Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowboard Review: Ride Slackcountry 164

For the first ten or so years or snowboarding, I was always a single board quiver guy.  I never felt the need to own more than one board, although my college student budget for four years of that period certainly detoured me from buying a new board.  It wasn’t until last season when I started riding a lot more off piste powder that I realized my trusty traditional camber Burton Custom 158 had its limitations.  I recall one day in particular at Mount Baker last season where they got just short of two feet of fresh powder overnight.  All I could do was point the board downhill and lean back as far as I could just to keep myself from sinking.  I was sitting somewhere on Pan Dome buried in powder thinking, “I really need to get myself a nice powder board.”

As soon as the late season sales started popping up, I was out shopping in full force.  I hit all the local ski shops and talked to a lot of sales guys.  I eventually settled on this particular Ride Slackcountry 164 that Evo had sitting all alone in the corner of their shop.  The combination of the late season mark down along with an Evo Groupon (gotta love Groupons!) made the purchase quite affordable.  Since my purchase last spring, I have been able to ride this board on two separate occasions: one Saturday late last spring that featured over three feet of fresh at Stevens Pass, and one day last week at Whistler with close to two feet of fresh.

Last season a ton snowboarding companies made big splashes with tons of different alternative camber offerings, from soft jib rockers to huge powder rocker profiles.  Ride’s big powder rocker, HighRize Rocker, can be found on the Slackcountry.  Laying the deck on a flat surface, you can see it is completely flat through the bindings, then up to a three stage, or three angle, rocker on each end.  Very boat-ish, if you will.  The board just looks absolutely killer as well.  Nothing flashy at all, but I love the Schmidt Beer inspired graphics.  I have definitely used the “Wish You Were Here” message on the base in a few pictures to send to friends who were missing out on the fun.

Both days I’ve been on this board involved pretty decent powder.  I had plenty of untouched runs to test the pow float, and all I have to say is this thing absolutely KILLS in the powder.  It takes almost no effort at all to keep the nose up when slashing through the deep stuff.  Despite the 164cm length, it still feels quite nimble through the trees or more technical runs due to the rocker profile.

When all the pow got tracked into some nasty chop, the Slackcountry just chewed it up and spit it out.  The board is stiff and damp enough to power through any chop without getting all chattery or anything.  Ride’s 90A Slimewalls can be partially attributed to these characteristics as well.  One thing I did notice in these variable conditions is the tip and tail of the board were a little softer than I expected.  I’m wondering if perhaps this is due to the rocker?  I just felt like I wasn’t getting as much response pushing off the tail when I pulled a railed healside turn.  This really isn’t a big knock on the board, just merely an observation.

The one big downside to the Slackcountry is packed powder and groomer performance.  The amount of rocker in both the tip and tail really do affect the control on groomers.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not uncontrollable, but it does take some getting used to.  You really have to pay attention to what the board is doing or you might have the tail slide out under you.  There were a couple long low speed cat tracks at Whistler I took last weekend where I felt like I had stay slightly on either edge just to make sure I kept the board from getting squirrelly.  On steeper groomers that aren’t too packed, the board does carve nicely once you get used to getting it to that edge.

One other thing I noticed during both days on this board is how it seemed to turn into a freight train late in the day on tired legs.  As soon as my legs got tired and the snow got tracked out, I felt like I was in a constant fight trying to make the board go where I wanted it to.  I attribute this to the size of the board, the rocker profile, and my shot legs on tracked out snow.

Ride rates the flex on this board at a 7 out of 10, which I feel is a pretty accurate rating.  It’s not super stiff like you’d think a big freeride board would be, but I don’t think I’d really classify this as a straight hard-charging freeride deck at all.  It’s strictly a powder board.  I’m no expert on board dynamics, but I’d think that the semi-soft tail helps give a little extra buoyancy in the deep stuff.  Like I stated earlier, you can really tell the board isn’t super stiff when trying to pull a really hard turn in anything other than powder.

I really enjoyed how damp the ride was on the Slackcountry once the powder was chewed up.  Just point the deck and go, powering over any and all chop without transmitting a lot of chatter or roughness to your feet.  This really helped take a lot of stress off my knees and legs.

The tail of the board does have a bit of spring to it, but I’ve found it really hard to get a good pop off the tail due to the amount of rocker.  The canted footbeds on the Ride CAD did help get a little additional leverage on the tail, but I still couldn’t launch myself off kickers with any authority.  No big deal in my mind though, this isn’t a freestyle deck!

Both days I’ve spend on this board were on different sets of bindings.  The first set I had mounted last year was a pair of Burton CO2s.  I definitely enjoyed the CO2s, they were a very comfortable binding, but I felt like they didn’t give me the right amount of stiffness I wanted for my freeride powder board.  It also didn’t help that they were slightly oversized for my low profile boot.

