Springtime. The sun finds angles into even the most sheltered slopes. The days grow longer, the snowpack deeper and the skier’s eye turns to bigger mountains.
There is still a lot of great skiing to do, but as the season fades, excitement for next season’s gear builds. It’s time to start researching the future, so Fresh sent this reporter into the Esplanade Range of Central BC to follow pro athletes and check out the brand new new.
Golden Alpine Holidays is a collection of four ski touring lodges nestled right beside Roger’s Pass, and in mid-March 2021, the Blank Collective film crew spent two weeks traversing the range while shredding every line they could. It was a combination of larger ski touring days as the team lapped 500m runs, shorter days where they focused on small, more technical lines, and a few flat walks as the group moved their show from one lodge to the next. We skied heavily sluffing, boot-top powder, refrozen sun crust, reliable, fast powder, and sloppy moist snow.
In other words, we got to test gear in every weather and snow condition the backcountry usually provides. It would be nice to see how it all translates to the ski resort, but that will have to wait for another day. After two weeks of investigation, research, and testing (otherwise called skiing), here’s what we learned:
Alexi Godbout "testing" gear.
Salomon QST Blank
Lengths: 178, 186, 194cm
Dimensions: 138/112/127mm, radius 17m, weight 2250g (all in the 186cm length)
The Salomon QST Blank will be a very popular ski next year; that much is obvious. For years now, the QST line has drawn a strong following due to its stable construction, predictability, and versatility. That hasn’t changed. Like the QST’s before it, the Blank is a well-balanced ski, stiff enough to charge but not overwhelming when you are just cruising. It has a nice blend of sidecut to rail turns paired with a tip and tail profile that allows you to release that radius and smear surf turns. What makes the Blank interesting is that it is 112mm wide underfoot compared to the 118mm waist it replaces (QST 118). Some skiers might miss the extra girth, but those looking for one ski to do it all will love it.
Chris Rubens, a Salomon and Fresh athlete who organized the trip, broke it down for us, “With the QST 118 and 106, I needed two skis. With the new 112mm QST Blank, I have a legit one-ski quiver. A true pow ski that skis hard pack well.”
Chris Rubens contemplating his line and the QST Blanks
Alexi Godbout, another Salomon athlete and founder of Blank Collective, “I can ski them hard in chop, and they charge. The 112 on the hill is awesome. Even on a pow day, you aren’t always skiing powder. You have hard pack and groomers to get through. I can carve as hard on the Blank as I do on the 106. And they’re a perfect ski for this kind of trip, too.” After watching these guys tour and ski powder, hardpack, windslab, corn, and crust for a couple of weeks, I’m tempted to buy whatever they use, even if it won’t necessarily make me ski like them.
I’m still surprised that the widest ski Salomon makes now is a 112mm waist, though. So I asked the team about it. Rubens, “It’s just about versatility. I think the 112mm Blank will be a super good Rockies ski. The tip is fun and surfy while the tail is stiff and charges.”
Compared to other skis we tried on this trip, the QSTs has the most predictable turn initiation, always starting at the same spot just past halfway from your boot to the ski’s tip. It’s comforting to know the exact sensation most of your turns will start with, even if it comes at the expense of versatility (fully rockered skis, for example, pivot easier and allow you to initiate turns from other parts of the ski). The QST’s reliability extends into the back. The stiff and stable tail is like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Whenever you get bucked or thrown off balance, the tail is there to catch you and support you as you regain center.
Every skier is different, but I think of the Salomon QST Blank as a stable, predictable, quality ski that’s highly capable in various snow conditions. The tradeoff for that reliable predictability is that it allows a bit less spontaneity and creativity.
Salomon sees it this way:
“Skis for the resort lapper, ski tourer, and freestyler alike. Skis that you can count on to define what freeride means to you. Skis that will make it easy for you to say #ISkiQST.”
Jordy Kidner at Sunrise Lodge
Pomoca Climbing Skins
Do skins really matter? Well, if you ski tour, you will spend 90% of your day walking. So, yes, how easy and comfortable the walking uphill is really does matter!
On day three of our trip, it warmed up, and the 10cm of fresh snow got sticky anywhere that the sun hit but remained cold and dry in the shade. A half-hour into our final climb of the day, I start to see holes in the skin track, every step on the left at first, then both sides. Soon, the track was washed out on the downhill side every step. I looked up to see Alexi’s skins had massive globs of snow stuck under them. Ahead Jordy Kidner was hammering his skis with his pole every few steps to knock the sticky buildup off.
The other 6 of us glided along without having to lift our feet at all. The track was firm and smooth until these two (the only two not on Pomoca skins) got to it. We were all sweating, but those two poor souls were suffering, and their frustration was palpable. Snow globbing can happen with any skins, but Pomoca uses a rubber backing that absorbs less water than most and as a result develops less ice buildup.
That day exaggerated just how much effort you can save (or waste) based solely on your skins, but it’s usually more subtle. The most overlooked advantage to be gained under your skis is the amount of glide your skins have. You do not need high-friction skins on today’s fat skis if you take the time to develop decent technique. The width of freeride skis gives you a ton of rug underfoot. Yet, bulky, slow sliding skins are what most people buy (any big brands’ synthetic skin). Granted, you will rarely slide backwards on these skins, but you will be pushing 10% harder (at least) to get them up the mountain. That often means the difference between one more powder run at the end of the day or being exhausted and calling it quits.
Eric Hjorleifson gliding up hill on Pomoca climbing skins.
On gentle terrain, the glide difference gets accentuated; think glacier travel or the horizontal approach to your favourite powder stash. High-friction, synthetic skins on this terrain will drag while your friends kick and glide. And the toe bang, as you push those carpets ahead, will leave you cursing.
Looking at everyone else sliding their svelte skins into packs and pockets, the only skier on this trip with Black Diamond skins asked, “Why are these BD’s twice as thick and bulky?” Eric Hjorleifson (Pomoca and Fresh athlete) summed it up, “Goat hair!... From Morocco.”
Mohair is trimmed off of Angora goats and is the preferred material for fast, light skins. Any synthetic substitutes to date do not glide as easily. I suppose mohair isn’t vegan friendly, but we’re assured the goats are treated well, and it’s certainly more palatable than the original seal skins ancient skiers used.
The Angora goat and Pomoca skins.
Rubens liked that the Pomoca glue stuck well to ski bases but not too much else, making them easier to use than the Coltex skins we also had along. The mohair Coltex were fast and light, but you have to be pro-athlete-strong to tear them apart when folded onto themselves. If you’ve ever needed a friend to help you tug apart your skins, you’ll love the Pomoca glue.