Gear Review: Dynastar Cham 97 – All Mountain Ski

The first pair of skis I ever bought myself were a pair of twin tipped fatty pow skis from Bluehouse. They were amazing; I’d never experienced a ski like it. That’s not saying a lot. Since I was three I grew up skiing on whatever hand-me-down came my way. I ripped on 195cm skinny skis from when I was tall enough to reach their tips. But, truly, these Bluehouse Maestro’s were FUN!! They were playful and responsive. They were great to jump on, fun to carve on groomers, and amazing in deep powder. I didn’t know it could get any better!

I did recognize one their weaknesses, but I had no idea of the extent: Crud. I got bounced around like a rag doll, precisely because of why I enjoyed them. They were too playful and couldn’t power through rough, choppy, end-of-the-day-on-a-Colorado-powder-day crud. Before last season I got a job selling skis at Boulder Ski Deals. Needless to say, I learned a LOT about skis I never knew before. I had never realized how soft my Maestro’s were until I compared to a lot of skis on the wall.

Hiking Alberta Peak at Wolf Creek Ski Area in Southern Colorado with my Cham 97’s on my back

Dynastar’s Cham 97’s are completely different. They’re incredibly stiff skis, especially compared to my Maestro’s. These are crud blasters that won’t get bounced around by any amount of the rough stuff. They have a unique shape, with a large sidecut, fat tip with lots of rocker, and a flat pin-tail…tail. At 97mm in the waist, 133mm/113mm in the tip/tail and 16m turn radius, these things rip. (Sorry for all the tech talk)

With the 97mm waist and 16mm turn radius, the Cham’s are easy to rollover on groomers. I cannot overstate this, they LOVE to turn! You can make the turn anything you want, from long GS turns to quick slaloms. You’ll feel stable putting it up on edge. The rockered tip gives you easy turn initiation and grips along the full ski. Though, be warned. This is not a beginner’s ski.

Where I’ve really found the Cham 97’s shine is in powder. I’ve never felt a ski handle like this in the deep stuff. If you were out with me when I discovered this you would have heard a lot of “THIS IS AMAZING!” and “WOO HOO!”‘s. The narrower pin-tail stays low in the snow, making it super easy to keep your tips pointed up in the powder, even with your weight more forward. The wide, rockered tips float effortlessly. Making turns in this position is incredibly easy; I felt like I was barely pushing the tails to make grand turns. Skiing the powder was…bouncy. It felt so light and easy to maneuver. In contrast, I always feel like I’m dragging my tails in my Maestro’s.

So, in other words, I love these skis; they are fantastic. But that does come with a caveat or two. Jumping can be uncomfortable. No, scratch that. Landing can be uncomfortable, especially on hardpack. Where the Maestro excels in being springy and playful, the Cham’s are stiff and unforgiving. The extent to which this matters depends on your skiing style and preference. Secondly, the Cham’s are heavy. Weighing in at over 10lbs for both skis, you will think twice about making these part of your backcountry set up. They do come in a High Mountain version that reduces the weight by 25% but sacrifices some of the inbounds performance (this only really matters if you plan on skiing them inbounds).

Not surprisingly, the Dynastar Cham 97 won Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year award in 2013. If you like to charge, ski the entire mountain, and want a ski that can do it all, I highly recommend this one. 

Early Season Wolf Creek Powder Day

It was one of my best powder days in a resort (sad I know, I need to get out more), and it was in mid November!

Saturday morning: “Wolf creek has more than 10″ and more is on the way! They’re expecting close to 20″! We’re heading down tonight if you want to go.”

Thomas doesn’t give me much of a choice. Eric Thomson and Patrick Shehan fill out the car. We camp just outside South Fork on BLM land which gets us less than 15 minutes from Wolf Creek Ski Area in the morning (instead of a 4.5 hour drive the morning of).

The snow conditions are great, but when we get on the lift we can hear the ski patrol is still blasting the backside for avalanches.

We’re in the first wave of skiers on the lift and our first several trips down the mountain give us great powder runs. But the backside remained closed and the frontside quickly gets cut up. We did have an advantage that Patrick lived in Durango for years and knows all the secret stashes of the mountain and took us on some great runs.

