Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ski Testing and the Godzilla Ridge

The past 2 weeks have had unusually stable weather for this time of year in the Methow Valley.

It's the result of a high pressure ridge that's been stuck in the west, causing an inversion which leaves our area on the east slopes of the North Cascades stuck in a cold pool of air with a cloudy lid.    And no new snow.      The weather effect has been referred to as the "Godzilla Ridge" by Cliff Mass.

The 'no new snow' part is a little bit of a bummer.    But the persistent weather pattern makes for great conditions for continued testing of new grinds.     Temperatures have been very stable every day, with daytime variation of only a few degrees.   No sunshine due to the cloud cover means that the snowpack has stayed uniform.    Skate skiing really has been excellent;  not quite as good for classic skiing.

Skiing a bag of test skis day-on-day has been yielding reliable results and the stagnant weather system has been allowing for a good long period of testing.

This season I'm doing testing in groups of 5.    Five individual skis, all factory matched Madshus test skis, prepared identically, but with different grinds.      Testing is for feel, using a blind draw double elimination scorecard.    The strength of this test setup is that the whole test protocol is repeated by 3-4 different skiers, and results are compared.   

When several test grinds are very similar, the results can seem a little uncertain..   There is a bit of peril when I'm the tester and I know which grinds are on the skis - some sort of bias is always a concern.  But if 3 or 4 testers independently reach the same results, then the confidence factor increases dramatically.     I've got a crew of a few guys who have a good feel for snow, who are about the right size, and each of whom are willing to pick up a bag of skis and a scorecard and take them out for a test on short notice.

It's not a gang of 3-4 guys going out and testing skis together.   No, it's one guy, solo, with a bag of skis, picking through a series of comparison tests and making notes.     Then the bag of skis comes back to Ultratune, and then they go to the next guy to test.    Nobody but me knows what grinds are on the skis.   The guys don't really get a chance to compare results with each other.

For me, the group size of 5 skis has just sort of happened (why not 4 or 6 or more?).  One test outing takes about 45 minutes, and the process of managing the double elimination doesn't get too out of hand in terms of complexity.        Too many skis, and the process gets busy with a lot of bookkeeping and loses the focus.        Others would certainly handle it differently, but this is a good, manageable, setup.

The series of tests are nearly completed.    Right now I can tell you there WILL be a new grind on the menu, and a couple grinds will fade away.     I can be sure of that because right now there are 2 prototypes that are clearly outperforming some regular menu grinds.       I am pretty sure the grind menu will be updated by the first of the year. 

Hopefully the ski testing will come to a halt when the Godzilla Ridge breaks down and new snow falls throughout the Methow Valley.   Hopefully soon.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Testing new grinds

Skiing has begun here in the Methow Valley.   Not everywhere, certainly not every kilometer, but we are definitely skiing.    And if you pick your trails right, you can use good skis.     

And if you can use good skis, you can start testing.

Some matched test skis and my daily driver test mules.
I started working with 2 new grind ideas mid-season last year (2016/2017) but ran out of testing weather, and so the ideas sat for several months.     Incubating.  Festering.  Percolating.    Call it what you like, but long solo summer bike rides lead to gedankenexperiments, and those inevitably lead to ideas for ski grinds.    How to work with a small set of variables to optimize performance?  Depth, spacing, and organization of fine grooves cut into a grinding stone with a diamond, and then cut into a polyethylene ski base with a grinding stone.     

Early this autumn, I thought of a simple modification to work in conjunction with the 2 new ideas, and an afternoon of fiddling on the grinder showed that it would work.     A couple different versions were cut and put on test skis, and set aside for testing.

And now there is snow.    And now the ideas are on matched test skis.     And now the testing begins anew. 

In truth, by the time formal testing is done with controlled variables and benchmarks, I already know that a new grind is pretty good.     Hopefully with some cooperative weather in early December I can get the data that's needed to see if there's a shake-up in the Ultratune grind menu.