Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Salomon MTN LAB boot and ski review

As followers of this blog may have noticed, this winter I have been skiing on/in lots of Salomon gear (thanks to those nice people at Salomon UK!).

So its about time for a bit of a review of the kit I have been using...

Photo © Ross Hewitt

Reviewer details:
Weight 82kg (-ish), height 1,90m
Boot size 28.0
Skier type: professional skier since 1995 (fully certified BASI Instructor / Diplome d'Etat Ski Alpin)
Previous boots: Dynafit Titan, Dunafit Mercury, Tecnica Cochise Pro 130
Previous skis: Volkl Gotama, Whitedot Ranger Carbonlite, Whitedot Director Carbonlite

MTN LAB boots:

Following my initial review, these boots have absolutely proven their worth throughout this winter season. They are a cut above any other touring boot I have had on my feet.
They may not be the lightest boot on the market at ~1.7Kg per foot in the 28.0, but in terms of the weight to skiability ratio there is no contest.
Initially I was concerned about the 2-buckle system and whether there would be enough to work with to hold the heel back into the pocket properly but there is very little problem with heel lift (one of big complaints with lighter weight 2 clip boots has always been heel lift - particularly in heavier snow). It is fair to say that thanks to the powerstrap this does behave more like a 3-clip boot...
Another point of interest for me was the material covering the toe box, but this has proven both durable and very effective at keeping moisture out.

In terms of skiability the MTN LABs have happily driven the MTN LAB skis (115mm underfoot) and the MTN Explore 95, along with a variety of other skis, in all sorts of snow conditions and have been more than capable of driving them both at high speeds and slowly. Flex is extremely progressive and smooth, but stiff enough to deal with bumps/rough terrain at speed. I have been switching between the stock liners and an Intuition Pro Tour (in preparation for Baffin Island where a closed-cell foam liner was a must) and have been equally happy in both.

Cuff movement is very good giving free and easy ankle movement for skinning/boot-packing or climbing. The boots have also stood up well to 4 1/2 months of almost daily abuse:

In short if these boots fit your feet then I cannot recommend them highly enough - I have tried many boots over the last few years and these have come closer than anything to being the 'holy grail'!


I have been skiing the 184cm length MTN LAB ski extensively this winter - it quickly became my go to ski for anything barring really firm conditions:

Courchevel powder heaven 15 Jan 2016 from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

The skis have a 115mm waist width and a nominal turn radius of 24m. Profile is a gentle traditional camber, with a subtle tip rocker in the front 1/3 of the ski (this is my non-scientific 'eyeball' measurement description...). My understanding is that Andreas Fransson had a large hand in designing this ski, and his tastes in ski were obviously similar to mine as this combination works perfectly for so many situations...

These skis are so much fun in anything soft, easy to pivot in tight spots, but stable at speed in big curves. On firmer snow torsional rigidity is good, giving good grip when needed. The progressive tip rocker is great for keeping the skis floating in deep snow, and smoothing out chopped up snow without being excessive and flapping around like an angry salmon. Overall the combination of camber/rocker is well balanced meaning the ski will skid very effectively and smoothly, making speed control on steep ground very easy.

Weighing in at just over 1,8 kg per ski then paired with a lightweight binding these make a perfect 'wide touring' ski.

Night skiing from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Still to come: reviews of MTN Explore 95 ski, Soulquest LAB jacket and pants, XMax Photochromatic goggles...

Monday, 13 June 2016

Baffin Island - Skiing the Ancient Hallways - part 2

On our trip to Gibbs Fjord we skied pretty much every one of the 21 days we spent on the ice - with 24 hour daylight if the weather is bad in the morning it may well be good come evening time... We skied 18 previously unrecorded lines up to 1300m high, along with repeats of 2 lines skied by a French team in 2014. No point in describing them all - suffice to say it mostly involved skinning across a flat fjord, booting up a couloir, and skiing back down again... So I have tried to pick out some highlights and other interesting points from this trip:

Melting snow - don't let anyone tell you any different, on a trip like this huge amounts of time are spent melting snow - every meal, every hot drink - wake up in the morning, get all your warm kit on, get over to the 'kitchen' and get the stove on. Get back from skiing - get the stove on. Fill thermoses for the night/morning - get the stove on... When it is -20C this all takes some time so patience is an essential ingredient for a trip like this!

Mind you, the views from the kitchen window weren't too bad:

Meanwhile, Ross & Ev scope out a line:

The revelation of the trip for me was kite-skiing. I had always sworn I would never get involved with kites having lost 2 friends to kite-surfing accidents in the mid 00's, but on the flat sea ice of the fjords they were a brilliant way to travel when the winds were playing ball - 5km cross-fjord in 8 minutes? Oh go on then!

Temperatures weren't as cold as Ross had experienced on his previous trip - we probably hit -20 or so during the first week, then gradually milder. Still glad to have plenty of warm kit... Neoprene overboots didn't get as much use as planned but were great for getting boots up to 'working temperature' before heading out (not my choice of colour...).

As soon as the wind blew every bit of skin needed to be covered though:

Opening ziplock bags with big mitts proved to be a challenge too far!

Most of our hot meals were freeze-dried - for fuel efficiency we had to avoid anything that might need washing up. Chipie is a chef though, so of course he came up with some high class improvised meals - Arctic MSR-grilled hot dogs:

Oh and the skiing, let's not forget the skiing...: