Thursday, December 24, 2009

Congratulations to Casey Smith of MV Biathlon!

A quick congratulations to Casey Smith from Winthrop, WA.

Casey qualified for the Biathlon World Jr Championships this past weekend. The qualifying races were in Mt Itasca (MN), and for the youth men it was a best-two-out-of-three format. Casey finished 2nd, 5th, and 1st.

His good performances were credited to good shooting and fast skiing. Casey commented that with the 'same wax rule' in place for the qualifying races, it was important to have good skis with the right grind. He took two pairs of Madshus skis to Minnesota, one pair with an "i5" grind and the other have the "s2" structure.

Casey has been working hard toward this goal for the past 3 years. He's a no-nonsense young guy with a great work ethic.

He'll be traveling to Torsby Sweden in late January 2010 for his first taste of competition in Europe.

Casey competes as a member of Methow Valley Biathlon, and also competes in XC with Methow Valley Nordic.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Testing Grinds for Cold Temps

Tuesday is a ski testing day. A few new experimental structures were tested by feel and in a speed trap.

The test skis got a fresh grind - in this case there were 3 structure variations prepared, and two benchmark structures for comparison. With the current conditions and morning temperatures, the Ultratune S2 and XC02 were used as the benchmarks -- both are running well in the morning when temperatures are in the single digits (-15C approx).

The grinds were done on Monday afternoon, and all the skis were prepped the same - all getting the same wax (a good fluorinated race wax, but no powders or top-coats).

It is important to note that the test skis are factory matched pairs that were specially made as test skis. They've been tested to verify that they're very even skis (all tested with the same grind and same processes and waxing), so there are very few variables to botch the test data.

The speed trap was set up on a gradual, but somewhat fast, run. The begin and end points are 70 - 80 meters apart, and trap times were around 10 seconds. This gives average speeds of 25-28 km/hr, which is a bit faster than average race pace. Since conditions here right now are pretty fast, there is only a short gap from the start point to the beginning of the speed test zone - just enough to let gravity get a little motion going. (today times were around 10.2 seconds, and the trap was set around 80 meters)

Testing consisted of two sets of three runs per pair. Using two sets is a good compromise between switching skis after every single run (time consuming!), and doing a single set of data (which can yield systematic data errors if the tracks are getting faster or slower). Doing two sets is useful in showing offsets in times. Differences in times for different sets, for the same ski pairs, will show if the tracks are getting slower or faster.

Results are stored in the timing unit, and downloaded back at the house. I enter all the data in a notebook, and then into the computer where I use an excel spreadsheet to crunch the data for basic statistical results (medians, std-dev) and look for trends. It's common to see times improving as trap tests progress, as the tracks get skied-in. Sometimes they'll get slower.

Expectations vs. Results? Today I was looking at minor variations in well-documented grinds. I find that there are no big differences in the data; this is pretty much as expected. As much as anything, I'm getting the test processes dialed-in for the season... ...there's finally enough snow and enough time available to start the weekly ski testing program.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Salomon stepping up to the plate?

I was perusing some European patent documents today, and saw that Salomon has recently applied for a patent.

The new patent from Salomon would incorporate some great ideas that have been available only on the NNN/NIS bindings up until now. The Salomon patent includes a means to adjust a binding plate fore/aft on a track, and a means to provide a wider base of support under the ball of the foot.

I applaud Salomon for stepping up to the plate! The NNN/NIS bindings with their adjustability and wider base of support have been the most innovative change in skiing in the past several years.

The NNN/NIS setup has now made the black strip in the middle of the ski an almost universal feature. It's a nice thought to think that Salomon is moving in this direction, too. I can only hope that Salomon and the folks that brought us the NIS plate will get together and make a universal standard plate that would be used for ALL cross-country bindings.

If you're curious about these things, Salomon applied for the patent in March 2009, and the application document was published about 6 weeks ago (see doc EP2108413, a type A1 European Patent Application). Of special note are figures 5 & 8 which show the adjustable plate and wide support, both in line drawings that are of a style typical in patents but which seem sort of quaint in any other context .

I know there are some folks who have said that bindings don't need adjustability, and don't need wider support under the foot. But I think it's clear that Salomon is now joining the bigger group of skiers who think that it's a good idea. This is good news for Salomon and good news for all cross-country skiers!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don't drool on the bib...

There will be new race bibs at the Methow Valley SuperTour events this year.

Anyone who has raced here in the past will recall the very snug and petite fit of the old race bibs, and the time finally came for replacement. More than one skier has compared the fit of the old race bibs with a "training jog-bra". I didn't make that comparison, but others have.

These beautiful new race bibs have the modern fit that you'd expect at high class venues. Very nice.

Here's a pic of the new race bibs. They're guaranteed to make you faster. Since everyone will have one on, there's not a huge advantage in that. But they'll definitely look great on the podium.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ski Path Control

Think about your skis.

The new Mantec Grinder at Nordic Ultratune has several noteworthy features. Here's a video clip featuring the ski path control mechanisms and also the conformal drive pressure.

The ski path is controlled by a set of alignment rollers that are pneumatically activated. The mechanism assures that structure patterns are centered and aren't skewed.

Drive pressure utilizes a pneumatic tire to spread the pressure uniformly regardless of surface irregularities, including bindings, without a bridge.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mila Headlamps

Mila headlamps are from Sweden, where for many months each winter it is light outside only a few hours each day. But that doesn’t limit what they do – for decades Swedes have been perfecting headlamps so that night-time cross country skiing can continue through the long winter nights.

The Mila lamps are ridiculously bright halogen headlights with a very wide beam. (That's Kelsey in the photo, looking bright. She's a local J1.)

For me, the quest for a super headlight has been a result of needing to ski after work. In the dark, easy skiing with no trees (i.e. open meadows) isn’t too bad. But that night-time blitz through the trees, down Inside Passage on skate skis might be more than you bargained for without something super bright.

I’ve tried a variety of light setups, most recently a Niterider with a custom rechargeable battery pack. The big Mila lamps made my set-up seem weak.

The Mila PLS 100 headlamp features both a 10 watt and a 20 watt bulb and gives you the option of two very bright settings. A key feature of the PLS 100 is the large 100mm (3.5 inch) reflector which provides a big wide beam of light. The adjustable headset is lightweight and has been designed to be both comfortable and to keep the light in place while running. The 6 volt, 9 amp-hour nickel metal hydride rechargeable battery attaches to the headlamp with a power cord and can be carried in a waist pack or hydration pack.

This is a great light system for cross country or back country skiing, running, or any sport where bright lighting is needed. It comes with an overnight battery charger. Burn time: 5 hours at 10W, 2 hours 20 minutes at 20 watts. Weight is 200g (7 oz.) for the headgear and lamp. Battery
weight is 630g (22 oz.).

The price is $329. Shipping by USPS Priority Mail is $10.

If you need a super bright light for skiing, snowshoeing, adventure racing events, or winter cycle commuting, then the Mila PLS 100 is the way to go. Send email to if you have questions or would like one sent to you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November Nordic Ultratune Newsletter

A lot more than I can post here... eleven page newsletter with lots of good information. Take a look.

And here's a shot of Riita Lissa Roponen, courtesy of Atomic Ski Co and GEPA pictures/ Felix Roittner.

Are your skis ready?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Menu Updates

There are some updates to the Nordic Ultratune grind menu.

With the addition of the new Mantec grinding machine, and also as a result of collaboration with serviceman Stefano Vuerich of Val di Fiemme, Italy, the grind menu has been updated with 4 new offerings.

I've been working with team Slovenia at World Cup events since 2005. Through these channels I first became familiar with the quality of the base structures produced by the Mantec equipment. It was Gianaluca Marcolini who suggested that I get in touch with Stefano Vuerich, the leading World Cup ski serviceman who grinds a big percentage of all the skis on the World Cup circuit.

Since late winter Stefano and I have been working to get the new Mantec Ski Numericontrol 140 arranged for Nordic Ultratune. The machine went in last week, and along with the machine are some of the successful World Cup grinds from Europe.

Here's a brief summary of the changes:

Updated World Cup Structures:

  • D5 - universal layered cross structure; typically 0C to -5C
  • i5 - angle-biased structure for medium conditions, typically -2C to -10C
  • S2 - fine, symmetrical pattern for cold conditions; typically -5C to -20C
  • M1D - warm, wet, transformed conditions. Skate or classic klister grind.

Linear Structures from Ultratune will remain unchanged:

  • LJ03 - linear grind for temperatures near 0C.
  • MVL - general purpose linear grind for classic skis, finer than LJ03
  • XC02 - for cold & dry snow; linear grind with a secondary polishing stage
  • XC01 - for extreme cold conditions; linear grind with a secondary overgrind

The grinds that have been added to the menu are proven structures that are fast and also very versatile. Some of the new World Cup structures are good on classic skis as well as skate skis. These structures are all grinds that I've used and tested on the World Cup, and the performance data and race results attest to their quality.

Download a workorder form, and send some skis! Racing starts in less than a month, and with the SuperTour schedule featured in the early part of the season, there's no time to waste.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fine Tuning the New Mantec

Wednesday is usually the day that the shop is closed. Today, though, it was humming all day.

Stefano and Giuseppe and I were working to get the Mantec stone grinding machine fine tuned and completely dialed in. Stefano and Giuseppe are here from Italy for just this week, so there's no time to waste.

The plan is for Stefano and Giuseppe to spend the week carefully walk me through every conceivable maintenance and operational procedure. Everything from cleaning things to replacing and repairing pneumatics, filters, pumps. In general, the division of duties is that Giuseppe handles all the maintenance and software and systems items, while Stefano passes down the "right way" to operate the machine from his perspective as an expert World Cup serviceman (Stefano has worked 6 Olympics and at least a dozen world championships).

This arrangement works for me. As an engineer myself, I appreciate the priorities, the analytical clarity, detail and perfection that Giuseppe imparts. As a ski grinder, I also really like the perspective and tips and tricks that Stefano has - he's an absolute encyclopedia of useful, precise, practical knowledge .

For me, the learning process isn't about how to "grind a ski" nor how to "tune a ski", but instead it's about how to fully utilize this particular Mantec grinder. It makes it much simpler for Stefano and Giuseppe that I already have a thorough understanding of how the machine variables and parameters affect each other, and how they're manipulated to get the structures that are needed.

By the end of the day today, we began loading some of the standard structures into the program memory on the Mantec. Progress. Lots of progress.

Funny stuff happens, of course. Today we stopped at the hardware store in the morning on the way to Ultratune, looking for some M2 metric machine screws. No luck; this is a small town hardware store, way out west. Lots of horse grooming supplies and not many metric screws. But it was funny to watch Stefano and Giuseppe make a bee-line for the cowboy hats! A perfect photo-op!

That's Stefano on the left, and Giuseppe on the right. Cowboys? Or city slickers?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


It took all day, getting the machine in place and waiting while the electrician routed wires to all the right places. But by 3:30 the new Mantec grinder was up and running at Nordic Ultratune. Boy howdy, does it run. The picture of me doesn't look exactly ecstatic, but it's there. Inside.

Okay, that's a case of getting ahead of the story. Going back to the beginning, the day started with coffee and fresh pastries at the Mazama Store at 7:30. By 8:30 we were using some well-worn wrecking tools to ungracefully disassemble the big packing crate. There was a frost on the ground, and the cool temps were perfect for some physical effort.

Special thanks go out to Flash Clark, Robert Courtney, Skip Smith and Pete Dickinson for showing up and helping to get the new Mantec grinder out of the crate and into the shop.

Some disassembly required. We had to remove the front door of the shop, un-install some counters, and move the whole front-end of the shop in order to make room to navigate to the right spot with the grinder on a pallet jack.

The new Mantec machine definitely takes up a lot more shop space than the old grinder, but the capablities of the machine are amazing.

As a note, after the machine was in place I took Stefano and Giuseppe for a burger at The Duck Brand (if you've been to downtown Winthrop WA, you've been there). I almost spewed my first bite as I watched these crazy italiano guys trying to eat cheeseburgers with a knife and fork! I had to teach them to eat a hamburger with their hands.... . never even occured to me that there could be any other way.

Success! I think it was the proudest moment of the day for Giuseppe and Stefano -- the moment when they realized that they could meet, greet, and eat meat like americanos.

Monday, October 19, 2009


The new Mantec stone grinding machine arrived today from Italy!

The shipping crate weighs 2900 pounds, and is 5 ft x 5 ft x 8 ft. About the size of european economy car, only heavier.

Only in a very small town could you possibly call on friends at the lumber yard to drive a forklift a mile down the road, and through downtown, to unload the crate at your doorstep!

Here's a picture of me standing on top of the shipping crate in front of the shop. (Photo by Dave Chantler)

Tonight I'll drive down to the airport to pick up Stefano Vuerich and Giuseppe Moroni. They're flying in from Milano to help with the installation of the new Mantec stone grinder. We'll be un-crating the machine and getting it installed in the morning.

A big thanks to Skip Smith for unloading a rack of hay bales and using the hay trailer to haul the machine the final mile. And thanks to the crew at North Valley Lumber!

I'll post something again tomorrow evening. Hopefully the machine will be in the shop and running by that time. Stay tuned. Ultratuned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Snow Storm & Power Out

Last night we had our first snowstorm of the season, and it left the entire Methow Valley covered with snow by morning.    At the same time, there was a power outage in the upper valley (Winthrop to Mazama, WA) that provided an opportunity to pause.

The power outage occurred just at dusk, shortly after the snow began to stick to the ground.   For Margaret and I, it was the perfect chance to put a couple logs in the wood stove, and sit back on the couch and watch the snow falling outside as it got dark.   It was the perfect thing to do; the right thing to do.    But without the power outage, I doubt we'd have taken the time to do it.

I didn't get any photos of the new snow.     But here's a great picture of Anna Hansson Haag taken in La Clusaz last December, courtesy of ATOMIC Austria Gmbh / Felix Roittner.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Ski Picks

Most of the new skis arrived in the final week of September at Nordic Ultratune. I started selecting skis from the pre-season pick list on Oct 1st, sorting through the skis by brand, by technique (skate skis and classic skis) and then down the pick list in the order that they were received .

Skis are all tested for flex and camber characteristics on the Ultratune Digital Flex Press, and fitted to meet the needs of each client. If I don't have the right ski, I order more skis.

By now, the 2nd week in October, I'm not even close to half way through the pick list. For a few people delay will be a little longer if their skis haven't yet arrived, or if I've had to order more skis to fill holes. For instance, I'm still waiting for the arrival of several Madshus skate skis.

The inventory in the shop consists entirely of Rossignol Xium, Atomic World Cup ("Red Cheetah"), and Madshus Nanosonic skis. There are nearly 200 pairs of Xiums, Cheetahs and Nanos still in stock, and Ultratune's pick list is a moving target, since the list continues to grow on the bottom even as they get checked off the list on the top.

It's still a month-and-a-half before the ski season starts in most places, and there are a ton of skis in the shop. Ski enthusiasts always smile and comment on the big row of exclusively top-end skis on the rack. Stop in sometime if you're in the Methow Valley!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 2009 Nordic Ultratune Newsletter

A lot more than I can post here...'s a twelve page newsletter with lots of good information. Take a look.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Putting it Together

I got email from Technolami today with photos of the new Nordic Ultratune stone-grinder as it's being assembled in Italy.

The top picture shows the electrical panel. Most of what you're seeing are terminal blocks for connecting wires. On top are the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis controllers, and a power supply is also visible on the left. The wiring isn't all finished, and I'm sure that the wire runs will be cleaned up a bit.

The middle shot shows the central hub for the grinding wheel. Everything is quite sturdy and built of stainless steel in the areas that get wet. You can see the high-pressure sprayers in the right side of the fluid tank. You can also see the pneumatic feed wheel. This provides conformal pressure as the ski is fed into the machine, which helps to keep irregularities in the ski top from creating irregularities on the bottom.

The final shot shows the routing of air lines and pneumatic valve circuits. There is still plenty of pneumatic control in these new machines! Thankfully most of the pneumatic lines use quick-disconnect fittings. Everything looks tidy and carefully routed.

From the pictures you can get an idea of the complexity of the electrical and pneumatic systems!

The new Mantec grinder should be completed on Tuesday and testing will begin before the end of the week. Mantec will ship the machine in the following week, and it should arrive at Nordic Ultratune in the middle of October.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Unleashing the Fury

It'll be a furious pace, but I'm ready for it. September is set to be busier than ever at Nordic Ultratune.

New skis will be arriving from Rossignol, Madshus, and Atomic. These require sorting and inspection and testing so that pre-season ski orders can be filled. The new skis are picked and prepped well in advance of the coming season. Fast skis for everyone! But it takes careful work.

The new Mantec grinder will be arriving. Installation, set-up, and an on-site visit from the Mantec experts are all part of the game plan. Preparation in the shop has been going on through the summer with work space changes to accomodate the new machine.

Surgery for Margaret. My wife will be getting back surgery in September to replace a damaged lumbar disk. She injured her back in 1987, and has had a progressive deterioration of one disk. This will be replaced with an artificial disk, and she expects to be back on skis this winter! That's her skating in the picture, and she's really looking forward to being able to classic ski again.

Shop hours at the store will resume in late September. As always, I continue to do service work through the "off season", and then the store opens in late September with regular business hours for walk-in customers. Although we don't get snow in the Methow Valley until November, things are busy enough to require my full time attention by the tail end of September.

Today its 96F at our house. But I'm already thinking about snow. The second picture is the big meadow (Foster's Field) near our house.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Note from the Haig Glacier

Here's an email and pictures I got today from Brian Gregg of CXC Elite.

Brian grew up here locally (Mazama, WA) and continues to improve. He's dedicated, talented, and he's working hard at becoming the best he can be.
Hi Mark,Just checking in from up on the Haig Glacier. The
conditions are fantastic and training is going well.The last few nights have been clear and the track
has set up well. There is a 7.5km loop which winds
back and forth. The terrain is moderate which is nice
since we are nearly at 9000 feet.I am really impressed with the new PL3 grind. Thanks
for shipping it out to me, the skis are awesome up here.
I feel bad for my teammate Matt. He put flouros on his
skis and mine are still faster.Anyways just wanted to say hello. There are more pictures
on my site( Hope you are enjoying
things back in the Methow.-Brian
With the hot weather here in the Northwest, the pictures from the Haig Glacier really look inviting!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dog Days

It's late July, the hottest dog days of summer. As far from ski season as you can get in the northern hemisphere.

