Saturday, 29 November 2008

Binding safety

I said a couple of posts back that I was going to cover bindings and safety in the near future. I mentioned that if you loosened your bindings in the spring then it is important to tighten them again before going skiing. The big proviso of course is to make sure you tighten them to the same setting they were on before.

Adjusting your bindings is something you should only do if you know what you are doing - if you don't then leave it to your local ski shop to do. The important number is the DIN setting, which is a measure of how tight the binding is, or how difficult it is for it to release in a fall. If the DIN setting is low the bindings will release easily, with a high setting it will take a lot more to make them release. The idea is that the bindings release your boot from the ski before you injure your leg, but don't release prematurely when you are not at risk of injury. A binding releasing unexpectedly, or pre-releasing, can lead to injury as well. Setting the DIN will always be a compromise, as a low speed fall can break a leg or twist a knee whilst applying lower forces to the binding than skiing bumps at high speed for example. Each manufacturer produces a chart to determine the correct setting for a skier, taking into account variables such as skier height, weight, ability, style of skiing and boot sole length. Once you know your setting you should aim to buy a binding with that number close to the centre of its range, rather than at one extreme or the other.

Skiers often set the heel bindings tighter than the toepiece, because they believe they will put greater forces on the heelpiece when skiing. However the binding manufacturers are well aware of how people ski, and the heelpiece springs are much tighter than the toepiece ones already so toe and heel should always be set the same.

The DIN setting will only work accurately if the binding is adjusted properly for the boot. Boot sole length and forward pressure have to be correct for the binding to release as it should, and these are adjusted and checked differently for each make of binding. This is another reason to let a shop adjust your bindings for you unless you are sure you know what you are doing.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Pre Season Ski Service

Following on from the last post it is about time to get your skis ready for the winter. My ski hill (Arinsal) is open this weekend as will plenty of others so the winter has arrived.

Since you gave your skis a good wax and edge before putting them away last spring (didn't you?) you will not need to do them again, although another wax won't do them any harm. Ideally you want to use a set of ski vices and a workbench, plus a rubber to hold the brakes out of the way, but otherwise you will need to improvise some way to hold the ski base up and the brake clear of the base.

You will need a plastic scraper and a couple of brushes now (horsehair and nylon). Scrape the wax from the ski bases using the scraper across the whole ski to avoid scratching the base with the corner. The scraper should have a notch in one corner which you can use to scrape the wax from the metal edges. Now use the brushes from tip to tail - nylon first then horsehair. This will restore the structure of the base making the skis look like new again with that fresh from the factory grainy look.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Time to Tighten Your Bindings

For those of you who loosened your DIN settings when putting your skis away at the end of last winter - as I advised in my Summer Ski Care post back in May - don't forget to tighten them up again before you hit the slopes. I know it seems obvious, but it is easily overlooked and a ski pre-releasing can have unpleasant consequences.

A few years ago I was working as a Plongeur (washer upper / kitchen porter / dogsbody) in Meribel. After a couple of days of hard work on arrival, I got my first chance to go for a ski. I grabbed my old straight Salomon Equipes, went up the chairlift and did about three turns in chopped up snow before both skis ejected. Thinking this was a bit odd, as I wiped the snow out of my goggles I checked the bindings and realised both were wound down to about three. I put the skis back on and gingerly traversed onto smooth groomed terrain to take the easiest route back down and find a screwdriver. Unfortunately I forgot myself halfway down, and took a tiny bit of air from a tiny bump. As I landed the right ski released and the brake chose that moment to detach itself from the ski - I think the screw pulled out of the plastic. The ski accelerated faster than I could manage on one ski at the time, and I careered after it, terrified that it would injure somebody, or worse. Luckily it shot off the side of the piste and into the trees without doing any damage. Less luckily that was the last I saw of it, despite an extensive search. I was forced to become a full-time snowboarder for a couple of weeks until I found a pair of previous season Volkl P40s in a sale rack.

I know it is early season, and you may not be skiing for another few weeks or months, but the season is beginning, so a reminder is timely for resort staff, ski-bums and anyone getting some snow in before Christmas. Of course forgetting this little detail won't usually lead you to lose a few hundred Euros' worth of ski kit, but it can easily lead to unexpected falls and potential injury. One final point to note, is that it important to tighten the binding to the same DIN setting as it was at before, assuming it was correct. A binding set too tight or too lose can be dangerous. I will elaborate on pre-season ski servicing, and binding safety in the next couple of posts, but for now, ski safe.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Race training in Tignes

This is just a quick post as I've had to pop down to the Tex-Mex bar in Tignes to get a wi-fi connection. I'm looking forward to the day when holiday rental appartments have high speed internet. I have started race training a week early in order to take a week off later to sort out my Andorran work permit for the winter - an annual start of season hassle.

The training is going well so far. Skiing gates really forces you to ski well and it is always surprising what a difference it makes when someone else has decided where you have to turn. If you really want to improve your piste skiing then some training on a race course can make an amazing difference. If you get the chance to spend some time in the gates then I would really recommend you take it, however it is not the most forgiving environment. Every mistake will stand out, and most race coaches will be much blunter than your average ski instructor when it comes to giving feedback.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Chamonix Chalet

As regular readers will know I have been working in the Chamonix valley for the summer and autumn. Although not ideal for beginners this really is a fantastic place for skiers and moutaineers (and snowboarders, rock climbers, mountain bikers etc.) looking for the steep and the big. This valley really is on a different scale to any other European ski resorts I have visited, and I've been to a lot of them over the years.

For anyone interested in visiting the valley this winter, the Ice-Break Chalet just up the road from me deserves a mention. My friend and occasional climbing partner Martin is running the business with his fiance Abi his winter. Unlike a conventional chalet they are offering holidays for anything from a week to a whole season (5 months) with all the traditional home comforts of an up-market chalet - half board with wine, sauna, DVD and internet, log fire and so on, plus ski workshop and free transport to the slopes and around the valley. It sounds to me like an incredibly luxurious way of spending a ski season - I remember sleeping in a hole under the basement stairs of a chalet in Meribel for a season, while friends crammed into a shoebox in Val D'Isere which barely had room for a set of bunkbeds and a cooker. When you factor in the amount spent on food and drink in a typical season in the Alps, living in comfort in a catered chalet might not be all that expensive.

The other big bonus of this setup is always having somebody to hit the slopes with who knows their way around the valley. Martin is a BASI qualified snowboard instructor and is training to be a UIAGM mountain guide with ENSA (the French national school for skiing and alpinism) so he is a good guy to be on the hill with.

Anyway, if you're interested check them out at They also have a blog of life in the valley on the site which is worth a look for snow updates and photos.

As we are into November, watch out for some more ski oriented posts from now on. My season starts in 10 days when I head over to Tignes for skiing on the glacier, so the countdown is on.