Monday, February 28, 2011

Birkie Reports

In the few days following the American Birkebeiner, I've gotten some nice race reports from skiers.

Here are a few notable email comments.    

From Bryan Cook of CXC Elite, who finished 5th overall, and was the highest placing American.

Hey Mark,
It was really cold for most of the race, single digits for sure and the first half was rock-hard, fast and a little dirty,while the second half was soft with more new snow mixed in. This resulted in really different conditions, but I used my best universal pair that I had you put the S1 grind on. I thought that my skis were good in the first half and actually a little better than some of the others for the second half.  
It was a tactical race with the Norwegians really working well together towards the end of the race. I was pretty happy with my finish but asalways I was looking for the win!
Thanks again for all your support!
Best regards,

The second report is from Brian Gregg, also from CXC Elite, who finished 8th and was the second fastest American.

Hi Mark,
Just wanted to let you know I had some sweet skis in the Birkie.  The lead pack was pretty big but even still I found myself gapping the field on several of the downhills early on in the race.  I tested my entire fleet several times before the race and waxed up my xc02 and S1 pairs.  Testing race morning they were pretty similar, but I liked the xc02 pair best.  My xc02 pair is stiffer and does better on the rock solid corduroy.  I finished 8th in a sprint to the line with the main pack and feel pretty good about that.  I have two more 50k this season and am looking forward to them.
Take Care, Brian

Also a few comments from Laura McCabe, who was the 9th place woman, and had trouble with the cold weather -- a reminder that good skis will only get you so far if the cold weather keeps the engine from running.

Hey I just wanted to let you know that my skis were GREAT.  My body was not, hard day for me, I did not dress properly for -9 to -3 and just got really wobbly.  Oh well, some days are good some are not, but it was great to be there and I had a fantastic week.   
Thank you so much Mark, 

These reports often don't tell the whole story by themselves, but when several reports come in from a single race, I can get a good idea of what's working.    

I'm also honored that so many skiers trust me to prepare their skis for important events like the Birkie.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stone Grinding Schedule for Birkie and Masters World Cup

Anna Haag skiing fast at the Tour de Ski
Photo:  GEPA Pictures / Amir Beganovic

There is still time to get your race skis prepped for the American Birkie or  Masters World Cup.    Fast skis can cut a few percent from your race time, which can mean finishing minutes earlier.

Prepare all of your skis to run their best with a fresh grind and hotbox service. At Nordic Ultratune, a stone grinding 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 the Birkie or MWC2011.
  • Skis in by Feb 17th will ship out on Feb 21st and arrive to you by Feb 24th.
  • Skis in by Feb 24th will ship out on Feb 28th and arrive to you by March 3rd.
There is still  time to get a fast grind on your skis before these events!     But don't delay... boards are a joy to ski on, and they're a real advantage.

Hey, if you're driving to the Masters Championships at SilverStar Mtn from the south, you could stop at Nordic Ultratune on the way.   Ultratune is located in Winthrop, WA, about 4 hours south of the WMC location.

New Skis?
Need new racing skis?    Nordic Ultratune still has a great selection of new race ready skate and classic skis.   Call or email for details.

Monday, February 14, 2011

NEW Atomic World Cup HT skate ski

Atomic is bringing a new skate ski to the table that should have everyone licking their chops.   
Atomic World Cup HT

Atomic calls it the World Cup HT skate ski.    “HT” is for Hard Track, and the new ski isn’t just a tweaked version of their all-around favorite, but a whole new ski, straight from the pressure-cooker testing lab that is the World Cup.

This new ski is differentiated from the “regular” Atomic World Cup Red Cheetah Featherlight (now designated as the “ST”) in the following ways:
  •      Firmer tip flex - more pressure further forward in the ski.
  •      Straight edge profile for more edge engagement on hard, icy, tracks.
  •      Greater torsional rigidity, especially in the fore-body of the ski
  •      Double groove base, for better tracking
The firmer tip, combined with a more torsionally rigid construction, extends the weight distribution further forward.   Add the straight profile, and it adds up to firm contact and edge engagement on a greater length of the running surface on a hard track.    
When I say "hard track", I'm referring to a skating platform that's firm enough to use roller-ski poles without punching through the surface.    Firm, icy, boiler-plate, concrete, bullet-proof - call it what you want, but if it's hard enough to use roller-ski pole tips, it's "hard track".
Although it is designated as a "hard track" ski, it will certainly be used in medium to hard track conditions, and also will be used as an all-around ski by skiers looking for extra stability.
Atomic uses a bit of extra material in the front end of the ski, dropping their “Beta construction” on the HT in favor of a stout flat-top box section.    The ski really is noticeably stiffer torsionally.      It is still a cap construction with a distinct hard edge flange that helps with edging and control; this remains a hallmark of the Atomic skate skis, dating back to the early 1990’s.

