Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 2010 Nordic Ultratune Newsletter

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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New SNS Propulse Classic Bindings

Okay, so it's not exactly stop-the-press news that Salomon has a new classic binding for the 2010/2011 season. The new SNS Propulse binding is a greatly improved version of the old Profil classic binding. That's right - a single bar and an elastomer return spring.

Depending on who you talk to, this new classic binding is either a replacement for the Pilot Classic, or simply an alternative. I can tell you that while I was working at the Olympics in Whistler, I saw very few skiers using the Pilot Classic bindings... ...most skiers who are still on SNS bindings were using the new SNS Propulse. And for good reason.

I had a little bit of trouble getting my hands on a set for testing, but thanks to Rick Halling at Atomic, I got a set of the Atomic version (same binding, in with Atomic labels and colors). I received them mid-week, and did some quick tests and mounted them on a set of Atomic WorldCup classic skis for some weekend klister skiing.

First of all, you should know that the new SNS Propulse binding comes in two versions (RC1 & RC2). The RC2 is the "normal looking" version, while the RC1 has a very minimal design that ditches the heel plate and just has the central ridge screwed down to the ski. I was testing the RC2 version as shown in the photos.

The ProPulse RC2 is a bit lighter than the Pilot Classic. The ProPulse RC2 weighs in at 251 grams per pair (measured), which is a little lighter than the Pilot Classic. A savings of about 10 grams.

It was noticeable to me that the new Propulse bindings are a bit wider than the old Profil (or Pilot) bindings. The new bindings are 46mm wide, which is about 15% wider under the ball of the foot than the old bindings.

The new SNS Propulse has an improved rubber bumper that seems less likely to pop out of place over time, compared to the old Profil bindings. And the new latch mechanism is low profile and seems to be easy to grab, and also latches securely.

These new bindings also have a big spacious notch in them to allow plenty of room for that unused 2nd bar on the newer generations of SNS classic boots that were originally designed for Pilot Classic bindings. Even with lots of sticky snow, there won't be a problem with it clogging up. Nice. I think it's really great that Salomon made the new Propulse classic binding backward compatible.

I got these out on snow on Friday, March 26th, at Stevens Pass Nordic Center. The bindings were on a pair of 206cm Atomic WorldCup classic skis, and I was skiing with Start Red klister. It was wonderful to be out skiing in late March with a big snowpack there at Stevens and great grooming!

The SNS Propulse bindings felt comfortable right away. I've never been a fan of the Pilot Classic bindings - to me they always felt like there was something going on under my foot and I didn't like the way it felt. The new Propulse bindings have a good feel on the snow; a good feel on the ski. In my opinion, this should be the classic binding for skiers using SNS boots.

I was also using a pair of the 2010/2011 Atomic World Cup classic boots with the -17mm setback. I think these brand new classic boots are the most comfortable SNS boot that I've ever used. They have a sock construction and a nice snug fit in the heel - no slipping or blisters at all even on the first day out in them. They get a big thumbs up as well.

Any dislikes? The SNS Propulse bindings are still screwed down to the skis, so you don't get the adjustability that NIS/NNN bindings have. If you're counting grams, these new bindings are the lightest offering from Salomon but they're still 80 grams per pair heavier than the new NIS Xcelerator bindings from Rottafella.

Overall, I think the new SNS Propulse will be the "go-to" classic binding for SNS boot users. They are very good - a big improvement over the old Profil bindings, and a big improvement over the Pilot Classic bindings.

Now... I wonder if you can get some firm bumpers for these and use them with skate skis?



END OF SEASON SALE ON REMAINING SKIS

With the ski season winding down, the remaining Rossignol, Madshus, and Atomic skis and boots are on sale. As always, the skis are top quality and all skis come with a grind and hotbox service at no additional charge. Sale prices are limited to in-stock items. Send email if you have questions.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Methow Valley Junior Aims High

Casey Smith earned a gold medal in the 7.5km Sprint race at the recent Biathlon Championships in Fort Kent, Maine. Casey is 17 and competes in the Youth Men division in biathlon for the Methow Valley Biathlon Team, and he's also a PNSA/Methow Valley Nordic standout as a J1.

Casey has had a great season, competing in December at the Jr World Trials in Biathlon, then traveling to Sweden for the Biathlon Jr Worlds in January. Returning home, he competed in the JOQ events in the Pacific Northwest. Then in March he traveled to Maine for JO's and the Biathlon championships.

