Salomon S/Lab Shift Ski Binding Review

There has been a lot of press about the new S/Lab Shift ski binding from Salomon. After nearly a decade of R&D Salomon has produced a ski binding that can deliver downhill performance with touring capability. A ski binding that gives today’s freeride skiers a chance to “earn their turns” by touring uphill and then charging ‘big lines’ on the descent!

Salomon can tell you all about the ski bindings here; and, as previously mentioned, the freeride peak hunting athletes’ are screaming “Holy Shift”. But what does a novice, rookie, greenhorn, virgin ski tourer think of the Shift ski bindings? Well read on.

Having never ski toured before I was both excited and apprehensive when Shep, Salomon’s friendly ski tour guide, introduced me to ski touring. First the safety kit, including a transceiver which was very reassuring. And then the 99mm underfoot QST skis with S/Lab Shift bindings, and skins. All I will say is; “if you are into Transformers you’ll love these bindings”. A ‘click here’ and a ‘click there’; and you transform a touring binding into an alpine binding, and visa versa – “simples”.

snow covered trees
 It was cold, windy, and in cloud; which gave my first experience of Sweden a rather ‘monochromatic’ outlook.

So with the skins attached and the bindings in touring mode, I managed to locate my boots securely. It takes a bit of practice, but I would have experienced that with any ‘pin binding’ – and you soon get the ‘knack’! We set off, nothing too adventurous  at the side of the piste, but enough to understand the technique of going uphill with skis – without the aid of a button or chair lift. Needless to say it was more tiring, but it was also more rewarding – I now understand the term “earn your turns”.

It was now time to, ‘click here’ and ‘click there’, and transform the bindings into alpine mode. This I am familiar with, and they felt as good as the bindings I have had on any of my piste/all-mountain skis!

The whole experience was great, and I managed to impress Shep enough to allow me to join a more adventurous trip the following day.

 Again it was cold, windy, and in cloud; which gave my first experience of Sweden a rather ‘monochromatic’ outlook. We skinned up much steeper terrain, with a customary ‘zig-zag’, and once again the bindings performed brilliantly in touring mode. Once again the pleasure of being away-from-the-crowds, that ski touring gives you, was delightful. But as Sir Isaac Newton eloquently said; “what goes up must come down”!

tree line skiing
I felt sorry for the trees, as we descended the powder fresh tree line. A twig here, a branch there; we became close friends.

If you have read my review of the Salomon XDR skis, you will know I’m not the most proficient off-piste skier; so with a ‘click here’ and a ‘click there’ I was ready to venture “outside my comfort zone”!

I felt sorry for the trees, as we descended the powder fresh tree line. A twig here, a branch there; we became close friends. Too close sometimes; but the bindings, in alpine mode, released with great aplomb! At the bottom it occurred to me, that while my colleagues made light-work of the tree line, it was I that was fully testing the bindings – as I ‘crashed’ my way down!

So what does a virgin ski tourer think of the Salomon S/Lab Shift ski bindings? Rather amazing actually! Here’s a binding that will perform in both alpine and touring mode; and will enable you to ‘earn your turns’ however extreme they may be!

Chad Blanc

Photographs Nigel Shepherd

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Whitedot Ragnarok Skis Review

It’s been an interesting season so far in Colorado, USA. It’s had record low snow fall, record high temperatures, snowpack instability, and winds ripping through the valley – not what the locals have come to expect from this staggeringly vast, peak fill, snow playground in the Rockies!

The Whitedot Ragnarok is the brainchild of Fred Syversen; and after a quick ‘Google Search’ it becomes very clear why these skis just want to charge everything you put in front of them! Originally the Ragnarok was a super stiff , but this second generation Ragnarok is a little more playful. With 118mm under foot, 143mm up front and 130mm in the rear the ski is definitely designed to float, and to charge face-first down powder lines and steep faces. Just looking at the skis; they scream “powder day”!

skier in powder
Just looking at the skis; they scream “powder day”!

However, like I said, “it’s been an interesting season”. So the deep powder days have been few and far between (although the snow is starting to come more regularly now) leaving sunny, chopped up half powder/half mogul filled runs, which isn’t really what most of us would call ‘ideal skiing’, but the Ragnarok has a different opinion. If you can manage to blank out the bumps, and your knees will let you, the Ragnarok will ‘smash’ through whatever you put in front of them.

But it’s not all ‘smash and grab’! The stiffness helps to add a fun ‘pop’ to the exit of hard turns; the minimal camber under foot is enough to carve corduroy with the best of the ‘short ski groomers’, and the rocker (both tip and tail) will make these big skis scrub their turns, through tight trees, with ease! Whitedot gave this ski its own category “The Fun Charger” and they hit the nail square and true on the head.

looking down at whitedor ragnarokskis
It’s as if the people at Swiss Army Knives gave the guys at Whitedot a pep talk before they designed this ski; it does everything!

