Premium purveyor of extreme sport body armor Demon United has once again graced us with gear- completing my arsenal with a full loadout for both summer and winter.
You might remember how many tailbone injuries I was spared from thanks to Demon’s FlexForce padded shorts over the winter- now I’m looking forward to enjoying full-body protection with the rest of the set.
Check out the box-opening video here to see my initial impressions, and stay tuned for field testing.
UK-based helmet manufacturer Ruroc has been kind enough to punt one of their RG-1 snowsports helmets across the Atlantic to my mobile HQ, and in the limited edition “Venom” green-on-black color scheme no less.
After a few days of testing in a variety of conditions, I’m happy to report the headline I’m sure Ruroc’s PR department was hoping for: I love it!
Check out my open-box impressions below, then I’ll get into the details of on-snow usage.
As you saw, Ruroc does it right straight out of the box.
Beautiful packaging, premium build quality, and heaps of stickers will have a new purchaser nodding in approval before he or she even puts the thing on. If that’s not enough to make you smile, the “Made In England” stamp inside the lid certainly will. This helmet is built where it’s designed- no outsourcing to enslaved kids in Molvania for this company.
You’ve gathered by now that the look is polarizing. If the mirrored lens didn’t make enough of a statement, that solid face shield and textured matte black finish will have Stormtroopers saluting and kids running to their mama (this helmet is probably not the best choice for on-duty ski instructors).
On one test day I was told I looked like Darth Vader by no less than three lifties, although if I were inclined to get nerdy up in here I’d reckon the RG-1 looks a lot more like the Imperial Endor Scout helmet.
In any case, the perpetually-expressionless look afforded by this helmet lets you be The Stig of the mountain- for the full effect, move your head very slowly and don’t answer questions with anything but a nod.
Okay, so it looks hardcore. But how good is it really?
At first I was a bit skeptical. I’ve seen guys wearing full-face Downhill MTB helmets and they look like dorks. The giant chin-protector makes their head look disproportionately huge and is so far away from the face that there’s no way it can do anything for wind deflection.
But the RG-1 is different. The face shield is tight enough to your face to block wind and impact, and gives you that “locked-in” feeling I’m used to in my sport motorcycle helmets without the added heft.
It’s comfortable too. The helmet’s shell, which carries about forty stamps of approval and as many safety ratings, is quite thick and tall. But if that doesn’t describe your head shape, Ruroc has been foresightful enough to supply plenty of extra pads for you to shape the lid’s interior to your needs.
Some users have complained that the Ruroc helmet system only works with their house-brand goggles. Well they shouldn’t, because the included eyewear is top-notch. Interchangeable lens, incredible peripheral vision and perfect fitment with the helmet make them the only choice for an RG-1 wearer.
And on impact? Come on, I ride like a maniac… everybody knows I couldn’t go that long without a nasty prang to the head. Which is why I’ve had to wait until today to write a full review.
With my speed Völkls freshly waxed and serious tailwinds blowing skiers and snow downhill in a hurry, today was perfect for a top-speed test… which I realized afterwards would actually be my helmet test.
Going full noise down the Cornice Bowl, one of the steeper offerings at Mammoth Mountain, I found myself baring down on a patch of rocks that I really didn’t want to subject my new wax job to. Thinking I could change direction more effectively than I could hop the obstacle I banked too hard and proceeded to catch an edge, tossing me on to the icy surface like the first pawn eliminated from a tense chess game.
My head and hips met the ground like old friends and I slid at least ten meters toward the bottom.
But with my head encapsulated by the RG-1 and lower body protected by Demon Flex-Force shorts (reviewed here) I was able to hop up and power on as soon as gravity showed me a little mercy and arrested my slide.
In the flurry of snow and limbs that resulted from the crash I can’t really tell you if my face hit the ice or not, but I can tell you the only thing giving me a headache at the end of the day was the Skillrex Pandora station I was rocking out to on my bus ride home.
The Ruroc RG-1 is solid as the third little piggy’s house, believe that. But like everything else it ain’t perfect. It’s not nearly as warm as it looks, and wind whips through the vents quite easily. Luckily you can rectify that with a baklava, hat or kafia underneath. On really windy days you’ll have to stuff something between the opening under the front of the face shield and your skin, or your face will sting after your first chairlift ride.
It’s also somewhat inconvenient for the everyday skier. Headphones are impossible to reach if they get jostled out of your ears, CamelBak tubes are tough to get to and is a little awkward to have a conversation with any cuties you might meet on the chairlift when you look like you’re about to go break up a riot. So the RG-1 probably isn’t something you’d ski or board in every time you hit the snow- but it definitely can’t be bested for those top-speed test days, video sessions or park workouts when you want to go hard and can’t be bothered socializing.
Starting at $260 US this unit isn’t cheap either. But since that figure includes a helmet, facemask and goggle set, all made in Europe, the price starts to look pretty reasonable.
