Saturday, February 20, 2010

Notes from Whistler

I've been here at the Olympics for a week, and have been struggling to find time - and also struggling to find a good internet connection - for updates.

The service routine with the Slovenian crew has been a lot of work, but smooth. As usual, most of my work has been with Stefan getting the glide testing done and waxing skis. But that doesn't mean I haven't gotten a fair bit of klister on my hands. Waxing has been pretty straight-forward and the team has had good skis for each of the races. Working with Gianluca, Stefan, and Miha is great. Four nationalities, four languages, four personalities, but one goal.

The team of athletes this year consists of very experienced athletes like Petra Majdic on one extreme, to the youngest skier, Anje, who doesn't even have a driver's licence yet. A total of five skiers (Petra, Katja, Vesna, Barbara, Anje), plus two coaches, and 4 serviceman, plus a physio-therapist.

Speaking of Petra, many probably have seen the footage of her crash during warm-ups and the subsequent efforts culminating in the bronze medal. Petra's in the hospital now, and won't be able to travel for more than a week, and she's in a lot of pain with broken ribs. Her season is over, not to mention the Olympics.

Quick Turn Service?

On Wednesday, immediately after the sprint races, I loaded up the Subaru and drove back to the shop with over 40 pairs of skis for a quick-turnaround grind. I was accompanied by Stefano Vuerich, and we drove for 9 hours each way to get the skis in-and-out as quickly as possible. With a big pile of skis jammed into the car, we got stopped at the border in both directions. The border agents for US and Canada were friendly and thorough, and I guess it just seemed a little odd that two guys were driving from Whistler to Winthrop and turning around to go right back, less than a day later. No harm though, except for the time delays. I arrived back in Whistler a few minutes before midnight last night, and was up early to get the skis to the cross-country venue this morning.

That pile of skis were for athletes from Slovenia, Italy, Russia, Spain, US Nordic Combined, and also for Madshus Ski Company (they have a lot of brand new skis on hand for their sponsored racers to use). Cross-country, Biathlon, and Nordic Combined all need fast skis.

I was amazed and proud - in equal parts - to see athletes racing on those same skis today in the Pursuit! With conditions stable, more of those skis will be in play on Saturday. I'm quite sure that no secrets are given away when I tell you that the batch of skis have the same grinds that a walk-in customer can pick right off the "standard grind menu".

Personal Triumph

Today's race, the Women's 15 km Pursuit, was a big day for one of the younger skiers from Slovenia. Barbara Jesersek started today in bib #61 and finished 17th! It was a fantastic result for her - best ever. She skied a solid race, staying around 26th place through the classic portion, and then moving up during the skate, and hammering through the last couple of kilometers to move up to 17th. For Barbara it was a personal triumph. (pic from today of Barbara on the first big climb on the skate loop).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ready for the racing to start

I've been in Whistler since Tuesday so this is my 6th day up at the race venue at Whistler Olympic Park.

The Olympics, compared with normal World Cup weeks, has gotten moving slowly. The pace is decidedly more drawn-out.

This year at the Olympics I'm rooming with Miha Plahutnik of Slovenia, one of the regular servicemen for the team. Miha and I worked together last year, so he's already familiar and the routine picked up easily. (that's Miha in the photo, in the athlete/staff dining area at the Nordic Center).

In addition to Miha and me, the service crew has Gianluca Marcolini (our lead serviceman) and Stefan Lichon. I've worked with all of the guys before and it feels comfortable in the wax cabin. For the most part, Stefan and I are testing glide waxes and Gianluca and Miha are working with grip concoctions and assisting the athletes with their ski selection tests. When it's time to roll up our sleeves and crunch through a lot of skis in the wax cabin, everyone pitches in and we work very smoothly and without much drama. Definitely no opera.

With the weather being quite variable, it has been inappropriate to try to get waxes exactly dialed-in too early. But we're testing daily and getting good information and we'll be ready to roll on Monday morning.

