OR Show – Day 1

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Ok, my “day one” anyway. The Outdoor Retailer tradeshow here in Salt Lake City actually started with an outdoor demo a few days ago while I was still doing my European traveling. After a nicely non-eventful plane flight (mainly, the Linzertorte from Huberta made it through without being confiscated by any hungry customs officers), I landed in the evening here in Salt Lake City, got a good night’s sleep at follow blogger Andrew McLean’s house (thanks Andrew and Polly), and dragged my somewhat jet lagged posterior down to the convention center yesterday morning to start checking out the goods. Here we go:

Backcountry Skiing

First stop, Mystery Ranch backpacks. They've got a new rig for slackcountry riding called the Saddle Peak. This low profile pack has a really nice diagonal ski carry system, adjustable backboard, etc. Perhaps we should start calling these things tweener packs, in between backcountry and frontcountry? They're sure to become popular as resorts keep adding inbounds wild snow.

Speaking of packs, another stop was at Granite Gear. They’re one of my favorite pack makers as their stuff is always innovative and minimalist. But they’re not a huge company so I was wondering how they’d be doing during our little economic event. Turns out they got a military contract for 45,000 packs over five years. Job security. Congratulations.

Backcountry Skiing

Over at Arcteryx I couldn't face going through their endless variety of soft shells (which are quite nice of course). Instead, I asked what they had in all-purpose backcountry ski pants. Their new Fury AR has optional suspenders, nice big thigh pockets, vent zips, and is made with a Windstopper soft fabric. They look like another terrific and versatile pant similar to the OR Tremor that I've been liking for two seasons now.

Backcountry Skiing

Garmont has three new Tech (Dynafit) compatible boots in their Ski Mountaineering line. Deamon men's and Sugar women's are 3 buckle boots price pointed at the $650 range, Luster women's is a high performance four buckle in the Radium price range. All look great, continuing the stunning craftsmanship that Garmont presented last year when the Radium debuted. (All are overlap construction, full Ski Mountaineering line pictured above).

Backcountry Skiing

Then the big stopover to touch the new Onyx binding from G3, and have a lengthy conversation with co-developer Rob Moore. Above photos show F1/F3 shim on upper binding (requires no new screws in ski), lower binding has a nicely functioning brake. Notes below.

To assist you loyal readers, I was most interested in how the G3 Onyx brake and crampon worked, as these are not included in G3′s excellent online information. The brake is cool. It’s super easy to install and remove. No matter what mode you’re in it remains deployed till you step into the binding. If in touring mode, a catch grabs the brake and holds it out of the way once you step on it. In downhill mode it’s held down by your boot same as any other ski brake. Beauty of this is when you’re fiddling around with binding entry the brake can always remain deployed, thus eliminating the sliding ski syndrome. Crampon attaches to two studs on the toe unit, very simple, as does the Scarpa F1/F3 shim.

Also regarding Onyx, the G3 online video includes some cryptic statements about how the binding automatically de-ices. Turns out that means that when the toe jaws open and close a mechanical part moves back and forth underneath, in the pocket area that can sometimes fill with ice and keep Tech style bindings from closing properly. Users will still have to deal with ice in the boot toe and heel fittings the same ways we always have with Dynafits.

Along the lines of G3′s “totally user friendly” concept, the toe pivot pins mounted on the toe jaws are threaded and easily removed and swapped by the user. Dynafits used to be built that way but they tuned the hardness of their steel so well that wear and subsequent replacement of the toe pins has never been much (if any) of an issue. Getting the steel hardness correct is a tricky deal, as with such a small bearing surface an inordinate amount of wear can easily occur. If such wear is in the boot sockets and becomes excessive, you’re looking at a new pair of boots. Thus, what I’d hope to see with G3 is that the Onyx steel hardness is as well tuned as Dynafit’s, or else the binding pin steel is slightly softer than that of the boots, since the G3 pins are so easy to replace. (Of note, G3 is using stainless steel for both the toe and heel pins of the Onyx.)

