Location: Bald Hill, Camels Hump, Vermont and Smugglers Notch, Vermont Conditions: BH - 3in of powder over 3in breakable crust, 0 degrees and no wind SN: Firm packed powder and eastern blue ice Rider: 5'6" - 175lbs, 21 years riding, stance: 21.5" 18f,6r deg, 1-2" back
I thought I would combine my fist impressions of my new split system with a trip report I finally received my Winterstick ST62 in mid January and my Karakoram bindings, by the end of January. Unfortunately, the Tahoe snow conditions sucked, I had family obligations and lastly some business travel that kept me from the slopes through mid-February. Then it snowed, and snowed and snowed. While great for our conditions, the days I was up in Tahoe the avy conditions were a bit high for my comfort level and I was literally dying to get some turns in, so the split stayed home and I rode the resorts on the solids.
I knew I had a business trip to NYC coming up the first week in March, so a plan was quickly hatched to go see my brother in Vermont, who has coincidentally just finished his first DIY split for some hiking and riding. Now the east coast has been getting hammered this winter, but as luck would have it, when it started snowing in Tahoe, it had stopped in Vermont and things were looking crusty at best.
Two days before I arrived, the Burlington area had gotten a dusting of new snow, but high winds had scoured the area. We were guessing at where to head that might be protected and decided on the popular Bald Hill zone across from Camels Hump. I do wish I had some new choices to explore, but no one here was gratuitous with new beta – what’s up with that? I really don’t get the whole secrecy aspect of backcountry riding, the mountains are meant to be enjoyed and I'd rather like-minded people enjoy them. Anyway, the morning of Thursday, March 3rd the temperature was a balmy -13F. But it was clear and without wind, so the day was looking good.
We met our other partners, two air traffic controllers on AT skis, Bob and Jeff, that my brother is friends with at work (He’s a meteorologist with the NWS in Burlington) at the trailhead at 10am, geared up and started up the Burrows trail to Camels Hump. Thats me in the middle looking back.
Despite the cold – we had warmed up to about 0F, the lack of wind had us stripping layers in no time. Unfortunately, my camelback froze, so I was without water for the duration of the hike, which ultimately proved to be my undoing later on, with severe leg cramps that kept me from another lap.
The skin up was unremarkable, other than the speed of which we could skin over the old slowshoes and even the short skis with my board on my back. I can tell already I am going to be spending a lot of time doing this; the overall experience was very enjoyable. About 1/3 of the way up, we turned left and left the Burrows trail, heading up for the summit of Bald Hill. We attained the summit in a little over an hour and enjoyed some stellar views of Camels Hump. Although not a huge vertical, it would have easily taken twice as long or longer on slowshoes and more exhausting carrying the board. We had no problem keeping up with our AT friends.
Transitioning to ride mode, I experienced a slight issue with the Karakoram binding, as the base plate had iced over enough that I had to chip at it for a few minutes in order to get the front binding down enough to engage. Not a huge issue considering the conditions, but annoying nonetheless.
We dropped in and made a quick traverse to skiers right to attain a ridge that would give us a more sustained vertical drop back to the parking lot. The conditions were…let’s just say challenging. There was a 3” layer of champagne-density snow, that was over a 3” crust that was variable, breaking in some places, hooking your board in others and firm elsewhere. As we descended, the amount of new snow over this crust got less and less, making the turning difficult for everyone. I knew that my bindings were set up sub-optimally for this first ride, but that I would fine tune later.
Certainly looked a LOT better than it actually rode unfortunately
What really caught my attention was how long the sidecut was. The ST62 has a 10.4 meter sidecut radius, whereas all of my previous solid boards have all been in the low-mid 8-meter range. While I feel that my solid board sidecut is too short and hooky for the speed/steepness I normally ride, the general slower speed and tighter nature of backcountry riding in Vermont, combined with the conditions, had me really struggling on the downhill. The board needed to gather its speed before I could coax it into the turns easily, which had me slamming to a stop every 5th turn or so to avoid all the saplings that are ever present in east coast backcountry riding when conditions aren’t “deep.” I really didn’t feel I had the proper conditions to pass any sort of judgement on the board due to the conditioned and knew that I would be able to fine tune the board/bindings and properly put it through its paces the next day. I could tell the early rise rocker nose helped today, but the variability of the crust cancelled out pretty much all other evaluations I could make.