It's also a relatively quiet time at Ultratune. A few batches of team skis are rolling in, and a few odd pairs of skis for forward-looking skiers. Some minor updates in the shop, mostly in preparation for the new Mantec grinder in September.

At Nordic Ultratune, August will bring a slow uptick in ski activity at the shop. New skis will begin to arrive. The phone will ring more often; emails become more frequent. Skiers awaken.

For cross country skiers, August brings a light to the end of the hot green tunnel. August days will start to become noticeably shorter; noticeably cooler. Nights longer, stars brighter. More ski-specific activities will creep into the day-to-day routine. There's a change.

If you are a competitive skier then now is the time for the diligent work that will pay dividends in December. Though it's hot and sunny, and friends are heading to the beach, stay focused on the task at hand and don't lose track of your training.

Don't let these hot July afternoons turn into dog days.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Day!

Chandra Crawford shows the world how to sing "Oh Canada".

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Clearing the Backlog

Some grinding work has lingered in the shop a little longer than normal.

A little bit of remodeling work got an early start when my finish carpenter had an opening in his schedule. Robert called and said, "Let's start tomorrow!" So that was that, and I set aside a week to make a mess in the shop. The remodeling is really very minor - making some extra space in the service area for the new grinder and a little extra room to move around.

The work is completed - mostly - and in the last couple days I've cleared out the backlog of skis that were in for grinding.

If you've been waiting for your skis, they'll be arriving in the next few days. Sorry for the delay.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mantec Skinumericontrol 140 CNC

A decision has been made. A new grinding machine will be coming to Nordic Ultratune.

The choice was pretty carefully considered, and the Mantec Skinumericontrol 140 CNC has been selected.

Mantec calls it a Microgroover and I like that term, don't you?

What made the decision?
  • Mantec has choices for diamond and stone configurations, for more structure options. A high quality grinding stone and diamond cutter is critical and Mantec has them.
  • Mantec has the best ski drive and alignment mechanism of any grinder, avoiding the need for a binding bridge and providing uniform edge/edge down pressure
  • Mantec uses brushless DC servo motors to control the stone dressing assembly, with diamond delivery precision to 0.001 mm; it's the best available
  • Mantec has a variable frequency drive on the grinding stone, with speed control using a 9-bit DAC for resolution better than 1 rpm, and working speeds from 100-1600 rpm.
  • Mantec has the best stone washing unit, a high pressure 5-sprayer system
  • Mantec has a thermostatically controlled cooling system to maintain chilled emulsion temperatures for best cutting performance

Nordic Ultratune's new Mantec base grinder will produce structures that were previously available only in Europe.

Ultratune will add some new specialty racing structures this winter. We'll continue to maintain our grind menu and our existing machine will be in use too (we'll have a Mantec and a Tazzari).

Fast skis can be made by skilled ski techs using the Tazzari and Wintersteiger machines of course, but the new Mantec has greater capability. More than any grinding machine in America.

Our new Microgroover will arrive in early October.

Monday, May 25, 2009

FIS Trainers Seminar in Whistler

This weekend was spent at Whistler BC.

Margaret was attending the 2009 FIS Trainers Seminar, and I was sampling the single-track on the mountain bike.

The FIS Trainers Conference was an educational siminar for coaches from Europe and North America, and had presentations on physical, tactical, and technical preparation, as well as strategic planning for long term athlete development. Researchers such as Holmberg (SWE) and Smith (CAN) are leading researchers in areas such as double poling, testing, and sprint preparation.

Margaret reports that the speakers were of the highest quality and the presentations were uniformly excellent and well worth attending. As you might expect, she came away from each day boiling over with enthusiasm and very stimulated.

It's worth noting, I think, that there were no USSA coaches at the seminar, and as far we could tell, Margaret (representing the Methow Valley Nordic Club) was the only USA coach in attendance.

Margaret will have a summary report in an upcoming Ultratune Newsletter.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Becca's Best Blog

The best XC-Ski blog thing I've seen all year.

It's Becca Rorabaugh's US World Juniors / U23 Ski Team Photo Shoot Competition. The point is to wear your team spandex and take a picture, the more inventive, public, and awkward, the better. Becca completely nails it. She's unbeatable in the Photo Shoot Competition.

You can find it right here (clicky and looky).

Becca is part of the APU Nordic juggernaut. Best luck to Becca for the 09/10 season.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

May 2009 Nordic Ultratune Newsletter

A lot more than I can post here...'s a twelve page newsletter with lots of good information. Take a look.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

If it's Wednesday, this must be Slovenia

Wednesday morning Margaret & I hopped back into our trusty rented Nissan Micra, and hit the road southbound to Slovenia.

