Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tour de Ski

In a little more than five days I will board a flight to Munich on my way to the Tour de Ski. I will be joining four other service staff to make race skis for the US Ski Team. My role in the team will be wax and structure testing. Interestingly, the USST has indicated that the plan for the Tour de Ski is to use it as a test run for the major Championships (Val di Fiemme and Sochi) of the next two seasons. My plan is to work had and see what doors open up down the road!

This will be the fifth edition of Tour de Ski and the event runs December 29 until January 8. The numbers are pretty astonishing:
  • 9 races
  • in 11 days
  • at 5 venues
  • in 2 countries
The overall results are based on the aggregate time for all events, as well as bonus seconds awarded on sprint and mass start stages. The sprint races carry bonus seconds for the finish, which are subtracted from the overall time. In mass start competitions, intermediate points carry bonus seconds as well. The final stage of the race includes a ridiculous climb up to Alpe Cermis. The competitors start with the gaps they have from earlier stages, so the first one on the top is the overall winner.

FIS has produced a really great graphic that shows the route we will follow:

I thought it would be interesting to see what we can learn about each of the venues!

Oberhof, GER - skate prologue, classic pursuit
Oberhof is situated in the middle of the Thuringian Forest (800 m over sea level) in Germany. The town boasts a unique concentration of winter sport facilities and based on its long-term engagement for young athletes it is known as one of the strongest training centers of the German Ski Federation. Top skiers like Axel Teichmann and Ronny Ackermann have their sportive homes in Oberhof.

The DKB Ski Arena is located at the Rennsteig about 2 km outside of Oberhof. At the stadium (814 m over sea level), there is space for about 15,000 spectators in addition to 10,000 more on the course.

Oberstdorf, GER - classic sprint, skiathlon
Oberstdorf is an internationally recognized winter sports resort with one of the most up-to-date and largest ski jumping hills of the world. Together with the neighbouring region of Kleinwalsertal, Oberstdorf is the largest mountain and ski resort on the northern edge of the Alps.

The Cross Country Stadium in Ried is located in the south of Oberstdorf.  The Stadium was built up in 2003/2004 for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2005.  The Stadium itself offers space for 10,000 spectators and additional 15,000 spectators on the track. For the sprint races almost the complete slope can be seen from the stadium and in addition the spectators in the stadium have a perfect view on the video wall.

Cortina - Toblach, ITA - classic distance, skate sprint, skate pursuit
Details are a bit slim on this venue...

Val di Fiemme, ITA - classic distance, skate pursuit (final hill climb)
The Cross-Country stadium is situated approx. 5 km east of Cavalese, the main city of Val di Fiemme. The capacity of the stadium is about 8,000 spectators and on the track approximately 20,000 can follow the competitions.

Every January, Cross-Country skiers can take part in the famous ski marathon, "Marcialonga," which starts in Moena and reaches Canazei in Val di Fassa, and then returns to Val di Fiemme while passing by many villages near Cavalese.

The best places to follow along with the results will be Fasterskier, FIS Cross Country, and the FIS Tour de Ski Leader board

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Early Results

Earlier this year, Fast Trax undertook fleet management projects with Matt Saurette and Ember Large, two of our sponsored athletes. Matt and Ember are both Madshus athletes and each of them have a significant fleet of skis. However, the challenges they were encountering were distinct and worth discussing.

Matt became a Madshus athlete in the 2010-2011 season and his ski bag was full of a lot of good materials. Most of his skis came from Reece at Madshus and were skis that had been passed on from other athletes. A few of the pairs came directly from Beckie and were skis that she had raced on prior to her retirement in 2006. The issue was that while his skis were excellent, Matt's fleet was put together with no overall plan and had some significant holes.

After spending some time with Matt in the spring, I determined that there was room for improvement with respect to both warm and cold skate skis, as well as with respect to hardwax classic skis. Matt's best pair of cold skate skis was a 116 mold from 2010 that I had selected from regular inventory. This skis had worked quite well and Matt was very happy with them, however I suspected there was room for improvement. Matt's only other pair of skate skis was an old 166 mold that had never seen much success (see the discussion on Madshus models here - ski service).