By the time we made it down to the parking area, we all decided the conditions weren’t worth another lap, which was fine for me because I was really cramping in my calves from a lack of water. Easily cured with some rehydrating and more so with some beers
The next morning we were due to ride the resort with my sister-in-law and headed for Smuggs. The winds had picked up again and the resort was scoured, but it was really nice to try different binding settings and fine tune things while testing the overall performance of the board on hardpack and the famous eastern blue ice.
The first thing I noticed on this day was the weight of the board. The ST is definitely no featherweight. It is bomber in construction, but that comes with a big weight penalty. The next thing I noticed again was the sidecut. I cannot come close to passing judgment yet, but I really think the sidecut is too long for an east coast rider. Perhaps I will feel different on my home terrain, but the board really needs a lot of speed to come alive, too much so I feel for dense underbrush tree riding that dominates east coast backcountry. This worries me for riding tight steep trees, but we will have to see. My gut feeling is that I would ultimately prefer a board in the 9-meter radius range, but again I will reserve judgment until I have more time on the board.
But when you cross that velocity threshold, hold on!!! The board definitely has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type personality. The faster you ride it, the more damp it feels and more control and maneuverability you have. Damping was in overabundance, it rides like a Cadillac at speed, the CTS-V one with the 556hp V-8 of course. I just wanted to ride it faster and faster and could take anything I threw at it. I was funning out of hill before I really could max out my speed on it. I tried my two standard binding positions 1” and 2” back to gauge how the board performed and as long as I was moving at a good clip, I was very pleased. Flex and overall board feel was excellent. Even though I asked for a little extra stiffness to the flex, I thought it was just about perfect out of the box and exactly what I expected. It is slightly softer than my Option Signature solid overall, softer in the rockered nose sections, but stiff between the feet in the camber section and the tail was stiff enough to finish turns well and not wash out (provided you were at speed). Edge hold was solid even over certain glare ice sections. I didn't notice any loss of edge from the front rocker area on heelside turns. Overall the second day resort riding it made my evaluation of the purchase much better than the shaky start on the first day. I am still very concerned I will not like the sidecut radius at slower speeds, in tight trees and steep pivot turns, but I will reserve judgment until I actually get it out in those conditions.
Outside of the minor icing issue, the Karakoram binding system worked flawlessly and the stiffness afforded by the system really does make the board ride as if it were a solid. I really could not discern any degradation in torsional stiffness, something that surprised me. If it weren’t for the weight, I think I would ride the system as my resort powder board, that’s how good it felt. I even took it through a park run, just straight airing it to see what it felt like in the air. Again, here the weight is evident, but the damping on takeoff and landing was confidence inspiring. The toe piece worked great in tour mode, but I would really like a dual height heel lifter.
I still have to adjust the Karakoram’s some, as I’m not sure I have the heelcup set up correctly. With a medium binding and a size 8.5 boot, I was not getting the boot centered across the board and I was losing leverage on the toe side. I thought I was set up on the smaller setting, but now I am not sure. I do have the rear bolt all the way forward so I’m not sure what I need to adjust or if I am better off with a smaller size or perhaps I would be better off with the toe ramp. I need more investigation on this.
I believe the heel cup needs at least a second set of holes for the ankle strap to be comparable to a binding with a 3-hole ankle strap option. The current setup is more comparable to having the ankle strap on a lower setting, which gives the binding more of a freestyle feel. I prefer the middle hole setting on most bindings that give a bit more heel hold. If I do indeed have the proper heel cup sizing, I may drill new ankle holes to create a better angle.
EDIT: I did find the instructions and the diagram shows a parallel hole right behind the original hole, which might have been obscured by the strap hardware. Will have to check when I unpack.
The board clips work very well and keep the board very tight. On my brother’s DIY, he had a bit of a gap along most of the seam. Admittedly, he said he could have gotten the Voile clips tighter, but the Karakoram clips made the seam noticeably tighter.
As for the rest of the trip, I got skunked. Saturday it warmed up and turned to rain so we didn't ride, and Sunday it was pouring rain in the morning, only to change to snow by midday when I needed to pack up and get to the airport for my flight to NYC. Worse yet, it really started DUMPING and my flight was cancelled. As I couldn't afford to miss my meetings, I was forced to make the 6 hour drive down to NYC, pondering how many fresh turns I would be missing on Monday. C'est la vie...
I hope to be able to provide further updates as I ride the board in my home terrain.