Smith's win at the Sprint race was his first gold medal in a national title event.

Congratulations to Casey Smith and also to the coaches and supporters who helped make it all happen!

The photo is from the biathlon range at Ft Kent during the National Championships, courtesy of Betsy Devin-Smith.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Black Jack

Grooming ended here at home last Tuesday and the local season is winding down. So Margaret and I took the weekend off and zipped up to Black Jack Cross Country trails in Rossland B.C.

Neither of us had ever skied at Black Jack before. It's only 200 miles from home, and they've still got plenty of snow and they're grooming daily.

The trails at Black Jack are super! Make no mistake, they're challenging trails with lots of up and down, but the trails flow beautifully and the fast and curvy downhills are very skiable and put a big smile on your face. With 30km of trails, plus about 10km of trails on the adjacent (connected) biathlon trails, there is plenty of variety to fill a weekend. The trails are situated at about 4000 feet above sea level, and they get a long season with plenty of snow.

There are trail-side warming huts along the trails which adds some opportunities for family outings with picnic gear. Here's a shot of one of the huts, situated with a great view and located just about 5km from the trail head.

We had the added bonus of getting a chance to stay with our friends Ethan and Alex who live about a block from the trail head. And in the afternoons we were able to play the part of weekend tourists, wandering through downtown Rossland, an old mining town with a lot of cool old buildings and a very vibrant retail district with funky shops and great places to get eats.

To top it off, it seemed that everywhere we turned Margaret was running into someone she knows from Canadian ski days - it seems that Canuck skiers all end up in Rossland!

If your home ski area is running out of snow, a short road trip might be a great way to celebrate spring and also stretch your ski season.





END OF SEASON SALE ON REMAINING SKIS

With the ski season winding down, the remaining Rossignol, Madshus, and Atomic skis and boots are on sale. As always, the skis are top quality and all skis come with a grind and hotbox service at no additional charge. Sale prices are limited to in-stock items. Send email if you have questions.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Trying the Atomic FeatherLight Skate Skis

A couple days ago a ski box arrived at the shop. Okay, so that's not particularly momentous at Nordic Ultratune. Ski boxes arrive daily.

But this small, "one pair" box, had a pair of the 2010/2011 Atomic skate skis. Atomic has made the name a bit more complicated since Atomic calls it the World Cup Red Cheetah FeatherLight. Most people are calling it the "FeatherLight" or "World Cup FL".

The naming might be confusing but there is no confusion about the skis. Maybe you saw some of these while watching the Olympics? New graphics? Click that picture on the right to make it bigger; go ahead and try it.

Atomic keeps the bold, bright graphics. Lots of red and white, but they've added some darker-colored accents. Eye catching on the podium.

The FeatherLight keeps the camber characteristics of the Red Cheetah skis, but reduces weight a little bit by changing some internal sidewall material. The camber design, the layup, the base, the side-cut -- all those features remain the same.

The Featherlight has been in use on the World Cup for over a year. I've worked on quite a few of them at Ultratune, but only a handful of skiers have had them. For 2010/2011 they are entering the mainstream and are available to everyone.

I know that there are some of you who can't get enough of those bright yellow suits that Slovenia wears, so here's a picture of Barbara Jezeršek. She's rocking Atomic.

The Atomic skate skis are fitted differently than other brands (each brand is fitted differently, so it's not just Atomic that's "different"), and care is needed to pick a good flex in order to get the best performance. From my experience, the error fitting Atomic skis is usually in picking them too stiff rather than picking them too soft.

As with any non-NIS ski, positioning the bindings has to be done with care. As a note, this pair of 190cm skate skis weigh in at 506 grams per ski, which is right where they're advertised (the smaller sizes weigh a bit less).

On the snow, the skis feel like the 2009/10 version. They're quick, stable, and a blast to ski on. They're super on technical descents, and very nimble climbing. I think they're really great all around skate skis, handling sugar well and firmer conditions well, too. The test pair is running on an "i5" structure from the Ultratune Mantec grinder, and they're fast. When I'm picking the Atomic skaters, I usually recommend the "cold" version as having the best camber for an all-around ski.

So, in total, the skis feel much like the current version. That's great! The graphics got an overhaul, and the skis are a little lighter. They're a winner.




