Photos by Josh Kato and Jim Black
Powder for my birthday! This week I took my birthday off which gave me six days off from my work rotation for ski touring. Happy, happy, the Wenatchee Mountains received a couple of feet of powder in as many days! Friends were put on notice and backcountry skiing plans were made. Being March, we found that we needed to go a bit higher than our frequent pass-based tours to get the fluff. I decided that Wedge Mountain, high above Leavenworth was probably pretty good skiing, but proper route selection for avalanche safety would be the rule. As it turned out, we skied a safe route no steeper than 30 degrees. When we looked back up, the breakover where I had cautioned against approaching to skier’s right had 2 to 3 ft. crown fractures from natural avalanches along a cliff discontinuously for about 500 feet. Terrain selection is the primary skill of utmost importance when traveling in avalanche terrain!
Wedge Mountain is a special place. My first logging job in town in 1980 was pullin’ riggin’ and settin’ chokers on a long span Swiss skyline that stretched high overhead to the first summit of Wedge. My first ski tour on the Wedge Mountain (Goat Mountain to old timers here) high point in the 1970 burn was in the early ’80s on skinny grey 220 cm Karhu XCD skis and all leather boots. In summer we walk from the end of the logging road a route that the old-timers who showed me “over the Goat” into Snow Lakes below the Enchantments. We caught many trout at Snow Lakes.
Most of my ski tours there are after the third week of April, when I can drive my Jeep to the usual north slope spot that is blocked by snow drifts, cross the drifts on foot then walk an hour on dry south slope road and trail to the start of the ski tour. The views from the top into the Enchantments are amazing, the ski run down very nice, and it is magical to step out of skis at the end of the snow into the wildflowers in Allen Creek meadow.
Winter approaches to Wedge are long for a day tour. We use snowmobiles to cover the eight road miles to where we put skins on skis and start walking. This trip was after nine inches of snowfall registered on weather telemetry between 10 PM and 6 AM. We broke a deep trail on the lee slopes with our three snowmobiles in the lower elevation wet snow, and managed to get the older snowmobiles stuck a few times. At the end of the road we climbed on skis and ascended into deep fluffy goodness!
The downhill run was the best powder any of us had all season. We decided that to have such skiing otherwise we would need to fly to Salt Lake or go to Canada, so we instead decided to just come back to Wedge. We came back, and saw that our uptrack had been filled in with new snow the next two days. Not bad for March powder!
The Manaslu: Turn, Baby, Turn!
When I crank the Manaslu in soft snow “Turn, Baby, Turn,” comes into my mind like the 70’s song that was on the airwaves when I first ski toured . Manaslu are sooo good in powder, an absolutely easy turning ski in soft snow! As far as that goes, crust, breakable crust, wind-packed, and wet snow are handled easily as well like an afterthought. Schweet! “Unfair advantage” was the quote from Fritz in Austria about the Dynafit Manaslu in one of Lou’s blog entrys. Later Lou wrote, “These are a no-compromise planks for difficult conditions, and we like ‘em. We like ‘em mucho.” Me too!
In some ways, I have a different take compared to what I have read about the Manaslu. I find the Manaslu to be soft, flexible, no-effort-turning- but I am over 6 ft tall and I weigh 225 lbs. Lee Lau said,” … They are very stable at speed; I could ski them backseat… In low speed to medium speed turns Manaslu was underwhelming.”
The only falls that I have had on the Manaslu are from getting in the backseat. It feels like my weight just bends the tails if I get in the back seat until I get out of control. The few days at first while I used my Zzero4C boot I would get back and recover. When I decided to ski the Manaslu using the shorter Zzero3C boot I learned that getting back on those soft tails with a short boot meant falling on my butt. By now, I have adjusted my balance and technique and feel very much right on the sweet spot of the Manaslu. As far as stability, there is little resemblance to the the-faster-you-ski-the-better-it-is Dynafit FR10. However, with familiarity and technique adjustment I feel that the Manaslu is very stable at moderate speeds, less than I ski on the FR10. The 178 Manaslu feels shorter than my 178 FR10. The applied force required to turn the Manaslu is significantly less than that needed to turn the FR10. In my experience, with my bulk, the Manaslu turns easily and quickly, as quick as my 174cm K2 Chogori turns on nice corn or shallow snow.
The nice surprise is how well the lightweight and comfortable Zzero3C boot skis the Manaslu. As I mentioned above, as long as I stay out of the back seat the Zzero3C has all of the cranking power needed to energize the Manaslu. That combination, Zzero3C and Manaslu/ FT12 is very light for touring. My size 29 Zzero3C TF weighs 7.3 lbs. compared to the size 29 Zzero4C TF weight of 8 lbs.
The Speedskins fit the Manaslu perfectly and slide well, enhanced by my habit of rubbing in F4 wax on the skin. I think that the F4 wax rubbed on works better than Glopstopper, and contrary to what someone at a shop said, I have experienced no untoward effects from the F4 wax on any of my skins glue so far.
The Dynafit FT12 binding functions in a significantly improved fashion compared to my Dynafit Tri Step, Comfort, and Speed bindings. For the first time, I have skied downhill on the FT12 binding without the toe locked, and I have not prereleased the toe as I can easily do on my other bindings if unlocked. The locked toe on the FT12 tours well, although I have walked out of it a few times on the ascent, as I have on Dynafit and even Fritsche bindings. The brake on the FT12 functions well and does not interfere with the heel rotation. The brake on the Tri Step heel worked so poorly in rotation and non-releasing that I just removed it.
Although I have a quiver of randonnee skis, the Manaslu is easily the best tool for powder — and powder is the reason that we walk up mountains to get turns!
(Guest blogger Rob Mullins lives in Leavenworth, Washington with Randonnee Girl and Mrs. Randonnee.)
Rob Mullins lives in the Washington Cascades with his wife, daughter, and a black lab avalanche dog in training named Blackie.