The RG-1 is available in ton of color combinations, and the modular nature of the helmet allows you to plug-and-play with the style to your hearts content.
And if you want to see the thing in action, here’s a quick clip I grabbed before I had to retreat to the bar from the day’s obnoxious wind.
Bummed that there’s no snow on the mountain? Trying to get your wintertime adrenaline fix but don’t want to tear up your skis on the rocks?
Try making yourself a Hockey Bike.
Last year my friend and fellow insanity-enthusiast Captain Jeff and I “built” this Hockey Bike by removing the front wheel from a Specialized Vegas I had laying around and ramming the forks into a pair of hockey skates.
Boom, instant ice vehicle.
This video’s been up for awhile but since it’s a windy, icy and miserable day here in Mammoth Lakes I thought everybody could use a little inspiration.
I accept no responsibility for broken bones, skulls or reputations.
Having taken delivery on a pair of Flex-Force Pro Armored Shorts from Demon United last week, I’ve finally had a chance to properly evaluate them after a few runs in varied conditions and a few falls flat on my ass.
Before reading, you should really check out the Open Box Impression video below, to get an idea of the product itself and how it’s presented by Demon.
As you saw, I found the build quality, fitment and style to be most agreeable straight away. Solid stitching, great elasticity and a high level of comfort that you need in an undergarment.
The pads are light enough to keep on all day but beefy enough to remind you of their presence thanks to utilization of a material called “D3O”. For those of you who don’t usually ski or board in body armor it is an inspiring experience- even if you don’t crash.
Confidence burbles from the pads up your spine and into your brain, making you feel like some kind of snowboarding superhero.
This of course is not the goal of armor manufacturers and is in fact an extremely dangerous phenomenon.
Wearing armor is not an excuse to be an idiot. But let’s face it- how do you get better? You go bigger, that’s how. And although it doesn’t make you invincible, light armor like the Flex-Force Pro shorts allow you to walk away from bigger falls without injury.
And that, I can attest to.
While butt-region injuries are relatively infrequent on skis, thwacks to the tailbone are all too common when riding a snowboard. Especially if you’re new to the sport like myself.
In order to truly test the Flex-Force shorts, I had to have a go on a board. I rented a basic Burton 160 from the demo shop at Mammoth Mountain and set out for some intermediate trails.
As I rode the chairlift I thought about my career as a crash-test dummy. Would I really be able to throw myself into the snow on purpose for the sake of science?
Who was I kidding- I’m not a good enough snowboarder to go a whole day without falling on my keister.
It only took four runs before I had my chance to properly evaluate the shorts.
Coming down Stump Alley, a moderately steep but surprisingly fast run under Mammoth Mountain’s Chair Two, I built up way more speed than I knew what to do with an overconfidently tried to initiate a heel-edge turn to scrub down.
In less time than I could yell my butt was barreling into the snow, making contact with enough force to toss me around and cream the left thigh as well.
I looked up to make sure my board and body were visible to descending traffic and began to assess my injuries.
I’m not gonna lie- the crash was not a painless experience. I felt some undeniably tenderness where the impact had first taken place, but the sensation secondary impact had already faded.
I righted myself and headed for the lift, half speed this time, and compared this crash to my last nasty tailbone tag.
My first day on a snowboard had only taken place a few weeks ago, but the pain in my tailbone from one low-speed direct hit had lingered like the last party guest still desperate to bring someone to bed.
I estimate the crash I just had in the shorts was roughly equal to that which had haunted me for so many days, and I’m delighted to report that the pain from the former had faded almost completely by the time I reached the bottom of the run.
These things saved my ass from a week’s worth of pain and hampered performance; you can’t put a price on that.
Actually, you can. The Demon Flex-Force Pro Shorts retail for about $70, and can be purchased directly from their website or through any major online sports gear retailer.
The only caveats I’d send you to the store with is that the shorts do get quite hot, even on cooler days. Makes me think they’d be pretty tough to spring ski in, and nearly unbearable on jungle mountain biking runs.
What’s this “D3O” business anyway? It’s not a Star Wars character (I know, that’s what I thought at first too). D3O is actually a synthetic polymer that’s coming up as the new word in sports body protection.
The geniuses over at the D3O Lab in England have finally put down the teakettle and developed a material that’s lightweight like foam when moved slowly, but hardens instantly on impact to disperse the blow over a larger area of your body and reduce the risk of injury.
This material is ideal for sports protection applications where low weight and high maneuverability are critical features.
This material is tough, that fact made itself apparent right away to me when they absorbed most of the ouch from my spill. But don’t take my word for it, watch the maniacs at GizMag.com beat the crap out of each other to prove my point.
As you can see, D3O may not withstand repeated trauma as well as thick foam CE armor. But when’s the last time you didn’t take a few second breather after a nasty impact? In all but the highest-speed crashes you might wrap yourself up in on a motorcycle, snowmobile or quad, the lightweight and malleability of D3O renders it the superior tool for personal sports protection.
Wanna get a little more nerdy with it?