END OF SEASON SALE ON REMAINING SKIS

With the ski season winding down, the remaining Rossignol, Madshus, and Atomic skis and boots are on sale. As always, the skis are top quality and all skis come with a grind and hotbox service at no additional charge. Sale prices are limited to in-stock items. Send email if you have questions.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2011 Madshus Nanosonic Tested

by Mark Waechter, Nordic Ultratune

In the days just prior to departing for the Olympics, I was able to test a few pairs of the 2010/2011 Madshus Nanosonic skate skis.

The 2010/2011 Nanosonic is all new. Only the name remains the same. The Madshus ski has a completely new shape - the entire design is changed. Yes, the graphics are updated too, of course, but the whole ski is new and that's worth discussing.

The Design

Anyone who has seen the Madshus skis in the past ten years is familiar with the top-side shape - the curved hump/spine that runs lengthwise - it's the Madshus shape that has been constant throughout the Hypersonic and Nanosonic lifetime. But that's all changed now.

The new "3-D shape" is simpler and cleaner. The use of varying depth features extends all the way up into the tip of the ski to reinforce the perimeter of the shovel, allowing a light tip with some engineered control of the tip flex and tip strength. Through the middle fore-body of the ski, the profile is smoothly continuous, and avoids any discontinuities that would create "hinge-points". The effect is visually very clean and simple and elegant. It looks great, and it is a smart design.

The middle section is squared-off and has the standard black NIS plate. This is nothing new - most of the ski world is now using these plates on the skis. Adjustable bindings and NO SCREWS are both a great idea.

I spent a lot of time discussing the top side of the skis because the Madshus design actually uses the shape for structural purposes (not a new thing with skis - Atomic also relies on topside shape in the ski design).

The tips of the ski are trimmed down compared to the past Nanosonics, and the length has been reduced. They're still calling the skis "185, 190, 195cm" because the running surface length hasn't changed, but they measure about 3.5cm (1.5 inches) shorter than before. There's also a noticeable up-turn in the tail that makes these skis the easiest skate ski to ski backwards on! Weight for a single 190cm ski is just a few grams either side of 500 grams on the six skis I weighed. So, weight per pair is about 1000 grams. That's good; lighter than most.

The bottoms are different. There is no colored graphical insert at all. Just plain black continuous p-tex over the whole length of the ski. I gotta tell you, I really like this. It's just simple and "no baloney". Easy to work on, and simply better engineering. Lets hope that they keep the all-black bottoms. Plus, the new skis seem to stay flat better than in the past. I discussed this with Per Wiik from Madshus/Norway, and he told me that some changes were made to the layup of the ski to improve the flatness. I spent a week intentionally waxing the crap out of the demo skaters with LF6 (over and over again), and then stone ground the skis at the end of my testing, and based on my sample of 3 pairs (not a significant sample size, but more significant than "none"), I'll tell you that I'm really happy with the way they stayed flat. Thank you Madshus!

Madshus designed different versions of the Nanosonic skate ski, and it's best to describe the three different camber versions with respect to the on-snow testing.

On Snow

On snow you'll recognize the smooth neutral feel of the skis. The Madshus camber design concept remains the same on the new ski, so they still have that familiar Madshus glide. Smooth and solid.

I was testing the 3 versions of the new Nano skaters that will be available. Madshus designates them as the R, the HP, and the SC. They've tweaked the camber characteristics for these designations (especially the HP and the SC), so it's probably easiest if you toss out your old ideas about what they mean. I think Madshus should have used new names for these skis, but...
  • The "Nanosonic R" skate ski has a high and active camber, and it also has some side-cut. I thought this ski felt very lively and quick through the turns.

  • The "HP" has a medium-high camber and nearly straight sides. This is the ski that I think is the "all-around best". Personally, I like the way these move on the flats, since they roll inside-edge-to-outside-edge without carving away from me while doing a field skate and get a very long controlled and smooth glide. And in softer conditions they've got a little more platform in the mid foot and track nicely through the length of the ski while climbing. The fore body camber extends a little further forward than past models (this seems to be a trend in the industry; Rossignol is doing this, too), and the contact pressure area in the front of the ski closes progressively while transferring weight onto one ski. It's a good all-around camber in the front, with progressive tip flex that isn't board-stiff and it's not floppy. If these skis are picked at 5-10kg above body weight (closing pressure at -8cm), then they'll have some pop and feel pretty lively. A slightly softer pair, around 100% body weight, will be a bit more compliant in cold and soft conditions. (as a note, Madshus uses what they call the "U+" camber on this ski) If you're filling a quiver you might get a couple different flexes, or similar flexes with different grinds.