The bindings will need to be positioned with care, and probably a little further back of the ski’s balance point in order for it to feel neutral, based on my experience.   My bet would be 1.5-2.0cm behind balance point, but I’ll be following up with Atomic Austria to get some guidance on their recommendation.

Two grooves for tracking.
Ultratune grind for speed!
Double grooves. The double grooves are another shot at making the ski track well in tough conditions.   The bottom of the HT skate ski looks like a Rossi skater!     Except that the grooves are beefier – a little deeper and wider. I think this is welcome – it makes it easier to work on the ski when the grooves are more pronounced.  The all around ski (the “ST”) will still keep the single groove.

The base material is the same as the World Cup Red Cheetah, and they’re very easy to work on – the bases are flat and stay flat, they hold wax well, and the p-tex is slightly softer than many of the other brands.  

On the snow the HT skate ski is solid and stable.    I got the opportunity to use these skis in icy, transformed conditions that included short sections of melt/freeze (water ice), and long stretches of consolidated large-grained old snow that hadn’t been groomed for a couple of days.   Also, I got to use the new skis on groomed track that wasn't icy but simply firm.    For me, I could really feel a more solid footing.   I noticed it in the tail of the HT as much as the tip, even though the emphasis from Atomic has been on the front-end construction.   I suspect they firmed up the tail as well, and there is a slight flare of the ski in the final 6 inches of the tail which helps accentuate the gliding platform while on a flat ski (V2, field skate, etc).    On a flat ski, the HT doesn’t wander or squirm; it feels secure.    On steep, icy, climbs, the edges stay engaged and don’t wash out.

The trade-off with the HT is that when you’re skiing in soft snow some of the lively supple feel of the standard “ST” skater is a little bit diminished.     To me, I think their standard soft/medium track ST skate ski is still my preferred all around choice.    But as a 2nd pair, the HT really offers an important compliment to address the realities of skiing in firm snow conditions, or in hard, transformed, crusty, or icy conditions.      The fastest skis are the pair that get you to the finish line most quickly, and having a straight tracking and stable ski on a hard surface is crucial.

Oh yes, they tune up nicely
Usage for the two offerings will have some overlap.    Soft/medium for the ST, and medium/firm for the HT version.     But skiers who prefer an extra stable ski may find the HT to their liking as their primary ski.
The firmer tip flex on the Atomic HT should be considered in context.   The HT still has a more supple fore-body than the "regular" ski from a few of the other ski brands!'s simply more firm than the Atomic ST version.    This is definitely not a board-stiff snow plow.
Picking the appropriate flex will be important for performance, as always.    The Atomic HT skate skis will need to be picked on the firmer side, I think, compared to the ST version.    I’ve only had the opportunity to ski on two pairs, so I don’t have a huge base of testing data.    I’ll be doing some background work to get recommendations from the race room guys in Altenmarkt in order to get the best fits for skiers.

If you’re a citizen racer, the HT plus the ST make a terrific 2-pair combo.    For competitors with a full bag of ski options, a combination of HT and ST choices will allow you to select flexes and grinds to handle the full matrix of possibilities without compromise.

A squared-off tip.  A firm tip flex, but still more supple
than some other brands offer on their "all-around" ski.
A small detail but with the squared-off tip and the double-groove base, you'll be able to distinguish the HT from the ST in the dark when you stick your hand into your ski bag!

I think Atomic has done their homework and they’ve paid attention to feedback from the racers.    They needed a hard track ski, and they came through.  

What would I do differently?    Okay, I’ll say it again…   …they would set off church bells if they’d put a NIS plate on their skis.    It would make the business of binding placement much easier (at least for NNN boot users).     Not likely to happen, I realize, but objectively it would benefit the ski.     Small potatoes, but I find the graphics to be a little bit busy.    This has no bearing on anything, and I’m not exactly an art major, but that’s my opinion.