With this in mind, I was able to select some new materials in Norway to help Matt round out his fleet. The addition of a 119 universal warm ski and a 118 universal cold ski means that Matt is well positioned for skating. The addition of a nice 102 universal hardwax classic ski means that Matt now has good options for both hardwax and klister (from his existing fleet).
Testing the new 119 skis in Norway.
Matt's new materials.
 Ember, on the other hand, is new to Madshus and inherited a large fleet of skis from Kate Brennan who switched to Fischer for this season. In addition, Ember received a few pairs of new skis that were selected by Reece. As a result, Ember's fleet was nicely put together - she just didn't know what she had or when to use specific skis.

I strongly believe that having a well managed fleet of skis is a crucial asset for any aspiring athlete. There needs to be enough choice in the materials to be able to get the appropriate pair of skis on the snow on the appropriate day. However, the "well managed" part is key. A large, unorganized fleet of skis creates unnecessary stress for both the athlete and the technical staff and makes it virtually impossible to find success. Having a choice in skis should reduce stress rather than create stress!

As there is no snow in Edmonton, the assessment of Ember's fleet was done by hand - literally. I reviewed each pair of skis and identified specific characteristics that indicate under which conditions the skis will be useful. I consider the shape of the running surface, tip/tail pressure, flex, and bridge characteristics as part of the equation.

In the end, I was able to produce a nice summary document for Ember that provides the information she needs to make educated decisions. You can take a look at that document here - Ember Large fleet. I also created some stickers that provided a summary of the same information right on the skis:

Useful information, terrible picture quality.
Now, none of this really means anything until the skis get out on the snow. In his early testing in Lake Louise, Matt's new 119 skis were killing his old warm pair - an excellent sign. More interestingly, however, are the results of competition from the first Alberta Cup in Canmore. Matt handily won both the sprint and distance races using his new 118 and 102 skis. Ember finished first and third in the sprint and distance races respectively. Excellent results!

It should be noted that Ulf, Les, Reid, and Dan put in a ton of work testing wax solutions for the weekend and, by all accounts, the ENSC athletes had amazing skis. Those guys deserve big congratulations - Canmore is usually a pretty easy venue for waxing overall, but a pretty hard venue to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Nicely done!

Friday, November 25, 2011

West Yellowstone - skate race and pictures

Today was the distance skate race here in West Yellowstone. Conditions were consistent with previous days and the forecast snow from yesterday didn't materialize... until partway through the men's race when there was an utter squall for about ten minutes.

We had really good success with skis today and it was one of those races where you really knock it out of the park. The powder of the week continues to be C105, however the real surprises were in topcoats and hand structure. For topcoats, Ski*Go C44 block was the clear winner. This topcoat is never good - except for when it is. And when it is good, it is really good. For hand structure the Finite V05 won the day, beating out the Holmenkol Cross Structure tool (which was actually pretty bad).

The combination of the C44 block (which is notoriously bad in new snow) and the V05 structure (broken V structures typically are also bad in new snow) had us a bit worried for the men's race. However, the skied in part of the track was glazed and transformed enough so that there was no issue.

Tomorrow is the final race, a distance classic event. Temperatures are forecast to be super cold overnight and then warm rapidly in the morning. Things could get tricky...

In the meantime, here are some pictures.

The scene in West Yellowstone. As per usual, there is a lot of snow.
The team from Sun Valley always organizes a catering company to come and cook. The food is really excellent and a nice change from the usual supper fare of Wendy's.
Getting set up to test for the sprint race. The stadium is about 1.5km from the nearest parking and all the gear has to be shuttled in and out each day.
Now we test.
When the sun is out and the weather is nice, this job is pretty amazing.
Getting some sun at the wax trailer.
The West Yellowstone trail head. Pretty famous.
Cherry Coke. Fuel when waxing in America.
Yesterday I had a chance to ski for fun and check out the distance course.
Seriously granular snow. This is the reason that the C44 block was good today.
Checking out the skate race and trying to stay warm.
Now Shane and I burn powder. We are super cool guys.
Finally, if you check out the top left part of the site you will see a part called "FOLLOW BY EMAIL". If you fill this part in you can subscribe to the updates.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

West Yellowstone

I have been in West Yellowstone since Monday working with some of my American friends at the Super Tour opener. There is a ton of snow and the conditions are amazing. I even managed to get out for a great ski both yesterday and today.