Local ski shop owner Tim Hinkle was peddling his wares outside Canyon Lodge yesterday- and was kind enough to be handing out demos of this year’s Surface skis like they were t-shirts at a wrestling match.
No license, credit card or background check required. How could I resist a free test-ride on new hardware?
“Whaddyou wanna try, man?”
Having just bought new skis I admitted I wasn’t in the market, but it seemed stupid to waste an opportunity try some different gear.
I picked out the most ridiculous offering in the lineup- a pair of 179cm powder/all-mountain planks called the “One Life” from Surfaces’ “Life Series” of skis.
Featuring a substantial 140 / 112 / 132 footprint and unheard of eight degrees of rocker; all four front ends of these beasts (twin tip, of course) pointed to the heavens while the only part of P-Tex that actually touched the snow was directly under the boot.
If you don’t understand what the hell I’m on about, check out Evo.com’s definitions of ski shape.
Designed for extremely deep snow and I’m assuming halfpipe skiing, I noticed loads of pop and an excellent wax job as I skated toward Chair Sixteen for an inaugural run.
Coming down the groomers I couldn’t help but pull flat 360s every couple meters. With such an extreme rocker angle the edges of the skis hardly had a chance to catch, and I found out quickly that the One Lifes would much rather pull spins than lay into a carved turn.
When I could break off a carve, I was rewarded with a most obnoxious plume of snow dust being flung off the tail. Imagine a never ending exit wound caused by shooting Frosty with an M1014- weirdly beautiful and decidedly awesome.
In bumps the One Lifes were a riot; weaving around obstacles so quickly and easily I thought I might trip over the tips.
The skis were so happy to turn at low speed that I could practically orbit every mogul on the hill in the same run. The bumps I couldn’t be bothered dodging were even more fun- just an easy bend of the knees and I was boosting effortlessly into the next dip.
But as you’ve probably already guessed, this level of dedication to low-speed maneuverability cost the One Lifes stability at speed. Over 35 MPH and they’re a bit squirrely. Over 50, they might as well be snow blades.
When I cleared the moguls and made it into the straights the riders I had smoked came up on me again and blew past in a white cloud of granular that stung my face almost as much as my pride.
No matter. I was coming up on the Art Park, a small gathering of features for park rats-in-training, and these oversized fruit boots would once again prove their worth.
Even the small kickers were enough to elevate these skis to some respectable hangtime. Hell, I could have caught air off a hummingbird’s wang. I’m sure a more talented park skier could have really made them shine in one of our larger terrain areas, but I had a lot of fun all the same.
Obviously these skis aren’t viable as the only weapon in your on-snow arsenal, but they’d fill out your collection nicely if you’re the kind of rider that needs a specific ski for every lift on the mountain.
Sounds like you? Head over to YeahSweetOnline.com to place an order, or try and meet up with Tim for a demo. I hear they’ll let any idiot have a go…
Details on “One Life” powder/all-mountain skis by Surface
Mammoth Mountain plays host to some of the world’s most elite skiers and snowboarders in big-air events, halfpipe competitions, gate racing, and any other dick-measuring contest that can take place on steep snow.
And that’s awesome; because without those guys we wouldn’t have anybody to put on posters or call out for GNAR points.
“Dude, I can’t believe you’re a pro. I am SO much better than you!”
But what about those of us who want to compete on a legit FIS style course with nothing at stake, in any attire we choose, and with the assistance of everyone’s favorite confidence coach; PBR chased with peppermint schnapps? Where will we… uh, I mean, those guys… get their shot at a timed run?
Luckily, I wasn’t the first to experience this sentiment. In the glorious bicentennial year of 1976 some like-minded individuals put together the Village Championship Race Series (VCs) for guys and girls with a need for speed but lack of experience or endorsements.
A VC race is an event one can take as seriously, or not, as one desires.
Some arrive with Spider suits shrink-wrapping their lingonberries, shin guards bracing for impact and eyes on the price.
Getting a few more practice gates before their next Olympic bid? Maybe.
Seeking a chance to re-live their faded NASTAR glory days? More likely.
Others rock up in pink-and-purple onesies, wearing mullet wigs and blatantly taking pulls from clear plastic bottles that definitely don’t hold water.
Devotees and degenerates coming together for love of a sport- this my friends, is the glory of the VCs.
I show up for my two laps somewhere in the middle- sober, pretty much, but I did have to ask which side to pass the first gate on.
A question to which I was pleasantly surprised to get a very non-sarcastic response from the startmiester; “Left. Name and number?”
It wasn’t the first time he had answered that question.
Despite my lack of investment in the outcome of this race, which I figured out at the starting gate was to be Dual Slalom; I was savoring the feeling of standing on the starting line.
I’m crazy for racing sports. It doesn’t matter if I’m hustling my Honda Express against my sister’s tricycle or picking fights with Evos on my GSX-R… That moment when the light goes red to green gets me more amped than anything and I try to go Paul Walker on everybody’s ass.