As an american driving the toll roads through northern Italy and Austria, I was amazed at the number of long tunnels burrowing through the alps. On the toll roads, you don't drive over mountain passes - you drive under the mountains. As our Austrian friends noted, it doesn't snow in the tunnels.

By the time we entered Slovenia it was raining again. As quickly as possible, at Jesenice, we got off the toll road and took the small backroads. It's immediately obvious that these small winding roads are perfectly suited for cycling. The countryside in the northwest part of the country is both mountainous and pastoral. Sweeping valleys between steep alpine peaks.

We rolled into Bled ahead of schedule and had time to walk through the small town and get our bearings before meeting with our friends from the Slovenian ski team for lunch. It was great to see Marko, Barbara and Vesna again. For the rest of my life, I will remember Slovenian creme cake!

Over lunch on Wednesday afternoon, Vesna and Barbara volunteered to be our guides for an outing on Thursday. They met us bright and early and off we went. Vesna has a sponsor deal on a sporty car, and it's pretty easy to spot on the road.

Barb and Vesna took us to explore the "Postojnske Jame" and "Prejamski Grad" (pronounced "postoinshki yama" and "preyamshki grod"). The first of these, Postojnske Jame, is the biggest of the karst caves in SLO... ..this cave is nearly 21km long and has 3 levels. We were able to cover about 4km of the cave. It was pretty spectacular. Huge open areas with ceilings as high as 150 feet... Giant stelagmites and stelagtites. Amazing. Apparently there are 9000 caves that have been located in the karst formations in Slovenija. Caves are a good place to be when it's raining and cold outside. (Note: with no lights on it's very dark ; - )

Prejamski Grad is a castle built into the side of a mountain, which backs up onto a couple of cave entrances that also connect to the big karst cave system. It was easily defended because it was built into the side of a cliff (1200's), and also easily evacuated by stealth through escape routes into the cave tunnels. Some robber-barron was able to withstand a one-year siege because he could go out for pizza and beer through the back tunnel.

Here in SLO, a country smaller than Vermont, there are a grand total of 250 ski racers (including the youngest juniors), and a grand total of 6 women competitors over the age of 20, but 4 of them are world cup skiers. They love skiing, and yet they work pretty hard at it and don't muck about. And they're terrific tour guides.... Margaret and I had a blast. Only 9 months until the Olympic games and these young women have every week scheduled already.

After a long lunch, we said "hvala & lahko noč" to Barb and Vesna and headed back to Italy late in the afternoon. (hvala = thanks; lahko noč = good night... SLO is limited, but those two things are part of my vocab so I use them often). the way, I got stopped by the polezia in Slovenija on Thursday morning. I felt like we were in a spy movie... Two cop cars escorted me to the side of the highway at an exit, then one of them sped off. The offficer came to the window and asked in broken slavic lilting pseudo-english (after figuring out that we don't speak SLO or ITI) if we could hand over our "papers". I suddenly felt like it was a Le Carre' plot... I knew i wasn't going too fast (only 90mph, and getting passed like I was in a ski race). He inspected all of our documentation (passports, licenses, registrations, & my Hank Aaron baseball card). It turns out that I had failed to turn my lights on (lights required during daytime here) and also I didn't have the "vinjet" (pronounced "vignette") permit to drive on the toll road, and I was subject to a $e350 fine. BUT we were right by a shop that happened to sell vinjet tags (and killer cappucinos, I might add), so the officer let me off --- I had to buy a 6 month tag for $e35, but that's much cheaper than the consequences.. The cappucino was only 1 euro, so the total for a cappucino and driving permit was only a little more than a cappucino in JFK airport. Soooo, if anyone needs a toll-road pass for SLO, i've got one with 5 months and 30 days of remaining time.

We decided that I'm probably the only one who has visited Austria and Slovenia who hasn't seen big mountains. The rain and low clouds put a cap on the scenery this week. Too bad. Having said that, I can tell you with no qualms that SLO has some absolutely beautiful country for cycling (backroads everywhere and not many people). Add hiking, skiing, etc. The only catch in SLO is that the language is a real jaw-cracker... ....on the other hand, everyone knows english.

Margaret was very surprised that the language seemed very soft compared to german (she was expecting gutteral harsh tones). It has much softer consanants and some rolled "R's" and is not harsh at all to hear. We got some 2-on-2 tutoring on pronunciation, and at least for a few days I'll be able to pronounce some words with out destroying them too badly.

Okay that's waaaayyyyy too much. Across the street from our hotel Thursday night we got some really nice cheese (2 kinds, actually), a bottle of Montepuciano d'Abruzzo, and a fresh baguette, for $e10. sigh. Hvala; Lahko noč, -mark

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

European Shopping Trip

As noted in the March newsletter, I'm shopping for a new grinder in Italy & Austria.