Skiing powder is magical. It feels like you’re floating, and it’s impossible to not have a shit-eating grin on your face the whole time. But when in-bounds powder gets chopped up, it makes for a very bouncy, unfriendly ride. Finally, just after noon we hear Alberta is running.

We rush past the newly opened gates eager to explore. The trees off of the Alberta lift give us fantastic fresh tracks every run.

Thomas Woodson slashing through the powder off of Alberta

Eric Thomson hitting a burm. 

The terrain on the backside is great and varied. The perfectly spaced trees get steep and then mellow out to really fun glades. The steeps have a line of cliffs that Patrick is psyched to jump.

Patrick Shehan hucking a cliff 

We hike from the top of the Alberta lift to Alberta peak, up past windblown trees plastered with ice in whiteout conditions. At the peak the sun moves in and out of the clouds.

White out conditions on the hike up Alberta Peak

At the peak
Even on this trip up Alberta Lift the ski patrol is still blasting around the mountain for avalanches. We look in vain to see where the blasts are located. When we traverse over from the peak of Alberta we hit an avalanche crown two feet deep that continues as far as I can see (which isn’t far in the near whiteout conditions). I make my way over the crown and ski tentatively across the debris field which takes me pretty much back to the cat track. That hike was not worth the effort. You win some, you lose some.

Thomas working his way over a two foot crown 

But overall the day was a great success. Thomson ends the day being ejected from his skis for no apparent reason and superman-ing into a snowbank. At least he got a portrait out of it.

Eric’s snow beard

I had skied Wolf Creek when I was in high school, with my dad, but I don’t remember the conditions. These conditions were incredible. Now, half a week later, I look at all the snow reports for Summit County and none of them even come close to the conditions we had at Wolf Creek, and in November! I’m looking forward to a great season. 

Skiing the Lambs Slide on Long’s Peak

The weekend before I had a 14 hour sufferfest on Long’s Peak climbing Dreamweaver, and I dreaded doing the approach again – I don’t know why I hate it so much. When Thomas Woodson and Joey Schusler invited me to ski the Lamb’s Slide I considered the approach for a second, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Alpine starts are painful. Thomas raps on the window of my car at Oh’Dark Three AM. I’d been waiting for half an hour and fell asleep with my seat belt on. We throw my fatty powder skis in the ski rack on top of his Toyota FJ and take off into the pitch black canyon. It’s a surprise no one else is on the road.

Loading skis and boots onto my full backpack to carry for the 5 mile approach, preparing to gain 3,000 feet of elevation to the base of the climb,  I realized I need a different set up. Joey is in full Dynafit set up and carrying roughly 1/3 the weight that I am, with my fatty Bluehouse skis, Marker Barons, and Salomon Quest boots. Just to prove the point Joey does the entire approach in his new Dynafit TLT 6 boots, claiming that they are beyond comfortable the whole way.

Sunrise hits just as we breech the treeline. 

Sam Seeward on the approach

First sight of the Diamond

The sky is overcast and there are powerful wind gusts the whole hike in. We thought we might not get  the sun the at all during the day, but as we breech tree line the gold light of morning breaks through the clouds. We forget about the struggle for a minute to bask in the light and everyone pulls out there cameras.

I was impressed by Joey’s ability to climb in his Dynafit TLT 6’s. 

After debating whether to walk across the frozen Chasm we determine that it’s safe. But it’s still a bit scary hearing the ice shift underneath your weight. It doesn’t help that 50+ mile an hour winds blow us across the lake.

Thomas Woodson keeping himself upright through the high winds that whip around use, periodically engulfing us in almost whiteout conditions from the loose snow. 

Above Thomas you can see the Smear of Fear, an ice flow that’s particularly fat this year because of the floods. 

The week before, climbing Dreamweaver Couloir with only a little weight on my back the climb at 13,000 feet felt decently easy. The difference carrying a pack full of gear and skis, climbing Lambs Slide took a lot out of me. I reverted back to my technique I learned in Peru: One step, one breath. With this technique I can chug along. I picture myself as the tortoise slowly beating the hare. Except, in reality I don’t beat anyone. I hope I’m not holding the other guys back, who seem to be impossibly fit. They did, earlier this year, ride their bikes from Boulder, climb Longs Peak, and return to Boulder all in one day. Insane.

