Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 Ride Highlife Review

Coming into the 2010/2011 season, I figured my quiver was pretty much set with the addition of my new Never Summer SL (along with my Slackcountry and Burton shit stick).  After a month or so, I realized there was a noticeable gap in performance between my SL and Slackcountry.  Wjo;e tje S: was a playful, fun board, it lacked the stability and stiffness for some of the riding that I do.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Slackcountry was just too much board for the days that weren't nips deep powder.  I needed something to split the difference and fill that gap.

A few days after starting my search, I found a Highlife 161 for a great deal that I couldn't pass up.  The first ride was at Stevens a variable condition day; the second at Baker on a nice powder day.  I was sold, and just like that the Highlife climbed the ranks to my top board preference, no matter the condition.

I had spent some serious time admiring the new-to-2011 Ride Highlife at a couple local shops early in the season.  The camber profile was very intriguing: flat through the bindings and tail, with a bit of rocker lift in the nose.  I was especially drawn to the flat tail profile, which effectively eliminated the washout issues I had with riding the Slackcountry outside of deep powder and on some landings.  The stiffness was there too, perhaps a tad stiffer than the Slackcountry.  The cherry on top was the awesome Spacecraft graphics.

It's also worth noting that this board was on a bunch of people's radars after Jake Blauvelt's bit in Absinthe Films 2011 release "Nowhere" with Nicolas Muller, as the Highlife is Jake's choice for backcountry assault.  If you haven't seen the clip before, check it out.  It is definitely one of my favorite video parts from last season.

My first thought on the board was how smooth, fast, and stable it was on pretty much any condition.  It was easily stiffer than both the SL, as well as the Slackcountry (but not by much).  THe stability was key though as I found the rocker camber combo on the SL to be a bit 'wonky' sometimes when landing a bit off balance.  I attribute this to the amount of rocker found directly between the bindings, creating a pivot point.  Despite being so smooth and stable, the Highlife was still playful and quite nimble for a 161.

I will give one downside on the ride though.  Because of the flat base through the bindings, there's a lot of contact area that can ultimately slow the board down a bit when dealing with 'grabby' snow conditions.  I experienced this a bit in Colorado riding Beaver Creek in sub-zero temperatures where the snow crystals can be quite abrasive.  Slushy spring conditions also attributed to a bit of base suction.  Next season's Highlife (2011/2012) adds a bit of camber between the bindings that will eliminate this issue, as well as add a bit of stability and control to the ride.

As I noted earlier, the flex is a bit on the stiffer side.  I think Ride gave it an 8 out of 10 on their flex meter.  I'd say that is a pretty good representation.  The responsiveness is there too.  This combination can really be felt when ripping a huge turn and really putting your weight into it.  Pushing off the tail results in immediate response and feedback.

I mentioned in my Slackcountry review that the Slimewalls Ride uses really dampen and smooth out the ride, and the Highlife is no different.  It powers through anything you throw at it.  Despite the stiff and damp ride, it doesn't feel 'dead' like some damper boards.  There's still a good amount of feeling that translates up through the bindings so it's not like your riding blind to the conditions.

Ride employed their PopROds 2.0 in the board, which give it a good overall pop off rollers, lips, and jumps while also providing a good snap through turns.  It's not over the top pop like I though the SL had, but it's enough to have some good fun with.  A perfect compliment to the board, if you ask me.

Through the season, I rode the Highlife with two different binding setups.  THe first was the Rome Targas I had on my Never Summer SL.  The Targas felt like a great match out of the box for what I was riding on the Highlife.  They had enough stiffness and response to match the Highlife's level of performance.  As the season went on, I started running into problems with the Targas.  Bolts started loosening up left and right, no matter how much Loctite I applied.  After awhile, I became fed up with having to check my bindings every few runs and switched to the Ride CADs I had on the Slackcountry.  The swap in bindings really turned up the notch on aggressiveness for the Highlife and really pushed me to ride it harder than I had before.  The CADs do take away a bit of the playfulness though, so perhaps a better alternative would have been a set of Ride Alphas.