Before this season started, I made a huge score on a pair of brand new past season Ride CAD bindings from a Pawn Shop in a pretty sketchy area of Seattle.  For those of you not in the know, the Ride CAD bindings are one of the stiffest, tech-iest bindings Ride has made.  The adjustable ankle strap and footbed let you dial in the ride exactly how you like it.  The response on bindings these are incredible!  The stiff chassis, highback, and ankle strap translate any movement directly to the board.  Don’t try to tweak any grabs in these though, because it’s simply not going to happen.  Pretty good fit for the Slackcountry in my opinion.

Final Thoughts
This powder deck does exactly what it’s made to do: absolutely annihilate the fresh, deep stuff!  It is just an absolute blast to ride in fresh powder, as both of my days on this deck have been.  Chopped powder is fun too once you’ve tracked it all out.  The drawbacks start once it gets all packed down though.  The ride outside of powder is doable and not incredible hard, but it’s enough of a drawback makes this board pretty much a quiver stick rather than a quiver killer.  Regardless of its drawbacks, this board remains one of my favorite and will be my main powderstick for all of my backcountry adventures, cat boarding, and deep resort riding.

My Slackcountry in action.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day #3/4/5 - Whistler Trip #1

With the 2010/2011 snowboarding season officially full steam ahead, it was time for our core Whistler group to make our customary December trip up to the beautiful British Columbian coastal mountains.  Early season trip such as these can be very hit or miss when it comes to conditions.  I’ve been up there when there has hardly been any base with only a third of the mountain open.  I’ve also been up there early in December and gotten my first powder turns of the year.  You really never know what you’re going to get until you actually get up there and check out the short term forecast.  As we all checked the forecast early last week, we knew the weekend had the potential to be an epic weekend for shredding.  A huge system with tons of moisture was stacked up in the Pacific Ocean ready to obliterate the Pacific Northwest Cascades.

My group of three left the Seattle area around rush hour Wednesday afternoon in a complete downpour.  After navigating through the idiots who have no idea how to drive in the rain (which is still completely weird to me for some place that gets a ton of rain a year) we were full steam ahead to Whistler.  A few hours later, we arrived at the snowy Whistler Village and made our way to the Snowbird condo complex near the Blackcomb Base.  First order of business was to get our minds in shred mode, which I accomplished by replacing one of the weird paintings with a poster of John Jackson’s backside double-cork 1080 (courtesy of Transworld Snowboarding magazine’s 200th issue) and cracked a few adult beverages.  Before long, it was time to rest up for the next day on the mountain.

Day #1
Thursday morning brought an early wake up call of avalanche bombs exploding in the adjacent mountains.  This was a good sign.  We all geared up, ate some breakfast, and checked the weather report.  Roughly 10” of new snow fell overnight, on top of the 10” or so of fresh from the day before.  With this little tidbit of information, I chose my weapon of the day:  my rockered pow stick, the Ride Slackcountry.  As we loaded into the Whistler Village gondola, we got the bad news that the high alpine areas (Peak, Harmony chairs) were probably not going to be opened due to high winds and high avalanche danger.  Sad news indeed, but we knew there would still be a ton of nice terrain and nice powder to ride.

We chose our first lines near the Big Red Express to the south of the Roundhouse Lodge.  Despite being a pretty tame run overall, there were a ton of trees and technical terrain in the surrounding areas.  After dropping in and gaining some speed, I pulled my first big heelside turn and discovered the powder was pretty much bottomless and got my first faceshot of powder for the year.  We spent the majority of the morning lapping Big Red, ripping some great lines through the trees and finding a few steeps and kickers to grab some air off.  The powder was just right; super light and pretty much bottomless.

Right before lunch we switched it up a bit and hiked up Pika’s Traverse as far as Ski Patrol would let us to access some of the terrain served by Harmony Express.  We dropped in to the skier’s right of the reservoir next to Rabbit Tracks and shot through the trees and deeper into the Harmony area.  There had been a few others hiking out in the area during the day, but there was still enough powder that we were able to all get fresh lines zipping through the tress.  On our way down to find the Sidewinder cat track back to the Emerald Chair, DBro and I found hidden section of shorter trees that hardly anyone had seen yet.  It was down this little chute that I shredded my first mini pillow line of the year!  From here it was to Roundhouse Lodge for lunch via a terribly flat cat track.  Best lines of the day, bar none.

