Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tools of the trade

Gear, even really good gear, gets worn and breaks when abused. I remain amazed at how durable skimo race gear is. Light stuff should break a lot with race abuse, right? I have 2 seasons on most of my gear and ski it way more than Ive ever skied any other ski gear. It isnt gentle skiing either. Races are challenging and to race as well as I can, I follow the old Army adage reiterated by every sergeant I had which was to "train as you will fight". Maintenance can keep gear alive for a lot longer and with the expense of skimo gear, maintenance seems like good financial sense.

The following is a guide to what my maintenance has consisted of. Id welcome other ideas for us average racers who can't rely on new free gear as a long term maintenance plan!


Some of this is PDG specific but here goes. First, you are probably in the habit of setting your ski tail on your boot when applying skins in a transition. On PDGs that leads to wear of the little "skirt" of material over the arch. Shoe Goo or some other type of shoe cement helps take care of this pretty handily. Best of all, it makes the surface really durable and pretty much stops further deterioration. It might be worth applying proactively?
While that Shoe Goo is out, better touch up those boot liners which start to fray!
These liners had the red thread pretty much unravel at the joint with holes right through the liner. Better than new now! The little "wear patches" that come with the boots were applied to high wear spots but pretty much just came off. Lame.

Speaking of boots, what about the hyped PDG boot sole wear issue? Here are the results of just over 1 season of wear:
Not bad considering what they have been through. I wouldnt expect these to be insanely durable and they arent. However, they dont suck either.


OK, next are bindings. The heels of the my Low Tech Race bindings have the typical flip lift design. For those not familiar with the Dynafit Low Tech, that flip lift is secured in the ascent position by a leaf spring as well as wedging between the heel spring pins. It is kind of hard to flip out of the way in transitions so I filed away some of the material so it is easier to flip. Look at the silver surface on the exposed underside of the flipped lift to see where I filed.
Dynafit aficionados will note that Ive swapped the heel spring from the original titanium to steel. The infatuation with titanium is really beyond me. This stuff is already too expensive and not durable. Titanium forks ate $80/pair while steel is $50 per pair. Look at the wear on my original ti forks after one season of use (and Im SO not a high end racer putting in real mileage!). Replacements can be obtained most easily from Skimo.co's Dynafit parts page.


Skins are your most routine gear failure. The glue specifically. As I mentioned in my last post, losing a skin can set you back permanently in a race. You should always carry spares and be set up to swap out skins fast. That being said, an ounce of prevention can be the best cure.

A sure sign that your skin glue needs attention:
I think that most of the time the last few feet of your glue is all that needs attention. I just keep a small tube of Black Diamond Gold Label Adhesive around and use the steps referred to in my earlier skin post to touch up the tails. You can also skip all the skin making steps and just go to Brian Harder's blog for the details.  Save yourself some frustration on your next race and rehab your skin tails!

On another note, I took a look at my mohair situation
Looks pretty bad, right? Pete Swenson, upon seeing these last year commented that I had a great pair of race skins! They are pretty fast and he is totally right. However, I also know that on a steep, icy course like the US Nationals last spring made these a very frustrating skin to use. I plan on getting a wide pair of new ones for such terrain this season!


Next, skis. I have put my PDGs through the wringer and have been amazed that thay stand up to the abuse a skier of middling abilities who tips the scales at probably 185-190 in full race gear can dish out. Last year I compressed an edge dropping in to some early season fluff and this year I have really trashed them with all the work put in to sussing out a good, safe course for the Wolf Creek Pass race. 2 core shots, one that joined up with the ruptured sidewall of the compressed edge) and another compressed edge. Frustrating. Anyway, with their cap construction, I have devised a way of extending their life.