Our days have been filled with testing, working on test skis, and making race skis. The weather has been warm (highs well above zero) and the sun has been shining bright. This has made for glazed conditions and hard tracks. In terms of materials, we have been liking the following:

Paraffin - Swix HF8
Powder - Ski*Go C105

Yesterday was the sprint race and tomorrow there is an individual start skate. I skied the course today and it looks to be a lot of fun with rolling sections, some big climbs, and some ridiculously fast downhills.

I don't have any pictures to post just yet, but here is a stolen photo from the Middlebury team. Needless to say the skiing is decent!

Amazing Conditions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Brushes - powder

The second instalment in our mini-series on brushes. Tonight we talk about brushing powder. As a best practice, it is a good idea (although not crucial) to have a set of powder brushes and a set of paraffin brushes.

1) Swix Stiff Black Nylon (T0194O) - You only need this brush if you are burning FC7 or FC78. Useful to brush up (but not brush away) the powder before ironing for a second time. Gently scrub back and forth. For all other powders skip to #2.
2) Swix Wild Boar (T0164O) - After lightly scraping, use this brush to clear away the powder. This is easily the best brush for the task and it works quickly and efficiently. Make 5-10 strokes.
3) Swix Fine Blue Nylon (T0160O) - The best finishing brush out there. Scrub back and forth to bring a nice polish to the base.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brushes - paraffin

On the weekend I had a request for a post about brushes. We will start with paraffins in this post and review powder brushes next time.
1) Swix medium steel brush (T0179O) - The best all around brush you can own. If you only have one brush, it should be this one. Use in one direction only and requires a break-in period to soften up. Make 5-6 strokes before waxing to clean and open the base.
2) Swix medium steel brush (T0179O) - After ironing and scraping, make 10-12 strokes to remove the majority of the wax.
3) Holmenkol Steel Micro Finish - Ultra fine steel brush to remove any remaining wax and to clean out the structure. Especially important in cold conditions. Use in one direction only. Make 4-5 strokes to remove the remaining wax.
4) Swix Fine Blue Nylon (T0160O) - The best finishing brush out there. Scrub back and forth to bring a nice polish to the base.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Binding Wedges - a literature review


This write-up is intended as a literature review and, as such, does not include any new or original work. See the list of works cited at the end for sources.


Last winter, Salomon introduced a binding wedge to the retail market. This product is installed under the skate binding and provides a 5mm lift to the toe relative to the back of the foot. This translates to approximately one degree of lift. For the 2011-2012 season, Rottefella has released a NIS compatible version of this product for retail sale. There has been a lot of confusion within both the racer and consumer population as to what this product is purported to do, what the actual testing results show, and what is recommended in terms of whether or not this is a good product. Accordingly, a lot has been written on this topic and we have compiled a review of the current literature.

Advertised Benefits

According to both Salomon and Rottefella, the binding wedge improves ski acceleration and edge control by increasing the efficiency, power, and length of each skate stride (Salomon, Product News). In a February 2010 blog post, Salomon notes that this is accomplished as the wedge increases ankle flexion, thus allowing for a more powerful beginning of each skate stoke - In other words, by increasing the angle the ankle, the ski 'squirts' ahead, up the hill (or ahead), increasing the 'free-glide' feeling (Salomon, Product News). Neither manufacturer recommends the use of the wedge in any specific conditions. Rather, both binding companies simply indicate an overall net benefit to the athlete.

Testing Experience

As with any technical ski product, it has rapidly become clear that the advertised benefits are not nearly so obvious when out on the trails. Mark Waechter of Nordic Ultra Tune notes that for a few sessions the effect is somewhat noticeable, but eventually good skiers will adapt and the wedge may not offer a long term benefit (Waechter, NIS Xcelerator Wedge). Similarly, Zach Caldwell of Caldwell Sport notes that after some early testing, his results were not conclusive (Caldwell, Binding Wedges).

