Friday, March 02, 2012

Ski demo day

Back in February, I discovered that my season rental skis did not meet my expectations.  They always seemed slow, but then I did a bunch of bumps and learned that they weren't doing what I wanted/needed them to do.  At first I thought it was operator error, but once I really focused on making them do specific things and they wouldn't, I began to realize that these were not the skis for me.

Skis are funny.  There are so many of them out there with so many bells and whistles.  I posted in a few facebook groups, asking for recommendations.  And I rarely got the same answer twice.  The answer I really got: go out and demo.

The thing with demo'ing skis is that it takes time.  Typically, you rent demo skis, meaning, you are on that set for the whole day.  Want to try something different? Rent another pair and spend another day on the slopes.  Not that this is a bad thing.  It just takes multiple weekends and usually an extra $40 each time to demo.

I began searching the interwebs, looking for ski reviews, recommendations, and demo days.  Demo days can vary.  Sometimes its one ski manufacturer bringing gear to the mountain for you to try... sometimes its a ski shop bringing lots of different skis to try.  After some searching, I finally found that Outdoor Divas was hosting their third and final demo day at Loveland on March 1.  Sweet!  Loveland is reasonably priced ($59 walk-up, $50 on Liftopia) and I was able to take the day off of work.

brr....  15 degrees, windy, and snowy.  But its a powder day!
 I found the Diva area and quickly handed over my drivers licence so I could play for the day.  Their recommendations was to do 2-4 runs and to make sure you do the same runs for each ski you try.

First up - Volkl Kenjas
I was there fairly early (9:30 or so) and they had a full rack of skis.  On my list of "I've read about and need to try" were the Volkl Kenjas, Rossi S7W, and Blizzard Black Pearl.  They sold out of the Pearls long ago, but had 2 sets of the others.  I grabbed the Kenjas in size 156 and went up the mountain.

I do this thing at new ski areas where I don't even bother looking at the map.  I just head up the nearest lift and figure I can ski my way out.  I hopped on Lift 2 but, even though there was a warning about 2 miles something-or-other, I didn't expect that the lift would take  Wow.  It was slow and didn't even go up the hill that high.  And it was WINDY. So windy that they built a wind-screen at the lift dismount area.  (I would have taken a picture, but my hands would have frozen off).  Also, notably, there weren't many trees.  At all.  Mostly windblown snow and rock.  Which, as I understand, is the typical Loveland experience (and probably the reason why I haven't skied here before).

I hopped off the lift and immediately felt like the skis were squirrely.  It could have been that this was my first run of the day.  or powder.  or wind.  or the fact that it was white-out conditions and I couldn't see.  And of course, new fancy skis with a whole bunch of technology that I've never skied on before.  Fortunately, it being Thursday, there weren't any people to witness my "I feel like I have never skied before" behavior. 

I took a deep breath and went into the powder.  That's all there was - powder, at least 7 inches of it.  And powder scares me.  Mostly because I was a spring skier and never did much powder sking.  The little that I did, was hard and I would spend the whole time slightly terrified that I would catch a tip and faceplant.  Powder was fun, but mostly in the sense that you felt it was your obligation as a skier and native Coloradan that powder should be fun.  Dammit.

I made my way down and was a bit wobbly at first but was otherwise ok once I got the hang of things.  For such a long lift, there sure wasn't much vertical drop.  I had one blue run then I was stuck on a wide green thing, headed back to the base.  Boo.  Back at the base, I looked at the map and decided that Lift 1 had the best terrain options in proximity to the Demo area.  I headed up that lift (much shorter) and took a blue down.  And experienced barely-tracked powder.  Wowzers.  So much fun - I kept giggling to myself on the way down.  Kenjas were zippy and easy to turn, and felt like they had some speed.  Back up the lift and did a small stretch of bumps.  All was well. 

