In his first race outing of the year – the classic sprint qualifier, he ignored my advice from the evening before and went on a ski that felt promising, but was hard to make really right. He sent me a message later saying “ I did what you told me not to do and I’m okay with it”. After that initial 13th place, Sylvan got some traction. For the skate sprint he used a new S2-1X on the skis he relied on all last year – red ski, red grind, and good boards on a blue day – just like all of last year! On Friday, when the rest of the crowd was headed toward the S2-1X range, Sylvan went on a new blue ski with an S1-0X and finished second to Leif. Finally, in the classic race Sylv used a new 812 ski with an LS1, and his effort was good for another second place finish.
All things told it has been an encouraging start to the season. We’re still a ways from having any skiing here in the East, and so we’ll keep cranking along on skis, and depending on our more far-flung correspondents for feedback. But I’m sleeping better now that the season is underway, and everything is working as it should.