I cannot say enough about how versatile this ski is; and that’s me having put standard alpine bindings on them! The Ragnarok has had me cruising Vail’s vast inbound powder fields, to boot packing out-of-bounds on East Vail’s endless selection of rolling pillow lines, open bowls, cliffs and tight trees. And not once did they disappoint! It’s as if the people at Swiss Army Knives gave the guys at Whitedot a pep talk before they designed this ski; it does everything!

And if you go for the Carbonlite Ragnarok, with a pin binding setup, those steep, remote exposed lines in your dreams will become a reality.

So it turns out us Brits, who live on an island, with a maximum height of 1,345m, and relatively little snow, make one-hell-of-a ‘big mountain’ charging ski.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

A Perfect Day in Paradise – Ski Touring up Pointe du Midi

The day began with a big bowl of bircher muesli (oats soaked in apple juice) and a peanut butter and banana smoothie. Once all packed and ready to go we skied straight out of the front door to get the car and headed to the Col du Colombiere. With the col closed in winter, the tour begins with a nice a steady climb following what is usually the road. Perfect to get the legs warmed up before the steep top. The temperature at dawn was -14C, which made it bitterly cold on the hands when putting on our skins. Hence it was in our interest to get moving quickly.

The sunrise confirmed the forecast of a crystal clear sky, and highlighted the mountain peaks with a orange glow. Once around the first corner we were pleased to see a group of five, about 15 minutes ahead, sluggishly putting the tracks in for us. Perfect! After starting from the car all still wrapped up with gloves, down jacket and a head band, we were starting to warm up nicely. Knowing what lied ahead, the pace was gentle.

ski touring
We made it to the top of the col with ease, but we knew from there the real climbing would begin.

We made it to the top of the col with ease, but we knew from there the real climbing would begin. Without wanting to get damp from sweating, and with the sun coming up over the mountains, we thought this was the perfect time to shed some layers, have a sip of water and get the sunnies on. To be efficient in the mountains, we always try and plan our stops and make the most of each rest break. This saves energy as well as time.

With the other group still in front, we were cruising along in their tracks all the way up to the point our couloir was in view. We cut off right, which gave us a good feel of the fresh snow, and got excited for the decent. After a steady climb of nearly 900 vertical metres we reached the couloir to the peak of Pointe du Midi. At which point two other skiers, coming from a different direction, had skipped in front. We weren’t complaining! Having been here before on an icy day, when we used our crampons to boot pack up to the top, today was a real treat. Soft and stable snowpack with a couple tracks up already meant we were able to stay on our skis and kick turn all the way up.

ski touring kick turns
Soft and stable snowpack with a couple tracks up already meant we were able to stay on our skis and kick turn all the way up.

Quick tea break and a speedy transition from skins to downhill and we were off into La Combe Sauvage (the Wild Valley). The ski down was without a doubt one of the best descents I’ve done so far. Everything came together to make it perfect. No wind, blue sky, a foot of fresh ice cold snow on top of a solid base, combined with a 40 degree couloir. We were in heaven.

backcountry skiing
No wind, blue sky, a foot of fresh ice cold snow on top of a solid base, combined with a 40 degree couloir. We were in heaven.

And it didn’t stop there! With huge smiles on our faces and after a quick look back up at our tracks we were in to transition number two. Skins back on, down jacket off and we were back to climbing. This time only a 300 metre ascent but taking us to a second peak with clear views of Lake Geneva in one direction and Mont Blanc towering the endless peaks of the Alps in the other. It was time to tuck in to our still warm veggie tagine and admire the views.

cave full of stalagmites
Inside were beautiful icicles from the floor to the ceiling, bigger than two of me.

Transition number three done and we were in downhill mode. Having read about ice stalagmites in a cave nearby, we headed over to an opening of a cave and lucked out. Inside were beautiful icicles from the floor to the ceiling, bigger than two of me. The ice stalagmites were just as impressive, growing up from the ground as tall as 6 feet. With the day warming up we were keen to get a move on, so after taking a few snaps we were back on our skis and had the rest of the descent to enjoy. Perfect snow, super fun terrain and the sun still shining.

The final push was a long but steady traverse of only 100 metres of vertical but around 3km in distance back to the car. We had two more transitions of skins on and off, by which point we were getting faster and wasting less and less time. Our total ascent was 1320m. We covered around 7km in distance. And our circular journey took us 5hr 45min. For us it was the perfect day!

Louise (Ski Ambassador)

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130 Ski Boot And Atomic Backland 95 Ski Review

There’s a ‘shift’ to ski touring (free touring), and it’s growing in popularity! So if you’re skiing frontside on the resort pistes or finding that un-tracked snow on the backside of the mountain,  the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD is the perfect all round boot. It’s comfortable, lightweight and gives you the performance you want. The same can be said of the Atomic Backland skis, lightweight and performance!

Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130

Before I left for Colorado; I was impressed with the customisation of the boot. The Hawx Ultra has a narrow last, and my foot is defiantly not narrow. However, thanks to the expert fitting of the Memory Fit 3D Platinum Light Liner, these  are the comfiest boots I had ever worn; and light! They only weigh  1420g (size 26.5  boot). The lace up liners are a great addition because you can put the linear on before putting the boot on; which is a great help in the cold car parks of the Colorado Rockies.

New to the touring scene I was interested to see how I would get on with the pin bindings compared to a traditional alpine bindings.  Safe to say any doubts I had were quickly put to bed. The pre-cut skins were also an easy fit (and removal), thanks to a new tip fitting.

atomic backland skis
The carbon backbone of the ski gives it the stiffness and performance you want making those powder turns!

My guide (brother) had been up in the mountains for a month skiing and touring every day; so I was expecting to be absolutely beasted when we pulled off the highway at Shrine Pass, Vail (3380M). The extreme light weight of the Hawx Ultra XTD and the Backland 95 skis (1370g  size 177cm ski) meant, that although I was behind, my pride was still intact – which is always key when trying to keep up with your brother. After two hours of going up my legs were feeling surprisingly better than I first expected; mostly due to the boots and skis rather than my superior fitness levels. The hike mode on the Hawx Ultra allows the boot to articulate further than my legs possibly can.

Atomic Backland 95 Skis

After an avalanche check it was time to charge down the untracked snow on the Atomic Backland 95 skis that took me uphill so well. They were just as good on the downhill. The carbon backbone of the ski gives it the stiffness and performance you want making those powder turns!

The best part about this set up is that it gives you uncharted access. Find yourself a touring buddy and go wherever the snow takes you. For me personally there isn’t much better than being out in the mountains with just yourself and your touring buddy; away from all the noise and lift ques in resort. 

The next day, with somewhat tired legs, we took the lifts to ski frontside. This is where I had my doubts about pin bindings. Skiing in America for the first time, it was my first experience of someone pulling my skis out of the gondola for me. I was met by an American guy who was extremely excited about how light my skis and bindings were. First run down and all those doubts about the bindings and skis were gone; putting in harder carving turns each time. The pin binding work just as well on piste; and it was noticeable how many people were skiing on pin bindings!

The next wave of skiing is defiantly coming in quick, so keep an eye out for our freetouring gear!

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Atomic Redster X7 Skis Review

I was lucky enough to have been offered a set of the Atomic Redster X7 skis with XT12 bindings, for a recent ski trip, so jumped at the chance to take them away.

Atomic have arguably produced some of the best race/piste skis on the market over the years. Although I’m nowhere near the same level; knowing that current World and Olympic Slalom Champion Mikaela Shiffrin and current Men’s World Champion Marcel Hirscher opt for the Redsters, I was very excited to try them out.

Various reviewers have catagorised the Atomic Redster X7 as an all mountain to top end piste ski. Atomic describe the Redster range as the perfect blend of Giant Slalom carving turns and Slalom short radius turns. So as a keen skier myself I was interested to see where I would ‘place’ them!

My initial thoughts of the skis were very positive; on the first ‘red run’ of the morning. Atomic’s power woodcore, full sidewall and 100% traditional camber, had the skis edging beautifully. When I flexed the skis into the turn they responded, with their full sidewall and woodcore, snapping me back and into the next turn. I took advantage of this, whilst the slopes were empty, and enjoyed several runs with the skis push harder and harder. I understood what Atomic are claiming with the “blend” as the skis seemed to generate more speed the harder I pushed them.

atomic rester x7 piste skis
When my ‘millionaires’ slope time starting to come to an end I decided to go in search of a busier chopped up piste.

When my ‘millionaires’ slope time starting to come to an end I decided to go in search of a busier chopped up piste, one that you might find at the end of the day, to see how they would handle the lumps and bumps. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but due to the slope being busy, I tried a few parallel turns. The skis were very aggressive over the bumps and seemed to snap back at me the more pressure I put through them. I didn’t see this as a negative towards the skis because they are sold as a top end ski, that are designed to be aggressive. It did get me thinking, though, that fatigued legs at the end of a long day may struggle to absorb these bumps on the last runs down to the bar.

Overall, I would sum these skis up as an awesome bit of kit. To any potential buyers I would strongly recommend really thinking about where you ski most on the mountain. If your looking for an all mountain ski that is forgiving and can go all over, even into the powder, then these are not the skis for you. However, if you prefer to ski hard on fresh packed corduroy pistes with a ski that is going to push your edge angles, and generate speed, then these skis are fantastic. I found myself having to back off several times, not due to the ski quivering or loosing grip, but for a reason that any skier doesn’t really like to admit to!