barely tracked powder.  life was pretty rough at this very moment.
I felt like a change and decided to swap out the 156 Kenjas to the 163 Kenjas.  (for those not familiar with ski sizing, that's a whopping 7 cm longer).  I headed up Lift 1 again and hit the bumps.  In the past, I had intentionally longer skis and loved them.  We started the day out on the 156s because that's what I'm presently used to.  Turns out, I did not like the longer skis.  They were harder to control and a bit wobbly at the tips.  Turns out, shorter is now better for me.  I did 2 runs on the 163s just to make sure the wobbliness wasn't operator error.  It wasn't.  Back to the demo area.
Next up, I was really hoping to try the Rossi S7Ws.  They look cool, one guy at a ski shop suggested they might be good for me, and I'd read good things about them.  Problem was, they're a powder ski... and it was a powder day.  The demo girl said that I wasn't going to get a chance at those skis for hours.  Boo.  Nothing else in the rack was on my wish list.  The demo girl suggested that I try out the Volkl Auras.  They were wider and more stable.  In my head, stable = not responsive.  There really weren't any other enticing options, so I grabbed the Auras and gave them a go.
hummingbirds - pretty!
I headed back up Lift 1 to that small bump run and immediately noticed a difference.  They were still great at turning, but the slightly squirrely-ness of the Kenjas was gone.  Interesting.  I headed back up Lift 2 (the long pointless lift) and decided to go explore.  I really didn't think these were the skis for me, so I thought of this demo as "explore Loveland" rather than "test skis".  I found some powder, nearly bailed forwards but managed to recover easily.  This was under the lift, and apparently my recovery was impressive, as they remarked on my skills.  I was zipping along and then all of a sudden it seemed like the ground was going to disappear imminently.  So I scrubbed and crashed.  Yup, a small cornice.  Upon closer inspection (later, from the lift), it was only about a 4 ft drop, which was manageable.  However, at the time and not being able to see beyond it, I decided to be safe, flip around, and go around it.
the road is I-70 and where the road disappears is the tunnel.  weird! 
Loveland is really awkward where it goes over I-70 at Eisenhower tunnel.  So, essentially it straddles I-70.  That makes getting around really strange.  I found a lift that went up a different part of the hill, and it didn't seem like there were many tracks over there.  I wanted to hit a bump run but kept finding roped off areas.  And then I ended up on a very narrow cat-track which was bordered by "do not cross, avalanche danger".  Mkay!  I had no idea where I was at this point and my only choice was to follow this odd path and was thankful to finally reach another lift.  This was Lift 8, which apparently isn't open all that often (I dunno, I just saw a bunch of signs saying the lift was open, which I thought was odd).  I rode up with some guys, and apparently this area was where all the powder was.  He recommended some black with a cornice (no thanks!  maybe if I was with people but not by myself).  At the top of the lift, I inspected the trail map and discovered that the only way back to the base (or really, back to anywhere) was on a black chute run and through a tunnel under I-70.  Where the hell was I and how did I get here?) I headed down on the north side of the lift and had a great time in the powder.  Since I wasn't ready to explore that random black run and a tunnel, I decided to head back up and explore the other side of the lift.  The right side was a big open field of barely tracked powder.  A bit intimidating (if I died, no one would find me) but I had so much fun on the earlier runs that I was looking forward to trying the Auras out in more powder.  I had SO much fun.  These things did exactly as I commanded, even in the powder.  At one point, I was flying up to a huge rock (I even yelled "ROCK!) and all I had to do was apply a tiny bit of pressure and I was zipping around it with ease.  If I had tried that in any of my "old" skis, I would have either tumbled over or crashed into the rock... or both.  Powder was effortless.  You just pointed the tips and let the skis do the work.  AWESOME.

By that point, even though I was having a blast, it was noon.  And I had these skis out for over an hour.  I lurved them, but I didn't want someone else to have to wait for a chance.  I headed down the black run, which was really weird.  It was 3 tiers of black, ski-width tracks which wrapped around the mountain.  Each track had a steep dropoff.  All you could really do was wedge or side ski down them.  And once you got the the tunnel, they had an employee at the entrance who ensured that you took your gear off.  Once you could walk, you went under the tunnel, which was gravel and not snowy at all.  Then you magically pop out on the other side of I-70 at the base.

Once back at the demo area, I was hungry but also saw that the Rossi S7Ws were back.  People must be out at lunch!  Even though I was hungry, I didn't think the S7s would stick around for very long.  I decided to postpone lunch and take a ride on the S7s.
oh hey, the sun is out for this one!
The S7s are fat powder skis with really cool graphics.  My photo isn't great, but you can kinda see the anime girl on them.  The bottoms are equally cool.  I hopped up Lift 1 to hit my test bump/fast run.  Almost immediately, I knew these skis were not for me.  They took WORK to turn.  I could have been that I'd been sking non-stop for almost 4 hours, but I really didn't think so.  I really had to focus and work to get these things to turn and move around.  I wanted to try them out on powder, so I took the useless Lift 1 up to get some powder.  There was a bit left, but it was fairly cut up.  The Auras just plowed through cut up powder like it was nothing.  The S7s took some work and felt choppy and a bit sluggish.  Boo.  Two runs was all it took for me to know that these were not the skis for me.  Bummer, because they really do look cool.  Upon discussion with the demo girl, she confirmed my feeling that yep, these are really only good for powder.  Everything else is a lot of work.  I saw that the Auras were still there and I took them for a bump run.

Full disclosure: I took them and then headed in for a bite to eat.  It was 1 PM and I was hungry.  Also: do not get the chicken sandwich at the base.  I thought something was fishy when the chicken sandwich was cheaper than a burger.  I asked the guys at the counter if it was real chicken.  They said yes.  Then I made some comment while I was walking away about just wanting to make sure it wasn't particle chicken, and they looked at me funny.  I paid for it, opened it up, and it was an anemic formed chicken breast.  Not cool.

Now that I had a full belly, I wanted to test the Auras out on this nice long-ish bump run on the far side of the area. And perhaps play in the powder some more.  I was very happy to see that the Auras handles well on the bumps.  The bumps were still a bit powdery/soft but were controlled and I could do quick, tight turns.  YAY.  And then on the flats, I could zoom with stability and a bit of speed.  It seems that these could be the skis for me :)

It was now a bit past 2 PM and I wanted to try out yet another pair of skis.  I'd overheard the demo girl call Kastles "the Porches of skis" and I was curious.  She spoke highly of them and why not?  It was free to try them out.
pronounced Cast-Lee.  fancy!  Also: the orange was see-though.  double also: this was
taken after 2 PM and look at all the powder that' still there!
I took them over to the long bump run and some powder for a quick comparison.  They were nice but not quite as nice as the Auras.  Of course, it could also be because I was tired.  They didn't handle the cut-up powder as well as the Auras.  On the bumps, it was a wash, as best as I could tell.  Same with speed.  The main factor in these was price.  $1100 MSRP.  Nearly $300 more (new) than the Auras.  Ummm, no. 

Represenation of my adventures at Loveland
I ended up taking the Auras home with me to demo this weekend.  I liked them, but I wouldn't call the conditions during the demo as "normal".  And the terrain wasn't too close to what I like to ski (no trees).  I have the pretty hummingbirds in my garage and look forward to really testing them out at Mary Jane on Saturday :)

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