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Echo Mountain — It’s a Place You Can Ski? 6 February 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Reviews, Skiing.
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Echo Mountain‘s new tagline is “Let Traditions Begin.” This can only mean that the good folks who do Echo’s marketing have never actually experienced a tradition. Or maybe they’ve never been to Echo. Whatever the case, this is a hill best experienced for several hours. So why even give it a shot? Powder… powder in a snow-starved season.

This weekend’s storm dumped a foot and a half on Denver, maybe more on the plains. From six p.m. on Thursday through noon on Saturday, it took up residence over the Front Range. Grocery shelves emptied. People parked their cars halfway into intersections. And we’re in Denver. We’re supposed to be good at this sort of thing. But across the Continental Divide, another story was unfolding: only a few stray flakes had made it over the top. For Breck, Copper and the rest, it had been a shut out.

Figures. That’s been the story of the season.

Back on the Denver side of the divide, though, the storm had dropped an almost incomprehensible mount of snow. More than four feet in Coal Creek Canyon—and at Echo, nearly 60″. On Saturday, the folks at Eldora, the only other mountain east of the divide, were beside themselves. By 10:30, the place had sold out. You might think that it’s impossible for a ski resort to “sell out,” but Eldora proved otherwise. Turns out you can only sell lift tickets if you have enough room for people to park.

So, anyway, that’s a long way of saying the conditions I’m about to describe in my review of Echo are, um, rare—and phenomenal. In my ongoing, but not very serious, quest to ski all the Colorado resorts, I’d always imagined Echo would be last since I’d heard it was nothing more than a glorified terrain park. For the most part, that’s what it is: 85 acres, consisting of three “runs.” There’s a groomer, the park, and the glades. You don’t need to worry about anything other than the glades, which when visited offered a decent pitch and thigh-deep snow. Technically, I think they were closed, but in true Echo fashion, a patroller told us on the lift, “Sure, I think it’s closed but go in there. It’s good. If anyone asks you, just say someone from patrol told you to pack it down.” We obliged.

So for the next four hours, we lapped an empty chair and empty glades. Maybe a dozen other folks took turns through the trees that day, maybe. How was this even possible? 45 minutes from Denver we were experiencing some of the deepest powder we’d ever seen, sometimes so deep we couldn’t get the speed to ski it. After tracking out one area, we traversed and cut a new path, leading to more pristine snow and more perfectly-spaced trees. Except at Silverton, could another 30-something acres be so empty, or so fun?

Probably not. And that’s also why you’re not likely to start any traditions at Echo either, which is sorta too bad since it’s likable enough. We experienced near perfection, in the middle of a season that has been seriously unkind to the state’s major resorts, and it’s for that reason alone that we stopped by Echo. The novelty of night skiing can’t possibly add much. The terrain park pales in comparison to the nationally-ranked competition at Keystone and Breck. Weirdly, the mountain requires folks to sign a waiver just to buy a lift ticket. In the Midwest, all that might make Echo the envy of the region, but here, it’s overshadowed by nearly every other resort in the state.

That’s not to say we didn’t have fun this weekend—it was a blast–but if you’re thinking about Echo, sure, go for the 55″. Just don’t stick around for the traditions.

 

Ski Review: Icelantic Keeper and Icelantic Nomad 29 November 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Reviews, Skiing.
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Hope you folks had a happy Turkey Day, enjoyed the tradition of watching Detroit lose and managed to get some skiing in on either side of it. There’s been precious little snow out here in Colorado, relative to last year at least, but with all the new terrain opening anyway and the ski movies on tour, it’s hard to stay gloomy for more than a moment, especially when you’ve got new skis to demo.

Icelantic brought its entire line-up to Copper a couple weekends ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the company and live in the area, they’re worth checking out in person. Icelantic runs a First Friday event in conjunction with the rest of the galleries on Santa Fe that features boards and beer at their Battery 621 headquarters (6th and Kalamath). Take a look at the topsheet graphics and you’ll understand why this company feels okay showcasing products alongside area artists. And although Icelantic creates those graphics and designs the skis themselves, Never Summer, another Colorado company, does the construction, so you can be fairly certain the things will withstand a beating.

I’m reviewing Icelantic’s Keeper and the Nomad this time around, but you can also check out last year’s review of the Shaman. Conditions were the early season norm of hardpack, crust and some crusty lumps on their way to becoming moguls. Nothing special.

Icelantic Keeper 

As tested dimensions: 178 cm. 150/119/138. 16m radius.

I’m not even sure I should be reviewing these since powder is their purpose, but if I get them again on a Powder day, I’ll come back and add some thoughts. Anyway, the Keeper name, I think, is supposed to indicate that this is a ski you’ll always have around, but having it around doesn’t mean that it’s the ski you ought to select for an early season day. That said, for being this huge, these boards rip. For featuring an early rise tip, these boards rip. Come to think of it, they just rip, period.  You won’t be running gates with the ski teams at Copper, but you’ll definitely enjoy blah conditions on the Keepers more than you ever would with a pintail like the Pontoons.

