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Cutting at the Pass – 10/21, 27 & 11/18

October 2018 was quite different from October 2017, so with no new snow to ski and warm temperatures dominating, Dan, Joe and I were looking for some exercise. We decided to take advantage of the weather window to do some cutting at the Pass in the hopes that it would pay dividends later in the winter. Prior to heading up on the 21st, I checked in with management to make sure they were ok with us doing some work in the area, and they gave us the green light. The following morning, we headed up, with the goal of doing some work on RTS.

Stopping for a quick break on the drive up

Dan’s truck made short work of the rough road, and we soon had ‘er parked most of the way up Amber’s Way. Heading out to cut with saw and pack almost felt like we were going out for a ski, but not quite…

Ready for a day of work

As we rounded the corner we got a good look at the run and what we’d be in for. The trees were thick, especially in the middle part of the run.

RTS before our work

The morning was spent working on the lower part of the run cutting shorter trees that had been lopped off the previous year about two feet from the ground.  After running through a few tanks of gas and oil, we started gaining ground on skiers left and began working up the run.

Joe working on some smaller trees

My Stihl on RTS

Wallowing around the steep slope with a chainsaw in one hand and pack in the other was somewhat challenging. The three of us cut until about 3:00 pm, and then worked our way back down to the truck…

Joe cutting near our high point for day 1

Matt laying waste on RTS

I snapped a few photos from the bottom of RTS, including the one below that shows our progress for the day. We made it about halfway up the run, as well as about halfway out.

RTS after day 1

With the work over for the day, it was time to relax and enjoy a cold beer and some fresh garden salsa. Sitting in the 65 degree sunshine was a start contrast to the cold deep powder we were enjoying a year earlier (almost to the day) a few miles from our present location.

The three essentials — saw, salsa and beer

Dan and Joe after a hard day’s work

With the day’s work done, we decided to take a drive around the area to see how it was looking — we’d heard that management had done quite a bit of work to the runs. As we headed up the haul road and got a look at the frontside runs, we were stoked. Timburr, High Lead, Charlie’s and Eagles were all baby butt smooth, with not a tree in sight. From the looks of it, they would be skiable much earlier than in year’s past. We eventually worked our way up to Peak 2 for a view, and were surprised and happy at the sight of new chairs at the top. The pic below was taken at Peak 2, with some of the new chairs on the lift and the rest on the ground. 

Peak 2

Satisfied with our work for the day, we left the area, but made plans to come up the next weekend to try and finish cutting a swath all the way to the top of RTS. After posting a picture on Instagram, Liam was interested in helping us out, and John was also game, so we made plans to head up on Saturday the 26th with a crew of five for a second day of cutting. Like the previous weekend, we drove up towards the top of Amber’s Way and set out to work. The weather was a bit cooler, and it had rained the day before, so the cutting conditions were definitely a bit on the wet side.

Dan way up on RTS

With five people, we made more progress than we were hoping for. It didn’t take long and we cut our way to the top of the run, and even made some good progress on skier’s right.

Liam cutting over some steep boulders

After running through about 5 tanks of gas, it was time to call it quits, and we trudged down the run which was now littered with cut trees. Going down was harder than going up, but we were all pretty stoked on how the run looked when we got to the bottom…

RTS after day 2

Like the previous week, we enjoyed some more fresh salsa and a couple of beers, before heading home for the day. Our third and final day of cutting occurred on November 18th, and was a partial day after working the patrol room cleanup. Once our patrol obligations were done, Dan, John, Jeff Kerr and I headed out for a couple hours of cutting.

John cutting on a nice November afternoon

The weather was sunny and beautiful, and by the time we were done, we estimated that only 15-20% of the run remained to be cut. Satisfied with our work on RTS and with how well the Pass was looking overall, we all agreed that all we needed now was a couple feet of fresh!

Dan examining a tree before cutting on 11/18


Jones Solution Split

The Solution Split atop Mt McLoughlin

The Solution Split atop Mt McLoughlin

The Solution from Jones Snowboards is a split which performs admirably in all types of terrain and conditions.  I’ve been riding the Solution for three seasons now, and I’ve really appreciated it’s reliability and predictability in all snow types from powder to ice.  Although I recently upgraded to custom Chimera Mace for riding on the volcanoes, the Solution still holds a place in my quiver and gets used several times each winter.

General Impressions: The Solution is marketed as an “all conditions” board, but one of the first things I noticed was how well it performs in powder.  The blunt nose and directional rocker definitely make a difference and slashing through the deep stuff on this board is a cinch.  The overall weight of the board is right in there with similar boards from other companies, and the 161 cm length handles my 175 lb frame plus pack and gear without issue.  With the same specifications as the Flagship (the solid version of the Solution that I use for ski patrolling), it’s no wonder the board feels so nice under my feet.

On the Skin Track: The Solution is a solid split.  It tours exceptionally well with the Karakoram SL bindings, and I’ve used it with Spark Burner’s with similar results.  The combination camber/rocker profile of the base provides more than adequate purchase while skinning, and the width of the skis aren’t too wide, which means you don’t have to break trail even when you’re following a skier.