Which brings me to another thought — and something I feel is pretty danged important. As more “Tech” compatible bindings become available, standardization of the boot fittings will continue to be key. Up to this point most Tech fittings you see in boots are sourced from Dynafit and thus standardized (though how they’re located in the boot is a matter of some concern). The older style fittings (ones without “Quick Step-In”) are not patented anymore, so boot makers are for economic reasons trending to making and installing their own fittings. Problem is that tech boot-toe fittings are actually quite the complex shape — they’re not just a hunk of steel with a hole drilled in the side. Black Diamond appears to have duplicated the fittings quite well, but will other boot makers be able to do so? If the boot fittings are improperly shaped they may still work for touring, but can compromise safety release, and they need to be made from very hard steel. WildSnow will keep an eye on this. Consumer beware.

Backcountry Skiing

While I was at Scarpa I also spoke with a guy about the Naxo binding, which is now made by Rottefella, makers of the crazy NTN telemark binding. (In the original version of this blogpost I mistakenly wrote that Scarpa was distributing Naxo, sorry about the mistake, it is actually distributed by Alpina Sports.)

As many of you you might have guessed from our deafening silence about Naxo, we’ve not been highly impressed (rather than go negative here at WildSnow and get endlessly flagellated by PR people, we tend to just ignore what we don’t like). But from the latest PR story I heard at the Scarpa booth, a bunch of beefing makes the NX 22 model very unlikely to break. More, to increase stability the feet of the binding under the heel area have been widened from a 62 millimeter stance to 70, along with the binding frame being stiffened by using closed rectangular tubing for the rails. In our view, along with stability while downhill skiing being a problem with Naxo, lateral stability in touring mode (such as while edging with skins) is also a concern. I guess we’ll have to test some Naxos again and see if the improvements are smoke or concrete.

Lighter weight NX02 Naxo is also available. But as far as we know this version is little improved and thus not jiggling the needle on our excitement meter, though perhaps a reasonable choice if you’re not asking for a lot of alpine performance from your touring binding, since the Naxo ergonomic toe pivot does have its benefits. Note that NX22 goes to DIN 13, in case you want to help your orthopedic surgeon pay for his new swimming pool.

Backcountry Skiing

Oh baby, a little visit to the boy and girls at BCA yielded some cool beta. Tracker beacon sales are off the charts, while Tracker 2 is looking good but won't be available till next season. New Arsenal shovel series (shown above) gives you a slick method of storing either a snow saw or probe in the handle, and getting it out VERY easily. Big news is BCA has maneuvered like Napoleon around a bunch of existing patents and come up with their own avalanche airbag backpack. Float 30 backpack is clean and basic, will have an MSRP of $499! Cheap for a device that's been proven to save many lives.

Backcountry Skiing

BCA Float 30 avalanche airbag after inflation. It works with compressed air such as that of a SCUBA tank. The pack part was pretty much a prototype so not worth showing.

Backcountry Skiing

I stopped by Ski Trab to thank them for helping arrange my factory visit in Italy (blog coming on that). Unfortunately they didn't have a pair of their new Stelvio Grande freeride model, which is said to be 93 mm under the foot and quite light in weight. Perhaps an alternative for skis such as Dynafit Manaslu? We'd like to see more in that category so human powered skiers can have width without weight.

More

SPOT Satellite Messenger safety beacon is now offering a roadside assist option. It works like this: You buy the service (similar to any other roadside assistance plan) for an extra $29.99/year. Through your SPOT website account you then configure the unit (before traveling) so pressing one of the buttons will send an auto assistance alert to SPOT, who then sends a tow truck to your GPS location. Without 2-way communication as with a cell phone we’re not sure how facile this will be, but it is an interesting idea and worth a test, since it’ll work where cell phones do not.

Lastly, It was interesting to me that Outdoor Retailer is noticeably less crowded than last winter, ostensibly due to the economic situation. Even so, most people I speak with are upbeat about human powered sports being an island of business opportunity in the midst of a storming sea. This perhaps because you can do things such as ski touring and hiking for much less money than more energy intensive activities such as lift skiing and snowmobiling. That’s not saying backcountry skiing is cheap, but it can be done on the cheap if you really need to, thus providing an economic buffer.