We arrived on Saturday in Pisa, Italy, and spent the weekend recovering, sightseeing, and visiting with Gianluca & Roberta and their great little boy, David. I know Gianluca as the head serviceman for Slovenia, and it has been great to visit with him, meet his partner and family, and have a first-class set of guides for seeing Italy. As they say, "When in Rome..." In this case, it's been Pisa and beyond.

Monday was a long rainy day. Our first appointment was with Mantec in Sarmato (near Milano); a drive of about 300 km. In a rented Nissan Micra, Margaret and I were chasing a crazy Pisano on narrow rainy mountain Italian roads at startling speeds. Needless to say, we arrived on time.

At Mantec, Margaret & I (and Gianluca) met with Rinaldo & Giuseppe Moroni of Technolami/Mantec, and Stefano Vuerich, one of the top ski servicemen in the world. Everyone was very welcoming and very accomodating of our abysmal Italian language skills.

After a very useful meeting, we decided that the best step was to make a change of plans and high-tail it to Stefano's service center in Val di Fiemme. This required another 300 km of driving across northern Italy. I took some minor satisfaction (at my wife's annoyance) of arriving at Val di Fiemme ahead of Stefano, even though we stopped for lunch and gas. Stefano and I were able to have some good shop talk...

Before it got too late, we had another 400km of driving to get to Udine. From Val di Fiemme we crossed Passo San Pelligrino in a snowstorm, and through driving rain the rest of the day. (Let's not discuss getting lost in a maze of traffic circles while trying to find our hotel, at night in a downpour when my wife was tired and hungry...)

Tuesday morning we were up and on the road early to reach Altenmarkt Austria where we met with Franz Schlager from Wintersteiger, plus Norbert Irouschek and Martin (?last name?) of Atomic.

Franz and Martin walked through the features and function of the top-of-the-line Wintersteiger Micro-NC. The machine clearly is capable of top quality work when used by expert servicemen.

Norbert and Martin provided an expert's seminar on picking/fitting skis for world cup skiers. Plus there was a lot of talk about base structures (grinds) that they're using, and banter about upcoming new skis for the next couple seasons... The Atomic race room is a very nice shop, very obviously set up by technicians, and neither dirty nor "overly polished" -- very functional and professional. It all happens here. Cool. It ended up being exceptionall cordial there with a nice long lunch (schnitzle and pancake soup).

The last two days has left us with lots of information and lots to think about in the coming weeks as we close in on a decision on a new grinder for Nordic Ultratune.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Whistler Revisited

This week I've been in Whistler BC with a few members of the Slovenian team.

I met Petra Majdič, coach Ivan Hudač and serviceman Gianlucca Marcolini ("Gianni") at the Vancouver airport on Tuesday and we drove directly to Whistler.

For Petra, Ivan, and Gianni, it's the first time to the Olympic venue, since all three of them missed the January World Cup events. The racing season ended a couple weeks ago, and the Whistler trip is either the tail end of the 2008/2009 checklist, or the beginning of the 09/2010 season's list of tasks; the distinction isn't too important.

Getting familiar with the Olympic courses is imperitive. Almost as important is getting familiar with the overall surroundings - to and from the airport, negotiating Whistler Village, locating grocery stores, and other day-to-day tasks that we take for granted unless we're in an unfamiliar place.

Petra is the winner of this season's Sprint World Cup, and finished 2nd in the overall World Cup standings. Petra is a very talented athlete and very motivated and focused - that's a hard-to-beat triple threat. Petra really enjoys cooking, and this week I learned that she makes terrific, strong, Turkish coffee (photo: Petra in the kitchen) .

There is a lot to do during the Whistler trip, but its not high-stress and not highly structured. No alarm clocks, no fixed schedule. The atmosphere was light. Smiles on every face almost all the time (photo: Gianni & Ivan getting ready to ski).

Also for me it was a chance to do a tiny bit of testing with wet/warm structures. And there is always work to be done when skiing is involved. Warm spring weather turns waxing into an outdoor activity!
There are only about 310 days until the games begin.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Atomic's Nordic Heroes 2008-09

For a little bit of afternoon entertainment, here's a look at an on-line "Magic Moments" show from Atomic.

Nordic 2008-09: Season of Atomic heroes.

Once you've opened it, click on the page-turner on the lower right corner, and you can follow their scrapbook of season highlights.

There are some nice shots of Demong and Lodwick from their incredible season. And of course DiCenta, Aukland, Nystad. Lots of ski jumping stuff, if you're into that. And biathlon. All nordic, though, so it's worth a look.

