Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Whitesnake: A Ski Review

...an' I've made up my mind, ...I'm ain't wasting no more time.... Here I go again with another ski review.

It's not everyday that you come across some guy from Tennessee selling several thousand pairs of identical skis on Ebay.  After failing to sell his bulk load of army surplus skis, I encouraged the owner to sell me a few pairs (Gered and Justin jumped on the deal too) for $25 a piece.  Not bad.

About a week later, swaddled in their original protective plastic sheets, the skis arrived.  Colored a monotone white and 190cm long, they were tall, skinny, and angular.  Their "throwback" style basically announced that they were ordered by some Pentagon contractor who had vacationed at Stowe once in the 80's and vaguely knew what skis looked like.  Most likely rejected for looking ridiculously retro during field testing (which I hear occurs at Mad River Glen) they found their way to an abandoned ski shelter in Tennessee.  I imagine the mere sight of them encouraged the beholders to grow their mullets long, their bangs huge, wear lots of neon, and listen to Whitesnake.  Hence the nickname was born.

The skis have a straight profile with a minimum of sidecut, full metal edges, and sports a 1.5x camber.  It's designed to be an all around ski- a jack of all trades.  The camber makes it fast on the flats, while the full metal edges, and medium width make it a decent downhill ski as well.  It does not have a waxless pattern on the bottom to assist with climbing, and instead requires that you wax the area under foot (using different types of wax for different temperatures)

Instead of going full-retro  I opted to counterbalance the ski with the newest backcountry binding on the market: the G3 Onyx.  You NEVER go full retro! Unless of course you are Gered who put a three pin telemark cable binding on it.  All he needs now is a yak skin and a spear to complete the outfit.

 Gered sporting the white skis on Hunger

The Onyx is a "tech" style binding, which is a trademark safe way of saying that it is the style of binding owned by Dynafit until their patent ran out.  Tech bindings, while closer to the ski, and generally lighter than other binding type, require that your ski boot be equipped with two metal sockets in the front, as well as a have a socket in the heel to latch into the binding.  Luckily my previously purchased Garmont Megarides have this feature.

While the Onyx is heavier than a traditional Dynafit binding, the G3 has made improvements, including a design that does not require you to fully remove the boot from the binding to switch between downhill and touring modes. More importantly for cheap bastards like me, the Onyx detaches from its base plate, and can be transferred to another ski that has been outfitted with a spare plate ($65).  Imagine, instead of having to throw down upwards of $200 per pair of skis for bindings, you can purchase one binding, and switch it between skis for the price of a lift ticket.  This huge advantage overshadowed any additional weight, as well as my concerns about the fact the Onyx was only released last year, and is relatively untested.

Note the stickers.  So I can find them in the snow.

The Beta:

My testing consisted of an afternoon in about 6 inches of new powder at Burnt Meadow in Maine, my afternoon at Blue Hills on warm corn style snow,  a couple runs on packed powder at Crotched Mountain, and a few runs on icy hardpack and moguls at Jay Peak.  I have not, as yet, been able to test them on rolling terrain.  

For the amount of camber that the skis carry, I was surprised at how easy the edges get down for turning.  It was only when I was chattering across 45 degree hardpack that the skis did some "rubber banding" (snapping up and down).  This was easily solved, however, by pointing the skis straight downhill, and not side sliding the steeps.  In other words, they wanted to run, and protested when they didn't.  I was also surprised with how easily they skied moguls.  Despite their length and camber, I was able to easily turn them and maneuver in the bumps.

My only concern came with soft or deep snow.  The camber, and lack of a wide shovel gives the ski a tendency to dive in deeper snow.  This slowed me down on Burnt Meadow Mountain.  In addition, the angular tip is more "twitchy" than a rounded ski tip, which can lead it to suddenly turn when paralleling.  This leads to a crossed ski, and a massive wipe out if you're at speed.  The up side of my wipeout experiences was that I got to test the release of the Onyx:  my ACL and lower leg approved.

I intend on using Whitesnake on long tours to skiing on crusty or packed snow.  A return to Whitewall Mountain or perhaps a trip to the bowls on Mt. Washington would be ideal.

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