After lunch, DBro, JK, and I decided we needed one more hike up to the Harmony area.  By this point in the day, Ski Patrol was done bombing and had opened up more terrain for hiking.  We went another 50 yards up the traverse to a new section through the trees that only seen a few lines so far.  As before, the turns were bottomless and the lines were epic.  For those who know the Harmony area pretty well, you know that Back Bowl area off Pika’s Traverse can get very flat so as a snowboarder you really have to choose your line wisely.  This time, I did not do so.  I slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped in a very flat area about 50 yards or so from the groomed GS run.  My only option was to boot out and hike the last section.  As soon as I unstrapped myself from my board I proceeded to sink to my waist.  Ahh the drawbacks of flat terrain and deep pow for a snowboarder.  With my board over my head, I trudged the final flat to the groomer and collapsed completely exhausted from my little hike.  Painful yes, but the ride down was totally worth it.  After getting my legs back under me we cat-tracked out and hit the Peak 2 Peak gondola over to Blackcomb to finish out our day on the Crystal Chair.

It only took a few runs for all of us to realize that our legs were completely shot.  My big powder board became pretty unruly on the tracked out powder.  It felt like I was trying to steer a freight train with my burnt up legs.  Time to call it a day.

That evening brought an amazing combination of friends, home made mac & cheese with bacon (courtesy of our favorite Social Narcissist), hot tubs, and adult beverages.  Team Snowbird was in full effect.  Before we knew it, it was time to shut it down and rest up for the upcoming day of shred and the rumored opening of the Peak and Harmony chairs.

Team Snowbird waiting for the bus on day #1.
My Slackcountry waiting to drop into Harmony.
GS digging himself out after a nosedive.
Arguably the best run of the day down into the Harmony trees.
DBro, JK, and myself on Crystal Chair.
Late day clearing on Blackcomb.
Day #2
Day #2 brought us a little more fresh snow, but not on the level of the two previous days.  Conditions were a little better than the day before with a lot of the clouds clearing for better visibility.  Instead of the big stick, I selected my all-mountain board for the day and as before, DBro, SN, and I started by lapping Big Red again, awaiting the opening of the high alpine terrain.  Right before lunchtime, we got word that Harmony had begun uploading for the first time in about 4 or 5 days.

My usual line of choice on Harmony is to follow the lift down pretty much the whole way, starting up in the Little Whistler bowl, down through Back Bowl, Die Hard, and ending through the trees under the lift.  The first few laps were rewarded with all fresh lines and a lot of smiles.  My smaller Never Summer board performed quite well in the deep powder.  Not as much float as the Slackcountry, but a lot more fun in the tighter areas.  Harmony was as good as it’s ever been with this amount of powder.  I swear if I had to choose one single place to ride for the rest of my life, I might just choose Harmony Ridge. 

After a quick lunch break, it was back to Harmony to lap until our legs wouldn’t hold us up anymore.  Unfortunately I didn’t quite make my way all the way around the Harmony Ridge before my legs told me it was time to wrap it up in a very painful way.  So down it was to the Village for a post-mountain beer at GLC.

The day ended with more Team Snowbird hijinx around the condo and Village.  The Whistler Brewhouse, a group favorite, was finally graced with our presence at once point in the evening, where one of the servers actually recognized us from our previous exploits.  In the end I was left with a sizeable headache as a result of my actions, but I doubt I was alone on that front.

Blue Sky heading up Big Red Express.
Me ready to drop down under Big Red.
DBro ready to shred.
Freshies under Harmony Chair.
More freshies on Harmony.
DBro and SN excited for pow.
Bright pants crew: DBro, me, and AK.

Day #3
After leaving everything I had on the mountain during the previous two days, I told myself that I was going to take the day off for a nice relaxing day in the Village.  Once I woke up and started my day, this feeling didn’t last very long.  With the help of DBro, I was persuaded to head back up for a third day in a row for as much as my legs could handle.  My only caveat was to take it easy and just cruise.  I did just that until we heard that the 7th Heaven Express chair was about to upload for the very first time of the year.

I had previously only ridden the 7th Heaven terrain a few times two years ago in very icy conditions, so I didn’t really know a lot about it.  The idea of new terrain with a lot of fresh snow made me forget about my dying legs and pull it together.  We surveyed the terrain on our first chair up and decided the runs directly below the lift were the way to go with hardly any tracks at all.  Despite the lift lines being ridiculously long, most of the people must have been heading over to the bowls instead of following the lift down.  Run after run, we lapped the same area under the lift until lunch at the Horstman Hut atop the 7th Heaven lift.

After lunch, the group headed out to the bowls to the skiers left of the 7th Heaven lift.  This proved to be disastrous for me.  First, I got cut off by some idiot not cutting across the traverse and had to drop down below.  This put me in a position where I had to either hike back uphill 10 yards to the traverse, or drop into the bowl earlier than the rest of the crowd.  In the condition my legs were in there was no hiking for me so I decided to head down, directly into a low coverage boulder field.  Not good, especially for my brand new Never Summer board.  I did make it out alive, but with a scarred board.  My toeside edge really took a few bad hits and will need a little TLC before she sees the mountain again.  The base came away with only a few dings, but nothing to the core thankfully.  That was pretty much the end of my day.  My legs were completely dead from the 3 hard days of riding, my board was dinged up, and my attitude was admittedly a little sour after hearing how great everyone else’s ride was.  A ride back up 7th Heaven took us to the Horstman Glacier, and down to the Blackcomb Base via what seemed like mile upon mile of painful groomers.  The only saving grace was the thought of après at my favorite bar, Merlin’s.