In Ride Mode:  I’ve been very pleased with how the Solution rides.  As indicated above, powder performance is great, and the board definitely excels in corn, crud and other conditions.  The 9.1 m sidecut (on the 161 cm) allows for quick turn initiation in firm snow, and the camber underfoot coupled with the directional rocker at the tip and tail make the board nice to ride in less than optimal conditions.  Mellow magenetraction along the edges add a bit of stability in icy conditions (at least theoretically), and the blunt design of the board’s nose keeps you floating through the pow.  One extra nicety with respect to riding is that the board comes equipped with split clips from Karakoram, which really keep the board halves clamped together.

Bottom Line:  After some initial quality control concerns during the first year or two of production, Jones has righted the ship and is producing one of the finest all conditions splits on the market.  If you want a board that can handle everything, check out the Solution!

More Info:  More information about the Solution Split can be found at Jones Snowboards

Karakoram SL Bindings

Of the splitboard specific bindings on the market today, the Karakoram SL’s, made by the Kloster brothers of Karakoram in Washington state, are my preferred choice.  Top of the line materials including carbon fiber, titanium and high strength aluminum alloy combine to make this binding ultra lightweight, strong and responsive.  Additionally, the Karakoram ride interface allows for a very secure attachment of the bindings to the board, while the touring mode interface eases transition time and provides for smooth secure skinning.  The SL’s are not inexpensive, but you get what you pay for, which in this case not only includes quality components but  the interface as well.  This is my third season on the SL’s and I’ve been loving ’em on every tour.

Karakoram SL's with South Sister and Broken Top

Karakoram SL’s with South Sister and Broken Top

General Impressions: The bindings are noticeably lighter and stiffer than Karakoram’s other binding, the Split 30’s.  The Ride stride forward lean feature on the carbon fiber highback allows for quick highback adjustments between ride and tour mode, while the interface system provides for reduced time between changeovers from riding to touring.  The binding straps and buckles are lightweight and built with quality materials, and the binding itself has adjustment features to accommodate different boot types and preferences.

Interface: The Karakoram interface is a different setup than the standard Voile interface.  There are five solid points where the binding attaches to the interface, including three heel stay pins which really lock the binding to the board.  Occasional snow and ice build up on the interface needs to be cleared prior to attaching the bindings, but I haven’t found this to be a problem requiring any more or less attention than the Voile interface.  One limitation of the interface is that stance options are limited to 1 inch increments, which seems to be an issue for some, though I haven’t noticed any issues, since my stance is always within 1/2 inch of my preferred width.

On the Skin Track: The Karakoram tour mode interface is easy to use, allows for quicker transition times from board mode to skin mode (in fact you don’t have to remove the binding from your foot to go to skin mode) and operates without pins.  The binding and tour axle system allows for minimal friction, which pays off on longer tours, and minimizes “slop” compared to traditional setups.

In Ride Mode:  In ride mode, the SL’s feel and perform as good or better than my favorite resort setup.  The aluminum alloy heelcup is durable and strong, while the carbon fiber highback provides excellent responsiveness.  I’m not a fan of a flimsy highback, and the carbon fiber definitely provides the stiffness and responsiveness I’m looking for.  After testing these bindings in the backcountry and at the resort in a variety of conditions, I have no qualms saying they work well in all conditions.

Bottom Line:  If you’re a soft booter and want a lightweight, responsive and bomber splitboard binding, the Karakoram SL is the ticket.

More Info: More information about Karakoram SL bindings can be found at the Karakoram website

Jones Hovercraft Split

The Hovercraft at home in the deep powder of the Three Sisters Wilderness

The Hovercraft at home in the deep powder of the Three Sisters Wilderness

Jones created a winner in the Hovercraft Split.  Marketed as a quiver board for powder and soft snow, it definitely excels in those conditions.  Surprisingly, it also performs remarkably well in many other soft snow conditions, including crust, crud and chop.  This is my second season on the Hovercraft Split, and it’s the board I grab on a powder day.

General Impressions: The over sized blunt nose and 26 mm waist width on the 156 cm split provides more than enough float for my 175 lb frame plus pack and gear on even the deepest of days.  I must admit, at first I was a bit skeptical about riding a board several centimeters shorter than my normal powder board, but after the first run on the Hovercraft, I was sold.

On the Skin Track: The Hovercraft performs solidly while touring.  I’ve used it with both the Karakoram Split 30’s and Spark Burner’s, with no real noticeable difference between the two.  The board provides plenty of grip while skinning due to both the camber underfoot and the wide width of the ski’s.  One minor thing to note when following skiers – it’s easy to feel like you’re re-breaking trail since their skis are narrow in comparison to the board halves of the Hovercraft.

In Ride Mode:  This board is fun to ride in soft snow, period!  Part of the reason the board floats so well, besides the blunt nose and wide waist, is due to directional rocker at the tip and tail of the board – you literally feel like you’re hovering over the top of the snow!  Camber underfoot provides stability when the snow firms up, in combination with the mellow magnetraction.  To be honest though, I’m not sure the mellow magnetraction adds anything substantial to the ride.  The shorter length of the board makes it a pleasure to ride in treed terrain, providing quick and nimble turns.

Bottom Line:  If you’re looking for a powder specific split to add to your quiver, look no further than the Hovercraft!

More Info:  More information about the Hovercraft Split can be found at Jones Snowboards