A pre-emptive strike on the ski swap
OK, ski soldiers, the time has come for you to head to the front lines.Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go to the Ski Club Vail Ski Swap Oct. 25-26 at Dobson Arena in Vail and get all the equipment you’ll need for the upcoming year skis, boards, boots, poles, hats, helmets, you name it. Many soldiers have perished under the avalanche of gear available at the Swap, but The Vail Trail is here to arm you with all the information/ammunition you’ll need to survive the trenches and come out with the right equipment.First off, a good soldier must know his limitations. Here’s what U.S. Ski Team downhiller Chad Fleischer can teach you about humility. Listen closely:”People have to make sure they are honest about where they are in their skiing or snowboarding,” he says. “Most people aren’t going to be happy in a World Cup racing boot, or on a ski that’s too much for them to handle. The magic word is ‘comfortable.’ A lot of the expert gear isn’t comfortable, so start within your ability level and slowly work your way up.”Before we get started, here’s some info on the Ski Swap: Early-bird shopping costs $12 and happens Friday, Oct. 25, from 7 p.m. to midnight; everyone else can shop for $5 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 26. Public check-in is Thursday, Oct. 24 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (970) 476-5119 and dial ext. 120, or check out http://www.dirvonas.com and click on the Ski Club Vail logo.SkiingSkisThere are four basic kinds of skis on the market right now. All of them are shaped skis, but some are more difficult to handle than others. There are many brand-name choices available in each design once you’ve decided what design is right for you. And if you’re looking for a bargain, take a look at last year’s models. Ski technology hasn’t changed all that much since last year, but there’s a marked drop-off in quality once you reach back before 2001.”Here’s where it’s especially important to be honest,” says veteran ski and boot technician Tom Olson of Kenny’s Double Diamond in Lionshead. “You have to know how many days a year you will be out skiing, and what kind of terrain you’re going to ski.” The all-mountain carving ski This is the right ski for a beginner or intermediate who likes to cruise groomed terrain and wants a smooth turn-to-turn transition. There are two types of all-mountain ski: Giant Slalom (for wider, gliding turns) and Slalom (for short turn radius). This kind of ski is flexible and easy to handle, but it won’t hold up on steep bumps or crud. The middle-fat all-mountain ski This is the all-terrain ski for intermediates and experts who expect to ski in every kind of condition powder, bumps, crud, packed powder and groomers. This ski is wide enough to float through powder, stiff enough to break through crud, and tough enough to handle the bumps. The turn-to-turn transition is more difficult than the smaller, lighter carving ski, and it requires steady forward balance for the right handling. The fat ski Wide and heavy, these skis are for advanced and expert skiers who wait for big powder days or spring slush. Turn-to-turn transition is difficult, and these skis require more work and balance than the others. Specialty skis Twin-tips and raised-tail skis are very popular among teenage skiers and those who like to spend time in the terrain parks, but other skiers shouldn’t shy away from a ski just because of its tail. Raised-tail skis allow for an easier transition out of a turn. If everything else in the ski is right for you, then consider a twin-tip or raised tail ski.BootsThe key to the boot is how it fits, so make sure you take your new boot to a professional for fitting before you torture your feet on the mountain. The most common problem is that the boot fits too large – there should be no gaps or pressure points inside the boot. The best boot is snug and well-fitted with an insole by a professional technician.Many retailers are referring to this year as the year of the boot. Envious of snowboard boot comfort, Rossignol came out with the first soft boot last year. Now, there are several available on the market. And you don’t have to give up boot comfort to get good boot performance. Soft boot technology was developed for those who don’t want to give up the comfort of their rear-entry boots, but are looking for something more stable and forgiving.For larger, stronger skiers who like to ski bumps and crud, the soft boot may not have enough support. There are many options for those looking at hard-shell boots, and none will disappoint so long as they are fitted correctly. Some companies have gimmicks and devices as part of their boot technology package, but these can be ignored in favor of fit and comfort.BindingsIt’s hard to go wrong with bindings, and the most important choices here are color, style, and price. All bindings undergo heavy scrutiny from manufacturers and product testers, and if a binding isn’t safe or effective, it is immediately pulled from the market. Buying used bindings can be a risk, so they should be taken to a certified technician to be tested for faults or hairline fractures.PolesNo matter what claims are made, there’s no such thing as an unbreakable pole. Carbon-fiber poles become stronger (and more expensive) as the percentage of carbon increases. Aluminum poles come in ascending grades of quality as well, and only series-4 or higher poles have the integrity to be bent back after a crash.Helmets and gogglesSome resorts are requiring helmets for children under 5 taking lessons, so parents should consider a helmet for their young one. It may take time to find the perfect fit for a helmet, but like boots, fit is everything here. Helmets are actually warmer than hats, and some helmets offer better breathability for spring skiing.Some goggles aren’t helmet-compatible, and some are. Try goggles and helmets together to make sure they fit properly.Goggles in general are a matter of preference. Lenses come in various tints, but yellow and rose seem to be the most effective in flat light. Polarized lenses can hide the sheen of ice, and many skiers and snowboarders avoid polarized lenses.GlovesEven the warmest finger glove isn’t as warm as a mitten. Snowboarders especially should consider mittens, and skiers should be aware that Olympic silver medallist Bode Miller wore mittens during his Olympic slalom runs.SnowboardingThe snowboard industry has made extra effort to ensure that beginning snowboarder have access to inexpensive equipment that is built for learning. Still, getting the right fit can be tricky business.”I’ve seen people renting snowboards with all kinds of weird setups,” says professional snowboarder Barrett Christy. “You see it all the time, and that could turn them off to the sport for a long time.”Once a rider decides whether he or she is regular (left foot forward) or goofy (right foot forward), then they should start with a basic setup. Freestyle bindings, comfortable boots, and a soft, manageable board is a good way to start. Feet should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart, with the front foot angles slightly more downhill than the back foot. Toes and heels shouldn’t be dragging over the board’s edge, if possible.After that, you have to make adjustments until you find the stance and gear that’s right for you. Snowboarding equipment is mostly personal preference, and advanced riders may be using the same equipment as intermediates, with a slightly different setup.”Bring a screwdriver up on the hill,” says Christy, “and play with it yourself. It’s real easy and it’s the best way to get comfortable.”BoardsLike skis, snowboards come in various widths, lengths, and stiffness. The longer or wider the board, the more difficult it is to make turn-to-turn transitions. Stiff boards can make for hard landings in the pipe. Softer boards are better for riding the park, and firm, longer boards are better for breaking through crud or carving on the steeps.As far as the fit, the goal is to match the width of your board to the width of your feet.There are many boards that are meant for all-mountain terrain, from parks to groomers to bumps and steeps. A soft, thin board may be a good all-mountain board for a lighter, smaller person, but too flimsy for a large rider. The key is to find the right length, width, and stiffness to match your height, weight and skill level.BindingsA snowboarder fine-tunes his or her control with the feet, so bindings need to be tightly fit without cutting into the boot. The foot shouldn’t raise up off the board at any time during turning. And, unless you’re trying to make the Olympic parallel giant slalom team, stay away from step-in bindings. Freestyle bindings provide ample support and comfort for all but the most advanced downhill rider.BootsSnowboard boots have come a long way since early riders wore work boots on the first Burton boards. Now boots come in various levels of stiffness and support. Softer boots will provide more comfort, but less stability. Intermediate riders will want to try stiffer boots, but be sure to avoid pressure points or gaps inside the boot. Again, a good fit here is everything, and a trained technician is the best one to make it happen.
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