Back to the temple of gear again today. I’ll file another report ASAP.

Comments

21 Responses to “OR Show – Day 1”

  1. Randonnee January 24th, 2009 8:56 am

    Great stuff. Looking forward to the next installment! “Hi my name is Rob and I cannot stop reading Wildsnow!” First it was Dynafit, then Scarpa and BCA, now G3, Garmont and and Arcteryx! Time to go skiing… : )}

  2. Jon Miller January 24th, 2009 9:49 am

    Nice looking stuff! Gotta love BCA. Another year before our highly touted and now much delayed beacon is going to be out. I appreciate the desire to put a unit out that functions correctly, but could they at least announce it when they know it will actually available. I’d love to hear about their new airbag. I just ponyed up S1000 for a Snowpulse bag, which I think is worth it. I wouldn’t have minded a bit less, if it is as funtional and protective.
    Jon

  3. ScottP January 24th, 2009 3:04 pm

    Wow, your take on the Naxo now is a lot different than what you’ve previously written about it. I don’t know about other readers, but I would appreciate if you wrote negative things about products. I found a good deal on some Naxos two seasons ago and part of the reason I bought them was the semi-positive review on wildsnow. I’ve been happy enough with them, but might have bought something else if I’d read this review.

  4. Lou January 24th, 2009 7:18 pm

    Scott, I gradually came to dislike some aspects of it more than in my first impressions. But I still feel it could be an ok choice depending on exact use, size of user, price, etc. My previous blogs were how I felt at the time, and they were indeed not worshipful screeds but rather “semi positive.” Sorry I couldn’t crystal ball my future feelings and blog them in advance through psychic means or something. Besides, I did share my take eventually, see this blogpost! And you missed our stability tests, which spoke for themselves? Those tests pulled NO punches.

    Of course the burning question, do the Naxos work for you or not? Your take is valuable. Please share.

    As for my reviews, last time I looked I was allowed to change my opinion about things.

    And all, I always make an effort to keep sharing my take on stuff as things evolve and gear is used for more days, but I’m just not interested in going very negative. Probably for the simple reason that Wild Snow is not a dedicated gear review blog. In other words, I just don’t have the time or energy to do endless gear reviews and deal with endless manufacturer issues. Call me lazy, but I’d rather focus on what we like and use day-to-day.

  5. Sean January 24th, 2009 7:23 pm

    I had Naxos for my first two seasons on AT gear. Not bad in soft snow. Terrible torsional stability on hard snow, sloppy when skiing aggressive, imprecise edge hold.

    This was the Naxo N01. I gave it up for Dynafit and couldn’t be happier.

  6. Lou January 24th, 2009 7:40 pm

    My mistake, Scarpa is NOT distributing Naxo. The guy working for distributor (Alpina) was there in the Scarpa booth and combined his story with talk from Scarpa, so I just assumed Scarpa had picked up distribution. Call it jet-lag-journalism (grin).

  7. LeeLau January 24th, 2009 8:20 pm

    The BCA airbag system sounds interesting and the price point very good. With that there is now the SnowPulse, ABS, Avivest. More choices is a good thing. I’ll do some more digging

  8. BryanL January 24th, 2009 8:46 pm

    “New Arsenal shovel series (shown above) gives you a slick method of storing either a snow saw or shovel in the handle…”

    Lou: Can you really store a shovel in the handle of another shovel? It looks like a probe, but I suppose having a second shovel for your bud to use would also be nice. More jet-lag-journalism?

  9. ScottP January 25th, 2009 9:11 am

    Lou,

    I don’t mind you opinion changing from first impression, I just wish it were easier to find the newer posts on it. I know it’s a pain, but would it be too difficult to link to newer posts on the original review? I did see the stability tests and wasn’t so worried about those since I’m pretty light (145lbs).

    I’ve been happy with them, I think mainly because I’m so light and I’m meticulous about keeping them properly adjusted (per your recommendation). On downhill I have been very pleased and don’t think they hold me back at all, no matter how hard I charge them. I’ve put them through everything, including a fair amount of bump skiing and hardpack, and they passed as well as any of my alpine bindings. I never notice the stability issue there. In fact, now I use them as a one-ski quiver and am perfectly happy with them for that.