  • Finally, they're calling the ski with the lowest and stiffest camber the "SC". They intend this ski for wet/soft conditions. (Madshus has referred to this camber as the "U++" in their past world cup models) Personally, I consider this a more specialized ski. The difference between this ski and the HP are a little subtle. The camber firms considerably just before final closure, and the ski sits lower to the ground at rest. Also, there's more of a "hot spot" in the contact area in the front (good for wet stuff), and a little bit more noticeable tip-splay. This ski will have to be selected at about 120-130% of body weight (pressure to close to 0.05mm at 8cm behind balance point) for a good fit. As a note, this is also a nearly straight sided ski (same side cut as the HP).

All three models ski well. The ski is a worthy successor to the old Nanosonic. Madshus has retained their overall ski design concept - these skis still feel very much like Madshus skate skis. They glide smoothly, and control is excellent.

I think it will be critical to get these skis fitted appropriately -- it would be a mistake to fit these versions with the same closing pressure. The models are distinctly different, even if those differences are subtle.

Odds and Ends

I brought a pile of these new Madshus skis back from Whistler during the middle of the Olympics to grind for the prevailing conditions, and I noticed that they were all the HP and SC versions (nearly straight sides). It appears that those versions are prevalent among the World Cup skiers.

Graphics! They've made the ski brighter and bolder. Less black and dark accents, and instead the new color is more of a "lipstick red". The skis look great, though the graphic details and lettering are a little bit grainy in the print resolution (...talk about nit-picking!). As in the past, the top-sheet is a glossy smooth finish. Madshus does the best job in the industry with finish on the skis, I think, and this new ski continues that trend. Very nice.

I'd like to apologize for an appalling lack of great pictures. The fore body (and tail) cross section is worthy of a nice picture (worth a thousand words...). I had to dash off to Whistler and didn't get the "money shot" that I need before leaving, and didn't get the pics at the Olympics . Now the skis are gone. As soon as I get another pair, I'll update this posting with more photos!


END OF SEASON SALE ON REMAINING SKIS

With the ski season winding down, the remaining Rossignol, Madshus, and Atomic skis and boots are on sale. As always, the skis are top quality and all skis come with a grind and hotbox service at no additional charge. Sale prices are limited to in-stock items. Send email if you have questions.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Whistler Notes

The work at Whistler was rewarding on many levels. First and foremost, it was great to join the team from Slovenia again. I really enjoy working with the service team - Miha, Gianluca, and Stefan - and really appreciate the excellent work they do for every race. Equally enjoyable is the opportunity to see the athletes and coaches who have become good friends during the past few years.

The service work for the Olympics remained the same protocol that we've used at World Cup events for the past few years. These games may be the highest priority for all the racers and service crews, but the processes and precision and focus on excellence is the same.

There is variation from day to day, but I think the most memorable were the few things that were constant throughout these two weeks, that marked the start of every day:

First, Miha and I would find a Starbucks and get a cup to go and head for Whistler Olympic Park. Driving the Subaru through the various security checkpoints every day. As one of the few private vehicles that seemed to be doing the daily trip up the hill, we became familiar and conversational with the security officers in "the big tent" who would ask the routine questions, check accreditation, etc, while other officers scanned the bottom of the car with mirrors. Then parking in the exact same spot, just to the left of the final security officer (a "blue coat" volunteer) at the bottom of the walk-way up to the cross-country venue. The same every day.

Then, in the early morning, Stefan and I would begin with ski testing starting just before dawn, with headlamps. Some days we'd be the only ones on the test tracks, and other days there would be 3-4 other service teams sharing the same tracks (often sharing the same set of timing wands).

After that, things would change up a bit depending on which races we were preparing for. But I think I'll remember the start of each day the most vividly. It was the start of the day that had the routine that became so thoroughly ingrained.


END OF SEASON SALE ON REMAINING SKIS

With the ski season winding down, the remaining Rossignol, Madshus, and Atomic skis and boots are on sale. As always, the skis are top quality and all skis come with a grind and hotbox service at no additional charge. Sale prices are limited to in-stock items. Send email if you have questions.