Final Thoughts
Before I knew it, the Highlife was the board I was always reaching for when I was heading up to the mountains and easily put more days on it than any other board in my quiver.  It fit my riding style perfectly and could shred just about anything I threw at it.  I rode park laps at Breckenridge on it.  I hiked Cowboy Ridge at Stevens Pass and shredded some gnarly sidecountry on it, and super tight technical tree lines at Vail.  I rode it in all conditions from icy January days to deep late season powder days in April.  I rode it on anything and everything while my also brand new Never Summer SL gathered dust in the back of the garage.

While it might not be for everyone given its stiffness, the Highlife is a phenomenal all around board with very few flaws from my point of view.  If you're someone who likes to make the whole mountain your own terrain park, strap on your gnar boots and give the Highlife a try.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2010/2011 season recap....a few months late.

After a roughly six month hiatus, I figured it was probably time I posted something to the blog to let everyone know I didn't perish in an unfortunate cliff dropping incident (although there may have been a close call at one point this season).  So ladies and gentlemen, kids of all ages........I AM ALIVE!

I can't honestly say where I got so sidetracked with my blogging.  I actually had two full posts written and ready to go chronicling two separate weekend trips, but they obviously never got posted.  At that point, I'd like to say I was just too busy shredding to get caught up on my blog.  So here I am months later with no blog posts to show.  Instead, I'll attempt to recount the high points of my season in one (maybe two) recap blogs.

Well, I've had an absolute BLAST this season, shredding a total of 34 days that covered 11 different mountains in four states and one Canadian Province.  Of those 34 days, I got my first taste of cat boarding in eastern BC (I plan on writing up a separate post on this adventure), explored Cowboy Ridge at Stevens Pass, spent a week in Colorado riding four different resorts, and completed the obligatory three Whistler trips.  I also dropped my first 20+ foot cliff, with less than favorable results though.

One thing I've come away with this season is a terrible case of powder fever.  Whether it was waking up at the crack of dawn to hit first chair on a powder day, laboring through a killer hike for the hidden pow stash in the side country, or getting untouched fields of backcountry powder from the cat, I found myself riding way more powder this season than I ever have before.  One late season pow day at Baker made me realize how bad my pow addiction was.  By noon, all the in-bounds pow stashes were gone, and without a riding buddy for the day, the backcountry wasn't an option.  I found myself uninterested in riding groomers the rest of the day and completely content on driving home......At noon on a bluebird day!  From that point forward, I realized that I was officially a powder snob.  There's just something about that euphoric, surfy feeling of riding untouched powder that I just cannot ever get enough of.  If you give me the option of riding a full day of non-stop, lift served runs or a day of hiking for two or three powder runs, I'd take the hiking option all day, every day, no questions asked.

There are a few things I didn't accomplish this season that I would have liked to.  While I did push myself  beyond my comfort level quite a bit, I feel like I could have pushed myself a bit more.  Maybe I should have taken one more run at that cliff that owned me, or hucked myself off that bigger windlip instead of settling for the smaller one.  On the upside, this only fuels my passion and drives me to be a better rider than I was the day before.  The day I am content with my level of riding will be the day I quit snowboarding, and I hope that day never comes.

Well, I hope this is the jump start I need to get back in the swing of things in preparation for the upcoming season.  In the meantime, enjoy a couple of my favorite pictures (and one video of me) from this last snowboarding season.....

Shuksan from the lot @ Baker Opening Day

Heading up Chair 1 @ Baker on opening day - my favorite picture of the season.

My Slackcountry in its natural habitat @ Whistler/Blackcomb.

Early morning beauty @ Mt. Bachelor in mid January.

Sniffing out the powder @ Schweitzer on the Highlife.

Me taking in the Superpipe finals @ the X-Games in Aspen.

Gotta layer up for those -20 degree days @ Beaver Creek.

Me taking the time for a quick picture in the eastern BC backcountry.

Powjunkie checking the stability on the backside of Cowboy Ridge @ Stevens Pass

Powjunkie dropping Tye Smalls, the drop that owned me.