    I have noticed the stability issue on the climb, especially while traversing on hard snow. Their tendency to roll the edges in those conditions has led to lost footing on several occasions. Combine that with the weird kick turns you have to perform and I’m not particularly fond of them on steep slopes. It might be a feature, since it makes me stow the skis and pull out the crampons when I should probably be doing it anyway, but it’s still annoying.

    Didn’t mean to complain too loudly, there. I do appreciate the thorough gear reviews you do and I love the blog.

  10. Lou January 25th, 2009 4:24 pm

    Gad, I’m a total screwup. It’s a PROBE that stores in the handle of course, and Scott, I over-reacted to your crit. I can pay more attention to keeping the reviews coming of all the products after our initial takes, though we do have watch how negative we get as it just doesn’t work well to go that route, and most stuff out there is pretty good anyway so long as it’s used in appropriate ways.

  11. BryanL January 25th, 2009 6:08 pm

    Lou: Welcome to the human race.

  12. ScottR January 25th, 2009 8:36 pm

    Does anyone know where/how/if to rent beacons by the week in the Aspen area?

  13. Lou January 25th, 2009 9:23 pm

    I’m pretty sure Ute Mountaineer has ‘em. They’re on the mall in the middle of town, easy to find.

  14. Andrew Sweet January 27th, 2009 4:53 am

    Lou,
    I am / was just about to purchase the BlackDiamond Avalung Bandit but now see the “Agent” looks like a better for for my needs…Any idea when this will come to market?
    Thanks
    Andrew

  15. Lou January 27th, 2009 6:31 am

    Andrew, most of the time new ski gear comes to market the next fall after it’s announced. Call BD and ask their customer service.

  16. ScottP January 27th, 2009 4:50 pm

    So I sort of missed this in the first read. Naxo is now distributed by Alpina, does that mean that BCA doesn’t have anything to do with it? Or is BCA still the American distributor?

  17. Lou January 27th, 2009 5:47 pm

    BCA has nothing to do with it now.

  18. Bryce January 28th, 2009 3:00 pm

    The Agent (20 L) is replacing this year’s 22L Covert. They’re doing away with the Covert’s smaller size (it’ll only come in 30L next year), making it look more like the Bandit (fewer straps, more basic) and calling it The Agent.

    (Andrew: If you do decide you want this year’s Bandit or 22L Covert, call me; I’ve got a bunch and the price is negotiable. They don’t have the snazzy tuck-away sling to carry yer helmet, though — I’ll be getting some Agent’s in around Labor Day.)

  19. JohnI January 29th, 2009 11:32 am

    As per Naxo discussion. The only thing i am seeing from these bindings is the weak plastic heels- the section beneath the heel cups snaps.
    Also the heel doesn’t engage and has to be manually engaged sometimes when clicking in which frustrates some people…
    All AT bindings have their “issues” but Naxo seems to have more than the other brands unfortunately. They work yes but are finicky and prone to breaking which does not inspire confidence.
    PS. if the G3 Onyx is as flashy as the tech info on the website then they will probably do the climbing for you as well!

  20. Lou January 29th, 2009 11:44 am

    Johnl, it constantly amazes me that people release expensive and highly engineered ski products into the public that break. Once that happens, they can strengthen till the cows come home and the stigma remains for years. More, it is frequently hard to know exactly what binding you’re buying, e.g., the stronger one or the older that breaks. From what I gather and hear, the more recent Naxos don’t have the breakage problems. The problematic boot entry didn’t/doesn’t happen with all boots, just certain ones, and as far as I know is unchanged. As always, demo before you buy or return if you don’t like.

  21. JohnI January 29th, 2009 3:22 pm

    Yeah Lou, my wife had her problems with the Adrenalin + naxo combo, which is a specific AT boot and SHOULD work with a specific AT binding…however as i work in the bicycle industry i am all too aware of products being “tested” by the consuming public…like 10 years of full suspension bikes!!!!!!!!
    Post some more pics of schwag from Utah…always good to see new product coming down the pipe.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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