As a teaser, there's a section near the end (pages 62-64) with some info on the construction of their new Featherlight cross country skis.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Changing Seasons

On Saint Patrick's Day, two weeks ago, I was skiing on perfect corduroy in Foster's Field, at the base of Flagg Mountain, in Mazama. Today that same field is brown ground. Spring has sprung.

With spring's arrival comes a change in schedule at Nordic Ultratune.

During the spring and summer, service work goes on as usual but on a more relaxed schedule. The shop will not have regular hours during the spring, and drop-offs and pick-ups should be arranged in advance (call - I'll be happy to meet you at the shop). You can reach me by email or leave a message at the shop (509) 996-4145 and I'll get back to you.

So, yes it's still a good time to pick a great grind for your race skis, and yes please do send skis for the 'end of season' grind and hotbox work - that's a great idea, in fact. And do email with questions or comments or requests.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hole-Ski Covers by Swix

As seen on the World Cup.

New Hole-Ski covers by Swix!

Industry insders report that a similar product will soon be available from Toko and Solda as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Weights and Measures

I've been testing some Atomic World Cup skis, and decided that I should check the weight.

These Atomic World Cup skis are - as advertised - the lightest ski on the market! The lightest was the 178 cm "Red Cheetah" World Cup skate ski that weighed in at 438 grams. That's about a quarter pound lighter than the competitors - per ski! That is really - no sh!t - significant. All three sizes of the World Cup skater (178, 184, 190) were under the 475 gram mark. Bravo!

The other "big 3" ski brands advertise their top model as being in the range of 500 grams per ski, and much to my chagrin they ALL test heavy.

I use an Acculab digital scale with 0.1 gram resolution, and it has plenty of accuracy and precision for wax absorption tests and the occaisional "weigh in" for new skis.

What's it mean? They're light. It's not everything when choosing a ski, but in a time when ski companies are doing crazy things to trim 5 grams ("hole ski", anyone?), a lightweight ski that gets it done with no caveats is to be commended.

Stay tuned for some on-snow reports for Atomic's skate and classic skis.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Short Report from Trond at NCAA's

I got an email from Trond Flagstad, head coach of the UAA Nordic Ski Team. Trond sent some last minute skis for a grind before NCAA Championships, and Ultratune shipped the skis directly to Rumford Maine, where they arrived the day before the skate race. A very last minute arrival of freshly stone-ground skis.

The following is a short excerpt from Trond's email :

Thanks a lot for the skis and the job you did - the skis were a pleasure to work with....

ALL three of our men used their freshly ground skis with the MVX grind in the 20km skate race - they had awesome skis.........They went 2, 3 and 5 in the race. We waxed with BD8 and with FC8x on top coated with helix warm. Sadie Bjornsen also used her newly ground MVX skis - she said they were fast!

You can expect skis from us in the spring,


Results for Men's 20K, click here. It's always nice to hear about the skis running well straight out of the box.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Atomic Proliferation?

Atomic World Cup skis and boots will be at Nordic Ultratune for the 2009-2010 season!

The Atomic World Cup skis are a super addition for us. The World Cup "red cheetah" skate skis are fast and stable. The World Cup classic skis kick easily and have excellent control in and out of the tracks.

In addition, the Atomic World Cup skis are super light - they're the lightest world cup ski on the market right now.

During the past season I've had a chance to work on a lot of the new Atomic skis, and have been very happy with them. The feedback I've gotten from world cup skiers on Atomic has been very good - they're happy with the new skis and excited about the new boots as well.

Here's a spy photo of the boots. The new Atomic World Cup boots will be available in two flavors: Red/White, and a sensible black version.
Keep your eyes open for more info, including a review, in the upcoming (mid-March) Nordic Ultratune Newsletter. Until then call or email with any questions, or to reserve a hand-selected pair or two for next season.

Ultratune will be flex testing all our skis in order to get a great fitting ski for you, and of course all of our new skis come with the base grind of your choice so the skis will be race-ready right away.

Monday, March 9, 2009

MV Winter Tri

Conditions were perfect for the Methow Valley Winter Triathlon, held this past weekend.

This triathlon favors a good skier. This year Leslie Hall was the women's category winner, and Sol Woras was the men's category winner. Both are local heroes.

Leslie is usually near the top of the overall results in every MVSTA skiing and running event. For her, training and racing are part of a Mazama lifestyle. It's all for fun and smiles, but she just can't help going very fast.

Sol Woras grew up here in the Methow Valley. This season he's dominated the XC series, winning the MV Pursuit and the Rendezvous races, and placing near the top at the Ski Rodeo and the Race of the Methow events. Sol was part of the MV Nordic Junior program as a teen, then took a break from skiing to focus on competitive cycling. He's returned to the valley, and he and his wife Brandi are starting a family.

Congratulations to Leslie and Sol! Well done.