Given the inconclusive nature of the early testing results, we must look to recent World Cup racing as the proving ground for this product. At the 2011 Tour De Ski, Zach was able to test multiple pairs of race skis, on race day, with and without wedges (Caldwell, Binding Wedges). In this article, Zach indicates that this was the first time the addition of binding wedges obviously resulted in faster skis. Therefore, it is evident that the wedges offer a benefit in certain situations and Zach suggests that we must consider the athlete, the ski, and the conditions in the determination of those situations (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes).

The Athlete

Unquestionably, the addition of binding wedges changes the geometry of the binding platform. Further, it is clear that some athletes like this change and some do not. Utilizing the pause button while watching some World Cup footage will quickly reveal that Lukas Bauer does not like the wedge, while Ivan Babikov has it installed in virtually all of his skis. Given the increased ankle flexion generated by the wedge (Salomon, Product News), it appears that skiers with good flexibility will adapt with relative ease (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes). On the other hand, athletes who have some stiffness may find their technique disrupted in an undesirable way and their shins getting sore (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes).

The Ski

By encouraging the athlete to weight the foot a bit further back (Waechter, NIS Xcelerator Wedge), wedges may reduce the load on the forebody of the ski. For those ski models that carry significant tension in the forebody (Fischer Carbonlite Skate, Madshus 118 Hard Pack), wedges may have a noticeable impact on the feel of the ski. This could be especially useful in softer conditions to reduce the ploughing effect these models can sometimes have.

The Conditions

Based on testing results, Zach has indicated that the wedges generally result in an improved feel in soft, wet snow (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes). In conversations I have had with Mark Waechter, it appears that he is of the same opinion. In addition, there are indications that the wedges may cause a reduction in stability in hard packed conditions. This is logical given the reduced forebody load noted above.

This position is consistent with the findings of the Fischer racing department. Frequently, the Fischer service staff have not seen a benefit from the wedges, however in soft and wet conditions they have found installing the wedges to make a significant difference (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes).

Conversely, Knut Nystad, chief of the Norwegian Ski Federation Service Team, has an entirely different experience. Knut indicates that it seems like binding wedges make the ski perform better, particularly in hard conditions (Nystad, Knut’sCorner). This position, however, is not consistent with the general consensus as most testing indicates that the harder the snow, and the faster the conditions, the less difference the wedges seem to make (Cramer, What’s the deal with binding wedges?)


The bottom line conclusion is this:

- In soft, warm conditions it is generally accepted that the wedges will improve performance and will not be a liability. We would recommend installing the wedges on skate skis intended for warm conditions.

- In colder, harder conditions it is not clear that the wedges will improve performance and they may result in reduced stability. We would approach wedges on skate skis intended for cold, hard conditions with caution.

However, as Mark points out, given the modest price of the wedges and the minimal impact on ski setup (installation is fast, easy, and non-invasive), this is a product that anyone could try (Waechter, Weighing in on Wing Wedges). 

Works Cited

Caldwell, Zach. "Boulder Nordic Sport - Binding Wedges." Boulder Nordic Sport Home. 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/Home/tabid/164/itemid/254/amid/2000/Default.aspx-.

Caldwell, Zach. "Boulder Nordic Sport - Oslo WM Tech Notes #4." Boulder Nordic Sport Home. 15 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/Home/tabid/164/itemid/316/amid/2000/Default.aspx-.

Cramer, Bruce. "What’s the deal with binding wedges?" Editorial. Boulder Nordic Sport Catalog - Winter 2011-12 Oct. 2011: 6. Boulder Nordic Sport, Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/images/catalog/BNS_1112_web.pdf-.

Nystad, Knut. "Knut's Corner." Editorial. Boulder Nordic Sport Catalog - Winter 2011-12 Oct. 2011: 3. Boulder Nordic Sport, Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/images/catalog/BNS_1112_web.pdf-.

Salomon. "Product News: SNS Wedge." Salomon Nordic News. 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://salomonnordic.blogspot.com/2010/02/product-news-sns-wedge.html-.

Waechter, Mark. "NIS Xcelerator Wedge - Details and Photos." Nordic Ultratune Blog. 2 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://blog.ultratune.net/2011/03/nis-xcelerator-wedge-details-and-photos.html-.