Check out our selection of Atomic, and other skis: piste, all-mountain, touring and more.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

BASI 4 European Mountain Safety – A Candidates Perspective

Having completed the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) 3 European Mountain Safety (EMS) assessment, a few years ago and the Level 4 training last year in Courcheval, I thought it would be a good idea to complete the BASI 4 European Mountain Safety.

Ski touring and off piste skiing are what I enjoy most about snow sports. The mountains have always held a fascination for me and the physical effort involved along with the skills needed to safely travel in them are key to this.

Areches – The Venue

I arrived in Areches (1,000m) a few days before the course started so I could get my bearings. However, with the huge amount of snow that fell followed by rain and a category 5 avalanche forecast, this was limited. The ski resort itself was closed for two-days! Areche-Beaufort is a very small resort which is split between Areches and Le Planay (1,170m); which is in the Haute-Savoie and was part of Italy in medieval times. The locals are very proud of their heritage and make some amazing cheeses. The area is well known for its wildlife which includes Ibex, Chamois, Lynx, Ermine, Bearded Vultures, Golden Eagles and Wolves which come over the mountains from Italy. The village is home to roughly 3,000 people who live there year round and the majority are involved in farming of some sort or other. The resort’s big plus, compared to other places I have skied, is the amount of easily accessible backcountry skiing which is not glaciated. They have a race, the Pierre Menta, each year in April and in the summer, which sees thousands of teams skiing/running up the mountains and cols. It is truly is an all-year round resort. For those new to touring there are several skinning tracks which run close to the piste and are marked and graded. They offer very cheap single lift passes for those wishing to ski off piste or are heading further afield but want to make use of the up lift. The Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) offer instructor led day and half day tours. The instructor I met was Pierre-Eve and his mad collie which didn’t stop running all day. Other sports shops offer guided trips over more challenging terrain and privately guided trips.

ski touring skinning up
The gradient was at an easy angle and we were all very keen to impress, so the ascent didn’t take too long!

BASI 4 European Mountain Safety

The assessment started on the Tuesday evening with a short briefing about what to expect and what we needed to carry. Each morning we discussed the avalanche and weather forecast to test our knowledge and understanding relating to the areas we would be working in. We then set out to ski the resort and to check out our map reading, group control and route choice both up and down hill. As the day was so nice we took in the biggest local hill ‘Le Grand Mont’ (2,686m). The gradient was at an easy angle and we were all very keen to impress, so the ascent didn’t take too long! The views were jaw dropping in all directions with uninterrupted views north to Mont Blanc. The ski down was also great fun as the snow was so good. We did have to remember that we were being assessed and make sure we looked after the group, taking them down the best lines. Returning towards the piste we stopped to set up ski belays and then lower and belay back up our partners to demonstrate we were safe. A bit more skiing followed and the first day was behind us. That evening we had a theory paper which covered various areas including avalanche, weather, mountain knowledge, emergency procedures, flora & fauna, equipment, etc. We also had to complete a route plan for the following day with bearings, timings, distances and features to look out for. 

view of the mountains
The views were jaw dropping in all directions with uninterrupted views!

We woke the following day to blue skies and so could do our planned route. We took it in turns to lead and everyone had to keep track of our location as you could be asked at any point to show our location and to prove it. The ski in was very enjoyable through trees to start, then open fields, and mountain meadows later. Dropping over a ridge in to a bowl allowed us the chance to stretch our ski legs for a short distance before putting skins back on our skis and heading up to the Col de Roche Plane (2,094m), over 1,000m of ascent. Heading back down started really well and we all enjoyed the snow, however, this was not to last as the snow, which had been great up to this point, changed to become nearly un-skiable. The descent became slower and it was with huge relief that we eventually arrived back on the road, a short walk from Areches. With nothing planned for the evening we all went for a well earned pizza and a couple of beers before heading off to bed and to pack kit for our final day and our results!

Another glorious day greeted us and with only a few skills to be tested we were all looking forward to finishing. More off piste skiing, avalanche and weather quiz, and the dreaded transceiver search followed. The search was for two transceivers which had been buried to simulate an avalanche; which had to be found within eight minutes. Nerves play a big part in this, because so much depends on you passing. We all took our turn and even though some of the transceivers misbehaved we all completed in under the time allowed. 

With all the testing completed all that was left was to find out the results. I am glad to say we all completed the assessment successfully which was a great relief. It was great to meet new people who were doing the assessment for different reasons. Tim, Rupert and Alister were great company; and each offered the others support when they needed it. And thanks to Willie, our assessor, for his encouragement and good humour throughout. 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather