Saturday, March 13, 2010

Live and Learn: Best Practices to Acclimate to New Ski Gear

I’m going to start right off by saying that getting accustomed to brand new and different ski gear can be challenging! The challenge was not only physical, but mental, as well. The concentration required to master new gear, while improving performance, was more than I expected! During the first half day with my new gear, I felt that I had lost most of the performance I gained over the past year, which can be frustrating if you are competitive (you will see my unhappy face on the gondola as I contemplated how to get used to my new precision skis!)

Let’s start with the Dalbello Aspire 75 boots. These boots are just incredible both on and off the slopes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, they are insanely comfortable and the fit is precise because you can tune them yourself.The heel inserts were not enough to get forward the way I wanted to, so I used the ramp angle inclinator to adjust heel angle with help from the ski shop. I think it made a difference in terms of energy to align myself, but it was difficult to tell because I skied mostly black diamonds on day two at Loon versus easier slopes the day before at Brettonwoods.

The boots were warm and comfy 100% of the time, and they fit my leg and calf perfectly. The skiing comfort with this boot is second to none – perfect fit, totally warm and soft inside – unbelievable! The walking release in the back of the boot was fantastic too and I was able to walk around the lodge with the flexibility of a winter snow boot – so very nice! The release helped with getting my boots on and off too. I just LOVE these boots and would highly recommend them beyond any boot I’ve experienced!

Getting acclimated to my new skis was a bit of a different story… challenging right from the beginning. First, I wasn’t used to the incredible edging that provided for some quick cutting and turning and it caught me off guard. After a few spills, I started to acclimate to it. Although my expert skier friend, Russ, suggested some tuning at the ski shop to smooth them out, I decided to wait it out and see what happened. Because the Atomics Seven Heaven 76 skis are designed for women and the bindings were mounted slightly forward, I didn’t need to lean forward as much any more. I did lean forward out of habit but realized after a few runs that I needed to relax into the ski more naturally and let it do the work versus me pushing performance. That made a big difference – okay, I’m staring to feel good about this gear now on day two - I’m starting to like it. I was with two advanced skiers and one advanced boarder on day two so it was all about the black diamonds. I confess that after two hours straight of that, I headed for the lodge absolutely exhausted. Let me say that I don’t think I would have had the energy with my old gear to push that hard for that long. The new gear made all the difference – very sweet.

A word on the XLT9 bindings. These white bindings look fantastic and are durable and highly functional especially when set correctly by the great guys at ski shop. I loved the secure feeling and easy step in and release out when getting in and out of them.

My observations:

1. With new gear, you will most likely lose some of your performance initially but it will come back quickly once you acclimate. You will improve even more as you practice on the slope.

2. Expect to adjust your gear or the way you are skiing. If it’s the first time you are using your new equipment and it may need to be modified to work with your personal physique, ski style and your preferences. Don’t be afraid to head to the ski shop with an understanding of what is happening to you on the slope. It’s important to pay attention to what is happening to you out there so you can describe it and they can assist you. Examples include:

Ø Falling due to sharp edge. Slow down, be patient and acclimate to your new gear until you get the feel for it or get the edges smoothed down.

Ø Overtired from just a few runs. Leaning forward when you don’t need to or overworking the run unnecessarily will exhaust you quickly, especially if you are on steep slopes and black diamonds – it’s more work and effort! Let the ski do the work, relax into the run and don’t over think it. Get back onto the blue and greens for a little while if you need to.

Ø Skis popping off to soon or not soon enough when you fall. Get your bindings adjusted. If they are popping to soon, the binding is adjusted to a beginner level versus an intermediate. If they don’t pop soon enough, they are set to intermediate and need to be set back to beginner if that is your preference. Head to the shop and get the binding adjusted.

3. Be patient. It takes a little time to acclimate to new gear in general and especially when the slope conditions are changing from hard packed and groomed in the morning to softer powered and then to mashed potatoes in the afternoon. Sometimes it’s the slope condition, fatigue or your attitude versus the new equipment. Take it from an impatient skier: time and practice works wonders in getting to know our gear on the slope.

I did complain a few times when my performance slipped, and even threatened to return my skis! As we rode the lift up the mountain, my friend Margo looked at me and then at my skis and said, “you can’t return those skis, they are just too gorgeous. Look at how they glitter and shine in the sun. They are beautiful.” I had to laugh at how function, comfort and style comes into play for women on the slopes – although not always in the same order!

I very happy with my ski gear selection last week and plan to keep all of my equipment. I look forward to wrapping up the season with a few more trips up north to break them in properly this year!

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