Holy lift line!  7th Heaven is finally open!
Under 7th Heaven.
Aftermath of an epic DBro crash.
I spent my last night out in the Village with DBro and SN walking around and grabbing dinner at the infamous Splitz Grill, which was amazing as usual.  The rest of the crew eventually met us out at Splitz after proceeding to polish off the remaining amount of alcohol in the condo and out for our final night in the Village.  Full steam ahead for Team Snowbird!

It takes one hell of an epic trip to be considered as one of the best Whistler trips for me, but this one almost unanimously takes the cake.  The conditions were just perfect all three days I spent on the mountain.  I’ve never had back to back to back powder days, and it might take awhile until I see another one.  Despite still being the early season, this trip was one of the best.  Ever.  Team Snowbird came through both on the mountain and off.  I feel incredibly lucky to have all these amazing friends who make these trips as much fun as they always are.  I will always be looking forward to the next excursion to Whistler.

Redecorating the Condo.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's Whistler TIme!

It’s that time of year when I really start to get excited.  No, no, no, not Christmas or the holiday season.  It’s WHISTLER TIME!  Every year early in December our core ski/snowboard group always makes our first pilgrimage of the season 200 and some odd miles north to one of my favorite places on the face of this earth. 

Say what you want about the Whistler Village and “elitist atmosphere” I’ve heard some people describe it as, but I still would never pass up a weekend in Whistler.  I hear a lot of people complain that Whistler has been completely commercialized and geared too much towards the average tourist.  Sure the village isn’t the cheapest place in the world and there are a lot of touristy things that are heavily advertised, but it still doesn’t take away from the epic snowboarding that can be had up on either mountain or the fun atmosphere wherever you go.

Granted I haven’t had a change to ride a ton of different mountains to be able to really compare terrain, but I can say that Whistler blows every other mountain I’ve ridden completely out of the water.  The shear amount of terrain, variety of features, and quality of the snow are unmatched in the Pacific Northwest.  From steep glacier riding above treeline, to complicated glades, to award winning terrain parks, to easy cruisers, Whistler/Blackcomb has EVERYTHING you could ever want in a resort.  The light fluffy powder that can be found in the high alpine on either mountain is probably the lightest pow that can be had in the Pacific Northwest.  Of all the places I’ve ridden, I’ve only had lighter powder in Colorado last winter.

Every time I page through the “mountain stats” page on the Whistler/Blackcomb website, I’m always amazed (  With over 8,000 skiable acres and 37 lifts between the two mountains, no other North American resort comes close to offering the same amount of terrain.  I’ve spent roughly 15 or so days riding Whistler/Blackcomb during the past two seasons and I know I still haven’t explored everywhere.  Last year I stayed primarily in the high alpine on Whistler, exploring the terrain served by the Harmony and Symphony chairlifts.  This area of the mountain always seems to have the best snow and enough area where it takes quite a while for it to all get tracked out.  I’ve been able to hit some fresh lines on my last run of the day.  There’s even some great hikeable inbounds sidecountry off of Symphony (among other places), which I fully intend to take advantage of more this year.

The only thing that trumps Whistler/Blackcomb’s inbounds territory is their epic backcountry.  There’s a reason there are multiple heli-ski and cat-ski outfits posted up in the Whistler Village.  One spot where you can really get a better idea of how much vast backcountry terrain there is to ride, hike out on Flute Ridge off Symphony and look to the east at all the incredible steeps and deeps for miles and miles and miles.  Without this vast amount of backcountry terrain, professional video producers and photographers would be missing a huge piece to their puzzle as well.  You’d be hard pressed to go through an entire video or magazine publication without multiple references to the Whistler backcountry.  From what I’ve seen in my years of watching a fair amount of ski-porn, the Whistler backcountry is only second to Alaska (Valdez or Haines) when it comes to backcountry terrain references.  And yes, my bucket list includes a heli-ski trip to the Whistler backcountry.

After I’m completely spend from ripping my way all over the mountain, there’s nothing I crave more than Whistler/Blackcomb’s awesome Après atmosphere down in the Village after the lifts close down for the day.  Just about every single restaurant and bar has some sort of Après deals going for food and drinks.  My personal favorite is Merlin’s at the Blackcomb base (  Nachos and pitchers of Kokanne all around!  And no, I will NEVER be doing Jaeger Bombs at Merlin’s ever again.  Ever.

