January 27, 2017 – Mary’s Peak

With several long days recently, I needed a day off from work to take care of a bunch of chores at home, but wanted to get some turns in also.  Mary’s Peak, the closest snow to my house, was an obvious choice that would allow me to kill two birds with one stone.  The forecast was calling for sun, but I set out in a sea of thick fog around 7:00 am and headed west across the valley.  45 minutes or so later, I turned off of highway 20 and onto the Peak Road.  A few minutes later I was out of the fog and could see it would be a beautiful day.  I drove as far as I could (farther than I anticipated), parked the car, loaded my pack and headed out.

The Suby in the morning light

I booted across the lower meadow, and was a bit surprised as I crested the hill to see a decent amount of logging activity where I usually slip through the trees towards Parker Creek.  I knew the forest service was working to restore some of the meadows on the Peak that have been lost to encroaching trees over the years, but it was still a surprise to see the big logs on the landing with Grass Mountain in the background…

Looking out towards Grass Mountain

After making a few turns down to Parker Creek, I crossed the creek and slipped onto the main meadow, with excellent views out to the south and west, including Grass Mountain, where I first hunted blacktail deer as a 12 year old with my dad…

Grassy

As I skinned up the meadow, I was reminded of why the Peak is such a special place to me.  Looking north, Mt Rainier, St Helens and Adams were all visible, and looking west, I could see Newport and the waves breaking on the beach.

Looking west to Newport

A few minutes later, I arrived at the top of the Peak and as usual was rewarded with great views across the fog filled Willamette Valley towards the peaks of the Oregon Cascades.  It’s always surreal to see the sea of fog with just a few high points sticking out.

Looking out over the valley

Jeff above the fog

After snapping a few photos across the valley, I moved the tripod I’d packed with me and snapped a few pictures looking west, before packing my pack and split skiing down the road to the northern meadow…

Looking northwest

Looking north to Hood

Once down to the northern meadow, I switched lenses and shot a few photos of the volcanoes to the north, including the shot below of Mt Hood.  It’s pretty amazing how much detail is captured in the below photo from the top of the Peak.  Zigzag Canyon is clearly visible over 100 miles away…

Telephoto shot of Hood

After screwing around with the camera, it was time to head back to the top and get ready for some turns.  Before dropping in, I couldn’t help myself and snapped a few more photos, including the shot below of my split in ski mode, with a Dead Guy ale on the picnic table at the summit…

Split skis and a Dead Guy

The turns down were pretty nice, even in the thin coverage, and since the meadow is pretty low angle, it’s a nice fun cruiser.  I was able to link turns all the way back down to Parker Creek.

Looking out to the ocean

Looking back at my work

I made the short hike back to the car, and was heading home by 11:30, meeting my goal to get some turns in as well as a half day of work at the house.  Before long, I was back in the fog of the valley, and the sun on the peak was only a memory.  On the way home, I stopped briefly to shoot a shot of the barn below in the valley fog.  Something about barns and fog always catch my eye…

Random barn along Hwy 99

All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to wrap up the first month of a new year, and I’m looking forward to see what 2017 has in store…

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