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The two pieces of gear that changed my skiing

Here are two pieces of gear that changed my skiing. They might help you as well.


1) Wide skis.

My previous skis were 108mm underfoot, which many people consider a mid-fat. Pretty good on groomers, pretty good in powder. This season I got a pair of skis that are 126mm underfoot. They are really fat, and I assumed that I would only use them on a few deep powder days. That was wrong. I used them on the majority of days when there was any fresh snow.

Fat skis are to powder what shaped skis are to groomers. Each makes the experience easier and more enjoyable. I've been skiing for 28 years, since I was 4 years old, and during that time I never cared much about gear. But my new powder skis made me realize how important gear selection is. In short, multiple friends told me that I was skiing better this year than any other year, and the only change I made was new skis.

If you are thinking about buying wider skis for next season, here are two tips.

First, find the lightest skis. Fat skis won't make skiing powder more enjoyable if they tire out your legs. In fact, my current 126mm wide skis are lighter than my 108mm skis. Bring a scale with you to weigh the skis in the shop if you can't find the specs online. Seriously, weight matters, and that applies to bindings as well, so find a light pair that won't weigh you down (I used the Salomon STH12).

Second, look for a geometry where the tail of the skis is narrower than the waist of the ski. This helps you get out of turns with little effort, instead of being locked into a turn or feeling like you get "ejected" out of a turn. The width of my skis are 151mm at the tip, 126mm at the waist, and 116mm at the tail.

What are the benefits of a light, fat powder ski?

You'll be less tired because you'll be doing less work (the wider ski surfs over the snow). Sure, you won't get as many faceshots because the ski won't dive into the snow as far. But I found that I'm OK with that tradeoff since I can now ski 1,500ft of powder without getting tired legs.

You also might find tree skiing to be easier. A narrower tail allows you to whip your skis around quickly as they are not locked into a turn, and this added mobility will help you zoom through the trees without needing to scrub speed. This was a game-changer for me. I have always enjoyed tree skiing, but was never very good at it beause I couldn't turn my skis fast enough. I no longer have that problem.

And you also might enjoy getting some air since you have a wider ski to land on. I am not good in the air and rarely land any jump, so I've always shied away from going airborne. But a bigger landing platform means fewer falls, and that means you'll try little jumps more often, and that means you might get the hang of being in the air and start to enjoy it. At least that was my experience.

Of course this is all just my opinion, and your experience might differ. But I wanted to share my thoughts because these wide skis helped me have a lot more fun this season.

wagner custom skis joel gratz powder

That's me enjoying fresh tracks on wide powder skis at Vail.

A special thanks to Wagner Custom Skis for getting me setup with a ski made just or me.


2) Lighter Bindings.

I just talked about how a light setup can help you ski longer without getting tired.

I know many of you are like me and enjoy spending time in the backcountry, which means you also need a light uphill binding (Alpine Touring, or AT binding).

I've gone through three AT bindings. My first pair eight years ago were the Fritschi Freerides. They were relatively inexpensive, so they were a great starter binding. But they pre-released a lot and also didn't ski very well (they felt a bit flimsy).

My second pair were the Marker Barons. They skied like a regular binding, and I put them on my everyday ski, so I used them at resorts in powder, ripping groomers, and going uphill in the backcountry. While they skied well, they were heavy on the uphill and cumbersome to switch between uphill and downhill modes.

Then this season, I started using a pair of Dynafit Radical FT bindings on my wide powder skis. These bindings are about 70% lighter than the Marker Baron's, so skinning uphill feels much easier.

dynafit wagner custom joel gratz powder

Dynafit Radical FT Bindings on my powder skis. 

These bindings pivot from your toes, which provides a much more natural walking/skinning motion. And, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they skied downhill just as well as any other binding I've used. They did pre-release on me once when I hit buried crust at a resort at high speed, so they're not perfect (no binding is). But that's been the only issue, and I've felt comfortable with them at all other times, even in narrow chutes and at high speed.

dynafit wagner custom joel gratz berthoud pass joel bettner

Straightlining a chute at Berthoud Pass on my Dynafit  AT bindings. I was going fast, and the bindings were rock solid even though they were the lightest binding I'd even skied in the backcountry. Thanks to Joel Bettner, coach of the CU Freestyle Ski Team, for giving me a pep talk and getting me to take this line.

There seems to be a progression to backcountry ski gear. The Fritschis and Barrons get you into the sport to see if you like it. And if you do enjoy earning your turns, eventually you might upgrade to the Dynafits. Again, weight is a big deal, and making my setup lighter has allowed me to enjoy my time on the hill (both going up and going down) without getting as tired as I used to be.

A special thanks to the crew at Dynafit for getting me into this lighter binding!

JOEL GRATZ

Disclaimer
Sometimes I get free gear from manufacturers and free skiing from resorts and cat/heli operations. This is awesome. But of course this means that there is a HUGE conflict of interest when I write reviews about the gear or ski operations. I hope that you believe that my reviews are truthful, and that I would never undermine my credibility and career in the ski industry over a free piece of gear or a trip. And I hope that my reviews will spark your interest and that you'll do more research on your own to form your own opinions. As always, if you have thoughts or questions, you can get in touch with me directly at this email address: joel@opensnow.com

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Where will the snow fall next season?

Longtime readers know that I hate providing or relying on seasonal snow forecasts because they are usually wrong. However, when there is a strong La Nina or a strong El Nino, sometimes there is more skill in forecasting where the snow will fall during the season ahead.

Right now forecasts show a 65% chance of an El Nino for next winter (those odds are twice as high as normal). An El Nino means that water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean would be above normal, and when this happen, storms usually track over California and the southwestern United States. Often this translates into big snows for California, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern parts of Utah and Colorado. The correlation between El Nino and other mountains is less certain.

Forecasts for next winter's El Nino are not very accurate when they are made now, in the spring. However, if we get to July and the forecasts still show the likelihood of a strong El Nino, then we'll have higher confidence that Chris Farley will return next winter.

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Weather for the weekend - April 18 to April 20, 2014

Spring skiing. That will be the headline this weekend as fresh snow will be hard to come by for the vast majority of the United States. Two systems will push through the northern Cascades and northern Rockies but accumulations will not be significant. A slow moving storm will make it's way across the Southwest on Friday giving the San Juans of southern Colorado a good chance for snow Friday night through Saturday morning. The Upper Midwest and New England will see another shot for light snow Saturday and into Sunday but accumulations will be not be anything to get excited about. Spring conditions are great from coast-to-coast so get out and take advantage of the remaining open ski areas!

 

Total accumulated snowfall, according to the American GFS, through Sunday. Source: WeatherBell.com

The far northern areas of the Washington Cascades will be the place to be to find fresh snow on Friday morning as the first of two systems make their way across the region. This weekend is closing weekend for Mt. Baker in northern Washington and it will be the area to head too for fresh turns in the Pacific Northwest. Another system will make it's way across the region on Saturday night providing another blanket of light to moderate snow for the highly elevated areas. As for the rest of the Western US, Idaho, western Montana, Utah, and Wyoming will see a chance for snow throughout the day and into the night on Friday but accumulations will amount to trace to two inches at best. Colorado will be the next best place outside of northern Washington to receive decent totals through the weekend as a weak, but moisture heavy system moves in from the Southwest. Friday will be warm and dry before snow showers persist throughout the rest of the weekend. Southern Colorado will be favored with the heaviest snow likely to fall during the daylight hours on Saturday and Sunday. Elevated snow levels can be expected as this system looks to be on the warmer side. Joel will breakdown all the details every morning in The Colorado Daily Snow

The temperature anomaly, or the departure from the long-term average, as of Saturday afternoon. Source: WeatherBell.com

Even though most ski areas are closed for the season, the Upper Midwest will still see continued chances for snow on Saturday and into Sunday. This will be not a big snowmaker but it will add to the numerous areas that received over a foot on Wednesday. A warming trend is in the works for next week so enjoy the winter wonderland while you still can. The highly elevated areas of northern New England will see a tiny chance for snow on Saturday but it is highly unlikely. Barring a very cold late-season storm, chances for snow across New England will be become very slim as we head deeper into spring. 

When you're up on the hill this weekend post pictures and updates using "LiveSnow", one of the features of our FREE iPhone and Android app.

Always check our Powder Finder and the forecasts for each mountain throughout the weekend for more details.

Sam Collentine | OpenSnow

> Checkout Liftopia for Discount Lift Tickets

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Weather for the week - April 14 to April 18, 2014

Excellent conditions are in play across the northern and central Rockies this week as the primary storm track continues to hammer down powder into mid-April. This week will be closing week for numerous ski areas throughout the Rockies and it will not disappoint. This past weekend left many areas looking like mid-winter and after a dry Monday and Tuesday, another system will unload on the Rockies with moderate to heavy snow through Wednesday. Even though most areas in the Upper Midwest are closed for the season, Old Man Winter will once again come out from the shadows to give them a winter surprise. With mid-April conditions this good, how could you even think about putting away your skis and snowboards? 

Total accumulated snowfall, according to the American GFS, through Friday. Source: WeatherBell.com

The primary storm track will once again take aim at the northern and central Rockies this week. Western Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado will be the winners with 4-8" likely throughout the week. Areas along and east of the Continental Divide in Colorado will be enhanced by an upslope flow on Wednesday so higher totals can be expected. Thursday morning will provide the best skiing this week with fresh tracks and clearing skies. Wednesday will be a storm skiing day but expect "crunch" underneith as the sun will bake any remaining fresh snow from this past weekend. Utah will see a few scattered showers on Wednesday but it will only amount to a dusting at best within the highly elevated areas. Take advantage of the fantastic late season conditions because they will not disappoint! Evan and Joel will have the latest in the Utah and Colorado Daily Snow

The temperature anomaly, or the departure from the long-term average, as of Thursday afternoon. Source: WeatherBell.com

Our Upper Midwest and New England Meteorologists are done updating for the season but this does not mean the snow will stop falling! Northern Michigan and Wisconsin will experience on and off snow throughout the week with heavy snow on Wednesday and into Thursday. Rain will be the main type of precip the further south we look but the northern areas of the Upper Midwest will experience a good dose of mid-winter like weather. Another wave of moderate to heavy snow is also possible on Friday. The highly elevated areas of northern New England will receive light snow late Tuesday and into Wednesday as a system passes along the Canadian border. This will not be a big snowmaker but it will certainly add to the already steller late-season conditions across the region. Check to see what ski areas are still open and head to the hills! 

When you're up on the hill this week post pictures and updates using "LiveSnow", one of the features of our FREE iPhone and Android app.

Always check our Powder Finder and the forecasts for each mountain throughout the week for more details.

Sam Collentine | OpenSnow

> Checkout Liftopia for Discount Lift Tickets

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Red Bull Double Pipe Highlights

The first ever douple halfpipe competition went off at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colorado on March 19-23 and was aired on NBC today. "This is definitely setting precident as far as the amount of snow that was moved for one feature and having something of this magnitude" said Frank Wells, Project Manager at Snow Park Technologies. Taylor Gold from Steamboat Springs, Colorado walked away the winner under beautiful bluebird skies. We hope to see Red Bull continue to progress action sports to unimaginable places and I'm sure we will. Here are the highlights thanks to Aspen 82, the local television station in Aspen, Colorado. 

Enjoy!

Sam Collentine | OpenSnow

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