Typically after a solid Après, a quick nap, and a Red Bull, it’s time to head out for dinner and a solid night out on the town.  The Village has just about any type of food you could ever crave.  My favorite (and highly recommended) dinner destinations are the Whistler Brewhouse ( and Splitz Grill (  Splitz Grill makes some of the most amazing burgers you’ll ever have, plus the employees are awesome!  I definitely recommend the Brewhouse bar on Saturday if you want to take in some serious Canadian hockey spectating.  The nightlife after dinner offers a little bit of everything.  From dirty beat dance clubs (like Gabe’s favorite Tommy Africa’s) to a typical bar-scene like The Longhorn or GLC, there’s something for everyone.  One of my favorite things about almost every bar and club in Whistler is they ALWAYS have some sort of ski-porn running on the TVs.  Gotta love that!  Oh, and don’t forget to get some putine from the street vendor right by The Longhorn.  A night out in Canada is not complete without a plate of putine.

So here we go, it is Whistler Week #1; insert happy dance here!  The weather is looking great with a lot of fresh snow coming in.  If all goes right with the weather, I’ll be able to bust out the Slackcountry for the first time this season!  Be sure to stay tuned early next week for my trip report, pictures included.

On a non-Whistler related note, I just wanted to plug a buddy’s blog:  Powjunkie, also known as SM in my Baker opening day post, has been writing technical product reviews on all sorts of gear and trip reports as well.  If you enjoy my blog, you’ll definitely enjoy his as well!

Pics from past Whistler trips:

DBro atop Symphony (last season).

Me at the top of Symphony looking southeast (last season).

About to hike up Flute ridge (last season).

DBro on top of Flute ridge looking north towards Blackcomb (last season).
I learned cotton sweatshirts are definitely not made for rag-doll'ing through late Spring powder (last season).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Looking Ahead

Now that the season has officially started and I have a couple days under my belt, I’ve been able to look ahead and plan details for some trips I have on the docket for the season.  For those wondering if all my blog posts will just be boring day trips to local mountains, the simple answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT!  About half of my riding will be local mountains, while the other half will be weekend (or longer) trips to various mountains and resorts across the region, along with a few backcountry hiking trips, and one cat ski trip.

Whistler/Blackcomb is always a multiple weekend destination for me every season.  Last year I made it up there four separate weekends and spent a total of 8 days on the mountain.  The greatest thing about Whistler/Blackcomb is there is such an incredible amount of terrain I still haven’t completely explored both mountains in the two years (and roughly 15 days) I’ve spent there.  This almost guarantees there will be some good stories to tell after each day I ride there.

I made my first trip out to Colorado last year and spent time at Breckenridge and Copper Mountain around New Years.  Being my first time in the Colorado Rockies, I was blown away by the amount of ski resorts within driving distance and how soft champagne powder really was.  It was an easy decision to make a plan to head out to Colorado again.  DBro and I currently have a week and a half long trip planned in late January/early February that would put us in Aspen for the Winter X Games followed by a week in Summit County riding as many mountains as we can.  The stoke level is quite high for this trip.

The trip I’m probably most excited about is my first cat expedition with Big Red Cats out of Red Mountain in British Columbia (  DBro and I met the owner at the Ski and Snowboard Convention in Seattle back in October and booked a buy one get one free trip for late February.  NP and SN also got in on the trip, along with two other friends.  I’ve always wanted to get in on a cat ski trip and have priced them out multiple times in the past, but none came out to as good of a deal as this was.  It was waaaaaay too good to pass up!  Now if only I could find a good deal on a heli-ski trip……

Along with the cat ski trip, I’m hoping to get more into back-country boarding this year.  I’ve already looked into the required avy gear (beacon, probe, & shovel) along with a certified Level 1 avalanche course, but haven’t pulled the trigger on either yet.  I don’t plan on going big my first year out obviously, but I really want to get my feet wet and tag along with a few other riders who are accomplished back-country enthusiasts.  The cat ski trip will help a get me into it a little bit, but I really want to do a bit of hiking at Baker for some turns.  I blame TGR’s "Deeper" for pushing me to go, well, deeper, if you will.

There are also a few other weekend trips planned throughout the winter.  Schweitzer in Idaho for New Years, Bachelor in Oregon the following weekend, and perhaps even a late season trip to Tahoe.  Schweitzer will be a more prominent destination this year, as my parents recently bought a condo within driving distance that I’ll have to take advantage of.  I hope to add at least 3 or 4 new mountains to my resume along the way.  Whatever way you look at it, this season is shaping up to be a really good one.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

First Look: Never Summer SL 158 & Rome Targa Bindings

At the end of last season, I set out to find a replacement for my trusty old Burton Custom 158 all-mountain board that I had completely thrashed over the past few season.  I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy process since so much in board technology has changed in the past few years.  These days there are so many different camber & alternative camber base profiles that it can sometimes be difficult to determine which is the best for you without demo’ing each and every one of them.