To do this, you will need some tools:
  • Dental picks
  • Edge file
  • Epoxy for plastics (something kinda flexible but strong
  • A syringe (with a needle may be even better)
First, I used the dental tools to pick out any grit and bits of my LAST epoxy jobs. Be ruthless, I pried up that cap and really got out whatever I could. You can see the old epoxy of my first compressed edge fix from last year and the one from my first day out this season a few weeks ago.
Next I fill a cut down disposable syringe with epoxy. Cutting it down makes it easier to manually fill as it doesnt suck up epoxy that easily. I think adding a needle for more accurate fill work would be ideal but I have no clue where you would get needles without being profiled as a junkie! Id better ask Lance...
Once you have packed in as much epoxy under the cap as your ski will allow, wipe away excess if you can without smearing it all over your base. You can also let it dry and deal with it then.
All set for drying! I suppose clamping these would be ideal but the angles are difficult and Im not sure all the effort would result in any increase in life. This at least keeps moisture out and keeps the cap from peeling more. Finally, I use the edge file to file back the hardened epoxy to leave the edge exposed.
While I was at it, that deep core shot that went up behind the edge was one I filled with left over epoxy. So what if it isnt real base material? It is a lot stronger than ptex!

Then there is the usual ptexing, waxing, etc...

Avy Beacon

The idea of dying doesnt appeal to me. Avalanches scare me and I think that is an important fear to foster. I am a dutiful practitioner of avy assessment and rescue skills while viewing them much as I do my seatbelt. I don't drive more recklessly just 'cause it's on! I have a Mammut beacon that I really love- its light, super easy to use and seems to have good range.

So I had tested it as usual, even in our pathetic "snow pack" at the house... Dont forget to practice 3 person burials. God forbid you are faced with that scenario but your subjects will be thankful you are efficient.

I was refreshing my memory with avy theory online when I came across an article in The Avalanche Review discussing beacon life. Once again, Im sure this is old news to some, but I have NEVER heard this discussed. Heck, all beacons brag about their ability to find analog beacons without a SINGLE caveat that MAYBE these old beacons should be retired! There is also no indication as to what processes reduce beacon life (see the interesting comments at bottom of this blog entry- excellent collaborative learning/discussion!). There is also no discussion Im aware of relating to possible erratic signals form older beacons. Now, all of these are about the extent of what I could find online while trying to be a dad, husband, appease my multiple employers and get Thanksgiving dinner assembled so I dont have any idea how much concurrence there is on these topics. These folks could all be nutters for all I know as they seem to be lone voices out there with little visibility. Heck, my beacon doesnt have any indication of a retirement age. However, as a climber, Im always happy to retire gear to stay safe. When in doubt, throw it out. I was now in doubt. There were two reasons.  First, one of the articles above mentions a 5-10 year lifespan and my beacon was in my possession for 9 years and I think in the display case for a season cause I got it on an end of the season special. Second, there is a discussion in one of the links above about checking beacon range annually and when it starts to deteriorate, retire the beacon. Well, Ive never known I should be doing that so I have no log of my beacon's range. It SEEMS about the same but I have not tested and logged that so Im in the dark. It turns out that this is ideally done in a few iterations with the exact same "subject" beacon which is set down at a few different angles. in a very controlled manner. The subject beacon should probably be your primary partner's beacon so you can ascertain possible broadcast as well as detect issues.

So, as a paranoid guy I ordered 2 new Pieps DSP Sports for my wife and I. There are differing opinions on the "best" beacon out there but the claims of even longer detection ranges between 2 Pieps beacons and their lack of extraneous features sold me and I am very impressed with them in operation.

Note- I am amazed at the improvement in how beacons handle multiple burials (I found 3 in 8.5 minutes with all beacons closer than their detection range so overlapping signals had to be handled) if you don't have a beacon with the ability to "flag" a burial in multiple burial scenarios, get one. Lives are worth more than the few hundred bucks a beacon costs.

Now, beacon testing and logging are on the agenda every year! I will keep track of these topics for my own edification to see what the avy pro community coalesces around as a standard and think there really should be one. Im honestly amazed there isnt. Id recommend you do the same (or prove to me Im over the edge in my paranoia!).


Well used gear can last longer when taken care of. I hope some of this stuff is helpful to you and welcome any additional suggestions (or corrections!). It might just make a difference come race day.

Finally, don't skimp on that avy safety! Your partner will appreciate it.


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