I applaud Atomic for making a true hard track choice in their skate ski offerings.    Instead of two very similar skis (cold/warm), they’re offering two distinctly different skis that complement each other.    One is an excellent, supple, fast, all-around ski for soft and medium track (plus sugar found in mass start races); the other is a firm, stable platform for use in medium to hard-track conditions or for skiers who place a high priority on extra stable skating.

Want some?
If you'd like to pre-order some of the Atomic skate skis, either the new HT or the all-around ST version, just send an email and you'll be added to the pick list for autumn 2011 delivery.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mid-Winter Ski & Structure Testing

During mid-winter and late season, there are more opportunities for in-depth ski testing.    By this time of year activity in the shop has settled into a steady (busy) pace and there's time to prepare and test grinds and new grind ideas.
Ski testing with factory-matched identical test skis.
This season, I'm placing some focus on carefully dialing-in the range limits on some of the existing grinds, and I'm also testing a couple of effective broad-range structures for classic skis.     Temp range, new snow vs. old snow, etc.

Testing and introducing new structures is not a simple business.    First of all, anything "new" needs to be very good and very versatile.    It needs to be better than something that's already on the menu, which is a tall order, since the grind menu at Nordic Ultratune has very good, very verstatile grinds.

The on-snow part of ski testing is much less than half of the work.    The test skis preparation takes more time than the on-snow testing, and the data entry and data analysis is a bit of time.    Documentation, carefully, creates a record of testing and processes that is very important.

Good results depends on good data;  I use factory matched test skis that are identically prepared in order to minimize the possibility of false results due to the influence of uncontrolled or unanticipated variables.

But the testing continues.    It's one of the most fun parts of the job.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Choose Your Language

Hey, I added a language translator widget.

In the upper right corner.

Try it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nordic Ultratune February 2011 Newsletter

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weighing in on wing wedges

There has been a bit of buzz about the 60mm wedges that can be used with Pilot bindings.    Here's some info and pics.

Wings provide a wider base of support under the forefoot.
The "wing wedges" have been seen on the World Cup for the past 3 seasons.    I first saw them on Atomic skis while working at the World Cup events during the winter of 2008/2009.      There has been plenty of experimenting and tweaking in the past couple of years to give the manufacturer confidence that they have some merit.    And finally they make it to the consumer so that anyone can give it a try.

The intent of the wings or outriggers is to provide an extended platform under the forefoot, providing better control of the ski.     This has been the premise of the NNN binding design since 1998 when they introduced their wide platform R3 skate binding, and it has shown over the past decade that it's a good idea.    

The wing wedges provide a space for the Pilot binding to sit down in a channel so that the wings are at the same surface level as the foot platform of the Pilot binding.   Because of the inset dimensions, the wedges work very, very nicely with the Pilot but are not compatible with any other version of Salomon binding.   It's not intended for use with the Profil, ProPulse, or Pilot Classic binding.

The wings - the lateral support extensions - seem pretty obvious and intuitive in their benefit, yet the idea of the wedge that lifts the toes by 5mm seems less clear-cut.        While some marketing articles claim that the ski will spurt forward like a wet bar of soap ( ?? ) if you simply add this wedge, I find that the effect is subtle.     It has 5mm lift over a length of 300mm.    Sharpen your pencil:  that's about a 1 degree angle.

How much toe lift?   The wedge is about a 1 degree angle.   
With the toe lifting wedge, I think there is some initial accentuation of the sensitivity to fore/aft foot pressure on the ski.   But competent skate skiers will adapt quickly and really won't notice much difference in feel after a few days on the skis.      The wedge component of the setup seems to have received a mixed reception - whether it helps or doesn't - but the consensus is that at least is doesn't harm performance.

My opinion after testing skis with the wing-wedge, and without them, is that the wings definitely improve the feel of the skis.     The wedge (toe lift) aspect, to me, is somewhat inconsequential.

The wing wedges are not an expensive item, they're less than $20/pr and include longer screws to replace the front-end screws on the Pilot binding.     If you're retrofitting skis, the change-over is simple and quick and doesn't require any drilling - you can use the same holes as long as you don't mess anything up when removing the bindings.    

At the relatively modest price, and with such minimal impact on the ski setup, it's something that anyone could try themselves and make their own decision on whether wing wedges are a benefit or not.