At the end of last season I bought my first alternative camber board as my big mountain powder board, the Ride Slackcountry.  The base profile on the Slackcountry is completely flat through the bindings, with rockered tips on both ends.  The rockered tips give a lot more float in powder than a traditional camber board, as well as give the board a more playful, or looser, demeanor when turning.  After riding the Slackcountry for a day, I knew that I had to try an alternative camber board for my all-mountain board in the future.  The playful turning nature of an alternative camber board perfectly fit my riding style.

After a little research, I narrowed my choices down to the Ride Machete and the Never Summer SL, both with different alternative camber profiles.  The Machete incorporats Ride’s Lowrise Rocker (similar to the Slackcountry’s Highrise Rocker, but with less rocker on the tips) which is flat through the bindings, with slightly rockered tips.  The SL has Never Summer’s recently patented Rocker/Camber profile, which has reverse camber between the bindings, and a slight camber profile under each foot to the tips of the board.  Aside from the different base profiles, the two boards are relatively similar in flex, dampness, and pop.

My decision between the boards came down to drawbacks of most alternative camber boards: lack of stability on landings due to the rockered tail and risk of tail washout on packed and icy snow.  For these reasons I ended up choosing the Never Summer SL, which could reduce the risk of these downfalls due to the small amount of camber that was put in underfoot.

Never Summer has always had a very good reputation in the industry when it comes to taking care of their customers.  Their 3 year warranty is one of the very best available, and they are one of the very few manufacturers who still make their boards in the United States.  When first handling their boards, you can feel the quality of the workmanship.  Everything about the board feels solid.  The only drawback is the increased weight of the board, although when strapped in on my feet, I couldn’t really tell the difference.

My first few runs with the new board were taken pretty cautiously.  The rocker/camber profile made for a very different ride than the traditional camber boards I’ve ridden, and even the rockered Slackcountry.  It was definitely a looser ride that would rather be on the edge than pointed going straight.  After a few runs I was able to figure out the tendencies of the board and really put it through some solid turns.  It really excelled in tighter, more technical runs where quick turns are needed.  The looser tail made it really easy to kick the board back and forth through some tighter tree runs, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to buy an alternative camber board for my main stick.  On some steeper pow drops I hit, the nose of the board was very easy to keep up out of the powder thanks to the rocker, despite being a slightly smaller board for powder.  I noticed that my back leg was definitely less sore than usual as I didn’t have to work as hard to keep the nose up in the pow.  My old traditional camber Burton Custom was a pretty tough ride in powder.

On paper the flex of the SL is on par with my Custom, which I liked.  On the mountain it felt a little more flexible than the Custom, mostly due to the rockered design of the base making it easier to press and butter.  Although I’m not really into jibbing or ground tricks, it’s still fun to play with the flex.  It does take away a little fun when really railing a hard turn, as the tail of the board flexes a bit more and takes a bit of leverage away.

I was really impressed with how damp the board was though for the flex rating.  It powered through a ton of late day chop with little or no board chatter at all.  Not quite on the level of Ride’s Slimewalls from my experiences, but a nice surprise nonetheless.

One drawback for most alternative camber boards is the lack of pop due to the decreased leverage on the back foot, but I was really surprised with the amount of pop the SL had.  I didn’t hit a ton of jumps or kickers on my first day due to the fact I was still learning the tendencies of the board, but when I did the thing took off like it was rocketing to the moon!  It has waaaaaay more pop than my Custom, and very impressive for an alternative camber board.  I almost got myself into some serious trouble on one kicker where I kicked off my back foot with as much force as I usually do with my older board.  The extra pop in the SL actually booted me off the kicked with so much more force that I started to rotate over and nose down into the landing.  Thankfully I was able to lean back enough on the landing that I didn’t nose right into the snow and really mess myself up.  Lesson learned, beware of the extra pop!

My binding selection happened to be even more difficult than picking the snowboard they were going to go on.  I knew I wanted something that was stiff enough to handle some hard charging lines, yet flexible enough to have fun with.  I also wanted canted (angled) footbeds to help alleviate pressure on my already bad knees.  The latter requirement really narrowed my brand choices down to a few companies (Ride, Rome, K2, and Burton).  From there, I narrowed it down to a few selections: Rome Targa, Ride Alpha MVMNT, and Ride Delta MVMNT.  After a long deliberation I chose the Targas because of their superior adjustability (3 different cant angles and 3 different stiffness settings for the ankle strap).