It’s not something I’m proud of… but I give in to it every time.
This day was no different. I got tense, letting the red mist flow and fight-or-f**k mode engage.
My heartbeat was going nuts to keep up with the Maskinen Pandora station beaming into Bluetooth headset; then…
I jumped out of the startslope and skated hard toward the first gate. Leaning forward hard I gritted my teeth and went barreling into the synthetic bamboo stick (or whateverthehell those gates are made of) with my right shoulder…
“AGH, Gahd-DAMNiT!” I yelled into my facemask.
No time to bitch, I was already upon the next gate-
Christ, these things hurt!
All the other racers had chosen Swix plates or alcohol as a protective measure against the inevitable pain that comes with competitive gate racing. Something I was really regretting not thinking of a few hours earlier.
I bet Woolly never had this problem…
I smashed through six more gates before my aggressive plunge down the course degraded into a sheepish plod.
How many more of these gates are left!?
There were, like, a lot left. And I felt like I should have been skiing a lot… faster.
What was going on here, something wrong with my form?
But before my inner monologue could analyze the situation too closely I was clearing the finish line and making up for my weak performance with a dusty Shaun White-style snowthrow stop that only someone who was both sober and obnoxious could pull off.
Boom, cornered that market.
After telling the Canyon Lodge Demo Shop staff my sob story of a desperate, broke skier in need of some gear (myself) they were kind enough to pull back the curtain on their secret stash of last years high performance skis they’d apparently sell me for short money.
“I’ll even give you the employee discount on the standard rental rate… take as many out as you want, and let me know what you think,” said Charlie, the shop’s manager.
Picking a new set of skis is not a task to be taken lightly. I had my last pair almost eight years, and put thousands of runs underneath them. They’ll see duty again too, once they’re back from the shop.
But now that I’ve spent almost two decades on two planks, more than my share of time riding with PSIA cert’s and NASTAR racers, plus this season trying to keep up with my unabashed roommates, the stakes are even higher.
I don’t want to limit myself with a basic, do-everything-with-mediocrity ski. I need something that’s going to be a challenge to ride, something fierce. Basically, if I can find its top speed, I’ll leave it on the shelf.
Enough psyching myself up, on to the comparo.
On this day in late January, 2012 I rode four pairs of skis in the following order; the K2 Aftershock 181, the Völkl Unlimited AC50 177, the Salomon Enduro 177 and the Nordica Hot Rod Tempest 178. They were ex-demo 2011 models, so they all had a few nicks on the topdecks but the bases were all Drake Lake smooth.
Don’t forget, last year was a record for snowfall here in Mammoth, so these demos wouldn’t have seen half the rocks we have to deal with in 2012.
Each ski was run over a wax roller before I took it out, and the DIN on my bindings was always 7. And for the sake of full disclosure, I was rocking my Salomon Sensi-Fit boots from 2004 complete with structural cracks and very tired buckles.
Yeah, I know. Well if I could afford new boots I wouldn’t be shopping for skis in the barging basement of the rental shop, would I?
What matters is that each ski was tested with the same shitty boots… so journalistic integrity remains intact.
I did no less than four runs on any one ski and did at least one all-bumps, one all-fastblast, one hoon run and one mixer to get a complete feel for the ski.
I’m also writing these evaluations before purchasing one of the skis, and they were all being offered to me at the same price with bindings.
One more disclaimer; don’t forget I’m looking not looking for a rounded, easy all-mountain ski. I’ll have that when my Mavericks are fixed. I’m testing these skis to see which is the scariest, most demanding, Shao Khan-badass on the mountain and which ones couldn’t blow the scarf off a snowman.
Rider: Scrawny but strong 6 foot, 155-pound male. Competent skier on all terrain.
Dateline: Mammoth Mountain, California. Late January 2012.
Conditions: Heavy, well packed snow. Some pockets of thin powder, some pockets of thick, wet “Sierra Cement.” Good-not-great snow coverage all around. Excellent visibility. Agreeable temperature. Resort was not crowded.
• Easy to bump n’ jump
• A little too light… feels flimsy
• Couldn’t really get handling dialed in
• Not particularly stable at high speed
Coming in least-beastliest is the Salomon Enduro. I wanted to ride this ski because what I really wanted was a 2012 Salomon Shogun, and for some reason I thought this would be similar. I also liked the plain-black design and how light it was to pick up.
It felt so flexy and playful I started with a hoon run, pulling 360’s and big snow-throws with the tail. I’m not sure if this particular pair had dull edges or if I just wasn’t vibing with the sidecut, but I was actually having a lot more trouble spinning these skis than I thought I should.
On my fastblast run, they ran alright up to about 35 MPH but started acting skittish when pushed. Carving was adequate, just.