Icelantic has been slow to get into the rocker game, and now that they have, they’ve stayed true to the idea that a ski ought to be fun—not just usable—anywhere on the mountain. So, yes, you can get these up on edge, though it takes a bit of work to get the tips to engage.  They’ll slide just where you want them through bumps. And they’re flexible enough that lazy skiing will still get you down the mountain. Just don’t expect expect a ski that will offer much feedback through any of that. But if you find yourself looking for a little more enjoyment as you take the groomers home from Vail’s back bowls, then the Keepers will do you right.

Icelantic Nomad

As tested dimensions: 178cm. 140/105/130. 20m radius.

Over the last couple years, I’ve gotten tired of all-mountain skis. Buy yourself a groomer-specific pair and something else for powder, and you’ll enjoy every day more, but if for whatever reason you have to buy just one ski, then I guess you’ve gotta do it right. Typically, my suggestion is the Volkl Mantra, but if you’re willing to give up some hard snow performance, you’d do well by the Nomads, too. In the all-mountain category, these are pretty playful skis, not really poppy enough to launch you out of turns but still happily willing to hang on to whatever radius you select. The Nomads had me feeling fairly comfortable at any speed and they’re damp enough that you won’t feel every change of surface condition. Your call on whether that’s a good thing. In many ways, these are the indie equivalent of the Dynastar Huge Troubles in my quiver, with a little extra sidecut thrown in for good measure.

Edge to edge, they’re considerably quicker than you’d expect for a ski that’s 105 under foot, something I recall enjoying on the even wider Shamans, but that’s the thing: given that the Shamans also appear in the Icelantic lineup, I’m not sure what to think of the Nomad. Maybe you can’t live without twin tips? Maybe you can’t stand the turtles on the Shamans’ top sheet? Maybe you’re all about backcountry jibbing? Near as I can tell, the Nomads are the closest thing Icelantic makes to a “normal” ski, and I just don’t think you can make the case for them in the face of the other options. Buy Icelantic, yes, but you’ll get more for your money by choosing the Shamans.

Review: Mountain Hardwear Alchemy Jacket 31 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Reviews, Skiing.
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What is the bomb? This jacket. This jacket is the bomb. I don’t even know what metaphor means, but this jacket is it. If you enjoy being outside at all, ever, in any chilly circumstance, you will enjoy the Mountain Hardwear Alchemy jacket. You will not enjoy lesser, more expensive products.
Here’s the deal: I spent an entire year as a ski bum wearing nothing but the Alchemy and the occasional onesie on the slopes and discovered that this jacket cannot be destroyed. After gloves, boots and pants all failed, it had refused to died. In fact, after  90 days of abuse the thing looks like it just came out of the packaging, save for the tiny (2mm) fray where I greeted a tree mostly with my side. Skis sharp enough to draw blood never left a mark on the Alchemy. No stitch has failed. Whatever this material is, it’s tougher than chain mail.It might even stop a bullet.

But you don’t buy the Alchemy to stop bullets. You buy it to stay warm. And when used to that end, it is worth every single cent. With the correct layering strategy (base, t-shirt, wool shirt, fleece pullover–for me) the Alchemy has proved comfortable when the wind chill drops below -20. Faces freeze at those temperatures, but the jacket keeps going strong. It is absolutely impervious to wind. If, in a gale, you feel the tiniest bit of cold leak through your zipper or a cuff, you are not wearing the Alchemy. The neck a waist cinches and the lined cuffs block any wayward air. On a bike, on the hill, or on the crag, the jacket will keep you warm.

But most of my experience has been on the hill, and there, the Alchemy performs better than even a hard shell. Its flexibility makes it feel like another shirt, important when you know exactly where you’d like to make your next pole plant. Its three external pockets provide easy access to keys/cell phone/chapstick, even when wearing a backpack. Mountain Hardwear, good folks that they are, thought of that. An internal pocket can holster an iPod. The material sheds snow and rain, too, and looks good doing it. If you think you need a hood, think for a minute about the last time you saw anyone–anyone at all–with his hood up on a hard shell. Then forget you were ever concerned.

In fact, only two things should give you pause: the lack of pit zips and the awkwardness of wearing the jacket around town. On the first point, the Alchemy’s breathable, but armpits get hot even when the core is comfortable. Zips would help. On the second, the Alchemy looks good when you’re out pursuing your “active lifestyle,” and that’s fine, but don’t expect to wear it around town much. Pockets accessible with a backpack on, force you to explain that, no, you’re not trying to grab your nipples, when you shove your hands into your pockets for warmth. So if you’re in town wear something else.

If you’re planning on doing anything outdoorsy, though, buy the Alchemy. It’s on sale now at Backcountry.com and it’s the bomb.

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