After the first few runs, I fell in love with these bindings.  The highback stiffness was perfect for what I wanted.  I could really put good power into a heelside turn by putting my weight against the highbacks.  On the medium stiffness ankle strap I able to have enough mobility to move around, yet still gave me the response I wanted.  Strap comfort was great, a little better than my worn out Burton Cartels.

My one gripe about the bindigs is the highback lean adjustment.  The lock was way too easy to pop open without just reaching down and manually doing it.  At some point during the day, one of the locks opened up while I was riding and got some ice packed into the adjustment grooves.  It wasn’t easy to clean it all up and get it ready to ride again.  It is a minor detail though, and I could probably devise some sort of safety for the lock so it doesn’t happen again.

Final Thoughts
Overall, the Never Summer SL and Rome Targa combination is a win.  It did everything I wanted it to do, and did it all well.  It carved well, was very maneuverable for technical runs, dropped steeps, ran powder, and popped like crazy.  I’ve got a nice Whistler trip planned in a few weeks that I’ll really be able to put it through a lot more.  I’ll give it a couple more days and report back with an updated review.

New Never Summer SL 158 w/ Rome Targa bindings.

Note the shape of the rocker/camber base.

Closer picture of the base profile.

Bright green "sno-glow" base.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day #2 - Mount Baker

I was pretty hesitant to get back up to Baker after seeing how tracked out it was at the end of opening day; riding without some significant snowfall to fill in the bare spots was very unappealing. Thankfully Thanksgiving week brought freezing temperatures and precipitation to the Pacific Northwest, even to the lowlands down into the city.

Before I go into my trip report, I’d like to briefly review the snow we got down in the city. For those readers who aren’t from the Seattle area, you might assume that most Seattleites are pretty competent when it comes to driving in the snow since we’re so close to the mountains. That is so far from true it’s comical. The average driver, and unfortunately those responsible for keeping the roads drivable when winter weather hits, reacts to snow like they're from Southern California and have never seen a snowflake in their lives. Drivers abandon their cars on the side of the freeway, cars start sliding all over the place and the highways becomes a parking lot. I was tasked with picking up my little sister at the airport the Monday night before Thanksgiving -- the night the “big” storm hit. Flakes started falling lightly earlier in the morning, but it didn’t get really bad until the afternoon when everyone got off work. This made for a usually bad commute in Seattle epically unbearable. My sister’s flight was delayed from nine to midnight, and even at that hour, both northbound and southbound lanes of I-5 were completely shut down from road conditions. People were walking away from their abandoned cars, it was an unbelievable sight to see. To make a long story short, it took me over two hours to get from the U-District to the airport (roughly 15 miles) and we didn’t arrive back at my house in Everett until 3AM, four hours round trip.

Enough about traffic, back to the trip report. Baker got the significant amount of snow I desired so I decided to make my second trip up on Saturday. The day didn’t start out ideal, foggy conditions and an extremely icy HWY-9 made for a very treacherous trip up to the mountain. Soon enough, the fog and clouds broke to a clear blue sky as we arrived at the lower lodge at Mount Baker. Shuksan was again out for all to see against the clear dark blue morning sky, just as it was the Saturday before.

Snow conditions were optimal for so early in the season. I brought up my new all-mountain setup (Never Summer SL w/ Rome Targa bindings), hoping that the snow wouldn’t be too low and I’d have to worry about taking a rock to the base of my new board. Seven inches of fresh snow overnight helped fill a lot of tracked out runs, but there were still some areas that didn’t have complete coverage. As a result, I tamed down my riding a bit in order to preserve the fresh base of my new board.

JK, SN (shameless plug for her blog:, and I spent the first half of the day lapping Chair 8. Conditions were good off the groomers, but started to get pretty tracked by lunchtime. After lunch JK decided we needed to “turn up the volume” as we made our way over to the west side of the mountain to do a few laps on Chair 6 off Pan Dome.

We ended the day out on Chair 8 again as the clouds started rolling in. By this time SN was completely spent, almost unable to stay upright. She was quite the trooper though, keeping up with JK and I all day as we “turned up the volume.” I know for a fact she is cursing us right now, unable to hardly walk.

All in all, it was a great day. My new snowboard setup performed admirably (stay tuned for a first-look review in a day or so), JK enjoyed his new skis and I know SN, although pretty beat up by the end of the day, thoroughly enjoyed her day with the boys.

Me enjoying my time on the mountain.

Heading up Chair 8 for our first run of the day.

Shuksan, again.

SN giving me the "are you kidding me" look.

SN had a lot of snow on her pants so JK decided her help her out.

JK and SN on the last run of the day.

Me loving Baker.