The Enduros came into their own in the bumps. In fact, I reckon they out-shone every other ski here in terms of how easy they were to hop and huck through the heavy moguls under the mid-section of Chair Sixteen. But this just wasn’t enough to redeem their lack of confidence at speed. I felt like they were letting me down when I needed real performance and weren’t challenging me enough at low speed. For that reason, the Enduros are coming up fourth.
• Carved harder than grandpa tearin’ the turkey on Thanksgiving
• Extremely versatile
• Poor balance… I couldn’t get my weight to the right places.
• Clattered like the Tin Man on a Flexible-Flyer
• Dorky Power Rangers paint scheme
I rode the K2 Aftershocks first because of a solid recommendation from Charlie. He reckoned this ski would give me the speed I was looking for while still being versatile enough to have fun on the whole mountain. I have to admit, I left the shop with these feeling a little unsure for no other reason than that they’re just so damn cheap looking. K2 makes great skis, but they are seriously lacking in the design department. With weird textures and a super-90’s color combo, you certainly won’t be hanging these on your wall when you retire them.
Interestingly enough, it took me the longest to get dialed in on these skis. I took a few more runs with the K2s than the others for the same reason you sit through a Hugh Grant movie to get to second base… I knew there was something sweet to be had, I just had get comfortable first.
Luckily the K2s and I connected before the credits rolled, and we made sweet giant-slalom symphonies as I wound them out so hard I could have fallen asleep at my lean angle.
Despite having such a long footprint, the turns I was able to lay out with these things were unbelievably fun. But where that footprint let me down was in the bumps. The 181 centimeter length was just a little to long for me, and I could never really hustle them around obstacles like I’d need to on the double-blacks off the top of the mountain and in the trees back east.
If you’re about to scroll to the bottom of this post to comment “hey asshole, you can’t claim to review a ski that isn’t sized properly”, save your proverbial breath. I’ll state again here that I’m reviewing used skis from 2011… and therefore only have the options of what’s on the lot. The K2s were so popular that they were sold out of all but one pair, the 181s I had a go on. Since I do feel like the K2s have been shortchanged in this review by being too big for me, I think this is worth mentioning again.
The carves on this ski were so satisfying that I almost bought them despite the Fast & Furious paint scheme and oceanliner length, but the final neg that made me hang them up was an unbearable clatter they produced at just about any speed. Could have been loose bindings, the front out-extending my weight, or just ski gremlins living between the woodcore, but for some reason these skis just sounded like an old Land Rover full of aluminum cans driving down a cobblestone road every time I got off the chairlift.
• Good length-to-weight ratio
• Bindings somewhat lacking… a bit vague
• Durability- long term tests seem to indicate these lack staying power
The Nordica Hot Rod Tempest was a ski I hadn’t heard of until I saw it sitting on the demo rack. But a quick search on my smartphone indicated these things had a solid reputation as a high-speed all-mountain expert-level snow weapon.
With cool graphics and a viable length, I had to have a go.
These were the last skis I rode of the day, and I had to bat my eyelashes a little to get the demo shop to fit and wax them for me forty minutes before lift closing. But they did, and it was on.
After coming off the lift I pumped out a few meters of skating and headed straight into a fastblast run. The skis exploded with acceleration and held good stability all the way up to just shy of 60 MPH, a speed I was mostly limited to by traffic.
In the bumps the Noridcas required a little effort to negotiate, but the experience was rewarding. As far as hooning it up, I didn’t get into it much because of how icy the snow was at this point in the day. But based on how easy it was to jump on these things and fly I reckoned the Hot Rods could live up to their name with little practice and confidence.
I caught last chair up Twenty Two and headed down the double-black Face Runs. These skis were the only ones I had the privilege of testing on terrain this steep, and the feedback was pretty solid. I really had to pay attention to keep them from getting away from me, and my legs were absolutely burning by the end of the run, but these things got me through some very steep, very icy, tree-splattered bumps in a low-light situation.
A really solid ski for the money, and the second meanest in this day’s test.
• Fast, fast, fast.
• Stiffer than a Buckingham Palace guard when Kate Middleton goes out for a swim in her royal bikini.
• Beautiful topdeck.
• Too heavy for the timid
• Difficult to hustle through the backcountry
The Völkl AC50s were that chammak challo you spot when you walk into a party. All your friends tell you to stay away, but you’ve heard that before haven’t you? You know you’ve gotta make a pass before you bounce, just need a little liquid courage first.
“You won’t like those, they’re too stiff. That’s an extremely aggressive ski,” said Charlie in his worldly sounding British accent as I ran my finger down the titanium-and-woodcore spine.
But the length was perfect, the topdeck was finished in a jaw-droppingly sexy stained wood design, and it didn’t hurt that they were made auf Deutschland.
After a little deliberation the Völk’s were waxed and ready.
I swung them over my right shoulder, they were too heavy to rest on my dented left, I clipped in and skated up Chair Sixteen.
I took my time dialing in on these skis. When I got off the lift I started with a gentle cruise, getting a feel for the sidecut and weight. Charlie was right; these were some aggressive-ass planks and frankly I’d be able to do a lot more with them if I had a little girth on my bones.