The first race is the 10k skate for the women. Everyone is healthy and fit and ready to race. Let's go!


p.s. Congratulations to the U.S. Nordic Combined crew on their great results today!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A look at the new NNN/NIS Xcelerator Bindings

More than any other single piece of equipment that I've seen for the coming (2010/2011) season, I'm really stoked to see the updated NNN/NIS bindings.

They're called the NIS Xcelerator Bindings. Made by Rottafella of Norway, these will be seen with Rottafella, Rossignol, Madshus, etc. labels, but they're all the new bindings with different labels.

I've been using this set of bindings for a couple weeks. Moving them from one pair of skis to another (aha... ...yes, lets not forget about that benefit of the NIS system), trying them on different skis, in different locations (fore/aft). They seem really reliable and I've had no problems at all.

The new binding are great for a few reasons:

First, they've got a new clamp mechanism that grabs the boot's bar in two places, out on the edges, for great clamping security. Holding on to the bar on both edges makes a lot of sense. Compared with the old NNN and existing Salomon bindings which hold on to the boot with one big tooth in the middle, the new system bites onto the bar tightly on the far ends of the bar. This minimizes the packing-in of snow, and it makes a very secure engagement. This isn't art - it's science and engineering.

Second, they save a lot of weight. The new NNN/NIS Xcelerator bindings are 150 grams per pair lighter (measured!) than the current Pilot skate bindings! That's over 5 ounces! That's just a crazy weight savings, and it's done without performance sacrifice. In a funny juxtaposition, Rottafella has used some metal parts in high stress places to simplify the design (the clamp lever) and allow a more solid engagement without the linkages that are required to make things work when similar assemblies are made of plastic. A simpler, more heavy duty design results in a lighter final product.

(As a note, yes that is a pizza box under the binding in the photo -- a kitchen table photo shoot while packing for Whistler.)

Third, the bumper. The elastomer bumpers provide all the flex control, and do it with a one-piece interchangable elastomer. Simple to replace, but not something that's going to pop out. It's really clever and smartly done. And NO MOVING PARTS!


Finally, it all looks great. They pared down the extra weight and made it simple, but it remains sleek and nice looking. As has been the rule with the NNN iterations, there aren't any boot compatibility issues. You can use your oldest pair of NNN rollerski boots with the new bindings, no problem.

Hey, these are really new. The date-code that's embedded in the molded plastic parts show that the mold date is Dec 2009, which means that these bindings were born just over a month ago. I'm not positive that this is a production version, or if it's a pre-production delivery (for the trade shows, and to get some feedback, etc...).

What would I change? I think I'd make the metal clamp mechanism a little more polished and clean, and maybe even fabricate it from stainless steel. Other than that? Nada. These bindings are very very good as delivered.

Right now it seems that more than half of the World Cup skiers are on NNN/NIS bindings. With this new NIS Xcelerator model, the balance of power is likely to swing even further in that direction. It's not just a home run, this binding is a grand slam.


Ultratune Goes to the Olympics

There will be no commercial stone grinding during the Feb 9 - 28th. I'll be joining the national team of Slovenia to prepare and test skis at the Olympics in Whistler.

FedEx and UPS deliveries will continue, and skis will be serviced as quickly as possible after the Olympics. Thanks to help from my wife and friends, the shop will remain open for retail sales on most days.

I will be checking email daily and will be posting notes here on the blog, so stay tuned.

Note... Congrats to Brian Gregg on his great 3 week run at the SuperTour events in WA, MN, and WI. He's now the overall leader of the SuperTour series, and will be racing at the Canmore World Cup this weekend. Photo is from EA Weymuller, taken at the Methow Valley race.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Peek at the Rossi WCS Skater for next season...

I've had a pair of the 2010/11 Rossignol WCS skate skis in the shop and on the snow for the past couple of weeks.

The new version of the WCS skater has some changes.

First, the skis are trimmed down about 1cm. The new skis are 180, 186, and 192 (instead of 181, 187, 193). Also, the tip is cleaned up --- Rossignol has ditched the "window" in the tip and is instead using a thinner, cleaner looking flat shovel. I think this is a good thing. (Note that a 186cm Rossignol WCS is about the same length as the 190cm skate ski from Madshus for 1010/11).