Big Chief pow field in the Stevens sidecountry.

Me gathering my thoughts on top of Cowboy Ridge @ Stevens Pass.

Heading up Chair 8 @ Baker looking towards Shuksan.

Beautiful late season pow @ Baker.

Me getting grabby at Whistler on my Highlife.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Late December Riding

I apologize for not keeping the blog updated in the past month or so. Between the holidays, weekend trips, work, and life in general, I've been pretty busy. I'm hoping to get all my trip reports posted by the time I leave for my Colorado trip at the end of the week, so stay tuned!

The weekend between my Whistler trip and Christmas, I found myself up at Stevens Pass for the first time this season.  I spent the first day (Saturday) with GS riding a new addition to my snowboard quiver, a Ride Highlife (first look review coming shortly).  Conditions were extremely variable; from icy moguls to sweet tree-hidden powder stashes.  Despite still being pretty worn down from the previous weekend at Whistler, GS and I rode hard enough to completely wreck ourselves by the end of the day.  My best wreck of the day will probably live on in infamy.  On one of the last few runs of the day, GS and I were lapping Parachute 1 and Parachute 2 underneath Hogsback, hitting a few of the hidden powder pockets.  Heading down Parachute 1, I found a nice little stash at the top of a steep drop in and hit it at full speed.  As I kicked off the fluffy powder on the top of the drop in, I yelled “POWDER DROP!”  It was far from a powder drop.  I landed in pure ice on a nice steep slope, washing out and landing on my ass as I skidded 20 yards down.  All the while, GS is laughing his ass off at the top of the drop in.  My “POWDER DROP” phrase has now become the battle cry for the majority of my crew.  Thanks guys.

I followed up my first day at Stevens with a solid night boarding session the following night with a couple buddies.  Despite being a few days removed from the last good snowfall, we still managed to get some great turns in.  We were able to traverse to some of the lower 7th Heaven terrain off both Hogsback and Skyline that rewarded us with some great powder turns.  With the nice stashes in the trees and the soft, fast groomers, it was a great chill night just lapping the mountain.

The following Thursday, I kicked off my Christmas break with another night session up at Stevens Pass.  With still no new snow, it was mostly a groomer-lapping night, with a few tree runs here and there.  Add a great dinner with drinks and you’ve got a really fun night chilling on the mountain.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The snow returned the Monday after Christmas, dumping a reported 12” of new freshies at Mount Baker.  With a lot of my ski buddies either out of town or working, I headed up for my first solo ride of the year.  I love sharing my time on the mountain with my good friends, but there’s something quite therapeutic about riding solo.  I tend to forget about everything else and just concentrate on my riding.  It’s a great feeling and I always end up feeling refreshed after a good solo session.

After my first run down Chair 8, the 12” of fresh stated on Mount Baker’s website seemed to be an understatement.  I was finding knee deep areas of soft powder just about anywhere off piste.  After a few laps through Chair 8, I headed over towards Pan Dome.  Big mistake.  The wait times on Chairs 5 and 6 were close to 20-30 minutes.  With this amount of volume, the terrain was completely tracked out already.  I took a quick lunch to regroup and headed back over to Chair 8, where surprisingly there was still no lift line at all.  Although the area was pretty tracked out by this point as well, I was able to keep myself occupied by exploring the trees through Chair 8 and found some fun spots.  By 2 o’clock, I was parked next to the firepit next to the lodge with a beer in hand.  Despite the ridiculous crowds, the powder was great and I was able to log another day on the newly acquired Highlife.

With two big snowboarding trips on the horizon (Schweitzer for New Years, and Mount Bachelor the following weekend) it was great to log a couple day trips to the local mountains while I recovered from the epic Whistler adventure.  Stay tuned for trip reports from both Schweitzer and Bachelor!

GS sporting a snow packed helmet after an epic POWDER DROP!
Nice pow pockets for night boarding at Stevens.
This is what happens when you do shots at dinner and keep skiing.
Nothing better than ending a solo day at Baker by sitting by the fire with a good beer!