But as I skated around and got in tune with the heft, I started hustling them and beginning the real test.
The fastblast was first. Coming in hot off the top of Chair Five I was met with a dangerously enticing combination of a traffic-free face run and the Vishal-Shekhar playlist on my headset.
I skated out two hard pumps and aired in off the drop, hitting the ground with about twice as much speed as I had expected. In an attempt to stay in control I carved out to the right, hard to the left, then back right so hard I felt like I could have skied back to the drop-in.
Leaning forward as hard as I could, I struggled to keep my paltry mass over the front of the skis before they had their way with me and fed me a faceful of granular hardpack.
Carrying speed through carves was almost too easy… I had to throw snow a few times just to keep my velocity within a maintainable range.
After a dramatic hockey stop at the bottom of the lift, I was left out of breath and completely out of energy. My legs were on fire and I was thankful Chair Five had some of the best padding of any on the mountain.
Next up were the bumps. Heading the other way off the chair this time I aired in to Dry Creek, a naturally occurring halfpipe loaded with moguls and rocks the size of Woolly.
With the snow coverage as skimpy as it is these days, this run makes you feel like Luke Skywalker hustling down that back-door alley on his way to blow up Death Star. Just swap aluminum trussing for rocks and TIE fighters for lost gapers struggling to falling-leaf their way to safety.
The skis responsiveness was clutch ripping around the first few obstacles, but their weight took their tool on me quickly and I was gasping for breath by the fifth turn.
Control was being quickly exchanged for speed in a devil’s transaction that all skiers and boarders have known at some point.
I fought to stay on top but now gravity was running the show and the skis were playing second fiddle- I was just some idiot in the back strumming a piccolo.
I caught air off a particularly icy mogul and landed hard on top of another… tore through that and started blazing my own b-line through two more little bumps as I came crashing into a flat section seeking salvation.
Not being able to remember the last time I had had to stop mid-run to catch my breath, I decided then and there that the Völkl AC50 would be my next ski.
Fast, durable and obviously difficult to master, these wood-and-titanium monsters forged in hell’s own ski factory (actually located in Straubing, Bavaria) would help take me to the next level as a skier and be sure to offer up enough near death experiences to keep me interested in the sport for the foreseeable future.
I rolled off my bed and onto the floor, where I got through my morning ritual of three minutes of planking followed by a hundred push-ups.
You know, for when I come out of the shower and our hot neighbors are over. …I mean, endurance on the slopes.
Pathetic excuse for a workout completed, I b-line it for the coffee machine. My roommates and I had just ordered four pounds of ultra-premium coffee from a shop in Lanton’s hometown of Fresno. He’s our resident caffeine connoisseur, so I was keen to sample our new stash.
But before I could scratch my ass I passed Chris in the hallway, who was grinning like he had either just got laid or setup a hilarious prank on one of our cohabitants. Either way, I wanted details.
His response indicated something I hadn’t considered.
“Have you looked out your window?”
I always slept with the blinds down, in case employees from a rival resort were plotting a drive-by, so my answer was no.
“Dude, go open the door!” yelled Stephan from his bedroom.
I complied, and quickly identified the source of my roommates jubilation.
I was looking through a whitewashed winterscape where our dusty front lawn had been just twenty-four hours prior.
Roads were impassible, cars were buried beyond recognition, and I pitied the dog who had to take a leak.
“Oh, it’s on.”
Satisfied with my assessment of the situation I turned around and yelled an open inquiry as to which of my fellow Apartment Five residents were free to ride.
Chris and Stephan replied in the affirmative and commenced whipping up a beast breakfast of eggs, sausage, and high octane coffee.
The Samurai was loaded and moving half an hour later. We rocked up at Canyon Lodge before quarter-past-eight.
Suited and booted shortly after, I dialed back the DIN on my bindings to allow for easier ejection.
The snow that falls in our region is known as “Sierra Cement” for a reason- it’s a thick, wet, heavy surface that can grab a ski and tear an ACL quicker than you can say “Dude, watch this!”
I knew my Line Mavericks were going to have trouble in this stuff, but I was hoping the massive flex factor and twin-tip design would compensate for the skinny footprint. I was wrong. The slim all-mountain park skis that kicked ass on hardpack were struggling to stay afloat in powder, and I was taking dives left and right.
And since it was still snowing, visibility was an absolute joke. This picture isn’t a new Photoshop canvas- it’s Chris and everything else you can see. Taken from the top of Chair Five, you can usually see endless mountain peaks from this position. Not on this day.
My luck changed a bit in the early afternoon, when Chris had to duck into his office and offered to let me have a go on his pontoon-sized Blizzard One’s.
It felt like stepping out of a Triumph TR-6 and into a Nissan GT-R. The fat powder ski absolutely massacred the terrain, and I went from zero to hero in one run. Still took a few spills, but he way the Blizzards were floating over the snow made them so easy to manage that I felt like I could have done another eight hours on them.