Usually snow is supposed to stay outside of your snow pants.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mount Baker Opening Day 2010

After months of suffering through warm weather, I finally got what I wanted. Opening Day 2010 at my favorite local mountain, Mount Baker, officially came.  In order to ensure we got the freshest of the fresh, our day started crazy early (4:45AM to be exact).  By 5:15AM, SM and NP had arrived and the Subaru was loaded and ready for her first trip to the mountains this year. (Note: “her” is Sweet Dee, my faithful, snow loving Subaru WRX Wagon).

This was probably the earliest I’ve ever departed for a local mountain in as long as I can remember, but the adrenaline coursing through my veins in preparation for Opening Day kept me awake for the 2+ hour drive North.  We arrived at the empty White Salmon Day Lodge parking lot promptly at 7:30AM, a full hour and a half before first chair.  The scene that greeted us set the tone for the entire day: fog and clouds parting to reveal the gorgeous Mount Shuksan, with a deep blue early morning sky as a backdrop.  In my mind, this is some of the best at local ski area scenery.

After gearing up and grabbing our tickets, we settled into the lift line at Chair 7.  Despite being tempted to bring up the powder boards to slay the freshies, we reluctantly all selected our “shit sticks” as our weapons of choice for the miniscule base, which would prove to be a solid decision.  Unfortunately, first chair of the season wasn’t in the cards; we settled on third chair and officially began snowboarding season 2010/2011.

I’m sure everyone’s just begging to know what it was like.  Well, to say the least, it was amazing for a low base opening day.  We spent the first part of our day lapping Chair 8, finding a lot of fun stashes of knee deep powder off the groomed runs, along with a few steeps to drop.  The low coverage actually provided a fun, technical element to a lot of runs in the form of uncovered treetops to zig-zag around while bombing some good pow.  After tracking out a lot of the surface powder around Chair 8, we migrated to the west side of the ski resort off Chair 1 and chalked up a few good runs down Pan Face, Austin and then hopping between the groomers on Blueberry.

Despite some amazing powder runs through the first part of the morning, the last few runs of the day after lunch would take the cake for the day’s highlights.  Due to the low snow conditions, the ski patrol had closed the terrain directly under Chair 5.  This hadn’t stopped a few rope-duckers during the day, but the area remained relatively untracked.  SM and I took a few runs along the ridge, ducking back and forth between the “closed” portion of the ridge and the inbounds portion, but never dropped down.

On the way up Chair 5, we scoped out a nice steep drop off the ridge into Gabl’s that hadn’t been hit at all and decided it was time to go for it.  After scoping our lines from the drop-in point, SM and I dropped in one after another and received a few cheers from the lift that was directly above the portion we dropped into.  The drop in slightly leveled out to portion of untouched powder with a few trees to zig-zag between.  At this point, SM dropped down to the left as I stayed higher to the right and slashed my way though a few trees before we hit the run-out.  Despite lacking in terms of length, the run made for it with a great collection of steeps, pow and trees -- which happen to be my favorite ingredients for a good run.

Looking back at it now I wish I would have manned-up and pushed myself to take one more similar line off the ridge, but at that point my rubbery right leg was making the decisions for me. I think it’s safe to say my so-called off season training didn’t do a lot for me.  After our epic run, we hit Chair 5 back up and made our way back down to the White Salmon lodge. 

Up until that point, my board was left relatively unscathed despite the low coverage.  Then the inevitable…….SCRAPE!  Yup, definitely a core shot*, I thought to myself.  Boy was I right, that rock left a 2” gash underneath the heel of my back foot, all the way to the core and jacking up the edge in the process.  SM's board didn’t make it out without a battle scar of its own either.  Somewhere along the way he took a hit on his edge that actually pushed the edge in and caused the base to bulge out. Oh well, that’s why you have rock boards, right?

All in all, aside from NP aggravating a previous ankle injury of course, it was a great day to start the season off on.  From third chair up, all the way to ducking the ropes for a shot at Gabl’s, it was the perfect kick off for the 2010/2011 season.  Add a great post-riding meal at the newly opened Chair 9 restaurant in Glacier (, the Lone Jack Burger is highly recommended) and you’ve got a solid day.

Now who’s ready for day #2?????

*For those non-snowboarders/skiers a core shot is when you get a gouge in the base of your board/ski that goes all the way though the base material to the core of the board.

Pics from Mount Baker Opening Day 2010:

One of the first cars in the parking lot!

Mount Shuksan.

Talk about primo parking right by Chair 7.

SM waiting it out.

Line at Chair 7 about a half hour before the chair fired up.

First lift of the year, heading up Chair 7!

Sun starting to peak out on the ridge to the north.

Looking up Chair 4 from the Chair 6 line.

One of the best pictures I've taken in awhile....heading up Chair 1 @ The Chute.

This guy had an awesome old school Quiksilver one piece....I must have one.

Hanging out underneath Chair 5 waiting to drop down.

Drop in under Chair 5 to Gabl's.

Core shot!

.Free range burger at Chair 9 - delicious!