Waechter, Mark. "Weighing in on Wing Wedges." Nordic Ultratune Blog. 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://blog.ultratune.net/2011/02/weighing-in-on-wing-wedges.html-.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fall Update

As has become the tradition, fall maintenance on the site is now complete. This year the updates were minor, but there are a few things to note as winter approaches:

1) The "Where's Patrick" schedule information on the left side of the page has been updated for the current season. This year my season features dramatically less domestic racing in favour of two significant European trips in January and February. Check the schedule out... there is some cool stuff there and this winter looks to be filled with amazing opportunities. 

2) There is a new page titled, "Skis - what you need to know". You can find this link on the top right hand side of the site. Once you click on the link you can scroll down for detailed descriptions of the materials that Fast Trax carries. It is worth a read. 

3) The shop has a new blog. Here you can find training ideas, technique and waxing advice as well as wax clinics out of the shop and technique clinics out of Crossfit Armoury. I'll be authoring content for that site as well, but will make sure to post it in both places. 

4) Earlier in the fall, Fasterskier asked me to be part of a podcast with some pretty awesome ski techs. This will be a multi part series and you can check out the first instalment here - podcast.

5) If you typically only get the site updates by email (ie, my family), don't forget to check out the actual site from time to time. There are often content updates here that may not come out via email. Check it out here - http://fasttraxproteam.blogspot.com/

6) For the first time in two seasons, I have my own poles - both skate and classic. Don't ask to buy them, they are not for sale. Pretty excited about this!

That is enough for tonight. You can expect to see some more interesting and meaningful content soon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Maui - my new best thing

Paul and I are in Maui. This might just be my new favourite place to visit.

Side note --> a lot of the pictures loaded sideways. Sorry, that's just the way it is. To see them properly, right click on those images and save to your computer. When you open them from there you will be able to rotate. 

Also, you can click on any of the images and a larger version will open in a new window with more detail.

Our view is not bad.

Here is what has gone down so far.

Day 1:
We spent most of the first day at Kahekili Beach Park. It is only a five minute walk down the beach from our hotel and it has calm, clear water and is fantastic for snorkeling. Despite the fact that all three of our books list this as the best beach in all of Maui, it seems to mostly be populated by locals. Most of the tourists stick to the big beaches and for most of the morning we had the entire place to ourselves. Decent.

Sunset run.
 Day 2:
Today we woke up at 6:30 to head to the north part of the island. The Road to Hana is a crazy highway that is super narrow and twisty. It's also one of the main tourists attractions, but we decided to skip it because it means spending an entire day in the car. Nevertheless, we ended up taking the Hana Highway for a while this morning to end up at our hike.

It was early in the morning and pouring rain when we arrived. That turned out to be a good thing because we ended up having this amazing spot to ourselves.

The trail head: 6/10ths of a mile past mile marker 6 at a small turnout with a wire fence. Kind of like the entrance to the wizarding world in Harry Potter, this would be impossible to spot if you weren't specifically looking for it.
The first part of the trail was through a bamboo forest.
There were four waterfalls on the hike. There was some climbing involved to get to the second one. This climbing later turned out to be insignificant compared to what was to come.

The second waterfall. Sweet.

Right before this is when the sketchy climbing happened. A 12 metre sheer rock face with some dodgey ropes and a rickety old ladder to make it up. Yikes. This is Paul at the top of the second waterfall.

Eventually we got to a point where the trail seemed to disappear. I tried to follow it up. This turned out to not be correct.

The reason my climbing turned out to be incorrect was that to get to the next part of the trail you actually had to get in and swim. So, that's what we did.

Paul swimming.
The swimming is done, so the hard part must be over, right? Wrong. The last obstacle is the third waterfall - which you have to scale. Luckily, we had our Roclite 230s on (which were also good for swimming).

Now Paul climbs.

At the top of the third waterfall, looking back on where we just swam. We came from around that corner.

This is why is was all worthwhile. Amazing.
Now Paul swims.

Here we are!


This place is cool.

Now Paul swims again.
One last look. The fact that we had this whole place to our self makes no sense at all.