Just look at the picture, wider is better!
We chased the liftline of the infamous Chair Twenty Two where Stephan and I swapped leads as we hucked wind lips and rubbed shoulders with trees.
Legs pumping like pistons I blasted over and around massive moguls. Fun as hell, but quickly fatiguing. I sought refuge in a flat piece of snow, and slid out of the bumps as soon as I had eyes on a steep fastblast section I was running parallel to.
Picking up another twenty kilometers an hour at least I straightlined it for a huge lip, bent my knees and limbered out for lift.
But when I made contact with the snow again, I realized my landing zone was softer than a pillow made of baby bunnies- as I somersaulted through the powder and righted, stunned, covered in snow, to cheers and laughs from the chairlift overhead.
With a salute to the crowd and a double head-shake to myself I got up and headed for Mammoth’s central lodge- The Mill. Pulled pork nachos were needed to repower for the last couple hours of ridetime.
Next time you’re skiing Mammoth, go to The Mill and get the pulled pork nachos. It’s a beastly three passenger meal that could psych you through even the gnarliest of conditions. Tell them I sent you and they probably won’t spit in it.
By the time we broke lunch we had added two people to our entourage; our neighbor Krista and Stephan’s friend Birdie.
Krista’s skis looked like they had just been unearthed at an archaeological dig. With a ridiculously skinny profile and what looked like the first interpretation of parabolic shaping I estimated their origin at the mid 1990′s. When I made my observation known, she told me she had borrowed them from a friends mom before coming out here.
Props. I had been too much of a pussy to bring my dad’s Kneissl 200‘s out west, a decision I was regretting now that this sheila was about to chase us through waist deep powder on skis only slightly more advanced.
Krista gave the pow a fair effort, but she was working her tail off in conditions that had stifled my 2005 all-mountain skis and was knackered after just a few runs.
I tried to show her some moves but mostly ended up looking like a jerk- there was no way her ancient Dynastars could replicate the lines I could rip effortlessly on Chris’ brand new Blizzards. She split and we headed back toward Chair Twenty Two to end the day with a guaranteed near death experience. Birdie stuck with us as we rode the speedy lift over cliffs, thick trees and avalanche chutes. With the light getting low and fatigue rearing its ugly head, it occurred to me that this was probably not the best chair to be on fifteen minutes before closing.
Of course there was always the Blue bail-out run, but everyone knows that’s for pussies.
So we dropped in to the face and gave it hell. The surface was brutal; the thick snow was starting to get an icy covering that made the moguls rock-hard and therefore a massive pain in the ass to negotiate.
We had all come off more than a few times before we were halfway down.
I emerged from the trees first, and glanced back just in time to see Stephan stack it over a lip. He barely had time to set himself up for recovery when Birdie came down on him and stamped him a foot down into the snow.
She laughed and pulled herself out, but Stephan was buried in the Sierra Cement and was too tired to extract himself completely. The poor bastard dragged himself and his new Burton Mr. Nice Guy through forty meters of thick, wet snow before getting back to the hardpack where he could stand up and ride.
But we made it to the employee dinner at Canyon Lodge with all of our gear and limbs intact, so I’ll chalk it up to one hell of a season opener.
As an employee of Mammoth Mountain’s Host Department, I work closely with our skiing mascot Woolly the mammoth. As such, I get the insider information on his antics and will occasionally share them here, that is when they’re appropriate to print (Woolly’s been known to drop a filthy strip club story in the locker room when he gets back from a weekend in Reno).
After the big snow of mid-January, the 24th was the first real bluebird groomer day. The ‘cats had had their chance to comb most of the runs, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and wind was low- conditions were perfect for Woolly to put on a clinic and have a ripper of a day.
He started off with two cups of Café Corazon coffee; a special blend infused with something aptly named the Mad Man bean- packing triple potency and carrying a warning not to be drunk straight.
By the time he was riding the gondola to his dressing cave at Canyon Lodge, his heart was already pumping nearly twice resting rate and his giant pupils were dilating to the size of tires.
The gondola swayed to a halt and Woolly squeezed out of the tiny door. He took the long way to his cave, stopping by the rental shop and then photography office to hit on the girls working there and there respectively. For an anthropomorphic animal who can’t talk, that guy sure does have swagger.
Down in the host office Woolly learned he’d be riding with Rick, a fast skier from Ohio and one of his favorite guides. They suited and booted, made their way through the mob of kids and tourists clamoring with photos of the famous pachyderm and headed for Chair Sixteen.
But making it up the first lift ahead of schedule, Rick asked Woolly where he wanted to go.
“Wind doesn’t look bad on Chair Five… think you could get down Solitude?”
Woolly reckoned he could.
At the top of Five the wind was howling. Woolly held his ears to avoid getting shot down a precipice while he posed for pictures. When the crowd died Rick pointed down the hill and yelled through the bluster;
“HEAD FOR CHAIR TWO! LET’S GO!”