The climb up Lambs Slide, for most part, was in good condition, but parts of it were slogs through waist deep snow that just collapsed underneath you 

The wind passed largely over the couloir, but we still were blasted with huge gusts of wind carrying loose snow. 

The view of the diamond from the top of Lambs Slide Couloir

I reached the top of the couloir and was done. I could feel some nausea coming on from the altitude and wanted to take it easy. Sam, Thomas, and Joey wanted to continue to the peak of Meeker (13,900) which “is just over that ridge. It will be 20 minutes”. I decided to stay where I was and wait for them to come back. I huddled amongst the rocks trying to keep myself warm for well over an hour. I climbed down to our skis we’d left below and back up just to warm up.

Finally they appear over the ridge. The peak had been much further than they’d anticipated. I’m psyched to start skiing. My core temperature had dropped quite a bit from sitting still and I want to start moving again.

We figure out our route down and start carving. The snow is a little crusty on top but our skis cut in well, giving us some great turns.

Sam Seward getting in his first turns. 

After Joey Schusler figures out a binding issue he hits it hard. 

It’s impressive that Thomas Woodson is skiing in advanced terrain having never been on skis before last season! 

1500 feet of pure bliss, my first turns of the season were incredible. My legs burned, clearly not in skiing shape. I can’t wait to get out on more incredible terrain with these guys the rest of the season.

Thomas crossing Chasm lake.  Skiing across the lake was so much easier than walking. 

We hike the five miles back to the parking lot, everyone beyond tired. I can’t wait to get a lighter weight set up from Dynafit that won’t destroy my back on every hike. I was sore for days. I’m not psyched to do the approach to Longs anytime soon, but I’m excited to see what the Colorado backcountry has in store this year. Already, it’s shaping up to be a better season than last. 

Snowbird and Brighton Shoot

Nick Rothenbush clearing a cliff at Snowbird
At the beginning of this year I had a ton of Southwest Airlines Frequent Flyer Miles from my Southwest Airlines credit card. I found that I could take trips to Salt Lake City for almost nothing so I started planning to go back and shoot some skiing. After a failed attempt to set up photo shoots in Utah in February, I rescheduled my trip for mid-March with much better success. 
I have to give props to Southwest Airlines here. I cancelled my flight in February less than 24 hours before departure and my phone conversation went like this: 
Me: “I need to cancel my flight to Salt Lake City for tomorrow.” 
Customer Service: “Ok, I will add your points back to your account. Have a great day.”
Easiest interaction with customer service ever. Try doing that with United….

I met up with my buddy, Nick Rothenbush, at Snowbird and went out exploring for the day. The snow conditions were not great, but we founds some nice cliff lines. Pretty much in general the snow was not great. The week before the Wasatch had been hit with a pretty good storm, but the week I decided to come out the highs were in the 60’s everyday. So instead of getting killer pow shots I concentrated on getting some big airs.

Brighton connected me with Treyson Allen, a snowboarder based in SLC. He immediately takes me on a hike to a bowl below Pioneer Ridge, which has endless possibilities on a powder day. But we found some really esthetic lines. 

Treyson Allen dropping in. 

The beautiful view from Preston Peak


Trying to get a good slash.

Two high school shredders, Walter Shearon & PJ Baymiller, meet me after they get out of school early. They take me all over the mountains, trying to find any hidden stashes. It’s amazing how much young guys can bounce on terrible snow. It makes me feel old that my knees can’t take it anymore. They would get some big air and land on the cruddiest crud like it was 2 feet of pow.

Walter Shearon

PJ Baymiller
There were a few stashes of fresh

Kyle Sul is a freeskier and ski base jumper. He spends his summers base jumping in Norway. He agreed to come out and see what we could get at Snowbird. Despite a subpar morning, the afternoon thaw made the snow soft enough for some great shots.

We meet up with Chris Crane and Niels Omana, friends of Treyson Allen. They are psyched to get some big air.