More subtle, but more important, Rossignol has reshaped the profile of the ski, making it wedge-shaped, with the heel a little lower than the toe. This is further accentuated by the NIS bindings (for those who use them) to give a pronounced wedge-shape under the foot. The intent is to help keep the weight back on the foot to improve performance. On the World Cup, skiers have been playing with wedge shaped shims for a couple years, and this is percolating through to consumer products now.

Also, the camber is slightly modified, with the half-weight camber open just a little further forward than the old WCS. The camber closes about another 10-12cm when progressing to full-weight, and this provides a great all-around front end camber, especially when combined with the somewhat more compliant tip flex than the old Xium.

And how do they ski? SUPER. All the previous detail would add up to zip if the skis weren't performers. As I've come to expect with Rossignol skate skis, they're very stable. But these skis are also fast and predictable and compliant. The WCS-2 skaters are really nice.

Finish on the skis is very nice as well. The shiny clear top is free of bubbles or cosmetic goobers. Maybe the pre-season skis are specially picked, or maybe these are a reflection of the standard production quality... ...I won't know that until autumn. Ummm, less orange and more black for next year. The tip graphics on the bottom have been changed. Very cool looking white insert, and it's smooth when you feel it with your fingers; nicely done.

Finally, the bases are nice and flat. I was able to blank these skis with one pass through the Mantec grinder... ...that requires an almost perfectly flat ski edge-to-edge. This gets a big thumbs up from me!

The new Rossignol WCS skate ski is an incremental improvement from last year's ski. Evolution, rather than revolution. But definitely a step forward. Rossignol has done a really nice job. Everyone will want a couple pairs, right?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Last Grinding Batch Before Ultratune Goes to the Olympics

Photo by E.A. Weymuller 
This week's grinding batch will be the last chance to get skis stone ground before Nordic Ultratune goes to the Olympics.

Skis in by Thursday Feb 4th will be shipping out on Feb 8th.

There will be no commercial stone grinding during the Feb 9 - 28th. I'll be joining the national team of Slovenia to prepare and test skis at the Olympics in Whistler.

FedEx and UPS deliveries will continue, and skis will be serviced as quickly as possible after the Olympics. Thanks to help from my wife and friends, the shop will remain open for retail sales on most days.

I will be checking email daily and will be posting notes here on the blog, so stay tuned.

Stone Grinding Schedule

Note... Congrats to Brian Gregg on his great 3 week run at the SuperTour events in WA, MN, and WI. He's now the overall leader of the SuperTour series, and will be racing at the Canmore World Cup this weekend. Photo is from EA Weymuller, taken at the Methow Valley race.

The big events are on the horizon. Big events are rocking now and the schedule of marathons, 10 K's, biathlons, tours, and loppets are right in front of us.

Prepare all of your skis to run their best with a fresh grind and hotbox service. At Nordic Ultratune, a grind batch starts every Thursday and those skis are ready for shipping on the following Monday -- just 4 days later. Return shipping is FedEx Express Saver, which is 3rd day delivery. So, skis that are shipped out on Monday will arrive back to you on Thursday.

Here's the upcoming service schedule at Nordic Ultratune. Use these dates to make sure you get your skis ready before your most important races.
  • Skis in by Jan 21st will ship out on Jan 25 th and arrive by Jan 28th.
  • Skis in by Jan 28th will ship out on Feb 1st and arrive by the Feb 4th.
  • Skis in by Feb 4th will ship out on Feb 8th and arrive by the 11th.
  • PRE-OLYMPIC WEEK skis will be pushed in and out as quickly as possible.
  • No grinding for commercial customers during the Olympics (Feb 9-28), but FedEx and UPS deliveries will continue, and skis will be serviced as quickly as possible after the Olympics.
You can see that there are still a few service batches scheduled before the big racing events. BIRKIE SKIERS DO NOT DELAY! There is still time to get a fast grind on your skis before your most important ski days! But don't delay... ...fast boards are a joy to ski on, and they're a real advantage.

Download a work order form here. A description of some of the new grinds is here.