Woolly hung his skis over the run and waited for wind.
Then after a five-second eternity a beastly gust blew Woolly’s body forward and his fur back. He took off like a shot, guzzling air and calories to accelerate harder. Tucking down to assemble some semblance of aerodynamics he pressed his shins against the front of his boots to hold a carve.
Woolly was amassing speed like a runaway locomotive. Giant ears pinned back, eyes starting to tear, he stared unblinking as he searched for bumps in the snow to unweight and turn on.
BANG! Woolly caught a lip and was airborne and twisting, re-arranging his skis to shoot off at a forty-degree angle.
Behind him, a faint but familiar voice screamed in desperation;
“WOOLLY! LEFT! LEFT! LEFT!”
Woolly had half a second to decide if that meant to go left or that there was an obstacle to the left. Unable to move his massive head for fear of wind resistance overcoming his weight and throwing him to the ground he went with Option C and straightlined it.
A hundred meters later the warning became clear- he was to turn left at the intersection he was bearing down on at full noise.
Woolly re-weighted again and leaned into a long, satisfying carve that would have impressed a GS racer. He was riding a pair of Line Mavericks- too skinny for powder but plenty grippy for a groomer day like this.
At the bottom of Chair Two Woolly was out of breath, and had to lean on the seven year old getting their picture taken with him to keep from falling.
Woolly rode up Two and danced around for his scheduled photo appearance. But he had only been there a few minutes when the East Sierra Disabled Sports team stopped by with a group of Wounded Warriors- U.S. Military veterans who had sustained injuries in combat, but were beastly enough to have a go at skiing anyway.
One in particular got a kick out of Woolly and fancied a race. Sitting in a basket with a ski mounted to the bottom, this man may have lost his legs but he most certainly had not lost his badass disposition.
“He’s only been on that thing four days,” said one of his companions as he rocked from side to side in preparation for what Woolly knew was about to be one hell of a show.
“Woolly, can we ride together? Let’s race Stump Alley!”
One of the attendants leaned over to Rick and his mammoth.
“We were going to head back to Two, can Woolly make it down there? ‘Cause we’ve had some Woollys who were good and some, uh, a bit shaky.”
Woolly, unable to talk of course, just made the brush-off-own-shoulder expression to respond that he did not belong to the latter category.
Rick laughed to himself as he imagined Woolly’s anger at his skills being questioned.
“Oh, I think he’ll make it just fine.”
Now twice-motivated Woolly took off riding switch (backwards) and beckoned the entourage to chase him with a big, exaggerated wave.
The adaptive-skier followed suit and upped the ante, ripping a 360 in his basket and tossing snow on Woolly’s fur. Worse yet, Woolly caught somebody taping the action with a GoPro.
Everyone knows a camera to a mammoth is a red rag to a bull… shit was about to go down.
The ad-ski took off and Woolly pulled downhill with a quick spin.
They were flat-out now, laying down crisscrossed carves and overtaking gapers who were left living up to their name in speechless paralysis.
But once they got into the straights, Woolly’s crippling air-brake ears held him back from matching the ad-ski’s tuck. The legless skier took off and picked up ten, twenty kilometers an hour on the mammoth and skidded to a halt in a tsunami of clumpy snow.
Woolly was coming in hot close behind, and it occurred to him to roost the seated skier- but thinking it unwise to potentially insult an American hero he opted for a 720 spin-stop followed by an exaggerated bow, to the cheers of lifties and five-year-olds in the lift line.
This morning was a hard starter for Apartment Five. Chris could barely stand with a torn ACL, Stephan was flat-out MIA, and I came to the realization that the damage to my Line Maverick 170s was indeed not a dream.
At some point during my shift yesterday I managed to tear the delaminate right in half, making my right ski look like some kind of rusty banana.
Chris was convinced it was fixable, but everyone agreed the skis would nigh perform as well as they once did.
Those skis have been with me since at least 2005, and kicking them off the roster as the go-to-guy was a pretty emotional experience.
With a ton of flex, manageable length and two front-ends, the Line Maverick is (was) undeniably one of the most versatile and fun skis I’ve ever ridden.
How could I forget all the carves, crashes, and pig-suit wearing ski days?
Pretty sure this was taken junior year of high school… I still use that jacket also. Christ, I’m poor.
But on this day I was determined to turn my frown upside-down. Mammoth wasn’t willing to give me a free pair of skis, even though I asked really nicely, but they did show me their secret stash of high performance ex-demo skis from last year. After learning of my plight they let me have a go on four models. So today I rode:
K2 Aftershock 181
Völkl AC50 177
Salomon Enduro 177
Nordica Hot Rod Tempest 178
I got no less than three runs on any one of them, and gave each a full workout complete with lumps, bumps, fastblasts, spins and plenty of roosting gapers parked on the hill (just kidding).
And yes, I did pick a favorite that will soon become a member of my toy box.
Full write-up of each and comparison to follow.