Chris Crane getting it clean

Niels Omana getting the grab

Kyle Sul taking off

I had a great week in Salt Lake City, but it makes me wish that Snowbird and Brighton were in my back yard. I’m loving living in Boulder, but…the access to skiing is not the greatest and the skiing is not the best. I found out first hand recently that the snowpack in the Colorado backcountry is unstable. 
It was great working with all the athletes. They really put it on the line for me. I’m psyched to shoot a lot more skiing and snowboarding next season. ANNDD hopefully we have a much better snow year next season. 

Gear Review: Oakley Canopy

Wearing glasses has always made wearing ski goggles uncomfortable for me. I have lots of problems with fogging and my face hurts from having the my glasses squeezed against my temples all day. When I was looking for goggles this year I looked at several different OTG (Over The Glasses) models, but most of them look like they haven’t been updated since the late 1970’s. When I found out that the Oakley Canopy, while extremely stylish, also were made to be OTG I was psyched. I wouldn’t have to look like a grandpa this year. The Canopy is a new addition to Oakley’s line of great goggles this year. 
Oakley Canopy
I do have to say that I never really imagined myself wearing Oakleys; I’ve always associated the brand with a certain type of person, one that I would like to think I am not. But maybe that applies more to the sunglasses than ski goggles. I still can’t really imagine spending $160 on a pair of sunglasses that I would lose or sit on. 
But these goggles are by far the most comfortable goggles I’ve ever worn, but perhaps that’s not saying a whole lot. I’ve never really invested good money in goggles, usually going for the cheapest I could find. For years I wore a kids goggle I found for $15 at a ski resort. I have no clue how I got my glasses in side them. And I thought fogging was just something you had to live with. Funny how technology solves a multitude of problems. 
The Oakley Canopy goggle is full of great technologies designed to enhance the user’s experience. The oversized goggle’s frame is light, comfortable, and low profile maximizing the space for the lens. It fits great around the nose, and the triple layer foam and fleece lining that keep contact with the face is comfortable all day long. Hidden spaces in the plastic of lens allow your prescription glasses to fit in the goggle without putting pressure on your temples. I’m loving being comfortable in them. The shape of the goggle and the articulating outriggers fit easily with most helmets as well (Oakley says their ventilation works better with Smith brand helmets than Smith’s own goggles).
The real technologies are in the lens. The dual lens keeps the cold air on the outside and the warm air on the inside which reduces the chance for condensation and fog. In the chance that there is fogging, the “F3 Anti-Fog” coating absorbs the moisture on the lens. Really the only problems I had with fogging were on my own glasses and as soon as I got moving the goggles brought in enough cool air to eliminate it. I should figure out a fix to my glasses fogging…
Oakley’s HD Optics keep the picture extra sharp and keeping the thickest point of the lens in the center eliminates any distortions you’d normally get with a lens this big. Oh yeah…this lens is BIG. You won’t miss any tree or mogul unless you are blinking. 
I’m psyched to be wearing these Oakleys this year.

Gear Review: Smith Variant Brim

They’ve been recommended for a while, but I didn’t really want to buy in. And every year they become more pervasive; now helmets are everywhere on the slopes. After a bad accident last year where I found myself flying through the air, screaming to myself, “PROTECT THE HEAD!” I thought maybe this is the year I should join the masses. 
What should a helmet be other than a bucket that holds your brain in when you smack something harder than your head? It should be light so you don’t think about that fact that you’re wearing a brain bucket. It should be comfortable and fit well in variable conditions, and it should keep you warm. But the Smith Variant Brim also wins on style; it doesn’t hurt that you look pretty good wearing it. 

Smith Variant Brim
Smith Variant Brim & Oakley Canopy Goggle
The Variant Brim has channels on the brim that pass air through it keeping heat from getting trapped and sending fog into your goggles. It gets its name from the vents on the top that can be opened and closed depending on how much air you want passing through the helmet. So far on days that are around 10ºF I’ve kept them closed, but I imagine it will be useful in late season. The Boa® fit system keeps the helmet fitting tight on your head, and you can change the size if you want to include a beanie underneath on extra cold days. If you’re really into your music on the slopes you can get Skullcandy ear pads to replace the standard ones.  

Overall I’m happy to wearing a helmet this year and glad to have the Smith Variant Brim protecting my noggin.